Monday, January 12, 2015

Steampunk Alice in Wonderland

Last year, the local steampunk group decided to have an Alice in Wonderland themed tea in the park.  We all planned on making our own interpretations of Alice in Wonderland characters.  I was so excited as the Cheshire cat is one of my all time favorite characters.  My husband chose to be the caterpillar and promptly started working on a steampunk hookah. My husband and I also offered to help several of the others with their costume bits. Due to helping others and being in the process of studying for a major exam, the costumes did not get all the finishing touches I think they need.  However, I wanted to share what I did get done on them and hopefully I will share the updates in the future!

The Caterpillar
My husband has always loved the caterpillar in the Disney animated Alice in Wonderland, so he wanted the costume to be blue.  My first instinct was to make a blue Persian outfit due to the cute slippers depicted in the animated version.  However, my husband is very picky about shoes and would never wear the slippers.  So I needed to go a different direction.  From a British historical standpoint of the book's writing, I felt the caterpillar probably represented an Asian opium den inhabitant.  Since Steampunk is fantasy, I decided to do a loosely Asian inspired smoking robe and simple pants.

The pants were simple, elastic waist cotton pants in blue.  The robe is made out of the most evil fabric I have ever worked with.  I wanted something shiny as if the caterpillar could be a hallucination.  I found this fabric super cheap, around 2 dollars a yard.  However, it frays if you look at it and has absolutely no body. I had to add the blue edging to keep any shape in the garment at all.  I did find some really great frog closures for cheap at a local fabric store. 

My husband also wanted to wear this outfit out to local gatherings and maybe to conventions at some point.  I thought a simple shoulder bag to hold stuff while wearing this outfit might be good.  So I used my embroidery machine and some embroidery patterns from Urban Threads to whip up a quick bag.  The patterns are the steampunk alphabet and the Smoking caterpillar from the Alice design pack.  The Who R U ? is in tribute to the animated movie. Unfortunately, at this point I ran out of time and did not get a hat finished. This outfit needs and hat so very badly!  At least it was done enough to wear it for the picnic and out to an amusement park.

My husband and I did most of the work on the hookah in a hurry, so I have very few pictures of it in process  It is a really fun prop however. The blue base is a plastic drink dispenser, we drilled a bunch of holes into the lid and added some PVC pipe fixtures spray painted gold and silver.  To keep the pipes stable, they go all the way to the bottom of the drink dispenser and are glued there. The copper piece on the very top is an old baking pan we found at Good Will for $0.25.  The baking pan has a a set of multicolored LEDs which are wired in an array and then protected under a piece of plastic.  On top of the LEDs is a bunch of quartz crystals to diffuse the light, the glow is rather other worldly. The smoking tube is actually thin plastic tubing with the wiring running up it.  The 'mouth piece' is actually a switch that causes LEDs to light up and there is a cord from the bubble gun in the front that pulls the trigger.  The cording is quite long and he can hide it so the gun fires without people expecting it.   The whole thing has a leather strap so he can carry it with him everywhere. He took this prop to an amusement park and I started accusing him of being the pied piper.....all the local children started following him to play with the bubbles!

The Cheshire Cat

I also planned on basing my Cheshire cat off of the animated movie version and wanted lots and lots of pink and purple stripes.  Most of my steampunk is all very long skirts and highly Victorian/Edwardian influenced (none of which has made it onto this blog).  I wanted to make this outfit more fantasy and modern.  However, I don't usually wear short skirts and was a bit worried about short skirts and picnics outside...... So I decided to make a pair of bloomers to protect my modesty.  The bloomers are cotton with purple lace stripes down the sides.   The hem is finished with really bright pink cotton lace and pink pleated ribbon trim.  I sewed a purple ribbon down the middle of the pleated ribbon trim for a bit more detailing. 

Originally, I wanted a big fluffy petticoat under my skirt.  This was also a reason for the bloomers, to both protect my modesty and to protect my legs from the scratchy petticoat.  I bought several spools of 10 inch wide pink tiger stripped tulle from the fabric store and gathered 75 yards of the stuff to make the petticoat.  I was so glad the length was pre-cut and all I had to do was gather it!  If you look closely, there is an odd seam in the cotton of petticoat, this is because I originally made the petticoat too long and had to shorten it. Oops!  While I love the petticoat, I did not end up wearing it as it looked really strange under the dress. I think it would be fine with a dress with a fitted bodice, but with the lace dress it was just a frumpy look.  Maybe I will revisit the petticoat later when I make more stuff for this costume.

The dress was made entirely out of pink stretch lace and purple stretch lace that I found in the discount section of the fabric store.  First, I figured out the pattern for my dress, I wanted a full skirt to allow for the petticoat and long sleeves.  Once I had the pattern, I cut the pattern into stripes and then cut my fabric.  I have never been so thankful for my Serger in my whole life!  It was so nice to be able to just serge the fabrics together to make a striped dress.  Since the fabric is so stretchy, I stabilized the neckline with bias tape and ran a ribbon through the bias tape.  This makes the neckline a little bit adjustable and keeps the weight of the full skirt from stretching out the neckline too much.

For accessories, I wanted spats and mitts.  The spats pattern I started with is from Steam Ingenious.  This is a great starting pattern and is really simple to make.  My calves are very large and required a much larger size than my ankles, so I did have to modify the pattern, but it was simple enough to do and I enjoyed trying out the pattern. The base fabric is purple cotton bottom weight twill and the edging is pink bias tape. I found bright pink alligator patterned leather at the local Tandy's and used it to make strapping on the spats.  This created an issue, the leather plus the metal hardwear was quite heavy.  Over a day, the spats slowly slipped down my leg to pool around my ankles.  I need to fix this, but have not decide how yet.

The mitts are the fingerless gloves pattern from McCalls 6975.  The pattern called for stretch lace, I decided to use the purple twill anyway.  I will say this made from some really fiddly sewing. Also, I had to add a hand binding to cover the seam where the thumb joins the hand part as the twill would unravel there.  Still, the pattern was a nice base to work from and would be much easier if I had used lace.  I used the same leather to make detail bits on the mitts. 

Now I need the cat bits, specifically the ears and tail.  I bought some soft fleece stuff in purple and pink.  This stuff is so soft and, apparently, a cat magnet.  I have to hide this stuff from my cat, she was not planning on sharing at all!

 I have always wanted the Necomimi cat ears that move on their own, but really couldn't afford them.  Alice offered me the money for the cat ears if I would make her a skirt, shirt and fluffy bustle like the one I made for my steampunk doll for her Alice costume.  I was sold.  The only issue was the color of the ears, so I made new covers for my ears out of the fluffy stuff.

Next came the tail. I wanted the tail to be stiff, so I made a base out of wire covered in batting.  I then made a striped tail out of the fluffy fleece (again, so thankful for my Serger).  To get the tail to stand out, the top of the wired tail needed to stay flush with my body.  So I attached the tail to a belt I made out of the pink leather.   The tail is one of the things I am not happy  with, specifically that the belt has to sit at my waist.  Anatomically, the tail should come from my tail bone, not my waist.  I am planning on fixing this in the future, but am still deciding how I want to fix this. 

I also wanted a pouch to hold my stuff so I don't have to carry a separate purse.  So I designed a cat face pouch to hang from the belt.  I wanted the main part of the purse to be the same pink leather, but I wanted some purple details on the cat face and a fluffy pink nose and ears.  I also wanted fun eyes.  The purple details are made from the purple twill.  To make the front of the cat purse, I first cut out the face and detail in leather.  I then taped the leather to the twill with masking tape.  The masking tape kept everything stable while I was sewing.  After sewing the tape can be removed.  I sewed the outline, stripes and eyes with the tape over the leather.  I then pushed the bits of fleece for the nose and ears in the cut holes and stitched them down.  Finally, I made eyes and teeth out of sculpy.  The sculpy teeth had flattened tops with holes to allow them to be stitched into place.  The detail on the eyes is painted and then they are glued to the purple twill.  The back and sides of the pouch is just pink leather and there is a leather strap that snaps over the top to hold things in.

Finally came time for the prop part, the mask.  I wanted the eyes on the mask to spin and be hypnotic.  My husband designed a motor system and brass posts for the eyes.  The posts keeps the eyes from blocking my vision so I can still move around.  Unfortunately, the motors are fairly fast so the mask had to be really really stable and not move.  To do this, we used plaster infused strips from the craft store to make the mask base that fitted my face exactly. The large lump you see on the right side is the space for the forehead sensor for the Necomimi ears, I needed the sensor to sit under my mask.  The eyes were cut from plexiglass and painted with faux stainglass paints from the craft store.  Below you can see the brass posts, the wiring, switches, battery pack and the eyes.

I also made some teeth from transparent sculpy to add to the mask.  To attach the teeth and eyes, I first stuck these pieces down with glue and then built up plaster around them with the plaster strips.  To change the shape of my face, I built up the mask with paper clay and then sanded the clay smooth.  Mostly I built up the nose and added a ridge from my check bones all the way around  the top of the mask.  This served 2 purposes, to make my face wider and provide a place to hide the battery packs. 
Once the mask was dry, we glued the battery packs behind the ridge.  I then painted the mask and added a hair fringe to hide the straps.  The mask is pretty heavy, so the straps are heavy elastic to hold the mask up.  Overall, I am happy with the mask, I just need to tweak the battery pack positioning as right now it digs into my head pretty badly.  Being able to reach up and turn the eyes on and have them start spinning is really a fun trick.

My husband also helped the Tweedles with their hats.  They wanted to hats to have spinning propellers that were wings on the top. I think the hats are really cute, but the propellers are very fast and we will likely revisit them in the future.  Here are a few pictures of some of the others from the tea.  I love the yellow and red Tweedles costumes the best, but everyone was so creative and the event was so much fun.


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