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Crafting Theatre, Part 11: Milliner and Florist


There are a lot of things that we weren’t taught in Opera School.  Some of them were practical skills that would have been immensely useful to have when starting out in the real world: Writing a press release, for example, or how to properly invoice for a performance.  (All of which I had to teach myself along the way…) 


But we also weren’t taught to be versatile and creative, which, in my opinion, was a huge mistake.  Because yes, singing with an opera company where there is a huge roster of staff is pretty amazing.  But as a working freelance performer, one needs to be able to pick up on any needed skill along the way.


And this week – for me – it was flower design and millinery. 


In many of the photographs of Deanna Durbin, she is wearing a glorious corsage – with at least three large flowers and several smaller ones.  I didn’t need to recreate it exactly, but I wanted something similar for one of the costume pieces (more about costuming soon…) 


The first step was identifying the flowers used in the photograph.  I knew that orchids were used for corsages in the 1930s, but these flowers were larger.  There is a vintage-style store in Edmonton, and so I started by showing the photograph to the staff there.  Lucky for me, a customer in the store was a professional florist, and she overheard us and immediately offered her assistance.


She said the flowers were some sort of smaller peony, or something that resembled a peony.  With that in mind, I headed to Michaels, where there was a sale on artificial flowers.  The peonies were huge, but I found a similar flower as part of a ‘spring bouquet’, and with the bouquet, a few extra flowers, and a wide white ribbon, I got to work.


The flowers were not made to lie flat on the ribbon, but you know what they say:  “If you use enough hot glue…”   And it looks amazing.  It does!  It matches the historic photo pretty closely, and there are enough flowers left over to make a second corsage for either a backup or to use with a second costume piece.


And then there’s the matter of the hat.  In “100 Men and a Girl”, Deanna wears this cute black felt hat, topped with a single jaunty feather.  I thought it would be simple to find something similar… but it wasn’t.  I checked eBay.  I checked Etsy.  I learned obscure hat names, from ‘Juliette Cap’ to ‘Calot’.  There were a few similar hats from the 1930s, but they measured 21-22”, and my giant beast head is 23.5”. 


I found a booklet from 1947 on a histproc archive site explaining how to repurpose felt into a calot cap.  Perfect.  But I couldn’t find high-quality felt, so that wouldn’t work either.  The next plan was to buy a black felt hat with a brim, and then just cut the brim off.  But none of the stores in Edmonton sell black felt hats.  And I know it’s April and all, but I remember seeing them everywhere.  Where did they all go??


I checked Amazon, and the only black felt hat with the proper rounded top got terrible reviews.  So back to Value Village I went, and for $5.99, I found a horrible-looking hat likely from the mid-90s, with ugly white stitching, a large bow, and… a rounded black felt top.  Hurrah!


Cutting down the hat was easy.  Resizing the calot shape was somewhat harder.  I needed it to fit perfectly, or it would end up looking like a cloche or pillbox hat.  So I cut two slashes in the back of the felt, and put in black cotton triangular panels in each slash.  I had to resize the cotton, as it was initially too large, but the final result… is perfect!  I’m just finishing up the resizing, and next comes the feather (which luckily I already own, from a New York bout of fascinator-making a few years ago).


The show opens in three weeks, and there’s still a lot to do.  But hopefully everything will come together and it’ll be amazing.  Meanwhile, I needed a soundtrack to sell…

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