An ACOTAR Project Pt1: World Building

As a fantasy fan, I love a fantasy romance novel (I still love Twilight despite all it’s flaws, don’t @ me). So when I heard about the ACOTAR book series by Sarah J. Maas, I was curious, and had to give them a go. Full credit goes to the members of the @StarfallCourt cosplay group for piquing my interest (bonus link). The series currently consists of three novels, and one novella, following the adventures of human huntress Feyre Archeron, as she is introduced into the mysterious and dangerous fae world. It’s sort of a retelling of first Beauty and the Beast, and then the myth of Hades and Persephone. With a subtle feminist twist. Which from me is basically a big yes all round.

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The ACOTAR book series by Sarah J. Maas

As usual when I read a book, I end up designing the costumes in my head, and once I started looking into the ACOTAR fandom online, I realised that through fan art and cosplay, an aesthetic and common costume language had already been established. I also noted that it was quite different to my own ideas. Maas does describe, to a limited extent, the clothing of the main characters, but it does allow plenty of room for interpretation. To be honest I have deviated from her descriptions a little, most notably with the Night Court fashions. I just aligned them with my own tastes and sensibilities. Which is to say, I have come up with my own concept for the “costume look” for the series, and designed some of the costume for the main characters. I thought it would be fun to challenge myself with the varied, and very much not tied to a historical period, fantasy world of the series.

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The ACOTAR characters by Maas approved illustrator Charlie Bowater

I started with research and mood boards, as I always do. I needed to decide on the styles for each faerie court before I could place the characters in them. The mood board below is a shorthand version of what I came up with. Each court’s fashions are loosely based on an era or cultural style of dress, with a modern touch of course. From left to right, top to bottom we’ve got:

The Spring Court: Eastern European national dress; the Summer Court: West African traditional dress; the Autumn Court: European medieval fashion; the Winter Court: late 19th century; the Dawn Court: 18th century fashion; the Day Court: 17th century fashion; the Night Court: 1930s and 1940s fashions; Hybern: renaissance and tudor fashions.

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The Courts of Prythian

I then went into more detail for the Spring and Night courts, and the human world. I thought about the Spring Court first, because that’s where Feyre spends most of her time in A Court of Thorns and Roses (the first book). So as I said above, in my version the costumes are based on various types of european folk dress, but with a modern twist. Their clothes should blend in seamlessly with the beautiful gardens of Tamlin’s estate. I like the idea of large floral prints and embroidery covering everything. Their military uniforms would be a more formal version of their day dress, with lots of braiding much like 18th and 19th century european uniforms. Masks are a large and very important part of the costumes in the first book, and need to blend in with the rest of the costume, as well as represent each of the individual characters wearing them. (P.S. Can you spot Feyre’s wedding dress here?)

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The Spring Court

Next I thought about the mortal lands where Feyre grew up. As the Archerons are the main characters we encounter in this world I concentrated on them and their journey. In my version the fashions of the human world are very loosely based on the 1830s. Full skirts, gathered at the waist, with tight bodices, and large poofy sleeves. Quite similar in basic shape to the fashions of the Spring Court, which makes sense as that’s the nearest fae kingdom, a little nod to the days before The Wall was erected. The Archerons live both as peasants and wealthy merchant’s daughters, and their dress would naturally reflect this change in circumstances. The most dramatic shift though, is when they move to the Night Court, where the fashions a vastly different to the outdated modes of the south. But they will hold onto some of the styles they grew up with, blending them with fae fashions. This mood board shows the progression, as well as some hints of the Nesta and Elain’s different tastes.

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The Archeron Sisters

And then we have the Night Court (the best court, what? who said that?), which, at least Rhys’ part, is a little more forward thinking than the rest of Prythian. So it makes sense that their fashions are more advanced too. More unisex clothing is available, hence trousers and wide shouldered shirts and jackets. And 1930s hollywood glamour works perfectly for the evening wear so often worn by the women of the inner circle. So 1930s/40s seemed to fit perfectly. I also loved the idea of deconstructing WWII uniforms for Illyrian leathers. Honestly I was thinking about Mor the most making this. She perfectly suits both the silky revealing bias cut dresses, and the more butch trouser outfits (Hello Marlene Dietrich). I also thought that the knitwear of that era was a perfect way to get Feyre all her jumpers without going completely modern. And Rhys does wear suits all the time, so they might as well be a beautifully tailored vintage suits.

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The Night Court

Anybody who follows my costume design projects should know that I’m obsessed with uniforms. So I couldn’t resist when it came to the Illyrian leathers, I ended up creating a mood board dedicated especially to them. I’d like everyone to have a set unique to themselves. All based on military uniforms from the 20th century, specifically the Second World War. And all black, with leather accents of course. And long black laced boots. I want to play around with deconstructing the jacket, with different collars, cuts, lengths, sleeves and pockets. I’m going to keep the trousers pretty simple, but with holsters and straps for weapons. There’ll have to be other straps and sheaths of weapons too. Rhys wears a single blade down the centre of his back, so I’ll have to work that into his design.

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Illyrian leathers

And that’s that for world building. I hope it’s clear the aesthetics I’m going for for each group. My next move is character mood boards and designs, so look out for that. What do you guys think of my visuals so far? Have you read the ACOTAR series? How do my ideas line up with yours?

All photo credits can be found through my ACOTAR Pinterest board here.

Katrina Van Tassel: False Rumps

The first thing I tackled on my Katrina Van Tassel costume was the false rump. It’s such an important component in creating her period silhouette. I wasn’t sure which of the many styles of late 18th century rumps was going to create the right shape so I decided to make a few and try them out. So after Foundations Revealed (and a distracting, still unfinished stays project) was over, I put myself to the task. I started with three different kinds, in the hopes that I’d have a Goldilocks situation on my hands, and one would be just right. It didn’t quite work out that way.

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Peekaboo Mr. Rump

The first style I tried was the split rump from The AD Guide. It’s basically two pads that create one big shape. But it was both the wrong size and the wring shape. It makes the skirts dip between between the two pads, ideal for that CB point found in Italian gowns, but not right here. The volume of the bump also starts quite low down. Both of these factors mean the skirts of Kat’s pierrot wouldn’t have enough support.

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The Split Rump

The second style I tried was from Patterns of Fashions 5.  It consists of a pasteboard supporter and a small pad. I used stiff buckram in place of the pasteboard, which worked perfectly. It took me a minute to work out exactly how to put it on, but I got there in the end. This one is actually my favourite. It gives a lovely round shape, and it’s size can be adjusted thanks to the secondary ties on the supporter. However, it creates no shaping at the sides. Great for late 18th century styles but not for me, which is a shame because the back was perfect.

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The Rump with Supporter

The third style I tried was a bit more experimental. I borrowed the shape from The Lady Victoria’s blog, which in turn is based on the 1785 the satirical print “The Bum Shop”. I guesstimated the dimensions, sewed and stuffed it. I’d sort of guessed that the previous two styled wouldn’t give me enough volume at the sides, so this shape seemed more suitable. It does give the best shape at the sides out of the three, but still wasn’t perfect. The bump starts higher up than the split rump, which is good, but it’s too big, and doesn’t create a smooth shape under the skirts.  I think a ruffle would help with this, which I lazily omitted from the original.

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The Bum Shop Approximation

I had a little go at altering the shape of rump no. 3, but I couldn’t get it right. After despairing for a little while, I figured out, from examining a few other costumers’ rumps (if you’ll pardon the expression), that the pattern I needed was American Duchesses’s Simplicity 8162. At first I didn’t want to buy the whole packet for just the one pattern, but boy am I glad I did. It does create the right shape for Katrina, and that means I’m one more thing down on my endless to do list!

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Simplicity 8162 – just right

For more 18th century rumps style adventures check out this blog post on Démodé.

What’s your favourite rump style?

 

Katrina Van Tassel: Cosplay or Historical Costume?

It was quite a long time ago now, I think around last halloween, that I decided to make a Katrina Van Tassel cosplay. I was watching Sleepy Hollow (1999), as one is wont to do at that spooky time of year, when the idea occurred to me. Why not save myself some time and money, with a project that could serve as both cosplay and historical costume? Designed by the brilliant Colleen Atwood, and set in 1790, the costumes aren’t entirely period correct, but they’re pretty close. My dress in particular is almost spot on. I have not chosen, like most Katrina cosplayers, to make her stripy black and white robe a l’Anglaise retroussée. While unarguably fabulous, I felt it was a little beyond me. I went therefore for the costume she wears just before that one, during the climactic scenes at the end of the film.

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Katrina and Ichabod

On the surface it consists of three main parts, a blue silk petticoat; a silver-blue-grey, velvet, striped, “zone front” pierrot jacket; and a sheer, embroidered apron. As with all historical costumes there is also much going on underneath, but I’ll come back to that. I have good reason to believe Atwood based the pierrot on this extant one at the Kyoto Costume Institute, seeing as they’re practically identical, down to the brush fringe trim.

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KCI, c. 1790, France

As I want this costume to be as close to historically correct as I can get it, I’m going to be relying heavily on The American Duchess Guide to 18th Century Dressmaking. And the first step to achieving the period accurate silhouette is the correct underpinnings. The layers of my costume are as follows: shift, stockings (with garters), shoes, under-petticoat, stays, hanging pocket, false rump (bum pad), 2nd petticoat, 3rd (and final, silk) petticoat, pierrot, fichu, and embroidered apron. I knew when I started that is was going to be a slow burn project, but I’m not even half way through this list yet!

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It’s really hard to get good screen grabs of this costume…

The petticoats I can make easily enough following the instructions from The AD Guide, but the pierrot is a little trickier. Thank god for The Costumer’s Guide to Movie Costumes, and their very comprehensive page on this costume. Thanks to their hard work, I know where all the seam lines are supposed to go. I’m going to start with the Italian Gown pattern from The AD Guide, and alter it for my own purposes. Fingers crossed. For the stays, I am going to use one of the pairs in Patterns of Fashion 5. As they’re hidden, I’m going to have a bit of fun, and hopefully produce my own version of an Atwood/Burton-esque design. The false rump is vital in achieving the right shape for the skirts, and if you follow me on Instagram you know the trouble I’ve had getting it right. But that’s all part of the learning process. Tune in to my next post to hear all about it.

Have you made your own cosplay X historical costume? Or have you got plans to in the future? Let me know in the comments!

Foundations Revealed Contest 2019

I did not expect, when I entered the Foundations Revealed Competition this year, to win anything. In fact I actively entered believing I would not, telling myself not to get my hopes up. My reasons for entering were instead to give myself a deadline, with a brief to work to, so I could legitimately allow myself to bring to life one of my designs. I generally feel guilty whenever I spend to much time and money of my own work, knowing that it will not bring immediate monetary returns. I also entered with the exposure the competition would give me in mind. Had I not found many of the creatives I now follow and admire through competitions of previous years? So I was very pleasantly surprised to win 3rd place in my category!

Here is the text I wrote to accompany my entry, in the format requested by the contest entry form:

The Design

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architecture mood board

Initially, this literal thinker struggled with the given theme: architecture. My early research failed to spark my imagination, these buildings were too modern (urgh), too obvious (god forbid), and too unlike the human body (how do I make this into a wearable costume??) I have always found colour, texture, and clothing already created as my main sources when designing. It was only when I hit upon my chosen style of architecture, half-timbered houses from the Tudor era, that I realised I could do exactly that. I fell straight away for the stark contrast of the black and white geometric patterns, which were often complemented by more subtle brickwork patterns. And the variations to be found on just the one building!

I decided I would also draw on the fashions of the era, with a modern twist that these patterns once deconstructed so lent themselves to. From my research imagery I drew multiple patterns and placed them on the different components of my costume. For the aptly named gable hood’s cousin the lettice cap, I used simple striped timbers; for the partlet, I used a chevron pattern; for my sleeves I used fishnet tights to represent diamond paned windows; for the stays I used a herringbone brickwork pattern, with vertical timbers for boning channels; and for the culottes I used a circle and grid pattern I had seen in various forms on several different buildings. And thus my design was born.

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an earlier design drawing

The Construction

As a general rule I never design anything that I cannot imagine how to construct. I knew from the beginning, therefore, that I would be using screen printing and appliquéd ribbons as the two techniques for creating my timbers and bricks. I enlarged my little research drawings to a scale sympathetic to the final garments, and made two silk screen artworks. Most of the decoration was applied before assemblage, the prints printed and the ribbons stitched, onto flat patterns pieces. My brickwork was supposed to be the most difficult to print, as it involved a three colour separation using one screen to create a repeat. However, it turned out to be the circle-grid pattern that was trickier to line up and print. Those vertical lines went a-wandering if you didn’t keep a watchful eye on them.

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printing the stays

The trickiest sewing stage was, as usual, binding. I’m still getting to grips with binding using grosgrain ribbon rather than bias. This was also my first time attempting to bind solely by machine; many thanks to FR and Redthreaded for their help in this arena! I am also indebted to the Tudor Tailor, whose patterns and instruction I used as a basis for the stays, partlet and lettice cap.

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partlet progress

The partlet and lettice cap both proved problematic, because the wool felt I made them from continued to shrink every time the steam iron went anywhere near it. But I managed to compensate by reducing my seam allowances and recutting certain pieces.”

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I prefer the back views

My Conclusion, 5 months later

Upon completion of my costume, I wasn’t entirely sure what I had created. Or even if I liked it. It’s weird. Or as Jema and Cathy put it, witty and unusual. Being your own model can complicate things too, because you do ultimately get tangled in the self esteem conundrum of “Do I not like how it looks or do I just not like how I look?” I have said it before and doubtless I will say it many more times, I do not like having my photograph taken. And I took the photos of my costume the day before the deadline, when I was feeling particularly anxious and low. And unfortunately that translated to the pictures. But now, a few months later, I feel much better about those photographs, and the costume as a whole. I’m really proud of myself and what I achieved. I mean it helps that people liked my entry enough to vote for it, so I’m very grateful to everyone who did, and all the lovely comments. You often need a little space from a project to be able to look at it a little more objectively, and really appreciate how much work you put into it. It also helps if time takes away the memories of what you got wrong and you can see less of the mistakes you made (hey I’m a perfectionist sue me). I am most proud of the stays of course, and fully intend to incorporate them into costumes in the future (I already have plans for a witchy Halloween costume from stuff I’ve already made).

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brickwork stays

So, was entering the Foundations Revealed Competition a worthwhile experience? Yes. Will I enter next year? I think so, but I suppose it depends on how busy I am next January. Would I recommend others to enter? Definitely yes. Whatever your skill level, there’s room for everyone, and you can dedicate however much time you want, it’s your design. It’s supposed to be a fun competition, about pushing yourself, not breaking yourself. If I’d put pressure on myself to enter a prize winning corset, I probably would’ve had a breakdown, and ended up not entering at all. I think what I’m saying is don’t put too much pressure on yourself, and just enjoy the creativity.

Click here to see more photos of my costume.

Would you ever enter? Why? If you have what was your experience like?

Opera Project: The Queen of Spades

One of my favourite projects this year was the Opera Project. It was a very freeing project, using a different design method than usual, geared towards being experimental, and led by the wonderful Jacqui Gunn. We had the choice of two operas, The Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky and The Turn of the Screw by Benjamin Britten. I am very familiar with The Turn of the Screw, my cousin having played Miles, so I decided to work on The Queen of Spades. Our first task was to draw while listening to the music. I used oil pastels on tracing paper because I wanted to be bold with colour and be able to draw quickly and freely.

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drawing to opera

Our next task was to collect six images in response to the opera of our choice. I chose a photo of St Petersburg, the setting of the opera; the interior of an ornate opera house; a contemporary photograph of a woman in a Queen of Spades fancy dress costume; a set of colourful 60s playing card designs; a Russian avant-garde costume drawing of some soldiers; and a modern take on 60s formal chic.

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The Queen of Spades – six images

Task three was to create a story board, in whatever form we liked. I chose to find and display the setting for each scene, using real buildings and locations in St Petersburg. I also did a scene breakdown to help me with this.

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The Queen of Spades – scene breakdown

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The Queen of Spades – story board

Jacqui also suggested that we take one character and think about their life before and after the opera takes place. I chose the Countess and wrote her life story. I found this a really useful exercise for understanding a character, their motivations and place in the story.

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The Countess was born in St Petersburg. After the death of both her parents, she was raised by her grandmother. She grew intelligent and beautiful. Thinking her a little wild, her grandmother sent her on a tour of Europe, and soon arrived in Paris. Belle of all the balls, all the gay and smart young men pursued her. One such man was the handsome Count Saint Germain. Mysterious and wealthy, he attempted to court her. But the ‘Venus of Moscow’ did not care for love, only for the cards. And so he changed tactics. He offered her the secret of three magic cards that were guaranteed to win in return for her hand. But she rejected him.

One night in Versailles, playing ‘au jeu de la Reine’, she finally ran out of money. Berating herself for her foolishness she left the tables. St Germain, who had long watched her at her games, followed her. He found her regretting her losses in darkness, silence and solitude. Thinking now she might finally accept his suit, he propositioned her. In return for one night, he would tell her the secret of the Queen’s game, the three winning cards. This time she accepted. By dawn she had returned to the tables. The Countess regained all the money she had lost and more, at the cost of her fellow players.

But, guaranteed as she was to always win, the Queen of Spades grew bored of the game. She returned to Russia, and married. Haunted by stories of her exploits in Paris, her husband took to cards and urged her to tell him the secret of the three cards. Eventually she did, but when he won at the gambling tables, his opponents accused him of cheating them, and killed him.

Before her husband died, she had borne him a son. He grew handsome and gallant. He married and had a daughter. His wife named her Lisa, and then died. Distraught, he took to drink and gambling. One night he arrived on his mother’s doorstep, having spent all he had at the gambling house. She told him the secret of the three cards, so he could win back what he had lost, on the condition he then gave up. He returned to the tables, but in his drink addled state had forgotten the three cards. He killed himself in despair.

That night as the Countess was sleeping, the ghost of her son appeared to her. He told her that when a third man, wretched in love, sought the secret of the three cards from her, she would die. So the Countess, grief stricken, brought up her granddaughter, and dreaded the appearance of the third man.

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By 1889, the Countess has grown old. Society has lost it’s charms to her. She concerns herself mostly with Lisa, but thinks often about her younger years. She thinks more and more of her son’s warning. One day she walks in the park with her Granddaughter.  She is pleased that she had secured a future for Lisa by engaging her to Prince Yeletsky. Her contentment is ruined when she notices a familiar man with Lisa’s fiancé. She has seen this mysterious man frequently and believes he his following her. He looks at her threateningly, and she thinks he might be a little mad. Is it possible he is the third man? She asks Count Tomsky about him.

That night when going to bed she hears noises from Lisa’s room. Still a little on edge from the day’s events she scolds Lisa and sends her to bed.

Another night, after a masked ball, the Countess laments modern society. She recalls her days in Paris, and sings a little of a song she one sang to the King. She doses off, and when she awakes it is to find the mysterious man in front of her. She is terrified, and then understands what he wants, the three cards. She is angered by his words, he does not understand the risk. When he draws a gun she accepts her fate, and dies.

Now that she is dead the Countess understands all. Death tells her of the price of the secret of the three cards. Saint Germain had made a bargain with Death for the three magic cards, and only he could reveal the secret to another. All that she had told were cursed with misfortune. Death commands her to tell Herman of the three cards.

She finds Herman at the barracks. She knocks on his window. She makes with wind blow. She looks in at him and then knocks again. She makes the wind blow the door open and blow out the candle. She steps into the doorway, and speaks the three cards to Herman.

The Countess continues to watch Herman, and is greatly angered by his behaviour towards Lisa. Why did she tell him the three cards if it was not to make his fortune so he could marry Lisa? She goes to Price Yeletsky and tells him to play against Herman at the Gambling House tonight if he wants his revenge. She watches as Herman wins with the first two cards. As Tchekalinsky shuffles, she replaces the ace with the Queen of Spades and watches as Herman loses, and then kills himself.

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Now that the Countess has paid her price for the secret of the three cards, she spends her days in the land of the dead reunited with her family. She is glad, in the end, that Herman and Lisa are together at last. Sometimes she sees Saint Germain, she is not sure if should forgive him.

I was told to do more research and develop my concept. I looked into Russian folk costume and design, fashion in Soviet Russia, political figures before and after the revolution, Soviet military uniforms, Russian Constructivism, and Soviet architecture. I also played with the idea of a print consisting of disjointed playing cards.

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The Queen of Spades – folk costume

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The Queen of Spades – soviet fashion

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The Queen of Spades – uniform

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The Queen of Spades – soviet figures

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The Queen of Spades – soviet uniforms

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The Queen of Spades – constructivism

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The Queen of Spades – folk designs

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The Queen of Spades – architecture

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The Queen of Spades – playing card print

I received positive feedback from Jacqui and she gave me some tasks to do. She encouraged me to use photomontage – constructivism style. She told me to certain political figures into the context of some of the buildings I had found. I had a lot of fun with these, not thinking of them as costume designs really freed me up to have fun with them and try different things out. I experimented with different materials – colouring pencils, biro, oil pastels, metallic pens, ink, watercolours and felt tips.

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The Queen of Spades – soldiers

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The Queen of Spades

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The Queen of Spades

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The Queen of Spades

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The Queen of Spades

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The Queen of Spades

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The Queen of Spades – Hermann

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The Queen of Spades – Lisa

They were received positively by the class and Jacqui was pleased with my progression. She suggested that for the ball scene everyone wears elements of ‘old’ Russian buildings, and this is where the Russian folk boots come in! I had to rush these a bit to get them in for the deadline so they’re not as well thought out as I would have liked them to be, but fun nonetheless.

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The Queen of Spades – the Countess

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The Queen of Spades – Yeletsky

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The Queen of Spades – Lisa

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The Queen of Spades – Hermann

This was a great project to do after Macbeth. Less pressure meant I was able to have more fun with the costumes and be more experimental – which was the whole point!