Introduction: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy From Cabin in the Woods

About: Artist, seamstress, photographer, designer
For Halloween this year I decided to go with a favourite of mine ever since I watched the Cabin in the Woods: The Sugar Plum Fairy monster. I love pink and brocade so much that I decided to exercise a bit of artistic license and alter the costume look a bit. I didn't get the mask completely how I wanted it (needs more work e.g. sanding, painting and glossing in the mouth etc). As I was initially constructing this costume with the intention to attend a Halloween party meetup with strangers at a bar, I made sure to construct the mask safety-conscious and drinking-friendly. And by this I mean I made fairly large eye holes and a mouth hole. First time with clay so here goes.. (P.s. I really don't think I'm going to get this in on time for the Halloween contest) :(

Step 1: From Scratch; Wire Mask "skeleton"

1. With my "NewClay" modelling wire, I painstakingly moulded it to my face; ideally going right up skintight against the face.
This first wire frame is the edge of the mask where it will protrude from the face. It's no biggie, buut because one piece of wire wasn't long enough to make the "frames", I just improvised and latched two together using the thin gauge wire used for the joins. Also, making the joins with the thin gauge wire can be a pretty tedious process (wrapping tightly, trying not to have it just winding around the wires and coming undone) so it's a good time to remember that patience is a virtue and perseverance will conquer. A sweet playlist will help.

2. Next, I constructed the second "frame"; which is the forth-most part of the mask. I kept referencing the images of the original Sugar Plum and formed the shape for frame two. Once done, I added four straight wires to at all four sides, evenly spaced apart, to join the two frames at the desired distance from each other. This determines how far out the wrinkly skin/rim of the mask mouth protrudes from the actual face.

3. I decided on how I would deal with the mouth/eye holes business; two parallel concave (curving inward toward back frame of mask) wires running across the front frame, in front of the nose, which would provide the structure for a surface holding the two inner-most rings of teeth (photos coming up).

4. Moulded a wire around and across the top of my eyes joined at either side to frame one. Then same again except with moulding the wire to the under of the eyes. This is the eyes.. er.. slit.. if you will. With moulding the wire in this step, mind the upper bridge of the nose cos that will hurt like a b****/be irritating as a muthah- having wire/clay/mask bumping against it. And hey presto! That's the mask "skeleton" done. Next we add... uh.. "muscle".

Step 2: "Muscle" Up That Skeleton!

I was concerned about the air dry clay cracking around the wire (clay shrinks during the drying process); also anticipating that just the wire frames alone would not be enough to bridge the empty space between them for the clay to hold shape while drying. After watching clay how-to videos and tutorials etc I read somewhere on some obscure forum that you can wrap newspaper or paper tape around the wire loosely for the clay to mould onto but have room within to shrink without cracking.

I took this advice on board and used paper from my roll of sewing pattern paper along with paper tape, and made four surfaces in total;

1. From top-front of mask to wire framing the top of eyes, and then off on sides to curve down and join at bottom wire frame of eyes
2. From top of the middle platform at front of mask to the wire framing the under eyes (surface 1 + 2 create a kind of tunnel from eyes to front of mask)
3. The concave platform for the two inner-most rings of teeth
4. All the way around the joining frame one and frame two

At the wires, the paper tape is wrapped only loosely - to allow for clay shrinkage. Which brings us to the gooey part:

Step 3: Flesh It Out

After reading tips on how to basically water is your friend. I didn't wear any gloves just hands and kept a sink full of warm soapy water in my bathroom to wash clay off my hands easily when needed. I experimented with mixing paint into the wet clay but by the time I'd moulded it into shape it made hardly any difference to the original colour of the clay and basically I'd just made a mess in the process with no pay-off so I'm not sure what to advise on that. I decided to paint the mask the right colours after it dried but I still haven't had the time to do it. Anyhow so I kept handy;

  • a bowl of water for dipping hands and keeping clay wet
  • a jar of water for paintbrushes with which to make a wet clay glue for adhering clay pieces together
  • a box of various wooden clay sculpture tools
  • toilet paper/tissues/paper towel (let's be real; who can actually afford tissues these days it's a luxury)

Need to work fairly fast, as the clay will begin drying with air contact. I stored unused clay double-wrapped in gladwrap then inside a container. Keep the clay moist (a treat for all those people who love that word), and knead it softer.

I laid down clay against each surface, beginning with the eye "tunnels", then the middle platform across the nose and on top of that, a concave bowl with two circle ridges (tooth circle gums for teeth row one and two). I worked with layers and gradually built up shapes, using a slightly curved flat shaped wooden sculpting tool to push down the edges of each new layer and fuse it to the existing layer below, then smooth it out by brushing over it with the wet tool until the two layers become one.

Along each ridge, I scooped and twisted little tooth holes with one of the tools, then used the criss-cross and glue with wet-thin-clay-paste method to attach the teeth (using white clay for teeth of course).

I laid down clay over the edge of the front frame and then scoop/twisted tooth holes into that "gum", and then teeth attached. A few days later I came back and formed a wrinkly lamprey mouth edge around the surface of the mask, form which the layer below appears to emerge as gum.

Step 4: Hands Clean Again, Time for Some Fashion Design!

I was in a hurry and decided not to draft patterns (I make my own patterns from body measurements etc because I'm stubborn, determined, and don't want to be tied down by convention and have to seek out and buy/order/wait for to arrive - a readymade pattern) but to really go organic on it with a dress-form pin-job.

Basically I pinned large squares of calico, with form-hugging intent, to the dress form, fabric markered along where the seams would hit e.g. the sides of dress form. I flirted with the idea of using bust darts, but decided to steer away from it as the ballerina is supposed to kinda have a pre-teen vibe going on and shouldn't need them. I ended up with five vertical panels, with seams running down the busts, on the sides, and one at the back (which would actually end up being the joining part, with hooks and eyes). After drawing the edges of the pattern onto the calico panels to capture the resulting pattern, I unpinned the panels, and using tracing, transferred it onto pattern paper and cut out my pieces on the lovely pink brocade fabric.

Once I had it all seamed up, I loosely tried it on to find that it was scratchy (I suspect it's supposed to be for making furniture or something, not clothes?)!!! So I repeated the process again but with some red satin+crepe material to make a lining for the top, and went through the whole shebang of attaching lining to outer, complete with serging each seam after sewing to reduce bulk, and sealing the top off with a one-threaded slip-stitch once outside-in again.

In the last step I hand-sewed five pairs of hook and eyelets onto the opening at the back of the top.

Step 5: It's a TuTuTorial! It's 2am and My Humour Has Run Dry

1. For the tutu I researched and researched techniques and decided on the ever-popular "no-sew tutu"; involving tying a lot of knots out of tulle. I read that you could make a tutu using one of those old nostalgiariffic crochet elastic headbands that everyone seemed to have in various colours circa 90s/2000s. In the absence of one of these, I improvised; putting to use some of the pink polar fleece I have lying around from previous projects. This was ideal because the polar fleece is quite stretchy etc. I cut a waistband strip out from a pattern I'd measured from body considering where I wanted the tutu waist to sit (just under where the top ends).

2. I also cut using the same pattern, a seam+hem allowance-included waistband of pink crepe-back satin to be the outer cover waistband. To comprehend adding a waistband, I loosely referenced this article: Rookie Mag: How to Make a Tutu.

3. Creating a makeshift 90s crochet elastic headband: with the polar fleece (inner waistband) piece, I folded the length in half twice, and with a fabric marker made 10 evenly spaced dots across it, for the bottom layer of holes. With my leather hole punch, I forced my way through the four layers to make 40 holes in total.

4. Cutting the fairy floss netting/tulle strips for tutu: it was all a bit convoluted, but basically I found a way using my handy Fiskars self-healing cutting mat and rotary cutter (I made a $100 investment into importing from eBay the 3-piece Fiskars rotary cutting set a few months back, painful for the bank account but so worth it!) to cut a whole bunch of strips that were 6 in (15 cm) * 50 cm. The 50cm was the result of multiplying my intended tutu length of 25cm by two.
I took inspiration from this article for batch-cutting strips: Cut Tulle for a Tutu QUICK and EASY!

Note: Forgive my mixed use of the metric system but we use centimetres in New Zealand but the Americanization of measurements in tutorials and even on my Fiskars set renders it difficult to support my natural inclination towards centimetres. :/ Apologies!

5. Knotting the strips into the waistband: Fold the strip in half, thread through the top hole, back out through the hole below it, and pull the two loose ends through the loop formed. Pull as tight as possible without breaking the polar fleece. Make strips all the way along the waistband for each pair of holes.

6. Make the next layer of holes: punch hole pairs above and in-between each of the existing holes. Repeat strips tying process all the way across. Repeat step for the third and final row.

Step 6: Satin (final) Waistband

1. I serged all edges of my satin waistband, to minimize fraying (satin frays a lot), then ironed the halfway fold flat.

2. Pin the bottom side of the satin waistband to the tutu just below the bottom knots. Make sure all of the netting strips are flat and pointing downward when pinning so as not to end up with strange shaped tutu.

3. I chose to handsew as I've had past traumas with trying to sew huge bulky layers, let alone trying to sew things that would get sucked into the machine etc. After all the effort I'd put in I didn't want to risk messing it all up. So I bit the bullet and sat tight with my handsewing equipment; thimble, beeswax etc. I used mostly backstitching, and also made sure to pass the needle right through all layers of netting. A few painful pin-pricks later the inner side of the waistband was attached. Hooray! Now for the outer side..

Step 7: Finishing the Satin Waistband

1. I had a date with my dear dress form and laid her down on her back (eek - I sound like I'm writing a romance novel now.. there's a lot going on in my life and I'm rather tired and running on adrenaline so here you go) to pin the outer side of the waistband down while hopefully holding it's final shape. It's a bit finicky but I managed it in the end. Again, patience is your friend.

2. With the tutu still draped over the waistline of the dressform, I hand sewed across and tucked the polar fleece + strips at the waistband edges in completely under the satin.

3. Because the serged edge resulted in a cute decorative-looking finish that blended with the wild nature of a tutu, I made a conscious decision to leave the serged edges as is, rather than my initial intention of turning them under and ironing for a hem-type finish.

4. To seal the deal I sewed two pairs of metal hook and loop closures onto the two edges of the satin part.

Step 8: Selfie Time!

Late night date with my smartphone camera and makeshift tripod to test photogenic quality!

Step 9: VOILA! Hurried Twenty Minute Self-portrait Photoshoot Before Work

I awoke after a 2am bedtime at 5 with my bodyclock nagging at me, looked out the window to see glorious glorious fog/fine rain mist! I sprang up and chugged coffee down, pulling on my ballerina costume and stepping out into the forlorn backdrop for a few ten second timer jobs. I had a streak of intense motivation because I was dying to enter this Halloween contest.

I'm really sad I didn't get this post done in but between work and lousy New Zealand internet upload speed (hashtag island internet blues) and everything else I didn't manage to meet the deadline of the Halloween Instructables contest. *sniff* But anyway here is my first post. Update: I think there was a glitch in the clock and apparently I can still enter?0

I will leave you with the brilliant soundtrack for this little 'delicate' monster: Tchaikovsky.
Thank you, thank you! Back to work for me, the show must go on!

Halloween Costume Contest 2015

Fourth Prize in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2015