Patternmaking & Sewing Notes
by Don McCunn
Creating a Pixie Costume
My background is costuming. So when I worked with my model Fallon Niedzwiecki she mentioned she tried to find a pixie costume for Halloween but none fit her--how could I resist?
The following is a description of the creation of this costume.
The Design Concept
One of the key issues was what to do about the wings. When we were talking initially Fallon said she did not want wings because when she went to a party it was too easy to whack someone. On the other hand I was intrigued by the idea of making wings and there were wings in the image we settled on. Making wings is a project I had never undertaken and I was really looked forward to it. So I decided to make her a costume that had interchangeable wings, one for parties and one for photo shoots.
I mulled on several ideas about how to attach removable wings to the costume. Most of the ideas weren't very good. I'll spare you the details. Then a light bulb went off and I realized I could leave a long vertical pocket in the corset at center back (down her spine).
The next thing I had to do was to determine what the wings would look like. I did more Google searches and really liked the look of dragonfly wings. Each side has two wings and each wing comes to a single junction where it joins the body. I realized that this type of wing could easily be adjusted after the costume was made. This would give it a lot of flexibility. So it was off to find the fabric.
Finding the Fabric
My second happy fabric search was to find a green organza fabric that was iridescent. Once again there was no choice to make. The idea of having translucent dragonfly wings made my heart sing. The other principle fabric I need was for the corset. But I had made myself some swim trunks out of a crushed brown velvet that had a wonderful tree bark like look. So it was off to start the construction process.
While I was in the store I found some wonderful artifical flowers and a cute butterfly pin. I couldn't resist.
The other decision was how to treat the fabric. Initially I had intended to use a double layer so I could sew the two layers together, turn it and just pull it over the wire frame. But I really liked how fragile the organza as a single layer would work. I felt this was so appropriate for dragon fly wings. Below are the steps I followed to create the wings.
The photos below show the various steps of this process.
To avoid a closing device I knew I needed to make the center circle larger than the hips so the dress could be pulled on. I could then enclose the waist in elastic to reduce it to the size of Fallon's above bust dimension. I used the wonderful pattern-making calculator from String Codes to determine the radius I need for the circle from the full hip measurement. I used just the hip measurement because I knew when I added the elastic I would be rolling it to create an even larger circle. If you haven't tried the String Code calculator, I recommend you do. It is free and does too much for me to describe here.
I cut the center circle and all edges of the fabric with a hot knife working for a freehand jagged around the outside edges. I then used a Swimsuit Edge finish to add the elastic. Fallon is allergic to latex so I was careful to roll the elastic a couple of times.
Checking the Design
When I saw the dress on the form I realized the front was too long. Fallon wanted it knee length. I think the error I made in my measurements was that I doubled the above bust to knee measurement for the overall length. I forgot to factor in the height of the center circle.
They say there is a silver lining to every cloud if you can find it. I liked the idea of the back hem being longer than the front. So I pulled out my trusty hot knife and shortened the front.
For the front lacing I shortened the front pattern by an inch which left a total opening of 2 inches. I first cut the pattern out of some stretch denim I had around the house. When I tried the initial denim on the dress form of Fallon, I felt so secure in the fit that I decided I would only need boning at side back to support the wings and center front to support the lacing. If you haven't tried lacing, you need the boning or the lacing will squeeze the height of the corset down. The following is the sequence I used to create the corset.
Initially I was considering adding a second skirt to the bottom of the corset. But during the process above I kept checking the corset on the dress form. I liked the simplicity of the single layer of skirt so I abandoned the idea of additional layers.
When I was figuring out the spacing for the grommets I eyeballed how many looked right to me. Six grommets looked right to me so I knew I needed to divide the space equally in fifths. I whipped out my Scale Rule and used the 1/5th scale to establish the distance--no head math or calculator needed. The dimensions are right there in front of your eyes--whew!
I had not measured Fallon's forehead but I know that head sizes vary between 20 and 22 inches. I figure Fallon had a smallish head so 20" should work. I used a strip of my Lycra and a band of 1-1/8" elastic to make the head band.
Initially I had planned to add elastic to the top and bottom of the armband to further secure the edges. But I found with a trial fitting that the stretch in the Lycra was adequate and no additional elastic was needed.
I am pleased to say that when Fallon tried on the costume for the first time, no fitting adjustments were required. She wore it for a full afternoon of photo shoots, dinner at a local restaurant, and she even drove home in it instead of changing back to her street clothes. She said that the corset was the most comfortable corset she had ever worn. I attribute this to the custom fit and minimal use of stays. I also asked her at dinner if the headband she was still wearing was comfortable. She said it fit her so well she didn't even feel she was wearing it. To me that is one of the goals I pursue for custom-fit clothes. When they fit, they are comfortable and a pleasure to wear.
If you have any additional questions about how I made this costume, I would be happy to answer them through my Reddit group BespokeSewingPatterns.
Copyright © 2015 by Donald H. McCunn