Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Costuming Fun!

I am back after a busy week or so. Between gigging and the day job I have started work on my costume for my brand new act 'Foam'.

Since I am going to show you some sneaky pictures of my work in progress, I feel now is probably as good a time as any to let the cat out of the bag about the nature of the act. I won't tell too much though, just enough to give some context to what I've been working on.

So Foam is going to be the third in my Dark Forest triptych, along with the Jackalope and Baba Yaga. Just like the other two, the act has its roots in folklore, fairytale and myth. While the Jackalope is really about vulnerability and Baba Yaga is about strength and acceptance of one's own destiny, with Foam I wanted to try and characterise bitterness and a destructive nature.

The idea behind Foam was a combination of two mermaid/water spirit stories. I know mermaids are a very well used trope in burlesque and have been performed in many styles from the earliest performers right up to the modern day. Mermaid performers that spring to mind include Diva Hollywood who uses puppetry and veil fans to create an adorably comic sea-she and Khandie Khisses who is currently pushing the boundaries of the genre by working on an underwater burlesque act with a monofin tail. I wanted, in the way these performers have, to approach this ubiquitous theme with my own unique stamp.

The stories that I was interested in were the traditional tales of mermaids and sea sirens singing to sailors, tempting them and calling them to an untimely end dashed on the rocks. While looking at this I was also thinking about the REAL ending of the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Little Mermaid. Obviously, according to Disney and the like The Little Mermaid wins her prince and lives happily ever after, but in the version I knew from childhood, the little mermaid fails to win her prince and instead is doomed to a sort of soulless limbo-life as foam on the sea. Looking at these two ideas together I came up with the idea that perhaps sirens were just thwarted Little Mermaids, who had risked themselves to win their prince and failed. Now they were just foam on the sea, semi-human balls of pain and bitterness whose only consolation was to lure others to the same fate they had suffered.

So with this in mind, the perfect music track selected and choreography started, I have started working on the costume (Yay!). Personally, I love reading about people's creative process. Both their thoughts and ideas behind the acts and how they physically made costume and prop items, I find it interesting and inspiring. So I thought I'd do a little photo-blog of how I put together my costume for this act. Now, for regular readers and followers, you know the etiquette of burlesque act creation but if anyone has just stumbled upon these blogs from outside the burlesque world - this isn't a tutorial to make a costume exactly the same (so please don't!) it's just to show people what I've been working on. So here goes - in this edition - the undergarments!

Here's a big pile of stuff I picked up, normally I get a lot of bits online but I've been quite lucky this time to find most of it in and around Nottingham. The fabric is from Victoria Market and it's raw silk - you can't see in this pic but I also have another shade of pale green and a sort of greeny-goldy-brown. I didn't end up using the silk on the undergarments but it is being used on my outer dress (which I will hopefully talk about in the next blog). The trimmings are mainly from the local haberdashery stall on the market. Where possible I like to buy trims locally, because if we don't support these stalls, in a few years they could be gone. Plus the market haberdashery is very reasonably priced for great quality stuff! Also, in my craft pile are a couple of items that started life as hair flowers and hair bands - but I'll tell you a bit more about those as we go along.

As well as all my crafting odds and ends I started out with a pale gray (in the picture they have come out more violet but they were gray) bra and pair of pants. I find it tricky to find reasonably priced bras that fit me, places like Bravissimo do my size but they are much too pretty (and expensive) to go customising, so I went instead to Primark as their bras are plain, which leaves me freedom to go a bit crazy with trimmings etc, and they come in my, rather busty, size. I loved this pale gray colour as I felt it was reminiscent of a cold, foamy sea - just the look I was going for.

After the absolutely essential first task of cutting out all the tags (nothing looks more unsightly!) I began with work on the bra. Those hair flowers you can see in my craft pile were gray shading to lilac and I loved their slightly slippery looking texture. I peeled the petals off carefully and sewed them on to the top edge of the bra to give it a full, poofed out look.

I had found these hairbands with lovely silver and gray appliques on them while I was out picking up my craft bits. The hair bands were probably cheaper than if I had just found the appliques on their own so I cannibalised them and used them as the central feature on each bra cup. I love it when you find great bits for customisation in unusual places! (PS They look a little wonky in the pic but that's just my crummy camera work!)

Finally I used my lovely pale sea green beaded trim from the haberdashery stall. As I won't be wearing a corset in this act, and I'm hardly the slimmest of girls, I wanted to make sure the costume was flattering to my figure. I have found that trims that hang just to my waist tend to accentuate the waist and make me look a little more curvaceous. I had planned to use some of the pale peach beaded trim too but in the end I didn't think it needed it.

A lot of burlesque performers change the straps on their bras, often to a halter, something that ties or something simple to fasten but I tend not to do that as, once again, the big bust strikes and I need something sturdy to keep me up! I did think about decorating the straps or covering them, which I usually do, but in this instance I felt I didn't want the costume to be too frilly or over fussy so I have left them plain.

I then moved on to the pants. Because of this style of pant and the fact that it's quite sheer I actually bought two pairs; one to customise and the other to wear underneath so that you can't see anything through. I tend to wear a 'safety thong' underneath my costumes anyway but still, better to be safe than flash the audience something you'd rather not!

With these pants I started off by trimming the waistband (well, I say waistband, but really these sit more on the hip) with the same green beaded trim. In the past I have tried different techniques for trimming stretchy pants with non-stretchy trimmings. I'm sure there's a trick to it, but as yet I haven't found anything foolproof! I used to stretch my pants over the back of a chair but the method I have tried this time is just to stitch the trim at pre measured key points. This is why in the photo it appears to hang a little loosely - but when it's on it fits just nice!

The final thing I did with the pants was to sew over the 'merkin area' some more of the petals from the hair flowers I took apart earlier. I did consider putting some more green trim hanging down from the pants but again I didn't want to make it over fussy. I may change my mind nearer the time, but for the moment I'm happy enough with them as they are.

The next thing I have started work on is the outer dress. At the moment that is still a work in progress that looks like it may take me some time to complete but when I am finished with it I'll post up another blog like this one showing you all how I put it together.

Hopefully some of you found this interesting, I know hearing about how others do their costumes is always interesting to me!

'Til next time

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