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Bella Donna

1775 maja, 18th century, 18th century wigs, balls, Bella Donna, events, projects

Vampire Ball!

Last night was the annual PEERS Vampire Ball, which is one the few balls I still get excited about!  It’s in a great venue (an Elks lodge that has a beautiful look) that’s about 3 blocks from my house, plus people really go all out with the costumes — over the top historical, vampire/goth, scifi, fantasy, and hybrids of all of these.  There’s so much eye candy, and that’s the best part!  Plus there’s not only historical dancing but also a goth club with a DJ, so you can get the best of both worlds.  Okay, and 2 bars.

For the past three years, Bella Donna has performed two 30 min. song sets at the ball, which is always lots of fun.  We’ve rewritten all of our English songs so that they’re vampire focused (so, for example, “Sweet nymph come to thy lover” becomes “Sweet prey come to thy vampire”), and it’s fun to get to do something different than our usual Renaissance show… and we get to wear whatever costume we’re in the mood to wear!

This year I was thinking about wearing the Marie Antoinette dress, but it’s so huge that it would be hard to get into singing formation with the group and I certainly couldn’t do any historical dancing. So I decided to wear the Maja fancy dress costume, but I wanted to do something different with it. I came up with the idea of doing a Pierrot makeup, in line with the whole black and white theme.

To do the makeup, I used Kryolan Supracolor again, and made my illustrator husband do the black/detail work. Everything went swimmingly until I went to power the makeup, which you need to do to set it — I was using a brush and all the black smeared!  So I had to do a bunch of repair work, which was super annoying… I’m not positive what the best way would be to powder when you’ve got more than one color going on, does anyone know?  I ended up using a power puff and just pressing it, but it still smeared a bit.

Makeup pre-smearing

I wanted to do a new wig, and decided to try a 1760s tete-de-mouton just to do something different — something along the lines of this. I used a pretty ratty wig that I’d cut to be a hedgehog, so the hair in front/top/sides wasn’t quite as long as it should be to do full justice to the curls across the top of the head… and I ended up doing things a bit backwards, in styling the front before the back, so had to do some curls at the side/back top to pull things together. But it was interesting to try something new, and now I know what to do differently next time!

The clearest shot of the wig I've got, which isn't very clear; or, yes, aquanet is period!

I ended up recovering a mini-tricorn form and trimming it the vintage b&w ribbon I bought at Hyman Hendler in NYC.

Pierrot Maja

The ball was fun and I had a great time seeing new and old friends, although I didn’t do ANY historic dancing — bad me!  Instead after our singing sets were over, I pretended to be goth with some of my Bella Donna friends in the club room and had fun doing swoopy dances and “catch the bat, release the bat.”

Pierrot Maja

Bella Donna performing at the Vampire Ball

16th century, Bella Donna, events

It’s Faire Season!

And busy work season, which combines to mean not too much sewing and not very much posting from me! But work is starting to calm down, so I thought I’d tell you about what I’ve been up to lately. I have been doing SOME sewing, but I have no pictures, so that will need to wait another day or two for a report.

Mostly it’s been Renaissance season, performing with my Venetian courtesan singing/acting group, Bella Donna.  First on our list was Much Ado About Sebastopol, a new-ish Renaissance faire that is A) a benefit for local schools and B) trying to create a new version of a faire that is based on some attempt at focused historical accuracy.  This year it expanded from one to two days, and it was a BLAST.  The focus is on an English village with English villagers doing lots of crafts and activities — sewing, weaving, etc. — with a visit from the Queen and Court.  Bella Donna is the only foreign group there, which means there’s a more cohesive village-y feel than you get at most faires.  The crowd is fun and more history/family oriented than the barbarian crowd (not that there’s a problem with barbarians…).  And again, they have craft demos and activities for kids… and a REAL BUILT STAGE, which we love to perform on, where we and the audience are in shade most of the day!  (Nobody wants to watch a stage show when they’re sweltering in the direct sun on a day in the 80s/90s). Lots of fun and sillness ensued — at one point I sat in the Queen’s chair and tried to encourage customers to annex Russia for me, although it was hard to convince them.

Singing on stage | (C) Robert Eli Bynum

More stage show action | (C) Laurie Tavan

Our ruffiano, Bastiano, gets vicious with Tullia | (C) Claudia Laughter

Hanging out in our pavilion | (C) Claudia Laughter

Then two weeks later was the San Francisco Italian Heritage Parade, an annual event that winds through North Beach, the Italian neighborhood of SF.  Its a ton of fun, with queens and courts and marching bands and Italian-themed groups like us and totally non-Italian themed groups.  The best part is the last 10 blocks or so are a complete street party, as restaurants move tables out onto the sidewalk and everyone eats and drinks wine and watches the parade.  We were joined again by some friends from the German Guild of St. Max, and they — plus our Venetian boys — were the hit of the parade… or, I should say, their codpieces were!  We do some singing when we can, when the parade slows down enough to let us breathe, and did a combination of singing and dancing for the judges at the end of the parade.  Then we were off to the Colosseo and Mona Lisa restaurants, who were our sponsors this year, to sing for their customers and eat lunch (some SERIOUSLY good pizza, people!).  My feet were killing me by the time we were racing to catch the ferry home, but I’d had so much fun that it was totally worth it!

Bella Donna plus friends from St. Max

Isabella hangs with a German landsknecht

Caterina attempting to conjure the Mona Lisa

Lucrezia in her pearly glory

Posing in the restaurant owner's vintage fiat, painted with the Mona Lisa


1886 fancy dress "champagne", 19th century, balls, Bella Donna, events, projects

Fix This Costume! Meh Edition

So last year, I made a Victorian fancy dress costume — specifically, a c. 1886 “champagne” costume.  You can read more about it here, if you’ve totally forgotten about it by now.

Last time we talked, I made some undies.  Well, I also made a dress.  I was really sick the week before wearing it, but pushed myself through finishing by telling myself, “It doesn’t have to be god’s gift to costuming.”  Well, that prophecy came true, as it wasn’t!  Didn’t help that I was still woozy and fever-y and sick on the night I wore it, but I had to go as my singing group (Bella Donna) was performing at the Vampire Ball.

So yeah.  I never found the right trim for it, even after looking at gazillions of beaded trims and christmas ornaments, so maybe it’s the lack of trim that made me feel so meh about it that I never finished blogging?  I don’t know!  I also think maybe the sleeves (which were supposed to be more interesting, but lack of time made for a crappy pattern, so I had to ditch the original plan and go simple) should be A) more interesting and B) in the gold fabric?  Or maybe a sheer, shiny gold tulle, and then echo that in a center front opening showing a faux underlayer in shiny gold tulle, as in the inspirational fashion plate?  And the skirt hem could be shorter?  Help me figure out why this costume is so unexciting, and maybe I can wrestle it into shape?  Or at least do better the next time I attempt fancy dress!  And for trim, go for shiny gold balls, or clear glass balls?  Had a long debate with my husband about that one — I was picturing shiny gold balls, but he kept pointing out that champagne was clear…

A note on the photos — I had to photoshop the base skirt on photos #2 and 3, as the settings on Trystan’s camera were off and it turned my green skirt purple.  So the color/shine is most accurate in picture #1.

16th century, Bella Donna

Bella Donna Historical Performers: video!

Oh, where has my desire to blog gone?  I don’t know, but it has floated far, far away and hopefully a current will bring it back to me… I have been sewing up the wazoo, but no (okay, a teeny bit) desire to post about it!  I shall reform — hopefully Costume College will reenergize me.

In the meantime, my Renaissance singing/acting group — Bella Donna — has put together a video showing what we do!  Please check us out, and feel free to share it.

16th century, Bella Donna, events

Bella Donna 2011

Oh, how lagger-y I have become!  Oh, how many updates I have in my mind and not on my blog!  Maybe it’s time to retire this here thing… or get my butt in gear!

SO!  One thing I don’t tend to post a lot about is my 16th c. Venetian courtesan/singing group, Bella Donna.  Not because it’s not a hugely fun and time-consuming thing that I do, but because I feel like the report would be, “Rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. Performed, had fun!” So in an effort to counteract that, I’m going to try to tell you about this season.

Way back in April, we performed at a one-day benefit for a middle school. Small (comparatively) crowds, little shade, and paved in light-colored cement so that our eyes were BURNING from the sun. Oh, the squinty pictures! Nonetheless, we had fun, debuting new music… A while back, the Queen told us that the Earl of Leicester would cover any of our expenses while we’re in London, so we’ve had a long running joke that he’s supposed to buy us all ponies, which of course he always fails to do. So we had fun telling him that we had a song about our ponies for him, and then singing “Gush Forth My Tears.”

Ardenwood Renaissance Faire was fun minus the humidity, which put a damper on things… literally, when poor Linda felt faint and was down for the count, and I got carsick on the drive home on Sat. No fun throwing up on the side of the freeway in a corset, I tell you! Nonetheless, it was good in that we had to cover Linda’s parts in our show and found that we actually COULD!

Ending the dance Spagnoleta in our stage show (C) Francisco Mijango

Much Ado About Sebastopol was in its second year and man, did they knock it out of the park. Those people who long for a more historically accurate Elizabethan faire should seriously check this out. While the location isn’t anything to get excited about (city park – but hey, there are TREES), the faire organizers are going back to the original vision of actual living history.  Most of the performers are playing English lower and middling classes, and doing craft demonstrations and other actual bits of living history. Whoa! Sadly, our director/harpist Shawna had to miss that show, and so we weren’t as exciting and sparkly as when we’re with her (no musical accompaniment, no dancing).

We’ve done the San Francisco Italian Heritage Parade for a number of years now, twice winning first prize for “Novelty Act.” Last year, we were smoked by a group of real Italians from Genoa who had (cheesy costumes and) drums and swords and lots of people. So this year, we invited our friends from the SCA and the German Landsknecht Guild of St. Max to join us, and made a HUGE showing. The parade is always a blast — everyone’s in a good mood, random people give you wine and take your picture, and it’s Fleet Week so the Blue Angels are flying overhead. This year, we won honorable mention for “Novelty Act” and had a blast doing it! Here’s a ridiculous video of us all singing along to “Don’t Stop Believin'” while we’re waiting for the parade to start…

Augmented Bella Donna at the SF Italian Heritage Parade

Finally, it was time for our favorite faire: the Folsom Renaissance Faire. It’s the last faire of the season, so everyone’s in a good mood; the site is pretty, with lots of trees; and it’s a fabulous girl weekend. What’s not to love?

I’ve been dying to make a new Venetian dress but had absolutely no time to do so, so contented myself by making a new girdle and parasol. We all use those Chinese paper parasols, given that we need to keep the sun off somehow and Italian women weren’t into hats. I want us to step up the game and go with something more period-accurate, so to that end I recovered a vintage 1950s umbrella (with a tag inside the cover that proudly proclaimed it was “100% acetate”!) with some gold silk taffeta left over from my 18th c. Brunswick. I thought I’d have it ready to go for the parade, but the cover ended up too small — wah! So I had to unpick all the seams and let them out. I’d bought a ton of this bullion fringe, thinking I’d cover the entire edge, but once I let the parasol out I didn’t have enough, so I cut it into pieces and made tassels.

New parasol! (C) Kim Yasuda

The other exciting thing, costume-wise, was Jenn made Shawna a new costume. Shawna is our director and works her butt off for our group, researching music and teaching it to all of us, plus leading the acting brigade… but she doesn’t sew. A bunch of us got together to make her last costume, but because we all took various pieces of it, it didn’t come together as well as it should have (and the fabric she chose was affordable but not fabulous). So Jenn had had enough of it, and took her in hand to make her a GORGEOUS new red silk damask dress plus a new corset that gave her a beautiful shape. Jenn is an amazing costumer who does precision work, and the ensemble turned out stunning. Isn’t Shawna a total goddess?

Shawna's new dress

Folsom was a blast, like always, but perhaps even more fun because this time we continued with the “augmented Bella Donna” theme, having some guest/non-stage show performers — the fabulous Karen, Sarah, Trystan, and Francis. We set up a space for the first time ever, and while it was small, it was perfectly sized for us (you can see a bit in the background of Shawna’s picture). Francis and Sarah have a pavilion and a bunch of gear they use for the SCA, so we got to set up a space that was 1) our’s and 2) appropriately pretty and non-peasant-y. We had tons of fun playing with our larger group; we made the local newspaper (that picture was taken during a tipsy hour where we hooted and hollered at literally everyone who walked past our set-up; we were having so much fun, we couldn’t even stop to pose for the photographer); plus we debuted our newest courtesan, Chlamydia, which was gut-bustingly hilarious.. Trystan took a bunch of pictures, which you can see on Flickr.

Our last event of the year was singing at the PEERS Bal de Vampyre, which is probably the most fun costume ball of the season. It’s about 5 blocks from my house (ok, bonus for me), held in a GORGEOUS masonic hall with 3 floors — a huge ballroom, a social room, and a basement lounge with goth DJs. Oh, and there are 2 bars! Sadly, I had the flu the week before and was still feeling woozy and out of it, so I didn’t have as much fun as I usually did. Still, it was fun to sing and our space was set up well this year so we were able to attract a good audience. The best part was we rewrote some of our English songs to make them vampire-y, and led the audience in a sing-a-long to “Greensleeves” that was about a spurned vampire victim/lover/slave and went, “Red blood was all your joy / Red blood was your delight / Red blood was your heart so cold / And naught but my flowing red blood.”

And yes, I did make my champagne costume, and I felt it turned out totally meh… but I Brownie-promise a full post about that!

Bella Donna at the Vampire Ball (C) David Bedno

Bella Donna

Bella Donna at Golden Gate Faire

Last weekend was the Golden Gate Renaissance Faire, which just gets more and more fun. Bella Donna was there with our new, improved stage show — lots of singing, some comedy, and other general silliness. The show went really well and I had so much fun performing, plus I got to hang out with lots of faire/costumer friends and run around being Italiano. Michael came and took lots of lovely pictures, which I’ve posted to the new Bella Donna website (2007 Golden Gate gallery). No new costumes, but some nice pictures!

So of course not too much on the sewing front, but there will some this weekend!

Bella Donna, events

Golden Gate Renaissance Faire

Last weekend Bella Donna performed at the Golden Gate Renaissance Faire in San Francisco. It was our first time with a scripted stage show, and while I was terrified for our first show, the rest of them went really well! Most fun was having Sarah and Jen come with their friends Bess and Edmund, who are reenactors at Kentwell in England.

Pictures of Bella Donna taken on Sunday by my husband Michael; I’ll add to this page as we perform at other faires this year.