Sewing the Strange
by Selah Janel
I’ve always loved making stuff, and I’m lucky that that’s translated into a career for me. I’ve done a lot of different type of costume work through the years: theatre, opera, event work, amusement park, business commissions, photo shoots, wardrobe, stitching, designing, and consulting. I love a challenge, but I also have noticed that although I can do a bit of everything, I really thrive when it comes to weird stuff.
I don’t know if it’s that I’m just more open to it or if I’ve learned that I get more opportunities by seriously looking at things that aren’t just pretty dresses or historical stuff. I’m not a costume snob by any means, and I suppose this eventually turned into me creating weird pseudo-stuffed animal creatures, circus freaks, and rocker-goth fairy tale wolves on stilts.
Welcome to my world.
I’ve done a lot of haunted events, and a lot of the experimentation that comes from working on a budget has led to making myself a lot of weird stuff through the years. Because I can, and it’s fun to bring out during the holidays when the family asks what I’ve been up to.
So what do I make when I’m bored and want to break out of the mold? Heh.
A few years ago I built a Renaissance-ish dress that had a bodice and arm garters made from mask latex over fabric to simulate human skin (for that girly touch). Since then, I’ve been experimenting with the technique (when to paint, at what stage to sew, how to add on parts and get texture), and since I don’t necessarily need a closet full of Leatherface’s family-friendly clothing line, I’ve mostly limited myself to accessories. I tend to use these when I’m going to cons, sitting on horror panels, and want an interesting trip to the grocery store.
Although sometimes a girl needs a little something more…admittedly I need to add a prom queen banner and find a makeup artist willing to work with me to really make this one pop, but I love the dichotomy of the princess-ish prom dress, the clean top, and the unnerving skirt. Plus, hi, every gal on a night out needs a handbag.
I feel the need every so often to try to top myself, and this project involved bringing in a friend to get it done in time. It took both of us pouring in the work to get it done in time for a convention, and I still have things I want to add to it. I love the trope of evil children, and I’ve played with questionable imaginary friends in some of my written work, so it was fun to bring that to life with a somewhat stylized Victorian twist. The demon’s name is Martin and I need to rework his arms to be more bendable/attach to my wrists for some control, because static as they are, they tend to grab people’s butts and that’s just really hard to explain when you’re just trying to walk down a hall.
I also have a soft spot for plushies and stuffed animals, so when I went to see Welcome to Night Vale’s live show, I decided to make a Strex Pet for my very own. The challenge and awesome part was that the thing isn’t described very much in the podcast, and I didn’t want to take too much from fanart. It took fussing around with different shapes and animal combinations before I found something that I liked. I’ve also learned that I have some amazing friends who don’t think I’m weird when I say I wish I could give my Strex Pet teeth….they offer me their old Invisilines and challenge me to cast off of them, instead.
Through the years I’ve learned that you can do a lot with a little, and really the sky’s the limit as long as you know how to look at the materials around you. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to go for the unusual and see what people say when you pass them by.
Selah Janel is a writer of the weird and the fantastic. Find out about her projects of all types at the following places: