Sunday, January 6, 2013

One Step Forward, Twelfth Steps Back

Happy Mardi Gras! Twelfth Night is nigh and the carnival season has officially begun! Although I've had my front porch festooned in purple, green, and gold garland for over a week, it's now socially acceptable to start feeling (and acting) festive. Eeeeee!!!

Happy happy joy joy!
Happy happy joy joy!
Happy happy joy joy!

Today was a day of epic progress in one regard, massive regression in another.

On the one hand, I got one costume piece -- the headpiece -- completely finished.

On the other hand, I decided to scrap almost everything I accomplished yesterday and start over. Let's begin there.

I hit 9 a.m. with (what I thought was) a completed tail mount and (what I thought was) a fully developed idea for how I was going to create the felt & fabric piece that will hold the feathers and attach them to the tail mount. I threw the felt in the washing machine with my bed sheets, made some coffee, and commenced with the pattern making.

Who says you need math to do geometry?

The original plan was to cut the fabric around the middle spacer
piece and attach it with a staple gun and massive amounts of glue.

But once I got to this point and my second cup of coffee, I realized that this wasn't going to work. For one thing, I decided that I didn't fully trust staples and glue to keep 200+ feathers securely affixed to my butt for 18+ hours, and for another, that scrawny 2" strip of fabric at the top wasn't going to do much to hold a bunch of 45" feathers erect in a stiff gust of wind. At best, they would flop over and look dumb. At worst, they would bend and break. Not good.

I decided that the felt needed to extend past the wooden frame for adequate feather stability. So what if you can see it? I have plenty of extra dress fabric that I can use to cover it. So I went back to the literal drawing board.

21" of  supportive fabric-ey goodness.

I was much happier with this second rendition. It was now big enough to hold all the feathers securely in place and I simplified it drastically by nixing the cutout around the spacer board in favor of just running the fabric under the whole thing and drilling through it for the mounting bolts.

But I also decided that I liked this shape a lot better than the one I used for the boards I cut yesterday. A lot better. It's so much more refined and attractive. I tried to talk myself out of it, but the Detail Devil prevailed. I know myself well enough to be certain that if I didn't commit to redoing those boards now, I'd be kicking myself for it on Mardi Gras morning. After months of planning, weeks of sewing, and hours of hair and makeup, I'd be standing in front of the mirror fixated on nothing but how much I hate the shape of the tail mount.

With another cup of coffee and a sense of resignation, I went back for more pattern making.

Trial and error and error and error.

Finally, a winner emerged.

So much better than the original.

By this point it was nearly noon and I was tired of playing peacock paper dolls, but it was raining too hard to go outside and power up the electric jig saw, so I figured I may as well finalize plans for how I was going to get this whole thing mounted to my back.

Looks kind of like something a skydiver would wear, right?
It's basically just a camping backpack. You know, the kind with the extra strap that buckles across your belly? Only this backpack is going to buckle under the dress.

Getting that plan onto paper was a huge weight off my brain. Plus I realized that one of the pattern versions I'd already made would work for the piece that would hold the tail to the harness and against my back. I decided that I'd get the patterns traced onto the wood, clean up the morning's mess, make some lunch, and maybe even change out of my pajamas. It was 1 in the afternoon, and I figured I'd have a full belly and a start on a second load of laundry by 2:00.

Harness boards and new tail mounts traced onto wood.

Buuuuut... Things didn't really happen that way.

While putting away my drawing supplies I came across the brass wire that I intended to use for the head piece.

"Ooooh... Shiny thing!" said Swizzlebent.

Before I knew it the sun was down, my thumbs were bleeding, my right pinkie was super glued to my left ring finger, and I'd been sitting at my dining table listening to RadioLab and twisting wire for six hours.

And once you're six hours into something involving super glue, you may as well finish.

I should have taken more (or at least better-timed) photos of the process, but other than that it would be gold and it would have feathers, I didn't have much of a plan for this at all, except that I knew I wanted the wire to create kind of an organized tangle. Since I didn't have a plan of attack going in, it was a bit tricky to identify which points were worthy of a photo. 

20 gauge brass wire (the heavy one)
28 gauge brass wire (the fine one)
Cobalt blue fabric-covered headband from Target

Started by cutting the 20 gauge into 8" lengths. Grouped six of them together, twisted in the middle, and wrapped tightly to the headband with another 8" piece.

Finished wrapping the first piece, then divided the free wires and pulled them to the front and back.

Added more wires to fill in the middle by wrapping them just twice around the headband and leaving the free ends sticking out the front and back.

Finished adding wires.

Now to create the tangle. I twisted all the wires on one side tightly in one direction (like on the right), then untwisted them, separated them all without straightening them, and twisted them together again in the opposite direction at the end (like on the left). Since the left side was going to be the back, I left those ends free and untrimmed to be curled later.

With the messy frame in place, I needed to add wires poking out the top to hold the feathers. I used various lengths of 20 gauge wire and wove them down into the tangle, around the bottom, and back up to the top, then twisted a couple of times in the middle to secure them, leaving the long ends free and sticking up.

Twisted the free ends around a pencil to curl them, and used jewelry pliers to tighten the curl at the tips. With the base curls in place, I began wrapping them loosely with the 28 gauge wire to carry the tangled look up from the base.

Stil wrapping and tangling. Those two guys on the right are looking kinda naked.

Finished bulking up the curls and weaving 28 gauge wire into the base to fill it in and make the whole thing the same visual weight. I think it looks like a Tim Burton landscape.

Feathers dropped down into the curls.

Adjusting the feathers so they all face forward.

Super gluing the feathers into place. Had to leave it like this while the glue set because it was dripping down through the wire and onto my hand, which is how right pinkie got stuck to left ringie. I'm still picking glue off my hand while typing this.

Once the glue had (kind of) dried, I wrapped the base of the feathers to give them a more finished look. I also added the fun curl on the front. That was a scrap piece of brass I found yesterday in the hardware store while digging through a bin of bolts. It ended up being the inspiration for the curly feather holders, so it deserved a place in the costume.

Finishing touches: A few more fine curls added to close up the empty spaces between feathers, and touching up the feathers themselves with teal Sharpie wherever the glue dried and turned white.

Head piece = DONE!

All told, the head piece alone was a 9-hour project. Not how I had planned to spend my entire Sunday, but I love it when things just happen to happen that way.

1 piece down.
36 days to Mardi Gras.
200 tail feathers to go...


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