Introduction: Phoenix Costume

About: Former long time designer at Instructables. I have a degree in fashion design and like to sew, get crafty, and attempt to use power tools.

The idea of rising from the ashes in a burst of fire is amazing visual inspiration, and I have been wanting to create this costume for years. I started it two years ago, and am very excited to finally have it finished and out there in Instructable-land!

This is the second of two instructables. In the first I covered the headpiece, as it was the most complicated part of the costume. Check it out here! This one covers the rest of the costume, focusing on the wings, as the bodysuit is pretty simple.

While the headpiece was a more involved build, the wings were actually one of the most rewardingly quick and hiccup free projects I've completed in a while. There are some advantages of keeping the electronics simple with strands of ready made string lights vs the arduino powered lights of the headpiece :)

A big thank you to mikeasaurus and davekaplan for the amazing photos!

Step 1: Design

The most difficult part of the design for this project was figuring out what shape to make the wings. I toyed around with making giant articulated wings which extended past my hands, or classic arched ones with a dramatic silhouette, but the reality is that neither of those are something one can practically wear out and about. From there I went in the direction of keeping the drama with a big golden cloak like Liz Taylor's shawl in Cleopatra. However in the end I came back to wanting something using feathers, and settled on a shape that felt dramatic enough while still having a low profile which could be worn in a crowd.

For the rest of the outfit, initially I wanted to keep things simple with a black bodysuit/onesie, but after trying on the wings and head piece it seemed too top heavy, and not birdlike enough. The dark red bodysuit pulled it together well and felt like a better distribution of color.

Step 2: What You Need

The supplies for the wings and bodysuit are pretty simple. Basically, lots of feathers!

Feathers (from darkest red to lightest orange, for a nice gradient). I ordered these all on the internet, but if you are looking to make this for halloween this year, I expect you could find supplies that would work at Michael's or a local craft store. If you find pheasant feathers in their natural brown color, you can easily dye them red like the ones pictured here. Acid dye is ideal, but I bet an iDye for natural fabrics would work too.

Lights, if desired. Any led string lights would do. I used a mix of amber and red. I used what is pictured here because I didn't have time to order something online, but I prefer these as the battery packs are tiny which means you won't have to hide huge battery packs.

Base material for wing piece. I used leather as it provided good structure and didn't require any finishing, but anything that would provide a good stable base would work. I also used some sticky back craft foam to add stability to the shoulders.

Bodysuit. If you have any desire to make this costume with a similar bodysuit even for next year, now is the time to buy one! I expected to have to make this, but Forever 21 came to the rescue with not one but 10 dark red/orange bodysuits to choose from! It's a good time to take advantage of bodysuits being in style and in fall colors, perfect for this costume.

Step 3: Make the Pattern

This step requires familiarity with draping patterns and access to a dress form. Want to learn about how to drape a pattern? Check out my instructable on it! It's really quite intuitive if you have access to a form.

Other options are buying a pattern, or buying a bolero which you could alter to suit your purposes. This pattern from burdastyle is much less structured but looks like it could be a good start, and if searching to buy a garment to use as a base, look for a bolero, shrug, or vest made of something substantial which will hold its shape.

For design, I had decided to have the wings pointing down for a low profile, and the style line that worked well in many of the design references I had found was a high cutout in back to emphasize the separation of the two wings. I also wanted this to be more of a shrug that was focused on the shoulders and didn't extent too far down my torso in front. I laid out style lines to this effect, and draped the simple two piece pattern. Another design element I wanted to incorporate was a high neck, as I was going for a somewhat victorian shape to support a high face framing collar of feathers.

Step 4: Pattern Completion

Pictured are some refinements necessary to reach a snug fit in back, and the final pattern.

What I learned in making this pattern is that alterations will probably be necessary to regain a close fit to the contours of the back once the cutout for the back is trimmed out. In my case, I needed to create darts to angle the sides into the middle of my back, as without them the sides gaped away from my body (first image). This will be different for everyone, however it is likely that what fits well without that cutout will change once you make it. If you are draping, I would recommend draping exactly to the style line vs to the center back as I did. If you are altering an existing pattern or garment, this is just something to keep in mind to expect.

Step 5: Cut and Sew Garment

If you have just draped a pattern or are working off an existing pattern, cut out your garment pieces and sew it together!

Because I was using leather, I did not have to worry about finishing the edges, but I did run a zig zag stitch over each seam to make them flat in preparation for gluing down feathers. You could also glue down the seams, but that would have been more time consuming. All in all, once you know your pattern fits, this is a quick process as there are not very many seams.

Step 6: Add Shoulders

In keeping with the high collared vaguely victorian design of this bolero, I wanted to build up the shoulders for a more dramatic shape. This is also handy as I was trying to hide two big battery packs :)

In creating the shoulder pattern, the battery packs served as the base. I used some thin sticky back foam to make the pattern, cut that out of leather, sewed the leather, then stuck on the foam for added support. The result was a very easy to attach shoulder which held it's shape, but was also flexible.

Next I sewed down the shoulder pieces down to the bolero. After doing so and trying it on, I realized they felt far too narrow, so I added an extension to them. Were I to do it over again, I would have added the shoulder pieces further out to start with, as especially once covered with feathers the nice curve between the collar and the shoulder gets lost to some extent and would have benefitted from more space.

Step 7: Add Shoulder Closure

Next was to build a way for the battery packs to be housed securely in the shoulders, which called for an extra pattern piece and closure.

I first made a piece for the outside which fit the curve of the shoulder, and connected to the top of the shoulder. Using the same technique as for the shoulders, I cut the piece out of leather, attached it, then laid down a layer of foam for added support. As a closure, I added a strip of leather to the top of the shoulder, and a snap.

The resulting space under the shoulder was quite roomy, so I added some thicker pieces of foam to keep the battery packs from moving around.

Step 8: Wing Feathers

Once the base garment was complete, I was very ready for fun part!

Get out your glue gun and start adding feathers! I intended to build a gradient from dark red feathers to light orange to create the look of fire. Starting with the dark red layer, the first step was the wings. I played around with angles to get a nice fanned shape which lay relatively flat to the body, and glued down the first layer of feathers.

Step 9: Red Feather Layer

Next was to lay down the rest of the initial red layer of feathers. Using the red guinea feather trim, I laid down a layer around the outside of the garment, followed by the red strand of lights.

As the battery packs for the lights live in either shoulder, they should be stowed in the shoulder before you start. It is helpful to count out the total number of lights first, and make a plan for how many can go in each section of the garment so you don't end up with a dark patch. Also important is to glue down all the loose sections of wire including the first section leading to the shoulder, as otherwise they will pop out on top of the feathers.

Step 10: Orange Feather Layer

Once the red lights were laid down, I moved on to the orange layer of feathers. For this I was using a combination of loose orange guinea feathers and used up some orange feathers I had gotten a decade ago which were a wonderful brilliant orange. After adding plenty of feathers on top of any exposed lights or wires, enough distance had been covered to lay down the line of orange lights. From there, I followed the same process and covered those with more orange feathers.

There isn't a lot to this process other than patience. Take time to cover all lights with a good layer of feathers for a good diffusion of light. The fluffy part of feathers diffuses light particularly well.

I filled in everything up to the collar with orange, leaving the lightest orange for last.

Step 11: Light Orange Layer

The last layer of feathers is the light orange rooster trim to complete the fiery gradient. I glued down a layer facing from the collar down first, then an additional layer pointing from the collar up. This left a line in the middle of the trim edge, which I concealed with individual rooster feathers.

Step 12: Finishing Touches

At this point the wings are almost complete!

All that's left are a few finishing touches. One was the addition of a frog button closure to the front. It stays on pretty well without a closure, but it is nice to have.

I also realized after several wearings that the long pheasant feathers get beat up pretty quickly. I recently glued wire down the inside of each feather to help stabilize the feathers and give the ability to bend them back into place. I think the reality of a costume like this is that the long feathers will need to be replaced from time to time, but so far I've worn it 5 or 6 times and they are still holding up well enough.

That's it for the wings!

Step 13: Bodysuit

To repeat the link from the supplies, here is the bodysuit I used. If you have any desire to make this costume with a similar bodysuit, now is the time to buy one as Forever 21 currently has not one but many dark red/orange bodysuits to choose from! It's a good time to take advantage of bodysuits being in style and in fall colors.

I made this step a lot more difficult for myself than it needed to be. By the time I got to this stage of the costume, I didn't have a lot of feathers left. The bodysuit I had was quite high on the sides, so I thought I would just add a line of feathers along the hips. To accomplish this I made curved pattern pieces from spandex designed to be pinned along the inside of the bodysuit hips. However once finished, I didn't find it to be the right look. Rather than look like a nice accent, it simply accentuated where there weren't feathers in the front and back. So, I revised my plan and made one long skirt-like strip. I am giving you this backstory to explain why it is curved in these process images. Although it's possible that this contour helps it lie flat, I think gluing the feathers down to one long narrow strip of spandex would work just fine and would have been much simpler.

Another thing I would change is to edge it in spandex or something lightweight. What I have pictured here is what I had on hand that happened to match perfectly, but the resulting bulky binding didn't lie flat against the body.

What did work however is the gradient of feathers to pick up that design element from the rest of the costume.

Since I wanted to be able to launder the bodysuit, I simply attached with safety pins. It's not the most elegant solution, but at this point I was ready to be finished :)

One last alteration I made to the bodysuit was to add a closure to the top front. It is quite low cut as is, and this served both to make the bodysuit stay in place better, and it matched up the closure of the bodysuit with the wings which worked better for overall look.

Step 14: Makeup Suggestions

Don't forget about makeup! Fake feather lashes and face paint can really make the look. These are pretty close to the eyelashes pictured here.

Last year I didn't have the headpiece completed, and I painted my face more dramatically (do forgive the intense selfie, it's the best I have to show off the makeup!). I also highly recommend adding in some blacklight reactive accents in there if you plan to go out to a big party, uv paints really pop as you can see in the last photo!

Step 15: Put It All Together!

That's it! Pair your wings, bodysuit, and headpiece with some black leggings and your phoenix costume will be ready to rise from the ashes ready to take on the town in fiery splendor!

Halloween Costume Contest 2016

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2016