Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Part VI: Damage Control

damage control

Now that I’m finished hyperventilating over the possibility that I’ve forever ruined this costume through my heedless hacking, I’ve started doing some damage control.

The first thing is to reattach as much fabric as possible to bring the dress back to a wearable state. I took the largest piece of the fabric I’d originally cut off the front that I could find, and sewed it as a front panel to the skirt. It has an ugly seam at the attachment point, but it can eventually be covered up with the draped layer. It’s a little shorter than I wanted, but again, the draped layer will take care of that. Then I used pieces of the cut-off train to make tapered panels on the sides, bringing the hem down to a respectable length. Just to be safe I’m not going to do any trimming of seam allowances or attaching of details (ruffles, sheers) until I’ve finished the tentacles and know for sure how long the dress needs to be.

I finally got past my trauma to take a picture of the post-cutting dress, to compare to the restored dress. The first picture doesn’t even come close to capturing the horror that it was in person.

ursula ragged

ursula damage control

It’s not perfect (though it’ll be better once I press all the seams and add the center panel to cover up a lot of the patchwork). Aside from the visible seams, the fabric doesn’t quite match up in color– the fabric for the side panels was stained enough that I had to hand-wash it, and the washing and drying made the smooth satiny parts of the brocade look a little dull. Also, the train must have faded a little differently than the rest of the dress, so you can definitely tell that the patching was done after the fact.

Whew! Let this be a lesson to everyone– don’t go hacking away at a perfectly nice dress without a specific plan, and possibly some taped-off cutting lines so you can really visualize the final product ahead of time.

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Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Part V : Disaster!

Hindenburg_burning

You’d think that “rip the bottom part of a dress to shreds” would be a simple, straightforward thing to do for a costume, no? But no, it’s not that easy, because it has to be artistically ripped so it displays the optimal amount of tentacle (never thought I’d find myself saying those particular words), but still looks like a wedding dress. I thought I’d do a high-low hem, so it would show more tentacle in front and get longer in the back, kind of like a train. I took a deep breath, and started cutting, intending to make the edges jagged once I got the shape right.

So, you know how when you were a kid your mom would cut your bangs, and keep trying to get it even, trimming, trimming, and then when she finally let you look in the mirror, it would look awful because she never stepped back to see the big picture?

Yeah, that happened. I can’t even take pictures, I’m so depressed.

I have my high-low hem, but it just looks terrible– it doesn’t just reveal the tentacles, it looks unbalanced, awkward, nothing like what I’d envisioned. The sweeping lines of the skirt are completely gone, and the whole thing looks all squat and pudgy and unattractive. I just finished the dress– which could’ve been a really nice Vanessa costume in its own right– and now I’m feeling serious remorse for the butchery I’ve inflicted on it. What have I done?!?

I’ve spent this evening staring at the dress (avoiding looking at the photos of it in pristine condition from just this morning), trying desperately not to freak out, and pinning it in various configurations, hoping that I can make something of the fabric I didn’t cut off. I tried gathering the skirt about halfway up on each side, making kind of a pannier effect to hide the gaping holes in the fabric– it’s not hideous, but it’s not great either. I thought about shifting the high-low to one side, making a dramatic swath of fabric to make the most of the Frankendress look– nope, looks awful. I used painter’s tape to tape off a proposed ragged edge, hoping that it was just that I hadn’t committed fully enough to the original cutting– definitely a no-go. I used Photoshop to help visualize what I could do to the dress to make it look halfway decent (should’ve done that in the first place), and I think I may have come up with a temporary plan:

I’m going to re-attach some of the fabric I cut off in my original hack-job, to bring the dress back to its original state (as much as possible, anyway). Luckily I cut off a bunch of the train in a fairly large piece, so I can do this. Once it’s close to being back to normal I’ll re-evaluate. Clearly, the ripped effect at the bottom isn’t going to work. I need to figure out how to re-design the costume completely– I have some ideas, but this time around I’ll refrain from doing any actual cutting until I’ve considered all possibilities.

Keep your fingers crossed for me! If this doesn’t work out I may be put off costuming forever… Or at least for a few months.

Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Part IV: Finishing the Dress Details

Ursula movie full

Now that the tentacles are done, it’s time to finish the dress itself. You can see in the movie that there’s a split front in the skirt, filled in by a gathered panel of slightly darker ivory fabric. I actually had a hard time finding something that worked, since all the ivory sheers I found were either too white or too tan. I finally located a workable fabric in a bin at Goodwill– it’s a window drapery panel and it’s got a slightly crushed effect that adds texture to it. It’s still a bit darker than I wanted, but I can deal with that.

I started off cutting a semicircle of fabric, figuring that this would allow for good draping at the bottom but not too much bulk at the top. It ended up being too much, so I cut it down to about 1/3 of a circle. After I’d pinned it to the dress to make sure it would drape nicely, I stitched the skirt ruffles down either side of the panel. While the ruffles are shorter than the panel, both are longer than the eventual length of the skirt after it’s cut to show the tentacles, so I didn’t mind. Because I planned on stitching the ruffle about half an inch from the inner edge, I clipped the curve to the stitching line so it could expand out to a straight line.

Ursula ruffles arc

To sew it to the dress, I first eyeballed how I would attach both sides, making sure that they’d hang symmetrically, and placed pins along the sewing line on the skirt. Then I pinned down the sides of the ruffles to the dress, right sides together, and hand-stitched it to the skirt. Because I was making a triangular panel with the stitching on the inside I had to basically sew from inside a “tent” of fabric. However, once sewn it was worth it– the sheer panel layer hides the stitching lines, so they won’t show even if the ruffles move out of place.

ursula sewn ruffle

To attach the neckline ruffle, I basted it in place while the dress was on the dress form, then took it off to machine-stitch everything from the inside. I slightly tapered the outer corners of the ruffle so it would lay nicely at the shoulder. The sleeve ruffles, on the other hand, I just stitched directly to the outside of the cuff so they’d lay as flat as possible. I also tacked them down in a few places about 2/3 of the way up the ruffle, to keep the ruffle tighter against the wrist.

I will note that I did run a quick underarm seam down the length of the sleeve to make it fit closer to my arm– Disney princesses appear to favor dress designs that have no care for the issues of trying to bend one’s arm in a tight sleeve… I took in about an inch at the wrist, up to about 1.5 inches at the upper arm.

Ursula sleeve seam

So here’s the dress, ready to shorten to show  my awesome tentacles!

Ursula long done

Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Part III: The Tentacles

Ursula tentacles

Taking the entire process into account this was the hardest part of the costume, but since I did almost all of the hard work back when I first sewed it in 2010, I didn’t have to do much this time around.

To summarize the original process, I wanted to make eight tentacles (though she only has six in the movie– weird), each completely separate, but intertwined with each other to form the bottom of the skirt. I sketched out the way I wanted the tentacles to intersect, then re-drew each tentacle separately so I’d know what shape to cut it in. Then I used black satin and purple foil dot fabric to sew the tentacles. I stuffed them with polyfill and styrofoam packing peanuts, then hand-stitched them in place on the skirt of a black strapless bridesmaid’s dress.

Anyway, while the costume itself still fit reasonably well, I didn’t need the strapless bodice under the wedding dress– so I decided to make it into a skirt. I just cut off the bodice about two inches above the waist seam, folded it over, and stitched it down to make a waistband. I added a hook and eye at the top of the zipper, and voila, I was done.

Ursula waistband

I got some more packing peanuts (you can buy them by the cubic foot at U-Haul) and re-filled the tentacles, leaving the upper portions of the back ones empty since they weren’t going to show, then stitched them closed by hand. Next up– finishing the dress.

Tips:

1. I originally filled the tentacles entirely with polyfill, figuring that its soft texture and resulting smooth surface would be ideal. However, pillow stuffing can get really heavy if you use a lot of it, and it made my tentacles far too heavy for wear. I definitely recommend using polyfill only for the pointed ends of the tentacles and perhaps as a thin layer of padding in certain areas that need a smooth look, and going for the much lighter packing peanuts to fill in the bulk of the shape.

2. One great feature of the original dress was the interior structure, which included a separately boned mini-corset thing. It had its own zipper, and was basically like a long-line bra that was attached to the dress. It really helped to keep the dress in place without shifting or pulling downwards due to weight, and kept any stress off the outer bodice fabric. If you’re going to get a strapless dress to use as a frame for a heavier costume, keep an eye out for this feature.

Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Part II: Circular Ruffles

There are two issues to tackle when it comes to the ruffles on the wedding dress: the color and the shape.

The problem with the color is that due to the changing sunset lighting in the relevant movie scene, the ruffles actually change color as time goes on. They start off looking almost like a rum pink/beige color, but then fade into a purplish-gray as the sun sets.

ursula movie pink Ursula movie purple

Given that the lighting starts off rather orange to begin with, it’s tough to tell what the original color was supposed to be. I guessed lavender of some kind, to go with Ursula’s original purple skin and tentacle undersides, but I can’t be sure. Unfortunately, dusty rose/lavender with gray undertones isn’t one of the “standard” colors you find fabric in, and it couldn’t be too shiny or too thin or it would clash with the matte brocade of the dress.

The second issue is construction. Clearly, it would be easiest to just gather long strips of fabric or ribbon, but it seems clear from the movie that these are circular ruffles, which drape nicely but take up a lot more fabric and are seriously annoying to hem due to the curved edge. I thought about using purchased trim, but perhaps unsurprisingly I couldn’t find any wide purplish-pinkish-gray ruffled trim anywhere (or even any white ruffled trim of the correct width that I could dye). So, handmade it is.

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Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Part I: The Idea and the Gown

Ursula movie evil

It’s no secret that I love costumes, and not just at Halloween. Besides, you can never get really elaborate at Halloween because Halloween parties are always badly lit, full of drunk people, and extremely crowded (with the aforementioned drunk people). Who would bother with a fabulous costume, and more importantly, who would risk getting it ruined?

I learned this lesson back in grad school, when I wore a beautiful Regency-style ballgown to a Halloween party and promptly got white wine spilled on it (probably the least harmful thing that could’ve happened, but still not great). And I learned it again (guess I didn’t learn it all that well the first time) when I slaved for weeks on a fantastic Ursula costume, only to have it largely ignored or misunderstood at the party I went to that year. Seriously, someone asked me if I was supposed to be Marie Antoinette. MARIE ANTOINETTE.

Just for review, this is me as Ursula, the evil sea witch from The Little Mermaid:

halloween tanya

And this is Marie Antoinette:

marie_antoinette_after_elis

And while I don’t deny that we are both wearing white wigs and full-length skirts (and I guess hers could look slightly tentacle-y if you squinted really hard), it defies understanding to believe that the two costumes are in any other way similar. Seriously? Marie Antoinette? I mean, did the tentacles and giant shell necklace mean nothing? I just don’t get it…

Anyway, that aside, I really did love the costume, which i’d built on a black strapless bridesmaid’s dress and stuffed with styrofoam packing peanuts. And I didn’t have the heart to throw it away once the holiday was over, so I un-stuffed it and packed it away in a garment bag. Until I had the idea to do this*:

ursula still 1ursula still 2

ursula still 3ursula still 4

(well, maybe not that last stage). All I would need was a wedding gown to wear over the tentacles– if I cut the hem short, the tentacles would show underneath and I could be Vanessa just as she’s turning back into Ursula. Plus, I wouldn’t get a headache from wearing the white wig. So I started keeping an eye out for an appropriate dress (realizing, of course, that it would be a lot cheaper and easier to find an old wedding dress than to make one from scratch).

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