Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Elegant Victorian Halloween

Lettie and Daisy's Halloween Costumes
And, so it has been a wee bit over a month since I popped in to post a note.  Twelve of those days were spent on a true holiday road trip.  We took off for southern Utah and hiked some incredible trails on Boulder Mountain where the aspens were at peak change.  We also jotted down to Moab to hike the red rock canyons and cliffs, breathtaking in their form and physical challenges.  The change of pace and scenery were so welcomed, yet I hit the floor running as soon as we returned.  Isn't that always the way?

Upon returning I designated one day, for each piece, to design and create the items necessary to complete two sets of Lettie and Daisy's Halloween costumes.  During this time and preceding our holiday, I took a few photos of the costumes in process.  While I personally feel the candlestick hat is the most remarkable, it is the border of witches on the same costume that has illicited the most interest.  Unless you attempt to make something like the candlestick hat, it can be difficult to fully comprehend all that it took to create it. 

All those flocked witches!
Let's discuss the border of witches.  Victorian postcards and ephemera often show charming tots dressed in elaborately designed Halloween costumes.  These are not the costumes the children wear today, but more of a romantic turn of visual delight.  Ladies would wear elegant gowns with pointy witch hats, and goblins and demons would often fly or perch throughout the illustrations.  And, children could be seen wearing colorful Pierrot (French clown) costumes, and skirts bordered with witches flying on broomsticks.  In all the research I have done, I've never found a written description or process on how those witch borders were rendered.  Could it possibly have been just an illustrator's fancy?  Could they have been large cut-outs sewn on as patches?  What a lot of work that would have been!  And, we haven't yet crossed an actual costume like this stored away in some east coast attic trunk.  So, this is what I did.
Figuring out placement.
Some of you may remember the pumpkin costume I made last year, the second outfit I'd made.  On that page, of The Ladies' Home Journal, was an elegant gown bordered in witches.  I'd fully intended to make it, and had found some black netting with flocked witches on it, that would become iron-ons for the process.  A year went by, and the netting remained in the fabric box, so when this costume came up, I knew exactly what to do.  In short, the witches were cut out with the netting around them.  Under a paper towel, the images were pressed to the double-sided paper, then the witches were carefully cut out and pressed onto the border of the dress.  Easy?  Not really.  What I discovered along the way was that the netting sported five, maybe six styles of witches.  Some had hats tilted back.  Some had fully skirts.  Some had shorter broomsticks, and then there were smaller witches by half.  Just finding the exact matches and cutting out twenty (for two costumes) took an entire day.  In a perfect world, the witches would have been equal in size to half the length of where the yellow vest hits, but we do the best we can. 

Peeling the backings off.
I was asked if I had painted them.  Surely I'm flattered, but wet paint upon fiber swells the fibers and often bleeds, so the experience with painting floweres on the hat band I did earlier this year, was a one time process.  Another way you could do this is with a stencil and a black, permanant marker.  However, the flocked iron-on witches are exacting and pristine.
The candlestick hat was my other bane.  Out of all the buckram based hats I've made, this one posed the most challenges.  There are four basic shapes that needed to be created, then sewn together.  One was the brim, which is slightly turned up.  One is the cone of the crown.  There was also the candle base and the handle.  It took me two weeks to figure out the best approach, and I even tried a wire mesh sculpture which cut my little paws to pieces.  At one point, I purchased a crystal candlestick and tried to for the buckram around it.  Nothing worked.  I settled, finally, on building it from buckram and hand stitching the entire hat.  There is a little wood disc in the top that I drilled a hole through to set the candle in. 

A soft-sculpture with real candle.
Finding a candle the right size was also a trial, so I took tapers and with my exacto knife, carved the tips of the tapers down to the right scale.  To smooth the surfaces, I dipped them in boiling water for a few seconds.  Viola!  Candles for the hats.

Each dress was fully lined for ease of hem and adding volume.  The orangey-red cape-coat is also fully lined, as are the yellow vests.  You may recognize the vest pattern from the 4th of July costume.  The witch hat is a buckram base covered in heavy costume satin, with a yellow silk band.  As with all my hats, they, too, are fully lined.  Stockings were made and so were four pairs of shoes.  I'd run out of white lambskin, so I made the little bat slippers from the same silk as the dresses.  The bats are leather, which seemed appropriate (leathery bat wings and all).  And tiny thread loops sewn to the stockings keep the silk laces up on her legs. 

One other trial was in creating the Marie Antoinette sleeves of the candlestick hat costume.  These are half-moon fans of fabric edged with gathered lace, and ruched at the crook of the elbow.  Its the time it takes to figure these details out that (so essential in creating the overall look), is often daunting!

Right now I'm in the midst of Polly Pratt's costume, and the processes will be quite similar in approach.  She's very sweet to sew for since she is smaller in stature, and younger in age. 

Hope you're having a colorful autumn.  Enjoy each day and gather a few apples and leaves to decorate your own little hole in the wall.

Miss E. Mouse

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