When Character Meets Costume – The ‘Punk’ Union Jack Corset

What’s my Motivation????? (That’s me trying to sound like the great Marlon Brando.)

It is a great job and interesting work to produce fashion. But when we’re asked to make clothing that will be worn by a story character there is an element of that story that informs all of the choices made throughout the patterning, cutting, and sewing process. The elements of character turn garment production into Costume Making. It may seem like an odd question to ask when we’re hired for costume making – but really…..”What’s my motivation?” Knowing even a little about the story line and character traits makes a significant difference. Happy pocket? vs Sad pocket? ….or… Demure bow? vs Mean, Nasty, Imperious Bow!

See? – I knew you would understand.

Making clothing for story characters ranks up there as our most beloved part of all this cutting and sewing business. This is true whether we’re working on a historically correct Edwardian piece or on a Science Fiction item.

The question of adding character takes a fashion item and turns it into a Costume.

It is an honour to be commissioned to make a special occasion gown. Even though the outfit will be worn for a real life specific event there’s a story, a plot and a vision for the client. In that way wedding and formal reception gowns sit right next door to costumes. The client has a specific event site (the set), there is a story (getting married), and character traits (you name it – it’s been done) inform the entire dressmaking process. Making gowns for movies gets even more interesting.

Real life special occasion gowns rarely go through any sort of breakdown. They are pristine and new by definition. But once it becomes a dress for Miss Havisham…..well…..that’s more fun than ever for us as costume makers. A lovely perfect breakdown of the garment to suit the character. Wedding lace and silk tattered and shredded and made to look like years of wearing and dirt. OOOooohhh….shiver…….I’m getting goosebumps.

The challenge comes in making it look that old but not actually smell that old – actors still have to wear this costume after all. I take it as a personal challenge to be able to make something that looks quite ancient on the outside but next to the skin it is smooth and fresh. Add to that the question of multiples. What appears as one costume may in fact be many versions of one item in various stages of worn in, broken down, and disaster struck. Now the costuming process becomes even more soaked in complexity and glorious character.

Many people think it must just kill us to see a lovely and new garment go-through-the-wringer of breakdown and distressing but it isn’t so. For us it brings personality to the piece. Now this otherwise ordinary item (even in the case of fabulous period gowns) really has a story to tell. And we love a good story!

That was just the preamble for what I’m really trying to show you.

We thought it would be fun to experiment with adding a ‘punk‘ element to our Union Jack Corset.

So after a little photo research here and here and here, and given that this is the year of both the Queen’s Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics there was inspiration in the air.

Here’s the result (the 360 degree review)

Here’s a list of the basic changes made from the original pattern making, cutting and making. (see previous blog posts.)

Size altered to leave a larger gap between the center back lacings – it gives the back of the garment extra texture.

Waist nipped in to push the bust/waist/hip contour lines to small fetish (but not quite full fetish) waist shaping.

small changes at center back and waist shown in coloured pencil

The exterior coutil layer has been replaced with a beat up firm plain weave cotton. It is in fact a scrap that was left from when I made the winter parkas worn by James Coburn playing the character of Thunder Jack in Snow Dogs . Those parkas were made from a thoroughly scoured cloth that started out as oiled Australian Outback Coat material. (By-The-Way – I am not a hoarder. Have I asserted that before?)

White coutil for the lining and Oiled Cloth (scoured) for the exterior panels. Flag colour chips sit on top of the exterior layer.

Almost all of the piecing seams are pieced with the seam allowance to the outside – more textural.

Piecing seams to the exterior, construction seams to the interior. Messy (but still accurate for fit) is okay for this one.

The busk is replaced with a salvaged zipper and two leather belt straps.

The edge bindings are replaced with a stabilizing twill tape triple stitched on the inside and then the top and hem edges are left raw.

Embellishments of studs, grommets, chain, graffiti of acrylic paint and ink.

Selective bleach splash and wash/tumble dry.

The exterior is pieced together and basted at center front – now is when most of the “wash down” happens.

Before bleach, TSP (tri-sodium phosphate), and detergent.

After the distressing wash, tumble dry and press. Most of the studs and graffiti embellishment were added at this stage – before putting in the lining or bones.

Ohhh la la la – It was so much fun to make – Let loose the sewing restraints and let fly! That much fun at work?…..and it’s legal!…..I have the best job ever. :) :)

-Deborah

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About Costume People

We are two women with over 30 years of combined experience in making costumes for film and television. Even after all these years we still love the thrill of seeing our creations in close up on the big screen. Now it's time for us to share our expertise.
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6 Responses to When Character Meets Costume – The ‘Punk’ Union Jack Corset

  1. buggybag says:

    Oohh La La…is an understatement, Deb. I can’t believe I missed out on this fun in exchange for altering suits! What a stunning piece of work!
    Leslie :)

  2. That’s okay Leslie – a gal has to earn a living. But remember we’re going to start in on those Victorian/Fantasy/semi-Steampunk black and white costumes next…………;) – Deb

  3. This is just stunning. I love the care and thought that goes into your work! :-)

  4. Jen O says:

    This corset is simply gorgeous and the step-by-step technical work that you did to make it is fascinating as well. What a wonderful set of posts — Awesome!

    • Well thanks Jen!
      Costume making is soooooo (sew) much fun. If only there were more creating hours in the day. I’m currently busy with patternmaking for a “hero” suit for a television series but the studios now insist on non-disclosure guidelines !!!!! (that’s new since social media has become so prevalent) – even if I am dying to share the entire process I’m sadly restricted…… :(
      Deb

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