Saturday, November 2, 2019

Victorian Hat & Costume DIY - A Wild West Murder Mystery Party

Our friend Amy hosts a murder mystery party every year for her birthday (which is right around Halloween).  Over the years, I've been a 1950's housewife, a 1920's flapper mob daughter, a Governor's daughter surrounded by pirates (a la Elizabeth Swann), a "Downton Abbey" style housekeeper, a fairy princess, and a 1980's prom-goer.  Coming up with a costume for the party is literally one of my favorite times of the year.
So this year's theme is "Murder at the Deadwood Saloon", set in the Wild West of 1874.  And my character was "Holly Hickock", a Southern belle / professional poker player.  The character description called for "fancy dress"... I guess not selling this old bridesmaid's dress in our recent garage sale was a blessing in disguise! I spent some time Googling "Western Victorian era women's outfits" and eventually settled on a plan:

I had the dress, some black lace leftover from my prom outfit the previous year, a choker style necklace, and tall pointy boots that could pass for Victorian era.   I ordered black lace fingerless gloves from Ebay, along with a black lace fan (not shown in the drawing).

I found this video for how to make a quick "no sew" bustle to make the dress poof out a bit in the back, and bought a bag at the thrift store that would work for $3.50. Stuffed it with some lightweight material (a poofy underskirt from last year's prom outfit).  Pinned the black lace to the dress to make shoulder straps (since strapless dresses weren't common for the period, and it added some accents to the dress).

But the hair accessory...what to do?  I knew I could easily get a feathered hairpiece from Ebay, or a fascinator....but I kinda wanted to MAKE something.  I absolutely love the hats the ladies wear in the movie Tombstone, particularly the character of Josie:

...but finding something inexpensive was proving difficult:  ready made period-piece hats were $50-80, and most DIY hat sites were still using relatively professional tools and supplies that I knew would add up quick.  Other DIY sites recommended using a child's size hat so that it would sit on top of the head (rather than fitting around the crown), as is typical of the period's style.  But even then--the base for the hat was going to be $8-9, plus the cost of trimmings.

Finally, I found one website that shared something that appeared pretty easy--just some fabric, ribbon, and flowers over a cheap hat frame.  But then I couldn't find a link to the hat she'd used.  And at some point, The Hubs looked over and said, "I think you could make that with a Cool Whip container and some cardboard"...And I realized he was right.

Small Tupperware bowl (or Cool Whip container)
Thick cardboard from a small box (I used an empty diaper box)
Tape measure
Real or makeshift protractor
Box cutter or Exacto knife
Hot glue gun
Double-sided tape
flowers/feathers/baubles for decoration

DIRECTIONS: Trim up one side of the box, and then use the tape measure to draw a line from corner to corner--this shows the center of the box.  Then use your protractor to draw a circle around this central point (this made about a 9 inch circle for me).  Double check with the tape measure to confirm it's about the same distance around--retrace in areas if you need.  Then trim off the outside edges.  This will make the brim of the hat.
Next, place your container on the cardboard, and use the tape measure to make sure you're centered.  Hold the bowl down firmly, and trace around the outside edge.  
Use the Exacto knife to trim out the central circle (do this on a cutting board so you're not gouging into a table or countertop). As shown above, this created about a 2 inch brim for the hat.
Add the bowl, and voila--you have your hat frame, for $0!
Next, you'll need fabric to cover it.  Find something that matches your outfit--in this instance, since I'm using an existing dress I don't have any "leftover" fabric to use, but I do want a sash for my dress, so I can make the sash and the hat out of the same fabric in order to tie the two together.
I've had this orange & gold shot silk in my craft room for years--made a vest out of it for The Hubs' costume during the Pirate murder mystery party.  I love the colors so much, and the dress is neutral enough that I can make it work.  
Perfect for a fancy Southern gal, don't you think?
I started by putting a couple bands of double-sided tape around the outside of the bowl, and then laid the fabric over that, allowing for plenty of extra (which could later be trimmed or tucked up inside the hat).  Then I tightly tied the ribbon around the the bowl portion.  The ribbon and double-sided tape will both help the fabric to adhere to the top portion of the hat.

Then, because my bowl has a lip on it, I used hot glue to adhere the fabric to the top of that lip to help tack it in place (more than likely, I'm going to want to use this bowl again in the future, so I chose hot glue, rather than something like spray adhesive.)

Then I started wrapping the fabric around the brim of the hat, creating some pretty folds/pleats as I went, and secured that fabric to the bottom of the cardboard brim with hot glue.  I used safety pins to help hold the pleats in place so I could come back through later and sew them down. 
After sewing, I used some additional hot glue on the inside of the bowl to help hold that fabric inside. (In retrospect, I should have saved the inner cardboard circle from making the brim--I could have pushed it into the bowl to help keep the fabric taut.  Live & learn...)

Then the question became..."How the heck to I make this thing stay on my head???"  Especially since I wanted it to sit forward on my head a bit, like the picture of Josie above.  The answer?  Hair combs!  I picked up a pack and then stitched two onto opposite sides of the interior of the hat, so I could push them into my hair, toward each other, and keep the hat secure.

Once I felt confident I could get this beast to stay on my head, I flipped it back over and busted out my trusty glue gun--we need some flowers up in hurr!!!

I found a nice fall bouquet at Hobby Lobby--I picked a bunch with a nice array of different flowers so I could take them home and see what worked--and then still have a really nice fall decoration for our kitchen table.

Since the hat is small, there was only room for a couple flowers...I mean really, I probably could have gone nuts having seen some of the crazy hats that were around during that time....but I decided to keep it a little subtle. Then I sewed the extra ribbon from the band into a bow at the back, and voila!
The sash for this was also quite a project.  If I would have JUST made a sash, it probably would have been way simpler...but I had quite a bit of this gorgeous fabric leftover...and it was fairly common for gals of the time to have lots of layers and frills and ruffles.  So...I decided to add some EXTRA to this dress.

I knew the weight of the extra fabric in the back would pull at the sash, so I wanted to make sure it would hold up well throughout a party.  It occurred to me that using an existing belt would work well.  So, I wrapped the fabric around this elastic belt (pinned it until I was ready to sew).
For the back ruffle, I laid the fabric out flat on the floor, and the started folding pleats along the top, and pinning them together as I went.  Then I pinned the ruffle to the sash.
I ironed the sash portion to get a good seam along the top and bottom edge, then sewed the bustle to the bottom flap of the sash.
Then used hem tape to adhere the sash to itself around the belt.  Finally, I hemmed the edge of the bustle to hide the rough edge, and voila!

All the pieces came together to make a lovely old-timey fashionista southern belle....who was not terribly integral to the story of the evening.  
I mean...when your "big secret" that you have to hide from everyone is that you're not *really* from the South... You're probably not going to play a huge role in the evening's performance.  That's OK though.  We had a blast, and the Hubs won Best Dressed for the evening!  

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