Swamp Witch: A Halloween Costume Retrospective

 

This was not my first costume choice; when I had started thinking about costumes back in September, I had originally settled on Medusa. I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go with the costume, because the story has been told so many different ways–that she was created a monster, that she was beautiful and was turned into a monster as punishment, that she is both beautiful and terrible to gaze upon–there were a few different ways I could take it. I also considered going in all white like a crumbling statue of Medusa.

I discussed it with a friend who said she didn’t know if I should go as the Quasimodo of the Greeks, we had a good laugh, and I ordered a wig and some bendable rubber snakes from ebay. I don’t know if you’re aware, but rubber snakes are one of those items you see EVERYWHERE until the day that you need some, in which case you will discover that no store you can think of sells them. No toy stores, no general goods stores with toy aisles, no dollar stores. I searched high and low and nary a rubber snake could be found, which is why I resorted to ebay. I figured if I couldn’t pick and choose the snakes in person, my best bet was to get something wired and bendable so I could make a proper headdress, as I don’t have the materials/talent to sculpt the sort of thing I was envisioning.

When the snakes arrived, disappointment didn’t even begin to describe how I felt. They may have been 24″ long (MAYBE) but they were very skinny and molded into a tightly-coiled shape. They weren’t wired or bendable in any fashion, and if they were pulled out of their coil shape, they looked ‘off’ and snapped back into place. I didn’t want to risk ordering something else and have it not live up to my expectations with time ticking away on the clock, and I knew that there was no way I could put these coiled snakes on my head without looking foolish, cheap, and like a half-assed, snakey Princess Leia. So, Medusa was scrapped. But what to do? I had already bought a non-returnable wig and didn’t much relish the idea of it going to waste, but none of my other ideas would work with it. Part of my problem was that I wanted something recognizable–it sucks going to a lot of work and having no one be able to guess what you’re supposed to be, which is why I have focused heavily on movie recreations/interpretations in the past–but I have also found that to be incredibly frustrating because there aren’t bodies like mine in films and if there are, schlubby comic relief characters NEVER get good costumes because they’re fat. So I stomped around, frustrated, for a week. My friend Kevin apologized to me no less than three times over the course of that week because he had encouraged me to go with Medusa over the other options I’d been considering and he felt like it was his fault that I was in costume fail territory already. I didn’t personally feel like there was blame or fault to be issued, except in the case of the lying liepants liarton ebay snakeoil sellers. I huffed out to have dinner one night, and on my drive, I continued to ponder my options. All at once, it hit me. I didn’t HAVE to do something that’s been done, I could create something of my own and run with it–see how well I could execute something that lived only in my head.

I decided on a swamp witch, something disgusting and foul and looked as if it might stink. The way I expanded on the idea was that the more this witch used her powers, the more she lost aspects of herself to the creatures around her, so I wanted to do patches of alligator skin, one alligator claw hand, and, in an ideal world where I could afford black sclera contacts, part of the face, at least around one eye, with a built-up brow and cheek. I don’t live in that world, so I skipped the face, and this is what I ended up with:

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As far as the makeup goes, I like how well the bags turned out under the eyes. To my eye, they are pretty convincing. I used a couple of cream shadows and a couple of different liner pencils and blended and layered–I feel like I nailed the highlight to make it look swollen. The dot bits I could take or leave. I didn’t have a point of reference for voodoo makeup and as a result, it’s just kind of meh, but I felt like the face would be too plain without it. I really, really should have made a cast of my hand. It would have made the whole thing look better, because there wouldn’t be missing patches on the fingers, visible edge lines along the knuckles, and the claws could have had a more natural starting place from the finger instead of sitting on top of the nail. However, with a cast, I was caught up on the idea of making the prosthetic appliance with GM foam as it’s light and breathable, and that wasn’t going to happen, as it turns out that GM foam gives off sulfurous fumes while it’s curing that leech into the oven and destroy it for food preparation, and while my almond-colored oven from the 70s probably does need to die in a stinky fashion, it wouldn’t be wise to kill something on which I rely so heavily for sustenance–if I had to switch to a raw diet, I might kill someone. Incidentally, this is also why I haven’t been able to do Dick Smith’s study-at-home makeup course, because I don’t have access to a ruinable oven.

Instead, I made the prosthetic appliances with thin layers of liquid latex brushed onto a mold made with apoxie sculpt.

The first mold I made, on the lower right, was a positive mold that churned out that piece of crap on the lower left. I hadn’t given the mold-making process as much thought as was warranted, and realized AS I was coating it in latex that the latex would fill the crevices and with enough layers, it would result in a flat appliance, not the bumpy one I was looking for. Crap in a handbasket. Once I peeled off Latex Disaster #1, I started on a new, negative mold (upper right) that would give me something closer to the results I wanted (upper left). I was still able to use Latex Disaster #1 to give the side of my hand/bottom of my wrist some texture, so it wasn’t a total waste. Once the latex was applied, I colored it with Ben Nye cream makeup and brushed some darker powder across the top to pick up the details and texture. Were I to do it again, I think I would go for a darker green than ‘Frankenstein’, but as it is, my makeup supply is low on greens and this worked well enough. The claws were made out of apoxie sculpt, painted with nail polish, and glued to fake nails which were glued on top of my natural nails. I had thought about doing claws that capped my fingers, and while I still think those would ultimately look better, my concern was that if they were tightly capped and bonded with my nails, that I would not be able to get them OFF and an alligator hand is inconvenient enough for ONE day, much less days and weeks until they eventually grow off. I didn’t realize how much I use my non-dominant hand until it becomes impossible to do things like type or text or open car doors or turn a steering wheel without getting a claw caught in the opposite sleeve, pulling at the natural nail which is SO painful…they did make a pretty awesome clicking sound when tapped, though.

As for the costume itself, I really winged it. I didn’t want to use a pattern, and I think that both helped and hindered me–I was able to make something that was really mine, but at the same time, I would move to a new portion of the costume and be daunted all over again about how I was going to accomplish it, which would cause me to procrastinate which makes creative problems WORSE, not better. I wandered around the fabric store until I found some materials that seemed right–some medium weight black burlap, some scale-print vinyl, some novelty halloween ‘rotted’ material, some gauze, and some muslin with an assload of dye. I wanted something that would be very textured, because in my opinion, the thing most lacking in purchased costumes is texture (and I get WHY it’s that way–expense would go up and people are cheap). I dyed the crap out of that muslin, with browns, blacks, greens, and grays, each not enough to coat the entire amount of fabric solidly, so I ended up with variations in color and tone that were really pleasing and gave it the gross, aged look I was going for. It is REALLY hard to capture on camera, but I promise that in person, it had depth.

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I started with the corset-y top–I did a layer of the snake vinyl under the rotted material–the holes in the rotted material alone would have otherwise rendered me indecent. Once that was done, I laced it onto my duct tape doppelganger and began work on the burlap underskirt. I wasn’t sure at first how I’d feel about burlap. It’s kind of scratchy and it smells funny. But once I got a skirt shape pinned on and began to pull threads and cut out sections and weather it, it felt almost more like sculpting with fabric than it did like sewing. Pull a thread here, and it ruches the skirt. Pull twenty threads here and it makes part of it look worn and threadbare without compromising structural integrity because burlap is so damn strong. It was at this time that I also decided to cover a pair of flats in burlap, because it would make the costume look complete to have shoes that match instead of assuming that no one would see the shoes anyway. Once the shoes were complete, I began work on the second layer of the skirt. After ripping and tearing at the hem, I felt like it didn’t look old/gross enough, AND it obscured a lot of the awesome things about the underskirt, so I began ripping at the whole thing in earnest. I discovered that staple removers are awesome for tearing holes and making runs in fabric, and after a while, the skirt looked a bit more like I had pictured it in my head. I planned the skirts to be high-waisted and hit about mid-calf, and it’s a damn good thing I did, but more on that later.

I was at this point the day before the Halloween party, with a shrug left to construct with two purposes–to cover bra straps, and to make the transition into the alligator hand seamless by hiding everything to the wrist. I was so exhausted after the last night at the haunt that I couldn’t focus to work on it, so I sent myself to bed and set my alarm for early in the morning so if, god forbid, there were problems with the costume, I’d have time to fix them before the party AND affix/makeup the appliances.

It was a damn good thing I got up at 3am to work on it. I’d mentioned earlier that my dress form was now bigger than my actual body, but I figured with the lacing I’d done up the sides that I wouldn’t have a problem, because the top was too small for the form, so it should be just right on me….right? No. Of course not. I wiggled the dress off my imitation duct tape Butt of Doom, slipped it on, tied up the sides…and the dress fell straight off, faster than a prom dress in June. Fuuuuuuuuuuudge, it was much, much too big. The way I fixed it was by bringing in the corset part, dropping it to be the waist portion, and making a whole new top with straps so I wouldn’t have to worry about popping out of it. Had I made the skirts longer than midcalf, this would have been a HUGE problem as they now barely grazed the floor and if I’d done them floor-length before, I would have had to chop off the bottoms of both skirts and re-weather them which would would have taken me a long time. Still, between fixing the top, making the shrug, and applying the makeup, I worked straight through from 3am up until it was time to go to the party…which means I burned out at the party fairly early on. By 10pm, I was dragging. By 10:30, I had made myself a deal that as soon as the costume contest was over, I would go straight home. By 11, I was thinking I should just leave because there was no way I was going to be a finalist ANYWAY, much less win anything, but I dragged so much at actually leaving that it got to be 11:45 and I figured if I didn’t wait the extra fifteen minutes and found out later I was a finalist, I’d be pissed at myself.

As it turns out, I was one of the three finalists in the ‘scariest’ category, and while I didn’t win it, I’m glad to have at least gotten some recognition for my work. Of course, now that it’s been worn once, I don’t know WTF to do with it. I don’t want to throw it away, but it’s doubtful that I’ll ever wear it again.

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63 Comments Swamp Witch: A Halloween Costume Retrospective

  1. luscious_words November 2, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    It’s a fascinating costume and not something that falls under the norm. That makes it more interesting to me. But you definitely put a helluva lot of work into it, so I’m glad there was some recognition.

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:12 pm

      It was nice knowing that I wouldn’t run into ANYONE sporting a similar/the same costume, which would have been a risk with Medusa as the Spirit Halloween website was selling no less than five variations of a Medusa costume.

      1. luscious_words November 2, 2010 at 7:20 pm

        There’s definitely something to be said for being unique. šŸ˜€

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:12 pm

      Thank you! šŸ™‚

  2. g33kgrrl November 2, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    I have been waiting and waiting to see what you were doing for Halloween. Yay! I love it. Are there more pictures? I want to see more.

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm

      That’s pretty much it, everything else is dark or blurry.

  3. cuntress November 2, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    I was Medusa one year and ran into the same issue finding suitable snakes. Where the fuck are the snakes!? I did, however, find snakes after looking everywhere in the greater Sacramento area. I just tied them to my wig with floral wire and it turned out ok.

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm

      And aren’t snakes seriously one of those things you used to see EVERYWHERE before you started to look for them?

    2. amazoni November 2, 2010 at 7:46 pm

      “Where the fuck are the snakes!?”

      Did you check the motherfucking plane? That’s the last place I remember seeing them…

      1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:50 pm

        I knew I was tired of SOMETHING. As it turns out, it’s these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane.

  4. myrrhmade November 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Wow! So well done!

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm

      Thank you! šŸ™‚

  5. pikefish November 2, 2010 at 8:27 pm

    you are so cool! what an awesome costume! and your make up is, well, to die for! I really enjoyed reading about your creative process. pretty cool. I so wish I could sew or put things together like that.

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 8:46 pm

      All it takes is the desire to do it and a little practice. My first homemade halloween costume was a cardboard box covered in duct tape, for crying out loud!

      1. pikefish November 4, 2010 at 8:32 pm

        I keep forgetting to laugh with you about not being able to find the snakes. I have this problem with those stupid ass back scratchers! I broke mine that was a million years old so I took the one from my parents house when we moved them and yes, broke that too. I found one somewhere that had little rolly balls on the end so you could massage your back (whatever) and just broke that one last week. I have resorted to using a corner in the house because the excema on my back is right by my shoulder blade and totally unreachable by me!

  6. matrixx November 2, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    BOOBS!

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 8:51 pm

      It’s a little more boob than I’d like to show on the internet, but that was the only decent pic that got both prosthetics in one shot. šŸ˜

      1. scearley November 2, 2010 at 9:29 pm

        Don’t worry, it’s delicious.

        1. admin November 2, 2010 at 10:16 pm

          I just don’t want to be like “Hey! Look at me! Tits McGee!”

      2. matrixx November 2, 2010 at 10:46 pm

        It was exactly the right amount of boob. Boob math is simple: any=good

        1. admin November 2, 2010 at 10:53 pm

          I will keep that in mind from now on!

  7. demonlet November 2, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I love your makeup! Also, despite lack of snakes this is still a really good representation of a Gorgon right down to the brass-hands (since most of moviedom also leaves out their alleged beards, etc.)

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 8:52 pm

      There’s nothing alleged about my beard, baby!

  8. technophobe1975 November 2, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    I love the scaly bits – now try sneakily wearing them an an everyday situation and see who notices šŸ™‚

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm

      I would, but it’s a few days and a few showers later and the skin where I applied the latex is still itchy and complaining, I’m wondering if I’ve got a mild latex allergy.

  9. lightningflash November 2, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    this is a fuck awesome piece of work! Well done, you!

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm

      Thank you! šŸ™‚

  10. earthdotprime November 2, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    fwiw, I have been waiting with baited breath all damn week/end for your halloween costume update. seriously. just me and the friendpage, hitting refresh every half hour. <3

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 11:24 pm

      My goodness, I hope it lived up to your expectations! <3

  11. mithoviel November 2, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    That looks great. More (panned out) photos!

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:11 pm

      All the full body photos of me in costume are either in bad light or are blurry as shit, so I figured the pics on the dummy would have to suffice.

      1. mithoviel November 2, 2010 at 7:15 pm

        Ah…it happens. They suffice!

  12. thecostumegal November 2, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    I always sell my costumes online the next year. Someone always manages to buy them.

    I love when people make their own costume and put effort into it. šŸ˜€

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm

      Mine are not professional enough to sell, I think. šŸ™‚

      1. amazoni November 2, 2010 at 7:44 pm

        I’d beg to differ. That costume was UH!MAZE!ING!
        If you don’t want to keep it, definitely consider putting it on eBay or etsy or something. Don’t sell yourself short, darlin’ – you haz teh talent!

        1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:49 pm

          I fudge details when I’m in a hurry, is what I mean. And is a professional costume designer, so it stands to reason that her work is much more sellable than mine. šŸ™‚

      2. nicolemarieh November 2, 2010 at 7:48 pm

        no way! you totally SHOULD do this. worst case scenario, you’re out a dollar for listing it online. More likely, you make $20 off of it so long as you spin a good description šŸ™‚

        1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:51 pm

          I probably should wait until next September-ish to list it, at least, I don’t know that there’s much call for swamp witch costumes the rest of the year. šŸ™‚

          1. nicolemarieh November 2, 2010 at 7:54 pm

            i agree with you there. i cant imagine putting so much work into something and then just tossing it.. but at a certain point, i mean i guess i dont know what else you’re going to do with it! modifying it for a friend possibly or ebay-ing it later seem like good compromises.

            i always think i cant possibly be more impressed with your creativity, and then a week later you blow me away all over again!

          2. admin November 2, 2010 at 8:03 pm

            So far, I’ve saved my costumes (with the exception of Ursula which had to be tossed–it was out in the storage closet because it was SO big with all of the tentacles and a mouse or SOMETHING got in there and there was next to nothing worth even trying to save in the face of mouse dookie) but it’s getting to be more of an issue because of the limited space in my place. The idea of just throwing them away makes me sad, so I do hope that maybe I’m able to sell them and someone else will get use out of them.

            And thank you, you’re too sweet. šŸ™‚

          3. mschilepepper November 3, 2010 at 2:00 am

            Getcha some Space Bags and shrink-wrap ’em!

      3. faerieburst November 3, 2010 at 1:28 am

        “Mine are not professional enough to sell, I think.”

        And that’s where you are wrong, so stop thinking.

        You may not yet be at Redhairedpache’s level of costuming making (yet), but BELIEVE me, someone will want to buy it. And given that you will probably want a couple photos of it on you (always good when trying to sell a costume), it would give you the chance to try something different with the claws and the voodooy makeup. So, cash AND more practice with stuff you want to get better at. Yay!

        ~Aramada

        1. admin November 3, 2010 at 2:25 am

          That WOULD be a win all-around! šŸ™‚

      4. thecostumegal November 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm

        Dude, I fudge and take shortcuts on my stuff. People still buy them. Like my Rosie costume, I stitched down the straps and glued the buttons on instead of making a buttonhole, and I never finished the hems. It still sold. Even if all you do is cover the cost, it’s better than having it take up space if you don’t want it to.

        1. admin November 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm

          That’s a good point, it’s not as if material is free (even if I did use mostly cheap stuff) so it would be nice to recoup AND save the space.

          1. argonel November 2, 2010 at 11:37 pm

            From the photo’s it’s may not be professional, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what you get from the typical Halloween store. Sell it and recoup your investment even if you don’t make a profit.

          2. admin November 3, 2010 at 12:15 am

            It couldn’t hurt to try. šŸ™‚

  13. mschilepepper November 3, 2010 at 2:15 am

    I think it turned out fantastically well!

    1. admin November 3, 2010 at 2:22 am

      Thanks, darlin!

  14. aliminx November 3, 2010 at 3:03 am

    That’s awesomesauce.

    1. admin November 3, 2010 at 3:25 am

      Thank you! šŸ™‚

  15. lady_sotha November 2, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    That is an awesome costume. Bravo!

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 8:46 pm

      Thanks Liz! šŸ™‚

  16. pezking124 November 2, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Get out of my swamp, you keeeeds!

    1. admin November 2, 2010 at 9:05 pm

      I SHAKE MY CLAWED FIST IN YOUR GENERAL DIRECTION!

    1. admin November 3, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      Thank you! šŸ™‚

  17. storm_dancer November 3, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Love it. And I thought the dots were a GREAT accent.

    1. admin November 3, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks, darlin! <3

  18. bellachiara6 November 4, 2010 at 1:34 am

    dude, what the hell magazine are your latex molds sitting on?! I am I the only one to notice “clown porn”!?

    1. admin November 4, 2010 at 1:35 am

      Yet another fine issue of “Girls & Corpses” magazine!

  19. inner_kitsune November 25, 2010 at 12:52 am

    would a large-ish toaster oven work for your prosthetic making needs?

Comments are closed.