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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Romeo and Juliet's costumes

My husband, a theater teacher, wrote and directed a show called Arts Evolved for a local youth center. I volunteered my time to make all the costumes.
[Above, I took this photo from backstage of Ode to Shakespeare]
One part of the show was a wonderful short skit called "Ode to Shakespeare" which was a parody of Romeo and Juliet. The "Chorus" was made up of children of all ages dressed in black clothing, performing the memorable opening lines of Romeo and Juliet..."Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean...etc.", when Romeo and Juliet happen to walk by and hear them, and decide their romance is not such a good idea. Juliet leaves saying,"It's not so romantic anymore, don't call, Romeo." It was only a five minute skit so I felt a little silly making elaborate costumes for Romeo and Juliet, but they only had a short time to make an impact, so I felt they needed to be really over-the-top and make a strong statement.
[Romeo and Juliet, above, obviously thrilled beyond belief with their costumes]

Juliet's dress was based on a pattern from the 70s, a fairly plain empire waist-ed dress with long sleeves. I had a hard time picking the fabric....so many things to think about. Durability, for one thing- the kids are not gentle with their costumes. Stain resistance. Stage impact, large print pattern was needed. I finally settled on an ivory decorating fabric with a large print of jade green vines and leaves and red and pink and blue flowers, butterflies, and birds, which I think has a sort of Medieval look to it. It is heavy cotton with some kind of stain-repellent surface, major plus. I made the dress and sleeves full-length.

When the actress tried it on in the first fitting, she said it was hot, and I was disappointed with the entire effect of the dress. I took it home and thought about what I need to change. I wanted the skirt to be fuller, but how? Gussets...I had never done gussets before though! So that was an adventure. I used a dark green satin for contrast, and because it seemed smart to use a fluid fabric. I had to rip out stitches a couple times, but the gussets were not too hard. I added one to each side and two to the back and front. I finished the top of each gusset with a bow of silver ribbon.
I shortened the sleeves and instead added some wide white lace with gold accents to make a 3/4 length sleeve. Elastic in the sleeves helped give them some shape. Then I finished each sleeve with a pink velvet bow on the elbow. I added a couple of small darts to the neckline because it was a little wide on the actress the first time. I finished the neckline with pink bias tape, and two velvet ribbons to tie in a bow at the neck. White invisible zipper up the back. I made a wide belt with a scrap of purple lightweight crepe wool, which was the perfect color accent and also a good weight fabric to tie and drape nicely.
The finishing touch was a beautiful scalloped lace around the bottom. I was very happy with the final result. The lesson I took from it was, sometimes you really can just add more and more frills to something until it looks good! At least in costumes....especially for a character like Juliet who is very rich, pampered and feminine.

Romeo's costume was possibly even more fun to make. I started by making his jacket. I laid a child's t-shirt on a piece of cream-colored velvet and traced the body shape, stopping at the sleeves, and marking the width that the arm holes and neck hole ought to be. That became the back piece. I cut out an identical piece which I cut in half to be the fronts of the jacket. I shaped them into the style I wanted. Then I sewed the fronts to the backs. I cute two long, wide rectangles of off-white muslin to make the sleeves, gathered at the top, and gathered to an elastic self-casing at the wrist. I decided after trying the jacket on that it might be a bit tight and I added a triangular piece of the same fabric I had used for Juliet's dress. The jacket was completed with some gold and silver ribbon trim.
I made a matching hat from the same velvet by cutting some circles out and stitching them together, trimmed with two colors of rickrack twisted together and a cool button. I ended up lining it because it was shedding little velvet pills from the raw seams on the inside. It came out very cute, I think.

Then I made Romeo's tunic. I used a small tunic pattern I had from doing Macbeth costumes last year. I cut out only about the top 12 inches of the tunic from white muslin, for the yoke of the tunic. Then I cut out a rectangle of the right size for the back and a very long rectangle for the front of his tunic, because I needed extra fabric to put pleats in the front. I made the tunic long enough that the actor would feel a bit more comfortable with wearing tights. And actually I got him leggings, not tights, so I think he was lucky there. There was a lot of anticipation from the little girls there of seeing Romeo in his tights. I helped him put on his "boots" in the dressing room before he came out for everyone to see, and the entire cast gathered outside the dressing room waiting for him to appear. It was pretty funny.
I made Romeo's boots out of the sleeves of an old leather jacket. I cut off the sleeves and seam-ripped the side seam open. Then I cut them to be about the shape I wanted. I made a small piece to go over the top of each foot which I sewed to the ankle. I put blue bias tape over the side edges of the boots, and installed eyelets. I laced them up with some narrow white twill tape. Then I sewed on elastic straps to the feet to hold them on. The first night he wore shoes under them, which worked, but the second night he wore them barefoot and it did look better.
They were my favorite costumes to make for sure. I love doing Medieval costumes!