Invasion of Day of the Dead

I haven’t had a big art project to work on in a long time, so when my cousin Diego asked if I could help him with a costume for the Fourth of July Invasion of the Pines in New York I jumped at the opportunity.

What exactly is the Invasion? From Wikipedia: On the afternoon of July 4 each year, drag queens from both Cherry Grove and the Pines gather at the Ice Palace Bar at the Cherry Grove Hotel in Cherry Grove; after parading through the street of Cherry Grove, they board a chartered ferry boat and sail to the Pines Harbor, where they are greeted by thousands of cheering residents and visitors. As each drag queen leaves the ferry and marches onto the dock, she is announced by Panzi, the original 1976 invasion leader, now mistress of ceremonies. For a history of the event, there is a great documentary called, The Panzi Invasion.

My cousin had a day of the dead theme in mind. He wanted to use umbrellas as bases for skirts for day of the dead figures. Then he wanted to make giant Catrina-style hats to wear with long skirts and day of the dead face paint. It seemed simple enough!

Diego washing the dolls before cutting them in half and painting them!

Diego went all out and started buying umbrellas, hats, silk flowers, feathers, gorgeous fabric, skirts, and old dolls. He scavenged through thrift stores and craft stores. We decided to meet every Tuesday night until we were done.

I started getting worried that some of the things he bought weren’t going to work, especially the dolls. I decided to trust his instincts and vision and to always put in my two cents!

One hat of three

The easiest part for me to help with were the hats. He found super cheap hats that were on sale, left over from a Cinco de Mayo sale at Party City. I was describing the project to a friend and she recommended adding tulle to give the flat hats volume. I took out my glue gun and went to town! I wrapped each hat with tulle and then added flowers in different colors for each hat. I left an opening in the tulle at the top of the hat so that when Diego got to New York, he could stuff even more tulle in and create lots of volume. We then hung silk ribbons from the back and I have to say, they are spectacular!

Added skull beads to the scarf

Diego found two large scarves, and super cool fabric to cover each umbrella so they would become the skirts for the dolls. One scarf had fringe and shells dangling at the bottom. Many of the shells had fallen off or broken, so I wired skull beads and sewed them on the fringe where the shells were missing.

The other scarf was a gorgeous red burned out velvet and I decided that it needed a little sparkle. I took clear iridescent glitter glue and traced the pattern around the entire scarf. It honestly was a pain to do, but ultimately looked great! The last umbrella had cool purple fabric underneath and fabric that looked like a spider web on top. We added flowers to two of the skirts and Diego added a long strand of pearls to the third and voilà! Perfection.

Diego cut the dolls at the waist and then decided to dye the dresses that they came with black. We painted the dolls’ faces white and their bodies black because their outfits were black. Just so you know, acrylic paint on plastic dolls doesn’t last! I knew that, but we had to make due. We added the designs on the faces with paint and Sharpie markers and I was shocked at how amazing they looked!

Last but not least was to stuff the dolls with Styrofoam and glue them on the top of the umbrellas. A few more embellishments of flowers and hats and they were finally done! It took several weeks to get everything done, but we did it! Here are the final day of the dead umbrella dolls!

Diego, his brother and partner all have different outfits, will each wear one of the flower hats and then carry the umbrellas! Once I get photos of them in their outfits, I’ll add them to this post! I can’t wait and am so excited that I was able to help out! Happy Pride month everyone!

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