Vanessa/Ursula at Anime Boston!

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!

Ursula victory

Ursula Ariel

Ursula mirror movieUrsula Vanessa mirror

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!

Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Finally Done!

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:

ursula done toy

ursula done glance ursula done mirror

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…

Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Part VIII: Finishing the Dress (Again)

ursula dress done

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…

Vanessa/Ursula Costume, Part VII: Tentacles Redux

ursula just tentacles

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:

Ursula tentaclesursula just tentacles

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:

ursula tentacles in progress

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.

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 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).

Continue reading