Pattern Drafting (Personal Progress)

It's my intention to get all of my Rocky Horror patterns into my Fashion CAD program where I can standardize their sizes and grade them into a complete range of sizes. So far I have made MUCH progress with the software. I'm flushing out my drafting skills and will then begin to apply grading tools. Easy, huh?  Surprisingly, the most difficult part so far has been trying to find (create?) a chart of standardized measurements as they apply to my drafting needs (beyond chest, waist, hips, etc.)

There are many pattern systems out there, and many ways you can measure the human form. I just need a compatible set. The Joseph-Armstrong textbook Patternmaking for Fashion Design is pretty much an industry standard in technique, but provides no reference charts for working with standard sizes - only how to take  your own custom measurements and apply them to the drafting tutorials. The ASTM chart D-5585 seems comprehensive, but is actually missing many of the specific measurements necessary for the Joseph-Armstrong method.

I think I've finally come upon a working solution, and am moving forward. I am happy with my first draft, though it still needs some tweaking. The first pattern I plan to work on for Rocky Horror is Janet's pink dress. It's a pretty straight-forward design.

So as you can see, this is just a basic bodice sloper, but it's the foundation I'll be working from. 


Pleating Chiffon for Janet's Hat

It's hard to catch a good view, but my best guess is Janet's hat has about 3 or 4 pleats around the base of the dome. To accomplish this you'll need to cut the chiffon on the bias. This is actually crucial for best results. On the bias means along the diagonal of the fabric's weave. If you take a woven piece of fabric and tug on it sideways or longways you won't get much stretch. If you tug on it diagonally the fabric will stretch considerably more. This is an extreme advantage when working around curves.

I'm using a sheer cotton fabric from the home decor department at JoAnn's. Its cotton content will allow it to press easily without fear of melting. I cut a bias strip that was 30" by 8" - way more than I needed, but you can cut the excess off later. I pressed the pleats the length of the fabric - aiming for about 1/4" - 3/8" pleats. Be very careful not to stretch the fabric at this point. After pleating, fold and press the excess under and trim it off. You'll now have a 30" pleated strip that should be relatively straight. Janet's isn't perfect, so don't sweat any waviness.

Now you want to press a curve into your pleated strip. The bias will do all the work for you. The curved band will make wrapping it on the hat lay smoothly.

These pleats are a little on the narrow side, so I'm going to play around with 3 wider pleats in place of the 4 narrow pleats. The hat is $20 on Amazon (thanks Larry!). It's not as flimsy as Janet's, but it should hold up to shadow-casting abuse well.

Once you get the pleats placed you can trim down off the excess length and add your bow.


Eddie's T-shirt

Eddie's t-shirt has his name emblazoned across his chest in sparkly green.  If you're doing this yourself you have a few paint options.  Tulip brand makes a Glitter Shimmer Fabric Paint, but it's translucent so you'd need a layer of regular fabric paint under it.  Tulip also makes a glitter bond that you can stencil onto a shirt, add glitter, then dry - my concern would be how many washings it would survive.  You can also buy a shirt made by the fine folks of Home of Happiness on eBay for $15 plus shipping.

Shawn Hall in HoH Eddie T-shirt
Photo by Formal Dress Optional


Eddie's Rings

I know this is pretty to research for yourself, though you may get hung up searching for the rings on his left hand. So if anyone wants to contribute to the search terms please comment on this post!

1.  Middle Finger - I've always heard this referred to as "Dramedy" (Drama/Comedy), though I seldom see anyone else calling it that.  A lot of eBay listings just say Drama Masks or Comedy & Tragedy Masks. Also look for "Beau Sterling" designs (re: The Anal Retentive Costume List).
2.  Ring Finger - This is a Tiger Eye stone - not sure if the setting has a specific name or not, but it looks gold.
3.  Pinky Finger - silver Iron Cross ring - this is probably going to be the easiest to find if you're not super-picky - I've even seen them at Target in the past.  

In this photo, the Iron Cross ring looks like it has a skinny band.  You can also see a knot (?) in Eddie's slingshot rubber on the back of his neck.

ETA - Steve V. found an incredible match for the Iron Cross ring.  He said it was listed as "Franco-Prussian war silver iron cross ring". Under the black enamel there is a crown and a date.


Berlin, 2014

I had an amazing time in Berlin.  It wasn't a convention per se, but it was a well-organized, international event. And best of all I wasn't stuck sitting at a merchandise booth!  People came from the Netherlands, Spain, France, Isreal and the United States to participate.  Also in attendance were my friends Shawn and Paul with the Rocky Horror Saved My Life documentary.  They were on hand to grant more interviews and debut a new trailer launching their Indie GoGo campaign.

Not only did I make many new friends, but I got to meet people I've known online for years.  Friday was spent mostly hanging out, exchanging stories, and sharing some drinks - which you can apparently drink openly on the streets.  Friday night was Hedwig And The Angry Inch at the historic Babylon Theatre preceded by an hour of short films - many of them were entirely new to me.  The cast did a great job - and by the looks of it had a lot of fun - but I think Stefan from Amsterdam stole the show.

Saturday afternoon was mostly spent hanging out (and drinking) with our new friends, and getting ready for the show at the Freiluftkino Rehberge- an outdoor theatre in a park.  The show started around 8:00 pm (when the sun went down) and most of the cast was on hand much earlier to rehearse and mingle with the crowd (about 1000 people?).

The show was one hell of a great time.  Max Mayhem had created a video preceding the show - to the tune of Billy's Idol "Rebel Yell" - spotlighting the international performers.  The costumes were fairly exceptional across the board - and even some of my work appeared here and there, which always gives me warm fuzzies.  The audience was very lively!!

Sunday started with a brunch buffet, followed by sightseeing and shopping. Highlights included the Mauerpark Flea Market, the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the East Side Gallery (Berlin Wall) and the Ramones Museum.  Followed up with a traditional German dinner... and of course more drinking.  All of my photos can be seen in my Berlin 2014 Flickr Album.

Max, Jojo, and everyone in Berlin who worked hard to pull this off did an exceptional job.  I really hope I can make it back next year!  Who's with me??


Frank's Cape

These are the results I got with modifying Simplicity's cape pattern #2499 (might be discontinued, but check eBay). I widened the center back panel so that I could accommodate the pleating.  It also widened the hem some.  My finished hem was just short of 18' - that's a big cape!!

I used Baroque Satin and silver lamé fabric.  The collar has an inner layer of fusible Pellon 71F Peltex.  I bag lined the entire cape - which means I sewed the sides and bottom with right sides together like a pillow case before attaching the collar.  The hem is completely closed in.

My preference is to not put a closure on the front, but if you're wearing it outside the show you can easily add a large hook and loop or tie strings.


Brad's Cummerbund (Pleating)

Is Brad's cummerbund pleated?  Well, judging by visual evidence alone it's very hard to tell.  But I will say that I've never met a cummerbund that wasn't pleated.  They may absolutely exist, but they would be a very rare specimen.  I'd be inclined to write them off as homemade unless they had their original label intact.  So abiding by the laws of fashion and "how things are generally done" - you can actually still pleat a plaid to look the same as it's original, un-pleated layout just by folding it carefully.

Also, the pleats on a cummerbund should always go up.  That is, imagine them as a crumb-catcher.  I've also heard that men could keep their valet tickets and such inside the folds - though that seems silly to me since I've never seen a men's tuxedo lacking in pockets inside and out.

So here I've used a piece of paper.  My printer was running out of red ink, but I think the fading actually helps delineate the pleats for this purpose.  The light areas have 9 squares in them - pleated or not.


Costuming Friends & Casts

Earlier this year I wrote about Selling Rocky Costumes as a side business, but it occurs to me that so many more people make costumes as a hobby for their friends and cast.  That comes with it's own set of pitfalls and frustrations so this post goes out to them.  It's often a thankless job, and even if you're compensated you're still going to have to set boundaries. It's up to you to define your boundaries, not for other people to speculate where they may be.  I know it's hard to say "no" to people - especially when you really do want to help them and you know they need your help.  It feels amazing when your talents are in demand.

Frank cape lining on dress form.
Where to start?  I guess with the initial request since this is where so many things go wrong.  Don't over-commit yourself.  Set a number of requests (say, 3) and anything beyond that gets an automatic "I'm sorry I can't right now, but I'll let you know when my schedule opens up."  You absolutely have to draw a boundary.  Yes, even for the little things.

If they have supplied you with materials or a deposit you are beholden to them.  This reinforces my point about limiting the number of requests you accept - because it's not fair to take someone's materials and then sit on them because you were busy or over-extended.  A lot of us have been there (myself included), and it's a huge mess to clean up.  Honor your current obligations before making new ones.  You just never know what obstacles may pop up in life, and it's better to wrap up a short list of obligations than a long one.

The next biggest pitfall?  Don't get taken advantage of.  Even if you're doing it out of the kindness of your heart keep track of your time and every expense you incur. If you're cursing the costume in the end because it was more than you bargained for chances are your own boundaries (or lack there-of) are what failed you.  You can be successful if you are completely realistic.

If you charge for your work it can be tricky knowing how much to ask for.  A general rule of thumb is 3x the cost of materials.  So if you spent $20 on fabric and supplies, you should charge $60 for the finished costume.  But if it requires additional skills - like hand-sewing hundreds of sequins on a corset - you should definitely factor that in your price.  What's important here is that you feel it was worth it, otherwise why would you do it again?  If you want a nicer sewing machine or a serger, you're going to have to count every dollar.

As for the people who will "pay you later" - you really need to be firm here.  Nobody needs a Rocky costume that badly.  If they can't pay the pre-arranged amount do not give them the costume under any circumstances.  If you do, consider it a gift because the odds of recovering anything are slim to none.  It's not because people aim to be shitty to you, but because Nobody needs a Rocky costume that badly - and the next time they have $20 in their hand you can be sure it's going towards something more important to them (their next meal, gas for their car, cigarettes, etc.)  Paying you back will be at the bottom of their selfish list - and they're selfish because they asked you to front them for their responsibility in the first place.  Don't diminish your boundaries because they did.  And don't expect respect from other people if you don't respect yourself.  Simply let them know "I'd be glad to hold it in a safe place for you."

Don't be hard on yourself when you make mistakes.  It's not productive.  Create a solution and follow it through.  If you get upset and quit you've learned nothing and you will find yourself in the same place again and again.


Magenta's Magazine

After spending a ridiculous amount of time tracking down Columbia's magazine, I was able to find Magenta's in much shorter order. It's Movie Mirror from April 1961.  I had the cover reproduced on a stiff, glossy cardstock, and as a prop it will last longer that way. You can do a single bend down the spine, or a double bend depending on what magazine you want to re-cover. I used an Opera News magazine - it's size is slightly uncommon (16.5" x 11"). I used the edge of my kitchen counter to get a crisp fold (measure against your magazine, not the page's design.)

I'll have these for sale at upcoming conventions.

Selling Rocky Costumes

I'm going to jot down a few things I've learned along the way for anyone else who may be interested in selling Rocky Horror (or other) costumes - this is what you may be in for!  This list is based on my personal experiences over the last decade.  Overall it's been a very positive experience, and I've built friendships and felt very connected to the Rocky community.
  1. You probably can't make a living at it - at least not in the beginning.  It may take you a while to figure out your price points based on what materials you can (consistently) procure and how long it takes you.  You will, of course, get faster after you've made an item several times.
  2. I recommend making samples up front to show/sell before taking commissions.  eBay will get you a lot of visibility, but there are plenty of other options out there without all the fees.  It's easy to spread the word on social networking sites, and PayPal makes it easy to sell from your own website or blog.
  3. Take nice pictures of your work;  well lit, not wrinkled, no pets or junk in the background.  If you don't have a dress form ask a friend to model it - but really model it and take photos of different sides - not while they're performing in it.  Photograph the details, too.  You don't need an expensive camera to do this.
  4. People are going to submit crummy measurements.  Sometimes you can spot them and ask them to remeasure (and provide them with more specific instructions), but there's always going to be discrepancies - make sure you're policies are clear how you intend to handle them.  Some people will still be difficult so be prepared to stand your ground.  Fortunately they are few and far between.
  5. People will ask for substitutions.  Some may seem benign (a different fabric for a Janet dress), some will be ill-advised (spring-weave sequin fabric for a tail coat), and some will end up costing you hours of frustration.  It's up to you if you want to go there, and how much extra you want to charge for it.
  6. Deposits are tricky and I prefer to avoid them after a hard lesson learned.  If something doesn't work out (can't get the fabric, death in the family, yeti attack, etc.) you're not beholden to an angry customer (or lynch mob).
  7. Whether you take deposits or not never ship without full payment.  On large orders I give about a week's heads up.  Otherwise I send the invoice when the costume is finished and ready to ship.  The handful of times I shipped costumes without payment had mixed results and some have never paid to this day.
  8. People will want things fast.  Your queue could be 10 weeks long and growing, but someone will want to know if there's any way they could have something next weekend for a very special performance.  Hey, it's your headache.  Just know that demanding people will continue to be demanding - they don't ever chill out just because you did them a solid.
  9. Communication.  Respond as quickly as you can to e-mails (yes, people will panic over Rocky Horror costumes). Try to keep your correspondence in one place.  It's frustrating when half a conversation is in your in-box, some is on Facebook, and the rest is in a text message on your phone.  
  10. People will love you.  People will hate you.  People will forget that you're just one human being and not some sweatshop of magical sewing faeries.  Things will happen.  Machines will break at the worst time, the post office will lose your packages, you'll get sick or injured, etc.
  11. Mistakes will happen.  It's how we learn, but it doesn't have to be how we define ourselves.  Pick yourself up, move on.  A sense of humility - and a sense of humor - will get you far.  And when all else fails make Rocky Horror voodoo dolls with your scrap fabric.