Costume Creation

Dear Constant Reader,

The fun part of creating my new act for The House of Knyle mentorship program was the costume. No great shock. I love making costumes. For this act I wanted to go minimal — no gown, no gloves. The picture I had in my head was a panel skirt and bra. I like the contrast of the classic costume and the rock music.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to do too much sewing. I decided to use the bra, hip belt, g-string, and pasties from a Halloween fan dance. The base for all those pieces is black-on-black sequined fabric, which I embellished with jet, hemitite, and black diamond crystals, plus a few silver night skull rhinestones, just for fun.

The bra is a Frederick’s of Hollywood Exxtreme Cleavage push-up. It’s so “exxtreme” that I had to take out the push-up pads. For the fan dance I took off the (removable) straps, but for this act, I put the straps back on and adorned them with large black diamond rhinestones. Despite all my tricks, a couple of stones decided to pop off every time I wore it. I think I finally solved the issue.

The belt is styled after a bellydance hip belt. I love the deep V-shape. I also like how wide it is, that it’s a substantial costume piece, which makes for a nice reveal when it comes off. The only problem with that shape is that the point of the V can roll up. To keep the front nice and flat, I added a piece of boning inside. That does mean if I’m not careful, the whole thing can flip up. Embarrassing!

The G-string is based on the pattern from my book. I used flat elastic instead of tubular and (with Scratch’s assistance) added some additional strappy bits. I also made a set of thigh garters, for that appealing butt definition. The pasties (not shown) are just standard round ones, encrusted with the three colors of rhinestone.

The only thing I needed to make was panels. I already have black and silver lace ones that I use with the belt, but they’re rectangles. I wanted really voluminous panels — a full circle in the back and a half circle in the front. I was thinking red to contrast with the black, but Scratch pointed out that I already had a set of red panels (though not as full and not compatible with the belt). I was hoping to find an impossibility — a fabric with some visual interest *and* a floaty drape. I settled on some wine-colored sheer fabric at 45″ wide. I was all set to buy it when Scratch found an identical fabric over in the draperies section. Same color, same hand, same price per yard, except it was 110″ wide. Score!

Cutting the panels wasn’t too bad. I’m very lucky that Albert isn’t one of those cats who needs to sprawl on fabric. It was hemming them that was going to be a problem. I wanted a tiny rolled hem and I usually do those by hand. A rolled hem is a thing of beauty, but it’s slow going. I had an awful lot of hem and not a lot of time. Fortunately I have a rolled hem foot on my sewing machine. Time to learn how to use it.

Oh my goodness, it was lovely! It made such a beautiful tiny hem! There was hardly even any cursing as I figured out how to use it. Even with the machine, it took me quite a while to get them hems done. It made such a difference rehearsing with the actual costume pieces and all that lovely yardage! I changed some of my choreography to take advantage of them.

I am so happy with how the panels came out! I used the same snap tape as the previous lace panels, so both sets are all compatible with the same belt (this trick was a Friday Tip). By the way, panel skirts are going to be one of the topics for Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming, Vol. 2.

Look how fabulous the panels are! (Photo credit: Harlan)

Here’s the tricky part. I decided I needed some bad-ass shoes for the number. My character shoes are too cute; ballroom shoes are too dainty. I really wanted to use the shoes at the right, hand-me-downs from Angie Pontani. I’ve wore them on stage before, but not when I was dancing. I was committed to those shoes, because the panels were hemmed for a 5-inch heel. Even with the shoes on, the panels still touched the floor. I really didn’t want to use a lower heel and risk tripping over them. And I was having problems with the shoes… but more about that later.

I’m incredibly pleased with how the whole outfit came out. I love the wine panels against the rhinestoned black. Now that I’ve mastered the rolled hemmer, I suspect there will be even more panel skirts in my future. Stay tuned, Dear Reader, to (eventually) see how it looked in action!

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 4 March 2019 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sewing in July

Dear Constant Reader,

At the end of June, I decided July would be a sewing month and I was going to work on using up my stash. How did I do? Well… not so great.

July was terribly hot and it was frequently stifling in my atelier, so I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped. I only made 3 garments, all lingerie.

First was a vintage-style net bra, which I made from some black netting embellished with gold that I had recycled from a skirt I made ages ago and never wore. No photos of this one yet. Maybe you’ll see it in my new book, hopefully coming out soon. You’ll definitely learn how to make one!

Then I made a bra top and French knickers from And Sew to Bed: 20 Vintage-Inspired Projects for the Boudoir. I used some luxurious black silk and some fun red buttons from my stash for these. I think I had to buy the right width elastic for the button loops on the bra, but everything else I had already. Artsy shot by Scratch.

The bra only turned out okay. I didn’t make a muslin first, so it was in progress that I realized the back band was going to be too long and shortened it. After the whole thing was finished, the cups didn’t fit well, so I made some hasty darts, which I don’t love and that tightened up the back band as well, so there’s a gap now. Lesson learned. Anything involving boobs really should get a test fit, but I was feeling lazy.

The French kickers (aka tap pants), however, are lovely. They’re cute and comfortable and I love the little red buttons on the side. They should have been much quicker, but I was a total perfectionist here. The waist and leg openings are bound with bias tape and even though the tape is turned to the inside, I just couldn’t bear to use commercial cotton-poly tape. Instead, I made bias tape from the silk. Making your own bias tape isn’t hard with the right tool — a widget that you pull the bias strip through and iron as it comes out with the edges folded under. My problem was that I couldn’t cut a nice, neat bias strip to run through my widget because the silk was so slippery. Scratch, because he’s clever this way, got me a yard-long, inch-wide piece of flat steel and painted one side with grip paint. It held the devilish fabric in place and gave me a nice edge against which to draw a chalk line for cutting.

The big win the whole month has that I can finally make buttonholes on my sewing machine. I have an amazing 1958 Singer Slant-O-Matic 403 Special that does everything I need — except buttonholes.

I mean I could make buttonholes, but it involved a lot of fuss, constantly changing the needle positions and the stitch width and they never seemed to come out evenly. I often resorted to making buttonholes by hand and once to hiring Vixens Ahoy to take care of the many, many buttonholes on a blouse I made.

A friend tipped me off that Singer made a buttonhole attachment back in the ’50s and I easily acquired one on eBay and it sat in a drawer for a long time. Now I had to learn to use it. It’s really clever! There are little cog-wheel templates that move the needle in the shape of whatever buttonhole you want. And the set I bought not only had all the original parts and the instructions, but extra templates and even a sample strip the previous owner had made of all the sizes. I’ll admit my buttonholes weren’t perfectly positioned, but they looked great and work just like they are supposed to. My next goal is to learn to use all the other sewing machine feet and attachments that I’ve never tried, like the ruffler.

Not a great month in terms of churning out stuff and winnowing down my stash, but I do have some really decadent French knickers. I still have some of that black silk and I want to make a camisole to go with them instead of the less-than-lovely bra top. More importantly I have some new tools and new skills.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 15 August 2018 at 7:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! It’s the last Friday in July and here’s your sewing tip:

Avoid sewing when you’re tired.

I know it’s tempting to work late just to get the darn thing done, but when you’re tired is exactly when sleeves get sewn inside out and gussets are inserted upside down. You’ll spend more time fixing your mistakes that you would have gained by sewing while your concentration is drifting from weariness. Do I speak from experience? Oh yes.

The rule of thumb I was taught is not to start a sewing project after 10pm. This of course only works if you keep a schedule in which 10pm is getting late…. By all means, if you’re fresh and alert at 2 am, sew away! If you get fuzzy, step away from the fabric, get some rest, and pick it up again when you’re refreshed.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 27 July 2018 at 3:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Here’s your sewing tip!

Avoid sewing over pins.

I know it seems like it’ll be faster if you sew first and remove the pins later, but you risk hitting one of the with the needle. This can nick or bend your needle or, worst of all, cause it to break and perhaps fling a tiny shard of sharp metal at your face. (you are wearing your safety goggles, right?). It’s especially tempting if you’re one of those people, like me, who inserts the pins perpendicular to the seam line.

If the fabric is so slithery or bulky or otherwise badly behaved that removing the pins as you go makes things go awry, consider hand basting with the pins in place and then removing them as you sew on the machine. It’ll be extra secure!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 20 July 2018 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Continuing with my costuming theme for July, this week’s tip is about keeping your sewing machine in good shape.

Keep your presser foot down when your sewing machine is not in use and keep a scrap of fabric between the presser foot and the throat plate.

There are a couple of reasons for doing this. Keeping the presser foot down relieves pressure on the spring that raises and lowers it. Also the presser foot lever can’t get knocked down (say, by a curious pet wandering around your work table) so that the foot suddenly drops onto the feed dogs. The scrap fabric is to provide a little cushioning so you don’t have metal resting on metal. It’s also a good idea to lower the needle into the fabric, especially if you are transporting your machine. This protects the needle and also lowers the feed dogs.

That’s my machine in the picture and the scrap is from when the repair shop tested the stitch disks the last time I had the machine serviced.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 13 July 2018 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! It has been beastly hot in Boston. My atelier, where my writing desk is, has no air conditioning, which is why there have been no missives this week. However, I would never neglect your tip. July is sewing month at The Manor, and so the tips will be on topic as well.

Press your seams.

For really great seams, press on the wrong side, then flip the item over and press on the right side. It’s absolutely vital that you press the heck out of multi-part seams, like French or flat-felled. Press each seam after you sew it, rather than saving them all for the end. I know all this pressing seems like a hassle, but it will make a huge difference for your garment. Your iron is your friend.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 6 July 2018 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sewing and Motivation

Dear Constant Reader,

Sewing is a big part of my life. The first project I can remember was making a gown for my Barbie out of some scraps from an outfit my mother had sewn for herself. By high school I was sewing clothes for myself and once I was in college I was making costumes for historical reenactment and science fiction conventions.

However, lately I’ve been feeling a little stalled out in my sewing. I tried to inspire myself by creating a page on my website highlighting my burlesque costume work. Mostly that served to remind me that I don’t have good pictures of most of my best costumes. (Hint to photographers: I’m available to shoot…)

I have all sorts of fabulous fabric in my stash which is doing no one any good just hanging around in bins. If you look to the right you’ll see some of the nifty stuff I really should be using, like that gold paillette and ruffle fabric or the striped peach net, the owl feather print and the artsy flower print. I have no idea what I want to do with any of them, but I want them all to become SOMETHING.

I’m going to dedicate July to getting back to sewing. Most of my posts are going to be about costuming, which will probably included Friday tips. My goal is to reduce my fabric stash and end up with some new clothes and costumes. Although I’m not going to try something like my Dress Me project, I may ask your for your input on some things through out July.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 27 June 2018 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! I’m starting to get very excited for my upcoming trip to Los Angeles. Not only am I going to Stripper’s Holiday, I’ve got some plans to visit with some wonderful ladies I rarely get to see. I can’t wait!

And you don’t have to wait any longer for your tip!

The center gore of a well-fitting bra should be snug against your chest.

The center gore is that middle bit that connects the cups. It should not be hovering in mid-air, like a suspension bridge between your boobs. That means your bra is the wrong size. Make sure it’s lying flat and completely touching you. You’ll be amazed at how comfortable the bra is!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 20 April 2018 at 2:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! Tomorrow I’m off to RuffleCon to teach my corsetry class and perform with The Boston BeauTease. If you’re an alternative fashion enthusiast, I hope to see you there!

If using a front-closing bra, replace the plastic closure with something sturdier.

At right, you can see a front-closing bra with its original closure. These are only made of plastic and many fastenings and unfastenings, as one would do in rehearsal and performance, can weaken them until they fail unexpectedly. Also, you have a contents-under-pressure situation with a lot of strain on that point, which is meant to separate. In a back-closing bra, you have a solid piece of fabric up front to take the stress.

Remove the plastic widget and replace it with a coat hook & eye, a whopper popper, or a ribbon tie. Any of these is much stronger that the original style of closure, easier to unfasten, and less likely to experience catastrophic failure.

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 10 November 2017 at 11:06 am  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday. Here’s your tip!

Zipper sewing needs a zipper foot.

I have heard people insist that one can sew a zipper using a regular machine foot, and while it is not impossible, it is also not recommended. A zipper foot is like half a regular foot, so you can sew close to the zipper without actually going over the teeth (a bumpy situation) while still keeping proper tension on the fabric.

The foot on my machine (pictured) can slide to either side of the needle, to easily stitch on both sides of the zipper. It’s also a great foot for sewing piping and beaded fringe. If you don’t have one for your machine, it’s a worthwhile addition to your arsenal!

M2Like this tip? There are lots more in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Better Burlesque.

These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Published in: on 22 September 2017 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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