Hiya Crisp Clan!
Last weekend was the BPL Comic Con 2019. It was the second time Amanda and I were vendors at the event and, while we often attend events in costume, this one was particularly special for me.
The Chance to Wear My Dream Costume
Ever since we’d decided to start cosplaying at events, I’ve been working on a costume that would let me dress as the character whose perspective I write, Irys Godeleva, in her dream-like masquerade ballgown.
I don’t want to fill this post with spoilers, so I won’t go into extreme detail about how Irys came to wear this stunning gown in Love at First Plight. If you want to find out exactly how the gown looked and why, I recommend you pick up a copy (see what I did there?).
Suffice it to say, to do things right, I needed to have a white ball gown with sheer iridescent fabric draping from my arms to represent the look of wings.
My Sewing Experience
I took a “Family Studies” class for one third of the year from grades 6 through 8. That third of the year was split in half between sewing and cooking. That sewing component was my only formal training with a needle and thread. That said, since my family occasionally struggled financially and the dog we had through my teen years had a passion for tearing my clothing to ribbons, I learned a lot more about sewing out of sheer necessity.
The first time I ever made a costume was when my younger sister’s job required her to dress in costume to sell miniature Christmas village pieces at a local shop. The department head wanted everything to be perfect down to the finest detail. He wore Dickensian clothing – some of the pieces were actual antiques from that time – and gave my sister a budget to find or make her own costume to wear. My mother and I were on the case!
We bought a pattern and a mountain of fabric as well as two dresses with crinolines from a secondhand shop. We cut the crinolines out of the dresses and combined them to make one big enough for our needs, then painstakingly created the skirt, cape and bonnet out of various types of fabric, bias tape, ribbon, trim, hooks and eyes, and elastic for the waist (ok, so we broke the authenticity rules a little. You couldn’t tell to look at it!).
That project taught me a great deal about clothing construction and set me up to create Irys’s masquerade ball gown, too.
Designing and Creating a Winged Masquerade Ballgown
I first started this costume two and a half years ago.
Wow, did the costume ever change since then!
I’ve made two other Irys Godeleva costumes in between so that I’d have something to wear at the events we attended in the meanwhile.
In these pics, I was cosplaying Irys in a Sylizan gown using the skirt from that Dickensian costume I mentioned earlier.
In this pic, I was Irys Godeleva in a Kavylak outfit.
Finding the Pieces of Irys’ Masquerade Costume
The whole time I was working on Irys’s winged ballgown costume, I was collecting potential pieces from virtually everywhere I went. Since I was on a tight budget, this meant that I was collecting most of the items from nearby dollar stores and secondhand clothing stores. It was amazing how many treasures I found. I polished off the rest with a couple of items from eBay. That said, if I were to do it again, I would have skipped eBay. Those items were the lowest quality (because they were super-cheap…and cheaply made) and caused the biggest problems. I ended up dumping those items and replacing them with things I found locally on sale.
The items I filmed in this video include a lot of the items that I’d purchased from eBay. They seemed like a great plan at the time. Unfortunately, many of them yellowed over the 2 and a half years (even though they were stored well and kept clean) or ripped far too easily to work with. Even that lace mask tore right away. That said, the failure of those items turned out to be a gift. I ended up looking elsewhere and finding far better alternatives at equally affordable prices.
Starting With a Dress Form
After I had some pieces together, I needed a dress form to work with. After a certain amount of sewing, a gown of that size needs to be worn by the person who will be wearing it to make lots of final adjustments. That said, the person who would be wearing it was me, so I had the choice of either buying an adjustable dress form or hiring someone to do the sewing while I wore the costume.
I knew I couldn’t afford the second option so I started pricing dress forms. Wow were they ever out of my price range! Fortunately, there was YouTube, which inspired me to make my own. I did so with things I had around the house and about $10 of stuff from the dollar store.
Cutting and Sewing
For me, becoming Irys Godeleva started with cutting and sewing an old wedding gown I found at a secondhand store. It didn’t fit me very well, but it didn’t have to. I only needed the skirt, and I planned to give that a drawstring. My weight has gone up and down over the years, so I wasn’t about to assume that my size would be the same at the start of this project as it would at the end (as it turned out, I went through a massive self-care lifestyle overhaul in 2019 and by the time I wore the costume I was 30 pounds lighter than I was when I created the dress form).
After that point, it was a matter of finding the right layers and adding the right details. That wasn’t as hard as it sounded, until it came to the wings. I’d found the perfect fabric in the form of iridescent sheer curtains I’d found on sale at a store called Jysk (pronounced “yisk”).
That’s when I called my mother. The old team was back on the job, all these years later. Oh my goodness, Crisp Clan! I can’t express to you how fun it was. My mother and I are very different, but when we take on a creative task, there’s something magical that kicks in (Warrior skills?).
We both have some decent sewing skills, but neither of us have any experience in creating fancy gowns. We could easily acknowledge our limitations. Still, we had to make things happen. So, Saturday after Saturday, we got together, and I would put on the latest version of the costume so we could plan the next step.
Saturday after Saturday, it came together a bit more at a time. First we created each layer of the skirt and made sure they fell properly over the hoop (I’ve only used crinolines in the past, but hoops are much easier to pack in cars and are far cooler in hot venues). Then we made sure the bodice of the dress would attach seamlessly to the skirts. Next, we figured out how to create the shape of the wings as per their description in Love at First Plight. Finally came all the details – the feathers on the wings (thank goodness for feather boas!) – other various tufts of feathers, iridescent pearl bead work on the bodice, and crystal adhesives on the skirt.
I needed to be careful in creating this costume to be sure that I wouldn’t look like I was just wearing a bridal gown. Irys’ ballgown was all white but was in no way meant to be a wedding dress.
Becoming Irys Godeleva at the Masque for the First Time
I worked on the details right up until the evening before the event when I would be becoming Irys Godeleva at the Masque for the first time.
The next day, it took me three hours to do my hair, my makeup, and pack myself into the dress. While I was still at home, I felt like myself, wearing a lot of purple hair extension clips and masquerade gear. That said, once I was in full costume at the event itself, it truly felt like I was becoming Irys Godeleva.
It was incredible! I’ve been writing her character for nearly twenty years, but this was the first time I felt what it was like to be inside her skin. IRL, I can admit that I spend most days in yoga pants and a comfy (but cute) shirt. I’m a writer. It’s like our uniform.
At the BPL Comic Con, I found myself paying attention to things Irys obsesses about, but that I’ve rarely ever had to consider in my own life. Without trying to act like Irys or think like her, I was making sure my hair was falling just as it should. I was focused on keeping my face in a big-eyed, pleasant expression. I moved around with the flow of my skirts in mind. When I paused, I made sure my hands were clasped neatly and primly in front of me unless they were displaying the wings from my costume.
Suddenly, the shape of my gown was of the utmost concern to me. I was continually aware of every visible part of myself and, if I felt that I needed to adjust something – be it a glove, a sleeve, or Great Goddess forbid, my hoop – I did my best to do it subtly in a way that nobody would notice. While cosplaying such an integral part of the story, it truly felt like I was becoming Irys Godeleva.
Then, when it was all done, I was back to being myself again. It was like flipping a switch.
Becoming Julie B Campbell Again
Back at home, it took me about 45 minutes to get the costume off again. Okay, in truth, it took me about 5 minutes to get out of the shoes, gloves and gown and back into my usual “uniform”. It took about 5 minutes to remove the adhesive gems and makeup on my face. The rest of the time, I was dismantling the labyrinth of purple wefts in my hair, many of which had formed quite the nest together throughout the hours I’d worn them.
I took a short break at the halfway point to rest my arms, which were sore from holding them in the air to remove the clips.
Looking back at this picture, it’s really no mystery as to why I didn’t feel like I was becoming Irys Godeleva anymore when the clips of purple hair were being removed! Yikes!
Once I had all the purple clips out of my hair, I laid them all out on my guest room floor to comb through them and prepare them to be neatly stored so they would be ready for the next event.
I can’t believe how many extensions it takes to cover even half of my natural hair. I can admit that I was seriously considering giving myself a buzz cut after going through this most recent transformation!
When all was said and done, though, it was all worth it. The work. The hours of assembly and disassembly. I loved the way it looked when it came together. The response I received from the hundreds of people I met at the event was overwhelmingly positive. On top of that, the opportunity for becoming Irys Godeleva, even for a few hours, gave me some additional insight I never would have thought I could get here in Canada on Earth, instead of in Syliza on Qarradune.
Now, all I can do is look forward to the next event in November, when I’ll get to do it all again!
If you’ll be in the Barrie, Ontario area on November 14 (5 pm to 7:30 pm), I hope you’ll stop by at the Craft and Gift Sale at the Romeo Dallaire school (736 Essa Road). I’d love to talk about the books or the costume with you. We’ll be selling books, signing them, and selling gift sets, too, in case that also interests you. Hope to see you there, Crisp Clan!