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Mermaid Tales

mermaid costumes in South Africa

These beautiful young ladies have made me believe that mermaids are real. I’ve been dying to do a mermaid project for ages, since all these trending iridescent and scale-print fabrics first started taking over my Pinterest feed. Check out my mermaid board if you don’t believe how crazy I am about this. So when lovely Marlene (Queen Marlene, of Once Upon A Time fame) asked me about mermaid tails for swimming in, boy did I leap at the opportunity.

mermaid costumes in South Africa

The only rivals of my enthusiasm were the mermaid girls themselves. They had gone to town earlier on the day of the photoshoot, and got their hair sprayed in mermaid colours for the CANSA Shavathon. We did magical mermaid make-up (which washed off in the water) and got decked out in flower crowns and faux pearl necklaces to complete the image.

mermaid costumes in South Africa

The Brief

There’s a magical online South African store that specialises in mermaid tails of the swimming costume and fleecy blanket varieties – I believe this is where the girls got their hearts set on the mermaid scene. For reasons known only to their mothers (but probably along the lines of “too much of a good thing”), the girls didn’t get the full mermaid gear for Christmas. However, they each got a “training fin”, which is basically a perspex mono-fin-shaped plate inside a neoprene cover that forms wetsuit booties. The idea is that you put the thing on like diving fins, except that there’s only one.

Aaaanyway, the point is that our mermaid girls had their fins, but no tails, until I unwittingly asked Marlene if she’d like anything for Christmas. “Mermaid costumes for me and my friends” was a taller order that I expected, but heck, I was peachy keen because mermaids. And who can say no to this pouty face?

mermaid costumes in South Africa

Patterns: self-drafted


Green tail:

  • green metallic snakeskin poly-spandex foil knit
  • gold crushed taffeta
  • green organza
  • aqua beads

Pink tail:

  • pink metallic snakeskin poly-spandex foil knit
  • light pink bridal satin
  • pink organza

Blue tail:

  • blue dot sequin polyester knit
  • light blue bridal satin
  • aqua organza

I had previously used the green fabric for an old client, and it called to me. It’s a stretchy poly spandex with metallic foil snakeskin print. I absolutely love that the scaley print is graded in size, giving it a certain depth and realism. I found more of it in green and pink options at House of Textiles in Port Elizabeth. Unfortunately they didn’t have it in a third colour, so I bought a blue jersey knit fabric with heat bonded confetti dot sequins – less glamourous but still very mermaidesque. These fabrics formed the main tail pieces.

mermaid costumes in South Africa

The fins were another story completely. Two layers formed the fins – a satin base and a sheer nylon organza. I had left-over bridal satin in my stash in the right shades of blue and pink, but no green. Luckily, I had crushed taffeta in gold that, when layered under the green organza, created a metallic green sheen. The organza was also from my stash.

These two layers made the fins rather heavy when wet, something I didn’t account for. In future I’ll have to work on the design and practice with some lighter or more water-friendly fabrics. Anyway, the weight didn’t seem to stop the girls from zooming up and down the length of the pool, so…

mermaid costumes in South Africa

The Design

Each mermaid tail is slightly different. Alas, I forgot to take close-up shots of these differences, so you’re going to have to trust me on this (or whip out your magnifying glass). The green tail got a ruffle around the waist, à la Ariel. Blue tail got a dorsal fin down the length of it (I added a center back seam for insertion). Pink tail got two smaller side fins at the hips. These additions were made from the same stiff organza as the outer tail fins. Without the satin underlayer, they had a lovely translucent quality.

I made sure to make the full length high waisted, so that the curve of the hips could prevent any slippage. Too many times I have lost my shorts while swimming, so I wasn’t taking any chances with the drag of a full tail.

The Construction Process

The construction of the tails and fins were quite simple. The fins, being in non-stretchy fabric, posed a little bit of a problem, which I simply ignored. The opening at the ankle was wide enough to accomodate little girl ankles, so I left it at that. Each organza front and back piece of the fin was first baste-stitched to its satin underlining and then attached to the bottom of the front and back pieces of the tail. Next I overlocked the whole thing along the side seams from waist to fin tip. The waists were folded over about 3-4cm to encase a simple elastic insert, and ta-da! Mermaid tails!

mermaid costumes in South Africa

There’s little hints of black peeking through their fins – it’s their training fins from aforementioned magical store that help them swim like fish. And not drown. Swimming mermaid-style is hard to get used to when your legs automatically want to kick in opposing directions. I was terrified the girls would do this and the tails would simply split at the seams from the force. Luckily, everything held together. No young ladies, human or mermaid, were harmed in the documenting of this project.

A little extra for Marlene…

Back to the making-of story. Marlene, being the primary recipient of this gift, got a little bit extra on hers. Firstly, I whipped up a quick bikini top to match her tail. I just traced out a triangle with a slightly curved bottom for the pattern. I then cut two each from the gold taffeta (underlayer) and the green organza. The taffeta was folded in on the bottom edge to form the channel for the drawstring. The organza was not folded, leaving a little sheer trim. This formed such a lovely ruffle when gathered onto the drawstring. For the drawstring and top straps I used a narrow strip of the tail fabric cut on the bias for maximum stretch. Oh, and I also threaded a small sun charm onto the strap between the two bra pieces as a *charming* personal touch.

I also added a string of teal beads to the bottom front of her tail for decoration. The beads were attached in the side seams. Again, I didn’t think about the weight of these tails in the water, oops! It looked pretty though, and Marlene was trooper. I’m sure they all had rather stiff legs by the end of the day!

mermaid costumes in South Africa

To accomodate the training fins, I left the bottom inside seam of the outer fins open. This allowed them to slip on under the tails. You can see the gold taffeta peaking through this open seam in the above photo, before the training fins were on. Getting them on was a mission. Neoprene booties of any kind are not the easiest things to quickly slip ones feet into. We ended up hoisting the tails up around the knees, wrestling the training fins on, and then sliding the tails back down and over the fins.

mermaid costumes in South Africa

The Final Products

Seeing the girls in the water was incredible! The sheen of the tails looked even better when wet, and the organza floated and puffed like magic underwater. It wasn’t the warmest of summer days, but the sun was out and the girls were determined to be Queens of the Ocean (ahem, poolside) nevertheless. They really did take to the water like fish. I had to ask them to please swim slower so I could snap non-blurry pictures! My only two regrets on this project:

  • the total weight of the finished tails
  • not making one for myself so that I could jump in the water with them!
  • mermaid costumes in South Africa
  • mermaid costumes in South Africa
  • mermaid costumes in South Africa
  • mermaid costumes in South Africa

If you liked this Creation Chronicle, contact us to arrange your own Studio Brinnjal mermaid costumes in South Africa.

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