When my daughter became obsessed with The Little Mermaid (which was one of my very favorite movies as a little girl), I was thrilled to have the chance to have a mermaid-themed birthday party for her. Though since we’re trying to avoid being stuck in the Disney rut for everything, I went more generic and less YAY ARIEL AND SEBASTIAN AND FLOUNDER AND ALL THE OTHER COPYRIGHTED CHARACTERS YAY!!!
Anime Boston was quite the experience! There was a surprisingly large contingent of Disney costumes, including several Ursulas, but the one comment I heard time and time again was “I’ve never seen anyone do Wedding Vanessa before!” Which, of course, was the point. My friend (dressed as Ariel) and I had tons of opportunities to pose for photos, and especially liked being able to pose with other Ursulas. Hopefully the people taking the pictures had as much fun as we did!
This last one is my favorite, simply because the fabulous Tom Catt and I got to recreate such a classic moment from the movie!
Now I guess I just need to figure out what to do with the dress– there’s no room for it in my closet, and I think I’ve about exhausted the possibilities in the tentacle skirt. I think I may just save the wedding dress part for my daughter to play dress-up with, and toss the tentacles. Unless anyone wants a tentacle skirt?
Things to remember for future conventions:
1. Being able to get into and out of a costume by oneself is a very important consideration when constructing one. I’ve been so used to having my husband around to zip me up and arrange my tentacles (there’s another phrase I never thought I’d say) that it was kind of difficult to zip myself up while trying to hold the dress in place. In the end I was just grateful that there was another girl in the bathroom who could zip the dress up for me.
2. If you’re going to wear false eyelashes, remember to bring the tube of adhesive with you in case of detachment. I ended up looking a little lopsided (at least from up close) about halfway through the day.
3. If you’re making a bag to carry, sew some side pockets or compartments into it– makes it a lot easier to quickly grab your camera or cash or whatever it is you’d rather not spend five minutes digging around in your bag for. And yes, the important stuff always migrates to the bottom…
4. Shoes with arch support! Especially if your costume keeps you from sitting down easily. Speaking of which…
5. Make sure you can sit down in your costume. Really, make sure you try it. I did okay on benches, but came perilously close to falling when I tried to sit in a chair and the weight of my skirt pushed the chair just far enough back that my butt almost missed it on the way down.
6. If you get someone to take pictures for you, make sure you check them before you decide you’ve got enough. I really could’ve used some better-angled shots of the whole outfit, or a picture in front of a window where I didn’t have to Photoshop out the giant orange crane growing out of my head… (can you see where I removed it in the top shot?)
In any case, I had a great time! Now for a short hiatus on sewing projects so I can put my craft room (i.e., the computer room that is currently full of thread snippets and stray pins) back in order before my next one!
I was trying to figure out fun poses for pictures in the Ursula/Vanessa dress, and decided to make an extra prop to use– the butterfly sphere.
Okay, so maybe you don’t instantly recognize the reference, but in the movie, when Ursula decides to “take matters into her own tentacles” and transform into Vanessa, one of the things she puts into her transformation potion is a bubble with a live butterfly in it.
I remembered that I already had some clear glass Christmas ornaments, and thought they’d be perfect for this application. At first I tried to use a 3″ feather butterfly that I had in my craft closet, but the wings were too rigid and it fell apart as I tried to cram it into the top opening. Instead, I decided to use some gold paper to make one. I cut two butterfly shapes and sandwiched some thin wire between them, first taping it down and then gluing the butterflies together, right sides out. Then I took some gold and brown paint and did a little texturing on the paper to make the butterfly look slightly more realistic. It still looks a little clunky, but it’s close enough.
I rolled the wings up and inserted the wired butterfly into the glass ornament, then used my fingers and a chopstick to unroll the wings. I ran the wire through the holes in the top of the ornament cap and twisted it to keep things securely in place. I also piped on some hot glue as extra insurance..
I turned the whole thing upside down and presto– instant butterfly bubble!
Stay tuned for photos from the convention!
It’s finished! Here are pictures from just before I packed it up in the world’s largest garment bag to take to Anime Boston:
Please ignore the mess in the background– I’ll get better shots when I go to Anime Boston next week. I really need to learn the best angles to shoot this outfit from so the tentacles show to good advantage.
Also, you know what’s scary? I have Tammy-Faye Baker levels of eye makeup on in these pictures– the biggest false eyelashes I could find, additional false lashes on the lower lid, black eyeliner, white eyeliner, the works. But it’s still not all that scary in pictures. And frighteningly enough, after about an hour of wearing the stuff it ceased to startle me in the mirror. This must be how people get used to wearing it every day…
So, back to costumes… the dress is finally done, but there’s still plenty to do before the costume is completely finished.
First up is making the veil and headpiece. The veil in the movie actually looks to be opaque, but I don’t like the look of that so I ordered a 6′ long, single layer veil in ivory tulle on eBay for just under $6 (including shipping, which cost more than the veil). It came wrinkled, but nothing that a session in a steamy bathroom didn’t cure. It ended up being a hell of a lot longer than 6′, though, so I trimmed it to about 12″ off of the floor. This way it won’t get tangled in the tentacles, and no one will step on it.
The movie scenes showed that the headpiece was the same color as the ruffles on the dress, so I cut two tiara shapes out of a manila folder, one of them with tabs on the bottom edge (more on that later)– and covered them in fabric. To do that, I painted a thin layer of glue onto each cardstock piece, then smoothed the fabric over them. Once they were dry, I cut the fabric about 1/2″ from the edge of the cardstock (clipping the curves), folded it over, and glued it down on each piece. Then I sandwiched the pieces together, fabric on the outside, with hot glue. I also inserted two twist ties between the layers to help with stiffness, though in retrospect that wasn’t necessary.
I folded the tabs at a right angle, bending the twist ties to help keep things in place, and used hot glue to attach them to the inside surface of a black headband so the tiara sat directly in front of it. I’d originally planned on gluing the tabs on top of the headband, but the extra 1/4″ in height makes the tiara sit unnaturally high on my head (and I don’t have poofy Disney princess hair to make it work), so I’m going with this instead. Then I just hot-glued the veil to the headband, right behind the tiara.
(UPDATE 3/25/15: after I tried on the veil I decided it wasn’t draping as well as it could have, so I stitched a 1/2″ strip of white horsehair braid into the hem to give it some body. Looks much better now.)
My original Ursula costume used a cardboard cutout painted to look like a golden shell for Ursula’s necklace, but for this costume I wanted to go with the real thing, so I sourced it out to Etsy. The shell came painted gold, and I touched up the shadows a bit with darker paint just to make them more visible from a distance. Here’s the before and after:
It looks great and probably doesn’t cost much more than I’d have paid anyway for supplies. I did consider trying to find one of those recordable mini-chips that they put into greeting cards to record Ariel’s voice and play it back at appropriate times, but the chips are surprisingly bulky and wouldn’t fit inside the shell.
Finally, while there’s nothing like this in the movie I do need a bag to keep things in at the convention, particularly since I’ve had to forego pockets in the dress. I like to make bags from leftover dress fabric (helps the bag blend in to the skirt during photos), but my dress disaster took up almost all of my extra fabric in the repair. Luckily I put my patchworking skills (already honed from earlier) to good use on the scraps and managed to whip up a reasonably-sized drawstring bag to carry with me. It’s not gorgeous or anything, but it’ll do.
Hey, does this mean that I’m done? Like, DONE done? And with two weeks to spare! Amazing! Pictures of the whole outfit put together coming up soon…
1. If you’re going to make something to attach to a headband, make sure that you cut it to fit your head, not just the band. Since the headband will be bent into a different shape when you’re wearing it, just tracing it as-is onto paper won’t give you the right curve.
2. When gluing fabric to things I like to use tacky glue rather than white glue. It’s stickier and less likely to bleed through. Also, I brush the glue onto the non-fabric surface and let it sit for a while to increase the stickiness before smoothing the fabric onto it. If you don’t do this step, the glue just soaks into the fabric and nothing sticks.
3. On the other hand, when you need a fast, strong bond, hot glue is definitely the way to go. I used it for all of the structural parts of the tiara. The only reason I didn’t use it for the fabric was because it’s too dimensional to get a smooth surface.
So, I’ve finally finished the dress for real! I bought another sheer curtain panel and cut another giant arc out of it to make the front drape, and attached the longer ruffles to the sides as before. This time, though, I tapered the ruffles towards the top to better mimic the lines of the movie dress. Then I stitched it all to the front of the dress, sweeping the ruffles out towards the hem in a slight curve. Since I couldn’t finish the hem of the drape until it was attached and I knew how it would fall, I trimmed it to the right length afterwards and melted the edges with my heat gun instead of trying to sew a hem.
I had to do a little fiddling to get the tentacles attached properly, since I had an extra layer of fabric to contend with and I didn’t want the pull of the tentacle to disturb the draping. I ended up treating the draping layer as if it weren’t there, simply running the thread through it without trying to stitch onto it, and that worked out all right.
I swear, this dress is ridiculously heavy, and if not for the hoop skirt I wouldn’t be able to move at anything above a slow shuffle. As it is, I still walk carefully to avoid jostling the tentacles too much– I don’t want to make any sudden sharp jerks that might put extra tension on the attachment points. Sitting down is also difficult, and going through doorways is something to be undertaken with great caution.
I’m very happy with how it turned out, though– this tentacle design is much better than my original idea, though of course it was a lot more work than I’d anticipated. Everything always is, it seems…
Moving forward, I’ve realized that I’m never going to be able to simultaneously have the dress be attractive and display the tentacles as they’re currently sewn on the underlying skirt. Solution? Move the tentacles.(Warning: the word “tentacles” is used so often in this post that it’s starting to sound weird, even to me)
I permanently installed a narrow hoop skirt inside the tentacle skirt, using the hoop at the bottom to puff out the lower hem enough that it would both give me some space to walk and bring the tentacles out far enough to extend past the hem circumference of the wedding dress. Then I detached all the tentacles and unwound them from each other so I could reposition them on the skirt. I experimented with different placements, trying to figure out how best to display the tentacles on the outside of the dress. I figured that if I brought the ends of the tentacles up over the hem of the wedding dress, they’d be visible but not interfere with the lines of the dress itself.
I pinned the tentacles in place around the black underskirt, arranging them over the white dress to get the best effect. Once they were pinned appropriately, I marked the new hem of the dress and unpinned everything so I could do the final hemming, as well as the pressing and trimming of seams. I wanted to add pockets to the dress (always useful), but the skirt didn’t have side seams and I had to dispense with that idea.
I sewed the base of each tentacle in place to the black underskirt, stitching through both the black skirt and the hoop skirt and using the hoops themselves as anchors for some of the tentacles to add support. I also threaded some bent coat hangers through some of the tentacles to use as supports. Here’s the tentacle skirt before and after:
Once the bases were set in place, I put the wedding dress on over the tentacle skirt and sewed the tips of some tentacles directly to the dress with white embroidery floss (stronger than thread), extending the thread through the white fabric and anchoring it to the black satin underskirt and hoop skirt for added support. At each layer of fabric I added a few stitches on a patch of interfacing to strengthen the tension points and prevent anything from ripping due to the weight of the tentacle. Some of the tentacles actually had a “floating” effect, where I let several inches of floss play out between the tentacle and the skirt layers– I was going to use fishing line, but the floss was easier to work with. I used white floss so I could stitch on the surface of the dress invisibly, but then colored the exposed parts black with a permanent marker to make them less visible.
I still need to re-do the center draping panel and the skirt ruffles before I can attach the last two tentacles, but since I’ve already done it once it shouldn’t be too tough to do it again (knock wood). Here’s a picture of the current state of the dress:
CORRECTION: this is a photo of the dress with the tentacles pinned before attaching– I forgot to take a picture of the dress in its current state. More photos in the next post.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So here’s the dress, ready to shorten to show my awesome tentacles!