I have long commute to work and I often begin composing posts in my head on my drive. It helps me organize my thoughts, and frame the post so the writing goes more quickly. Ella’s costumes are so complex and intertwined that I kept twisting back and forth and getting side-tracked. And, in truth, that was sort of the way our costuming process went in real life!
If you are reading this, I am going to assume that you have already made the decision to make the Ella costumes. When I realized the scope of this show, and the number of cast members that we were going to have, and the limited number of sewers . . I really wanted to rent her costumes. I probably could have gritted my teeth and paid the cost of the transforming ones–just for the time savings and decreased, and aggravation, but, it was renting the other costumes to meet the 25 minimum that I just couldn’t do. I estimated that amount was going to take about 2/3-3/4 of my budget and cover about 15% of the costumes I needed . . .how on earth could I justify that? (My sanity is worth a lot . . but . . .) So, I begged a friend, and she agreed to take on the challenge of making the Ella ensembles.
The dresses were mainly constructed by my friend Cindy. In the end, my mom and I helped with tweaking and fixing, but, by in large, the costumes are hers. So, as I speak of “I” and “we”, most times I really mean “Cindy”. It is really nice to have a group of sewers who can come together and brainstorm. We did a major revamp a week before the show opened and continued to make changes through dress rehearsals. It was only through collaboration and a willingness to compromise, adapt and toss ideas out without taking thing personally that we got it done. If you plan to do this, flexibility is key.
This post will talk about the “original” outfit, or what we referred to as the “one piece dress”.
Ella wears this costume (or a variation) through much of the show.
Early considerations include:
One dress or two: Will you make two matching dresses, or try to do it with one?
Pink/gold transformation: How will this be done? Does the peasant dress need to go over it?
Choreography: How much dancing and movement will Ella be doing (Market scene and “A Lovely Night” scene.
General look of the show: how will the chorus be dressed? how fitted will their outfits be?
My costumer initially wanted to go with the One Dress option. I was open to giving that a try, and that was the plan until we actually started trying to run dress rehearsals. After Version #3, we decided to throw in the towel and make a second costume. I will discuss more of the issues in the next post about the transforming dress.
This costume is the combination of several before it. As a result, even though we call this the “One Piece Dress”, it really has a lot of pieces. If you planned differently, this truly could be made as a zip-back one piece dress which would help with the costume changes. At the time, we thought it needed extra flexibility around the waist because we thought it would go over the pink/gold transformation dress in the packed form. That later changed, but, that is the “why” behind our decision-making.
The base “One-Piece” dress:
This is a one piece dress. It has elastic at the waist. Originally, we thought it would go over the gold/pink dress combo and so we needed flexibility in waist size. The bodice is designed specifically because at the time we thought it would be going over the pink dress. Due to that, the sleeves are longer, the neckline higher and the fabric is a heavy knit. This dress was made the weekend before the show, and so we used fabric we had on hand.
The neckline was made with elastic at the bottom. We wanted it to look like a peasant shirt, but also wanted the shoulders to stay in and not stretch and reveal the hot pink dress.
The waist elastic is 1″ non-roll elastic and threads through the casing at the waist, and is sewn on one side and pinned on the other–again, for flexibility and the unknown we were dealing with in our beat-the-clock last minutes changes.
The back has a long zipper. The extra long zipper makes it easy to get the dress off during fast changes.
The Ella costumes are made from new fabric. If you follow my blog you know I like to upcycle and use found fabrics. However, for the Ella costumes I would highly suggest purchasing new fabric. If you can, I would buy extra, and if not, I would pick fabrics that you can go back and get more if you need to. Another option would be to make mock-ups and then remake them with your fashion fabric once you have the final version. All I can say is, we found out that things don’t work the same on a body, on stage, as they do in the sewing room. Be prepared with time and materials for tweaking and changes up until the end.
Another last minute change was the overskirt. I believe this is version #4. This is made from a curtain. I divided it in half–one half for each costume. I would have liked a bit more fabric, but my choices were very limited with what I had on hand. The aprons are a set of embroidered pillow cases I picked up at a Thrift store. The apron is stitched to the overskirt, and I used 2″ wide black elastic for the waistband. (When I did that, I thought it would be hidden by the corset vest, but, it wasn’t).
Side and back view:
It looked a little better before I washed it after the show. I loved the look and texture of this linen-y fabric, but, it did require some major steaming and ironing after I washed it. Normally I wash before I use fabric, but in this case, in the rush of finishing I must have missed this piece.
Adding the bum pad:
The bum pad is an important part of this costume. It fills out her backside, and later the Ball Gown skirt will take its place. The overskirt was theoretically shaped to help hide the transforming bulk. You can see that on the side seams it has tucks, and the front is shorter than the back. This was done to reflect what the overskirt will look like on the transforming version.
The last thing is the vest:
Originally the vest closed with hook & eyes,
but we changed that out to velcro. The mock lacing is attached to a piece of very stiff interfacing. The use of jump rings to run the lacing through was an innovation (at least for me!) that my costumer came up with.
The shoulder straps have a touch of elastic to help them stay in place:
This ensemble is completed with a scarf and hairpiece. We also had several version of that.
This version is a double scarf with part of a wig attached. It is held on with a headband and a clear bra strap under the chin. This would have worked well if we had had a lighter hairpiece.
The second version was simply a scarf and a clip in hairpiece with curls.
This outfit also included a petticoat. This started out as one of preferred double-tie adjustable petticoats that we like. As our time-crunch changes started happening, I replaced the ties with elastic.
Ella also wears a pair of bloomers throughout the show.
This complete outfit included:
skin colored leotard/body tights
one piece dress
scarf & hairpiece
Ella wears this outfit in the opening sequence and through the Market/Village Scene. In Act II she wears it for the Pursuit, through “A Lovely Night” and, for us, until she changes into the pink/gold dress. She then wears it again for the shoe-trying-on scene.
If I were going to make this again, from the beginning, I would truly make it a once piece outfit. If that didn’t seem to want to go together well, I would attach the petticoat to the one-piece dress, and then make the overskirt & vest a one piece combo. The bum pad could separate, or could be attached with a separating zipper or velcro to the petticoat.
Food for thought:
This outfit is the first one that the audience sees Ella in. She wears it for the opening solo walk in the woods, and the first several scenes. THIS is what establishes how the audience sees Ella. When we tried to use the transforming costume in the beginning, Ella came across as dumpy. It just did not set the image that we were looking for. I am sure there are ways to make nicely fitted transforming dresses, but, honestly, the majority that you see are rather bulky. If we had dressed the rest of the cast differently, it might have worked, maybe.
In the show: