Sewing for Raven Mandella. Death drop and high-kick proof leotards

Last year’s Valentine’s Day was fairly unconventional (yet worked out as rubbish as everyone else’s so, solidarity) and I pretty much skipped it. Much like I skipped the queue for Heaven when I delivered these leotards to Raven Mandella. Sometimes I think I’m way too old to be messing about in clubs but there’s no age limit on dancing and having a good time. Besides, I’m there for “work” right?

Werk*

(* I’m still relevant, I know my werk from my work)

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This one though. I love the bones of this human. Look at that death drop, how the hell these looks (and those shoes) manage to hold up, I’ll never know. but you see the kind of stunts I have to keep in mind when choosing fabric, designing and sewing. Most of my texts are “are you padding? Are you wearing foam boob? Breastplate? Any death drops, splits, high kicks?” …I should probably stop asking Raven the last bit.

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L-R Jono Kitchens, Laura Reeve, Raven Mandella, Brooke and …..I’ll have to check

This one-sleeved leotard was for a Beyonce-inspired show at Heaven and has been worn at G-A-Y and at the Sink the Pink New Years Eve show. I wish the fabric was better represented here but it’s a printed metallic lycra and it has a broken shards of ice illusion. And it’s durable! Thank you, you patron saint of textiles!* This kind of fabric is everywhere in performance but it can be a gamble in regards to quality. It’s frustrating because the print can “crack” if it’s stretched or the underlying material can ladder. And then when it’s washed, the print can rub off, this has even happened just through sweat and it irks me no end. Still, I’m trying to look at it as a learning process and remember where and when the better fabrics are sold.

The second look was a massive fail on my part, which I saved in the end so she didn’t end up naked on stage, sorry patrons of Heaven. I completely messed up with fabric choices for the original idea and a lack of time to fit meant it just didn’t happen the way we’d planned. But, I whipped up this purple leotard and we were good to go.

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All the glamour of backstage there. What you can’t see is the five suitcases of exploding drag, wigs, make-up, eye-lashes, shoes and the dog that belongs to the owner/manager (?) of Heaven wagging his tail and charming everyone. Incidentally, Raven has some magical power that involves causing a bag to open in an explosion of sequins and fishnets and managing to pack it all back in just as quickly as it flew out. I’ve seen this happen a few times, once all over my living room floor. It was incredible, stuff everywhere for a few hours, then I blinked and suddenly it was all packed again. I was convinced I’d find a boob or something behind my TV but no, everything disappeared.What sorcery is this? And how can I learn it?

Not much to say about the leotard, I’ve had to work and rework my leotard pattern to fit people with men’s equipment. I’ve used a commercial “leotard for men” pattern but it’s so roomy, you get that saggy balls look, which is fine if that’s the intention. There’s also some magic angle when cutting leotard legs at the back. I once made a batch that just all went straight up people’s bums but I’ve broken that habit and I think I can tell by looking if a leotard will cover someone’s bum or go up it. Of course, you need to account for different bums but that’s another train of thought I can’t get into right now.

Link for Raven’s full performance here

*There actually is a patron saint of tailors, I looked it up, so much for all those years in Catholic School. Going way off on a tangent here but I fell down the patron saint rabbit hole so I’m taking you with me. St Homobonus then, seems a pretty generous guy, gave to the poor and all that, patron saint of tailors, shoe-makers (obvious connection) and business people (wtf connection but we’ll roll it). Anyway, transpires that good old Homobonus, philanthropist that he was, has now become quite the thing in the corporate world and little statuettes of St HB were/are being sold as executive toys. Like the opposite of what he was about. (disclaimer, I’m not religious, just always curious)

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Sewing the Sink the Pink Summer Ball 2016 Part 3. Freakshow, red paint and circle skirts.

It seems contradictory given how messy some stages were but this is one of the cleanest costumes I’ve ever made (in terms of design and construction).

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This is a custom-made two-piece costume for Glyn to wear whilst hosting the Sink the Pink Summer Ball, Freakshow and again at Halloween. There was practically zero waste too! It’s a full circle skirt and fitted bodice with high neck (zip at back)…gloves too but that’s mostly paint. There were a couple of scraps left after I’d cut the circle out so I took a bit of artistic licence and added hip pieces to the bodice to give it a bit of interest and balance the point at the front. I worked some boning into those hip pieces for shaping. 181

It’s a lot of skirt. I developed a new found love for circle skirts, especially full length circle skirts. They’re impractical in a city like London. It’s a lot of fabric, a lot of possible hems dragging on the floor or being stood by the person behind you as you descend into the Underground. But SO DRAMATIC. I remember finding a electric blue velvet one in a charity shop in the 90s. I loved it so so much, I think I wore it even on summer evenings in Perth. Circle skirts, eh? This one I made a while back for ShayShay might have been the skirt that re-ignited my interest in them. They’re the quickest way to drama that I know and I predict more of them in my future.

Painting it was a lot of fun, the couple who live next door are now pretty familiar with what I do but the newish ones upstairs were a bit confused as to why I was throwing paint at a “wedding dress”.

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Given the early part of 2016 was so incredibly fraught for me for so many reasons, this was very, very therapeutic. But not as easy as it looks. At the risk of TMI, you need to be very careful not to make this a “oops my period came early, better tie a jumper round my waist” reference (which would be a perfectly valid aesthetic but not the one I wanted). You also don’t want to have small stains that won’t read – or be able to be hidden by that jumper round your waist.

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The paint took a bit longer to dry than I thought so I had to bring her into the kitchen. Happily, she pretty much embodies how I feel about housework. Plus, I got to scare the crap out of myself when I got up in the middle of the night for water and had forgotten she was there. My own private horror film – and I’m not just talking about those piled up dishes.

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I may have appropriated that bobbed wig and it might still be sitting on the dress form across from me now.

Most of my posts lately have been all Sink the Pink costumes. I’ve made regular clothes too, sometimes even for myself! I really don’t know what I would have done without the STP family, especially this last year. I’m lucky, so lucky to have this outlet and this love from and for my friends. Especially this ratbag (pictured. Also pictured, yet another hand-me-down wig)

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Summer Ball part two

Summer Ball part one (CLOWN WARNING)

 

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Margiela on a budget. Sewing the Sink the Pink Summer Ball 2016 Part 2

I think I ended up refering to this as “Conceptual Muppet Show”.

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SINK THE PINK AT THE TROXY LONDON 2016 ©polskey

I wasn’t entirely sold when Glyn sent me the original reference but when am I ever going to turn him down? Especially when it’s this level of batshit. It’s so nonsensical, it makes perfect sense. The idea is based on this Maison Margiela Artisanal Fall 2009 number, my research only turned up a few mentions to this and refered to it as a Caterpillar Coat. It’ll come as no surprise that I’m a massive fan of MMM, the bonkers the better. Working this out on a budget was the biggest challenge.

Sink the Pink FREAKSHOW

SINK THE PINK AT THE TROXY LONDON 2016 ©polskey 

Using marabou would have been the obvious choice but I’ve found I don’t like new feathers anymore (or feathers at all if I can help it) plus it’s very £££££. I got around this by using 25 of those expanding scarves. You know the ones, they can stretch to become a cowl or a (very small) strapless dress. The guy in the shop was so curious as to why I wanted so many and in these colours, I ended up drawing him a picture. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone in there with an obscure shopping list, they’ve become an important part of my “network”, not least because they always say “are you sure you don’t need gaffa tape?” and I ALWAYS need gaffa tape.

Once I had these sorted I could start working out the frame. It’s basically a rucksack with the bag part cut off and a curtain rod.  I make that sound like it was obvious and I had it done in an hour but no. The scarves were a bit heavier than I anticipated so it took a few tries with bamboo rods (too weak), wire (too bendy) until I settled on the metal curtain rod.  To secure it to the body, I considered using a wire frame that sat over the shoulders but it seemed too much work when a rucksack did pretty much the same job. Yes, it looks ugly but it was covered by yet another scarf so who would ever know?

The rod attaches via wide loops of calico on the rucksack. To stop the rod slipping right through the loops, I hammered the part in the loop flat once it was in and made a stopper of tape where the rod exited. The scarves were stitched onto a 2 strips of heavy calico, one for each side, with one row of stitching attaching the scarves and another creating a tunnel for the rod. It’s easier than it sounds. I ran a row of stitches closer to the fold for the rod to pass through. Then I opened it up, placed the ends of the scarves onto the edge of the calico strip with a good inch overlap, then folded the calico back over and stitched that down. The second part involved a lot of wrestling with 12 scarves, trying to get them to stay put while convincing the cats that this was not a fun game I’d forgotten to invite them to play.

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After all that, I fed the calico onto the rods, hand stitched them to the rucksack at the loops and other strategic (random) points. I covered the rucksack with a scarf, handstitched that in place then had a drink. The concept of a frame like this isn’t entirely new but after this, I have a lot of respect for anyone tackling these shapes. Bob Mackie’s Gone with the Wind-inspired curtain dress for Carol Burnett is pretty well-known and references to this pop up quite a bit. In fact, at the December Ball *Tracey Ermine turned up in this …..

*Margate-based performer and all round great human being.

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Needless to say, after all my faffing about with this Conceptual Muppet Show, I was extremely precious about anyone touching it and how to transport it (lack of sleep probably had something to do with this too).Sink the Pink FREAKSHOW

I was really lucky to have photographer Polskey with me during this show and have her to thank for the pics of this look (and more) onstage. Thank you Olivia!

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Sewing the Sink the Pink Summer Ball 2016, Freakshow Part 1 (Clown warning)

This was the show that made me stop and think “Ah, OK, I get it” and really start trusting my judgement on how things should work for the group costumes. I was able to step back from the work and see it properly rather than tit about wasting time. When I think about last year’s ball and how I planned, cut, stitched, unpicked and changed direction only to go back to my original idea, I could kick myself. It’s like when you are getting ready to go out. You pick out what to wear, change your mind a few dozen times before you realise that your first instinct was best (advice from Jeremy Power circa 1992). In fact, this whole year, in so many aspects of my life, has been about realising I need to trust my instincts more. There’ll always be criticism and room to improve but this time when someone gave me positive feedback I didn’t respond with “oh but, I could have…and don’t look at the (whatever tiny flaw I’d blown up in my mind)”.

I’m just going to cover the clowns in the opening number in this post then write up the rest, keep those clowns quarantined (and apologies to my coulrophobic sister).

 

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STP Summer Ball 2016. Clockwise top L-bottom R, Amie, Joe, Laura. Micheal. Sally, Brooke. Core STP dancers.

Neoprene and netting collars, which I made by hand and wide trousers. I had wanted that harlequin fabric but none to be found and besides, this worked out better.

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These collars were mostly an exercise in measuring properly and wrestling the neoprene into shape. Why neoprene? Why not? It’s hardy, holds shape and this had good texture. I thought I’d made them too large for the lifts involved in the opening number but that was another lesson learned. To explain a little, with three months between shows, deadlines can be quite tight for all of us. Co-ordinating rehearsals for 40 plus performers requires a lot of skill and dedication on the part of everyone invloved. I go to rehearsals when I can to see the choreography, sneak some fittings in and catch up (but mainly for the lols and to see everyone really). In the past, I’ve sat there thinking, “oh no, how will that bit of choreo work with what I had in mind?” But, I’ve figured out is that there’s always a solution and it’s usually easier than I expected.

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Lift by Joe and Sally. Bonus backflip courtesy of Foxxy

 

As well as these 6 looks, I put together another 2 clowns.

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Send in the clowns….oh Dave’s already here… Tester there, bringing your Stephen-King-It fears to life. These had an added “ball sack” pouch inside the front. Observe in this link to  Freakshow fun (as shot and edited by Craig (dreamboat) Heathcote and crew)

Creeping ever closer to my unintentional goal of dressing all of east London’s drag scene…..

 

 

 

 

 

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Catwoman wishes she could move like this (and look this good)

Another look from 2015. It’s going to take me a while to catch up with all these costumes. This was Chester’s look for both The Secret Garden Party as well as the Sink the Pink Heroes and Villains Ball.  I’m only sorry this gif is a few seconds long, I could watch him dance forever.

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I keep trying to put this catsuit pattern away but it refuses to take a break. It’s the hardest- working pattern I have ever encountered.

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This kind of wet look lycra looks great on but takes a bit of patience. It’s a bit of a contradiction, it sticks to itself but also slides easily. Sometimes this works in my favour, but mostly not. Unsurprisingly, sewing with it can be a bit of a faff. The presser foot sticks to the fabric if it’s right side up and it can feed unevenly. For this reason, putting a zip in is a special type of a nightmare.

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I know there are teflon feet and fabric lubricants but I stuck a bit of tape on the bottom of the zipper foot and got on with it. A few months after I finished this, I bought a set of (cheap) feet online. Jokes on me because when they arrived, the only description on the box was in Chinese. Lots of fun with translating apps trying to claim I was looking at a “Frog Kebabs” foot. For all the Frog Kebab sewing I do.

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Frog Kebabs aside, as long as I went slowly, it was OK. The tape on the bottom of the foot worked well enough for the zip as well as the decorative stitches.

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I’m not sure if it’s visible but I added a light mesh panel running along the inside of the sleeve seam and down the body and outside of the leg. This fabric doesn’t beathe that well and the panel made it less sweaty (and allowed for more stretch since it’s more forgiving than the lycra).

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First fitting went well, even with the tag still on the mask!

Such a fun ball. I can’t quite get my head round the fact that the next one is 6 weeks away and has sold out already!

You’ll spot Chester slinking down the stairs on the right. Full video is over here

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Sewing the Sink the Pink Winter Ball 2015 -Tank Girl (with bonus Bryan Adams anecdote)

I’ve a bit of catching up to do on the last few months. Here’s a Tank Girl look I made earlier. A lot earlier, for the December 2015 Sink the Pink Heroes and Villains Ball.

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Glynfamous as Tank Girl. 

This routine had some fairly vigorous choreography and a bunch of dancers in David Cameron masks. Pointedly political. And speaking of points…

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Never before has a pair of tits given me so many sleepless nights. I trialed a few alternatives like plastic bottles (too light, no substance) or card (just no) before I finally went back to using foam.

 

These are just cylindrical foam pieces (from Shepherd’s Bush market) which I slowly carved into a bullet/bomb shape. I marked the centre and then carved away a little at a time until I was happy with them. Most of this time I was wishing for an electric carving knife, it makes this so much easier. Scissors worked just fine, although my wrists weren’t thrilled with the work.

 

Next, I covered them in white lycra and used black gaffa tape to get the checks on the tapered part. The fins are just part of a cardboard box covered in yet more black gaffa.

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So far, so Tank Girl. But it needed a way to attach to a human person so I made one of those open bra tops in elastic. I really liked how this turned out even before I added the bombs to it.

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Then it was just a matter of stitching the bombs directly onto the bra. In retrospect, I wish I’d secured them more thoroughly. Halfway through the number, the right boob/bomb was ready to liberate herself…

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As a final touch, I camped up a helmet because it was completely appropriate. And necessary. Cheeky backstage pic, what a beauty.

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I was so busy taking this shot, I turned around and literally bumped into Bryan Adams. Naturally, I didn’t recognise him because WHO EXPECTS BRYAN ADAMS? I assumed he was a performer not yet in drag and proceeded to ask him if he was “getting into a look” later. He was very gracious and said he was going onstage in a bit but not in a look and he enjoyed the tank girl look. Did I realise who he was? Not a bit. Not until he excused himself to go onstage, the opening bars of Summer of ’69 started and Glyn said “It’s Bryan Adams!”.

I’m so smooth.

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Sewing The Sink the Pink Spring Ball. Feathery Heaven

This is my favourite of piece of all the looks I’ve ended up sewing. Ever. In fact, I want one for myself. In every colour.

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Glynfamous is Heaven (vis Liberace and Barbara Cartland)

This all started with a message from Glyn that read.

Glyn; I need a heaven look for the ball.

Me; Yeah, OK. I reckon I can take it on.

Glyn; Prepare.*

*which basically means “we’re gonna try something here, it may take over your flat and your life” And it pretty much did. And yes, that’s my utter disaster of a kitchen in the background. This is no fancy-pants operation, I work out of my tiny basement flat, dodging cats and all the other usual detritus of life.I took the photo below at 3am the night before the show. I had to lie down for a few minutes (unsurprisingly) and there she was looming above me, and almost finished and looking completely out of context,

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Yeah, that’s right. 4-bloody-bollocking-AM. Downing Red Bulls at midnight was not the best idea I’ve ever had. But at least I had solidarity cat keeping me company while the other two took off for whatever cat disco I wasn’t invited to.

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This look is basically a dressing gown with a flared sleeve. It may be a bell sleeve or I’ve even heard it called and angel or trumpet sleeve. At that point in the morning I was refering to it as “huge fuck-off/fuck off sleeves”. Fuck-off as in super huge. And fuck off as in “OMG, 5m to hem of this bloody thing when will it end?!”

Speaking of ends….enjoy.

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The bodice is three rectangles gathered at the shoulder and back collar. I reinforced the back collar with ribbon and used the same ribbon round the waist. It ends about mid-thigh where I added a full circle skirt. After pinning it on, I thought it needed a bit more volume at the bottom so I added three godets; one large one at the back and two at the front. It gave it so much more movement.

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The pic above is of the not-quite-finished-yet stage. The hem still needed work but I’ll get to that in a bit. French seams on all of it because it needed it. There was no way it was ever going to not have French seams. You can see how the front skirt piece curves up to allow for walking. The problem with that and the wide sleeve hem is that the inside of the garment is visible. Unfortunately, the feather trim was attached to a white ribbon and I wasn’t going to work so hard and have a big white ribbon flashing away and ruining the colour scheme. 4am glue to the rescue and it was all dried and hidden away by the next morning although I had to lock it in the bathroom to dry in case the cats got any ideas.

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The process of making this was so enjoyable. The chiffon part was easy if a little fiddly but stitching the trim to the chiffon was a challenge. I have to give credit to Rob at Sew Amazing in Bow here. He’s an incredible source of knowledge – he suggested I use three-step zig-zag stitch, a jeans needle (I know, on chiffon but bear with me) and run the thread through paraffin wax. It was a bit unorthodox but it worked!

My poor, poor, over-worked sewing machine. One day we’ll sew some nice cotton. One day. Maybe. This is a very impractical gown though. You ain’t hopping on the number 8 bus and going down to Bethnal Greean Tesco of a Sunday in this. It’s a gown for flouncing and romancing. And maybe fainting on a chaise longue if you’re careful.

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Oh go on, have a second pic. It’s only Beverly Knight! Glyn’s hat by Noel Stewart

It’s hardly a completely new design though. These type of gowns have been around for a while in one form of another. In fact, against my better judgement, I went into the M&M store in Leicester Square on Monday and saw this….

I must have stood there laughing for at least 5 minutes.

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I really think this is my favourite piece after “Conceptual Bride” last year. Conceptual Bride is still going strong and getting lots of wear. Last seen on stage with Years and Years at Brixton Academy.

I love the still of this clip, those gorgeous crowns by 8DIX make it look like something out of Where the Wild Things Are. Watch out for Foxxy’s awesome high kicks on the left. I think she’s in the Liz Hurley number I made so it’s good to see it getting about! Absolute powerhouse dancing from Raven Mandella, Jono Kitchens, JonBenet Blonde, Shay Shay and Rodent Decay in here too (and I think that’s Stoli on far right). Raven’s bum wiggle at the end is a particular highlight.

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