What I Learned From Making a Steampunk Clown, by Laura

I figured a final write-up was in order, and I am going to intersperse the professional photos in here amongst the babble so that it isn’t just a long endless column of typing.  All photos taken by Jim Jordan at the Mantorville Opera House.

Welcome to the Show!

Welcome to the Show!

New things I learned while making this costume:

1.  Crocheting.  I can still only crochet curls and chains, but I can now claim to know how to crochet.

2.  How to make a wig from yarn.  And darned if it isn’t incredibly comfortable.  I am working on an 18th century one using wool roving.

3.  How to make jewelry.  Specifically, how to BEAD jewelry.  I used a technique called netted beading, and you can find examples all over YouTube.  The designs I loved the most were by Deborah Roberti.  Google her.  She is AMAZING.

4.  How to bead trim, how freaking long it takes and how to estimate the correct number of beads when you arbitrarily change the size of the pattern.  7 yards of trim is a lot.  No seriously, it is a LOT if you are making it.  I won’t say never again, but in this case?  I am on the 99% never side leaning over to 100%.

5.  How to work with copper tubing.  What I discovered – Gorilla glue is not the glue you want to use, as it expands and then you have to chip it off of copper.  Also, zip-ties work incredibly well for holding things together while they dry.  Lastly, you cannot do one piece at a time.  You really must put all the pieces together at the same time (which requires 2 people or a lot of clamps) or it will twist out of shape.  As it is, the supportasse is not completely even on both sides.  It is pretty close, but not exact.



6.  You can buy crafting items at the Pest Control store.  The copper mesh of the ruff was from the Pest Control store and it was insanely cheap compared to buying it in rolls for windows, at craft stores, etc.  It is also VERY flimsy and 7 yards of heavy beaded trim is really not suitable to attach to copper mesh.  However, copper mesh does have the ability to stretch, and thus can forgive a lot of errors.

7.  I would like to say that I now know how to build an engine/apparatus like the key turner, but I still don’t understand it.  I know the lingo, but just because I can say “thermostat” doesn’t mean I can fix a Porsche.

Back view - skirt is askew after all the dancing....

Back view – skirt is askew after all the dancing….

8.  That crafts involving noxious fumes should be done at a time of year that one can open the window.  Several hours locked in my sewing room with Dazzle Tac has probably killed off some brain cells, and spray painting in the laundry room in the basement means your basement smells like spray paint.  Since it was either A)snowing or B)below 20 degrees outside when all of this was done, there wasn’t much choice.  But am marking this as a note to self for next time….

9.  Mechanical stuff made of metal is heavy.  I know, I know, you would think this would be something basic that anyone would understand.  But when you have a metal contraption that doesn’t feel overwhelmingly heavy, even after you strap it onto a supportive harness it will still be heavy.  Especially after wearing it for awhile.

10.  Military Surplus stores carry the best stuff ever.  Harnesses, straps, glow in the dark tape, you name it, they probably have it.  For cheap.

11.  ALWAYS measure the length of your sleeves before you start to bead them.  And then measure again.  And one more time, just to be sure.  THEN start beading them.

Dancing across the stage...

Let me entertain you…

12.  When putting boning into sleeves to help support the outer sleeves, realize that your boning will not go straight across, but will instead curl around.  This wound up to my advantage, but could have gone horribly awry.

13.  Ignore Jean Hunnisett’s wheel farthingale pattern.  BAD THINGS.  The Tudor Tailor has an excellent wheel farthingale pattern.  Use that one.

14.  You will need a larger bum roll than you think.  You will need more polyfill than you think.

15.  Plastic tubing works excellently for tubing in a wheel farthingale.  Copper tubing works great as inserts for plastic tubing.

16.  Anyone can hem a skirt by pulling it up under an elastic band.  I thought hemming on your own body was difficult, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy.

What's this?  A clock?

Let me pull this watch out of my basket…

17.  Velcro works excellently to hold a bodice in place around mechanical parts.  Sticky back velcro on metal is very hard to get off once it has been put on and WILL bend back your fingernail, which is indeed painful.

18.  Elastic bridal loop tape works really well instead of grommets for ease of adjustment in front.  Since this sort of costume can only really be adjusted in front, this helps.  However, you still need boning along the front edges to give the front some stability.

19.  Making your skirt swag open like a theatre curtain is not as difficult as you might think.

20.  A horn can be spray painted and still work.  It can be sprayed with gloss coating and still work. It is heavy though, so make sure the attachment to the waistband is on there tightly.

21.  Buy more trim than you need.  ALWAYS buy extra.  Especially if the trim is in NC and you are in MN.

Her Mary Poppins pose.

Her Mary Poppins pose.

22.  Metal keys will break if not welded and screwed together.  If you are not actively using the key?  Take it off.  This applies to anything you have attached to your garment behind you that you cannot see.

23.  Elastic can solve a multitude of sins.

24.  Always have a spare partlett lying around.  You never know when you might need one.

25.  Have someone help you when duct-taping your foot, fitting spats, etc.  It is very hard to fit something to your own lower leg/foot by yourself.

26.  Make sure you have the right size shank for your rivets.  Check the fit of your boot long before it is to be worn.

Urban Threads embroidery.

Urban Threads embroidery.

27.  When cutting into leather, recheck your pattern pieces over and over.  Draw the patterns onto the opposite side of the leather before cutting any out.  Increase your stitch length and remember that once a hole is put in leather, it is forever.

28.  If you are relying on others to participate in some way in a project, give them and yourself extra time to accomplish it.  Someone will always run over deadline.  It might be you.

29.  Something will break.  Something will go horribly awry.  It may even be the night before you are to take photos of the outfit.  Step back, take a breather, and then get creative.  Figure out what the easiest solution to the problem is and try that.  If your motor doesn’t work for your front gear?  Remove the motor and have non-working gears.  DONE.  If you decide to get fancy?  Realize it is going to eat up your time.

30.  If you decide to try something new and you are on a deadline, give yourself a set amount of time to try it, and have a contingency plan should it not work out.  Don’t keep trying because you will run out of time on other more necessary parts of the outfit.

31.  Joann Fabrics carries excellent face paint/make-up now.  And it is cheaper if you have a coupon.

Flashing some ankle - scandalous!

Flashing some ankle – scandalous!

32.  Pack a kit to take with you to photo shoots.  Thread, needles, SAFETY PINS, scissors, Junior Mints, plastic rings, SAFETY PINS, duct tape, etc.  If something is going to break, you need to be able to fix it.  Or at least hide it.

33.  Keep a small box or gallon Ziploc bag of leftover fabric scraps, beads, etc. of pieces from your costume because you never know when you will need to fix/replace/adjust something.

34.  Not everything is going to get finished.  Learn to live with disappointment and know that you can add stuff to it later.

35.  Schedule the outfit far enough in advance that you can get the main things done on time.  Then?  Add more time to the total.

36.  Lack of sleep results in very silly blog posts.

The key and the turning mechanism.

The key and the turning mechanism.

Things that changed from the original plan:

1.  The farthingale was not made of copper strapping.

2.  No shoulder rolls on the bodice

3.  The bodice front design changed based on the front panel needing to be fixed.

4.  The copper did not get etched, and I think I like the final version better.

5.  The boots got embroidered instead of done as cutwork, were painted a solid color instead of a design, and no metal was involved.

6.  The skirt opens in front instead of being closed.

3/4 view of back with key

3/4 view of back with key

7.  The key was spray painted and rhinestones were glued on rather than copper leafed with rivets.

8.  The mechanicals were seen in back rather than hidden.  I actually think this works better for the outfit.

9.  The ruff went from fabric to copper and beaded trim.  The wrist ruffs were eliminated in favor of beaded cuffs.

10.  I skipped the mask in favor of make-up.  I likely will do a mask because I’m not that good at make-up…. (Thank you, Liz Olive!)

11.  The clown “BANG!” gun was eliminated due to being excessively lame.

12.  The shoulder farthingales were not made of copper strapping, but instead became lined boned sleeves using plastic strapping.

13.  The skirt did not spin around, and the front did not adjust open with a drawstring mechanism.  It is instead via a series of rings and one long string.

I am very happy with the final product.  Seeing the whole thing together with the make-up was one of those moments where you pinch yourself with excitement that your plan actually worked and looked cool.

I really can’t wait to wear the thing myself!

All done!

All done!

Edited to add a video of the key turning.  This was shot on my phone while Jim took the pictures, so the flashes are his camera.  The loud voice at the end is me, lol.  You have to have FB to see it, but it is public.  I am still trying to figure out how to embed videos here….



5 thoughts on “What I Learned From Making a Steampunk Clown, by Laura

    • Laura says:

      Hah! She said the heaviest part was the key mechanical on the back. Otherwise everything else was balanced out or padded, or such. They shoes also rubbed in several places where rivets were too long. Need to fix that.

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