Steampunk Automaton Circus Clown

I am making a clown costume.  For myself.  I never thought I would use those words about myself.

I have made a clown costume before, for an adorable child:

S as a puppy (the year before that costume had been a cat costume – clever adding of fabric to the ears stretched it out another year) and G as a clown

I had even worn a clown costume once or twice….

Who needs a poufy clown wig when you have an entire can of Aqua-Net in your hair? 1988.

But I had not worn a clown costume as an adult.  Because, let’s face it, clowns tend to have a rather creepy reputation.  I blame Tim Curry.

What happened to change my mind was that we started talking about doing a Steampunk Circus.  I thought it would be fun to be a ringmaster/tightrope walker or some sort of festiveness.  We even saw some very cool circus stationary and masks at Michaels that were very Steampunky.  So I started planning an outfit, using a striped silk I had seen in NC as my base fabric.

I purchased bright pink and bright blue taffeta at SR Harris during one of their $5.00/silk in a bin sales and started stockpiling.  I found a great trim in pastels with tassels and bought yardage on two separate trips to NC and the Greatest Trim Store in All The Land.

Arte is overcome at the plethora of choices at the Greatest Trim Store in All the Land. (Mill Outlet in NC)

But I resisted buying the striped fabric because it was $50/yd, and I am CHEAP.  I found it on Pure Silks and ordered it for $17/yd, and received an email stating it was no longer in stock.  I was very sad.

When I went to NYC with Saharazara in March, I looked for that silk fabric.  And looked.  And looked.  It did not exist.  (Even though it had been relisted on eBay…) I was considering just biting the bullet and buying really expensive silk when I found a rayon blend stripe at a store in the garment district for $10/yd.  I purchased 5 yards and gleefully brought it home.

And then it sat there, with some additional trim and a package of buttons I also bought in NYC.  I had some vague ideas about what I wanted, but nothing really gelled.

Then I saw a fabulous coat on a site that I had been referred to:


Too fabulous.

And suddenly I knew that I wanted the hem of my skirt to be covered in carousel horses.

Obviously this would not work on the striped fabric, so I decided to find some velvet.  Around the same time I posted a photo on FB of some really fabulous crackled rainbow-colored beads I had purchased for this outfit, but with no actual plan for them:

Very shiny and sparkly festiveness in a bag.

My husband’s response was “So long as this isn’t for a clown.  Clowns are creepy.”

And just like that, I knew I wanted to make a clown.  Not because I was trying to creep out the person I love, but because suddenly all the fabric and trims that I had purchased made sense.  I also started thinking more about vintage clowns with soft make-up, versus modern era creepy clowns.

I also read about the contest at Your Wardrobe Unlock’d and started thinking about Victorian Fancy Dress.  And things continued to click into place.

I decided to do a Victorian riff on Elizabethan fancy dress.  The calf length skirt would be over a wheel farthingale, so it would look like a carousel with all those horses along the bottom.  The pink/peach velvet bodice (with Victorian shaping) with tabs in front and a mini-bustle in back would be open in the front with a decorative brass etched stomacher.  The sleeves would be modeled after the Phoenix Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, and in a dark gold silk (the same silk I used for my Italian Courtesan that had the heavily beaded sleeves) and I would bead them with the rainbow-colored beads.  The design is diamond-shaped, which adds to the harlequin look.

The sleeves will be modeled after this, from the pattern by Margo Anderson.
The Phoenix Portrait, National Portrait Gallery, London

Every clown seems to have a ruffled collar, so I decided to do a standing ruff of a gold and metallic pink and blue colored organza with a brass supportasse behind it.  There will also be ruffs at the wrists.

I have a plaster mask I had purchased to use for a Doctor Who costume, and I am going to paint it in pastels to coordinate with the costume, and have it on a stick.  I am also planning on having a wind-up key in the back, from another piece of etched metal.  Not quite sure how the whole thing will come together, but I have a lot of engineers in my family.

I am going to attempt to create some clown shoes with spats, and a lot of pieces of etched metal.  Not sure how that is going to go yet, but I have time.

And my very favorite part thus far of this outfit is the wig.  As a clown I decided I needed a yarn wig, a la Raggedy Ann.  However, it needed to be styled in a Victorian hairstyle.  I scoured Ravelry and the Interwebz and found several tutorials that have promise.  I am going to knit a cap and then add yarn to it and build a Victorian hairstyle.  I have found instructions on making yarn curls (it involves boiling water, wooden dowels and an oven) and found the yarn I plan to use at Joann fabrics:

Patons Beehive Baby Chunky in Pink. Note the Eleonora test fabrics in the back…

I had originally been considering variegated, but after some discussion, I decided on a solid color.  Firstly, because I was afraid you would see stripes in the wig, rather than the styling, and secondly, because it wouldn’t fight with the other colors in the outfit.  I got a chunky yarn because I would rather it very obviously look to be yarn, and because it will knit up faster and give me lots of volume.  I am considering a hairstyle such as these:

I believe this is from a Godey’s Lady’s Book from the late Victorian Era.

I am not sure if I will wear a hat or what it will be yet.  I have put the question forth to my friends and family on FB and am going to tally the answers in a few days.

The lovely DangerKitty is working on this with me, and will be doing the embroidery for me on her machine since my machine is unreliable.  She thought the wig was a hysterical idea and suggesting “Rubbing and buffing a squirting flower” as a joke.

Do not suggest things to me you don’t want to see actually happen.  Because I bought THIS on eBay:

How awesome is THAT?

And yes, I am going to Steampunk it out.  On a side note, my husband had never heard of Rub & Buff and thought I was telling a long and detailed dirty joke involving squirting flowers for about 5 minutes until he said, “Wait a minute, this stuff is REAL?”  Which apparently made it even funnier.

I finished up my buying spree on Amazon with a “BANG!” gun that will be modded, a horn with bulb at the end, and a parasol.  $20 total with free shipping.  Hooray for Amazon!

I posted more info about the outfit on FB and Amy Sue said, “It would be really cool if you could find a way to make your skirt rotate!” and thus it is ON.  Luckily I have a friend who did such a thing with a Civil War ball gown, so I am going to pick her brain.  This whole thing is getting to be crazier and crazier.  And I LOVE IT.

I can’t believe I am so excited about a clown costume.  Who would have thought?



9 thoughts on “Steampunk Automaton Circus Clown

  1. Lollo says:

    It would be AWESOME if the wind-up key actually made the skirt spin.
    I just found your blog and it’s love at first post :). Can’t wait to see the results.

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