Bird Costume Construction 

I enjoy "creating" things out of my head. 
This Bird costume really stretched my mind!! I thought about the text description, and came up with some ideas of how I would go about it. Normally I would think about this sort of thing for months, working out (usually in the middle of the night!) how I would make it. 
This time, however, I wasn't told what the costume would be until 2 months before it was due! 

So, this time I also told all and sundry...well, at least the people on some of the computer sewing lists I am on... and they helped me to think up ideas. I really appreciate their encouragement.

Dry Cleaning!!!
One of the things that really played on my mind, influencing my choice of materials, was the fact that the clients wanted it to be dry cleanable. This was a fairly reasonable request, as they thought they would be hiring actors to wear it. To me though, that was a big hindrance, as I felt I really couldn't use to make the tail stand out. I also know some materials have funny things happen to them in the dry cleaning fluid.
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When I had purchased materials I thought I would use in the construction, I made up a swatch with samples of these materials on. After a bit of a search...(offers from "we don't do it" to "send to Sheffield and back in 8 weeks"!)... I found a dry cleaner in a town nearby called "Playhouse". They were willing to do the swatch for me for free. The red ostrich feather was the only thing that didn't survive. It completely disappeared!

(Please note: Most of these photos are thumbnails.)

The Frame

I knew I would have to have an inner frame to make the costume stand out, as I wanted to be bumpy and flowy like BIG BIRD from Seasame Street. However, I also wanted the tail to stick out. So, I thought of the idea of a clown trouser sort of thing with shoulder straps  combined with something like a crinoline with a sort of bustle for the tail.


Here is what the "cage" first looked like with no straps. It has 12 metres of plastic boning!   

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I didn't like the way the tail hung down, so I chopped the bottom bit off and moved it up. 

Then I did all sorts of combinations of things that made it stand out a bit. DO NOT ASK ME WHAT! I can't really remember them all!
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Then, of course, when the costume was on top, it weighed down the tail, and it drooped any way! Oh well, it could have been worse.



The Legs
dragonstilts.JPG (54453 bytes)I had this great idea about the legs. I had seen two "well cool" (as the kids I work with say!) dragons at the Wokingham Winter Carnival. I don't know who made it, so I don't know how to thank them, but it was great! The legs of the one not pictured were made with snakeskin lycra, which had the effect of looking just like chicken leg skin. So, when I was told to make a bird, this was the first thought I was positive I would do.

However, if you get the bright idea I had, please learn from me. IT IS NOT A SAVINGS TO BUY CHEAP LYCRA AND STENCIL IT!!! 12.99 a metre sounded a bit much, but believe me, I spent much more time stenciling the 3.99 a metre stuff than I would like to admit. Ha Ha! But it did turn out realistic.
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The Toes

 I meander quilted the lycra to some batting, and made them into tubes for the toes. After much chopping and fussing, I fitted them to the shoes. It was rather awkward, as most "real" birds have 3 toes in front, and 1 in back. The text description only said 3 toes. I also threaded a piece of electrical wire into each toe, so I could make it hold the shape I wanted.
I took the corners of small margarine tubs, and cut them for toenails. I painted them with spray silver, then painted over them in clear nail varnish. However, this did start to crack, so I thought it might chip off. I then painted over it with metallic acrylic paint, and acrylic gaze. 




The Feet

I was warned by my friend, Bill, that kids are likely to stomp on the feet of costumed characters...even adults will pluck feathers or whatever off! (I can only presume they don't think of it as a costume, but as "real" and that things grow back!!) I decided these feet better be stomp proof. I also decided I would get away from the dry cleaning worry by putting a "Clean with a damp sponge" label on them!!

So, to make the feet, I bought inexpensive plimsoles, size 10 to fit whoever would wear them. I covered them in the lycra by using some permanent spray glue and mostly sewing.
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Here is what I came up with.
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(Both of these photos has one in process, and one complete.)

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The Body

I used my pattern drafting software to create a hooded cape from yellow luxury fake fur. I then lined it with dark yellow voile. This helped to make it slip around more, and reduced the irritation the fake fur backing caused.

I also took a sleeve piece from a pattern I had, and cut and lined sleeves to be the wings. I actually used the shoulder part of the pattern, and then cut wider for the bottom. I attached the sleeves to shoulder pads and then to the shoulder straps of the frame. I used strips of Velcro so that it could be adjusted.



I chopped up a lime green boa, and sewed bits of it around the hood of the cape, and in places over the chest. I also used bunches of yellow turkey flats feathers and pieces of yellow turkey marabou to highlight the hood opening, the shoulders and the wingtips.

Okay, no major problems...only feathers and fluff EVERYWHERE! The girl who tried this on for me so I could check it out had to take antihistamines before she came over!!


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0126.jpg (65614 bytes)The tail: under construction.
Being removable will also keep the feathers from being damaged so easily when stored or transported.


The Tail 

I really wanted to have ostrich feathers on the tail, but didn't want them dissolving in the dry cleaning process! So, I built the tail onto a piece of plastic canvas in order to make it removable. I covered the canvas with I sewed down the ostrich feathers, then turkey plumes on top, and then a circle of the turkey marabou. I later added bits of the lime green feathers that littered my house (literally!) to the centre of the marabou circle.

I sewed buttons to the bottom of the base, and then made buttonholes in the cape where I wanted to put the tail.

The "friendly" blue eye (a heart shaped plastic jewel) is built onto a semicircle piece of plastic canvas mesh covered with the sparkly fabric from the swatch. Although I wanted to use sparkly fabric in the bird, HE didn't wanted it AT ALL. But, I got away with this hidden bit!
 There are bits of the very fluffy parts of the turkey flats in laid in a fan shape behind the eye, but it didn't show in the photo. 

The beak was to be hooked, so it was easier to do it by having a hole underneath. This helps to give you more air (believe me, this is hot! You need air!), but also gives you a place to look down and see where your feet are going.
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The Face (last but not least!)

The facemask was another challenge! But, I had a section in one of my costume books that told you how to build one with muslin and glue. I bought a white man's face mask from a local dance shop. I wondered what to do for the I wondered down to the kitchen, and saw an empty fizzy drinks bottle! I chopped it up a bit, and masking taped it to the mask. Then I covered it all with Vaseline. Then I built up layers of muslin with PVA glue. This is very like paper mache' but the muslin doesn't come apart in your hands. (okay, this is the secret...I used some white muslin  with large daisies on it from curtains that someone had given me! So, the inside is special, too!)
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Here is a photo of the mold, and of the mask base after I removed it from the mold.  I decided it needed to be more sloped from the forehead to the beak, like a real bird. So, before I put the luxury fur and feathers on, I put a piece of the plastic canvas mesh on it. This was great, as  I could then make eyeholes for the actor to see out of, yet it wouldn't look like "HOLES". My friends say it looks like it was intentional to look like "bird nostrils! (or whatever!) I painted over the mesh with yellow acrylic paint. Then to get the feathers to blend a bit more with the fur, I used the same paint, and did little streaks, like highlights on the fur. This also helped it look more realistic. I liked the look, so did it on the body, as well.

It took me a while to paint the beak, as the first coat showed every join of the muslin. I then put a layer of the voile over it, which was better, but the acrylic paint crackled. I did another coat or two, and then I used a few coats of acrylic glaze. In the end, all this was worth it, as it is quite hard, like a beak, and shouldn't get bashed in unintentionally.

chicken11small.jpg (57097 bytes) A friend of the family does photography, so he did a professional shoot. My other friend's daughter modeled the costume for me.

My husband helped me deliver the costume to the artist's studio on the 1st of May. Phew, glad to be done with that! My husband figures if I was realistic about my time, I probably earned 5p an hour!! Funny.

 I saw the bird in the Barbican on the open evening, and again the other day. It is still holding up. It is a pity there wasn't more to explain why the costumes are in a computer game show, especially as most of them don't actually look like the actual character.

In the end, they didn't hire actors to wear the costumes, as it was too expensive. But, I think they are going to get someone to wear them in order to make a record before they are moved to Edinburgh in September 2002.