Current Projects

Thursday, July 5, 2018

French Revolution Zombaes - Testing and Prep

You wouldn't know it from my activity here, but I've actually been really busy with costuming! I've been steadily working on French Revolution Zombaes, but because everything's being budgeted and I'm waiting on stuff to arrive, I've been picking away at different parts of the costume bit by bit. So I initially thought I'd wait until I had whole chunks done to post about them. Some things are finally coming together now, but even though there's nothing totally done, Labyrinth is just shy of two months away. So I thought I'd better get to it!

It's been an ongoing and evolving work in progress, but in the the last few weeks I finally got down on paper what I've been thinking about for a design.
-white cotton voile, possibly over a black satin-y lining
-3/4 "poofy" sleeves
-single drawstrings at the neckline and waist
-ruffles at neckline, sleeves, and hem
-ribbon waist sash (probably moire)
-very large hedgehog (probably a wig)
-fascinator thing with at least two ostrich plumes, a rhinestone brooch, and a black ribbon bow
-Marie Antoinette mini portrait on a bow
-"MA" lady-in-waiting badge on a bow (inspired by contemporary Russian examples)
-large rhinestone earrings
-large rhinestone necklace worn at the neckline like an oversized brooch
-several rhinestone rings
-either general deathly pallor, or pallor with early/minimal zombification rot
-light dirtiness from crawling out of the grave
-prosthetic appliance for the stitched-up decapitation

Of course I already have the Marie Antoinette portraits I made way back. I'm still tempted to redo older Marie, either with a different portrait entirely (why, oh why, did I not think to use her infamous chemise gown portrait???) or at least a better quality print. But that'll come down to last minute tweaks.

I also have little crown brooches to add to the centers of the bows, and I might add more ribbon too (the theme with almost everything on this project so far has been "when in doubt, add more"). All the jewelry really needs a post of its own, so more on that later.

And typically, everything else is a lot of mockups and prep and waiting right now.

Back in May I ordered 1780s stays from Historical Designs on Etsy.
© Historical Designs
They'll be plain coutil, with front and back spiral lacing. Her work looks and sounds amazing and I'm beyond excited to get my stays in the next few weeks.

I can't properly start the dresses or petticoats until the stays are in hand, so in the meantime I've been focusing on accessories, starting with the bum pads and pockets. The cost for both was basically nothing, as I used old fiberfill and scrap fabric, which was awesome. I used Simplicity 8162 (the first American Duchess underpinnings pattern) for the bum pad, and Simplicity 3635 for the pockets. Both are fairly straightforward so there's not much to say or show, but I did make a few experiments and tweaks.

On the bum pads, I made the first one in the largest size thinking bigger is better - and it is, with caveats. I initially overstuffed it, and both it and I didn't look right while it was worn (very stumpy and stocky, which is already a problem for me being short, high-waisted, and curvy). So I made the second one in a smaller size and stuffed it more conservatively, then pulled some stuffing out of the larger pair and it too looked much better with less stuffing. The two sizes really only differ in how far they wrap around to the side and front of the hips: when viewed from the front, the larger size gives a little more width. As it turns out, having two sizes was perfect. My friend and I have the same hip measurement, but our proportions are different: she has wider hips, I have more butt. So with appropriate stuffing in each bum pad, the smaller size with volume concentrated in back was better for her, and the larger size with some extra volume on the sides worked better for me.
She won't sleep in her actual cat bed, but apparently bum pads are good enough for nap time.

On the pockets, instead of using bias tape for the opening and outer edge, I did a facing on the opening (adapted from the Simplicity 4923 shirt) and just sewed a normal right-sides-together seam along the edge. There was honestly no reason for this except that I didn't have any bias tape and was too cheap/impatient to go out and buy some. I had plans to embroider Marie Antoinette's initials on the pockets, either by hand or machine, but that didn't pan out. I do want to make another pair someday, so I'll definitely try embroidery next time.
We're very mature costumers, clearly.
Both the bum pads and pockets are kind of 99% finished and tucked away right now and waiting some last minute tweaks, namely checking the fullness of the bum pads when all the petticoats and dresses are done to see if they need more oomph to support the weight. So I'll get finished photos when everything's assembled.

With those base underpinnings done, I did eventually make a rough mockup of the dresses to get an idea of what my game plan was. I primarily used Fresh Frippery's awesome tutorial, as well as looking at the chemise gown American Duchess made from it too. The tutorial calls for three lengths of 55" fabric, or 165" total circumference, and I had ordered enough to account for that. But I'm playing with the idea of adding a black lining (for more dimension, and it gives a nice spookiness factor), and as American Duchess advises, 165" is very full to begin with and the thicker the fabric, the bulkier the dress. The lining I'm thinking about is the same fabric I used for the Lucille Sharpe nightgown, and luckily I had some yardage left over. So I made two mockups of 165", one with a lining panel sewn into the front and one of just voile.

The mockup with the lining wasn't terribly puffy, and maybe I could have gone with 165" and been fine, but after the bum pad puff debacle, I decided to cut down the fullness and scale it back to the 138" given for the chemise gown in Norah Waugh's The Cut of Women's Clothes: 1600-1930. I've seen lots of people make that version and they turn out perfectly suitably full. I tested the voile-and-lining mockup at 138" and liked it, so I cut the just-voile mockup down to 138" as well so they're both prepped for eventual construction. I ended up with something like this...

It's kind of strange - and honestly really great - how quickly during construction these dresses come together and actually look like what they are, even without the sleeves and finishing.

Even though I'm happy with the 138" circumference regardless, I'm still undecided on the lining. I'm not too worried historical accuracy, as these are zombie costumes, after all. I want things to look basically era-correct, but some artistic license is required. And they'll be torn and weathered, so there's also no need to consider HA for the sake of wearing these to reenactment-type events (I'll eventually make proper versions for that). I do really like the look of the black underneath, but it's just not at all actually necessary. The decision may ultimately just come down to time and money; there are still a few essential things to make and buy that take precedence.

Just yesterday I did a mockup of the shift using Simplicity 8579 (American Duchess's newest underpinnings pattern). Not really anything to show there, at least until I have the finished shifts done. I do need to decide if I'm going to do the HA French seams, or just say "eh" and leave them raw or finish them with overcasting or something. The pattern went together really well, and despite being worried that the pattern size I'd bought was too small, with the ease it ended up being almost a perfect fit (aside from bust, which stays will deal with; and upper arm, which I can adjust to be roomier).

I've also done one hair test. I'm not into the idea of HA pomatum and powder products right now (see a trend with this project?), so I researched and asked around for modern equivalents. I ended up using Murray's Superior Hair Dressing Pomade from a suggestion by American Duchess, and plain ol' all-purpose flour because it was the closest thing I already had in the house. I didn't really follow any one tutorial, as I used a lot of different sources and research, but the videos by The Dutch Milliners and historical portraits were especially helpful. I put the pomade in my hair while it was damp, then let it mostly dry before curling it very small sections with the smallest foam rollers I had. After setting overnight, I took the curlers out and let the hair relax. With more pomade on my hands, I broke the curls apart, then powdered everything - focusing on the roots - with sifted flour and a fluffy brush. I pinned the top into a sort of bouffant, then pinned the sides into place where I wanted them.
I think I need to use more pomade and a finer powder, and the sides need more teasing or rats for support. But I'm really pleased with it as a first attempt, and I think it'll be a good technique for more realistic historical costuming someday. Ultimately I don't think it's big enough for this project, though, which is all about excess and taking things to the extreme limit. So I'll probably be getting a wig (likely the Lioness wig everyone else seems to use to great effect) just to make it that much more extra.

In anticipation of building huge hedgehogs, I got a bunch of mesh bun donuts to cut into oblong rats to support and fill out the sides better.
One of the dumbest things I've bought for a costume ever. Thanks, Dollar Tree.

Coming up next: SO. MANY. RHINESTONES.