Covering A Columbia Hat (Alternate Method)

This is a guest post by RM - I was so impressed with her results! I think there's a little more work involved in this method, but the results speak for themselves. I have no doubt that this is the way Little Nell's was probably made because the sequin pattern on the bottom of the brim go straight back.  Also, Larry now has screen accurate gold sequin fabric for top hats and tail coats.

I started out with a plain black top hat and glued on layers of felt to make it flare out at the top, just like in Mina’s tutorial. Since I wasn’t happy with any of the gold sequin fabrics I found locally and there wasn’t time to order any, I decided to create my own wavy-line sequin fabric by tracing lines onto fabric with a cardboard template and gluing strings of sequin trim onto the fabric. (NOTE: Once I was finished, I decided the sequins weren’t close together enough so I added more sequin strings in the spaces between them.) I’m not sure how many yards of sequin trim it took—I just bought a spool of 100 meters and still have plenty left over. I chose a lightweight, semi-sheer cotton/silk lining fabric layered over a yellowish gold poly-cotton broadcloth, since that was the only way I could achieve the color and texture I wanted with the fabrics available.  I used my very most favorite glue, Gem-Tac. I made three large ovals (one for the flat top part of the hat, one for the underside of the brim, and one for the top side of the brim) and one long rectangle (for the stovepipe part of the hat). Be careful to make sure the nap of the sequins are all going in the same direction!

I glued the sequin fabric oval onto the top of the hat first, pinning it in place while the glue dried. You can see I made cuts through the center of the brim fabric pieces like a pizza—this is because on the top side of the brim, you need to wiggle that piece of fabric from the top of the hat (which is wider) down to the part where it meets the brim (which is narrower).


The 40th Anniversary

I had tickets to attend the 40th Anniversary convention in NYC, but sadly I had to cancel my plans after the passing of my father-in-law just days before. The costume I had planned for the Time Warp Ball was in the style of Marie Antoinette - a la Columbia's pajamas.  "Let Them Eat Meat Loaf!". The image on the fan is the Eddie mural on Columbia's bedroom wall, and the cameo necklace is of Frank (made with Shrinky Dinks). After all this work, I decided to wear it to the local show here in Houston that was also celebrating the 40th; The Royal Mystic Order of Chaos. I won a Funko Pop Columbia figure in the costume contest!

Ron Maxwell with Barry Bostwick
Photo Credit: Hilary Maxwell
Meanwhile in NYC I wish I could have been on stage with my fellow Boss winners awarding Ron Maxwell his much deserved Boss award. Ron has been around since... well... dinosaurs invented shadowcasting. His involvement has had an affect on so many people - he's like that crazy, fun uncle everyone loves even when the rest of the family is lobbing flaming fishnets across the divide. He's the voice of reason and the reason so many of us consider Rocky our family. His Boss-ness isn't as physically exhibited as those of us who have won for a website or hosting a major event, but he won because of his overwhelming influence in the community - which also speaks to the open criteria and flexibility of the Boss Award.

I won my Boss Award at the 4711 convention in 2011 for this blog where I share my costume knowledge and how-to tutorials. Anyone can be nominated for a Boss Award, but keep in mind that their contributions should be felt community-wide (more than just locally). The Boss committee is made of past winners that discuss all nominees and vote. Awards are handed out in person at most conventions.


Dr. Scott's Tie (Research)

The necktie's knot position varies day to day on the set, but there is a clear repeating pattern of stripes on a maroon background:  narrow white, pencil-thin grey, narrow orange-red, thin white, and thick grey. Since neckties are cut on the bias of the fabric (typically silk or a comparable synthetic), their stripes are usually at an angle. In the US they typically slant from the wearer's upper right to lower left, but the reverse in the UK.  The easiest solution is to use fabric paint on a solid maroon necktie.


Custom Printed Fabric

I've been tinkering with this for a good while now. I will have swatches at the 40th Anniversary Convention.  If you're comfortable with Photoshop, the process is fairly easy. When you upload your design you have the option to set the repeat how you prefer.

Columbia's Pajama Stripe - This was printed by Spoonflower. I have experimented with the colors a bit, and though I think my final result is a bit dark, it lends itself well to natural fading for a truly "worn" look (you can accelerate the process with sun exposure and many washings). Spoonflower will also let you modify the colors before ordering, however I strongly recommend getting a swatch before purchasing yardage.

Brad's Bow Tie Plaid - I tried this on Spoonflower originally and I wasn't happy with any of the results. Every effort looked dull and faded - as if getting a saturated red was impossible.  I tried using their color-picker, and talking with customer support on the phone. Always the same dull results. I had much greater success with FabricOnDemand.com - the only complaint I have about them is that they do not have a store feature to let other people buy my designs directly.

Brad's Cummerbund Plaid - Pretty much the same exact experience as the bow tie plaid. My final results were from FabricOnDemand.com.

Janet's 1/2" Pink Gingham - Gingham is technically a woven plaid, but I've done my best to simulate the effect with printing. I got great results from Spoonflower.com so it's available in my shop there. I also have a lighter version of the same print for Janet's that are working with a lighter pink dress fabric and still want a good match.


Buying Rocky Costumes

Previously I've written posts about Selling Rocky Costumes and Making Rocky Costumes for Friends.  So it seems I should complete that theme with Buying Rocky Costumes.

I've seen costume transactions go poorly, and I've been involved in costume transactions that went poorly. Sometimes the blame lies with the seller, and sometimes the blame lies with the consumer - and I've dealt with a lot of poor consumers.  So what can you do to increase the odds ever in your favor of receiving the product you're expecting?

1.  I'm going to lead with this because it's one of the biggest issues:  measurements.  It's imperative that you submit good measurements.  If you feel unsure or uncomfortable with this process be sure to ask the seller for explicit directions.  Typically they'll want your measurements taken over the undergarments you'll be wearing with the costume. Do not substitute bra sizes for measurements.  Do not measure your clothes instead of your body.  And in some cases, you will absolutely need a second person because the very process of reaching some measurements will result in distortions.  There is nothing a seller can do if you provide poor measurements.

2.  Do your research.  Read reviews..  Ask people in the community.  Ask all your questions up front.  How long should it take?  What if it takes longer?  What are their return policies?  Do they keep the materials on hand, or procure them after the order is placed?  What if they can't get them?

And if there are bad reviews take the time to read the specifics of the complaints - are they reasonable? Were they resolved fairly?

3. What to do if you're not satisfied with the product?  This relates very much to #2 - educating yourself about their return policy - because it's a very real possibility you may not receive something up to your standards.  I've seen custom work span the gammut of amateur to professional.

Communication is key.  I understand the frustration of disappointment, but a nasty attitude is not going to resolve things any easier for you.  Attacking the seller is never okay, and once that tactic is in play I support the sellers right to extinguish all communication with you, and perhaps move forward with a third party arbitrator.

4. What to do if you love the work, but it simply doesn't fit?  The best place is to revisit the measurements given.  Does it match the measurements, but not fit?  Does it match neither?  If you're goal is to have the costume corrected you'll need to be as specific as possible.  When dealing with online transactions you need to realize that these problems are a very real outcome that can happen.  If you're not prepared to resolve this you probably shouldn't order anything custom online.  How the seller resolves these issues is crucial to their online reputation.

5.  What if it doesn't arrive on time?  Remember, this isn't coming off the rack.  It takes as long as it takes, and most sellers have other day job commitments before their costuming commitments.  If you need a custom piece rushed to you by a certain date be prepared to pay big, but also be prepared to be disappointed.  Despite any sellers best intentions, the odds are ever stacked against you in these situations.  Personally, my advice is to say just don't do it.  Receiving a rushed costume allows no time for any problem resolution, which is unfair to both the buyer and seller.

In summary, be reasonable about your expectations.  You're probably not dealing with a seasoned professional. Accept that things may not be perfect and you may need to communicate extensively with the seller to resolve things. Understand that there is a human at the other end of the transaction with feelings.


Space Suit Quilting

This is my best estimate at the quilted pattern on the space suits.  Riff & Magenta's seem identical.  The red lines indicate where the space wings and belt cross (and partially obstruct) the pattern.

This scale works well with the quilted gold lamé sold by Hancock's (seasonally), though you'll need to make custom adjustments for larger sizes.

There is something hard to discern on the lower back.  A kind of shaping, maybe?  The best I've been able to address it is to create a separate piece of quilting and overlay it.  You can view my research in this blog post.


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.