July 20, 2015

The Ponyo Dress

And now for something a little different.

I keep seeing more people online turning costumes into fashion, by making the recognizable features of pop culture on dresses: The Totoro dress. The Dalek dress. The Nightvale dress. The Marauders Map Dress.

I had the idea for a Ponyo dress. Not her exact outfit, which is easy enough to make (and would make a perfect future kid/mom cosplay set), but the art of Ponyo, or more specifically, the opening credits.
Warning: Long Post Ahead

I could just see the colors and shapes in my mind, flowing around a white A-line skirt. It would be insanely cool to do this kind of thing as a quilt or embroidery, but I do not have those skills.

I bought myself a set of 20 fabric markers from Walmart. I then had to find a reasonably priced white dress. This turned out to be much harder than anticipated. With it being fall when I decided to start looking, white sun dresses were pretty scarce. I had this idea in September 2014 and didn't find a dress until April 2015. I went with an Old Navy eyelet sundress because it was both relatively cheap and lined! I wasn't too thrilled with the eyelet design on the bodice and around the hem, but there was a large smooth area to work on the skirt. Turns out that the edging limited the area I would have to paint and contained my design nicely, so it ended up to be a big benefit.

Putting these scenes all together was a bit tough, so I first sketched out how I wanted it to go on the dress in pencil. I tried to have some large element to focus on, on each side of the dress.
Kind of an idea. Didn't stick to it too close.
After that I slipped a large plastic lap desk between the outer layer and the lining. This way I could stretch the fabric and draw on it with pencil and keep the lining from getting anything on it.
Kind of hard to see the pencil drawing.
After I penciled out the design, I went back over with the black fabric marker. I did it in four sections leaving each area to dry over night before rotating the dress to the next area to outline.
Initial outlining. Can see a little of the pencil up top there.
More of the design outlined.
Once the main outlines for the details were done I had to go back over and add the current lines that flow in all the water areas. In each stage of this I kept getting nervous. I was nervous to mark up a dress in such a permanent way. Then once the pencil was on I was scared to put the ink down. Then once the ink outlines were down and I had gotten used to seeing the design and liking it, I was terrified that adding the current lines would ruin it. I had to add them though, if I was going to be true to the movie.
The back, with current lines.
Now that the dress was fully outlined, it was time to figure out how to color it. The movie has kind of a watercolor look to it, but I had these fine tipped markers. My options were:
a) color in the whole dress like you would normally
b) try to open the markers, get the ink out and paint it on
c) go buy fabric dye and try to paint with that (unfeasible since I wanted to many colors)
d) find some other option for water color painting fabric that is permanent.
e) none of the above

I tried out the normal coloring idea on a scrap piece of white fabric from one of my husbands old cotton dress shirts. Luckily my dress is also cotton. I found that if you draw a line or shape then add a little water to the center and brush it around you can get a pretty passable watercolor look. The trouble is that the colors tended to bleed a lot.
just coloring bled out a lot
Coloring lightly then using a damp brush in the center and letting it bleed to the middle.
When starting on my dress I tried to use as little water as possible since I was worried the black lines would smudge, but since they had plenty of time to dry before I started coloring it in, their bleeding was minimal. Unfortunately controlling how much water went on was tough. I colored shapes that would not touch even if they bled so that they could dry and I could go back over and color new shapes with little fear of the first colors bleeding away or messing up the new colors I was adding on.
no touching for first round of colors
This meant that I could color a few elements, then would have to wait overnight for the areas to dry so I could color more the next day. This made it really slow going, which made me impatient, which made me use to much water.
this will take forever.
starting to come together
Luckily, even though nearly every element bled out a bit, once I started working on the solid background water colors, I was able to make it look a little cleaner around the edges. The watercolor effect started looking really cool once I got larger areas colored too.
getting so close to done
just a little more to go.
I tried to go back into each little element as well to give it a little depth and detail. The islands have a few colors and there are little dots for sand in places. I tried to darken the outlines around each item. Added shadows and shading. Added a sun on the horizon of the water too.

Once that was all done, I went back to the area along the top of the water and added a little blue outline that I blurred into the sky. It helped to transition the dress from the designs and colored areas back into the white of the bust. It was a mess in some places but looked ok I think.
Finished front. 
Finished back.
If you are going to attempt anything like this I recommend starting on the back and working to the front and not the other way around like I did. This means that when I got the hang of coloring on the back towards the end of this project that the back is now nicer than the front in my opinion.

Hanging in front of the window. The light coming through makes it look cool!
The markers are permanent and intended for how I used them, so the colors should stay. This dress should also be washable in color safe soap, but might fade a little. I really don't want to have to wash it more than necessary. So, after letting the finished dress hang and fully dry for several days, I put a few coats of Scotchgard Fabric Protector over the top. That way if I ever sit on anything or drop something on it, I won't have ruined all this work.

This is certainly now one of the longest projects I have worked on and is truly a one-of-a-kind dress. I plan to wear it out to conventions, I think, or Ghibli movies (should there be any more).

Difficulty: Advanced
Time to complete: Concept: September 2014
    Work started May 23, 2015 - finished June 20, 2015, about 65 hours