Fluttery, Hand-painted Costumes
August 11, 2013
I get so inspired by animals -- there are so many colorful creatures that I want to emulate! Especially butterflies and even some of the more flamboyant moths. They're the starting point for this week's costume projects.
I wanted to make something I could run in (I participate in several costumes running events each year) but that I could also wear to a party if I wanted. I also wanted completely unique garments. There is also a lovely Luly Yang couture monarch gown that's been swirling around in my head for years, but I definitely wanted to go more casual than that.
I started with an assemblage of reference materials. I sought out photos of Luna moths and Monarch butterflies to inform my designs. Using a photo editor, I made circular repeating collage designs of wings -- these would be used to create the skirting for each of my dresses.
I settled on McCall's 6754 for my pattern because it's a simple knit dress with a relatively full, nearly circular skirt. I went with solid activewear fabrics so they'd be comfortable for running.
After cutting my pattern pieces, I assembled my skirts, leaving one seam open so I could lay them flat. Then, I got out my opaque projector. (I really can't say enough about how much I love that thing. It was one of the best investments I've ever made in terms of creative tools.) I had to fold my printed-out circular skirt design to get it to fit into the projector, which gave me only a partial image of my circle, but since I was already going to have to work the design into less than a full circle, that was aok.
I used a very fancy setup for my design transfer. Meaning: I draped my fabric over a box, pointed the projector at it, and transferred a little of the design at a time using a permanent marker. This is not a precision affair. As part of the adjustment from full-circle to partial, I had to edit some elements of the design as I went, shortening a wing here, widening there, and free-handing a few details to fill gaps.
Once I had the design more-or-less transferred, I set up a painting space on my sewing table by covering it with plastic -- I just used a garbage bag and spread it out flat. Then, section by section, I applied acrylic craft paint that I had mixed with textile medium. If you've never worked with textile medium before, it alters the viscosity of the paint so it doesn't dry so stuff and crunchy. I used a bunch of different brushes and foam sponges. That's definitely a thing you want to test for a project like this -- your design size, fabric texture, paint flow and personal preference are all factors, so it's great to test with a scrap first.
Tip: frosting containers make great paint cans! Small enough to hold in your hand, and you can just pop the lid on if you need to step away.
As I finished each section, I would let it dry and then reposition for the next section. Since I was working on two at once, I could paint one, then let it dry while I painted the other. This method worked quite well in terms of timing.
Once all my painting was done, the rest was a breeze. The pattern goes together in a flash.
I am ready to run ... err, flit ... along in my runnable costumes! While I'll probably leave them sleeveless for comfort while I run, I will likely use my upper-arm coverage method if I wear either of these for parties.
Of course, you can adapt this idea to any fabric. Wovens are easier than the activewear fabrics I used because you don't have the problem of the fabric stretching under your paint strokes. Regardless of your fabric choices, this sort of garment does require a little bit of extra laundering care. You can toss fabrics embellished with acrylic paints in the washer, but your design will usually fade a bit. I recommend hand washing with a gentle soap.
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