Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cherub Costumes

Shortly before Halloween, we found instructions on how to sew eyes all over a t-shirt using reverse applique. Matt was entranced. Hmm, what kind of costumes could we make that would be covered with eyes? Cherubim, of course!

Actually, during most of the design process we thought we were making seraphim, because we relied on the description of seraphim in To Say Nothing of the Dog as "full of eyes round about." It wasn't until we did some fact-checking that we realized cherubim are the ones with all the eyes (Ezekiel 10:12, Revelations 4:8). Think of Proginoskes in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door.

By and large, people didn't know what we were. When we told them, they either widened their eyes in sudden understanding, or narrowed them in confusion (imagining putti, no doubt).

For the eyes, Matt used Lumiere metallic fabric paint on white cotton woven fabric. He made both left and right eyes and eyes looking in different directions. We chose cat eyes because they look cool, and I associate them with dragons, which I associate with cherubim because Charles Wallace at first thought Proginoskes was a drive of dragons.

Using slightly contrasting thread helps define the edges of the eye. You can choose how open you want each eye to be by cutting more or less fabric out of the shirt.

Note that if you are going to sew eyes into long sleeves, you will need a free arm sewing machine. We had to make a last-minute dash to a friend's house to sew in the sleeve eyes.

Matt made the wings from 1" thick upholstery foam. We found some excellent fabric on the remnants table (it's a sheer of unknown fiber content) -- I love how the colors suggest smoke and fire. Matt used spray glue to attach the fabric around the foam wings and then cut feathers along the edge.

We thought that if we attached the wings directly to the shirts they might flop around and distort the shirts, so Matt made rings with elastic shoulder loops that we could attach the wings to. Matt added a sternum strap to hold his wings on more securely.

The rings are made of pipe insulation. A length of garden hose is inserted to connect the two ends, and silicone adhesive keeps the foam from sliding or twisting on the hose.

We sewed the wings onto each ring by hand. We looped the thread around the ring and sewed all the way through the foam. The wings easily got knocked in or out a little, but didn't move off the arc they were sewn to.

On my costume, I added a few small wings made of a double layer of fabric without a foam insert. I hand-sewed these directly to the shirt.

Using removable wings had the added advantage that we could take them off when the dance floor became too crowded.

The costume worked well for dancing -- it was resilient and durable without being too menacing to others or too cumbersome for us.

We wore berets decorated with pinked fabric feathers, which led several people to conclude that we were French or beatnik cherubim. Mais oui! Beat poets would approve of "Holy, holy, holy" as a poetic device, if not for its content.

We also had plenty of help from Nadia "I'm-not-a-cat-but-I-play-one-on-TV."