That's a quote from one of my favorite films and the inspiration for this year's Halloween costumes.
When this film first came out and was nominated for a billion Oscars I was so annoyed. My immature little brain had not yet seen the film, nor understood how much I could fall in love with all of the locations, the sets, the dramatic story, the lavish costumes, and the overall grandeur of the 18th century. When I finally sat down and watched the film, I understood why it won a billion Oscars. And for many years after that fateful viewing, I have coveted two particular costumes.
|Mozart's Unicorn Masquerade Party Headpiece|
|Constanze's Swan Masquerade Party Costume|
Though I longed to possess these amazing creations, I never considered that I could actually make them. I figured they were well beyond my crafty range of skills and would require woodworking and specialized materials and an in-depth knowledge of hats and gravity and balance, etc. I would need cosplay skills up the wazoo and an insane budget for all of the materials.
But this year, I finally said f**k it! Let's attempt these holy grails of headpieces!
I started with the swan headdress so here are all of the materials I used:
Materials for Constanze's Swan Headpiece and Mask:
basic mask for face (not plastic, it felt like a very thick fabric)
appliques for mask
white paint for mask
thin elastic strap for mask
pearlescent sequin trim
buckram hat frame
white lace (for back of headpiece)
white ostrich feathers (10 of 6-8" and 10 of 10-12")
white loose feathers
3 white hackle pads
thick card stock for small gold crown on swan's head
gold paint for swan crown
gold glitter for swan crown
orange felt for bill
black felt for bill
white duct tape
gray duct tape
white thread and sewing needle
wide elastic strap for headpiece
red rhinestones for eyes
mannequin head (could also use a styrofoam head form from a craft store)
I then sat down and started molding a swan's head out of wire and covered it with aluminum foil to give it shape.
Then I covered it with duct tape to hold it's shape and smooth the surface.
I kept some of the wire long so it could wrap around the buckram frame, but it wasn't long enough.
So I added more wire to keep the swan head attached to the hat frame. I twisted the exposed wire with additional wire so it could then wrap around the hat frame securely. I taped the wires together then sewed the wires to the hat frame.
In hindsight, I should have bought some black wide elastic, but I was trying to avoid buying more materials so I used what I had. I figured I could always paint or dye the elastic later on. I also curved the neck of the swan a little more to resemble the swan in the film. Next step was to add some volume to the body of the swan. For this, I added some styrofoam.
I added it to bump out the wing area and the butt. I then covered the styrofoam with duct tape to keep it from shedding.
Looks like some strange, futuristic bird creature. I then figured that I would need some support for the ostrich feathers that I would be adding later on so I stuck my poor alien bird with some skewers directly into the styrofoam and secured them with hot glue.
For the next step, I painted my swan and the skewers with white acrylic as I figured the feathers wouldn't cover 100% of the body and some of the tape would show.
For more volume and to "seal" in the base of the swan, I covered the body with white felt. I also glued on the long white veil that was featured on the swan in the movie.
At this point I realized that when I glue on the feathers to the swan's head and neck, the white paint might come off. So I bought some white duct tape and covered the head and neck.
During my craft shopping outing, I also picked up the base for the mask and some feather items. I saw some hackle pads at the store so I bought every white one they had (only three were available). I figured these could cover the breast of the swan. I also bought a bag of loose white feathers. With the single feathers, I had to first sort them to find the smallest and fluffiest ones as these would be glued to the head and neck above the hackle pads. I also found some small white feather angel wings. I think these were part of their Halloween costume display. They had a styrofoam backing and an elastic for a child to wear them. I knew immediately that I could make them into the outer wings which would save me some time of cobbling together something similar from loose feathers. And the elastic could be used for my face mask.
Here is Mister Swan with the hackle pads at his breast and all of those pesky loose little feathers up his neck and on his head. I used Elmer's glue for this part as it was safer than hot glue and easier to manipulate as I had to place on two layers of tiny feathers in some spots to get enough feather fluff. I also hot glued on a strip of white marabou along the bottom edge of the headpiece, securing it to the frame. This would hide the bottom edge of the buckram frame and also add some more swan fluff.
Now it was time to add the white boa. I wrapped it around the wing area, over the body, and around the butt and secured it with hot glue.
Then came the addition of loose ostrich feathers. I couldn't find any in my local craft store that were small enough so I ordered a bunch from Etsy. I can't recall how many I used, but I glued them to the skewers. Then I added those angel wings. I cut them apart so the wings were separated then placed them on either side of the body where I had previously added my styrofoam bulk. Since the back of the angel wings were styrofoam and it was rather thick, I used some skewers to hold them in place. I cut the skewers so they weren't too long, then inserted one into each wing and hot glued it in place. Then I pushed the other end of the skewer into the base of the swan in the wing area. I then hot glued the skewer and the base of the angel wing to the swan's body.
Looking pretty fluffy! With all of the feathers in place, I could start work on the face. I cut some orange felt and fashioned a beak. To keep it in place, I used hot glue then further molded it with Mod Podge. It hardened the felt nicely and gave it a little shine. Then I glued on the black eye area which I made out of black felt. For the swan's eyes, I used two red rhinestones and used black marker to color in the center of each eye.
Holy cow! I made a swan! And it looks like Constanze's swan! Huzzah! And it only took me about...20 hours! Maybe slightly less, but there was a lot of stop and go throughout the process since I didn't really have a plan in place, nor did I really know what I was doing. Overall, I think this cost me about $40 out of pocket since I already had most of the supplies on hand. Items purchased specifically for this project included the hackle pads, angel wings, loose feathers, ostrich feathers, and white duct tape.
Now for the mask, this part was much easier and faster. Looking at the mask from the film, it appeared to be covered completely in feathers. I considered copying it exactly, but I didn't have a lot of little feathers left to fully cover it. Once again, trying to save money, I decided to use what I had on hand to decorate it. I began by attaching the thin elastic (from the angel wings) to both sides in the back. Since the mask was already an off-white color, I didn't paint it. I covered the mask with some of the leftover lace that was also used as the swan veil. I used Elmer's glue to secure it and let it dry overnight.
I figured that if it wouldn't look exactly like the mask in the film, it should still tie into the Swan Headdress and also my dress that I would be making for this costume. From the dress, I had removed a whole bunch of sequin and pearl appliqués in a variety of designs and sizes. I chose the smallest and best appliqués and glued them on in a mirrored design. I also used a tiny perfect feather from the loose bag of feathers that I had sorted. For a little sparkle, I added a pearlescent sequin trim around the outer edge and the eyes. I think this took me about three hours to make. Out of pocket was only $4 (for the mask base) as everything else I already had on hand.
I honestly have no idea how they made this for the film. It looks like wood? Perhaps a felt exterior? If it's all wood then it must have been super heavy and uncomfortable. And I definitely didn't want to make something that would be torture to wear. Since I'm not a woodworker, I figured my only option would be...papier mache.
I hadn't worked with that stuff since second grade and at that time I knew I didn't like it. It's messy and time consuming and takes FOREVER to dry. That one and only time I used it I made a cavewoman marionette. It was fashioned out of a 2-liter soda bottle with yellow yarn hair and limbs made of popsicle sticks and leopard print fur clothing. But it was the head that was papier mache. And I disliked the entire icky process of making it. Mind you, this was just a head, I think the size of a grapefruit, but I never wanted to delve into that seventh layer of hell again.
|It's possible that I was trying to make a marionette that looked like this.|
Anywho, to tackle my adult fear of returning to this gruesome process, I watched a gazillion YouTube tutorials on papier mache (or is it paper mache? I've seen it spelled both ways, but I'll go with the French spelling). People were making all sorts of awesome creations…amazing dragons, cartoonish fox heads, creepy witch masks, gnarly pumpkins! So incredibly cool! I want to make all of those things! Maybe I have avoided papier mache for far too long! Look at all the amazing weirdness one can create! There are no limits to this epic art form!
So I embraced the inevitable and dove in. Now I did know that I didn't want to use the old flour and water mixture. I know it's cheaper, but I did discover that you could make the paste with plain old Elmer's glue instead of flour which could mold. It would require lots of glue, so I picked up a big gallon container. It also required lots of newspaper so I did the whole shredding of paper thing into strips.
Then it was time to get my materials list together. Okay, what do I need beyond the paper and glue?
Materials for Mozart's Unicorn Headpiece:
newspaper shredded into strips (and a box to keep it in)
large storage container (for the glue mixture)
white long horse hair for back/mane - I used a long white costume wig
1 red rose
ivory roses and/or other large ivory flowers
white lace trim for bottom edge around headpiece
white paint for base
brown paint for eyebrows
blue paint for the eyes
black paint for nostrils and eyes
gold paint for the horn
wire for the horn and base
cardboard for sculpting outside of head, to brace the inside, and creating ears
tin foil for shaping of horn
air drying clay
Before diving in, I grabbed as many screenshots from the film as possible. This thing was a beast, so I wanted to make sure I studied it from every angle.
|Is that wood on the inside? Holy cow, that must have been heavy on Tom Hulce's head!|
|Hey, where did the red rose go?|
Now curiously, the unicorn you see in the bottom picture is slightly different from the one's above it. The shading around the nose is darker and the ears are not as rounded at the tips. Hmm. At this point I also discovered that Constanze's swan in the bottom pic looks NOTHING like the one in the film. It's much bigger and looks almost plastic. Strange. It's not unheard of to have multiples of the same prop, I just thought it was interesting since I never noticed while watching the film and I've seen it a million times! Okay, I don't really know what I'm doing, but let's make a frame!
I used heavy wire, cardboard, and masking tape to sculpt a head. It definitely looks more like a Skeksi than a horse, but I figured I could fix that later. And if you don't know what a Skeksi is…
|The Dark Crystal. Watch it immediately if you haven't seen it.|
Voila! A vulture! With the outside now covered, I built up the inside to help keep it supported when wearing it.
The inside is a strange web of cardboard and masking tape to hopefully keep this thing on a human head. There was a lot of finger crossing at this point as I wasn't sure if it would be too nose heavy and sit right on a human head. It balanced just fine on the mannequin, but it didn't have layers of papier mache on it yet. Now to transform my vulture into a unicorn, I used more cardboard and tissue paper to create ears and a suitable horse muzzle. And for the horn, foil was used to build it out and then I used rope to create the spiral. Then I covered these new additions with masking tape. And hooray! It actually looks like a unicorn!
With my entire unicorn wrapped in masking tape, it was now time for the papier mache.
As I suspected, this part was laborious. Using one part water to one part glue (I think I had two cups of glue to two cups warm water for each layer), I had a mixture ready for the paper. Wearing vinyl gloves (I used thin medical gloves), I then got to work. Covering the complete outside of the unicorn took two hours. I then let it sit for twenty-four hours to dry before tackling the next layer. I figured I would need no less than three layers total.
After finishing up my three layers and checking to make sure my third layer was completely dry, I started to work on the inside. First I had to cover the inside with masking tape. This helped to seal in the "guts" and gave me a smooth surface for the papier mache. Luckily, applying each layer of the papier mache only took one hour to complete inside the head. I then let each layer dry for twenty-four hours before tackling the next one. After my third layer was completely dry, I painted it black. I chose black because I figured I could find black foam to line it. Later on, I could only find white, but I left the interior black anyway.
With my interior and exterior now completely dry, I set to work on painting it. I put two coats of white paint on the head and for the horn I did the first layer in black, then added two more layers of gold paint. I let it all dry then discovered to my horror that I forgot to give my unicorn eyes. Since I wanted this to look as close to the film version as possible, I realized that I had to create three dimensional eyes. I did not want to try doing them in papier mache as I had already painted the head white and I did not want to go through that process again. So, the only other option I had was Fast Mache. It's light, quick, and should adhere without issue.
Fast Mache. What can I say about this substance that I now refer to as papier mache's evil and sadistic uncle? Well, I first discovered this stuff on a whim a few years ago when I found a tutorial for creating creepy hands as a prop for Halloween. The artist was using Fast Mache and touting it as the fantastic alternative to papier mache. I'm guessing this stuff just doesn't like me because it was such an unpleasant experience that I quit halfway through my creepy hand creation and vowed never to open the box of that vile stuff again. It was lumpy when mixed, didn't smooth out at all, dried way too fast on the sculpture and in my hands that it felt like my skin was burning. I didn't have any gloves so I quit after finishing the first hand. The box of unused Fast Mache then sat in the back of a cupboard ever since, lurking in the shadows, reminding me of my failure.
|Haunted by an unfinished project. The Fast Mache hand is on top of the second unfinished hand.|
I just couldn't bring myself to finish the second hand after the nightmare of tackling the first.
I considered using Air Drying Clay, but due to the amount I would need in order to bump out the eyes, I figured it would add more weight to the front of the head and I didn't want to make it any heavier. So in my desperation, I decided to try and make friends with the fiendish concoction and set to work making the icky paste and sculpting it onto the face.
Ugh. Same issues as the first time. Didn't smooth out at all, is horribly lumpy, dried in my hands, and looks like oatmeal when dry. It did, however, give me three dimensional eyes without adding any weight, so there's that, I guess.
I decided to keep the features simple. It would look a little cartoonish, but I figured it would have to do. After I was happy with the facial features, I covered the entire head with sealant to keep the paint from chipping off. Then came the addition of the wig. I used a plain long white costume wig that I already had in storage. I removed the bangs then glued it to the back of the unicorn's head. Then I added all of the flowers and leaves, trying to mimic the design from the movie version. I also added lace trim along the bottom of the headpiece.
And there it is! Huzzah! My very own Amadeus unicorn headpiece!!! To help with the comfort of wearing it, I purchased some basic foam sheets at the craft store and cut them to fit inside. Then I glued some of the foam pieces so they wouldn't shift around. Other pieces I just kept loose so the headpiece could be adjustable.
Overall, I think I spent around $30 for the materials as I already had most of the items. I did purchase two rolls of masking tape in two different widths and bought a few flowers at the craft store. I also bought a large container of Elmer's glue and a sheet of foam. But the labor for this project was extensive and I estimate that I put in around 40 hours total. The frame construction took several hours alone as it was a challenge to figure out the dimensions that would work and keep the nose balanced. The papier mache required six hours for the exterior and three hours for the interior, not including paper shredding prep work. The painting took around 4-6 hours, especially since I had to start over after my shading debacle. But it was all totally worth it! I tackled my own holy grail of costuming challenges!
But the challenge wasn't over yet! I still had the actual costumes to create! And only two weeks until Halloween! Eegads!
Luckily, I had already started planning the actual costumes and pulling together pieces that could be altered from my own costume stash and was also checking every thrift store in town. For Constanze, I knew that I needed a white dress with a full skirt that could accommodate the pannier shape of the 18th century. For Mozart, I would need a frock coat, vest, shirt, knickers, white stockings, and period appropriate shoes.
I'll start with Mozart's costume first.
I already had some white stockings in my own costume stash so those were good to go. For the knickers, I had purchased a velvet pair of ivory ones last year at the Montana Shakespeare in the Parks costume sale (a truly amazing sale that reaped many wondrous items!). I also had a coat that I had purchased on a whim a few years ago from a thrift store that I hoped to one day turn into an 18th century frock coat. At that time, I also bought some matching fabric in the hopes of making matching knickers. I never made them, but thank goodness I didn't! That fabric could now be used to make the matching vest!
|I see an 18th century frock coat in your future!|
So the only item I would need to make from scratch would be the vest. I had never made a vest before. Seemed easy enough. But alas, no, it wasn't easy. It was a huge pain in the buttocks. Since the material frayed so easily, I had to line the entire thing. Luckily I already had some leftover gold fabric from this project.
I had used a very nice satiny material to line this cloak and had a huge amount left. So without a pattern, no clue how to make a vest, I used a vest that I already had in storage as my pattern and got to work. Because I was in such a rush I didn't take many pictures throughout my sewing process of this bad boy, but here's the end result.
Ignore the wrinkles and the fraying at the neckline. When i cut my fabric I should have allowed for more to hem to avoid the fraying nightmare. This is where the fabric glue comes in handy. Because this fabric frays so badly, I opted to not create true buttonholes. Instead, I just added snaps.
Unfortunately, during the creation of this fraying specimen, it caused the demise of my dear old sewing machine. There was a horrific bang, then the timing was officially off. Something must have jumped gear because now my machine was out of sync and the thread wasn't catching the bobbin thread. After hours of trying to manually fix it, I finally gave up. UGH!
I weighed the pros and cons of three scenarios…try to have it fixed, buy a brand new machine, or sew everything by hand. The first two options would cost quite a bit, but manually sewing the rest of the Mozart costume pieces and the huge gown for the Constanze costume was not a favorable option. And fixing the machine could take days and I didn't have the time. So I did some research and found the heaviest machine with the highest rating that could handle thick fabrics and wouldn't jump around like my old one. I also wanted one that was mechanical, not reliant on any fancy computer chip or digital displays. I wanted a workhorse with muscle. My machine of choice was the Janome HD-3000. Amazon had it delivered in two days. I'll be paying it off for months. Ah, credit cards.
|But it really is a fantastic sewing machine, worth every whiff of my burning plastic!|
So with the vest now complete, I started on the coat. I knew I had to alter the collar, replace all of the buttons, add some large cuffs, and snazzy it up quite a bit.
From the craft store, I picked up ornate gold buttons and some fancy gold trim. I cut off the collar, sewed it under, then added gold down the front and replaced all of the buttons. For the cuffs, I used the same two fabrics that I used for the vest, lining the fraying nightmare material with the gold material.
There is a white shirt underneath and a lacy cravat that I made to tie around the neck.
For the cravat, I used a long strip of lace for tying around the neck. To the lace, I attached a section of layered lace from a little girl's dress I found at a thrift shop. The skirt of the dress was all layered lace which was perfect as it could be used for not only this cravat, but also for the sleeves of the Constanze dress. The only catch was that it had pink ribbon stitched to every row of lace. There were about eight layers of lace. And the process of removing the pink ribbon took about four hours. I was committed, damnit!
The shirt I also found at a thrift store. When I saw it, I almost fainted. It screamed Mozart! It had a fantastic embroidered pattern all over (you can't really tell with all of the wrinkles, sorry, I had just washed it!). The only thing I needed to alter was the addition of the lacy sleeves. Again, I used some of that little girl's dress and stitched it on to create that signature 18th century flouncey trim.
|If you unfocus your eyes the wrinkles disappear! Magic!|
With Mozart's costume complete and only seven days left till Halloween, I settled in for one hell of a sleepless week. Because this dress, holy cow. Where do I begin?
The dress was much too big so I figured I would need to remove most of the overlay up top so I could alter it to fit me. I also knew that I would want to include a corset that laced all the way up the back, just like Constanze's dress. Here is the only shot of the back of it.
My heart sunk. I had already started to take apart the white gown and there was no way to bleach the corset. I even contacted the Rit Dye people to see if there was a way to bleach it safey, but alas, it could not be done. So, I had to set aside my white gown and see if I had any alternatives. Being a costume hoarder, I had a few wedding dresses in storage that I had picked up at local thrift stores over the last few years with the intention of transforming them into something new one day. And alas, this beauty was just begging to be used.
I think I paid $20 for this dress (before that local thrift shop started hiking up all wedding dresses to $100+). The tag inside from the original bridal shop had it listed at $600. I think the appliqués alone would cost around $600 on this dress, and there were many of them! All over the front and back of the bodice, the short sleeves, and running the full length of the cathedral train. We're talking yards of beautiful satiny fabric and exquisitely beaded and sequined appliqués. And, hello, it was the exact same color as the corset. Thank you, lucky stars!
Now because the bodice was covered in appliqués and I needed to somehow incorporate a corset, I decided to get to work removing all of those appliqués from the front, back, and the shoulders. The only place I left the originals was on those short sleeves. That process alone took about four to five hours, but that was still less time than sewing them all back onto the corset later on!
|An example of some of the appliqués that I picked off the dress.|
After I removed the appliqués, I actually put the dress aside and started working on the swan, then the unicorn, then the Mozart costume. Flash forward to a week before Halloween and I realized I had saved the hardest sewing project ever to the very end. Stupid procrastinator! Oh well, onward!
In the picture above, you can see the dress without the appliqués on the bodice and the corset fastened around it. I removed all of the plastic boning from the corset, except for the boning along the eyelets in the back (I'll probably eventually remove those, too, as I know they will bend over time). I then removed the lace trim along the bottom of the corset and folded it under and sewed it so it had a more period specific bodice shape (high waist and deep front).
Since the front of the dress was much too high and wouldn't allow me the full bosom of the 18th century, I decided to cut off the sleeves and remove a portion of the front of the dress. There was a zip up the back, but it only came up 3/4 of the way so I figured I would try to keep that same height in the front. Due to the weight of the skirt, I knew that I would need some sort of suspenders to also keep it up, so I attached some wide elastic.
At this point I also had to hem the back of the dress from the removal of the train and keep it from fraying. With the hem complete, I then shortened the straps of the corset so it would fit me better then sewed the short sleeves to the corset. Now since the Constanze dress had 3/4 sleeves, I also had to add length to the current short sleeves. I used some of the fabric from the train and extended the sleeves. I figured I could hide the seams later when I added the appliqués.
Since the back of the original dress was low cut, when I tried to attach the short sleeves to the corset, there wasn't enough fabric around the shoulder blades. I had two bare patches that just wouldn't work if I left them as is. So I had to create two layered half moon shapes out of the train material and attach them as shown below.
It looks rather messy, but again, I would be adding appliqués to try and mask those seams. Next I used the rest of that little girl's lacy dress to make flouncy sleeves.
The next part was the most time consuming as I had to first pin as many of those original appliqués to the front and back of the bodice, along the shoulders, and down the extended sleeves. Then I had to sew them on by hand. After about seven hours and ten bloody fingertips, they were all secured.
Now I could add on some more embellishments. I added the lace that I had removed from the corset's bottom edge to the front of it, running it down vertically along the fastener line. I also added a thinner lace trim about each sleeve where the satin met the lace. Since my dress had strayed quite far from the actual look of Constanze's gown, I decided to try and tie it back together by adding some white bows down the front of it. I used a white bow belt from a thrifted dress and made two additional bows from the belt material. These I added to the front with hooks and eyes to secure them once the corset was fastened. Finally, after one completely sleepless week, I completed my interpretation of Constanze's gown.
To get the hip width, I originally planned to wear one of my metal panniers that I have made in the past, but the weight of the skirt was too heavy and it kept distorting the metal shape.
So, I fashioned a short and extremely stiff white tutu (I think it was a 7" bando style adult tutu) into a more flexible yet sturdier panniers. I removed the tulle from the front and back of the waistband, leaving only the tulle on each side. Then I added the tulle that I originally removed back to the sides. This made an extra wide and extra stiff "panniers" that could hold up the skirt and also make it possible for me to get into and out of a car. I don't have any photos of my frankentutu, so here are more photos of the dress!
So now, without further ado, I give you Stanzie and Wolfie!
You can't see my shoes, but I have to share a photo of these marvelous 1960s or 1970s beauties that I found in Billings at the Montana Vintage Clothing store. These were only $12 and they are in perfect condition. The fates were smiling down on me that day, for sure! Huzzah!
Now, I ask you, what is an Amadeus themed costume without some Nipples of Venus? Those were, of course, the fancy treats that Salieri offers to Constanze. In the film, they were made of chestnuts wrapped in brandied sugar. I am no chocolatier, so I decided to make a simpler variation that would yield the same look of the originals and make Duncan Hines proud.
Behold! My nipples! Of Venus!
These are actually brownie balls dipped in white chocolate and topped with piped semi-sweet chocolate. For the brownie balls, bake a pan of brownies (I used the family size Duncan Hines fudgy mix), let cool, remove the crispy edges (save those for snacking). Crumble the moist parts in a bowl and shape into balls. Chill the balls on wax or parchment in the fridge for an hour. Dip the chilled balls in melted white chocolate (I used a skewer to dip them). Chill again. Then top your balls with accents of piped melted semi-sweet chocolate. Balls.
Now, if only I could make a Salieri doll. Or a Salieri Christmas ornament. Or a Salieri puppet!