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Steampunk on a Shoestring: the Admirer

So I’m doing Picasso at the Lapin Agile at Wheaton Drama right now – big funny Steve Martin craziness, right? It’s our studio show. Now, I figured the studio show was where we do something artistically risky, just to see how the audience responds and not care too much about how it sells. This should tell you how much I still need to learn about theater… Le sigh. Silly me. Apparently, “studio show” is theater-ese for “low budget”. So, what’s a costumer to do when she finds herself with an 11 person period show, and the show budget is 500$ less than what she wanted for the costumes? Steampunk.

Well, not full-on Steampunk, because that can get expensive. The basic recipe for the show goes like this: put one part Edwardian, one part Bustle-period, one part Steampunk, and 5 parts Goodwill’s Finest in a shaker with gin. Shake well.

This particular costumer is for the “Female Admirer”, a character who is on stage for less than 200 seconds. Funny story – bit characters like that tend to get better costumes, because they’re off stage long enough to try oodles of stuff on. Absolutely nothing in the theater worked….

So I went to Goodwill. Actually, I went to three Goodwills, and turned up nothing I liked. And then I had the best run of luck at the Starvation Army, and managed to get most of my show for $89. Score. For the Female Admirer, I came up with:

base pieces for admirer
I have a festive shirt (3$) and a coordinating paisley skirt (1.50$). The skirt is 4 sizes too big for the actress, but that's why god made pleats.
Additional skirts and jacket
I also picked up a short plaid skirt (90c), a long teal skirt (3$), and a lovely olive wool coat (6$) that I plan to mangle.

This is actually one of the most expensive costumes in the show, coming in at 14.40$. Everything else I used came out of my stash of crappita.

The plaid skirt is a straight knee length affair, and it’s about to become a bodice.

plaid skirt marked
I've marked the length I need for the bodice. The hem of the skirt, which is already nicely finished, will become the top of the bodice.
teal skirt lined up with plaid
The teal skirt will become a sort of built-in bustle on this bodice.

So, basically, I just the plaid skirt a half inch below where I’d marked it. I love working with plaids because they come pre-marked for straight lines. ;) I opened the back seam, neatened all the edges, and added three pieces of Rigiline to each side of the front. (This is hardly my best construction ever.)

I ripped the zipper and center back seam out of the teal skirt, and sewed it to the bottom of the bodice.

bodice and bustle mostly finished.
So that's basically that. (I got round to adding a closure later in the week - it buttons shut.)
back of bustle
The back has some faux bustling.
bustle closeup
This is a closeup of my little tucksie-upsies. There's not a lot of technique here - just gather everything up in your off paw, and sew through the layers until you're sure they're not going anywhere. Try to hide the ugly.
The jacket
The jacket, before alteration. I bought because it's long enough to turn into a fanciful mini-tail coat.
marking the new jacket bottom
I've sort of free-handed a new bottom line for the jacket. When I had the actress try on the jacket, I placed a pin at the center front where I wanted it to hit her.
marking the second side
Per my usual practice, I'm using the bit I cut off one side of the jacket to mark the other side. For me, this is faster and more accurate than trying to actually measure it.
bottom edge sealed
Because of all the curves, I decided to just zig-zag the edges to seal them. This is a million times faster and easier than dealing with seam allowances.
trim on edge of jacket
So, I just want to smack a little line of trim around the edge of the jacket. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?
the problem with lapels
Oh, right, that old problem.... The trim is on the outside of the jacket, right up until the lapel. Lapels are always inside out....
sewing trim
So whatchyer' gonna do is sew your trim on the outside of the jacket right up to the point where the lapel turns back. Backtack and clip your threads.
continuing the trim
Flip the coat, wrap the trim around the edge of the lapel, and sew from the back side of the lapel. When you get to the other side of the collar, you'll backtack and reverse the process to get back onto the top side of the coat.
mostly finished costume
And that's how the magic-trim-around-even-with-a-collar trick works....
And tails....

Not gonna lie – I’m totally in love with this little jacket. And it fits me, so I’m totally buying it off the theater after the run. Already told the actress I’m calling dibs…. ;)

And speaking of actresses….

actress wearing costume
I also made her a festive little hat. ;) Special thanks to Margie Gustafson for allowing me to use her picture.

Total cost: $14.40.

Total time: about 4 hours.

Skill level: Pretty dang easy.


  1. Merridy
    Merridy August 16, 2011

    Very Creative! The hat really pulled it all together, ant the end result was ideal.

    • missa
      missa August 16, 2011

      Awww…. Thank you! I’ve always believed in the power of a good hat!

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