Tuesday, February 24, 2015

....where Christopher Robin plays....

I just finished packing away the last of the costumes from my Let's PLAY!  production of Winnie-the-Pooh KIDS.  31 costumes, all but one custom-built for this cast.

Okay, let's be real.  30 costumes, all by me, and all done out-of-pocket.  So to say I built them all might be a stretch since I definitely took some short cuts and used some off-the-rack items, but I'm pretty pleased with what I accomplished.  All told, I spent just shy of $415 on 30 costumes, which is about $13.78 per kid...although that figure is skewed somewhat by the three or four costumes I really splurged on.  Could I have spent less?  Certainly.  I could have eliminated my tights order and saved over $150 right off the top, but I.  Cannot.  Resist.  We Love Colors.  (And the tights are such good quality that I only lost ONE pair out of twenty to holes and runs, and they were all worn and worn and WORN by children ages 3-11).  Can I use many of these items over and over again?  Absolutely.  So I'm not sweating the cost (although I guess my husband might).

I basically had 4 categories of costumes.  Honey Bees, Narrators, Main Characters, and Animal Chorus.  I had very specific ideas for all of them, and amazingly, they mostly turned out exactly as I envisioned. 

My Honey Bees were the seven youngest girls in class.  They had less stage time than others in the cast, so I wanted to make sure they really looked terrific so that they felt like they were just as important as the bigger kids.  The costumes I designed for them had a lot of pieces, which maybe I would do differently next time, as dressing and undressing the Bees for every performance was an exercise in great patience and organization.

Honey Bees!
I knew the base for the costume had to be some fabulous black and yellow striped We Love Colors tights.  What says "BEE" more than black and yellow stripes?  At $9 each, though, that was going to eat up most of what I wanted to spend per kid, so I had to get creative and economical on the rest of it.  That meant buying seven short-sleeved black leotards was pretty much out of the question.  Inspiration struck when I happened upon the Hanes.com website, with a $2.99 sale on t-shirts.  I grabbed Milo, who is the same general size as these little bee girls, and tried a YXL t-shirt from Max's drawer on him just to be sure...yep, perfect length to make a romper.  So I ordered the t-shirts, and made the first one.  I turned the t-shirt inside out and laid a YS t-shirt on top, to size the top (I didn't want the kids to look like they were wearing over-sized t-shirts).  I traced around the smaller shirt, and when I reached the bottom of the smaller shirt, I continued my line out to the full width of the larger shirt.  I ran a seam, using a zig-zag stitch, up both sides of the shirt and around the sleeves, and cut off the excess.  So far so good.  Then....I made a mistake.  Unfortunately, this mistake would not become apparent until after I made all 7.  Sigh.  Anyway, following the instructions on a tutorial for making rompers and onesies for toddlers, I cut out a U-shape at the center of the bottom of the t-shirt to make legs, turned over a small, 1/8" hem, and finished off both sides.  I put 5 snaps along the U-shape for the closure, and called Milo back in.  (My kids just love when I am making costumes and force them to try things on, over and over again.  Do you think one day I might want to invest in some dressmaker's dummies??) Yay!  It fit him perfectly!!

Right.  That was my mistake.  Milo is a slim 5 year old boy.  Wiry little bugger, in fact.

Did you KNOW, the physical differences between boys and girls start showing up even when they are only 5 or 6  years old?  I guess I never thought about it.  But the little romper, which I duplicated SIX TIMES BEFORE I TRIED IT ON A GIRL, did not fit the little girls.  Of the seven of them, I would say only half of them were able to close the legs of the rompers around their thighs.  Ohhhhh, the joys of womanhood.

The solution is obvious - cut a smaller U-shape out of the bottom hem.  Or, for a much more complicated solution....cut the bottom of the t-shirt off completely, and turn it into a little pair of shorts.  Then sew the waistband of the shorts to the cut edge of the t-shirt, and make some sort of opening at the back so the kid can step into it....oh, I don't know.  Anyway, it was cheaper than the cheapest leotard I could find, by about half.

The real money saver on the Bee costume was the tutu.  TUTUS are SO EASY!!  You can find a hundred tutorials for tutus online, in varying degrees of complicated.  I went with simple, and cheap.  I bought a 50 yard roll of yellow grosgrain ribbon off eBay, for under $15.  This is enough grosgrain ribbon to make approximately 35 child-sized tutus, by the way.  I used about 20 yards of 6" tulle for each tutu.  6" tulle is the kind you find on rolls at any craft store, I bought mine on eBay for about $5 per 100 yard roll.  You can get tulle in just about any color imaginable.  But anyway, it works out to about $1.47 per tutu.  The cheapest tutus I found for purchase were $3.50.  Tutus in this style would also make great crinolines. I just saved myself so much money it's ridiculous.

For a no-sew tutu, simply take your waist measurement and add 24".  Make a knot 12" from each end of the ribbon.  Cut lengths of tulle twice as long as your desired tutu length (I made my tulle as long as the waistband of the tutu, so for a 24" waist the tulle was 24"...since the waistband was already laid out on my table, it was easy to just measure against it.  No need to be precise or perfect!).  I used about 30 pieces of tulle per tutu.  Fold a strip of tulle in half, laying the fold against the ribbon.  Draw the ends of the tulle around the ribbon and through the fold in the tulle, pulling the knot fairly tight.  Continue until your waistband is full.  The more strips of tulle you tie on, the fuller your tutu will be. You could also stack up pieces of tulle, tying more than one on at a time, to make your tutu extra fluffy.  I just stuck with one layer.

Easy peasy.


Pro Tip: I put the roll of tulle on the spindle from a package of blank cds.  You're welcome.
 So then I just added a cute pair of wings (SADNESS ALERT:  Right after I ordered these wings from my usual super-cheap wing place, Halo Heaven, I got an email saying they are GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.  <drops to knees> NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!) and some pipe-cleaner antenna that the girls made themselves.  Honey Bees!

Next up:  The Narrators.  The narrators in this play were named by color - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.  Step one:  visit the same $2.99 t-shirt sale on Hanes.com and get a t-shirt in every color.  Step two: visit We Love Colors and get a pair of tights in every color (again, the most expensive part of the costume, at $5 each, but I think you'll agree it was worth it!).  Step three:  find some awesome polka-dot fabric and make simple circle skirts in every color (well, six colors, and a vest for my boy).

A rainbow of polka dots!

Again, I turned to eBay for the fabric, and was not disappointed.  I found every color I needed, for $3.99 a yard.  Each skirt required a yard of fabric.  I also purchased a 50 yard roll of 1 1/2" elastic for $9, and used about $0.15 worth for each skirt.   Plus, now that I have patterns made in a variety of sizes, I can whip up a skirt in under 20 minutes.  Two words I love:  Fast and Cheap.

I'm not gonna lie, I love how these girls look.  It's not surprising, I suppose, since I would totes wear this outfit, myself.

Group Three: The Animal Chorus.

No furries.

I had 7 kids in the Animal Chorus, and I let them, with the exception of the Gophers, choose their own animal.  I never expected them to all choose the same thing.  I really anticipated having 5 different kids dressed as  5 different animals.  Not at all.  The girls stuck together, and chose chipmunks, and the two little boys (Milo and one of his pals)...well, I should have known they would pick, of all things, CHEETAHS, because that's what they pick every single time we do an exercise that involves animals.  Cheetahs in the Hundred Acre Wood.  I balked, at first, but then thought, well, there's tigers and kangaroos there, so why not?

I chose the Gophers for the two older boys, because I actually wrote in a few lines for them, with the running joke being they were like, contractors or something, and they kept tunneling through to the wrong storybook lands.  These two ended up being one of my biggest splurges, with their Dickies short-sleeved flight suits coming in at $25 a piece.  I feel pretty confident that I will be able to repurpose and reuse these suits on more than one occasion, so I didn't mind the expense.  Hopefully I am right about their versatility.  The miner's helmets were already in Max and Milo's playroom, and I simply cut some ears out of fun foam and taped them to the outside.

The Chipmunks were completely thrift-store-sourced, I picked up all the appropriately-sized brown items at my local Communities In Schools shop and mixed and matched until I was satisfied.  Each item cost a dollar, and all I added was a pair of fun foam ears.

For the Cheetahs, knowing these two little boys the way I do, making them breakdancing, hip-hop Cheetahs was a natural choice.  They actually do have $2.99 t-shirts, plus some eBay $3 cargo shorts.   I found one velour animal print sweat jacket at the thrift store, and because I am occasionally stubborn and enjoy making a lot of work for myself, proceeded to cut it up and make TWO sleeveless hoodies out of it.  Lots of work, but it was cheap!  Then I went and splurged on the snapbacks, adding fun foam ears to those as well.  (Pro Tip: I attached the cheetah ears to clips, rather than directly to the hat, so that the boys could choose to wear the hats forwards, backwards or sideways, and we could adjust the ears to always be facing in the right direction.)

In addition to the costumes above, I also had a brown bear, played by the same kid who played Christopher Robin, since Christopher Robin is really only in the last scene.  I put his costume together from items I had on hand (pants, shirt, vest), so no cost, and the only effort was making a set of brown fun foam bear ears.

Finally, the Main Characters:



Pretty recognizable, I'd say.

EEYORE:  Jeans, $10 hoodie from Hanes.com.  I cut ears out of felt, and made the mane with bundles of yarn.  I'm so not going to give you any more information than that, because when I someday open my Etsy shop, this will be the first item in it. :)  He had a tail, too, made out of felt and yarn and embellished with a big button and pink bow.  I attached an alligator clip to the end of the tail, so it could be easily pulled off (which had to happen as part of the show).

PIGLET:  Pink/pink striped dress from eBay, long-sleeved turtleneck leotard and tights from We Love Colors, fun foam ears.  Done and done.

WINNIE THE POOH:  I bought a long-sleeved t-shirt in gold, a size larger than my actor would ordinarily wear, and a red t-shirt in the correct size.  I cut the red t-shirt to fall just below his chest, and hemmed the cut edge with a zig zag stitch.   I was able to borrow a pregnancy belly from the theater, so it was just a matter of stuffing it under the yellow shirt - instant Pooh Bear (I did sew a piece of elastic into the bottom of the yellow shirt, measuring the length against my actor's waist, so that the shirt would fit snugly around him underneath the stuffed belly).  I bought a pair of khakis at the thrift store, and dyed them as close as I could to the golden color of the t-shirt.  Gold pants for boys...for anyone, actually....are surprisingly hard to come by.  Fun foam ears.

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

KANGA: I really wanted Kanga to look like Mrs. Cleaver, or something.  I found an absolutely adorable smocked dress on eBay, with the perfect pink Peter Pan color.  I made an easy pink apron out of some fabric I had on hand, and added a thrift store cardigan and some fun foam ears.  All that's missing is a string of pearls, darn it.

RABBIT:  For the fastidious, high-strung Rabbit, I knew I had to go bow-tie.  Entire costume was totally thrift-store sourced, plus some fun foam ears.

OWL: Max was Owl.  You can't really tell in the photo, but I made him a tail coat out of a sport coat, which he wore over cream colored pants and shirt, to try to mimic the look of Owl.  And the over-sized round glasses seemed like the perfect way to finish it off.  I spent more on the glasses ($5.91 on Amazon) than I did on the entire rest of the costume.

ROO:  Brown leggings, brown hoodie, fun foam ears.  Another $2.99 t-shirt, in blue, cut short and hemmed with a zig zag stitch.  I went with a hoodie rather than a long-sleeved brown t-shirt, because I felt it gave Roo kind of a sporty air, and mimicked Tigger's costume a bit (and we all know how much Roo looks up to Tigger!)

TIGGER:  Tigger's costume was by far the most expensive of the bunch.  I knew exactly what I was looking for - an orange velour tracksuit - and I definitely was not able to find on cheaply.  I ended up spending $40 on it, but I'm glad I did because she really looked tee-riffic.  I used felt and hot glue to make the stripes, and gigantic chenille stems for her tail (I twisted two orange stems together, and then wrapped one black stem around that, it seemed to be a good ratio).  I sewed a button-hole in the hem of the jacket and threaded the tail through it - worked very well, and held up to a lot of bouncing.  For a lighter-weight fabric, I would have reinforced the button hole with some interfacing or something.

And that's it, the whole cast of characters from the Hundred Acre Wood.  I learned so many great shortcuts and techniques costuming this production that I will definitely put to use in future projects.  The tutus, the circle skirts, how not to make a romper - all skill that I feel certain I will use again and again.  I also learned how to use my regular sewing machine as a serger (or, you know, close enough that I can get away with not buying another machine that I have nowhere to store, for the time being, anyway), and discovered the wonder of the sales page on Hanes.com (how had I never found THAT website before???)

I am costuming a production of Shrek: The Musical next.  I cannot wait to get started!




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