25 April 2012

Return from the Mysterious Island…

... where 50 foot insects have been taking over the world! Well not quite 50 foot. Nor the world, but you know, they were pretty big. And they did travel from England to New York aboard a giant peach...

Meet Grasshopper:

        IMG_4893     IMG_4897
         IMG_4895  IMG_4902
Although a little hard to tell from the photos, the tail-coat and trouser fabric is a most luscious deep grass green with gold metallic thread running through it (read: hell on earth to sew clothes from). Inside it is a gorgeous deep green satin, speckled with gold. It looks beautiful but the short metallic threads were all that were holding it together, snag one and it literally disintegrated.  This meant that every cut edge had to be fray-checked, every seam had to be reinforced both sides before sewing (because the needle punctures caused fraying – I used strips of bias taffeta tape), and every inside edge had to be properly finished to protect raw edges.  This was a labour of love, but one that I enjoyed greatly (I later surmised this was due to inhaling Fray Check fumes while pressing seams). [The fabric is from Saeeds in Wathamstow]

The tail-coat is based on an OOP McCalls costume pattern, I made some minor modifications, and extended and reshaped the tails and used the satin side of the fabric for the collar facings. The most significant change to the pattern was to raise the armholes so that the actor could lift and move his arms about without the rest of the jacket following. I blame the demise of the man-servant for this modern sloppiness in fit – high armholes do make it tricky to get the jacket on, but it conforms to the body so much better, I don’t know why but I had Fred Astaire on my mind, much of the time I was redrafting this. This modification meant I also had to redraft the two-part sleeve which I worried about constantly until the point I set the sleeve – straight in, no easing required, perfect fit, first time. I was so incredibly delighted, I think I had a smug cat look on my face for a good hour or so afterwards!

The trousers are based on Victorian evening dress, drafted from The Victorian Tailor.  Because of the amount of leg-bending/hopping and the frailty of the fabric, I decided to add some extra ease throughout the legs (the actor appears to have sprung legs, I worried he was going to bring the lamps down from the grid with some of his hops!). 

The waistcoat, in a gorgeous yellow-green taffeta (which I used also to make bias tape), is from a modified 1940s pattern and overlaid on the back with a pale green sparkling organza to give the grasshopper those ethereal wings. The back of the waistcoat is my favourite part of the whole outfit, I wish I could capture just how amazingly pretty that organza looks over the taffeta. All three fabric were in the same tones of green and just blended perfectly.

Meet Ladybird

The young designer I was mentoring throughout this project had a very clear idea in her head about ladybird, right from the start. Time was not our friend on this project, so some compromises had to be made (as often is the case) but the result is still very much akin to her original concept.  My only contributions to this were the suggestion of the lacy scalp-cap, organza underlay to her shell (her wings) and a tweak to the sleeves, the hard work lay entirely with the young designer.

Meet Miss Spider

The director was quite clear what she wanted her sexy spider to look like, so she was fairly straightforward to put together, the extra limbs took up much of the discussion. And even after we had finished, we were still discussing those limbs – should there have been a extra pair or do you count the legs, opinion was divided!  I think you can just make out the cobweb pattern on her lace cloak, it should have been silver, but we could just not get the colour to take, its back to the drawing board on that one! There’s a few areas to improve upon, I think. Her false limbs will probably be replaced with lightly stuffed gloves to give her some extra dimension and there is a lot of black sparkle waiting to go on her torso, we couldn’t make our minds up about that at the time.

Meet Centipede


Oh what a fun character this one is, and again difficult to design because there are so many ways to go about it adding all those extra legs!  A trawl through the internet for inspiration brought about many suggestions but in the end I went with the idea that had been in the back of my head from the start – and that is a lot of baby booties, dyed and stuffed!

The high-waisted trousers are in a rather lovely linen I picked up in Walthamstow Market and also based on a Victorian pattern, drafted from the aforementioned book. While full of inspiration, this is not the most straightforward of books to draft from. In this case I was drafting from a small diagram, without a grid aid and without a clear line drawing of the final trouser (the only reference picture shows them under a closed frock coat) so I had to work off memory of how the waistband should look and fit.  I was going to attach a waistband (and that would have made life much easier) but the actor was a slender chap and I decided a grown-on waistband would work much better.  I had a diagram to show a grown-on waistband in situ but no plotting points or measurements, it was entirely guesstimation.  As much as I love The Victorian Tailor for reference, you are left on your own when it comes to drafting/making waistband syles, stays, lining, installing flies, finishing trouser hems, etc. This isn’t the author’s fault, he is reproducing period instructions and they wouldn’t have covered this because the tailor would have this knowledge already, but I could only complete these patterns because I have already seen Victorian trousers before and know the details. An extra chapter covering this would have been perfect. (The instructions that are included on making up the trousers, left me puzzling for days what “dress” is and why it needs accounting for! I can fully appreciate what artisans tailors were and indeed, still are!)

Originally, I had suggested a frock coat to complete the ensemble, and had a lovely rust striped wool for it (which has since become a blanket!) but neither young designer or I were convinced on this idea.  I pulled from stock this wonderful long jacket, a purchase from an RSC sale and teamed it with a frogged waistcoat which had a lovely mottled texture . The coat is on loan at the moment, so I’ll be reproducing it to give the Centipede costume a permanent jacket. It certainly helped no end with his roguish attitude. 

You can see his extra legs run up the sides of his trousers and along his arms. Interestingly, the “100 % cotton” booties did not take the cold dye well at all, especially the insides which is the side I wanted to use (instead he ended up with tiny stars and heart grips on his boots, hehe), I’ll have to see if they take better with machine dye. He’s also wearing tap shoes so he made a lovely clicking sound as he moved about.


Centipede has a little overboard mishap, encounters a giant Octopus and is saved by James, hurrah!

Meet Earthworm


By far my favourite character, I always love the cynical pessimist, Hoggle, Marvin the Paranoid Android, Statler and Waldorf, Earthworm… “They’ll eat me first because I’m fat and juicy and I’ve… got… no… bones…. wahhhhhh!”
This was an amazing costume to design and make. Again, we were drawing blanks on this character, how far to humanise him, should he have limbs, how to facilitate his wriggling motion… in the end the inspiration came from finding the perfect worm coloured satin jersey (a dusky peach) and lining fabric. We had already discussed a hooded cloak and maybe painted lines, and at discovering this lovely fabric, I thought “stuff it!” Literally. 

So he is basically two layer of fabric zig-zagged stitched together.  Marking the lines was a real headache, chalk just wouldn’t make neat lines, and in the end I used masking tape. His initial outing was unstuffed as the ziz-zag sections created some lovely ripply lines on him but he didn’t look juicy enough so I spent several hours stuffing his ribs and I love the overall look (although I managed to miss his bottom rib on his back and didn’t get the time to fix that).

Sewing up his lining and hems was the most comfortable job ever as I lay on the worm, he is basically a costume, sleeping bag and mattress in one – be perfect for fancy dress sleepovers! And it looks hilarious when its lying on the floor, the stuffing makes it look like there is still an actor inside, having a nap! Inside he has a hand-hold system that allows him to lift and lower the costume (it crumples rather well and the actor could kneel and sit in it comfortably) as well as hidden pockets.

He is the least anthropomorphic of the insects, but with his gaucho moustache, frown lines and wriggle, I think he was the biggest hit with the audience, always came on to fits of laughter and applause! The actor did was hilarious too, and beautifully emphasised Earthworm’s blindness, I couldn’t stop giggling when he’d launch into an argument with another insect while angrily staring them down – only they’d be on the other side of him! I really want to make another one now – reversible – a blue Absolom caterpillar on one side and a glo-worm on the other!
And what’s a good children’s story without a pair of nasty old aunts?!

IMG_4748 IMG_4753
A Young Theatre production
Costume Design: Kate Holland and Xye Appleton
Scenic Artist Dana KidsonPhotographer: Josh Martin
Costumes available to hire, please contact me for details.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, these are amazing! I love the worm and the centipede the most but they're all so brilliant. Bloody well done lady!