The Rainbow Princess Experiment
When I first heard that 4-year-old Ella Joy wanted to be a “Rainbow Princess” for Halloween, my heart skipped a beat. A whole holiday based on candy and costumes is already almost more than I can bear. Adding rainbows to the mix? I actually had a moment where I wondered if there might be too much beauty in the world. (Cue floating plastic bag.) I was so honored that Tina asked me to help bring her daughter’s incredibly insightful concept to life. But I’d never made a costume for anyone other than myself, and I’d never attempted a sewing project without my mom by my side providing step-by-step, dummy-proof instructions that I still sometimes manage to screw up. Would this be a disaster? How could I live with myself if I disappointed such a special little lady!?
I decided to go with my design school training and begin the project with a few quick sketches. What should a Rainbow Princess look like? Only one person could tell me, and she walks around with a stash of vintage Fisher Price people in her backpack shaped like an owl. I emailed the sketches to Tina, and within 3 minutes I had a response: “Ella is certain it’s option 1.” Such decisiveness! Surely she’ll make a brilliant art director one day. Then I spent the better part of a weekend shopping fabric and trimmings stores for all the materials I’d need. I selected brightly colored cotton sateen from Mood, but the colored tulle had to be mailed to me by my mom in Mississippi.
It took several days to craft the 5 big ruffles: red, orange, yellow, green and blue, using a handheld sewer. Each ruffle is a bubble layer of cotton sateen and two bubble layers of tulle. Bubbling the fabric (my term for folding in half and sewing on one end) kept me from having to sew a ton of hems. The next step was to sew the ruffles to a purple organic cotton tank dress from American Apparel. A trip to the Brooklyn Flea yielded a $1 purple sash as well as an $8 ball gown with lots of layers of white chiffon, fabric which I cut away and sewed into gathers to create the cloud layers for the bottom of the dress, the sleeves and crown. For the rainbow part of the crown, I threaded wire through six different colors of upholstery cord from M&J Trimmings, glued them together and shaped them into an arc.
After what I estimate was around 60 hours of work, I was exhausted but exhilarated to find out how the costume would be received. I’d been getting videos of Ella telling me how excited she was, and Tina said Ella’s first words each morning revolved around her desire to know when the outfit would arrive. When the costume finally made it to her, she hugged it, ran around the apartment, and then spent the night cuddling with it. Adorable success! The costume was worn Friday to school, Saturday to neighborhood parades, and then Sunday for trick-or-treating. These pics were taken on Sunday afternoon, after Ella completed the costume by having her face painted at a Halloween carnival. Can you believe my sewing held up through all that? Whew. My nanie and my mom would be proud.
Sure, I made plenty of missteps. For example, the dress ended up weighing about 30 pounds! So I cut elastic strips to form suspenders and sewed them on the inside to help hold the dress up. Light-weight fabric is best when it comes to creating a costume for someone who only weighs 50 pounds! If I had it to do again I could shave a lot of time and energy off the entire process, but it was a great learning experience I’ll never forget. Now I just need to work on an adult size version for myself!
Photos by the ever patient and kind Erin Sparling.