About 5 or so years ago, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, the group that I do a lot of volunteer work for, devoted an entire Saturday to brainstorming for the groups future. They invited me to attend even though I was no longer a board member. During the day we discussed our problem with getting local individuals interested in our group. The past history of the group was one of combative advocacy and that was one of the issues we were discussing.
Locally, in Shenandoah County, parades are a really big deal. When Herb and I bought our house it happened that our closing was on the day of the Fireman’s parade in Tom’s Brook and we couldn’t get into town to even get into our new house. We had to wait for the parade to end. So I made the suggestion that our river group begin working on a parade presents with a mascot or a group of mascots with a whimsical and funny take on the problems the river is facing. I suggested having a fish with an IV, maybe a clown fish throwing water (confetti), some folks inside a canoe that the bottom had been cut out of and have an entire troupe of fish that attends events and parades. This, I thought, would put the group into a more friendly appeal with a sense of humor but also with an interest in the water quality problems that the river was facing. It would make us more approachable.
So the idea was shelved until later.
The Science committee chair, John Holmes, approached me later and said that if I would make the costume that he would wear it. It just seemed that I never had time for such an undertaking and when looking online at costumes, none of them seemed to fit our pricing or look. So finally, last spring, I decided to dive in and tackle the costume. So I thought I would share the process of constructing a fish.
After consulting with Terri Fluker, a Berea College alumni, who designs and creates costumes in Hollywood, I bought upholstery foam at Jo Ann’s Fabrics and assembled the fish as if it were a quilt. Making a quilt sandwich for each side and planning to add the fins into the seams. Essentially, a pillow case like container that would slip over someone’s head and look like a fish.
Many hours spent quilting the sides of the fish was the hardest part. It was just extremely time consuming and difficult to push around under the sewing machine. The head was stuffed and a wooden embroidery hoop was sewn into the neck area to hold it’s shape. I also added some long sash pieces inside the neck to wrap around the shoulders of the person wearing the fish and bring around to their waist and tie it like an apron in order to stabilize the head so it doesn’t flop around and will stay put. Armholes were added as well to give the person inside a means to get water and for safety purposes. John determined that they were good to have but he was going to keep his hands inside.
The assembled fish was then painted with gesso as a primer to accept the paint. Using a photo reference of the Stoneroller fish, acrylic paint was applied to the overall surface. A gold glitter paint was used to draw in the quilted indentions and metallic paints to add a sparkle and shine. And the screen “look through” area was spray painted white to recede it into the belly area.
Now that he is finished, we see things that we can do to help the person inside and add to the illusion. Adding some elastic into the belly area to pull the sides together will allow the fish to look less belly dominated and maybe adding a small skirt area under the belly to hide the pants. Also, I may try and add some lips on the face. I’m not happy that the fish appears to be looking up all the time. If, and that is a BIG IF, I ever do another one, I would try and have the fish head so that he is more facing forward.
I want to thank the following for the help and support they have given me for the past year as I assembled this beast…
- Terri Fluker, costume designer in Hollywood, Berea Alumni. Terri has been my email support for what supplies to use and she gave me awesome feedback and suggestions. Thanks Terri. Check out Terri’s work here. She is AWESOME!!!
- Gayle Shaffer, FNFSR Board member. Gayle supplied me with fabric and support. Thanks, Gayle
- Cindy Frenzel, Education Coordinator, FNFSR. Cindy helped add some stitches when I worked on the fish at the office for several weeks.
- Facebook and work friends for the comments and praise.
- And to John Holmes for the enthusiasm to wear the fish yesterday at the FNFSR Annual meeting.