I designed this costume for my daughter, who after all these years, still loves to dress up for Halloween. Her costume is a witch on fire. Basically, the back story is that she’s suppose to be one of the wealthier residents of Salem before she is accused of being a witch. Then, when the townsfolk try to burn her at the stake, she escapes to seek her revenge.
I created her traditional Salem hat from a vintage Amish bonnet, which I altered to make smaller and added rows of trim. For photos, and a more obvious “witch-look,” we got an inexpensive hat and I added tulle to dress it up.
The dress had difficulties from the beginning. I had purchased a vintage dress which had an embroidered bodice. I added corset grommet trim and laces to give it the corseted look. While that looked good, no matter what I did, it just didn’t lay right. The original design of the dress was all wrong, with sleeve openings two different sizes and awkward shoulders. So, after numerous attempts to alter it, I decided to throw in the towel. She was wearing it to work on Friday, and about 11:00 PM on Thursday, I gave up. I had purchased a corset top and blouse as a backup. It was too plain, so I cut up the embroidered bodice of the original dress, and sewed it onto the other top, and added additional trim. Turned out better than expected given the last minute changes. She ended up winning “most creative” costume at her work Halloween party.
I also sewed little bows to the front of the corset, in order to hold her necklaces in place. I had noticed this practice on several costumes worn in the tv series Salem. After doing a little research, I discovered this was common in the 1600s so the necklaces would lay wide across the chest. The two black glass necklaces are vintage from the 1920s.
She wore ropes around her waist and wrists, to represent that she had been burned at the stake. I used cotton clothes/laundry line to create the ropes. The clothes line is softer than real rope but it’s white, so I dyed the ropes with coffee to make them look more realistic and aged. I then ran them through an open flame on the stove until they were singed (and set off the smoke detector, waking up the entire house). And yes, I had taken precautions in regards to fire safety. I had wet a large towel which I draped over myself and was ready to throw on the ropes if anything got out of hand. I learned real cotton actually burns slower than synthetics.
The top layer of the skirt is the bottom of the original vintage dress. It was cotton, so I was able to tear it easily. I tore it into strips, sliced it with an x-acto knife, ran it across the teeth of a saw to shred it, and finally burnt holes into it. I then added black cheese cloth in sections to give it an even more damaged look. The idea I was going for is that the fire had eaten away most of the bottom of the dress.
The second layer of the skirt was created by sewing battery-operated lights on to a black mini skirt, letting the wires hang off the edges. For the “fire,” I cut up strips of mirror organza in red, orange, and yellow. I discovered that I could use a hot knife to cut the fabric which slightly melts it as it goes, so not to fray (and avoids the hassle of hemming). Each strip was made to curve and have points to resemble a flame. With the addition of lights, it helped add to the effect of fire as they shined off the fabric. To keep it from looking too “tutu” like, I then added a layer of black crushed tulle, which I cut jagged across the bottom. This hid the wires and assisted the fire illusion.
While not authentic, she decided to just wear pumps instead of boots. I was able to find vintage shoe clips from the 1940s which were made of Grosgrain ribbon and topped with little brass snakes. It makes one curious who wore these clips back 70 years ago and decided on snakes as a unique fashion accessory.
I would say the fire illusion was the most difficult and time consuming to create. When searching the internet, I realized that no one else had tried to create this costume, so I ended up looking up Hunger Game’s “Girl on Fire” costumes as inspiration. I wasn’t able to find exactly what I wanted, but it gave me some ideas to work with and I was happy with my final version of the skirt. While the lights are not as noticeable in the photos, since it was daylight, the costume became really impressive at night with the lights and organza glowing like fire.