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Come on in ... and pull yourself up a chair!

September 18, 2011


So, I've been (foolishly) making large-scale costumes for a number of years, and people always want to know how these wild concoctions come together, what's inside them and how I wear or puppeteer them. For my next trick, I will walk you through one of these projects from soup to nuts: Chairry from "Pee Wee's Playhouse."

Before I kick off the proceedings, I feel compelled to confess that I procrastinated on this one. Well, that's not entirely accurate; it was more a matter of not finding time to really dig in to this project until two weeks before I was scheduled to have it done for Dragon*Con. So the pictures in this blog were all taken over a 10-day period of crammy, slammy building and sewing. When I first started building large-scale, mascot style costumes, I never could have pulled off such a short build, but thankfully, I've learned a few tricks through the years so there's not too much guesswork.

Ok, so I wanted to build a chair that people would be able to sit on. So, I started by screwing together a base. It's a sloppy affair, but as I have learned from previous endeavors, each step tends to reinforce the step that came before it, so, I wasn't too fretful about the funky angles.


The second step was adding a flat seating base to the base.


Once the base was reinforced and load tested to make sure a decent-size adult could sit on it, I traced out the backing shape onto pegboard, and cut it out using a jigsaw.


I wanted to make sure the back could: a) fold down, and b) stand stably. To make sure it would have a stable base, I made legs that attached to the back of the peg board.


I tested the placement of the backing, and once I was good with things, I cut eye holes and then attached the backing to the seat with hinges. You might notice that the hinges don't match. My policy is generally to use whatever I have on hand if it will work instead of spending money. In this case, the hinges will never be seen, so mismatched is just fine! You'll also notice a very classy cardboard wrap around the base. Yep! It's not weight bearing, and it's just there to help the shape. Recycling, always!

Chairry5.jpg Chairry6.jpg

To create Chairry's depth, and the area where I would I would stand to puppeteer her, I used pool noodles and built backwards from the backing board. I used zip ties to hold everything in place, and reinforced with low-temp hot glue. (Note on hot glue: it can melt materials like pool noodles, so always test on an inconspicuous area.)


In this shot, you can see Chairry folded down with her pool noodles attached. The zip tie ends eventually got trimmed down, but not before I triple checked that everything was holding where I wanted it to.


Once the basic shape was in place, it was foam time! I literally use bed foam that I buy in sheets from my local discount department store. The foam was wrapped around Chairry, and in areas with curves, I simply cut darts and hot glued things as best I could to the appropriate shape. There have been times on previous projects when I mapped everything out and drafted patterns, but often, things work out just as well if I fly by the seat of my pants with no plan. Your mileage may vary.


Once the foam layer was in place, I covered the seat of the chair. If you ever watched "Trading Spaces" or any of the other speedy home d├ęcor makeover shows, you've probably seen the quick-and-dirty method of making a slipcover where you pin everything onto the piece of furniture inside out, and then just stitch as pinned, turn right side out, and voila! A cover is made. I use the exact same method. If you don't know much about Chairry, you'll eventually see why I used that pink knit on the base.


This shot shows a preliminary draping of the backing fabric. Sometimes, it's good to do a quick mock up of the next step, just to give yourself a little hope and momentum. Have I mentioned that the fabric I used is a lush, plush minky that is crazy insane delicious to sit on? It makes the whole thing feel so luxurious. I heart it.


To make the seat cushion, I used a combo of bed foam and an elderly futon mattress that was due for recycling. I kind of just dove in and hacked away at it layer by layer with a pair of heavy-duty scissors.


The same inside-out pinning method was use to make the cover for the seat cushion. It's finally looking like a real chair!


Chairry next needed waveable arms. Pool noodles to the rescue again! I slotted noodle segments over dowels and wrapped them with more bedfoam.

Chairry14.jpg Chairry15.jpg

To slot the arms into place, I had to cut small holes into the backing board from inside, and then make a tiny snip in the fabric in each insertion spot. The arms were not permanently affixed -- that way, they can slide right out and the chair folds down for transport.


Cutting eye holes in a project like this is always daunting. It usually happens so late in the build that I'm always afraid I will ruin everything by cutting something incorrectly. For this project, I cut the eye holes open as though I was slicing an oblong pie, and then carefully wrapped the cut pieces back around the foam layer. Here's poor Chairry looking like something out of a horror movie.


A quick view of Chairry from the side.


This is the very fancy and technical drawing I made to use as a pattern for cutting Chairry's eye details. As you can see, I'm quite the fine artist.


Once the eyes go in on any project, it's usually the first time I really feel like it's working -- unless it doesn't. Fortunately, Chairry's oculars slipped right into place without much issue. The black sections are actually a lightweight Allure knit stretched taut to provide a spot where I could peek out.


I wanted to show a view of me actually in Chairry. I'm sticking my rear out to illustrate where I am (all too well). I enter and exit this costume/puppet via a long zipper in the back.


And here she is, ready to roll. As is now evident, that pink fabric that might have looked a little odd earlier is what forms the interior of Chairry's mouth. The teeth are cut from craft foam.


The next two pictures feature Chairry at the con -- both alone, and with the rest of the Playhouse gang. I am pleased to report that our crew was very popular -- I think all of Dragon*Con sat on Chairry for a hug!


I hope you have enjoyed this walk down crazy lane -- it's a peek into the sometimes ridiculous things that get built at my house. If you're thinking of making a giant beast for Halloween this year, remember that safety and health are always first and foremost. Originally, Chairry was going to be built on casters so I could roll her around, but once I realized the dangers involved in trying to wheel around a 70-pound costume with reduced vision and hearing, that detail got scrapped. Chairry is parked in place when she goes out to see her public, and I always have plenty of water and ice packs to keep cool and hydrated inside my creation. Stay safe, and have fun in all your creations!


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This page contains a single entry by Holly Frey published on September 18, 2011 11:11 PM.

J. Stern Design Class - How to Make a Wearable Skirt was the previous entry in this blog.

Butterfly Crochet Hat is the next entry in this blog.

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