Our Exclusive interview with Bella La Blanc of Bella’s Tchotchkis!

blb pasties web
An array of Bella’s Tchotchkis

Bella’s Tchotchkis: Sparkly Accessories for Sparkly People

Technology has taken the fashion world, the entertainment world, and the burlesque world by storm, and there is no shortage of cutting edge technique in the costumes on the burly stage. Upon further investigation, we caught up with one of the most innovative pastie makers in the country, Bella La Blanc of Bella’s Tchotchkis, to learn more about her adventures in making the perfect 3-d printed pasties, including engineering her own 3-D printers for the job! The following interview excerpt is an up-close and personal account of Bella’s process and her thoughts about how artists can work together in a competitive field.


RLR: So, how long have you been doing 3D printing?

BLB: Well we started toying with the idea about five years ago. My husband is a software architect and does computer engineering and stuff like that on the side as a hobby. Yeah, he’s a nerd by trade, and a nerd for fun, so, in other words, he’s really HOT.

RLR: Hahaha!

BLB: With that being said, we started seeing these big Maker Fairs and Tech Fairs, and we’d go to these, and we saw a 3D printer. And he was like, “I really want to get one, I really want to do something with it”. And I was like, WTF are we going to do with a 3D printer?

So we bought a Duplicator I-3 and it was a build your own kind of kit (a lot of this was his hard work too!) because if you bought them pre-built it was $5-6000. If you bought your own kit and built it yourself when they first came out, it was only $2000.

We started fucking around with it and making all kinds of cool shit. And we realized that the plastic was hard, that you could print it really thin, you could print it really thick, and then it was literally him and me on the couch one night just talking and I was working on merch, and I looked at him and he looked at me and I held up a pastie and he already knew.

And he said: “we can try…”

So, he literally built all the patterns from scratch. We’re talking we probably went through at least 2-3 rolls of filament

RLR: Yes, because you’re trying different densities and shapes, right?

BLB: Exactly- A lot of my earlier models were a little thinner, my next models a year or two later were a little on the thicker side, but they were also heavier; it took us years of tweaking. We had to consider what KIND of plastic are we going to use? Because there are tons of other kinds of plastics out there now like PLA, PET,a bunch of others, and I have rolls of all of them!

Then we had to figure out high melt temp, low melt temp, warping, cracking, proper temp to print at- things that especially even now, people who are buying 3D printers don’t think about. And, you know it has become kind of weird in the 3D printing pastie community because a lot of people are doing it now…

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s one of those “hey, you’re getting started, awesome, can you reach out to someone who’s been doing it for a hot minute, just to make sure you’re doing it right? I don’t want to admit the amount of money that we spent to figure out exactly the right consistency, the right plastics. I mean, we’ve gone through a couple of printers too, because, if you’re going to buy a printer and work it like a work horse…

RLR: Right.

RLR: How long does it take to print the pasties?

BLB: It takes about two hours to print one pair, but it’s not a big deal if you just keep them printing morning, noon and night. You do have to go down and scrape the printer, so I set up a print before going to bed and when I get up in the morning and scrape the printer and get the next print started. The truth is, the machine does all the work.

RLR: Oh yeah, after the two years of engineering where you figured out what you wanted to do and how to do it right!

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Some of Bella’s signature creations.

RLR: So, do you have a different printer now that you prefer, or are you still using the same brand but an updated model?

BLB: So, now we use printers that my husband has built from scratch because we know what we want and how we like things done.

RLR: Wow!

BLB: Even the parts for the printer are 3D printed!

RLR: That’s amazing!

BLB: It’s become a science of exactly what we want and how we want it. So, you can’t buy the printer, because he made it!

RLR: That’s what you want, a product that no one else can get!

BLB: I do suggest for someone who wants to get into 3D printing- don’t buy a MakerBot, they are really outdated. If you have one, great, just make sure you have the updated stuff for it. But I’ve seen a lot of positive things come out of the Prusa brand. That’s my suggestion. Don’t spend thousands of dollars perfecting it like we did! Let me help you; I fucked up so you don’t have to!

RLR: How can someone buy your pasties, and what is your site and social media info?

BLB: You can go to Bella’s Tchotchkis website which is www.bellastchotchkis.com, powered by Square (easy for payments) or to my Facebook page. Usually the easiest way to contact me is through the Facebook page or the contact button on the website. Sizes are: Small- 2”, Medium- 2.5”, Large 3”, with smaller and larger sizes made by request. Usually average turnaround from making it and getting it to your home is less than a week (in the U.S.). If you don’t see what you want on the website, I can always make it! (View more of Bella’s creations on Instagram @bella.lablanc)

(There’s much more to learn from this interview!  For full text, click HERE)

Bella La Blanc
Bella La Blanc by Stereo Vision Photography

The Pastie Project Thanks YOU!

Unicorn web
Image: Ben Trivett

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart, to all those who helped The Pastie Project reach over 160% of our Kickstarter goal!

Because we surpassed our publishing goal, we will be able to send $500 to the Burlesque Hall of Fame Legends Challenge Fund, which helps Burlesque Legends with travel expenses to get to the BHOF Weekender in June.

The books and rewards will be sent out in June, and we will have a book release party late the same month to celebrate The Pastie Project’s success and its availability on Amazon.com.

The magical burlesque community, it’s supporters and fans have made this dream possible, and I cannot be more excited to share a book made with all of my love for the change, art and joy burlesque has brought to my life.

The Pastie Project: A Mission Statement and a Message of Love

Rosey La Rouge, backstage at Skullduggery and Skin, Lucky Changs, 2008
Albert Cadabra and Ruby the Wonder Dog, Skullduggery and Skin Show, Lucky Chang’s, 2008
  • Finding NYC Burlesque

My experience discovering the burlesque community in New York City was a lot like coming upon a magical field of unicorns, and then, turning into one. Like a lot of fellow performers, I had life experiences that led me to look for an outlet of artistic expression through performance. Unlike a lot of performers, my day job was as a costume designer, and I had been involved in the theater and entertainment industry for my entire professional life, behind the scenes. The combination of my love for colorful, sparkly, extravagant costumes, and the desire to personally express myself artistically through performance came together, and the early connections I formed with some of the most brilliant people in burlesque made me fall in love with this art form, and it’s history.

The Slipper Room, 2008, First Act.  Photo by Ed Barnas
“Boobs for Obama” with World Famous * BOB *, 2008
With Dixie Evans backstage at BHOF Legends Night, 2009
  • Finding my place

I would attribute the beginning of my burlesque career to a handful of performers and producers who instructed me, hired me, taught me magic and self confidence, and helped me understand the business, and what it means to be a good producer. To Veronica Varlow, Albert Cadabra, Gal Friday, Jo Weldon, World Famous * BOB *, Legs Malone, Runaround Sue, and Joe the Shark- you made me Rosey La Rouge. After being under your tutelage and gaining your friendship, I have performed everywhere I ever dreamed of in New York City and beyond. I have produced shows made with love and art, and with some of the most amazing artists I have ever seen. I have conquered my fear of singing thanks to Shelly “The Singing Siren” Watson, The Burlesque Choir, and Peter Aguero. I have met the love of my life and my artistic partner Ben Trivett. I have seen burlesque grow and change exponentially in just nine years, and I am excited to see it continue to burst into the world by way of new schools, festivals, and via The Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.

Story Book Burlesque for Jo “Boobs” Weldon’s The Burlesque Handbook show, 2010.  Photo by Eric Harvey Brown
Miss Coney Island 2013 (Promo for the 2014 Pageant)
Performing at Miss Coney Island 2013!

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I have always felt that I was a good performer, and I love being on stage, but I know that when it comes to performance, I am a hobbyist. I was never the most famous, and I never strived to make a full-time career as a burlesque performer, but I now know that I have a very important and different role in burlesque. As a professional costume designer and historian, I feel that it is my personal calling to document the costumes of this art form, in a way that has not yet been done.

The Mermaid Parade Ball 2012, Photo by Ben Trivett
  • Documenting History

The history of burlesque has been documented by many historians, women’s studies experts, and in the biographies of individual performers. “Horrible Prettiness” by Robert C. Allen should be called the bible of the early history of burlesque. Gypsy Rose Lee, Georgia Sothern, Ann Corio, and many more, have fantastic biographies and burlesque books. There are even some writers and lovers of burlesque who have delved into the costume aspect of the art, most notably, Liz Goldwyn with her book “Pretty Things” and Jo Weldon with “The Burlesque Handbook”. It seems though, that no one has comprehensively photo documented pieces, and focused on construction and innovation through burlesque history.

Pastie Circle Jo's Workshop.jpg
A circle of pasties made by students in Jo Weldon’s Burlesque Master Class at Coney Island, 2016.  Photo by Bettina May

As a costume designer, I understand construction and fabric. I understand costume history in depth.  As a performer, I understand movement, reveals, and styles of burlesque. I believe, with my qualifications, that I am one of the most capable people to take on the challenge of documenting burlesque costume history. I also believe this is a formidable task. It is this daunting thought that led me to focus for the moment, on one part of the burlesque costume: the pastie. The most important part of what makes a costume ensemble “burlesque”, and a piece that was created because of laws about nudity ,many of which originated in New York City.  The pastie is a part of what makes burlesque a truly American art form. Burlesque history has been a source of pride or shame depending on who you ask. Regardless of whether you think that burlesque is a legitimate part of American Theater History (clearly I think it is, and deserves documentation), there is no denying that the costumes themselves, and more specifically, pasties, are works of art. They are pieces of body jewelry as varied as the performers who wear them, and are influenced by their time period, and place of origin.

Pasties by Rosey La Rouge.  Corduroy, Buckram, Hot Glue, Swarovski crystals, tassels.  Photo by Ben Trivett

The Takeaway

There is no way to document all of the pasties throughout time, and all of the wonderful artists who wore them. (In fact, pasties seem to be the hardest costume articles to track down when buying vintage pieces) There is no way to showcase the thousands of performers who currently take the stage with brilliant ideas, classic storytelling, legendary tributes, and boundary breaking acts. There is, however, a way to tell the history and evolution of the pastie and its construction that will inform and inspire. That is the goal of this project. Whether you are interested in The Pastie Project to learn more about costume history, or you just appreciate the art form that is burlesque, thank you. For the rest of you, who already know and love burlesque and this community, it is a pleasure sharing this beautiful world with all of you magical unicorns.

Rosey, World Famous * BOB *, and her love, Erik, at The Mermaid Parade 2016.  Photo by Ben Trivett

The Pastie Project is fundraising for the upfront costs of production on their book project.  Please donate here if you can, and thank you in advance!

Copyright, Rosey La Rouge, 2016.  All rights reserved.