What has become one of my favorite acts, started when I selected a character to fit into a Wonderland themed show. Lady Grey’s Lovelies was so kind to have me be a part of their production and I thought, “I could pull off a Mad Hatter” and then I can perform it at my home venue as well. I was originally envisioning using pieces of costumes I already had and filling in with a matching coat and hat. What I ended up doing was starting a journey, weaving threads of my life into a story and costume that is more ‘me’ than any other thus far. Madam Hatter has delighted many over the past few years, and I am excited and eager to continue to share it with audiences and my fellow entertainers. I’ve been fortunate to perform this act in many places and for many people. Tea parties have popped up in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, Canada, Ohio, DC, coming soon Vermont, and literally underground (being part of a TBD Immersive production in the Metro Underground). Madam Hatter has the honor of being the 2019 Winner of the Pennsylvania Burlypicks. I’m looking forward to seeing where else I may be able to share this wonderland of a act.
SPOILER ALERTS – don’t read this if you don’t want to save the surprises for live action.
My creative and thrifty essence is tied into the costume so tight, that it is exactly the ingredients from which it is made. I wanted to utilize as much scrap and existing supplies as I had to put this together. Both because I’m in a chronic state of financial strain, and because I felt like it connected with what I would do if I was a milliner, building fantasy with findings. While the costume has evolved and I have purchased a few small supplies, I am staying as true to that vision as possible throughout the life of this artwork. The coat started as an inexpensive purple coat that I used as a base upon which to build my coat-of-many-colors veneer. Rows of silk sari scraps were sewed onto the coat, one by one, until I had a rainbow of re-birthed beauty and no more patience. I dug through my bucket of scrap and managed to find enough trim to give it a mismatched finishing touch around the edges. Topping it off is a tassel that came as a “free gift” when buying rhinestones online.
The waistcoat used the bulk of what remained from the silk scraps, as well as some beautiful red trim that didn’t make it into a previous costuming endeavor. The base was parts of a thrifted vest that I had laying around, which was too small for me to wear, a scrapable bra, some hope and a dream. Even when I have a plan, my sewing projects tend to just happen as they happen.
I had already made this yellow skirt for a Snow White act that had a free spirit style underlayer. It was made from fabric remnants and vintage doilies and handkerchiefs I used at my wedding. The skirt was perfect for the Hatter costume.
I can’t remember why I thought I needed a boa, but thank goodness I did. Everything in the boa was from my fabric pile. There are pieces of fabric from projects for my children, remaining scraps from other costumes, remnants people donating to me, cuttings from thrifted curtains and scarves that had just been waiting too long to be made into something, and even some pieces from my grandmother’s fabrics. This boa has lovingly become what I call my “Stripper Quilt”. Imagination lead to a surprise reveal when I decided to bustle the boa up into a bountiful rump. This serves an extra purpose of hiding my sugarbritches. More on those later.
The first hat was formed with some foam sheets, paper plates and a stapler. I then ripped strips of my old bed sheets and Mod Podged them bit by bit, until it finally stopped looking like a pile of things a toddler made for a proud, yet underwhelmed, parent. (The sheet was worn through from it’s intended use, previously harvested of it’s elastic, and had been laying in my fabric pile awaiting a new purpose. No waste. Never.) I removed as much as I could of the staples and paper plate. I keep vowing to “finish” the inside of the hat, but until then I just make sure nobody sees it while on stage. Little silk scraps from the coat were added, and eventually some rhinestone edging.
I wasn’t thinking ahead when I made the first hat and made it too big to function as a headpiece, but too small to fit as a hat. Thus, a hat in a hat would need to solve my problem. It was fortuitous, because the necessity to make a second hat created a reveal for the act that seems so obvious and cliche, yet so strongly loved by many. The second hat was made with a souvenir miniature sombrero, an empty Talenti container, carboard, piece of a curtain and other various crafting scraps. Once completed I had to cut parts of the original hat so the new one could fit inside.
The original undergarments consisted of a cage style body suit made from excessive amounts of pink glitter elastic I ordered and never used. I made abstract design on the panty part and matching pasties with whatever rhinestones I had on hand. This layer didn’t see much stage time. Upon performances scheduled in Frederick Maryland and Tennessee for the Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival, I needed to make blue law compliant coverage.
Instead of just bulking up the under layer with extra pieces and slapping something on my underboobs, I decided to make my coverage purposeful and specific. It became too perfect and I never went back. The granny panty bottoms became my “Sugar Britches” with the help of felt and marker to represent a sugar packet. Easy peasy. Now what? Well… if my bum is sugar, what should I do with my front? It is my… Sweet and Low. My sweet and low people. This act is ultra pun and I couldn’t be happier to have a new euphemism on standby. More felt, more marker, rhinestones and done. I have since salvaged much of the original sugar britches and revised them to be more permanent and less bulky to hid under the layers better. I have also found a new use for my original cage underlayer. Never wasted. Always re-purposed. A bra was added with tear-away teacups. Madam Hatter wears a size T cup brassiere. The puns can’t stop. The puns shan’t stop. I decorated the cups with warm colors on my left and cool colors on my right, a subtle throw back to my rainbow coat. My pasties are as close as I could get to looking like tea bags and doilies from the bits of things I had. I thought the yellow looked like the Lipton tea brand tag, but at least one person thought they were eggs without the rest of the costume to give context. Just to make sure there is no confusion and doubt that they are tea and not chicken ovum, I dip them in my cups at the end of the act now.
The shoes also came as a secondary phase and I mimicked the warm/cool color separation. I did splurge on a cheap pair of shoes from eBay to devote to this act, because I was unsuccessful finding any used ones that fit. Curse these beautiful arthritic ten wides. I dyed each shoe and the strings with homemade dye, made from alcohol and sharpie innards, then sealed with the sealer I use on leather work. I don’t know if that worked, but I figured it’s a step I should attempt. These shoes were a great canvas to use the scraps too tiny for anything else. I dug to the bottom of the jars, buckets, and bins and glued together my masterpieces.
The gloves were just a pair of burgundy ones I already had. They only became devoted to this act after a piece of feedback I got from Burlypicks was to “maybe decorate my gloves”. Back to the craft hoard. An extra doily and a vintage glove that would never fit my large size Rock-Biter hands both got a bath of pink dye and then became part of my weird and wonderful costume story. The glove-on-glove is fun because I can burlesque the burlesque world by using my teeth on the extra glove fingers to remove the main glove.
The most recent addition is a pair of fishnets with holes I stitched and covered in a few flowers and rhinestones. I could have done the entire leg in decor, but i thought adorning only the area around where the repairs were was appropriate. I’m aware so many of the details of this costume are lost for the audience, especially at a distance and short timeframe. I’m content and even passionate about having these details for myself. This costume will continue to deteriorate, especially the silk pieces, and the repairs will slowly make it evolve into something even better and more special, a visual representation of the hours of work as I pour myself, my time, my patience, my creativity and my heart into.
Since I am not a good seamstress and often constructing my costumes with the Frankenstein method, the insides aren’t always pleasant to view. The inside of the coat is still purple from it’s former life, but with light thread stitches all over from adding the Sari scraps. I had no intention of changing this look, but it did make me think of something fun to add to the inside. If I’m going to open up and remove my coat anyway, why not have something to show you? or maybe to sell you? How about a selection of nice watches? But the watches are actually just things from my broken jewelry scrap basket. And if you’re going to have watches, why not a clock. We need to know when tea time is.
I took a class from Blanche Debris where we built backstories for our acts, thinking about what lead us or our characters to being where they are when they’re taking the stage. When I was deciding what time I wanted my coat clock to show, things all fell into place in my head. Tea time is at 6:00. My song is about 5 minutes long. The clock in my coat says 5:55. When Madam Hatter takes the stage, she is intoxicated by her clothes and hat (completely plausible in this modern era and E6000 fumes), and then realizes it’s time to get ready for tea. The audience members are her guests. The tea cups come out. Then she’s ready for the sweetener. The song itself even has a line saying “I think I’m ready now”. Pinkies up. It’s time for tea!