I’ve never managed to finish a post on samba costumes on this blog, despite designing them annually for the batería of the Austin Samba School, because it just gets too involved to explain the creation process. But I am bound and determined to share how I made my headdress, so get ready for some nitty-gritty design and production details!
Last year inspired some serious headdress envy in me. I am not – nor do I aspire to be – a passista, but I really wanted to wear a headdress worthy of one. I blame the transformative power of my friend Joy’s giant Mangueira headdress that I tried on last winter… Anyway, I decided to make one this year, just for the heck of it.
I was looking at wire frames online last spring, and there were very few options. (Little did I know that my awesome 2013 Carnaval Maculelê fight partner Elizabeth makes them by special order! Lookee!) I came across the one below and figured if I was going overboard I might as well wear a giant peacock on my head… Here is the frame, in its simplicity. You will likely not recognize it by the end of this post.
One of my main problems to solve was how to store the majority of the feathers in a way that would protect them from the ravages of time (dust accumulation, sagging, etc.) as well as from my mischievous feline companion. After thinking about it a while, I decided to make 2 panels – a back one that is stationary, and a front one that can be removed fairly easily for storage when not in use. To facilitate this I used plastic “canvas” as the base, planning to attach the 2 mesh panels with sparkly brads. You can see here that the plastic mesh for the back panel and the peacock neck is already in place, sewn onto the metal frame.
Then I had to figure out how to make the head dimensional rather than hollow. I thought back to making fairy wings some time ago with coat hangers and pantyhose, and decided that might work here as well. Because of the shape of the head and neck, I used peds instead of full-leg stockings. Here it is with the head starting to be filled in with peds.
Painted! (Well, all but the beak…) Also added the blue sequin neck “feathers”.
You can see here I opted to cover the thick black plastic mesh in thin iridescent blue fabric mesh as a kind of camouflage. It will shine in the lights but doesn’t affect the intended functionality of the mesg. I sewed it on then painted all the edges with glue so they wouldn’t unravel.
I painted the silver base metal a brighter, more metallic silver, and painted the front under the peacock a mix of gold and black – all that with nailpolish. I also wrapped the back wires in blue elastic and covered the back holes in baubles.
Then I added this teal ribbon to the back rim to cover up some of the knots.
All of that was a big chunk of work on the back panel and peacock, but I hadn’t even started on the front panel. On a visit to a fellow sambista in Houston, we laid out all the feathers I had purchased on her dining room table in an ideal set-up. I took photos so I could re-create it on the actual panel when I got home.
Best-laid (feather) plans don’t always work out precisely the way you think they might… I was limited on height by the size of the portfolio where I planned to store the front panel, so I did wind up using fewer of the tall feathers and cutting them down a bit. Here I’ve sewed on the tall feathers in the “back” row of the front panel and started to sew on the cockerel feathers that will be the “middle” section.
Here it is with all the cockerel feathers – they are so Shiny in person! And their base was dyed blue, which seems a lucky break.
I decided to cover the front panel’s black mesh with that same blue iridescent material and then add some of the teal ribbon on the edges. When it came time to add the peacock feathers, due to the reduced height of the front panel, I could only fit one row, rather than two. But I think it works wonderfully!
All the feathers were hot glued and sewn down to the panel, and then I attached the metal feather ornaments I had in the same way.
How perfect are they?! I may not agree with Hobby Lobby’s founder’s values, but his store stock sure is useful. Last detail on the front panel was adding some turquoise discs. These match my bracelets exactly, so they kind of tie everything together throughout the costume.
When last we left our back panel, it was looking a bit plain, just covered in blue. I wanted to finish up all the details on the peacock head before sewing on the final pieces, so they would be handled as little as possible. I painted the eye details and added some iridescence to the head as well, then created a sequin “eyeball”. Finally, the peacock is wearing a “necklace” that matches the necklace I will wear, which entertains me to no end.
Here is the front panel, tucked up safe in its portfolio storage.
And here is the headdress, put together in all its glory. (I fear it may need a chin strap and a neck strap in the back just to keep in on my head, given the weight.)
I can’t wait to wear it February 1st, even though it’s just for an hour, after the official Carnaval show is over. Kind of crazy…but it was a lot of fun to make!