Hahnville woman unleashes the sparkle for Muses shoe design

There are two distinct sides to a Mardi Gras parade. At one vantage point, there are the ones doing the tossing. Then there are the receivers of the throws.

Hahnville 's Jessica Thomas has been hard at work, preparing for the giving side of the parade equation. And she won't be just tossing beads. Thomas has been working hard on her Muses shoe for the Feb. 23 New Orleans parade.

It's a yearly ritual. The process of creating this unique throw is as time honored as the actual parade. After all, for one night during Mardi Gras season, this special footwear is more coveted than a Louboutin.

Thomas, like many others who ride in Muses, has used pounds of glitter and glue, feathers, sequins, cut outs, paints, plumes, and fur to fashion her throws for past parades.

She is a veteran with the process now and said the first step is finding a base shoe. Unlike regular shoe shopping, Thomas goes for the most painful-looking heel.

"The more uncomfortable the shoe is to wear, the better it looks in glitter," Thomas said.

That shoe becomes the blank canvas. Thomas uses spray paint as a base and usually selects a color in the same shade as her glitter hue.

Sparkle is critical factor.

"I like to cover the entire shoe with glitter, top, middle, sides and bottom," Thomas said.

It's time consuming. The glitter must dry after each application. Thomas usually works on multiple shoes at one time. She uses a mixture of Aleene's tacky glue and Elmer's glue.

Using a paint brush, Thomas coats the area that she wants glittered with glue and then sprinkles on the sparkle.

"I like to mostly work with fine glitter, but I also experiment with chunky and shaped glitter," Thomas said. "The key is to only work with one color at a time, otherwise the first color won't dry, and glitter colors will bleed together."

It's a multi-step process that requires patience and precision.

If one glitters a shoe before the first layer has dried completely, this is referred to as "premature glitteration."

It's a look Thomas avoids.

One perennial question during the process is whether to stack multiple colors of glitter. Sometimes Thomas glitters a shoe all one color and other times, she uses a variety of hues.

"It depends on how the shoe speaks to me," she said.

Once all the layers have totally dried, she sprays a light layer of Aqua Net hairspray over the shoe to keep the glitter in place without dulling the shine.

Once the shoe is glittered to Thomas' satisfaction, she begins to embellish. She uses many different odds and ends to enhance the shoe, anything from hand-made transfers to old wine corks.

The gaudier, the better.

Fur, sequins, rhinestones and feathers of all kinds add a little personality to each shoe. Sometimes, she tackles a three dimensional shoe.

After the shoes are complete, Thomas takes a picture of each creation. Having a memory of her artistry makes it easier to part with the shoes on parade night.

Thomas also includes a little note in each bag with a short poem about catching a Muses shoe. The notes include her email address. Thomas encourages the receivers to email and share their experiences of Muses night.

With only a few dozen shoes or less to give, Thomas must then decide who is worthy on parade night.

"I love giving them to people I don't know," Thomas said. "Anyone from a mother to people who look like they are enjoying themselves, to the out-of-towners who have traveled to New Orleans to experience the carnival season."

Often, Thomas receives a note back from those who "catch" her throw. All Muses shoes are special but one of Thomas' will get some extra spotlight.

It be featured in the exhibit Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival at the Louisiana State Museum's Presbytere in Jackson Square.

"Glittering shoes has allowed me to showcase my artistic side in a very unique way. Even when glittering season is over, all the supplies have been put away and the curtains of Carnival have closed for another year, I still have sparkling reminders all over my house of the wonderful memories of shoe making ... which always makes me smile," Thomas said.