don juan de austria, halloween 2016

Goodness, that took a long time! I promised you Halloween photos long, long ago. Then I left for my trip, returned and immediately got sick, had house guests, waited for many days of rain to pass…. But at last we’ve taken some proper Halloween photos. You may be in the middle of Christmas preparation, but we’re still in Halloween mode, apparently.

And so, I present to you Don Juan de Austria.

Don Juan de Austria

OK, that’s the original Don Juan. He’s the inspiration, mostly chosen as the focus of our costume-making ventures this year because of those fabulous ribbon-festooned pantaloons. Plus, after King Carlos IV we were ready for yet another good Spanish history costume challenge. We found Don Juan while visiting the amazing El Escorial, where he is buried, not too far from Madrid. (If you ever come for a visit, it’s well worth the drive to see this stunning monastery/palace/basilica.)

And here is our rendition of the fabulous Don Juan.

Don Juan de Austria Costume

Don Juan de Austria for Halloween

We seem to have a penchant for picking the not-so-illustrious Spanish leaders. King Carlos IV failed quite miserably as a king, and Don Juan played very much a secondary role in Spanish history (and had a strong reputation as a ladies’ man, as it were). But apparently both of them were sartorially skilled, because we make our choices based solely on their portraits and dazzling wardrobes, with no historical research involved until after the costumes themselves are planned.

In any case, a little technical explanation: I based the pantaloons on our free Sunny Days Shorts pattern. I used the same technique as the Building Block Dress puffed sleeve (page 52) to give them extra width. I sewed them using the same technique as our Bubble Dress pattern to create the puffed shape, with elastic at the leg openings. We chose a fancy jacquard home decor fabric for the shorts themselves, and I applied the ribbons afterwards. It was so much fun to watch how it all came together once I started basting the ribbon in place.

Don Juan de Austria

The armor is made with a fancy metallic-covered foam that’s apparently used mostly in costumes for spring Carnival. I did quite a bit of test sewing before I started constructing it, since any needle holes would be permanent. In the end, it wasn’t difficult to sew at all, and was actually quite fun. I used the Building Block Dress bodice to develop the pattern itself, adding a little metallic braid just below the yoke and building up the neckline itself to almost a mock turtleneck shape, like the original portrait. I used a walking foot and installed a two-way zipper in the back so she can get it on and off. She totally loves it because it looks quite rigid but is actually very flexible. I love how the shape worked out, including the little belly and the–for lack of a better word–peplum at the bottom. Topstitching really enhanced the effect and helped to hold the seam allowances in place, since you certainly can’t press the foam.

Don Juan de Austria with Lion

And Pedro, our trusty Ikea dog, was also up for a little role play as the lion in Don Juan’s portrait.  (Pedro is named because it was really hard for S to pronounce the rolled R sound in “perro,” the Spanish word for dog, when we first arrived in Madrid. “Perro” sounded more like “Pedro” when she said it, so we named him Pedro el Perro. Now her accent is the best in the family, of course.) S was in charge of making his yarn mane while I was busy sewing the armor and pantaloons.

Don Juan de Austria

I love it that S still enjoys dressing up for Halloween. Here in Spain, Halloween is a relatively new event, and her friends didn’t really understand her costume because it wasn’t scary or gory. Everyone else at the school party was dressed as zombies and witches. I think that may have put a bit of a damper on the experience for her, but obviously she still enjoys posing in her finery. I’ll keep sewing it as long as she enjoys wearing it. It’s great to see a costume give kids such confidence and sense of presence, isn’t it? (And we kept the tourists at Plaza de la Villa, Madrid’s old Town Hall, entertained as well.)

The chatter about next year is Infanta Margarita. I may need to enlist the help of some friends with expertise in historical costume for this one. I’ve never made panniers. But then again, I had never made armor or wigs before, either!


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  1. Ack I LOVE it! When I saw the original painting, my first thought was “she better have a defeated looking lion”, so the Ikea dog cameo had me in hysterics.

    1. Thanks! And yes, what would Don Juan be without his exhausted lion?

  2. It’s simply magnificent in every possible way! The colors, the modeling, the photo shoot location – bravo!

    1. Thanks, Rachel! It was a lot of fun for both of us.

  3. Nancy Axmacher

    Amazing interpretation. Love the foam. I guess if the metallic foam isn’t available, you could spray paint or fuse lame’ to some

    Would you do the blue dress or pink dress for Infanta Margarita? I think the blue dress is awesome! (Velasquez)

    1. Yes, I think you could use lame with another foam. Soft and Stable would work, for sure. And I think we’d probably stick pretty close to the infanta’s dress, but we usually take a few liberties. Like fabric color. But we’ll see! By then she’ll be in middle school, so a lot can change between now and then…

      1. Nancy Axmacher
      2. Yes, there are several, each progressively older with crazier hair!

  4. andrea

    Source for the fantastic foam fabric?

    1. Andrea, we bought it at Ribes y Casals here in Madrid.

  5. Lian

    So cool! I don’t like to dress up but for a costume like this I’d make an exception…..

    1. It’s funny because when she was little I swore I didn’t sew costumes. Now we have a great time doing it!

  6. jane doe

    What a great source–Don Juan!–and the costume absolutely brilliant! Move over, Met!

    1. Thanks!

  7. DianeLyons

    Everything about this is totally spectacular! And I love knowing how you made it in such detail! Thanks!

    1. Thank you!

  8. Laura

    Amazing! Just so, so good. I did a puck costume last year and wish I’d remembered about lining the pantaloons to get the bubble hem affect. The elastic left a little frill around each leg which didn’t read so 16th century!

    1. Yes, the lining really works to give the bubble effect, and makes them really soft to wear, too. I used a silky satin that she loves.

  9. Connie

    Wow, that is really fantastic!!! Amazingly creative! Very impressed, as I am with all of your work. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thanks, Connie!

  10. This is so SO impressive, and I *love* it. Here we are just about getting into Moghul costumes, and I have a feeling that my daughter might love this one.

    1. Thanks! It really was a lot of fun to sew. I hope your costume-making goes well!

  11. Elisa

    I love it! Did you sew a waistband with elastic and put the straps inside?

    1. Actually, I was having trouble deciding the best way to apply them, so I ended up edgestitching them just below the waistband after it was finished. That way I could decide exactly where to place each ribbon, and then I stretched the waistband while I edgestitched so the elastic still stretched. It worked much better than I thought, and it really helped to control the placement of the ribbons.

  12. This is amazing! Love, love, love it!

    1. Thank you!

  13. I love this so much!

    1. Thanks!

  14. This is fabulous! I loved that you incorporated the lion as well.

    I have loved the Las Meninas painting since I saw this video – – really interesting information about its composition. I thought you might like it?

    1. It’s a masterpiece, for sure! That’s a great video–thanks for the link. Have you ever seen Eve Sussman’s 89 Seconds at Alcázar? It’s a reenactment of the painting:

  15. Caroline Ní Loingsigh

    If you are looking for the experience of an historical costumer with proper experience, may I recommend “The Dreamstress”. She is incredible, has great experience sewing historical costume by hand. A broad interest in terms of centuries. Historical clothing and it’s curating and preservation has been the basis of her academic qualifications. Also she has featured some costumes similar to this in her blog. I belive some infantas have also cropped up. She would be an invaluable resource to you.

  16. Fiona

    Running late as usual! But so glad I caught up with this post, properly. S looks absolutely magnificent in the costume. With her height, and slimness, she is perfectly suited to the style. Completely awed by your bravery in tackling such an ambitious project, Liesl, and good on you, S for making Pedro fit to play his part. An Infanta costume will present an appropriate next challenge for both your talents. Well done S, for not being put off by your class mates’ reaction to your bold, and original Halloween choice.

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