safe costumes for fire performers

wings

Painted in Silk and fire, Fire Safe Wings

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Fire wings are a great way to make a statement in a fire show! Either used as a back drop for picture taking, or to flutter around fairy like, they are a great way to break up a longer fire show set and add variety. There are a number of ways of making fire wings. As an artist who works with silk, and a belly dancer who uses wings, my preference is fire Isis wings off of the belly dance Polyester wings pattern. In this blog i’ll go over how I make and have made fire wings. I’ll go over my mistakes and the learning process I went through.

The inspiration to make fire wings came from two places, an illustration from Erte and the first time I saw fire wings in a fire show by Linda Farcus. The wings made by Linda were lovely, in an angelic way, but kinda looked a bit like white bed sheets, they may actually have been made from white bed sheets. Regardless the concept intrigued me and I wanted to build off of both the Erte and Isis wing model and make it truly my own.

My first wings I made were off of the Erte drawing, which in retrospect was a mistake. He used wings attached to the arms with bracelets. They draped down the arms like curtains from a rod. In the illustration they looked like the embodiment of elegance. I painted phenixes tangled within each other on the silk. Unfortunately, the silk I used didn’t drape curtain like. Meanwhile, the actual cut framed the body awkwardly. I was working with recycled wedding gowns at the time and used what I had. The wings were used with palm torches. Unfortunately they looked weird. And I felt awkward and strange performing with them.

I learned some valuable lessons with this project.

  1. Be thoughtful with the cut. Don’t count on recycled fabric for an already to go easy pattern.

  2. There are many weaves with silk that effect how it flows. Some weaves are great for silk belly dance veils but not suitable for wings. Wings, especially fire wings need to be a denser heavier fabric.

  3. Also there is a difference in weight even in the same weaves. Unlike other fabrics where they measure in thread count, (like sheets). To determine thickness of the weave, with silk, its actually done by weights. This is because counting silk threads is a daunting task.

  4. The reason why Erte is a famous illustrator, not a designer, is that his actual designs are not particle and more conceptual. If they worked in a practical ready to wear world then half the population would be sporting his amazing designs!


The second wings, (THE PURPLE WINGS SHOWN BELOW) were also made from a recycled wedding gowns, but this time the shape was close to the Isis wings used by belly dancers. At the time I was getting a number of Mardi Gras bookings and was inspired by this theme. I was also obsessed with the Goddess Anatolia so her head is there within all the colors of Mardi Gras.

There was some problems with the design. At first I made the actual torch rods too big! Wings are made of fabric, rods and torches on the end. I should’ve measured the rods to the exact length of fire wings but I didn’t. I was being too creative! Creativity is great but sometimes it’s better to model of what actually works. The steal rods were also way too heavy! I did end up cutting off the rods almost in half, this helped but the actual metal I used is a thick gadge and clumsy. This made is not the best to moving around fairy like or holding them up for pictures for very long. These wings are an arm workout! I did make a matching set so they look nice for duo acts and I still use them when an opportunity comes.

My next wings (the RED WINGS) were too much scrappy! Halloween was approaching and so was a belly dance duo act I had with another dancer and I wanted red matching wings! Unfortunately, it was bad timing. I made them from wire, the brasier I was borrowing moved to California and I wasn’t gifted a welder yet. I also didn’t have the right silk available. I decided to sew scrap pieces together. I dismissed the different thread counts and weaves, telling myself they will blow around in an intriguing way. With fabric, but each weave effects how it dyes. Also, sometimes it says 100% silk and it seems to be a little bit of a mix with Polyester. This also creates a inconsistency when dying. Because I worked with scraps I had some funky inconsistencies. They didn’t dye or flow right and the wire frame didn’t have the same security as the metal rods. They wobbled around and were unpredictable with movement. Unfortunately I made two that matched. omg… I went too far, know your limitations!


Pictures below of lovely PURPLE WINGS and not so lovely RED WINGS.


My inspiration for the next fire wings were off the Goddess Isis. I wanted something to match my Cleopatra crown. I used a technique called batik to dye the wings. I should’ve done silk painting to get a cleaner effect but batik got the job done. With the Isis wings I worked out the many kinks from the previous designs. This new Isis wing design was complex, more than it had to be.

I was in love with the idea of attaching the wicks by screwing them into the rod so they could be used without fire too. This didn’t work well in action. Durning shows they came loose, never came undone durning live action, but I feared they would eventually fly into the crowed. Once they did come undone while my safety was packing up, we had to drive back to collect the wick. I ended up welding them together after that and scrapped the idea of making them detachable. I had a welder at the time so the job was SO MUCH cleaner then wire! I don’t recommend ever using wire with fire wings.


There was scrap fabric metal left over from the fire dress and that was used to trimme the wings. This added another element of safety. The wicks were further from the actual silk, both by physical measurement and by being weighted and less likely to blow over onto the torches durning a show. It also added weight to the design and helped with flow. This wing design is perfection in my opinion and from now on out I’ll use it as a reference.

FIRE SAFTY AND FIRE WINGS

Before one prancing around with fire wings I highly recommend spraying them with fire retardant spray first. And make sure you use the right fabric. Here are some recommendations before you get started.

  1. ALL!!!! my wings are sprayed with fire retardant spray! I do not use just silk without using fire retardant spray. A little story to prove my point that you need to spray wings and all silks if you want to use them with fire! I never caught wings on fire!!! Ever! Except once... I decided to clean the wings. (If the fabric gets wet, or you wash it, you need to respray) A last min show came in and I had to run over and perform without spraying. Infact the wings didn’t even fully dry. It was a bad idea to bring them! In that one show I actually burned a few wholes in the wings! The fire didn’t catch but it effected the quality of fabric. I was able to sew them up but still it was one show without spray! I didn't hundreds with and nothing ever happened.

  2. Do not use polyester wings. I know they are super cheap! $12 dollars and you got some wings off of amazon. It’s seems easy enough to add on torches and your ready to go. This is the worst thing you could possibly do. Silk and polyester are completely different! Silk even without spray doesn’t catch on fire. If I used polyester for wings I would be dead! Polyester is basically tinny strands of plastic weaved together to resemble cloth! If it catches fire it lights up and turns to liquid plastic. Melted plastic on the skin will send you to the hospital. Getting burnt plastic off of skin is a painful process. I’ve seen some bellydancers use polyester wings with fire and could not believe what I was seeing!

  3. For more information on fire safety please check out my blog.

BURN BRIGHT, BURN SAFE