… thoughts on theatre, life, and stuff

Posts tagged ‘theatrical costumes’

Japanese paper lanterns – application to costume making

Hi!  I was thinking about storage problems for costumes, and I realised being able to compress costumes that use a sphere as a base to a flat shape for storage might prove to be very useful. I was thinking about shapes that collapse for storage and two ideas came to me. 

#1 Scarlet O’Hara’s hoop skirt
#2 Japanese lanterns 

Whale bone is a little hard to come by these days, so the Scarlet idea is impractical, BUT… the Japanese lantern idea seemed to have some merit.  http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Japanese-Paper-Lantern 

I found a helpful little how-to at the link above, and decided that this design, made with floral wire and plastic sheeting (like the cheap picnic table cloths you get in party supply stores) could provide the simple circular shape (or ANY shape, really) for making light-weight, collapse-for-storage designs that could stand up to more wear and tear than paper-covered lanterns. 

click to enlarge


I can imagine this use for making a “globe”, the moon, a tomato or blueberry, the watermelon idea I came up with a little while back, an ice cube, a stone block, any costume based on a sphere, rectangle, square, or pyramid shape could be created using this technique I think. The trick would be faux painting the outside pattern and finding paints that would work for more complicated designs. 

hugs, v-


Watermelon Costume Idea

Phil (our beloved and fearless leader) asked me the other day if I could come up with a watermelon costume.       

I THINK I can, I think I can, I think I can.


I love watermelon.  I understand it.  I totally “grok” watermelon. (there’s a reference that will expose my age! Trivia question, how old am I since I was born 1 year AFTER “Stranger In A Strange Land” was written.)  LOL.   

Well… we didn’t end up using that idea, so I didn’t construct the costume, but here’s the design I came up with.     

There are tons of ways you could make this!  See my  costume idea for an “orange slice” costume if you want to make a quick one out of poster-board. https://vsplash.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/orange-costume-idea/ Just follow the directions below for the sweat suit underneath and voila!      

BUT of course, I saw this costume a little differently in my head.  I wanted to make something a little more like THIS:      

You might be a redneck if...


Materials list:  Sewing machine or iron-on hemming tape, green watermelon fabric (3-4 yards), hanger wire or heavy floral/craft wire, red baggy sweat-suit, red cap, hot glue and glue-gun.     

Step one.  Find green and white striped fabric that looks watermelon-ish.  I would probably buy 3-4 yards.  If I couldn’t find the stuff I liked, I would probably literally spray paint green fabric from a distance with white paint to make it look like a watermelon’s stripes.     

Step two.  Buy black fun foam to cut into seeds, I would get the kind that has an adhesive back to it, even though I would hot glue it on.  That way I could check placement before making a seed placement committment.  🙂     

click to enlarge image


Step three.  Find (or sew) a red baggy sweat suit and cap of some kind.  Faded is FINE for this project!  watermelon innards are more pink than red anyway.     

Step 4.  Attach black seeds to the sweat suit and cap with hot-glue. It would be cool if the actor wore black shoes.     

Step 5. Construct two circle shapes out of hanger or other heavy wire.  This will hold the shape of the watermelon at the shoulders and the waist. (see diagram).     

Step 6.  Fold over the top and bottom of the fabric and sew a channel that is wide enough to run your curved wire through (leave extra room if you use iron-on hem tape!) .  Sew a strip of scrap cloth at the “waist” of the fabric wide enough to hold another loop of wire.  This wire will help keep the rounded shape all the way to the bottom of the costume.     

click to enlarge


Step 7.  Attach shoulder straps (made from ribbon, red fabric, or left over green watermelon fabric.     

Step 8.  With right sides together, sew the back seam so that the green fabric forms a curved shape larger at the top than at the bottom.  Make sure the bottom is wide enough to accommodate the actor’s legs!!!  Cut off the extra fabric once you are sure the shape will work.     

I would pin this together first and try it on a victim, err, I mean a volunteer to make sure I get the shape right,  As long as you don’t leave ugly exposed edges, you could always hot glue this “seam” I suppose, although a sewing machine made seam would stand the test of time better, in my opinion.  If you want the costume worn like the baby pic above, with the top ring under the arms of the actors, then TA DAHHH! You are finished.  If you want the top ring to be higher, shorten the straps so the ring sits above the shoulders, and cut arm holes. You may want to get fancy and turn these arm-hole edges under so they don’t ravel.  Just hot glue or iron hem tape to secure them.     

Without actually MAKING this thing (cough! Phil! cough!) this is the best I can offer in terms of a how-to, but I just know the ones you make will look FABULOUS!!!     

hugs, V-

Orange Costume Idea

Orange suit idea


Here’s an idea I have for the next time we need an “Orange” costume.  The same idea would work for any citrus fruit, I’m sure!  LOL.  Keep in mind… unlike most of the costume ideas on my blog,  this is still in the idea stage, I havent actually tried to construct it yet!  This is how I get started with a creative idea, though.  If I end up building it, I’ll post an update.      

The whole thing could be drawn as a faux (fake 3-D) design on poster-board.  Easy, cheap, done!  But with more time, $$ and effort, this could really be a conversation piece after a presentation on the concept of  “going orange.”  Imagine wearing a foam rubber orange slice to your church’s next staff meeting to make your pitch!!!    

This could also be made out of spray-painted upholstery foam (available from fabric stores).  That should be stiff enough to hold the circular shape.  Alternatively, I could use a cardboard circle COVERED with foam.  To cover the foam circles, I am thinking I would use orange tissue paper, the type used for wrapping gifts.  Orange poster board would be heavier, but would look great.  Yellow yarn glued on would look good for out-lining the segments, I think.  So would yellow glitter glue.     

... or watermelon, Kiwi, lemon....

I would use yellow, self adhesive fun-foam cut-outs for the seeds, and orange cloth strips for the shoulder straps.     

Put the actor in an orange or white track suit… or tights and oversized t-shirt, and voila!    

hugs, V-

SuperHero Costume Construction

When Rush Hour calls for a superhero costume, my first instinct is to keep it simple.  Our costumes sometimes “suggest” a character rather than “dress” a character.  This can be a HUGE cost-saving strategy, especially when you are outfitting multiple actors or  your entire Crew.    

For the Captain Individuality script week, I needed to create two adult-sized superhero costumes and enough extras to out-fit the crew as well.  NOTE: We perform Rush Hour every week at TWO campuses (campusi? camps?  campa-potomuses?)  so our costume requirements are double.  We usuall have between 5-7 crew members each week at each campus.  You do the math.  🙂   

When I start a costume design, I first think about how many I will need and how much I can spend.  I don’t do an elaborate budget or anything like that, I save my unavoidable OCD moments for LATER in the project.  I do make a sketch first.  I’m a “visual thinker” so I want to sketch stuff out before I go shopping.  That usually saves me multiple trips back to the store.    

Super Hero Costumes - Rush Hour 2009


Sketches also give me a way to share an idea with our management team for approval.  (Note to self:  post a blog introducing the Rush Hour management team)   

Any-hoo, you can see from the sketch that I had a ton of these to make, only a couple of days to make ’em, and my idea was to be humorous rather than trying to construct 20 full-blown Ironman costumes.  I ask myself this question, “Does this design say [fill in the blank] to me?”  If yes, get to work, if no, start a new design.   

Crew SuperHeros


This is how they turned out.  We had the crew kids provide their own tights/socks and t-shirts.  I brought the costumes to rehearsal so they could get the general idea.  They had a blast trying them on, deciding who looked best in what colors, planning hair and accessories, choreographing poses, etc.    

The waists are elastic and adjustable.  I went for the over-sized boxer short idea so 1) they would look comic, not realistic  2) one size would fit all kids or adults 3) they would fit over jeans if the director decided to go that way…  and 4) they would be generic enough to use for different purposes.  A baggy pair of red shorts can help costume a tomato, for instance.    

For the adult costumes, I just add some extras like knee pads, a fun-foam “I” for a head-piece and chest insignia, and for myself I took the time to wrap a pair of boots in fabric left-overs.  My bff Donna was co-hosting at our other campus that same week, so I gave her the same basic pieces, then she took her costume home, reshaped the mask, changed the shirt and made it into her own personal brand of goofy.  This is us clowning around in the costumes at my house before Donna made her most excellent modifications …   

We never did decide how there could be more than one "Captain Individuality."


I almost always shop for fabric at the local discount store that I like to call “Wally World.”  They have sale fabric for $1 – $2 per yard which means I can spend $20 and outfit a TON of crew members for a buck a kid.  I keep any large left-over fabric scraps for use on other projects.  I also keep old sheets, towels, yarn and other crafting supplies on hand to keep my shopping to a minimum.  I keep my sewing box crammed full of elastic, black and white thread, ribbon, pipe cleaners, fun-foam scraps, trims, etc.    

I also shop $1 dollar bins for cheap headbands, glasses, etc.   They almost always come in handy sometime or another.    

A little sewing know-how and a year as a student spent in a college costume shop taught me some basics, but my grandmother always said, “If you can READ, you can SEW.”  If winging it on a pattern is not your thing, buy a couple of basic patterns.  My faves are adult Bible costume patterns, a t-shirt pattern, basic shorts/pants (like nurses scrubs) and vest patterns.  For pants, I usually grab a pair of my husbands sweat pants and trace around them.  The shapes are pretty basic if you are going for a look that is not tailored.  How tailored does a pair of leggings for a turkey costume have to be, for instance?  (Note to self:  look for the turkey costume pics).   

A little sewing experience will tell you that 2 yards of fabric will usually cover a kid from head to toe, 3-4 yds will cover an adult. Capes, biblical coats, shawls, etc will take more.   When fabric is $1 a yard, I will often buy extra just to make sure I have enough.  This over-buying keeps my craft closet full of extras for props and smaller projects like silly hats, purses, bags, etc.  Build it over time.  Stay organized, or it can quickly get out of hand.  Remember to “shop” from your home collection of supplies before you hit the stores.  Outrageous colors are often cheaper and look great on stage!  Go for it!   

Another tip… did you know that the distance between your nose and the tip of your finger on an out-stretched arm is about 1 yard (36 inches) ?  I use that little fact all the time when guess-timating yardage needs for costumes.   

Measuring a yard

 So far we have   

1) sketched out the design.    

2) shopped for fabric and “notions” (notions are things like thread, elastic, etc.)   

3) Bought a pattern or grabbed a pair of sweats from our hubbie’s closet.   

next we will…   

4) cut out the fabric  

5) sew it  

6) add accessories if needed.   

yarn can be substituted for elastic in a pinch.



Hem the cape around all edges. Sew strips of ribbon or trim for the ties at the top.For sewing, I use a surger.  That is, when I can remember how to THREAD the stupid thing so that it sews right.  Otherwise, I iron in a nice hem and top-stich it with my normal sewing machine.  I do NOT spend a great deal of time on sewing.  I top stich, use huge stiches and never worry if my work is going to last a generation.  (my mother, the retired home economics teacher, would gasp in horror, so I don’t let her get too close!) OK, that’s not absolutely true, when she’s in town she helps me, we have a blast together doing this stuff.
I generally use two colors of thread.  Black or white.  (a trick I learned in a college costume shop).  These are costumes meant to be seen from a distance, and often used only once, so save time and money by sticking with the basics.  All of the pictures above were sewn with either black or white thread.  Can you even tell?  See?
If you are a freak for perfection, stop reading this blog right now, get a pattern and follow your bliss.
Sew the shorts’ sides and in-seams and hem them (follow a pattern if you’ve never done this before).  Fold over the shorts wasteband, sew a channel for elastic.  NOTE:  leave a gap for inserting the elastic.  I use lots of extra elastic and leave this gap open permanently so the elastic can be cinched up or let out to fit different actors. I use the cheapest elastic I can find and do not worry about getting the non-rolling or wide types.   The skinny types work just as well, in fact, if you are sewing at 1 in the morning and run out of elastic when the stores are closed, take three long strands of yarn, knot each end and run those through as a draw-string.
You may want to hem or surge the edges of the masks.  If these are cut out of felt or non-ravel fleece, you won’t have to bother with finishing the edges.  Customizing these masks can be a fun thing to turn over to your crew members.  They can hot-glue on feathers, sequins, jewls, trim, whatever, dudes! Just jump in!

By now, you have the basics of a superhero costume.  Baggy boxing shorts with an elastic waist, a big cape with a simple tie at the neck, and a fabric mask that will make Zoro jealous.   Add crew members and turn those superheros loose on the world!!!

hugs,  v-

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