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Making of a Ringmaster

September 5, 2014

This month's self portrait started just like almost every other self portrait I've done: with a trip to the thrift store. The ringmaster costume depended on a kickass red jacket, and I knew if I couldn't find one, then I'd have to make one. A jacket is a fairly complicated item of clothing to make from scratch - altering an existing jacket is much easier.

I tried on every single jacket in the Women's Jackets aisle of Value Village, and narrowed it down to four. I took them over to the changing area and tried them all on again in front of a mirror, which immediately disqualified two.

And because decisions are hard, I needed a second opinion. I would have asked Steve but he was home in constant pain-medicated-slumber thanks to his ear infection. I asked a random woman in the changing area, who was interested in my quest but honestly no help and instead took one of my rejected jackets home with her. And so I texted my brother in San Francisco for my lifeline and left with this cream jacket that fit really nicely.

Once home, I started on its alteraterations. First was to bring the front of the jacket up to shorten it and make it more formal looking.

Next I freehanded a tails pattern on paper, pinned the paper to the jacket to confirm the size and shape and length worked, and then sewed the tails out of uphosltry fabric. I had selected the fabric to most closely match the pattern of the jacket: I didn't care about it's color because I would be making the whole thing red anyway.

With the jacket altered, I set out to transform it red. I considered dying the jacket, but was concerned the different fabric blends of the jacket and the tails would dye differently. So instead I grabbed some fabric medium and painted the whole thing.

The dogs were very helpful during the painting process. Mitzi chewed on a stick (from the bucket in the garage labeled Mitzi Sticks), while Olive watched her chew on the stick. Every so often, Olive would pick up a piece of broken stick, chew on it, then spit it out because it's just a stick, but Mitzi is so enthralled by it, but again it's just a stick, Olive would like to go back in the house now please kthx.


Painting the jacket took longer than I expected, and then I ran out of red paint 75% through the project. Even after heat setting, and making sure I followed the fabric medium instructions, the jacket is still really stiff. Which is sad, because I think I would wear the jacket more often because this red jacket is completely badass.

With the jacket ready, all I had to do was assemble the rest of the outfit from my costume chest and closet, locate a suitable circus-y looking tent, and get up at the butt crack of dawn to shoot before the business owning the tent opened for the day.

Tophat: Steve made this for me, basically copying the hat I made (and still have!) for my Trixie costume four years ago. He used a scrap of material left over from the tails and painted it red so I would have a ribbon that matched my jacket.

Bowtie: purchased at Sears and I kind of want to wear it everywhere.

Blouse: vintage, purchased at a thrift shop in San Francisco many years ago. It's too short for general wearing, but worked perfectly here.

Waistcoat: a stretchy underbust faux corset that I've had forever.

Whip: was actually hanging behind the door of my new office at my new job when I started. No one would (could?) tell me why it was there, but it's mine now.

Pants: leggings were too see through (and also leggings are not pants), so I am wearing yoga pants, shh don't tell.

Boots: just my normal dress boots.

Lion: Olive was excited to be part of the photo shoot, less excited to be wearing this AMAZING felt mane and ears hat that Steve made for her.

Bulltub: totally my laundry basket turned upside down with printer paper taped around the middle.

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Hi, I'm Valette

I'm a photographer based out of Anchorage, Alaska. I've recently become a wife, a stepmother, and a homeowner. Life is pretty awesome. You can email me anytime. Learn more...

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