Monday, October 29, 2012


These past two weeks, I had a vacation.  A real, honest to goodness, no work, all play, all fun VACATION! It's been over a decade since my hubby and I had even a weekend of nothing but fun alone, together.

Yes, we've had a couple of 1 week gigs - but we were doing a show at the time and while it was still great, not a true vacation. And we do get to LA at least once a year for fabric shopping and SOMETIMES visit with the Mouse in Anaheim, it's still work.

It was the perfect storm of vacationing. Steve had accepted a cruise ship contract that had him randomly off the ship for a week, then back on for a week in Miami. We thought about having him fly to NY and I would meet him there, but then we started thinking about just staying in Florida - somewhere I have always wanted to go...and they have a "Magical Kingdom" or two... So we decided that I would fly out to Miami and meet him there and spend the week in Florida. Then, seeing as how I would already be there, I should join him on the ship for a second week of fun. He's been doing cruise ships for the past 3 1/2 years, it's high time I got to see what he actually DOES out there. And I've never been on a cruise, so it was the perfect opportunity to do that!

Getting ready was not fun...I had to not only pack for myself but also the kids as they were going to be spending those two weeks between grandma's house, aunt Ilona's house and a family friends house. On top of that, we had a costume rental that needed to be shipped out while we would be gone so I had to process that - and purchase some new pieces for some new costumes - AND I decided to take on a last minute Halloween project for a well as finish up my own kids' costumes. So I was working my bum off until the moment I left town! And not sleeping much.

SO - the big moment finally came on Saturday evening as I took a red-eye into Ft Lauderdale. Even though I was totally exhausted, I could not sleep on the was SO uncomfortable. And my flight was scheduled to land at 9:30 AM but Steve had to get off the ship at 6 AM! Fortunately he was able to hand out at a Marriott hotel while he waited for me. Much more comfortable than the Cruise Ship terminal. So I grabbed our rental car and drove through beautiful Miami to pick him up - and time for our ADVENTURE to begin! We were both really tired, but after a quick lunch, the drive from Miami to Kissimmee was very pleasant! It took about 4 hours, but the last half hour was the hardest, expecting to see DISNEYWORLD at any moment...Steve was like a little kid at Christmas!

We arrived around 4pm and went to our hotel. It was a quiet, decent hotel quite close to Disneyworld - we could see the Tree of Life and Expedition Everest from our balcony! Even though we were both so tired, we decided to go get some dinner and even drive around the Disneyworld area so we knew what to expect the next morning. And we didn't want to fall asleep too early for fear that we might wake up at some weird hour and not be able to fall back asleep.

Now, having been Disneyland Junkies for most of our lives, we were quite surprised at how different things are at Disneyworld. It's so spread out, large parking lots at each theme park. Unlike being smack dab in the middle of a city with busy streets like in California. It was VERY pleasant!

Monday morning, bright and early, we were up and ready to start our Disneyworld adventure! We started at the Magic Kingdom - got through the gates just as they started their "welcome" show (so CUTE!) and headed into the park. It's the same and Disneyland and very, very different! We spent the morning into the early afternoon riding the rides and taking it all in! We headed over to Epcot for the afternoon - isn't that a different theme park, but very cool nonetheless.  The important thing is that I learned that if I take Dramamine, I don't get dizzy on the roller coasters - I was even just fine on Mission: Space - where they spin you around at high speeds to simulate space travel! I know, that's probably a "duh" thing, but our last trip to Magic Mountain left me green and disappointed. Then we headed back to the Magic Kingdom for the fireworks. It was a really long day..and we were really tired by the end of it. I hadn't quite caught up from those pre-travel sleepless nights.

But Tuesday morning we were up bright and early again and headed to Disney's Animal Kingdom! We were met there by our friend Chanel who was sweet enough to sign us in for the day. We spent the morning together - hitting up Expedition Everest and the Kilimanjaro Safari's, both of which were very fun! After Chanel left to do some errands and enjoy her day off, we caught the Lion King show and the Finding Nemo show. Both were great, but Finding Nemo was....AMAZING! The puppets were incredible and the actors were amazing. It was just fantastic! We also hit up the Dinosaur ride - which is basically Indiana Jones with Dinosaurs, and watched the parade. Oh, and we shouldn't forget the yummy honey chicken...mmmmm. Animal Kingdom closes early for the animals, so we went back to the hotel and took a short nap, freshened up and headed back to Epcot to eat in "Morocco" and catch their night time show.

Wednesday we slept in and took some time to drive around the area. Just explore a little! Florida has a lot of entertainment offerings, similar to Vegas, so it was worth a look, checking out the area...who knows what the future brings! We loved it and yes, we know it gets really hot and humid in the summer, but how is that much different than where we live now? ;)

Thursday we checked out Hollywood Studios/Islands of Adventure. We started out in Islands of Adventure and headed straight to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Granted, we know nothing about Harry Potter, but we heard the ride was pretty amazing. And it WAS! But even with Dramamine in my system, I was feeling pretty darn nauseous. But the tech was amazing! We wandered through Seussville and the Superhero section - the Hulk was a really fun coaster with a surprise start! The Jurassic Park ride was cool and then we decided to go on Bluto's Barge...and got SOAKED! Fortunately we brought changes of clothes, so we went to our car and changed and headed over to Universal Studios. We hit up several rides and caught a parade. It was fun but also closed early for a Halloween party, so we left the parks and got some dinner and rented a movie!

Friday we were back to Disneyworld and started out at Hollywood Studios! We went straight for Tower of Terror (my FAVORITE - but I like the one in CA better!) and the rockin' rollercoaster. We watched the Indian Jones Stunt show and were on our way to lunch when I decided to ask about what the American Idol thing was...and I decided to "audition". It as a really cool experience! First I sang for the initial judge - she was cool and had me try some stuff and sent me on to the "producer." He was great and helped me find a song that would hide my "musical theatre" voice and decided to put me on the 5pm show. So we grabbed some lunch and just wandered around, catching some of the great street entertainment they have there. I had to be at the stage door by 3:50 and was wisked away into hair and makeup (wishing I had worn something nicer than a white t-shirt and plaid pants) and had a coaching session with their vocal coach. He was great - and we had some friends in common in Las Vegas. The producer helped me decide on singing "Holding out for a Hero" from Footloose and there was a bridge I needed to improv around. I was just really impressed that they took it so seriously. Then we had a dress rehearsal and it was showtime. It was really well done! I sang 3rd, against a cute Utah mom and a teenage girl who had driven in just to do the American Idol thing. And I won! Which meant I needed to be back for the 7pm final show, where I competed against the 4 other winners for the day. I went first and did not win, but I could have cared less! It was just fun - and the girl who beat me could really sing, and she went last which I'm sure helped. But I was the winner after all - I scored VIP seating for their version of FANTASMIC! That was well worth it. :)

AND I got to fulfill my life long dream of performing in Flip Flops. :)

Saturday morning we started back at Hollywood Studios so we could catch the Beauty and the Beast show and catch Steve's friend Meagan in her street show! She was HILARIOUS - as was the entire show. SO funny!

After that, we went back to the hotel to do some laundry and pack, and hit the stores to grab some essentials before we headed to the cruise ship. We ended the night at the Magic Kingdom where I experienced a personal Disney first! While we were on Splash Mountain, the ride malfunctioned and we had to be escorted off! I, for one, was relieved because I didn't really want to get wet. :) And then we got a fast pass we could use for another ride! Score! And fun to walk through the scenes.

We stayed up WAY to late and didn't get home from the parks until after midnight. Which stunk when we woke up at 5:30 to drive back to Ft Lauderdale and drop off the rental car and head to the 2nd part of our adventure!

I won't spend much time talking about the cruise. It was a cruise! We ate a lot (though not TOO much), saw the shows every night and spent some time at port. We were scheduled to go to Jamaica and Grand Caymen, but we went to Cozumel and Costa Maya instead to avoid Hurricane Sandy, which hit Jamaica the day we were supposed to be there. So I got to visit Mexico for the first time. In Cozumel, we had a cute girl make name bracelets for all the kids.

And it's always fun to see my hubby performing. He's so HOT in his show! And the audiences LOVE him! We couldn't go anywhere without hearing "great show! Great job! We loved you!" He's like a celebrity on the ships.

The cruise was a really nice way to finish our vacation. Relaxing - and I slept SO well! Well, except the last night when were were traveling back into Miami and hit some of the Sandy winds - that was a ROUGH night at sea, that's for sure! But a lot of fun and really great couple time for the two of us.

Now it's back to life, but can't wait to plan the next one! Definitely something we need to do more often. :)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Halloween Horror Stories (or, how much would it cost...)

It's that time of year....Halloween. Definitely one of my favorite holidays because I love to dress up. And I love that my kids love to dress up.

It's also that time when I start getting requests to "help" with other peoples costumes. Most of the time it's a question of "how much would you charge me" but occasionally it's "could you..." and then it puts me in that awkward position of ok, do they want me to work for free or should I discuss a price...etc.

I should be clear that I get requests a wide variety of people - friends, family, acquaintances  friends of friends and strangers. I should also be clear that I am a professional costumer - it's my main source of income. Some people are dr's, lawyers, sales people, HR people, CEO's - I'm a costumer.

I would say that 9 out of 10 times that someone asks me what it would cost to create a specific costume for them, I never hear back from them. Not even a "thank you for taking the time to research the fabrics and pattern and then contemplating how you would go about building this in the most economical way" response, or even just letting me know that they received my email. I really appreciate when people at least just let me know they got the information as it can take a few minutes to many hours to just come up with a quote!

I'm sure that the reason I don't hear back 90% of the time is because the cost is much more than they anticipate. And I understand that. I mean, you look at a costume at the Halloween store and it's $30 - 80 on average, right? Surely it can't cost more than that to make it from scratch? Allow me to educate you on the cost of building from scratch.

First of all, Halloween costumes are crap. They are meant to last one night. They are made of the cheapest fabrics and trims that exist. They have little construction for your shape. It would literally kill me to produce a costume at that level. There are some higher quality costumes, but even those don't hold a candle to the costumes I create. For example, here's a cheap Cinderella costume.

It retails for about $60. It won't look like that on you. It's a one size fits all. They tailor these to the models in the photos. The back is probably a super thin, super cheap polyester that velcros closed.  This is what it will probably look like on you:

Shapeless and silly. So you think, it can't cost much more to make something like this from scratch, right?

I stole this from my friend Valinda's site...she bought Once Upon a Costume from me many years ago and this is one of her custom made Cinderella gowns. It's the same pattern (with some of her upgrades) that I started with. I just don't have any pictures of my "standard" Cinderella dresses, but mine looked pretty much identical! I would quote you $450 for this. What? WHY SO MUCH!

First, fabric! The base fabric of this dress is about a medium weight, good quality satin.  While we can get really good satin at Heddy's, a more boutique fabric shop, we want to be thrifty and you want us to be. So, we go to JoAnn's. The Casa Satin retails for $7.99 per yard and we need 6 yards of fabric for this dress - about $50 with tax. Suddenly, $60 for a whole dress, already made - not so bad!

Then there's sparkle organza. We need 3 yards and it's on sale for $6.99, so there's already another $20. Then you need about 1.5 yards of sparkle trim - another $8.00. The separating zipper will set you back $3, the lining is another $10 - because I use medium weight twill so the costume will hold up. Then the headband, ribbon for the necklace, snaps, thread, glue - we'll just lump those in a $9 because I like even numbers

So our grand total - just for fabric, which is a better quality than the cheapy halloween costume, but that's why you want me to make it, right? - is $100. So we've already spent more than the wanna-be. Almost double, and we haven't even picked up a needle!

So - $350 for labor? That seems like a lot. How many hours do you think it takes to put this gown together? Look at the bodice - there are 12 pieces just for the bodice! And then each of those have a lining - 12 more. So 24 pieces that all have to be sewn together, in the proper order and navigating some tricky curves. The sleeves also have about 6 panels each - for a total of 12 that have the be sewn together before the sleeve is gathered along the top, a casing made along the bottom for elastic and then attached. The skirt is made very full with a 3 godet insert in the front to add beautiful shape and detailing. So, for numbers sake, that's 8 long seams. Then it has to be gathered into a waistband. The bodice gets a separating zipper and the skirt gets a snap. Then the necklace and headband have to be made and the trim attached to the neckline -  usually by hand. And I have to make sure it all fits!

And before any of the sewing starts, all of those dozens of pieces have to be cut out. Which is also a process - first the proper pattern is selected, then pinned to the fabric and each piece cut out by hand.

Then there's all of my tools - my sewing machine ($500), overlock ($500), cutting and ironing tables - ($100 ea), scissors ($30 or more ea), rotary blades ($4 each - and I usually use 1 per project) plus everything else like seam rippers, bias tape, thimbles, needles...all the little things. Then I have tables and chairs in my sewing room, all those necessities. I have a studio in my home - a whole room dedicated to the construction of costumes that has to be paid for as well.

I would say all in all - including research and shopping time, I would easily put in about 20 hours on just this one Cinderella gown.  At $350 for labor, that comes out to $17.50 per hour. I like to earn $20 per hour. So hopefully I can sew quickly and make up that $3 per hour.

I don't mind helping a friend out on something simple and if they are going to pay me, I tend to cut them a break. But not too much because THIS IS WORK for me! I don't wake up in the morning and wander into my sewing room and think...oh, yay! what shall I sew today for fun and free?

And I tend to stay clear of projects that are just busy work. I like to be challenged and I like projects that spark my interest. I'm not a seamstress, I'm a costumer. I do more than sew, I build. I often pattern my own pieces and have to figure out - how can I do that? My least favorite thing in the world is to make duplicates of the same costumes. In fact, that's why I sold Once Upon a Costume. I was going crazy doing the same thing over and over and was getting behind on deadlines. I work best when I'm inspired. Which is why my house is always a mess, but I digress.

My motto is, if you can buy it - BUY IT! I was asked a few years back to look at making some Bridesmaids dresses. I was shown a very elaborately draped gown in a David's Bridal catalogue. I asked how much they charged for the dress and she said $120. I said - BUY THEM! The fabric alone will be at least half that, and there's now way I can do intricate draping for anywhere near that! I told them that I would have to charge about $300 each to make them worth my time. They were shocked to hear that, but grateful for the advice.

I generally think the only time it's CHEAPER to have something made is if you can make it yourself. And there are seamstresses who will charge less than I do. Again, costuming is my profession - how I earn money to pay bills and eat and have a place to sleep. I don't do it for fun. Even my kids' halloween costumes this year are thrift store finds that I'm putting my magic touch to. I don't have the time or money to make them all from scratch. And one of them is coming straight from Target because frankly, I can't even conceive of how to do a Batman costume for anywhere near $20.

I was asked to bid a prom gown - again, an elaborate 1950's style gown with a corseted top and a lot of draping in a dupioni satin. Dupioni starts at $20 a yard! I think I quoted $400 or so. Again, I never even received a response, but I'm assuming that the price made them dizzy.

Oh, and I get dozens of blog hits a day on this photo from a post from 2 years ago:

I charged $500 for this costume - it was a last minute order so it was extra do get it done so fast. I once had someone ask me to make five of them for $150 each. Um, no. The bodice is corseted with spiral steel boning! Most of the candy is hand made or at least hand painted. Between my husband and I, there are well over 30 hours in this costume. Because I already have the materials, I would do one more for $400, but no less! It's too much work otherwise.

And finally, you may be do you costume entire shows? Like this, you mean?

To be honest - I really don't know. I never remember because I never get much sleep. I built the (from l to right - the Yellow one (Velma), the pink one (Tracy), the green one (Motormouth), the orange one (Little Inze) and the brown one (Penny's mother) I also finished Edna's gown (the red one), made Pinky's plaid pants and altered Penny's dress.

I'm grateful for all of the show building experiences that I've had so far. However, I make very, very little, if any, money off of these endeavors and I don't even get to keep the costumes. So I am at a point, now, where I will no longer be doing full shows unless I get to keep the costumes or I can make a fair wage. That's the only way to make it economically possible for me keep doing it. As we speak, I'm gearing up to costume The Music Man for our own production company - Huntsman Entertainment! I'm excited to be my own boss. And bring the costumes back to my closet on closing night.

I hope you found this informative and know where I'm coming from when I give you halloween sticker shock.

PS - I wanted to add...

There have been many occasions when I have done a costume for a friend or family member free of charge and it gives me great satisfaction and joy to do so. What's the point of having a skill if you can't use it as a gift from time to time. I am so often blessed by those in my life and nothing makes me happier than to share a kindness with someone who has done the same for me.