Introduction: How to Make a Brass Bird Cage Dress in Twenty-five Easy Steps

Picture of How to Make a Brass Bird Cage Dress in Twenty-five Easy Steps

This instructable will teach you how to wrangle brass sufficiently enough to create a flattering and practical dress that doubles as a functional bird cage.

It's perfect for casual Fridays at the office. Steer clear of cats, coal mines, ferrets and weasels.

Step 1: Beginnings...

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Creating a functional birdcage dress was something I had wanted to do for quite a while. Most illustrations of the concept that I had seen lacked legs, which made the idea of creating the real thing quite appealing. It seemed like a fun challenge.

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)

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I highly recommend picking a material that is near impossible to work with :)

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

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I played around with the samples quite a bit. Since brass was a new material to me, I spent some time researching its properties and just getting a feel for the metal.

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

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Figuring out the outer shape of the skirt was next, since it seemed like the shape of the whole thing would stem from that.

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

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After a bit of wrangling, I decided upon a swooping, bell-like shape for the skirt. It was inspired by some of the old Victorian birdcages from days of yore. Working from that size, I created the other components - the internal skeleton shape (so that birds would not peck at the wearers legs) and the bottom skeleton pieces so that both sections would (hopefully) meet appropriately.

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

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Thus began many, many days of bending. Though the brass is relatively malleable, getting consistent curves just takes time. Ironically, I am not a patient person. I think (hope) this project taught me in that regard, but it remains to be seen :)

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

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And then - huzzah! The bending was complete!

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!

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It was really rewarding to attach everything and see the shape come to life.

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

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After attaching all of the pieces, I measured, cut out and drilled the pieces that would compose the floor of the cage.

Step 10: Brassy Caster Bits

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The dress was going to be quite heavy, so I decided to put it on casters. I found some small brass casters online and ordered a few to try them out.

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

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I purchased a ton of brass rivets, thinking that I would rivet as much of the dress as possible. That was a mistake on my part, though, because after bending all of those pieces, it was impossible to wrangle them on or around the anvil to hammer appropriately.

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

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Once the basic shape was formed, it was time to start bending and placing wire to make the actual cage. I had done some attachment testing earlier to make sure that I would be able to attach the metal properly, however, when it came down to actually doing it on the shape itself, some unforeseen problems arose - it wasn't working at all. Ack!

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

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Truth be known - I had not anticipated having to individually clamp down each of the nearly 2000 attachment points. It was a daunting task, but I had put so much work into it already that I decided to press on.

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...

Picture of Clamp, Flux, Solder, Repeat. Clamp, Flux, Solder, Repeat...

Thus the great soldering marathon began with the outside of the dress. The process was incredibly time consuming, but it was pretty thrilling to see it coming together.

Step 15: Flip It Over, Clamp, Flux, Solder, Repeat. Clamp, Flux, Solder, Repeat...

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In order to be able to solder the bottom, the dress needed to be flipped over. I rigged up a contraption with a stool, an anvil and a few zip ties to hold it in place. It was fairly rickety, but did the trick.

Step 16: More Clamping, Fluxing, Soldering and Repeating...

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Then it was time to start the internal cage so that the wearer would be safe from pecking critters.

Step 17: Then Came the Tricky Part...

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Soldering the top of the cage was a real challenge due to the double layers. The heat from the propane torch would separate joints that were already soldered, so I had to clamp down completed joints and try to absorb some of the heat with a wet cloth. It was pretty painstaking and progress was slow.

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!

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Brief celebration, then onward to the second half...

Step 19: More Clamping, Fluxing, Soldering and Repeating...

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Repeat steps 13 through 16. Take lots of breaks so you don't lose your mind.

This is a good break:


Step 20: Voila! the Cage Portion of the Dress Is Nearly Complete!

Picture of Voila! the Cage Portion of the Dress Is Nearly Complete!

'Twas a joyous moment indeed.

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 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

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The dress design morphed quite a bit. I initially had wanted to use pieces of brass in the top section, but everything I tried just plain didn't look right. I opted to go with silk fabric instead and picked up a variety of silk fabric that would complement the brass.

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

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I wanted to create some jewelry to accent the piece, so tracked down some interesting stones and played around with bending and nesting the wire to create a necklace and bracelets.

Step 23: Creating Shiny Accessories

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The cage needed perches and a door, so I messed around with different possibilities before deciding how I'd like them to look. I went with pretty simplistic designs for both.

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

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I really really really want to put chickens in the dress at some point, but for the first show, it's going to have four doves flying around in it. I can't wait :)

Step 25: Putting It All Together

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Suzan and Kelly Jones were kind enough to photograph the dress.
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: and if you'd like to follow my current projects, Facebook is a good place to find me -->

****Say hi, I'd love to hear from you.

*****That is all.

****** Really.


kcUPjunker (author)2016-03-26

This is amazing! Beautiful! Artistic! Definitely WOW! I'd LOOOOVE ti make a smaller even miniture version with all insprational credit to you!! Thank you so very much for sharing your talent and gifts with us.

PietraHarpist (author)2014-10-20

Wow, this is incredible! My only issue is with the fluffy chicken idea - I've had quite a few fluffy chickens, and they all have notoriously bad balance, so I can't help but imagine them falling over constantly, even at the movement of the cage from one of their peers falling over. Sure, it would be hillarious, but perhaps not as classy as the dress deserves.

Also, does the bird poo damage the cage???

Dave55555 (author)2013-09-20

WOW! Your fine craftsmanship has inspired this 60 yr old grandpa. THANK YOU!!!
As I admired your bird cage dress, I peeked in the corners and was also impressed with: 1) the orangish "flame dress," 2) the height of your ceilings, 3) the spaciousness of your warehouse. VERY INSPIRING. would you answer three questions: 1) do you live in this warehouse?, 2) would an electric spot welder have helped? and 3) could the entire dress be done in copper to make the soldering easier? Thank you again! ... Appreciatively, from dave in Austin, Texas

Kasey (author)Dave555552013-09-22

Hi and thank you kindly Dave.
To answer your questions, (1) yes, I lived in that warehouse for a few years. It was a great space - 'twas the refrigeration room of a former brewery in Los Angeles.
(2) A spot welder may have helped, I can't remember why I didn't try it - it may have been cost prohibitive? Or it may have left a mark on the external side of the brass, I honestly can't remember. But definitely worth testing.
(3) Copper could be an easier possibility. I wanted to use brass because of the color and sheen and because it has a different overall aesthetic. As hard as it is to work with, brass is definitely my favorite metal. Also, copper is significantly more malleably/bendy, which seems like it might provide some extra challenge when you're trying to maintain shapes.
Take care and if you end up making something, please let me know!

KathyTackettPhoto (author)2012-11-26

Would seriously love to collaborate on a photoshoot with this! amazing.

sunshiine (author)2011-07-18

Wow! This is amazing! Thanks for sharing all the very hard work and fun ible!

Kasey (author)sunshiine2011-07-18

Thank you very much!

sunshiine (author)Kasey2011-07-18

Your are welcome! I love this!

noahh (author)2011-07-18

This is astounding. Well done.

Kasey (author)noahh2011-07-18

Thank you!

mrsdawnlopez (author)2011-07-09

That's incredible. Great idea and execution. :)

kooyma (author)2010-12-14

just saw this for the first time- soooooo painfully awe-inspiringly artistic neato-keen!
Have to admit I immediately thought finches (they can be a bit noisy too) or hummingbirds -but the fluffy chicken thing would be a treat!
Great to see this level of artistry here- have you sold it to a museum yet? What a fantastic WORK of art!
And kudos on the welding bit- I'll be taking a class this spring time permitting.
big happy appreciation for this i'ble!!

Boden (author)2010-03-30

 hey, my roommates and i love this thing!
i was just browsing instructables at work, and happened to find this one. ironic, because we live in building 620 :)

see you at artwalk!

Kryptonite (author)2010-02-19

The ribbons express the curvaceousness of the weather rather well by pulling taught in certain areas. That's quite clever.

Kryptonite (author)2010-02-19

Wow, this is the most amazing thing I have seen in a long, long time. The amount of time you must have spent on this is amazing! The intricate work, the wonderful out come, the oxy-acetylene torch, the coal mines!

I am lost for words, you really know your stuff and are evidently truly devoted, well done! 5 stars! Favorited!

peace-to-earth (author)2009-07-19

if you made it from aluminum, thinned the metal strips and brought up the bottom, could you actually wear it? the possibilities *sigh*

canida (author)2009-04-14

Wow, this is incredibly awesome! You really don't do anything half-way. I like the chickens better, too. They're larger and have more character than doves. Maybe some really fluffy silkie chickens?

Kasey (author)canida2009-04-14

Agreed... a gaggle of chickens in there would be such fun. The dress is huge - it could feasibly fit ten or so large chickens in it comfortably... Glad you like it :)

annoyinglylogical (author)Kasey2009-04-20

I had a peacock but he died :( I'm going to buy a peacock and peahen, so I could walk around in my skirt and they would just sit there... they don't do much :). Awesome awesome instructable

Maybe you could have little peachicks running around! lol

OH COOL! I wish I had a peacock.. that would be cool..

miseleigh (author)Kasey2009-04-16

How about wood ducks? The ones with the shiny fancy coloring. Although I don't know how they'd do in a cage rather than water, and I don't know where you'd get them. Pheasants or cockatiels? A large bird with a lot of color would look awesome, but chickens just seem... tame, I guess. This dress is amazing, by the way.

canida (author)miseleigh2009-04-16

To me, the attraction of chickens is that they are big and loud. Maybe roosters, or very grouchy geese?

Lithium Rain (author)canida2009-04-21

Guineas! If loud is what you want, that's what you'd put in there. They are about the loudest fowl known to creation. They never stop yammering!

ibayibay1 (author)2009-07-01

has no purpose and hats y its awesom

cutekitten (author)2009-04-25

its pretty

Tamsinhull (author)2009-04-16

Beautiful! x

whiteoakart (author)2009-04-16

This is truly amazing. I can not think of any reason to ever make this myself, but, really, I am stunned.

gmjhowe (author)2009-04-16

Boing Boing just featured this!

Great work, i love how unique it is.

jaysbob (author)2009-04-14

whats the final weight of this? Considering its all brass I'm guessing pretty flippen heavy lol. amazing visionary work though. looks like it really took some serious sweat and dedication to have it realized the way you wanted it. Also great work on the instructable itself, very well put together and photographed, made for an interesting read. I also can't help but think how amazing this would look with a nice heavy patina. Although I also can't reconcile that with what a crime it would be to leave this outside for the length of time it would take to develop it.

Kasey (author)jaysbob2009-04-14

Thank you :) I need to do some receipt tallying to get an exact weight. I'll get back to you on that. I can absolutely say that it is quite heavy. It sits on fourteen small brass casters and they move decently, but it's still a lot of weight to push. If I had to guess I'd say maybe 50 lbs??... I agree, a patina could look amazing. The cleaning process is arduous, though, so I may hold off for a bit. I can, however, guarantee that it will see patina at some point...

unjust (author)2009-04-14

wow. beautiful.

Kasey (author)unjust2009-04-14

Thanks so much.

bigmark (author)2009-04-14

great job!! i love a woman who can weld.

uguy (author)bigmark2009-04-14

Yeah nothing quite as sexy as a woman with a torch. Great job, very well done. Thanks for sharing.

canida (author)uguy2009-04-14

Thankfully, Instructables is full of hot welders of all genders. I think welders are by definition hot? ;)
Some of the women on the site build their own welders too.

Kasey (author)canida2009-04-14

Ayup, welding is pretty hot by nature. Thanks guys :)

jessyratfink (author)2009-04-14

This is absolutely stunning! I've been wanting to make a chastity belt of sorts and your project is helping me with inspiration. :D

Kasey (author)jessyratfink2009-04-14

Thanks so much. Best of luck with your project!

espacioapropiado (author)2009-04-14

Just one word...a-m-a-z-i-n-g!!! thank you for sharing...

Kasey (author)espacioapropiado2009-04-14

Thank you kindly :)

blondie952 (author)2009-04-14

OH my god! I love you so much. For my year twelve fashion design final piece I intended on creating a crinoline! I cannot thank you enough for this resource. With your permission (With full credit of course) could I show this in my folio and use this as a guide to producing my own crinoline?

Kasey (author)blondie9522009-04-14

Thanks! You're welcome to use the piece as a reference. Keep in mind, though, that it is quite a diversion from a standard crinoline. Good luck with your project and keep me posted on your progress. I'm happy to help if you have questions.

freek723 (author)2009-04-14

What do you estimate was your overall cost for materials? I love the brass, and have been considering an inverted underwire dress for a steampunk costume.

Kasey (author)freek7232009-04-14

I would say the brass alone was somewhere around $500. It's such a gorgeous metal, and even though it's challenging to work with, I'd recommend it. The end result makes it all worthwhile :)

Scubabubba (author)2009-04-14

The aircraft industry uses solid aluminum rivets, but the principal is the same.

Aircraft Spruce is a good source for small buys.

Kasey (author)Scubabubba2009-04-14

Ah, that's a great idea! I'll have to try one and see if it would work for brass... thanks!

About This Instructable




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