safe costumes for fire performers


The Making Crowns

For me there is NOTHING! worse then being hired to do a show and hearing “are those flaming marshmallow?”. This usually happens when at the end of the burn with props like fire fans or palm torches. The clients is not wrong, sometimes, a fire prop looks like your spinning marshmallow fresh from the Boy Scouts fire pit. For this reason, and the fact it looks bad, I try hard not let my prop burn out durning a show. But there is one prop that if not executed well with its manufacturing, really does look a lot like flaming marshmallow, and that prop is the fire crown. Because of this reason I have dedicated a lot of my artistic energy to create crowns that the client will not say looks like flaming marshmallows.


I love fire crowns! For me they set the theme and visual vibe of my shows. If I have a Game of Thrones fire show I need a dragon glass fire crown. If I have a Maria Antoinette fire show I need a Rococo fire crown. For a belly dance show I use two, that’s how much I love crowns! I have the Cleopatra fire crown and a jeweled fire crown that I do my drum solo with.

Before I started to make fire crowns I didn’t like any that were on the market. For me they looked like they were made of wire hangers, sometimes I really believe they were made from hangers. Once in action it didn’t get much better. To me, like many clients verbalize, they look like marshmallows on fire hovering over the head. A Girl Scout could literally have the same crown within an hour! She could gathering sticks from the woods, start her fire and prop the sticks in her hair. To sum things up, there was nothing crown like about most fire crowns.

A crown to me should be spectacular in one way or another. Ideally it should be equally glorious on fire as it is not on fire. Crowns should convey something, either royalty, a theme, a statement. I started my crown making with these values. My first crown was made in Egypt when I was working as a fire belly dancer there on a six month contract. Although I weld or braise my crowns I didn’t have any access to machines so I hired someone to do the frame. I hated how bare it looked and from the first day of receiving my crown I ran to the market for beads. I used thing wire to weave glass beads within the decorative metal peddles of the crown.

Not satisfied with my first crown because the beads were cheap, I wanted a retry. I became obsessed with the idea of collecting found objects, from the flee market) and braising them or weaving them into my head piece. This obsession was started once I read a book on the history of belly dance and learned that back in the day belly dancers slowly collected coins for their costumes. The better the dancer, the more coins were hanging from her gyrating hips. I was lucky when I stumbled on a vender who recently had a collection of Oscar Delrenta’s vintage jewelry that was being sold insanely cheap!

First crown is from vintage jewelry, next picture was crown made while on contract in Egypt.

Much of my inspirations comes from my travels! While traveling Greece I was fascinated by an image carved into stone. The sculpted pieces depicting a woman with a city as a crown on her head. My tour guid didn’t know who she was even though she was used frequently throughout the Italy, Greece and Turkey. Later I found out that she was the goddess Anatolia, my stage name was born! So was a fixation I had towards this goddess.

She is my muse, I painted her frequently and the desire to make a crown in her owner soon followed. Although clients never liked this crown, artistically it is one of my favorites. Although I didn’t have the proper thickness of metal to create the building to look exactly like building its weeping look makes one think of a ancient city burning. I liked the idea of how the flame goes in and out of the building. From here on out the idea of finding a stained glass, that wouldn’t break form the heat of the fire, became an obsession. Finding something that could illuminate with the fire carried into to my next crown.

The idea of using mica, as a material for a fire crown satisfied was intriguing. I stumbled upon mica (literally) in a weird twist of fate. I was jogging near my house and saw a glimmer, like fairy dusk, shinning on my path. I followed the glimmer into the woods, where there was an old abandoned trail not yet covered completely in brush. The shimmy specks slowly turned into bigger pieces of mica. I collect some of the mica and brought it home. At home my step father told me that mica was used to make windows for wood burning stoves. And that what I stumbled upon was an old mine. This light weight mineral wasn’t stained glass but had an appeal in its own. I had to make something out of this!!!

I started making a crown and a fire belt with the pieces I found and after I received permission by a neighbor who knew the owner of the property I collected more material. I didn’t have a welder or braise at the time so I used wire. I didn’t drill into the mica, a tenique I developed later with my last mica crown. Instead I wrapped the wire around each piece. This wasn’t the best visual evacuation and it sometimes came loos and it wasn’t exactly secure.

I was on a goddess theme artist inspiration and decided to make this crown inspired but the goddess/priestess/queen found in the the ancient Assyrian site of the temple of Ur in Iraq. When done the crown was odd looking, and not in a good way in my option. It wasn’t popular with clients and the belt was kinda insane an not really insane in a goo way either.

The major problem with the crown wasn’t a superficial one. When dunking into the fuel everything unraveled. The process of fueling would cause fuel transfer and burn within the folds of the mica. This would burn damage the mica, causing it to break from the folds and turn black, ruining the idea of it being transparent. It was also dangerous because fuel could potential drip, although that never happened, onto the head.

When I was lent a brasier I decided to fix the problem by making wicks able to screw on and off. In theory this should’ve worked. I used the same technique with the Anatolia fire goddess crown. But there was a major problem. the metal I used as a structure was shit and wasn’t working with the other metal used with the brasier. The crown turned into a hot mess so I scrapped it. It now remains on a mannequin head waiting for the day I have inspiration to use and modify it again.

Still inspired by goddesses. The next crown needed to be a Cleopatra crown. The funny thing about Cleopatra was that she prancesd around as a goddess herself. Therfor when doing a Cleopatra crown your are actually doing the goddess Isis crown as well. I made the crown to embody the goddess Isis. Her crown was a representation of the sun, and bull horns. The wig, that frames my head and turns my golden locks into something resembling Cleopatra, is made of wool that has been treated with fire retardant spray. Its braided and each braid is finished with a golden bead.

Side note that is amusing: Durning the sketches of the crown and wings I even was suspected for being a teriorist. Although the goddess Isis is way before the terrioirst group, in our society people don’t know of the goddess and tend to have a one track mind when hearing ISIS. This all started when I was inspired at the coffee shop. I sketched out my ideas on a recite that unfortunately had my name on it. When I left this scrap drawing at the coffee shop the words '“Isis wings” and “fire” alarmed someone. Although the drawings were of goddesses prancing around with Cleopatra crowns and fairy wings I was still suspected.

A team of police came to my studio with a warrant that afternoon. When they came at me with serious suspicion I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. I explained that I’m an artist and educated them on the goddess Isis. At first they were very serious until they came to my studio. The pink Isis wings hanging up that I was using as a model for the wings made them second guess everything. They couldn’t get out of my studio sooner, leaving red faced and embarrassed.

Next crown wasn’t a crown, but rather a mask that I magantised front and back to a crystal crown. The was to make it duel purpose and it could either be a crown or a mask. The Theme was flapper and crystal. The crown is very hard to wear on the head and the balance is strange when the mask goes on. The front doesn’t work well, so I usually hold it by hand. This saddens me because my dream was to snap it on the back then snap it on the front. My end goal with this creation was to make a crazy weird act onto itself, where the mask snaps front and back creating a visual intrigue. Next crown might have to be a flapper themed fire crown, but then again I have many more ideas for fire crowns so who knows.

The next crown was my goddess Athena Crown. In reality I didn’t start it out as the goddess Athena. I found an old hat made of metal at the local flee market and saw that making it into a roman stye mohawk fire crown was too irresistible. Once it was made it reminded me of the Greek/Roman Goddess of wisdom. Sadly, I don’t wear it as a goddess, and only wear it for my Halloween shows when I start doing the dragon staff.

After a while I ran out of steam. I was a little over whelmed with crown making and for a few years I took a break with any new creations. Anyways the clients were not appreciating half the crowns. As long as it was golden, huge and on fire was all that mattered. It wasn’t until I took a vacation and started missing my art studio back home that I decided that now was the time to get back into crown making. Not for clients but for myself. Dreams of a Mica Crown design flooded into my head, so much so I drew a nice diagram in my travel journal.

There were a few problems with the first Mica crown. Because the Mica goes right up against the fire with the dunking it wasn’t working! The fuel transfer made it too dangerous. Plus, it smoked up the mica and ruined the look. It took some years of making magnetic fire masks and now I knew the direction to go in. I made the wicks maganitised, so one would only have to take them off and put them back on without dangerous fuel transfer. This straggly made life a lot easier!

When done I was satisfied with my crown, but is didn’t have a story. What was this crown! Fortunately Game of Thrones season seven or six, was on and dragon glass was an interesting fiction material. Mica reminded me of dragon glass. The shape, looked like scales, meanwhile it can take tones of heat without effecting it. It doesn’t even get that hot the way metal does. Mica is the real life dragon glass! So this became my Game of Thrones Fire Crown. What will I do when the show ends and everyone doesn’t care???

I was so into the idea of mica that I made a few fire accessories. I made dragon glass palm torches to match the crown. Then slaved away on manufacturing a matching mica costume. Everything was able to be done because over time I perfected the art of drilling into the mica without causing it to flack, not so easy. Because of this I was able to make clothing out of Mica and attach the Mica to the metal frame without wrapping each piece. No I can say with total confidence that Mica is the most amazing mineral one can use with fire. I'm in love! If I actually found a way to get paid to do all mica clothing and costumes and crowns I would make that my living, that is how much I love Mica.

Although my Mica Crown was an artistic climax for my crown making I wasn’t done with the creative process. I just had to make a rococo show. And with what I learned from the mica crown. Using magnetics to hold wicks to avoid fuel transfer. I was able to use fire on fragile crowns, without causing burning or damaging the crown in the dunking process. This made it possible to use fire retardant wool and get that fu.. fu… look one aims for with Rocco.

Each Rocococ crown started with a frame that went up the head, kinda like a metal cone head. I then weaved metal in a sort of basket weave, only with a much lighter gauge then what was used with the frame. From here I was able to weave the wool, creating layers of braides and jewels. Then added some magnets under the crown along with padding. The Wick section was different then the mica crown or any other crowns. Before I used the mica to hide the wicks. These crowns I took the opposite approach. I used the wicks to tell a different story. Each crown was to represent a part of that world, that history, mostly centered around Maria Antoinette who was bad ass in her flamboyant life style.

The first crown was inspired by Maria Antweness puff she paraded for Americas independence. France helped America earn their independence when they lent out their naval fleet. Therefore Maria Antoinette sported her victory in her huge hair. The original crown was made from a Boat, (not on fire) tipping over her hair like waves in an ocean. The fire crown I made did the same only making I added wicks on the boat making it set aflame.

My second Rococo fire crown was centered around a metal bird cage. I wanted attach a flaming heart to the cage and have it represent love imprisoned to its own desires. Unfortunately, butter flies were readaly available at the flee market and I work with what I got. The brass butterflies hold wicks and flutter above the cage.

My third crown was made with the concept of the tea party. This was a bit more Alice in Wonderland, but in my head its kind of the same theme. The crown sports tea kettle and tea cups woven between hair on a silver platter. All the tea cups hold wicks in them. Two of the tea cups can be taken off and used as palm torches. They are able to be used from the head to the palm with the help of magnets that are imbedded in the crown.

For the last crown I wanted to make would have been a flaming cake but this concept seemed to much. I also didn’t know how to execute the flaming cake with out it not looking like a block of color on the head. If I make another crown it will be a cake but maybe would have to go with Macouns on a platter instead of a English Victorian style cake. Petite cakes would be more Rocco anyways!

Burn Bright, Burn Safe

Fire Safty and Killer costumes, that wont kill you

As a professional fire performer fire safety is a real concern. One wrong move and we can go up in flame, therefore protocol to keep one safe is a vital part of our profession. The seemingly basic common sense logistics is a lot more complex than at first glance. Each fire performer has a slightly different take on how they keep themselves safe and there are a number of issues and articles that can be written on the subject. For now I’ll be covering one aspect of how I keep myself safe for my shows, how I make my own fire safe costumes.

Photo Shoot or our show, silk gowns!

Photo Shoot or our show, silk gowns!

Rococo fashion and fire safety at first glance don’t go together. In general fabric is considered a liability in a fire show. This is partly due to the fact that affordable flashy fabrics are unsafe fabrics to use around fire. If that shinny/sparkly POLYESTER catches on fire it will spread, quickly lighting up around you and turning to liquid plastic that will melt to your skin ouch! Therefore using billowing fabric with fire seems absolutely insane! But wait a min. Blankets are used to protect you and put out fire props durning a show… Theatrically one can make costumes using treated organic material like a fire blanket and not put themselves at risk. The reason I say theatrically is that it’s a little more complex than treating organic fabrics and making a costume from them.

The Foundation of fire safe clothing is understanding the different between organic fabric vs synthetic. Patroliume based fabrics are not okay to do fire shows with! They are basically stings of plastic and when burned turn to melted lava plastic. Don’t believe me? Do a burn test to see. Burn a piece of Polyester, then burn a piece of cotton. The difference is huge! Unike natural fibers, many of which are self extinguishing, once plastic starts to burn it burns! Why would fire dancers use fabrics like this you may ask? The reason is because the fabric is so reasonably priced and look so good!

In fact polyester looks like silk! It was designed to replace silk and mimic the feel and luster, only sell for one tenth the price. As a performer I wanted to look amazing and be safe, that is why almost all my fabrics for shows are made of 100% silk. That is why at first glance a Rocco show with huge gowns and wigs looks so dangerous. Polyester gives silk a bad reputation but in reality silk is one of the best fire friendly choices of fabric despite it looking just as amazing as it copy cat Polyester.

Here are three major reasons I use silk for my fire shows and why I prefer it over all other fire friendly materials.

  1. The weave is tight, silk produces the tightest weave known to nature (besides maybe spider fabric) but where can you possibly purchase that. Only other fabrics that compare on tight weave are fabricated made of plastic. You can test the quality of silk weave by pouring water on the fabric to prove my point. It can actually retain much of the water, creating a pool in the fabric. slowly dripping through. This materials weave was so tight that durning world war one, before Polyester was around, parachutes were made from silk! One can’t jump out into the sky with Cotton! Why is a tight weave a good thing? In general the tighter the weave the less air flows in-between the fabric. Since fire needs oxygen to continue to spread this means the less likely the fiber will catch and spread. Silk, although looking very dangerous in a show (thanks polyester!) is the most bad ass organic fabric around! I have a video of my silk pants putting out a lit poi ball like a fire blanket durning a show. I made silk wings and although they look insanely scary because commurcail Isis wings are made of polyester, they are amazingly fire safe. I have used them in hundreds of show. The silk has touched the torches more times then I would like to admit, and has not damage the silk! There has been times I put down the flames on the silk totally by accident. My heart dropped and I was certain there would be wholes in the fabric but nothing it didn’t burn.

  2. Silk looks amazing! Nothing looks better than silk, nothing feels better. The luster the delicate way it floats in the air, silk is magical!

  3. The third reason I love using silk is that I’m a silk painter. I can make any pattern on silk. Its the easierst, smoothies fabric to paint or batik and i’m in love. If its not silk i’m not enthusiastic.

Fire wings I hand made and batiked dyed, made out of 100% silk, material has worked well, in the past has actually put out fire like a fire blanket.

Fire wings I hand made and batiked dyed, made out of 100% silk, material has worked well, in the past has actually put out fire like a fire blanket.

The reason silk isn’t the number one fabric used in the fire community is simple. Its very pricey! Its at least ten times more than polyester and four times as much as cotton. The reality of the situation is if I wasn’t a silk artist, who made her own costumes, silk wouldn’t be an option for me as a performers on a budget. The price of the fabric and the costume cost is not practical for a fire performer who does this for a living. Only reason I use only silk is because I order it in raw and in bulk and make my own costumes and actually save money doing it that way. I spend a lot of my time and energy making fire safe costumes that look unsafe!

For more example of silk dying for shows follow my other blog post

Back to the world of Rococo. This crazy show concept was conceived when my husband and I made the decision to live the life of “JET-SETTERS” and split our time between Paris and the NYC area. He is from Paris and wanted to remain close to family and friends. The problem was I didn’t have a show in Paris. But that was all to change. After the third Palace we visited the idea of a Rococo fire show was conceived. The safety road blocks were apparent from the start. The stye was decadent in every way. That’s its appeal, and also the problem. People dressed more like drapery then clothing and the head pieces! Every thing that was fantastic about Rococo was a issue.

Gowns were a good place to start. They were less of a problem for me then head dresses. Durning the hight of my silk dying career 40 silk wedding dresses were donated to me. With a plethora of Vera Wang and Bagla Mishkas the insane cost of silk dresses were not a problem. All I had to do was dye bath them. I also used old dresses and upcyled them from projects that went array. With all that said it was a little insane dying a dress with a price tag of 5,000 pink and knowing that it would be paraded with fire crowns for the rest of its days, but it was better than a dress of polyester that would be a ticking bomb to go up in flames.

Head dresses were next and they were more of an issue. They could be easily bought on amazon but wearing polyester on my head seemed both cheap looking and dangerous. Getting real hair was out of the question, the amount of money that would be spent was off the charts. I decided to use bleached wool. Being blonde helped, with a little baby powder and some wool I was able to get a cleaver look for the actual fire shows. Meanwhile for the roaming/roving section of the show I made fire crowns out of wool, on a metal frame. The wicks attached to magnets wicks could be taken off for fueling compromising the crown. The crown could be easily take off and on if something were to happen.

For more examples of crowns read some more blogs on this site.

It all seems rather straight forward right?! Stick to organic fiber fabrics. But sadly it isn’t that simple. The last step is treating the fabric. I do treat all my fabric with fire retardant spray. This precautionary step makes a show like the Rococo Fire Show possible. Even with heavy weight silk, prancing around a palace with a untreated huge dress with a fire crown, doesn’t seem like a good idea. Durning the time of Maria Antoinette more than one fat dress, hug haired madam caught herself on fire from candle chandlers. With all hat said, there are some issue with the fire retardant spray. Ideally the fabric shouldn’t be touching the skin, being that its caringnic. Therefore I only use it on the skirts and head pieces. And spraying without protection is carcinogenic and having it around you may be carcinogenic.

Yes, we have dodged the possible fatality of bursting into flames and now come face to face with increasing our chances of cancer, yippie. Believe it or not fire retardant spraying is a whole big fat issue and one that generates debate in all aspects of our modern life. Fire retardant sprays are used in mattresses and curtains and a tone of other products in our house. The whole issue is vast and complex and makes ones head spin. That said as a fire performer I will would rather not put myself at risk of going up in a blaze of fire and use the sprays to protect myself.

Now that costumes are out of the way, I would like to address that fire safe protocol revolves around the costume choices. Due to the dresses, even though silk sprayed, are still a liability for a fire show. Therefore we only use them for fire masks and fire crowns. Swinging fire props into folds of fabric isn’t a good idea regardless of precautionary steps. For The actual show we have a boudoir look, basic silk corset and puffy shorts. Also to be noted is that fire safeties are on hand and fuel drip is something that is taken care of at the fuel dump. It’s good to take note and remember that even a fire retardant organic fiber blanket, designed to keep performers safe can catch on fire if soaked in fuels, therefore a dripping props is a dangerous prop with the risk of fuel transfer.

Burn Safely and Burn Bright!

Fire Crown, metal, jewels and wool with magnetic wick removal

Fire Crown, metal, jewels and wool with magnetic wick removal