The Stripteaser’s Education

Dear Constant Reader,

I performed “The Stripteaser’s Education” at Hot in Topeka’s fundraising show in June. It’s an act that’s been around for a long time and seen some changes.

It’s adapted from Gypsy Rose Lee’s famous talking act. Rather than do a strict recreation, we changed and updated some of the wording. She references people and places that wouldn’t mean anything to our current audiences. Our version has changed over the years and we’ve thrown in a few New England references. For example, Gypsy used to say she’d attended Sweet Briar; I say Wellesley. Neither statement is true.

When I performed it in Topeka, I checked with the producer about using some local references. She gave me some suggestions and I worked them in. Instead of Wellesley, I used Washburn University plus a few other references specific to Topeka. From the cheers, they went over really well.

When I first started performing the act, I just wore gowns and gloves from my wardrobe, nothing special. In 2011, we gave the act to Devora for Madame Burlesque. We had a costumer for that show (our first tour!) and she made a lovely costume for D.D. based on a photo of Gypsy.

        

I used mostly the same costume when I did the act (we had to make a matching bra to fit me).

When I got the word I was going to do this act in Topeka, I decided to upgrade the costume, really make it match the photo. I had asked for advice in finding a hat like that when I learned, to my shock, we’d been laboring under a false assumption. That wasn’t Gypsy! It was Burgundy Brixx *as* Gypsy! Clearly our costume designed hadn’t done her research very well, but I admit, I hadn’t looked closely enough.

Well, there was absolutely no reason to recreate someone else’s interpretation of Gypsy. I went back to photos that I know were actually of Gypsy and picked out some of the hallmarks of her costumes — full skirt, modest blouse with a big collar, stockings, wide-brimmed hat.

The skirt came from The Wrathskellar. It was sort of inspired by a saloon girl look, with alternating panels of black lace over black jacquard and embroidered green lace. It has matching panties and a bra, so I figured I would use them. I also had a garter belt that coordinated nicely. The next challenge, the hat and the blouse.

I didn’t want to use the hat D.D. is wearing above. It doesn’t fit me very well and it doesn’t pack easily. I wanted to do this trip with just a carry-on and I also wanted to be able to have my ubiquitous sunhat. After some fruitless searching, I was in Emporium 32 and they had the perfect hat! Big brim, black straw, good price. I decided I’d give my signature leopard-print sunhat a break (I’ve been wearing it every summer for almost 20 years) and make this my new everyday hat, as well as use it in this performance. If I’d had more time, I would have added some big white roses and a new hat band for the show.

I looked all over for a blouse with the right look and just found nothing. I ended up grabbing the blouse from my “Li’l Red Riding Hood” act, but while it has the right shape, it’s a sturdy white cotton and didn’t blend so well with the lacy skirt. Fortunately, I still had some of the two kinds of lace I used to make the skirt. I used it to make a big collar, like Gypsy had in some iterations of her costume. It helped tie things together, and since it was just pinned in place, I can easily transfer it to a more appropriate blouse once I find or make one.

Lastly, I upgraded the pasties. They had just been black brocade with a ring of green rhinestones around the edge. Good for The Wrathskellar, but not exactly projecting glamour. Some radiating lines of more stones and they had sufficient sparkle.

And here’s a bit of the act on stage at Jayhawk Theatre.

Photos by Sarah Kietzman

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

Published in: on 7 August 2019 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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Friday Tip

Dear Constant Reader,

Happy Friday! And happy August! Here’s your tip!

Make your own bias tape.

Bias tape is great for finishing work on costumes, especially where you don’t want much bulk, like the edges of corsets. Its ability to smoothly curve makes it perfect for binding necklines, armholes, and hems.

Sure, you can buy it, but there’s a limited range of colors and most are a polyester-cotton blend. I think having a perfect match to your fabric makes for a more polished look.

It’s not as hard as it might seem with a couple of simple tools.

  • A rotary cutter, mat, and ruler. Use these to cut the bias strips. Make sure you’re cutting on the true bias, diagonally across the grain. Sometimes very slippery fabric shifts around making this s difficult process. You can read about a solution for that problem here.
  • A bias tape maker, as seen in the photo above. This simple little tool is the key to easy bias tape. The most tedious part of making your own tape is pressing the tiny little seam allowance under. This tool folds the long raw edges under for you! Feed the bias strip through the wide end and then pull with the little handle along the strip. Neatly folded tape comes out the narrow end!

    Tape makers come in multiple sizes for most standard widths of tape. Pictured is a 1/2″ tape maker. I also have a 1″, and you can get 1/4″, 3/4″ and 2″ as well. These tools make single-fold bias tape. If you want double-fold, you’ll need to make a tape twice the size of the desired result and then press it in half length-wise.

  • An iron. As you move the tape maker along the strip, press the tape as it comes out the narrow end to set the fold.
  • That’s it! You’re all set to make yards and yards of tape in no time.

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

    These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

    Published in: on 2 August 2019 at 3:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    Friday Tip

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Happy Friday! I hope you’re staying cool. Here’s your tip!

    Finish the ends of ribbons.

    Ribbons are so useful in costuming, but the cut ends fray easily and can dissolve into a mass of threads from one wrong pull. You could just tie a knot in the end, but it’s not that nice looking. Here are some attractive and easy finishes.

    Sewn: Fold the end of the ribbon twice, so the raw edge is neatly hidden and then stitch. No machine necessary — I prefer to sew these small hems by hand.

    Cut: Cut the ribbon on a diagonal (along the bias). I like the swallowtail shown in the picture, but a simple diagonal or an arrow shape work too.

    Sealed: Dab a little FrayCheck or fabric glue along the cut edge. I used glitter paint in the above example for a little contrast and sparkle.

    Melted: This is only for ribbons made from artificial fibers (most ribbons qualify). Hold the end of the ribbon near a flame. It will melt from the heat and neatly seal the edge. Don’t put the ribbon in the flame — we’re looking for melted, not burnt. I like to use one of those barbecue lighters for this method.

    Enjoy the clean finish on your ribbons!

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

    These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

    Published in: on 19 July 2019 at 2:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    Friday Tip

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Happy Friday! This week I’ve got another sewing tip for you!

    A little wax can smooth your way.

    When you’re sewing through thick fabric or using multiple strands of thread in your needles, it can help a lot to wax the thread. It strengthens the thread and holds the strands together which helps prevent tangles and fraying. You can buy wax in a cake, like in the picture, which comes in a plastic holder with notches to run the thread through (I took it out of the case for the photo — too much glare) or in pretty shapes. or you can just use a candle end.

    To wax the thread, just hold the thread against the wax and pull it the whole length once or twice. Some people wax their thread first, but I prefer to thread my needle, knot the thread, and then run it through the wax.

    I wish you smooth sewing!

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

    These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

    Published in: on 28 June 2019 at 3:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    Friday Tip

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Happy Friday! Many of those in the burlesque world are off at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. I hope you’re having fun, drinking lots of water, and maybe even getting a little sleep.

    I’m so excited to share with you a tip (my 400th!) from the brilliant Betty Blaize. It’s so simple and so clever.

    When you’ve got a tear-away cup bra, it’s important to make sure you attach the cups on the correct sides. There’s a subtle, but important, difference between the left cup and the right, but they look so similar. Betty, ever the engineer, came up with this simple solution.

    On one side of the bra, sew the male halves of the snaps on the cup and female halves on the frame. For the other side do the opposite.


    Here’s the bra she just made for Devastasia. I know it’s hard to see the details, so there’s a close up below.

    You can see the female snap on the cup and the male snap on the frame. It’s exactly the reverse on the other side. It’s impossible to snap a cup onto the wrong side!

    This works for detachable panel skirts too! Sew the snaps one way for the front panel and the other way for the back.

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

    These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

    Published in: on 7 June 2019 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    Friday Tip

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Happy Friday! I’ve been making pasties like crazy for all the Burly-Q Parties we have booked, so this tip came to mind.

    If you make pasties frequently, make templates of your most-used shapes.

    Pictured is my round pastie template, which is made it out of quilter’s template plastic. Paper templates, even cardstock, just weren’t durable enough for the number of pasties I make. Especially if you make shaped pasties or pasties in multiple sizes, a sturdy template is going to make your life so much easier.

    M2Like this tip? There is more costuming information in Miss Mina Murray’s Little Book of Burlesque Costuming, Vol 1: The Foundations.

    These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page. Or you can just tip me if you liked this.

    Published in: on 10 May 2019 at 3:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    Friday Tip

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Happy Friday! Last week we had a pastie-making workshop for our apprentices and it put me in the mind of this tip:

    When encrusting your pasties with rhinestones, use a metallic base fabric for extra sparkle.

    I made this pastie with gold lamé under all those gold rhinestones. It’s barely noticeable between the stones, but you get more *GOLD* impact than if it were a non-metallic background.

    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 19 April 2019 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    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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    Friday Tip

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Happy Friday! Here’s your tip! You’re not seeing things — it’s the same photo from last week. But it’s a whole new tip!

    Embellish your bra clasp.

    The most functional looking part of your bra is the clasp. If you’re not going to remove it and replace it, like with a ribbon tie, you should decorate it. I like to use rhinestones and make it look like a piece of jewelry. That tactile difference also makes it easier for your fingers to find it behind your back.

    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 1 March 2019 at 2:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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    Friday Tip

    Dear Constant Reader,

    Happy Friday! It’s particularly happy for me as I’m out of my sickbed for the first time in about a week. Right after Valen-Tease, I was felled with a bad cough, kind of like the one I had back in November, but mercifully not as bad. It still meant I spent my birthday sick in bed, which was no fun at all. Now I’m tentatively up and around and ready to give you your tip.

    Fasten your new bra on the first set of loops.

    If you start on the first set, you’ll have somewhere to go as the elastic loosens up and you can keep wearing the bra for a good long time. If you have to start on one of the other sets of loops, the bra is too big for you.

    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 February 2019 at 2:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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