How I made ‘Ever After’ ‘Breathe’ wings

Ah, hello again WordPress! Long time no rant . . .

Okay, well this is not a rant. This is an account of how I made a pair of rather pretty and effective (in my opinion) wings based on those worn by Drew Barrymore in Ever After, with the much-loved ‘Breathe’ dress.

It all started because when I went to the Venice Carnevale back in 2008, I desperately wanted to one day go again, with costumes. I’d loved this movie since I first saw it during my high school years and always wanted a ‘Breathe’ dress, as it’s become known (if you’re reading this, I assume you know – the one near the end where she arrives at the masquerade ball, after Leonardo says “Then I shall have to make you wings!” and does in about 10 minutes, then she pauses at the top of the steps and whispers “Just breathe” to herself).

Yeah…so, some time in 2012 I decided that yes, I was going to go again, in 2014. Right after finishing my Teaching diploma, and on the way to live in London for a while. I found a friend – to whom dressing in fancy clothes is kind of a daily practice – to come with me, and plans were afoot! But there was a lot to be done! I had to make wings, for starters, when I had no idea how to, other than using coat-hanger wire and pantyhose. The dress I put to the back of my mind for a while. At least I had made dresses before!

And here’s the best part for anyone wanting to try something similar: the wings were made without my possessing any great skills in metalworking, or really sewing either, or design. I suppose I have an eye for detail, definitely a passion for pretty things and being creative, and – when it suits me – great patience to get things right.

At the Venice Carnevale in full costume. My friend insisted I do a sort of 'Dr Who weeping angel' pose.

At the Venice Carnevale in full costume. My friend insisted I do a sort of ‘Dr Who weeping angel’ pose.

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STEP 1: Research

Ok, so, first: what do they actually look like? I know they’re big, and made with wire…but how are they put together? I knew I would need to make them smaller than in the movie for practicality, but I set out to do some research.

EVER AFTER – A COSTUME STUDY SITE, at www.everaftercostumes.com

This is the place to go for an array of wonderful, informative, detailed photos and writing about clothes in the movie. The pictures posted here of the Breathe dress at exhibitions, and pictures from the movie, were taken from this website to aid my research, design and construction. I highly recommend visiting the site if you like the costumes in the movie. It’s great!

 

Yay! Photos! This is the one that really got me started. Drawn by a contributor to Ever After Costumes, it gave great guidance as to the actual construction! 😀

 

 

 

A couple of exhibition photos were also great help during design and construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I took the plunge and started doodling. Now, I’m not the greatest artist, and it takes me ages to produce any sort of drawing that I’m remotely happy with, but here’s my first one. I’ve also put my early attempts to work out how on earth to attach them to the dress! There are photos on the website of the bracing on the back, but it’s more visible (and requiring soldering) than I wanted, so I had to come up with an easier alternative. (In the end, ‘easier’ was not the appropriate word. What I muddled out though was actually possible with my limited skills.) Apologies for the poor-quality photos (that were rather an afterthought, when I eventually realised it could make a good blog post), but honestly, if anyone wants to try it out for themselves, you’re best muddling through as I did, utilising skills you already have or are willing to learn. 😉

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My first drawing!

 

So, how exactly do I attach these so they look like they're coming out of the dress, rather than with elastic/straps around my armpits..?

So, how exactly do I attach these so they look like they’re coming out of the dress, rather than with elastic/straps around my armpits..? I agonised over this for a long time.

Yeah, well, that attachment business can come later. It’s more concerned with the dress-making than the wing-making.

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STEP 2: Create a Pattern

Just like any design, you need a pattern. I needed a fairly stiff backing, so I just taped together some cardboard remnants I had (Ikea boxes are so handy) and drew on the outline. I used my bed to work on, which did bother my back, but allowed me to stand up and get a good look at it. They needed to be small enough to pack for overseas travel. I eventually worked out a way to roll them up into a postal tube, which was 90cm long. So the longest measurement between the spine and tip is less than that. But that’s just what I needed – they’d look good larger, or smaller, whatever you can manage.

Version 1 of my pattern.

Version 1 of my pattern.

As you can see, I drew 7 points at the outer edge, just as the original has (but obviously within a smaller overall design). It took a lot of trial and error, drawing gentle sweeping lines and constantly referring to the photos and drawing on Ever After Costumes. I kept going back and making small alterations, and holding it up against my back in front of a mirror. I then had to add the horizontal ‘struts’ (for some sort of descriptive word) and the vertical ‘veins’. Check, add lines, check, alter, repeat.

This is what it turned into:

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So 7 became 6. After drawing all the struts, I ummed and ahhed for a bit, and finally decided it was a bit cramped. So I reduced the points to 6 and re-drew the struts (you can still see some of the original lines not completely rubbed out, in case I changed my mind again!).

But finally, tada!

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I was so excited to have a finished design! After much trial and error (and a repeated sore back) I finally got something I was really happy with. Now, this took me a long time to do. Weeks, since I still had to go to uni classes, complete assignments and go to work as well. So unless your days are free, make sure you give yourself plenty of time! I started this I think more than 6 months before heading overseas, and I was rushing to finish my dress by the end.

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STEP 3: Wire it up!

I thought I took a photo of the label on the wire I bought, but I can’t find it anywhere; nor can I recall what the gauge was. So I’m sorry about that. But I went to a hardware shop and bought a spool of steel fencing wire. I heartily recommend buying jewellery/craft-type wire rather than hardware wire, though! Mine has started to go dull and rough (is that oxidising?) so that it’s no longer white and shiny. My gauge choice was based on wanting something that could support its own weight and not be floppy, but not be so stiff that I couldn’t work it with pliers and twist it tightly together (since twisting would be my method of joining strands together, rather than soldering).

I had read a blog post (that now I can’t find – love how some posts just vanish into the internet-otherworld sometimes) on making ‘Breathe’ wings, done by a group of metalwork students, I think. Fascinating but beyond me. However, I did learn the tip to work with the natural curve of the wire. Now, my pieces obviously needed to curve in different directions, but it did help to consider natural curve of the wire coming off the spool.

At this point I also needed to consider what fabric I would use, and how it might be attached to the wire (no idea whatsoever at this point). I was tossing up between tulle/net (as the original seemed to be) or crystal organza, as it’s a bit more solid and stable, but still wispy and ethereal.

http://www.everaftercostumes.com/breathe.shtml  A Fabulous exhibition photo of a wing point.

http://www.everaftercostumes.com/breathe.shtml
A Fabulous exhibition photo of a wing point.

I loved the paint idea, although the colour-scheme of my dress would ultimately become blue/white/ silver, so I used silver paint instead (a paint marker pen, which wasn’t quite as permanent as it advertised, so I ended up with very silvery fingers during my Venice construction evenings!). I toyed with the idea of using pale blue fabric, but stuck with white in the end.

If anyone can figure out how this tulle/net is attached to the wire, please share! I’ll describe how I did it in detail a bit later.

 

 

Fabric test #1. Wire against crystal organza (on a black background).

Fabric test #1. Wire against crystal organza (on a black background).

 

Fabric test #2. Tulle.

Fabric test #2. Tulle.

White crystal organza won in the end. A big part of my brain really wanted me to go with tulle, as that seemed closest to what was in the movie. The more practical part kept reminding me that real life is not an intricately-lit, well-edited movie, and my wings would not be as large as Drew’s. And how on earth could I possibly attach tulle to my wire frame anyway, and how could I prevent it tearing or stretching? Okay, so I went with organza. Crystal organza is a little different to the standard stuff, though. If you don’t already know, crystal organza has a sheen to it that regular organza doesn’t. It’s more magical and ethereal, I think.

So anyway, back to the wire. Using my hands and pliers to curve the wire, I began with the upright outer edge of both wings. Following the Ikea-box pattern, I bent one strand then twisted it around itself a few times at each point. This secured each curved section well, and still allowed for neatening when I’d finished.

Note: remember metal fatigue! Easy to forget for someone who doesn’t work with metal much! I broke numerous bits during construction, due to changing my mind or trying to fix a mistake. The trick is to be patient and careful, and undo any twisting/bending mistakes very carefully.

After the outer edges, I began on the long horizontal ‘struts’, then the curvy vertical ‘veins’. With the long struts, I pondered for quite a while as to how I could attach the veins to keep the wings upright, so they wouldn’t collapse. Obviously they needed a sturdy wire frame to keep the fabric taught. But they needed to roll up into a postal tube for transportation halfway around the world…

So the struts were made with little loops where the veins would intersect. The plan (that I was making up and altering as I went along) became: attach the fabric to all horizontal wires, then add all vertical when I arrived in Venice. We were staying for 8 days, so I’d have time. It took more Venetian evenings than I expected to get everything attached, but it finally did work.

I pinned the fabric straight onto the cardboard pattern, then traced the outline and cut it out – just a little bigger, with the idea of wrapping a small hem around the wire. But I didn’t know how to stop the edges of the fabric from fraying! Should I sew a rolled hem first..? Overlock it? No, both too tricky or unsightly. So, using all my resources, sophistication and talent, I decided that the easiest thing was to glue it! Yep. Clear craft glue, baby, all around the edge. The fabric naturally absorbed the glue, which looked a bit messy at first, but wasn’t noticeable once attached to the wire.

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Left: some of the horizontal ‘struts’ hanging up out of the way. You can see the little loops that the veins will pass through. They’re joined in pairs…um…I think because I still didn’t really know how to attach them to the dress, other than there would be a substantial framework of boning in there somewhere.

Middle: looking down on some of the veins lying on a cupboard. Loops at end will allow for attachment to the outside edges.

Right: one organza wing pegged to a hanger so I can glue the edges without getting everything sticky. This was a slow process but gluing in the air did seem the easiest way. I realised also that the glue would strengthen the fabric, and more easily support a needle and thread passing through it to stitch it to the wire. The glue did seem to pull the fabric a bit out of shape, though, which was unexpected. I also drew glue lines on the organza where each strut would go, to strengthen where I’d later sew the struts onto the fabric, with long spiralling stitches. If you go back to the close-up exhibition photo of the wing-tip, you can just see a bit of sewing along one strut.

*     *     *     *     *

STEP 4: Assembling

After all the individual wire bits were shaped, and all the horizontals attached in pairs, it was time to get an idea if it would all work together. I couldn’t attach things tightly yet, for fear of damaging something, and it all needed to be foldable for travel. So when I threaded the curvy veins through the loops in the struts, and lined up the strong outer edges, I joined it all together with short lengths of much finer gold jewellery wire that I had lying around which was easy to twist, then cut off when I was done. Holding one wing securely, I gingerly lifted it off my bed and held it upright. It sort of stayed!! Considering it wasn’t yet held together tightly, this was a good sign!

Originally, I planned to sew the veins onto the fabric in Venice, as I would do for the struts first at home. I eventually realised that this would take waaaay too long, so in the end I used little pieces of wire (I bought some lighter silver wire for the purpose) to twist and tie things together. Time-consuming, but still much quicker than sewing everything!

Having had a sign that I was on the right track, I set about sewing the fabric onto the horizontals. I curled the glued edges around the wire a tiny bit, and off I went. Because of the amount of hand sewing, I used long stitches (it all held together fine), with a few knots here and there to limit running, if the thread broke. I stupidly decided to use pretty, shiny silver thread, which wasn’t as strong as good-quality sewing thread, so it did wear and break a number of times!

Finally I had two floppy wings. All six horizontal wires were attached across each wing. I then had three curvy veins for each, and the outer edge, that would be attached in Venice to keep the wings rigid and vertical. Now to devise the attachment to the dress!

*     *     *     *     *

STEP 5: Attaching to the dress

Again, this process developed as I was doing it, and involves the construction of the dress as well. I was working around a centre-back invisible zip (which I seem to have put in poorly, judging by the appearance of the back of the dress in photos, which makes me sad). The bodice is lined, with an extra layer at the back to help strengthen it. Despite the wings being pretty light, they’re still too heavy to sit on the back of a dress without pulling out the neckline, so I had to do everything I could to rigid-ify the back of the dress. I had to alter the bodice pattern so that I could have seams where the wings would go. These seams would actually remain open (except for the neckline and near the bottom) to allow the wing edge to slip inside and be hidden – as though the wings were actually coming out of the dress itself. I had to hand sew eyes inside the two seams so I could lace the seam closed once the wings were in. So complicated!!

But, rigid-ifying the bodice. I found some stiffening in a fabric shop – not that vylene stuff or whatever it is that you iron on. This was a plasticky, tiny grid fabric that was flexible but pretty stiff. I put wide strips of that inside the bodice, on either side of these open seams, and sewed it carefully between the lining layers (I used a machine but wound it on by hand, as this plasticky stuff was likely to break the needle if sewn quickly). I sewed the outside layer to it as well, to prevent the layers moving in wear. Stiffening plus lots and lots of stitching did make a solid foundation. Yay!

Where each pair of horizontals was attached, I added on a thick, twisted wire hook (which made three on each wing). Twisted a lot to make it really rigid. The three pairs of struts on each wing were joined by a removable long twisted double piece of wire (again, twisted to make it stronger), fed through little loops and folded back on itself. The hooks would slip inside the open seams and fit inside a double-layer rectangular frame of stiff boning (plastic corset boning from a fabric shop – not anything fancy or super expensive though). This boning-frame would just run down either side of each open seam and be attached to the dress with press-studs (you might know them as snaps, or snap-fasteners, or something like that). The studs were glued on to the boning, which proved a bit too much for humble craft glue. A few got super-glued on…

The wings are in!! And they stay put!!!

The wings are in!! And they stay put!!!

The tiny bit of white fabric you can see peeking through the open seam (especially the top) is the lining – the gap between lining and outer allowed me to slip in those eyes for lacing up the gap.

In the above photo you can see the wing struts sewn on; the vein not sewn on but temporarily tied on where it crossed the strut (lower left); a not-so-neat hem up the inner edge of the wing (oh well); the length of twisted wire linking all the struts together, then being folded back on itself.

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This was all laid out neatly on my bed, while I put the wings into the dress. So far, so good! Everything went in as planned, and the wings didn’t collapse. Hooray! Then I very gently lifted the whole lot up to see if it would still look okay on a hanger.

AAHHHH!! Time to jump around the room like a crazy person!!

AAHHHH!! Time to jump around the room like a crazy person!!

Wooooohooooooo!!!!

Yes, they hung downwards a bit, but I was confident that my torso inside the dress would sort that out. After admiring my good fortune and miraculously successful design for a while, I finally plucked up the courage to try it on…with difficulty…(it took some thinking to work out how I’d get it on over a hairdo and makeup – if I’d been more on the ball I would’ve bought a much longer zip so I could step into it…der!!). Also, if you look carefully you can see that the outer edge of the fabric is not attached all the way along the wire – you can see the wire curves coming away from the fabric. That’s because at this point, only the wing points were attached (temporarily), with the whole vertical edge of each wing being sewn to the wire in Venice. Hence very silvery fingers when the paint rubbed off!

(For anyone curious about the wall, on the left is a photo from 2001 of my then-best-friend in Satine’s red dress from ‘Moulin Rouge’, complete with fabulous bustle and silver headdress, and me in a green velvet dress and the gold headdress Satine wears…off the top of my head I think it’s in the rehearsal scene where Christian Freudian-slips “Because she doesn’t love you!” Her mum made our lovely gowns, I made the headgear. Then there’s a print of the Moulin Rouge I bought at a little shop in Montmartre in 2008, and above that, two of the bits of confetti I souvenired from Coldplay’s ‘Mylo Xyloto’ concert that exploded out of a confetti cannon. Memories. 🙂 )

*     *     *     *     *

So there you have it! I think that’s about all I can say. Again, apologies for not having more and better photos, for anyone who might be interested in making their own. I’ve left out how many times I switched from Cinderella to Aurora and pricked my fingers with my sewing needle (hey, it’s really awkward sewing wire onto organza!) during those seemingly endless hours, and how many of the press studs fell off in the first couple of trial runs and had to be glued back on again. Unfortunately, my creativity likes to devise new and difficult projects for me, without ever wanting to repeat one, so almost everything I make is a prototype! But I hope that this might at least give somebody a little interest, or inspiration to try making their own non-pantyhose-and-coat-hanger wings.

Oh – a quick note on their wearability. We were staying in a quite roomy little apartment, so the living room gave me plenty of space to sort everything out. But to reach San Marco, however, we did have to walk through some very narrow streets (a ‘street’ in Venice is often as wide as a narrow alley) that were quite crowded! Then I was extremely grateful for the wings’ flexibility, as I walked a lot of the way with my arms held outstretched behind me, protecting them from passers-by and the one or two people who hurried up behind me and actually bumped into them (seriously? Spiky wire in your chest/chin region? Gimme some room back there!). I was quite nervous that they’d be torn off or damaged. But thankfully they survived perfectly for a few hours, and made it all the way back to our apartment. Phew!

Okay, that’s all. If anyone made it this far, thankyou for reading! You’re a legend.

~ LQ ~

London, 5.20pm

P.S. Ah! Here it is! Found the link to that metalworking site I mentioned. 😀 Click here.

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Piazza San Marco, Venice. March 2014.

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