It's perfect for casual Fridays at the office. Steer clear of cats, coal mines, ferrets and weasels.
Step 1: Beginnings...
I began by scouring the mighty internet for birdcage and crinoline photos in order to consider potential shapes and see what might actually be feasible. I also started thinking about materials and researching how actual bird cages are built. Sketching helped to conceptualize the ideas that were running around in my head.
Step 2: Brass Is a Worthy Opponent (ie: Picking a Material)
I decided to go with brass because I loved how the antique brass cages had a bit of a sheen. I did not, however, realize that this decision would make the project a thousand times more difficult than working with steel.
After a bit of searching online, I was able to order a small quantity of different sized brass and copper rod and strap samples to see what options might work. Some of the online metal shops don't charge a cutting fee for small pieces, so it's worth tracking down one of those.
I opted to go with 1/16" brass round rod for the cage mesh and 1/8" x 1/2" brass strap for the majority of the dress. I also picked up some 1" strap for the belt so there would be a little more substance there. Industrial Metal Supply in LA was kind enough to order a bunch of 1/16" round rod for me, as it wasn't something they generally carry.
At this point, I went back to sketching. Once the materials are settled, it's generally easier to figure out what can and can't happen with the originally conceived idea.
Step 3: Attaching Shiny Bits
I wanted to make sure that I could attach the 1/16" rod to the 1/2" strap before I got too far down the design road. I asked around and was told that brazing it would probably be the best bet. I tried simply welding the rod to the strap with an oxy-acetylene rig and just made a mess. Regular plumbers solder didn't stick at all. I took a sample of the materials to the welding store and asked the guys there. They set me up with some brazing rod that *seemed* to do the trick. Seemed is the key word here. I thought I was in the clear and had found something that worked, however, the attachment story does not stop there.
For any larger, structural joints I opted to drill holes and use brass rivets. I picked up some of the old-style rivets that you actually pound out, because they look really amazing when they're placed.
The design ended up working best split into two separate pieces. This would make it possible to actually get it out of my front door (a good thing) and worked as a perfect way to get the person inside of it.
Step 4: Bending Shiny Bits
I worked on measuring and bending a prototype of the belt and outer skeleton. The 1/2" brass strap turned out to be malleable enough to bend by hand with the help of a vice. Hurray! I was very thankful, because I had a ton of bending in my future. I wanted the circumference of the circle to be 16', so worked out the geometry from there [2 * (pi) * radius = (pi) * diameter] . The design morphed slightly and did affect the numbers, but that's at least where it started.
I cut and bent the waist band to try to get an idea of how many vertical lines the skirt would require, then drilled holes to attach pieces so that I could get a decent idea of how it would look.
Step 5: Cutting, Drilling and Bending Brassy Bits
I then proceeded to cut and drill individual pieces following the pattern. This was a leap of faith - I was counting on the fact that I did the math correctly. Brass is pretty pricey, so messing up on a grand scale wouldn't be cool at all.
I found it very helpful to use a metal punch to mark the spots I needed to drill. The devices are conveniently called 'metal punches' and will save you a lot of frustration by not letting the drill press wander all over the place.
After cutting and drilling the pieces, I used a bench grinder to smooth out the surface on each piece.
Be sure wear safety goggles because your eyes are important! Guaranteed, you're going to need your eyeballs throughout this entire project.
Step 6: More Bending of Brassy Bits
So, the great bending phase continued...on and on and on and on...
It became remarkably apparent that this dress was going to consume A LOT of time.
Step 7: Still Bending Shiny Bits
Now it was time for hardware and actual attachment. This was exciting because the shape came to life with dimension and for the first time actually felt real. I was thrilled.
Step 8: Shiny Bits With Dimension!
I ended up needing to re-drill a lot of the holes to make them slightly larger to compensate for the hardware.
Attempting to drill some of the bent pieces was like playing an unruly game of Twister with the drill press as an opponent. Caution was of primary concern and I used a lot of clamps at some really weird angles to make sure that the ol' drill press and I were on an even playing field.
Step 9: Brassy Floor
Step 10: Brassy Caster Bits
As the dress grew, I kept ordering more and more so that it could actually hold the weight. A total of fourteen casters were used in the piece.
I ended up cutting off the metal attachment piece that came with the caster and using a bolt to attach them to the brass strap.
Step 11: Hammering Brassy Bits
I ended up using brass hardware (machine screws and acorn cap nuts) in all the spots I couldn't hammer. Just a good thing to note: riveting large, unruly things doesn't work. Some of the random positions I tried were pretty funny - a third arm would have been really helpful. If anyone has a suggestion as to how to pound rivets into unruly objects, I'd love to know.
Step 12: Frustrating Brassy Bits
I tested and tried numerous brazing and soldering combinations in an attempt to find a solution. Alas, nothing was working. It was incredibly frustrating. Finally, a combination of Harris Stay-Clean flux and lead solder heated with a propane torch worked.
Hallelujah! .....and huge thanks to Syd and Steve for their help in figuring that out.
The successful process was as follows: I clamped the pieces together with c-clamps, then used a paint brush to apply the flux, heated the joints with the propane torch and applied the 60/40 lead solder.
Be sure that you're working with clean metal. If it's dirty, it just won't bond properly.
Thus began a multiple week adventure of clamping, fluxing and soldering.
*NOTE* Wear a respirator and gloves when dealing with this stuff. Wash your hands often. Lead in the lungs or anywhere on your skin is no good.
Step 13: Clamping Shiny Bits
Finding a solution for clamping was more difficult than it seemed like it should be because the attachment points were so close to each other (15mm apart). I would have loved to have used spring clamps, but the heat from the propane torch was too much for the little guys. The solution ended up being some small 1" c-clamps. I replaced the turning apparatus on each of them with smaller screws since the attachment points were so close.
Ideally, I would have created a jig to make this process easier, however because all of the bends were different, I couldn't think of a jig option that would work. I resigned to the fact that I would be spending a lot of time clamping.
Step 14: Clamp, Flux, Solder, Repeat. Clamp, Flux, Solder, Repeat...
Step 15: Flip It Over, Clamp, Flux, Solder, Repeat. Clamp, Flux, Solder, Repeat...
Step 16: More Clamping, Fluxing, Soldering and Repeating...
Step 17: Then Came the Tricky Part...
Many a tiny spring clamp gave its life for this part of the process - the c-clamps were too large to use in the tight areas. The spring clamps just couldn't take the heat, but were thankfully strong enough to temporarily hold down the sections that were catching indirect fire.
Step 18: And the First Half Was Done!
Step 19: More Clamping, Fluxing, Soldering and Repeating...
This is a good break: http://www.lumeneclipse.com/gallery/19/smalllovestory/
Step 20: Voila! the Cage Portion of the Dress Is Nearly Complete!
I recommend grinding off the edges of the wire to get rid of the poke-y bits. 226 individual brass wires circle the entire dress, so there are plenty of sharp pieces worth sanding down.
This is a good time to round up your hardware. I was able to order brass machine screws through smallparts.com for a much better price than I could find them locally. I also found some brass plated magnetic catch strips that I used as attachment pieces for holding the two sides of the dress together.
Casters were placed in their appropriate positions and I went through and made sure all of the hardware was where it needed to be.
I was amazed that I went through less than two propane canisters soldering this entire thing. I had no idea that they lasted that long!
Step 21: Sewing the Silky Under Dress
I started by cutting fabric and fitting it to the dress form. For me, a large part of designing with fabric is trial and error. I had picked up a few different variations and hues of silk and wanted to mix them up in an organic way, so just started cutting and sewing. The results are pictured.
The lining of the dress is form fitting and the outer layer of silk is sewn to it by hand. Silk ribbons provide the final touch and wrap around the entire dress.
Step 22: Bejeweling
Step 23: Creating Shiny Accessories
I was exceptionally nervous about cutting the door. I put it off as long as possible. It became *very important* that I had a clean work area and that all my ducks were in a row.
I practiced soldering the brass wire together before doing it in place on the dress. It went fairly smoothly and the door turned out alright, albeit somewhat janky. It was a one-shot thing, so I am thankful that it turned out decently.
With the door in place, the bird cage is officially fully functional!
I'm thrilled to have found a place that will rent doves to put in it for the first show :)
Step 24: Add Birdy Bits
Step 25: Putting It All Together
Emmeline Chang looked amazing in it.
Juli Gudmundson handled hair and makeup and created the beautiful hairpieces for it.
Many thanks to all involved with the final shoot. It was so wonderful to see it come together :)
Thanks for stopping by!
The dress will be on display at the Brewery Artwalk April 18 & 19 in downtown Los Angeles.
*Care: Dry clean only. Polish regularly. Avoid cats, airborne avian viruses and fingerprints.
**This is a slightly condensed version of how to make the dress, simply because the process would take days to write out. If you'd really like to create one, drop me a line. I am more than happy to answer questions.
***Feel free to take a look at some of my other work here: http://www.atypicalart.com and if you'd like to follow my current projects, Facebook is a good place to find me --> https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=695706252#/profile.php?id=695706252
****Say hi, I'd love to hear from you.
*****That is all.