Thursday, May 9, 2013

The King....& I!

(Sorry, I know that's a bit lame, but I couldn't resist....) Yes, the show has opened and is doing brilliantly! I thought I might take a wee break from Me Made May, and talk about the costumes I did instead. (For any new readers, my husband is playing the title role in a local production and I got to make his costumes. My daughter's also involved, playing one of the royal children, so it's been an exciting - if exhausting - kind of week!)

A word of warning: any historical costumiers or cultural purists may want to look away at this point - because these cheerfully flout any kind of rules!

The Wardrobe Coordinator gave me the fabric, trims and stills from the 1956 movie to go by (and how wonderful, incidentally, is Yul Brynner?!), but gave me a surprising amount of leeway to interpret those, given she hadn't seen any of my work before. I've been trying to copy some Google images of those stills, but my computer's having a hissy fit, so no go, I'm afraid. Here are my pics, anyway (with some suitably "kingly" poses from my very obliging man) :

Outfit 1:

I was given the blue sparkly velour and narrow gold trim to make a fitted, quite severe top for the king's first scene, but it looked a bit bland on its own. So I added in the buttons and chain, as per the movie version, which also had what was either beading or embroidery all over it. I found these tiny gold spacer beads on ebay and sewed them on at 1" intervals all over. It took about three weeks of evening sewing (or, three series of Spooks and one of Miranda).

I was very much hoping it didn't look a bit insignificant on stage (the beads are only about 3mm) but it worked beautifully! They really gleamed, rather than sparkled as sequins do, and the whole effect was of impressive richness, but intimidating severity, which is exactly the impression the king is supposed to give in that first scene. (This is what I love about costuming - it's not just making fun stuff, but making fun stuff that helps to tell the story!)

Outfit 2:

. This was for the scene in which the king sings "A Puzzlement", where the audience gets to see past the imposing facade to the doubts he's wrestling with underneath. Therefore the jacket is much less sleek and structured (and much more revealing!). The coat was already made, but it was long, voluminous and had a mandarin collar. I really didn't want all his costumes to look like different colour versions of the same basic outfit, so I removed the collar and cut a new one. The (sublime!) movie version is I think made of an amazing embroidered silk, because it's cut almost as a swing coat, but drapes quite softly. I tried, (oh, how I tried!) but that cut simply wasn't possible with this polyester brocade. So I shortened it to hip height (that much I could emulate) and slimmed it down and shaped it a bit. The ribbon looked a bit "cheap" on its own, so I sewed rice beads on to it. Progress shot below!

Once they were all on, the beads gave it a fantastic texture; on stage that jacket looked encrusted with gold embroidery. And it was quick to do - two evenings only! This was the outfit that was used for the promotional photos for the show.

Outfit 3:

I have to confess I went way off the brief for this one!  The jacket was premade, but long, with gold lame shaped fused on all over it. Took a while to scrape those off, I can tell you! So, I did the alterations as necessary - length, shaping - then sewed the ribbon on to cuffs, collar and hem. And it looked a dull version of the blue one above. I wanted a bit more drama to this one, because this is worn in the scene that is the climax of Act One. I found this black, red and gold oriental brocade and appliqued it onto the sleeves and "yoke", then sewed soutache braid over the edge to neaten it.

 I was going to leave it at that, but when I'd taken the blue costume in to the coordinator, (she loved it!) she told someone standing nearby how my husband had talked about the "Swarovski crystals" I'd sewn over other costumes. (Note: as previously mentioned, they were gold beads. Not nearly as impressive sounding!) She was so excited, I didn't like to (i.e. was too embarrassed to) put her straight. I didn't want the rest of the costumes to seem anti-climactic, so I immediately called a jewellery making-friend, and.....

Yay! Swarovski crystals!! And man, do they sparkle under stage lights!

Outfit 4:

And this is my favourite: the banquet scene costume!

Now this could well be my favourite refashion ever too, because this was a quilt cover and sheet. It's a burgundy-based gold damask. The only thing was, the damask part must have been sewed in panels originally because when I got it it was in three pieces each about 2m long and 50cm wide. Since it was a directional pattern, this meant a fair bit of problem-solving to get it to make a jacket. (And this is why there's a "belt" section!) I had neither the time, budget or, let's face it, skills to do the utterly sumptuous embroidery of the movie version (look it up - it's so perfect it made me weepy...), so I compromised with a kind of glittery abstract lace or mesh. I sketched some designs and then cut them out of this lace/mesh and sewed them onto the jacket with gold metallic thread. They actually looked like embroidery! Then to give it texture and sparkle I sewed on topaz Swarovskis and outlined the designs in gold bugle beads.

Can I be a little self-indulgent for a moment and say I was really happy with how this one looked on stage??
This costume was for the scene in which the magnificence of Siam, everything that is most inspiring and impressive about the country, is on display. Anything less than a "gasp" reaction to this costume would have undermined that. And it worked! It really did. :) He looked like shards of light were shooting out from him!

The one thing I'm not completely happy with (and I know they were inescapable, but still...) are the fabric joins in the sleeves and the upper back. I matched the pattern pretty well, and you can't tell on stage - I checked - but it still irritates me that they're there. C'est la vie, I guess...

So there you have it, the king and I! And all the visual proof of why I didn't finish any of the projects I planned to do before MMM kicked off. Never mind, I'm making up for it now. Amazing how being limited to own-makes motivates one to sew, huh??

How is MMM treating you? I've loved the first week, but I think I'm going to be stretched for choices pretty soon! How about you?

Danielle oxo

PS: One more little piece of self-indulgence to share: my man has been nominated for an award for his performance! And I'm so proud of him I can hardly stand it... :)


  1. I am so happy for him to be nominated for a reward! What an exciting and thrilling time for you all. The costumes are far more glorious than I would have imagined and you have outdone yourself with splendour!!!! They are just terrific and so much love and attention in every detail.
    You are one amazing, loving and creative woman! Forget MMM! It's the Oscars for you two!

  2. Thank you so much, Nessa! You absolutely just made my day :) I was really looking forward to sharing these with readers here. So I very much appreciate your lovely words! oxo

  3. Fabulous! What wonderfully unselfish sewing! Hope it all went well for them :)

  4. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You are amazing! I cannot believe you made these. I bow to the costumer.

  5. Danielle, my husband and I are going to a "Hollywood" themed costume party and have selected The King and I (King and Anna) as our characters. I had no idea how difficult it would be to try to find patterns for the costume for the King character. Do you have the pattern for the pants or do you know where I can get a pattern for the pants? Just thought I would check. You did a beautiful job on the costumes for your husband. I already have Anna's gown done and the party is in three weeks. Thanks, Suzanne M.

    1. Hi Suzanne, Well, the bad news is I didn't use an actual pattern, but the good news is that if you've made an Anna gown, you'll whip these up in no time!
      I measured my husband's waist to where I wanted hem to be (about 10cm below knee) and, keeping the width intact, cut two pieces of fabric that length. (The black pants were 150cm wide, the gold ones were 115cm) Fabric with a bit of drape works best. Then I folded these in half (so selvages were together) and cut a shallow curve (the fold side is crotch, and this needs to be quite low, from memory about 15cm above knee), starting at the fold and curving down to outer edge. When you open piece back out, the cut out section should look like a bell curve. Front and back pieces are the same.
      I also cut a waistband - measure this to your husband - this sits right on natural waist. I used a side zip rather than elastic, because I wanted pants to look sleek. Mark centre front and back.
      You also need a wide rectangular piece - this is sewn into waist band at front and back and goes between the legs, pulling the crotch section higher. Decide on the length by where you want the final crotch to sit. The width I used was entirely determined by how much fabric I had left!
      Sew the front and back together at sides, leaving space for zip on the right hand side. I think I ended up cutting a bit off at the leg, and curving it in a bit, because it looked a bit "flappy". Sew the crotch seam, leaving space for leg holes. (Try on and see where looks best.) Hem the leg holes.
      Hem the long edges of the rectangular piece. Turn pants out to right side and spread out flat. Mark centre front and back. Position the rectangle so that it goes from front to back between legs, with ends flush against the front and back waists. Pin to waist band, matching centre fronts/backs, making deep pleats to reduce to waistband size. I pleated the main pants first, then the rectangle - it's a bit more time, but it looked better. Then insert zip and maybe a hook and eye or slide at the top. I had a bit of wide gold ribbon that I sewed to waist band of black pair also.
      And there you have it! I don't have any of them on hand to send you close up photos, I'm sorry, but hopefully that all makes sense. Good luck with them, and have a wonderful night!

    2. Thanks so much!! Instructions are perfect!