Mermaid – Brassiere

Once I’d made the tail, the other key half of the costume is the bra.   I found a bra that was the right color – and bought a camisole that was close to the bra.   Then I went to the craft store and bought a ton of sequins and green mardi gras beads and stick on gems.   I also found a bunch of pearl-edged trim at the thrift shop – and solicited a bag of seashells from friends.

I tried to make the two cups of the bra symmetrical.   I failed.  But I think that by trying to make them alike, I ensured that each side had the same amount and distribution of texture, and color.   So even though they are not perfectly matched, one side isn’t more encrusted than the other.  One doesn’t have more pearls while the other side has more shells.

 

When I finally tried it on, I liked how it looked, but realized that I would feel uncomfortable wearing underwear (basically) as a top.   I took the camisole and hemmed it up so that it fit underneath the bra.  This way, I had a solid back rather than a strap, and it felt more like a cropped shirt than a brassier.   Also, it (almost) kept the stitches on the inside of the bra from poking me when I wore it.

An important lesson learned:   I bought a second bra (as a back up bra) that was not quite the right color, but the same fabric as the other, better bra.   This ended up being my “test it out” bra.  Everything that I glued onto the “real” bra got glued onto the practice bra first.   This got me comfortable with how the hot glue worked with the fabric and the pearls.  I was able to experiment before potentially messing up the actual costume.  I also mocked EVERYTHING up first.  I pinned the strands of pearls where I wanted them.  Then stitched them into place.   I laid out the shells on the bra before gluing them on.

Now that I had the two main elements of the mermaid, the tail and the bra, I could fool around a bit with other accessories.   I thought a tiara would make a nice touch.

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Mermaid – Tail

One of the tricks of thrifting for costumes is to thrift often, and to keep your eyes open for elements of costumes that are you aren’t working on right this minute, but which you have in the back of your mind.  Two of those things, for me, were a sequined skirt or dress that I could turn into a mermaid tail, and a coat with the right cut / shape to become a pirate jacket.

In an amazing stroke of thrifting luck, I found both at the same time, along with some fantastic dresses that could be used for mermaid fabric.   I knew that there was an ocean-themed costume ball coming up.  I’d sort of decided not to go, but when I hit the jackpot on these costume elements, I knew that I had to put together a mermaid costume and a pirate outfit for the event.

I knew for a long time that I wanted a green or blue sequined garment to become a mermaid tail.    So when I found this sequined dress, I was very excited.  What I hadn’t expected, though, was to find a dress that I could just wear upside down – and that’s pretty much what I did.    The dress is asymmetrical with one sleeve.   By opening up the sleeve, and turning the dress upside down, the sleeve became something like a swishy tail, and the lower hem became the waist of the tail.

While the dress was meant to be tight, the bottom hem of the dress (which became the waist of the tail) was still too loose to fit snugly around my waist, so I cinched it tight with a belt.  My plan had been to glue a big seashell to the front of the belt as a buckle, but instead I covered the whole belt over with an old belly-dancer belt that I had.   I really didn’t need to add more to the belly dancer belt, but since I had the strings of pearls, I hung them down from the belt to make it feel more mermaid and less belly-dancer.

I looked at a lot of mermaid tails, and liked the way that some had sort of ruffled bottoms that could be flukes or maybe foam.   I lucked out and found a pair of filmy nightgown/dresses that went along with the colors of the sequined tail.   Literally, all did with those was cut them into large rectangles, hem the sides, gather one edge, and stitch the tiers into the bottom edge of the tail.   On the inside, the edge looks rough and unfinished – and it would never stand up to a vigorous washing – but since it’s a costume, and I’ll only hand wash it a few times, it doesn’t matter.

The next step – making the top

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Snails – Final Costume

Here are the snail costumes, all put together.    I’m extremely pleased with how they came out.   We attended two parties and only one person didn’t immediately know what we were.  (Her guess was bees emerging from blue beehives?!?!!)    We won an award for “Cutest” costume at a party contest.    We comfortably did everything one needs to do at a party – ate, drank, stood, sat, etc.

I have posts on all the steps in the creation of these costumes (the eye stalks, shell construction, painting them, and making the shells wearable), in case you’re interested in trying this yourself.

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The Snail Shells – Making them wearable

The only detailed tutorial that I found online for making a snail costume showed a belt being used to wear the shell.   But the shell was smaller than these, and she wore it much lower on her back than I wanted to.  Plus, she had cut through the shell to thread the belt onto the shell.  Not something that I felt comfortable doing.

I went to my trusty thrift shop and bought two small (cheap) backpacks, making sure that at least the back part and the straps were black.   These were just children’s backpacks – nothing very durable or special, and I think I paid $3 each for them.

I cut the front part of the backpack – the pouch part, basically – away from the back and straps, and then used a hot glue gun to secure it to the shells.   Before actually gluing it, though, I:

  • Tested out a small strip of each backpack material – cut from the unused part of the packs – by hot gluing it to my little mock-up shell.   I just wanted to make sure that the backpack material didn’t melt, and that it would nicely adhere to the painted paper mache.
  • Tore a strip of the test material off of the mock-up, to see how much damage it did.  If I glued the shells on, and wanted to re-position them later, I wanted to know how much re-work would need to be done.
  • Painted any trim, straps or edges of the backpacks black – just using regular black wall paint – so that the whole piece was black.
  • Positioned the shell on a friend’s back, so that I could see where on the shell I wanted to glue the straps.
  • Tried on the backpacks, to make sure that they would fit securely, and that I could tighten and loosen the straps to get the packs on and off.
  • Used as little glue as possible to try to secure ONE of the packs to a shell, just enough so that I could try it on and make double-triple sure that I liked the positioning.

Here are the two shells with the back packs attached.

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In case you missed them, my previous posts show how I made and painted the shells.   This was the last step before they were, effectively, a final snail costume.

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The Snail Shells – Painting

Having constructed the basic form of the snail shells, I now needed to paint them.   First, I make a little tiny snail shell out of a balloon and a paper cup.  I painted that first, so that I could be sure that I liked the color.   And for paint, I used leftover paint samples that I had in the basement.  I painted my bathroom a teal color, and still had some pint jars of sample teal colors, and went out and purchases a black pint to use for shading.

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So the mock-up shell itself looks awful.   but I like the color, and while the shading is too heavy, it’ll probably look better on a much larger shell.   Plus, I can always just paint over the whole thing, right?

first-paint

Here are the two snail shells with the first coat of paint.   I actually used the wrong shade of teal, but it didn’t matter.  You can also see the two backpacks that I bought in the corner of the picture.  I’ll get to those later.

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And here is what one of the shells looks like completely painted.   I made the grey color by mixing black and teal paints.    In order to make the dark color fade a little bit, I painted a solid grey line in the groove of the shell (or where the groove was supposed to be) and then smudged the edge of the line with a wet rag before the paint dried.   It makes the edges fuzzy and – to my eye – look more like shadows.    I also made the shadow line get smaller as it got to the top, and in those places where there wasn’t actually a groove (but should have been), I just lightly drew it in.

The next step is figure out the best way to actually wear these shells.

 

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The Snail Shells – Construction

I wanted to incorporate the two pairs of eye stalks that I have into a costume, and settled on snails.   The eye stalks and the shell should be enough to make the costume recognizable as a snail, so as long as the rest of the outfit is just black (to match the stalks), I’m good.      And I have two sets of stalks, so I’ll make two snail shells.

I took about five million intermediate pictures of the snail shell making process, and they are presented in three posts (including this one) that show the construction and painting of the shells, and then what I did to make them wearable.   So if you’re not interested in a step-by-step tutorial on snail shell making, just skip to the completed costumes.

The first thing I did was do a web search on snail costumes.  Turns out, there is a real shortage of online tutorials on how to make snail costumes.  I did find one, however, which was extremely helpful.  I’ve used it as a starting point for my own costume creation.

A snail shell is, really, a big spiral that just gets smaller and smaller until it reaches the top.   So for each shell, I bought two pool noodles of different sizes.  I also bought a package of those long, skinny balloons that you use to make balloon animals, since they are the same shape as the noodles, only smaller.  I also bought a package of flexible clothes dryer vent, since it is the same shape as the noodles, only bigger.   Other stuff I used were shish-ka-bob skewers (to hold the noodles together), and packing tape (to attach the balloons.)

The noodles were very stiff, so the first thing I did was cut little notches out of one side, so that I could bend it around into a circle.

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I sort of twisted and stacked the noodles, using the skewers to hold them together – which you can see in the image of the curled up noodle on the right.   Then I taped a long balloon to the top.  I should have put something else – even a little piece of cardboard – on the very top, but made it work anyway.   Then I covered the whole shebang with paper mache.    I used brown kraft paper (which was just scrunched up packing material that came in a shipment at work) and mixed the paper mache to be about 1 cup of flour with 1 and a half cups of water.   I basically just added water until it was thick, but workable – whatever that means.

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Once I had the top side covered with paper mache, I decided I wanted the shell to be larger, so I added some dryer vent hose.  I had to clip off the skewers, and then used more skewers, punching them through the venting and into the noodles, to hold the whole thing together.   Finally, I sort of scrunched the metal vent hose shut at the end to close the end of the shell.    You can see the layers of balloon (yellow), pool noodles (green and blue) and vent hose (silver) in the picture on the right below.

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To complete the construction, I taped a piece of cardboard over the open bottom, and covered any exposed areas with more paper mache.

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And since I had two pairs of eye stalks, I made two shells – under the assumption that I could find someone else to dress as a snail and come with me.

Once the shells were dry, it was time to move on to painting them!

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The Eye Stalks

For my birthday, my sister gave me a pair of eye stalks that she got from Ikea.   I’ve since purchased a second pair – since you can never have enough eye stalks.

These raise the question of …what costume can I make with eye stalks?

One problem with them is that they look like antennae, rather than eyes.   And I fear that as long as my own eyes are visible, they will “read” as antennae.    Nevertheless, I’ve decided I need to make a costume that features eye stalks.

Only two possible beings come to mind that sport eye stalks – aliens and snails.   I suppose slugs do, also, but trying to get a costume that really looks like a slug is just too much of a challenge even for me.   So I’ve settled on making a snail costume.

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