Of course, now you desperately want to know what the other Enormous Project was that took up all of my time over May and June, right? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway, so you might as well pretend.
I should warn you – this is long, detailed, and picture heavy.
Now, the observant amongst you might remember that I signed up to do burlesque classes (again) back in Feb. I’ve done the classes before, but always for my own benefit, with no intention of taking to the stage. But Miss La Belle offers a level 3, where students who are interested work on their own acts before appearing in a student showcase produced by Miss La Belle. I’ve never had any particular desire to appear on stage (actually, I have deep seated performance anxiety and stage appearances tend to reduce me to a whimpering shaking mess) so I’ve never done that. But… for a bunch of reasons I decided that this time, I would do it.
Yep, I would choreograph, costume, and perform my very own burlesque act in the June 2013 Miss La Belle’s House of Burlesque Frolic Lounge show.
Over the course of about 11 weeks.
And the show was one week after the market that I was making all the cushions for.
WHAT WAS I THINKING!
Once I realised that Mum was coming to stay for a week, I decided to take that week off work. And as it was the week between the market and the show, I decided to leave most of the costuming for that week so that my AMAZING mother could help me out. Because it’s every mum’s dream to help their daughter sew their debut stripping costume right? (Have I mentioned my mum is awesome?)
I am SO lucky Mum helped me. I wouldn’t have had a dream of completing both of my Two Enormous Projects without her. Knowing I had a week off available to complete my costume meant I could spend my free evenings and weekends before that time making cushions and rehearsing the routine and working on the basics of the costume, knowing all the complicated fitting and pinning bits could come later.
But even with leaving most of the tricky bits till the last minute, I still worked on my costume, juggling it around cushions. Because, you see, burlesque costumes have a lot of parts. There are layers upon layers of bits, and many of them have to be removable which adds new complexities. Not to mention the embellishing!
My concept for my routine was one I’d had ages ago. Being in the burlesque community, even as a non-perfomer, you see things or hear things or think things and go “oh, that’d be a great act!” And one day as I was watching Dr Who fight the daleks, I was looking at the funny little dalek arms and I thought “Oh, that’d be a great act!” Yep.
So when I decided to actually perform, naturally I decided to turn my boobs into dalek arms.
A key part of burlesque is nipple covers, known as pasties. Pasties can be simple or elaborate, beautiful or hilarious, but they’re always a key part of the costume. But despite the variation they’re pretty much always flat enough to fit under a bra. So how on earth was I going to (a) attach around 20 cm of projecting objects to my boobs, (b) make them stay there, and (c) hide them in my costume?
Yep, I not only had to choreograph and costume, I had foolishly chosen a concept that included some pretty major engineering.
There was much thinking and pondering how I would achieve these aims. There were thoughts of finding old radios and using the telescoping aerials in the middle of the pasties, so I could extend them. Lots of people suggested using something with some sort of spring tendency and strapping them down, so when the strapping came off they would sort of sproing right into shape. I thought about making the first layer of my costume a TARDIS so that I had a reason to wear something that wasn’t form fitting that I could hide by appendages inside.
In the end I settled on leaving them onstage in a box and velcro-ing them onto regular pasties at the appropriate point in time.
So, what could I make an imitation plunger and egg whisk out of that would be strong enough to hold their shape and light enough to remain parallel to the floor when they were held up solely by glue, velcro, and my naturally perky breasts?
I bought some supplies from Made on Marion but my original idea, to use dowelling, was a bust. To be light enough to be supported by my boobs, the diameter meant that there was virtually no surface area for adhesive. Mechanic Man suggested using cardboard, so I could cut little support struts into it. But before I could try that, the always amazing Miss La Belle magically produced just the right stuff. A thick layer of pliable foam with silver foil already adhered. Cut and rolled into a tube, and sealed with adhesive aluminium tape, I had the basis of my pasties in place. I made the rest out of pipe cleaners, cardboard, and tinfoil. Oh yes, it was one macaroni piece away from being a pre-school project! It’s amazing what you can get away with on stage.
Once that was made, I still had the rest of my costume to go. In burlesque, there is often a transformation in a reveal (reveal being a burlesque phrase for revealing plot elements, costume, or skin by removing a piece of clothing or moving a prop). I decided to start as Doctor Who and transform into the dalek.
Now, I wasn’t cosplaying, so supreme accuracy was NOT the name of the game. I decided that the most recognisable Doctor Who costume of all time (feel free to disagree) was Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor’s striped scarf.
I decided that I wanted at one point for my costume to be nothing but the scarf. So how does one turn a scarf into a dress?
I bought five different colours of polyester satin that tied roughly into the original colour scheme and cut it into different width strips, then sewed them together in a random order to create a striped satin scarf, finished width about 80 cm, finished length about 2 metres or so. It took me ages to cut all that satin and sew it all together! (On a side note, polyester satin frays like nothing else. When you have 5 metres of it cut into about 50 strips, that is a LOT of raw edges. I was pulling polyester thread furballs off everything I owned for days. There’s still some embedded in my carpet. Today I found some in a pillowcase, after I’d washed it.)
I experimented with a few different ways of wearing it, but what I settled on was having the scarf run up the front of my body, loop loosely around my neck once, and then run down the back of my body, with snaps on either side to shape it to me. I could rip open the snaps to whip the dress off .
In between the scarf and the pasties though I still needed another layer, and I settled on a metallic silver bra, underbust corset, and a-line skirt. The underbust corset and skirt would remain on for the final reveal, to become the dalek body. I settled on making the skirt from scratch but covering an existing bra and corset.
The skirt was one half clever drafting, one half pure luck. I used a super stretchy metallic foil covered knit to make the skirt, corset, and bra. I decided on a simple A-line, elastic waist, no darts or shaping required due to the knit. I decided the width of my skirt waist should be equal to my actual hip measurement so I could get it over my hips and then drew identical triangles to use for front and back, extending from my waist width to my desired hem width, and cut a rectangular stip to use for a casing for the elastic. But when halving my desired finished waist width in order to draft my pattern, either Mum or I had a moment of stupid (she swears it was me, I reckon it was her!) and halved it wrong, making the waist too small! Amazingly, it ended up being the absolute perfect size, the stretch in the fabric means I can get the skirt over my hips and the fact it is smaller than we intended gives it a sleeker finish at the waist, with much less gathering.
I cut it to length by bending over and Mum estimating how short I could get it and still cover my butt, and I didn’t bother with hemming it.
The corset was a bit trickier. I had a white cheap, plastic boned, not-really-a-corset corset as I wasn’t up to making a corset from scratch, and we stretched the silver foiled knit over the top of it, stitching it in place. Mum cleverly figured out how to fold extensions in the cover to hide the busk and grommets, but leave space for the ribbon to come out. I replaced the white ribbon with grey.
The bra was perhaps the hardest thing to make. I stretched and manipulated the foil knit over the cups of a moulded bra, then carefully stitched it in place in the inside. I didn’t dart or shape the knit, just manipulated as much as possible. The cover is marginally smaller than the bra itself, meaning the bra collapses a little when empty, but when filled with what a bra should be filled with, the knit stretches into a pretty smooth surface. Once it was stitched in place, Mum trimmed the excess fabric back and did a second row of hand stitching around the inside of the cups to keep the folded over fabric lying flat.
For the gore (the little bit between the cups) I carefully cut the oddest shaped little piece of fabric and wrapped it around, hand sewing it all neatly and covering the edges of the cup fabric.
Hand sewing onto the bra was super hard work as the bra was moulded so very thick. I used my thimble heavily, but not being a thimble user I was awkward and slow.
After covering the cups, I had to cover the back band. Now, how to do this without losing the stretch inherent in the bra?
Enter Mum and her belly dancing costuming experience. This was so amazing to watch I have to share it with you.
First, I put the bra on and Mum DREW the shape of the band onto my back. Honestly. Here’s proof.
Mum then transferred this onto paper by tracing it off my back, and then cut two out of the foil fabric for each side, carefully marking where the shoulder strap extended. She machine sewed the bottom and the top up until the point of the shoulder strap then bagged it to make a band shaped cover.
She slipped this over the band, and hand stitched the top between the shoulder strap and the cup, then stitched the edges to the cup front and back.
Confused? These pictures might help. This method results in the band being covered with a tube that is longer than the band when it is off, but the perfect size when the bra is on and the band is stretched.
After my bra was covered, I had to embellish it. I considered all sorts of sequins and beads and fringing, but eventually settled on minimal embellishment – I mean, I was wearing an outfit with the reflective value of the sun; I decided it didn’t need much.
Mrs C has, in her shop, a plastic stuff that is a gridlike mesh of faceted sparkly surfaces. I added a triangle of this to the gore. The straps were tricky – like the band, they need to be stretchy so sewing or gluing anything on would reduce that. I settled for cutting the mesh down into pairs and hand sewing over the centre of each pair. By anchoring in only one place, I kept the straps’ elasticity.
So that was my costuming feat. All in all, I had to make: two base pasties, two dalek feature pasties, one silver bra, one silver underbust corset, one silver skirt, and one striped convertible scarf/dress. At the same time as I was making a squillion cushions. While also choreographing and rehearsing the act. WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF?
Thank goodness for Mum. She was amazing. She helped me make the skirt, she painstakingly handsewed the fabric onto my corset while I started handsewing the covering on the bra, she then finished handsewing the covering on the bra, she completely designed and handled covering the back bra bands, she hemmed all four sides of my scarf-dress, and she handsewed all the snaps onto my scarf-dress, while I wore it. Yep, I stood there with my hands in the air while she knelt at my side and sewed snaps onto my dress, as it was the only way we could get them in the right place to ensure a good fit and the right shape. We did this last task about 4 hours before I had to be at my hair and make-up call for the first show. She was an absolute trooper, creative genius, and emotional support, and she totally saved my ass. I LOVE YOU MUM!
The show rolled around on the Friday and Saturday night in the middle of worst storm to hit Wellington in something like 40 years. But the show must go on, and go on it did! The lovely Claire of The Vanity Case did my hair for me using star clips I made at Mrs C’s suggestion, I slapped on enough makeup and false eyelashes to be mistaken for a drag queen (entirely intentional, those girls know how to do stage make up), got kitted up in all of my many costume layers, added my coat and hat (two things NOT made by me, hurrah!) and then proceeded to take half of it off in a room full of people. Who’da thunk it.
Unfortunately, due to the somewhat awkward nature of my costume (I couldn’t move too much for fear of busting my snaps open, and the coat was too hot to wear backstage until right before I went on), I have no posed snaps in full costume. What a doofus brain I am! Two nights and never managed to get snapped while posing, in full make-up and costume. Sigh.
So you’ll have to settle for what I’ve got, shots from me mid-act.
As for the dalek pasties… well, you’ll have to wait until I next perform and come and see it for yourself! (Hey, some things I don’t want to put online!)
I had an absolute blast and got so much positive feedback afterwards that I positively buzzed for about a week. And who knows, I might even do it again! It was a pretty big moment, and certainly counts as one of my creative Moments of Satisfaction. In fact, I could probably count it as several, but as it was really just one large project, I’m counting it as one.
I know you’re all desperate to know the answer to the question I posed last time – what stage name should I use? So, let me introduce you to Moxie Fizz… she sparkles, she effervesces, and she needs all the moxie she can get!
And even more importantly, what did I dance to?
Well, this of course!