In 2014 D23 held the second Destination D at Walt Disney World and included in the events was a look back at Alice Davis’ work on the costumes for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair attractions. I’ve long admired Mrs. Davis’ costuming for providing so much rich character detail for her auto-animatronic actors. You would be familiar with her work if you have ever ridden Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s a small world, or the Carousel of Progress. The latter of these has had a particular draw for me, and to honor her work I decided to recreate one of her iconic costumes.
In a show with many memorable moments one that always catches my eye is the daughter, Patricia, getting ready for her date in the early era. She is “indecent” for the day, clothed in her foundation garments, yet fully covered from neck to toes. It is a deceptively simple get-up of a blouse, bloomers, socks, and corset. The color choice of red and white, echoed in another famous costume by Alice Davis of the Redhead aka the Wicked Wench in Pirates of the Caribbean, makes her pop from her detailed background and set dressings.
One of the key inspirations for this activity was to also challenge my sewing skills, taking on new elements like the princess seams and complex lining of the corset. Other challenges worked my creative juices to problem solve as I spent many months figuring out how to handle the vertical striped socks. I began early, as I often do for Halloween, with planning stages not long after I bought my event tickets in March.
The basic pattern is Simplicity 1561, using the pajama pattern to create the white under-layers. I started with the D view for the blouse, extending the sleeves from the A view. For the pants I used G view. On both elements I closed the ends with an elastic trim that contains a wide lace band. I made sure to size up a bit to allow for the billowy flow. I didn’t underline anything and made it from plain white cotton, so I choose to wear flesh toned shorts underneath.
Next came my big leap forward in sewing construction, my first corset. I picked up both Simplicity 5006 and Butterick B4254, and ended up using the latter (view C). Now begins the tricky part, as I am not a robot with no internal workings beside a steal rod. That meant I needed to begin to get creative in transferring an animatronic look to a real human, and began to greatly appreciate Alice Davis’ work in the reverse. Looking for comfort and mobility I chose to not use the boning, constructing it just out of the finish fabric, interfacing, cotton canvas, and lining. As I made the first pass of princess seams I refrained from cutting the top and bottom edging as directed, and left it extra to then draft my own top and bottom. This helped to better match Patricia’s long corset. I also used the mock up first draft of the princess seams to tailor them to better fit my own shape and curves, rather than using the provided lines in the pattern. It was very simple to then continue the newly drafted lines for the rest of the project, using the sample as my pattern. One of my favorite new skills from this project was learning proper use of bias tape as a binding. For those new to adjusting seams on a sewing project, this was a great way to start because there is no worry about other part of the pattern needing to line back up like sleeves or lower darts.
You may not be able to tell, but I spent a long time scouring the internet for images of the pattern for her corset. You see, it seems to change over time, perhaps from updates or the original fabric going out of print. It doesn’t seem to have been considered a key element that needed to be custom printed, so the floral pattern and even the color shift over time.
Going in I though the corset would be the worst part, but it ended up being socks. Yes, sock. Patrica has at least knee high socks with a red and white vertical stripe evenly spaced around her leg. Again, being a robot her leg doesn’t need to fuction, but mine does. I looked high and low for white socks, red socks, striped socks, and striped fabric to make fake “leg warmer” socks. Nothing seemed to work. I ended up going with practicality and bought knee high white socks, and then began to experiment with how to stripe them. It came down to using red spray on fabric dye or red fabric dye markers (or even Sharpies). In the end, fabric dye markers won with the aid of masking tape to help keep the lines sharp. My curvy calves didn’t allow to pure vertical lines, but I did as well as I could. It took three passes of the market to achieve a deep red.
Finally the day arrived and I strutted my way down to Destination D. They had announced the day before that Alice Davis had been too ill to travel, so sadly I did not get to hear her lovely stories nor express to her how much I admired her work. They played some recorded interviews with her and it was so interesting to hear about the specific challenges working on non-human bodies, like the intense wear patterns that occur at joints. I did gain an immense appreciation for her craft and talent by walking through just one of her hundred of costumes seen throughout the world.