Zede introduces this weeks podcast by stating, “if we are suppose to podcast about what we know, I sure have done a lot of costumes!”
To this Mallory adds, “costumes really offer so many opportunities to challenge yourself.”
Costuming whether for theatre, dance, acro, aerial arts or halloween has been a part of both Zede and Mallory’s lives for quite some time. In fact Zede even drops some knowledge on the origin of the word “Drag”. She explains that in Shakespearean times when plays were performed costumers would write the letters D R A G in the script margins to indicate when someone was dressed as a girl because in those times females were not allowed to perform. So the word Drag as we know it today evolved from this shorthand long ago. Not to say Zede has been costuming since Shakespearean times but a long time none the less.
For her fall 2018 Halloween themed aerial showcase Zede needed to make 3 costumes, one for her, one for her partner Lacey and one for her aerial friend Jen. So what exactly are the aerial arts? Zede describes them as when you are up in the air and hanging from something in the ceiling. Zede and her aerial friends were using aerial silks and hammocks which are fabrics suspended form the ceiling. Silks refer to two fabric tails and the hammock is one loop of fabric. The silks are not actually made of silk fabric but nylon tricot. You wrap your body around the silks to hang, drop, and dance in the air.
Things to keep in mind
You don’t want to damage the silks, so no exposed zippers, no rhinestones unless they are glued down and have no sharp edges and if you want to use sequins they should be flat. You don’t want anything that can catch on the silk or hammock fabric.
You should also be respectful of the next performer(s). Be aware of costumes that shed – feathers, glitter, fur, etc…
You don’t want your costume to get caught in the fabric. You want a close fitting, second skin type garment. Zede notes that you can usually get away with wearing small ruffles and short skirts that stay close to the body. Zede has seen people get tangled and stuck or lose their shirts or rip their shirt in half. She has even had to untangle others.
Another common performance costume element is the use of nude mesh to match the skin tone of the wearer. The mesh can give the illusion that the rest of the costume is just laying on the body not held by anything. Mesh is great for a strapless look. Using mesh can create shapes on fabric that would otherwise be impossible to wear, for example, Jen’s plunging neckline that almost went to her navel. Zede remarks, “body tape won’t keep that on!” She says especially in aerial with the friction against the silks and being upside down.
She also recommends against having fringe or flowy additions on costumes and notes that appliqués should be flat. Zede kept all these things in mind when picking out her costume fabrics.
Jen ordered a costume online and she was not super impressed with it nor did it fit her slender limbs. Zede thought about altering it but the reality is dance costumes are seldom durable enough to the right quality for aerial. Zede describes aerial as more of a sport like gymnastics.
Zede explains that even in her very well made self sewn leggings and leotards she notices where they wear out from contact/friction with the silks.
Zede asked Jen to draw a picture of what she wanted for her costume, Jen said she doesn’t draw so she gave Zede some inspiration photos instead. These included a picture of the original red and black Harley Quinn from the Marvel franchise in a very color blocked look. She also had a picture of another aerialist in a costume with cutouts on the back and sides with mesh insets.
Zede made up a sketch of her idea to help communicate what she had in mind. Jen is from Thailand and English is not her first language so Zede was concerned that verbal communication may not be enough to get her plans across and would hate to waste her time and disappoint Jen. Mallory agrees sketching a draft was a great idea because even when you share a native language with someone communicating about costumes and garments can be tricky.
Jen was thrilled with the sketch and from it Zede created a capri length and 3/4 length sleeve unitard. She made one sleeve red and one black and alternated the colors on each pattern piece. She also added appliqués of opposite colors on each panel. There were mesh cutouts on her back, sides , and lower areas of legs and arms to make a full length unitard with the look of capri length legs and 3/4 length sleeves.
Zede’s and Lacey’s Costumes
Zede also made her and Lacey’s costumes as one piece unitards like Jens. Zede used black stretch velvet that she’s had since Mallory was in acro about 18-20 years ago. At first she thought she only had two yards but then Mal reminded her of the 15 yard full bolt. She also gave her and Lacey mesh inserts but theirs were more fluid looking compared to Jen’s whose were very angular and color blocked. For her own costume Zede wanted a low back, one arm mesh, one arm velvet, a split down the front and a very asymmetrical but fluid look. She recreated the same look for Lacey’s costume but flipped the velvet and mesh designs so they were the mirror image to her costume.
Jen’s mesh and red and black fabrics meet at the seams but Zede and Lacey’s do not. The fabric joins on their costumes are covered with appliqués. Zede says she did not need to cover the seams it was a design element she choose to use. And she actually appliquéd the black velvet on the mesh. She made mesh bodysuits and sewed the velvet to this.
Jen who is from Thailand has a much darker skin tone than Zede. Zede describes her skin tone as having yellow and olive green undertones. She describes herself as a very white almost translucent skin tone with pink undertones.
The power net shaper mesh that Zede has is marked with a color name of “toast”. It’s a very flat color which people usually are not and it has a yellowish tint to it. She didn’t think it would work on Jen and she was right. She cut a little sample and played it on Jen’s arm and the color was way off. She looked at her home library of mesh samples and could not find anything closer to Jen’s skin color. In true Zede fashion she decided she would dye the mesh to match Jen.
Zede and Mallory note this is a common complaint especially from people with darker skin tones, it can be very difficult to find their shade of lingerie and hosiery. There are a lot more peach tones available. Dyeing can really be the way to go to get better shade matching.
Zede used RIT dye on the mesh because it was a nylon and spandex blend. She likes using RIT because last she checked it had a combination of dye types. So no matter what your fiber content it will dye: ccotton, rayon, poly, silk, and blends, something will happen, there will be color.
Zede color matched a sample swatch of fabric as best she could to Jen’s skin and then mixed her dye. She randomly added colors until she liked what she saw. She added some brown and then a bit of red, decided red was no good so she added a bit of yellow. Then she thought there was too much yellow so she mixed in a bit of orange and then went for it.
It can be next to impossible to match dye batches especially when you don’t have a formula to follow so Zede made sure she dyed enough fabric. She needed one yard for the costume she she dyed two yards just in case and even saved the extra dye mix just in case.
She used a pretreatment called Synthrapol which is like a detergent that takes off any fabric treatments or finishes and existing free dye. She then dyed the fabric and again treated it to a Synthrapol soak to catch any new free dye. When it comes to fabric dyeing Zede and Mallory say to go for it!
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Mesh can also be used to impart color instead of match. Instead of using paint or makeup you can use mesh to make someone appear a different color, like a green or blue character. Zede says you can make a mesh bodysuit to color the body and then use the paint or makeup for hands and face.
Zede did not put in any zippers on her costumes. With a unitard you put it on like a leotard, feet first and up over the body. The neck opening is the entrance so to get these types of outfits on the neck hole must be large enough to accommodate the hips, butt, waist, and shoulders. To do this the neck opening is usually scooped or larger than normal and the spandex in the fabric helps the garment stretch and recover.
The costumes Zede made were high neck with the mesh extended up over the shoulders and chest area to create the look they wanted. To be able to get in their garments Zede added a keyhole opening in the back. To secure and close the top of the keyhole you can add a hook and eye or use a strong snap, not the plastic baby style kind. You can also reinforce the closure with a hook and elastic loop. This relieves some of the stress on the main closure and creates a failsafe in case it breaks. Zede used large bra style hooks and small loops of elastic as the closure on her and Lacey’s unitards.
The back of Jen’s costume was all fabric and not mesh so Zede left about 7″-8″ of seam allowance open at the top of the garment. She put a huge hook and eye at the top to secure it.
Zede and Lacey had all mesh body suits from neck to ankles. When making the mesh bodysuits Zede left out the crotch because the crotch area was all fabric (velvet) on the outer layer and she felt that would be uncomfortable and too bulky. To the mesh bodysuit she appliquéd the stretch velvet and on top of the velvet and mesh appliquéd her accent designs.
To get the shape and pieces of velvet and scroll designs she traced her pattern on tissue paper and used this to map out the shape and sizes of the velvet pieces and then from there she could layer on top where her accent appliqué pieces would go. Essentially she made a series of drawing she could lay on each other and cut her desired fabric shape. The velvet fabric was always appliquéd to the mesh. She used a 3.5mm wide and 3mm long zig zag stitch. The zig zag just went over the edge of the velvet to catch the mesh. The mesh we sell which is actually called power shaper net is very sturdy and has a good amount of stretch and recovery. This type of stitch worked well to preserve the stretch on both the velvet and mesh fabrics, which is great because these unitards are very form fitting and need to stretch in all directions. Zede warns that there are many types of mesh with different amounts of spandex and stretch so think about its usage and how it will perform.
Zede and Lacey’s unitards were 5 pieces: a front, 2 backs, and 2 sleeves. They were seamed down the back and this back seaming allowed the fabric to contour around her butt area which is important for a nice fit. Generally the butt tissue protrudes out and the back dips back in so if there is no seam on the back you loose some of the fitting.
She appliquéd the sleeves while they were flat. To avoid the sleeves moving up her arms as she dances in the air Zede anchored them. She made gauntlet style fingerless gloves. The fabric of these covered the top of her hands in a v shape and tapered down to her middle finger. There was a little loop of elastic at this peak that went around the middle finger. Jen’s costume appeared to have 3/4 length sleeves because the top was made of red and black fabric and the mesh went all the way to her hand in the same manner as Zede’s gauntlets above. These style of sleeves allow you to continue the lines from the sleeves instead of stopping abruptly at the wrist.
She also wanted to anchor the legs of the unitards. She used a stirrup setup but having a straight leg with a small hole that allows the heel of the foot to pop out of. You can also create this stirrup effect with a loop of elastic attached at the hem of the leg.
Zede says she was prepared to stabilize her appliqué seams but after testing found she did not need to. She recommends using a new, good, sharp needle and a new, good quality thread when starting a project like this. Light weight tearaway stabilizer like Sulky Totally Stable (which is actually an embroidery product) can be really useful in garment sewing. Using a product like this gives your machine something to grip and sew onto.
Zede did use a temporary spray adhesive to hold her appliqués in place. She started out without using it but found all the pinning a bit torturous. She highly recommends testing before you start on your actual project.
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