Reprinted with permission from Mary Cyn’s blog Definitely Not Dita.
When I was 16 I worked on a production of Pal Joey. It was not a good play, but I had a great time working on it and the songs were pretty catchy. One song in particular stuck with me because it was about the things a burlesquer thinks about while she’s working. I did not yet know that I was going to be a burlesquer, I didn’t even know what burlesque was, but I thought this was a pretty awesome song. In our production the singer mimed unzipping parts of her costume every time she sang the word Zip, which is a hell of a lot of times. One of the cast members said that, while they were rehearsing, she thought that the singer would actually be unzipping a hundred tiny zippers all over her costume. I thought that would have been a lot more fun to watch, though it would be absolute murder on the poor costumer who had to make it.
I wasn’t wrong.
About 10 years later the idea was still with me and I realized it would be even cooler if it was ONE zipper. One really fucking long zipper. A friend of mine had a purse that was made out of one long zipper and I thought it would be awesome to make a dress like that. But a purse is one thing, a dress is entirely different. People aren’t columns, they’re curvy, thus some pretty major engineering issues crop up. Also, where the hell do you get a zipper that long? Or even know how long a zipper you’ll need? Now you’re starting to get an idea of why it took me, like, three years to make this damn thing.
The first thing I did was wrap my dressmaker’s dummy in ribbon that was about the width of a normal zipper, and measure that. I don’t remember how long it was but it would have been ridiculously expensive and taken FOREVER to get off. So, I decided to widen the space between one side of the zipper and the other. I wrapped the ribbon around the mannequin again and measured. It was 21 feet long. Which is really fucking long for a zipper. BUT I found a place that sells zipper by the yard and one of those zipper fixing kits that has zipper heads and such.
The project sat there for a really long time, glaring at me, daring me to finish it, rolling its imaginary eyes every time I said I’d get around to it. Then Nelson [Lugo] wanted to do a steampunk show and I thought “Zippers are kinda steampunk, right?” That was good enough for me. I wouldn’t get to use the same song, but the dress would be done. And done is always better than perfect. I’m going to repeat that because I think it’s important:
DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.
Put it on a t-shirt.
I started by sewing ribbon to the top and bottom of the zipper. My parents live near a ribbon outlet so I have ALL the ribbon. I could make a TON of these dresses if I hated myself enough. Once I had that done, I wrapped the zipper around my dressmaker’s dummy and pinned it into place.
You can see some of the construction problems raised by the curves of the human body. I tried a bunch of configurations, but this ended up being the best way to put it all together and make the zipper lay relatively flat. I smooshed some fabric under the open parts and pinned that into place as well.
Then I unzipped the zipper and sewed the whole damn thing. I originally thought that I’d have to hand sew everything while it was pinned to the dummy. I’m REALLY glad I didn’t have to do that.
This post makes it sound kind of easy but, trust me, it was not. As far as I know, no one’s ever done this before, so I’m really fucking proud of myself.
We have done the impossible and that makes us mighty.
After that, all I had to do was decorate it. I bought some appliques, some trim, and played around.
A good tip I learned from Amber Ray is to cover the backs of your appliques with hot glue so they don’t fall apart. I wish I’d learned that before I sewed all the appliques to this dress.
Add a corset, a bussle, an adorable wig, and BOOM steampunk act!
A few months later Nelson and I decided to do Epic Win Burlesque: The Musical! Theater nerd that I am, I was super psyched. Pal Joey’s a musical, right?! Finally a chance to do this act the way I originally intended!
The dress was more or less done so I just had to make the undergarments. I’ve recently become obsessed with cage panties and was lucky enough to have a few bought for me when I posted them on Facebook. (I used to be a domme, I am not above getting sexy things in exchange for photos of me wearing said sexy things.) I used the panties that were bought for me as a pattern, and made my own out of some pretty scrap fabric and elastic I dyed to the right color.
I learned a very valuable lesson from making these: different elastics have different amounts of stretchiness. I thought I had enough elastic to make the panties, but “measure twice, cut once,” simply doesn’t apply to sewing. It’s more like “measure all you want, you’ll still have to fix it later mwahaha!” So I ran out of elastic and decided to use beaded fringe instead. It looks great but makes the panties kinda hard to put on.
Ironically, this is probably the classiest costume I’ve made and it’s also the most glued together. Someone gave these shoes to my mom. . . They just happened to fit me and already have heels covered in rhinestones, so she gave them to me. The perks of having a costumer for a mother are plentiful! I glued the trim and bows on them.
Finally, the dress left my neck a little bare and I still had a bunch of trim and zipper heads lying around so I pulled some chain out of my jewelry making drawer and voila!
To see Mary perform this or other acts the next time you’re in New York, follow her on Facebook. Epic Win shows are a guaranteed good time–find them on Facebook as well. –Peaches