Ringmaster & Carousel

Written by Kaycie Surrell / Miss Fancy
Assisted by Daniel “Dutch” Muchler

In this romantic DIY, Dutch & Kaycie dish on their Mardi Gras looks.

I moved to New Orleans on New Year’s Eve 2020 so my first Mardi Gras here was… canceled. It was cold, rainy, and I was even let go from a PA gig that day. It wasn’t fabulous. When the city geared up for the first Mardi Gras since Covid, I was excited to participate. I have always loved costumes. My dad made mine from scratch as a kid, so I knew I had to go big and build something worthy of New Orleans.

I settled on a literal interpretation of a carnival. My partner, Dutch, would be the Ringmaster and I’d be the carousel! 

The piece above was designed by Indian costume designer Manish Arora for their 2009 Spring/Summer collection.

This is a close-up of the inside of their carousel, which really inspired me. Look at all the beading!

It was a fun project for us, and relatively straightforward, but with room to get super detailed. I scoured the internet and Pinterest, looking for my favorite carousel costumes and runway looks.

I decided that using a large circular lampshade would be my sturdiest and best bet for making something durable – but also wearable for all of Mardi Gras day.

I became totally obsessed with building this wearable 3D thing so really, I had no choice but to deep dive into the carousel dress. I’m so glad I did because it brought me so much pride and joy. 

Here’s how I did it starting with the supplies –

● Large circular lampshade – I found one on super sale at Ross for $5 

● Pack of colorful dowel rods – found ‘em at Michaels 

● Plastic animals for the carousel – $1 at Five Below 

● 2 pieces of Owens Corning Foamular Insulation board (the one with the Pink Panther on it at Home Depot) 

● Craft Smart paper pad of decorative paper for the background 

● Gold braided belt – used to suspend the carousel from my waist 

● Several rolls of decorative ribbon 

● Vintage Magazines (I committed sacrilege and cut out some pictures of from my old Spice Girls Playboy issue because I wanted it to be saucy but sneaky) 

Dasco Pro 7 in. Scratch Awl – used to poke holes in tough plastic animals

Klein Tools 9 in. Journeymen Cutting Pliers – used to cut wires from inside of lampshade

FloraCraft foam cutter – used to cut the foam board for top and bottom pieces of my carousel

● Blue Wig – I purchased mine unstyled from Fifi Mahoney’s in the Quarter! I really like their wigs if I just need one RIGHT AWAY because they’re a good quality and they steam well but I also have great luck with Kryssma wigs which are less expensive. 

● Hot Glue Gun – so so so much hot glue will be used in this process 

● Rubber Cement – very good for collage 

● Mod Podge – the top of the Holy Trinity quite honestly. You can never have enough.

● Fairy Lights – super cheap at Five Below 

● Spray paint – I used hot pink and gold for this project. 

So! First I snapped off those lampshade wires from the inside of the shade and then I painted that puppy bright pink.

Then I cut and hot glued my shapes and ribbons to the shade to jazz it up and applied rhinestones

Next I started painting my plastic animals.

I did this before I poked holes in them because I didn’t want the paint to cause any issues for the dowel rods when I needed to stick those through.

I tried cheating and just painting these with spray paint but it looked TERRIBLE.

I ended up using Golden Heavy Body Acrylics.

I used the foam cutter to cut out circles from my foam board for the top and bottom of the carousel.

Then we spray painted them gold.

I covered the unfinished foam edges with a tiger print ribbon of the same thickness for the top and bottom of the lampshade, adding decorations to what would be the floor and ceiling, and then I strung fairy lights around the top piece of foam board. 

The hardest part was getting the dowel rods into each plastic animal and getting them into the right places in the foam without poking through on either end.

The dowel rods needed to be about ½” thicker than the length of the shade so they could be sturdily fixed into the foam. Once the animals were each on their dowel rods, I pressed those into position on the first layer then filled in any gaps around the rod with hot glue to strengthen the base. Then I hot glued the bottom of the shade to the bottom foam piece.

I flipped the whole thing over once it was dry and pressed the rods into the ceiling foam piece and glued those as well while gluing the top of the carousel to the foam. It’s messy but it gets covered up by the petticoat tent so it’s fine!

Et voilà!

I used ribbon to hoist the carousel up around my waist and attached it to a gold braided belt. It wasn’t fancy but it worked and allowed for some movement while I walked. This also meant I could unbuckle the skirt and remove it more easily than making it into one piece affixed to a dress.

I had almost everything else I needed to pull the rest of the look together: wig, corset-top, fringe gloves, tights, and the petticoat to use as my tent.

Wig styling is a whole separate process but I watched this artist’s tutorials to get started styling and stacking my own wigs. 

Don’t forget about Dutch!

I also painted my partner’s thrifted tailcoat with a Ringmaster theme using the same Golden paints but first, chalk.

I learned from doing tattoos – a long time ago – that it’s best to plan ahead & sketch it out first. I used chalk to get it just right.

I pulled ideas from classic tattoo-style tigers: 

Using felt, I created flame patches for the tiger.

It would’ve been easier to just paint the flames but this created dimension and texture.

To heighten the effect, I added star patches and painted the sleeves.

I felt INCREDIBLE the whole time I was wearing it.

I wore this on Mardi Gras day from about 8am to 3pm. We lived in the Bywater right by Frady’s last year so it was the PERFECT spot to wander and take in everyone’s costumes from our neighborhood to the Quarter and back. This was so much fun to wear, if a bit difficult to walk quickly in. I was forced to meander because of the width of the lampshade but it’s not like you can get anywhere quickly on Mardi Gras day. 

The only uncomfortable thing about this costume was having to pee! My master plan to quickly remove the skirt by unbuckling the belt didn’t work everywhere because of the width of bathroom stalls (and the lack of available restrooms on Mardi Gras.)

I coughed up $5 to use a porta potty but, once inside, I realized I couldn’t get out! I somehow managed to scale the wall of that teeny tiny bathroom and hoist the carousel over me and hold onto it while I peed but then I had to get it back on. Thank god I wore tights and bike shorts because I ended up getting stuck and sort of tumbling out of the stall. Lol. Some very sweet gentlemen waiting outside the stall helped get me situated and back into my costume.

Never a dull moment on Mardi Gras! 

The very best part of Mardi Gras is seeing all the work and joy that went into the costumes that people create. It’s so celebratory and congratulatory and supportive. It’s nice when another artist in an amazing costume gives you the wink and the “Brava!” with a lil clap. I’m still thinking about a wholesome interaction I had with a Rosy Maple Moth. I met a collage artist outside of Anna’s who complimented my carousel and we ended up talking about art and collage works for 45 minutes!

The very best feeling of all though, was when the kiddos would see the carousel and light up. One family were all dressed as circus characters and all the kids were the animals. It was the sweetest thing to be asked if their kids could get a photo with me around the carousel. Seeing how kids react to everyone’s Mardi Gras costumes is the best. For me, that’s how I know if I did a really good job.

The kids should love it. It should feel a little bit magical

Kaycie Surrell is a multidisciplinary artist who incorporates a vast collection of tools, found objects, and glitter into her practice. Her work often blends elements of costume design, papercraft, visual, and performance arts. She has been performing burlesque and draglesque as Miss Fancy since 2009. Kaycie grew up in and around the South and has always nurtured and been encouraged to nurture her love of the wacky, weird, and wonderful. Kaycie studied
and failed art several times in college because she was too busy putting on burlesque shows to show up for class. When she finally got it together, she headed to the midwest where she earned an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She now resides in New Orleans, back next to the Mississippi where she belongs. Kaycie is blessed to work out of her
home studio in Algiers Point where she is joined by her partner Dutch, her dalmatian Roux, and Sharon…a cat shaped vessel for the ghost of a vaudevillian stage mother who hates her and thinks she’s terrible at all of these things.

Daniel “Dutch” Muchler is a Chicago native and southern transplant by way of his partner Kaycie. A bike messenger for many many years, Dutch is a skilled logistician and conceptual artist. He applies these skills to his current work in video game development.

Dia has a question:
Cream Scene: I’M in New Orleans. Did you wear your dress to the gorgeous carousel bar?
I didn’t!! ! I should. I want to check it out because the history of the Monteleone is fascinating. My carousel might have to make its second appearance this Mardi Gras season just for a little night out at the Carousel Bar.
I had intended to wear it out on more than one occasion but I got distracted by the project that followed – a giant wearable cake!

Thanks so much for inviting me to share this dress. I really, really enjoy y’all’s content. I love the kitsch, the camp, the collage, the colors – all of it.

Cream scene: Well, jeez, We gotta hear about that cake frock. Will you come back, Kaycie?

A: Yes!

What you’re doing is so beautiful and cool.

It means a lot to be part of it!

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