Introduction: Vampyre Chickens - Halloween Costumes
We have some very beautiful and friendly Polish crested chickens and this year we have a complete family, as Spike, our gold black-laced rooster and Giddy, our chamois white-laced hen have produced chicks, two of which are Frizzles. The Polish crested are a very ancient race and I thought they would look great this Halloween dressed as a family of Gothic Vampyres. I wanted them to look like old portraits and make them into Halloween cards, although the small black and gold chick above, actually just loves wearing his! He is so laid-back, I used him as a model to plan the design and check all the fittings. In case he got bored with this, I gave him a treat each time, so he actually loved putting on the costume, as he associated it with pasta, which he adores!
I spent nothing on these costumes, as I made them all out of remnants, old clothes, bits of ribbon, upcycled beads from an old cardigan, broken junk jewellery, Christmas decorations and the fabric of a black dress I had started to make years ago and found at the bottom of the wardrobe, still pinned to the pattern pieces!
Although these are made for chickens, my design was based on a baby's bib, so it would also be a way to make a costume for a baby. This could then be quite elaborate in design but easy to put on and take off and comfortable to wear. That way if you are invited to a Halloween event or party, baby doesn't feel left out!
Step 1: DESIGN
I Started with the idea that I would plan all my costumes around a base template of a 'bib' cut in heavy duty hat stiffener. However for the small chicks this made the costume too stiff, so in the case of the dress, I just cut the yoke in stiffener and in the case of the chicks' shirt and waist coats I just had stiffener in the top half of the 'bib'.
The design was to be fastened with a loop which would fit snuggly over the head and two ribbons fitted at the ends with a hook and eye to fasten over the back.
Furthermore, for Giddy's costume, (the mother hen's dress bottom right), I decided to add a press stud to the loop over the head, since, as her name suggests, she can get worried by unusual happenings and I didn't want to cause her any possible stress. I also made her back fastening as just a simple two ribbon tie, as I thought she would be impatient with me fastening a hook and eye!
My idea was for a Gothic, aristocratic vampire style and I created several fake orders and sashes to give the appropriate look. I actually researched how these were worn. The orders should be paired with a white tie but the only white ribbon I had was too thin to make a good bow and looked tacky, so I changed to black and grey. As I saw a picture of a member of a Royal family at an event in a black bow tie and order, I guessed it was no big deal!
I also wanted a filmic look too, so used just four colours and to add to the gothic look, sculpted and ruched my fabrics for the dresses. This also fitted well with my choice of frames, which was an old Hogarth (yellow mount and black and gold border). So I chose bold colours, which enhanced in particular the wispy, ghostly, ethereal look of the chamois Frizzles. I also went with the old artistic and early cinema idea that if you were going to portray the illusion of horror or spookiness then your designs should be asymmetrical.
I tried the costume on the small gold and black chick aka Bela, at different stages in the design process and I altered some of my original ideas because of comfort and practicality as well as aesthetics. I will show you these stages too, as I think they are an important part of the process and may be of help.
Step 2: MEASUREMENTS
If your birds have not been handled much before, then it is a good idea to do the measurements at night and somewhere warm, where they will feel relaxed. The pictures above show me following the old maxim of measure twice cut once, I had already measured them out in the garden but still wanted to check again before I started on the design. I have already made coats (see above), practical fleece ones for my older Frizzled chickens, in a cold Winter. However as previously mentioned, these costumes, would fit from the front and be fastened by a loop over the head and with a ribbon and hook and eye fastening over the back.
Therefore the measurements I took were:
Figure 1: from the nape of the neck and then along the back for the length of cape (more of this later)
Figure 2: across the top of the breastbone
Figure 3: from the top of the breastbone around the back of the head and to the other side, to give me the length of the head loop
Figure 4: a guesstimate of the length of the 'bib', which also gave me a rough idea of the width of its base
Figure 5: the circumference of the body, to work out the length of ribbon needed for the back ties.
Step 3: PLANNING THE DESIGN - SMALL WAISTCOAT
For the least possible stress to the chicken and for the best possible costume, I decided to base the male costumes on a 1920's 'boiled' shirt and dress waistcoat and the female ones on a dress with a stiffened yoke. This meant there would be nothing distracting or uncomfortable but I hoped it would look elegant and fit well.
I used remnants of heavyweight hat stiffener to cut out my shirt. After an initial fitting, I found this impractical for the small gold chick, as it was too stiff, so I just cut the top of the shirt in stiffener and made the shirtfront from two thicknesses of cotton. This made it a softer fit for the chick and why it was so useful to have Bela as a model. As you can see from above, I initially had the idea of fastening the waistcoat at the bottom but I found this impractical as Bela caught his claw in it.
At all stages in my design I just tacked the elements to the costume with long running stitches (see photo above), that way I allowed for alterations after fitting.
The waistcoat followed a 1920's/30's design and I just scooped out the centre of my 'bib' pattern and then cut two pieces of scrap soft grey felt and planned to fasten them together with two pearl beads. A note here about jewels. Birds love shiny things, they are all magpies at heart, so any beads, sequins or other exciting goodies need to be sewn down well to the fabric!
Step 4: THE BIG WAISTCOAT & PLANNING AND DESIGNING THE CAPE
Spike's waistcoat base, I cut like an old-fashioned 'boiled' or dress shirt with the stiffener looking rather like a flat topped mushroom, I then tacked this to one thickness of soft cotton.
By this stage I had fitted Bela's costume again and worked out that the neck loop needed to be shortened and that the ribbons to fasten the costume across the back needed to be positioned half way up the shirt. This seemed much more comfortable and stopped the birds risking getting their claws caught in the ribbons.
Having tacked in the double sash of Spike's costume, fitted in the ribbon fasteners and his waistcoat to the shirt, I proceeded to machine stitch the costume together. I then fitted the neck loop to the top of the costume by hand.
Next I made the small cape. I cut the cape by tracing a six inch sandwich plate onto a piece of paper to get a half circle. I cut two of these, one in black fabric from my abandoned dress and the other from a damaged red silk blouse. I used pinking sheers to get a classic vampire bat effect and also so that the fabric wouldn't fray. I put a running stitch of red silk around the whole cape and then tried it on Bela. I already had the idea that a full cape wouldn't suit. One because it didn't sit well on a chicken and also because birds naturally dislike anything that flaps, it reminds them of hawks and falcons, both of which we have problems with from time to time.
My idea was to draw up the stitching and create a Gothic ruched vampire collar, which would hint at a grand flowing cape. This was then to be attached to the neck loop and finished in a ruched collar at the neck and to hide the top of the waistcoat or dress strap. See next step for the exact effect I had in mind!
Step 5: THE DRESSES
For Wispy's dress, I cut a yoke to her measurements and then cut a piece of fabric several sizes larger. I then sculpted this fabric by ruching the material with running stitches which I then gathered up in a haphazard way for a classic vampire bodice. I then sewed the fabric to the yoke and decorated it with jewels - very firmly sewn down!
For her mother's dress I cut a yoke and fabric to match and created a ribbon order for her to wear on the bodice.
Both yokes then had skirts attached, with fabric remnants cut and then gathered and sewn in an asymmetrical, uneven manner.
Again I kept trying the dress on Wispy as we went along to make sure the design was comfortable and was fitting and sitting well on the bird.
Step 6: DRESSES Cont...
Giddy and therefore Giddy's dress has less of the 1800s and more of the 1960s about it. I think it is her bouffant hair do, which I created by default because when she hatched her chicks, they were freaked out by her crest which Giddy due to her love of compost heaps had managed to get into rather a state. Although I had washed her crest and I hate doing this because it removes all the natural oils, Giddy had managed to stick her feathers together in a way that was impossible to free them. So I gave her a trim and it regrew like this. So Giddy's costume has more of an inspiration of Hammer House of Horror than Lord Byron, Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker and Carl Laemmle Jr. but I think she looks fab. She is also notoriously difficult to photograph as when you pick her up she always expects to be fed and is always on the look out for a tasty snack, as here where she is looking for spiders in the wall. You can see Spike looking too in his photograph but much more casually as he actually is very used to being photographed and I believe, poses.
The main thing with the design for Giddy was KISS, Keep it Simple Stupid, as Giddy can get flustered and annoyed if anything untoward happens.
This was such great fun to do and I hope if you have chickens or any other animals, birds, creatures or babies that would suit this sort of costume, you will have fun designing and making them too.
Happy Halloween or Samhain from Normandie, Pavlovafowl aka Sue