Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Costuming The Actor's Nightmare

A long long time ago (nine years ago), I can still remember (because Facebook's On This Day feature reminded me) how the thought of costuming another drama production made me (do the opposite of) smile. I had just finished doing the costumes for Dragonwings, and since I didn't know how to sew at the time, it was a lot of going to thrift stores, hot gluing, and safety pinning. I found myself doing questionable crafts, like wrapping twine around Old Navy flip-flops to make "straw" sandals, and buying large quantities of long fake hair to braid into queues. Afterwards, I swore to never let myself be bewitched into costuming again. Hah! Little did I know, the costuming bug had bit me and after several years' incubation, I found myself once again caught up in the mad (totally exhilarating) sickness of costuming a play.

This time, it was under a new director and I had several years of sewing experience under my belt, so it was, in many ways, a totally different experience (in other ways, it was totally the same, i.e. scrambling in the weeks leading up the play trying to thrift all the things we still needed and the heady rush of seeing my costumes on stage). Since it was the fall production, it was a short play by Christopher Durang, The Actor's Nightmare. I wasn't responsible for all the costumes, thank goodness, because I only had a month or so to make everything.

For the main character, George, I made a black "Shakespearean" Hamlet outfit, consisting of a doublet and "pumpkin" pants. He also wore the pirate shirt that I made a few years ago.

My sketch.
The doublet was made using Simplicity 4059 modified for back lacing (for future adjustability) and front closures, and the elastic-waist pants were drafted using his measurements and the directions in Elizabethan Costuming by Janet Winter. I used black cotton velveteen (from Jo-Ann's) with black gimp braid trim (from Amazon), and the pants were stuffed with tulle. Total cost: a little over $100.

How it turned out IRL, albeit more crumpled than it actually looked, since the picture on the left is after pulling it out of storage for pictures, and the one on the right is after three performances. 

The two main actresses, Sarah Siddons and Dame Ellen Terry, were meant to be grand ladies in 1930s-esque evening gowns. I originally looked at my Janet Arnold Patterns of Fashion 2, EvaDress' Dinner Gown and Cape, and McCall's 7154, but then decided that they would all be too much work to fit and sew with such a limited time frame. Instead, I stuck with *gasp* stretch fabric and made do with patterns that I either had or could buy on sale at Jo-Ann's.

For Sarah, I went with a stretch velvet to mimic the luxury of 1930s starlets' gowns (turns out that I was right to do so, since the American Duchess came to a similar conclusion when making a luxe 1930s velvet dress). The skirt and back bodice piece came from McCall's 7047, and the front bodice piece was from McCall's 6963. To help hold the back of the bodice on the actress' shoulders, and because her costume required a zipper that could be undone without revealing anything, I took inspiration from this extant velvet gown:

Unfortunately, I can't find any information about this dress. 

Here's the sketch of my dress:

I didn't have the right color in my cheapo color pencil box, so this is more magenta than the burgundy it should be.

And here's how it turned out.

Cecily doesn't fill it out as well as the actress. 

A close up of the back zipper arrangement, which served to both hold the gown on the actress' shoulders, and provide a non-crucial zipper. I know it might not seem like a big deal, but I'm really proud of figuring out how to do that while still making it semi-1930s in flavor!

I'm pretty pleased with how the final gown turned out, especially considering how little time I had. I do wish I had had time to do an FBA on the bodice, and more fabric so that I could make a fuller bottom of the skirt by cutting it on the bias, but I think those are things that really only bother me. Total cost: about $50.

Ellen's dress needed to be equally glamorous, but I didn't want to use velvet again. I briefly considered some kind of satiny fabric but decided that the sheen under stage lights would emphasize any issues (I've seen way too many badly done polyester satin costumes!), so I decided that a glittery fabric would be a good compromise between luxury and being able to camouflage problem spots. I was inspired by this extant gold dress:

[picture source]

My sketch, which really only serves to illustrate how I have no idea how to draw lace:

Or hands, for that matter.

In the interest of saving myself time/money, I used a pattern I've already used for myself, McCall's 3252. It's a vintage 1970s dress pattern that I thought looked similar enough in shape to pass for 1930s-"ish" once I made some modifications. I cut the skirt into more of a trumpet shape to mimic the slim-at-the-hips-then-flaring-out look of 1930s bias cut dresses, put gathers under the bust, narrowed the straps, and cut the back into a V-shape.

While I was more pleased with my faux-1930s look with the wine-velvet dress, this dress definitely made more of a visual impact because of the glittery gold lace fabric I used. The actress playing Ellen is a bit of a tomboy, but when she walked out on stage she was absolutely transformed -- another student of mine said that she almost teared up because Ellen looked so beautiful -- which was a great reminder of what a costume can do for a performer. Total cost: about $50.

My phone did NOT like take a picture of the red velvet in the weird lighting onstage!

I made some other pieces for the play, like a grand cape for Sarah, and a white mob cap for Ellen, but the above three costumes took up the bulk of my time. I also modified my Mother Gothel dress by adding long swoopy sleeves in order to make it more fantasy-medieval. The rest of the costumes were rented or purchased, thank goodness! I was so short on time (during the week I could only sew when SHB was asleep, and his naps don't last that long...plus I had actual other work to do, like grading and lesson planning) that even with my husband and in-laws doing lots of babysitting on weekends, I didn't finish sewing up the last costume until two hours before opening. Talk about cutting it close!

Mob cap and Gothel dress make an appearance in the closing night cast photo.

After all of that stressful rushing (but still exciting, as I thrive on the last-minute push before a deadline), I decided that I was going to make sure that the next time I costumed a play, I would be much more methodical about organizing my time and tasks so as to reduce the stress for both me and my family. Stay tuned for a look at the costumes from the spring production: a post-apocalyptic Antigone...

Saturday, July 9, 2016

"Captain America Goes to the Gym" Shorts

I've been experiencing a serious lack of sewjo ever since I sewed up SHB's Tako Hat (which was over a month ago). I've got a pile of underwear cut out but the thought of assembly-line sewing such boring basics (that nobody will even get to see!) was too boring to stomach. So I signed up for Gillian's sewing dares, hoping for a kick in the pants (shorts?). I think it worked, because her dare for me was to sew something 1) selfish, that 2) I missed from my pre-baby wardrobe. I haven't sewn a pair of pants since before SHB was born, but I didn't want to jump right back in with a fitted pair and have to deal with a fly front. I also only have one pair of woven shorts that fits me right now, and those are white, which is pretty much a no-no if you're running after a sticky-handed toddler all day. I knew I needed something relatively fast and easy to jump start my sewing, so I settled for elastic-waist shorts in a dark color to fit the gap in my wardrobe.

I used the City Gym Shorts pattern from Purl Soho (thanks to Leah of Struggle Sews a Straight Seam for cluing me in to this free pattern's existence!) and some scrap navy fabric leftover from my Han Solo pants. Since I was sewing the night before Independence Day, I figured I would patriotize them by choosing an appropriate color trim. I was going to do either plain red or white, but serendipitously Heather posted the tutorial that Sew Tawdry did for a two-color trim application. Her instructions were the perfect inspiration that I needed to dress up my shorts.

Exposure upped to show the crotch fit, although the actual colors are more accurate in the first collage.

Pattern: The free City Gym Shorts by Purl Soho
Fabric: 1/2 yard of navy blue cotton twill from stash
Notions: A little less than a yard of 1" elastic, purchased at a grocery store in Italy, and vintage red and white bias tape inherited from another sewist's stash. I had exactly two inches of tape left at the end, which was good, because they don't make all-cotton bias tape anymore.
Hours: Four, mostly because of fiddling with the trim, then messing up irreparably and having to cover my mistake with a piece of grosgrain ribbon so that it looked like an intentional "label." And then having to unpick the waistband to shorten the elastic because I blindly followed the directions on the pattern without thinking to check the length first on myself.

And then my topstitching went all wonky on my "label," so I had to go back and fix that after SHB went to bed. 

Will you make it again? Yes, because I love the length and ease of these shorts! Although probably not with the fussy trim. I also want to smooth out the "J" of the crotch curve a little bit more, since I still see some pulling there.
Total cost: Free, because stash. Go me!
Final thoughts: I'm pretty sure my dad had gym shorts like this in the 70s, which is a thought that's neither here nor there, but still worth mentioning; it's probably why I find this look so vaguely familiar and slightly repellant? At any rate, I know these look like sporty lounge-at-home shorts, and not going-out shorts, but let's face it, all I'm going to be doing is chasing SHB around at the zoo this summer, so these are fine for that purpose.

This is what was going on in the background while I was taking pictures:
SHB was running around throwing his toy animals on the floor.

Thanks for the #SewingDare, Gillian -- it worked!

Okay, so I wrote everything above when I sewed up these red-white-and-blue shorts the night before Independence Day, and then I saw all the horrifying news earlier this week. Even though I had my pictures ready to go on the evening of July 5, I couldn't bring myself to post this entry yet; this was meant to be a patriotic pair of shorts, but I was having a really difficult time with America in general and it felt disingenuous to be posting something so rah-rah. I still don't have anything coherent to say about the tragedies of this week, but then I thought about Captain America: Civil War, and Steve Rogers' faith in people and how he tried his hardest to do what was right, his genuine grief over everyone who died on his watch, and I decided I was okay with making them Captain America shorts. I'd like to think Captain America would be all about #blacklivesmatter; also how dorky is it that I was vaguely comforted by a fictional superhero?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Tako Hat!

After I went through all the trouble of painting/sewing/crafting up a marine-themed nursery for SHB, it turns out that the ungrateful (but still incredibly cute and lovable) bugger couldn't care less about ocean animals. His current loves are African savannah animals and barnyard animals; the former are just so dramatically huge and recognizable when we see them at the zoo, and the latter all make fun noises. SHB loves finding out what noises animals* make, and while I can do a credible whale imitation, there's really nothing I can do for crabs, fish, seastars, and sharks. We did decide that shrimp say "hahaha," as a play on the Cantonese word for shrimp, .

Anyway, hope must spring eternal, because when AJ of Confused Kitty Creations, who has long been one of my cosplay crushes, asked for testers for her new toddler sewing pattern, I immediately volunteered to sew, of all things, a 1) hat, for my kid who hates anything on his head, with 2) an octopus on it, because apparently I haven't yet learned my lesson. It was a fairly quick and easy project, even with the instructions in beta, and it was such a nice change to work with a pattern where all the notches and pattern pieces lined up perfectly! I've worked with too many patterns (including those of my own sloppy drafting) where I have to manhandle and ease pieces to get them to work, but this one didn't require any such fudging. The fit was also perfect for the recommended size for SHB's age, i.e. just a little bit of ease, and he's got a rather large head for his age.

I tried to play with the color on the image so that you see my less than stellar stitching on the face pieces. 

Pattern: Tako Sun Hat
Fabric: Scrap cotton fabric in my stash, quilting weight, plus a little bit of high quality felt for the facial features
Notions: A tiny piece of Velcro for the strap, interfacing for the brim
Hours: Maybe three? I made it a while ago, so I don't really remember.
Total cost: Free, since it was all from stash.
Final thoughts: Well, I adore it, even if SHB doesn't. Because as I really should have predicted, he wouldn't have any of it. He thought it was funny to put on for about five seconds, and then he pulled it off and refused to let me put it back on.

This is pretty much the only normal photo I got. 

He pulled it off before I could do the straps.

I have about fifty more photos that are variations of the blurred-toddler-trying-to-pull-off-the-hat theme.

He did think it made a great barnyard animal toy transporter, though. 

Look at that self-satisfied smile in the last one!

Thankfully, cats make much more patient models (now there's a phrase I never thought I'd type), even if they don't really know how to wear hats.

Fenxi is not impressed.

Gummy is resigned. Or is he resentful?


*SHB also wants to know what noises inanimate objects make, e.g. the ceiling, puzzle pieces, whiteboard markers, hats, etc.

[Disclaimer: I received this pattern for free in exchange for testing it for the designer, but all opinions are mine. I was not required to write about it on my blog; I just think it's really cute, and who doesn't want to see a picture of a cat in a hat?]

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Silicon Valley Comic Con!

Let's just wrap up all unfinished, lingering costumes and their respective blog entries, shall we? SVCC was two months ago, and I never got around to blogging my costumes from that, either.

[pc: Edwin Fabian]

I pretty much decided right from the start that I absolutely HAD to go to the first ever Silicon Valley Comic Con. The only other big convention I've ever been to was the San Diego Comic Con, and that was where the cosplay bug first bit me, so I was pretty thrilled that there was finally going to be a big con up in the Bay Area. And then I found out that Nathan Fillion was going to be there, and that was that, because I seriously love Firefly like no other. So the obvious thing to do was to make the Browncoat that I've been wanting ever since I first saw the show.

I started with my bodice sloper from Lynda Maynard's class at Canada College and added in a yoke, then Frankensteined it together with the collar and front of Simplicity 2895. It turned out pretty well, considering there's no tailoring to speak of in the collar and lapels, but it's definitely a costume coat. It's too flimsy-feeling to be real outerwear, but that was a good thing since it was ridiculously warm in the San Jose Convention Center. Mr. Cation and I made the questionable decision to bring SHB along (baby's first con! And wearing the Blue Sun shirt I made for him, except that it was more of a 3/4-sleeve crop top since he's grown a lot in the last half-year) so that he could be exposed to the germs of 30,000 other con-goers...um, I mean the wonders of geeky fandom early in his life.

I had grand plans to make or thrift Captain Malcolm Reynolds' classic burgundy button-down shirt, too, but that never happened. Instead, I settled for wearing my hand-painted Serenity shirt with khaki tightpants.

I found a Kaylee at the con! Also, this is the only picture I have of me wearing the coat, since shortly thereafter it became way too warm. 

Not a bad likeness, considering that I didn't pay hundreds for a leather hide, right? 

It was so fun being at a big con with all sorts of excited geeks and cool art and merchandise in the exhibit hall, and of course getting to see Nathan Fillion in his panel. He was funny and self-deprecating and had fantastic quips, and was wonderfully patient with people who were nervous and overly excited to ask questions. We didn't feel like paying almost $200 for a photo op/autograph, though, so that's as close as we got to him.

Fabric: A thrifted JC Penney faux-suede curtain panel as my fashion fabric, pieces of a thrifted leather skirt (leftover from my aviator hat) for the cuffs, and part of a thrifted cat-print bed sheet for the underlining. I think Malcolm Reynolds would totally have been on board with thrifting, and cats would definitely be Browncoats and not Alliance, right?

Inside-out: SHB is slightly obsessed with cats so he had to find and point out to me all the cats on the underlining.

Facing tacked to the underlining, with frolicking cats.

I almost forgot to put in a side seam slit like the original coat. 

I used grosgrain ribbon as my hem tape. I'm considering threading a chain or something into the bottom hem to help it hang better, since the faux-suede is so lightweight. But given that the event is over, I'm unlikely to anytime soon. 

Notions: Interfacing for the collar and facing pieces, brass cloak clasps for the closures.
Hours: Probably 15-20? There was a lot of stitching seams multiple times, what with all the basting of the underlining, Hong Kong seam finishes, and topstitching. I also hand-sewed the facing to the underlining.
Total cost: $5.99 for the curtain panel, maybe a couple dollars' worth of sheet and skirt. The clasps were the priciest part at $14, bringing the total up to about $25.
Final thoughts: I've been wanting to make a browncoat ever since I first saw Firefly back in 2008? 2009? And I finally did it! It's not as perfect as I would like, but it was cheap, green, and fun to wear. Also, I could not for the life of my find my Teflon foot while making this, so all the suede and leather was not happy. Of course, as soon as I finished I found the dang foot. Because of course.

On the second day of the con, Mr. Cation stayed home with SHB and I got to cosplay my heart out with my good friend Alice, who wore my Galadriel costume, and Elaine, who went as the Winter Soldier Lite. She had a black leather jacket that I added a silver sleeve to, in order to suggest Bucky's mechanical arm. It was perfect because she actually does speak Russian! I decided that, in the vein of finishing up incomplete costumes, I would finally make the trident and crown for my Ursula costume. I spray-painted PVC pipe for the former, then added gold duct-taped foam tips, and used more gold tape on foam to make a crown shape, which was then attached to a headband. Since I didn't want to deal with contacts all day (ever since pregnancy, my eyes have randomly decided they hate contacts), I just wore my glasses and dubbed my outfit Hipster Ursula. At the last minute, I decided to add some googly eyes to a piece of gray fleece and crammed my "poor unfortunate soul" into a Mason jar to make a hipster potion to complete the hipster look.

[pc: Edwin Fabian]

And here's proof that hipster Disney characters is actually a thing. 

We had such a good time attending panels (including a fantastic one on cosplaying when over 30, and another very useful one on types of materials one could use for building armor and props), wandering the exhibit hall, and both stopping people for pictures and being stopped for our pictures! It was Alice's first time cosplaying and I think it was a generally positive experience. Unfortunately, there was one really creepy guy at the end of the day who spoiled an almost perfect run on non-creepy interactions (why is there always one???). Sigh.

Thinking about being creepy? Just STOP. #cosplayisnotconsent
(We found "Do Not Pass" Gandalf!!!)

The nicest part of the day was when little kids stopped me for pictures. I loved cosplaying Dr. Blitzmeyer at my last con, and LOTR characters at all the movies and the symphony, but those were either not well-known or mostly adult audiences. There's just something about dressing as a Disney character, even if it's not screen-accurate, that makes it so much easier to engage with people. Which, of course, is why I love cosplay: it's a chance for shy, introverted me to pretend to be someone I'm not!

I heard a little girl walking by with her mom say, "Mommy, look, it's the sea witch!"
[pc: Edwin Fabian]

There are still so many Disney characters I still want to cosplay -- Maleficent, Cruella, Jasmine, Mulan, Captain Hook, The Queen of Hearts, and Queen Elinor...there's just not enough time! Also, can you tell I like villains, the color red, and strong female characters?

Monday, May 9, 2016

HSM #1: Procrastination

It's only fitting that my entry for the Historical Sew Monthly's Procrastination Challenge should be almost five months late, right? I had the garment finished and pictures taken back in February, but just procrastinated in getting them edited and the blog post written (although to be fair, I did have a bazillion drama costumes to make too). At this point, I've sewn so many things in the interim, I've more or less forgotten everything about the making of. Oops.

Three years, three moves, and one baby ago, I started making a historically-inspired well-to-do lady pirate ensemble. It began with a justaucorps coat, then I made the shirt and waistcoat, and then I got pregnant (I feel like everything I've made/done recently has had this ending: "I started to do ___, then I got pregnant." That excuse is getting worn a little thin, I think). When I saw that the first challenge for this year was to finish a project that had been abandoned, I figured this was the time to get my butt in gear and finally make the breeches for my pirate outfit. I also had the added incentive of the PEERs Casanova Carnevale Ball, which was a masquerade event set in the 18th century, specifically during Casanova's lifetime. My outfit is mostly 1730s-1740s, so I barely squeaked in, not that there were an HA police at the event, thankfully! The organizers were actually pretty specific about it being a non-HA event where fantasy costumes were welcome, too.

Still, my modus operandi when it comes to these things is to research, research, research, so that when I improvise with my time and materials, I know exactly how I deviated from historical accuracy. I spent a lot of time on Pinterest looking at breeches and sketched the most noteworthy characteristics of the chronologically relevant pieces.

I decided on fall-front breeches, but instead of the smaller flap of the Regency era, I made the entire front into the flap, like this pair. Well, technically the entire front doesn't flap down; the side seams should be sewn as usual and then slits are cut very close to the side seams and then the majority of the front is faced. I went for simplicity, though, and just made mine approximate the look. I also cut corners by using the Simplicity 4923 pattern instead of drafting my own. However, comparison of the pattern pieces with the diagrams from Norah Waugh and other similar sources reveal that the designer, Andrea Schewe, did a remarkable job of keeping HA shapes in the front and back pieces. I drafted a new waistband to better match the HA ones, though, since the pattern just had a rectangular strip. Unfortunately, in the end all my efforts were for naught, as my breeches looked absolutely ridiculous when I sewed them up. Look, I know that saggy baggy butts were the norm back then, but I could seriously have stashed a small ham in back. The waistband also ended up too big in the back for the more HA grommets and lacing that I had planned, so with less than a week until ball-time, I said screw it and sewed the waistband shut in the back and put in huge horizontal darts to take up some of the excess fabric in the back. Not the prettiest fix, but I figured that it would all be hidden under my coat anyway.

Here it is, all pretty and buttoned up. I'm just glad I got the nap direction more or less right across the front!

The back looks pretty normal until you see the inside...

Here's the front flap folded down. You can see the linen facing and the pocket bags attached to the waistband. 

The pockets were made in a totally non-HA way, but they were very functional and very welcome as a place to stash my phone and keys. 

And here you can see where I tacked the waistband together and took up several inches of fabric with my fat horizontal darts.

Since historical accuracy was already thrown out, I didn't bother with making functional closures at the knees of my breeches; I just sewed it all shut and added a decorative button. Additionally, because I had to squeeze my pattern pieces onto the last remnants of my velvet tablecloth, I couldn't really get the grain right. I settled for making the velvet nap direction as acceptable as possible, but that meant that the grain was so off that the finished breeches twist in a really weird way around my knees. I had to let out the side seams until there was all of 1/4" seam allowance on both sides in order to somewhat resolve the problem. It's still not great, but at least the outer side seam isn't sitting smack in the middle of my kneecap?

Because it was a masquerade ball, I made a mask trimmed with some of the leftover gold lace from the coat and a bunch of rhinestones. I also bought shoes that approximated the look of early 1700s mens' heels and then added ribbon and buckles to shoe clips so as to disguise their Aerosole-ness. The finishing touch was white knee-high socks from Target.

And somehow, despite all my corner-cutting, somehow it all came together fabulously! Usually when I go to these kinds of events, I feel slightly embarrassed about my outfit and envious of others', but this time I was absolutely brimming with excitement at how very real I looked. Maybe not historically accurate, but fabulous all the same. I love it when a costume just comes together like that! It's like a weird costumer's high that I just can't get enough of.

Elaine was my date and she was smashing as well in the corset I made for her wedding. We had so much fun while dancing, people watching, costume ogling, and being silly together. I am so unspeakably glad that we finally live in the same area again! After spending all of high school living a block and a half apart, and then in college sharing a room, eight years was just too long to be living in totally different areas (also, has it really been that long, nay longer, since we were in college?!). I also remembered how much I enjoy dancing. I really do need to get out more.

Pattern: Simplicity 4923, modified for historical accuracy, then modified for more flattering fit
Year: early-mid 1700s...ish.
Fabric: The last bits of a thrifted velvet tablecloth, plus scraps of black linen for the facings.
Notions: Seven "gold" buttons, with the plastic rhinestone centers Sharpied magenta to match the rest of the outfit
Hours: I really don't remember, but I'll hazard a guess that it was about 15 hours. The actual sewing was pretty easy, but I spent a long time messing around with pattern piece layout on my limited fabric, and then trying to make it look better after it was sewn up.
Will you make it again? Nope. I am not a fan of baggy butts.
How historically accurate is it? In intention, very, in practicality, not very. I'll give it maybe a 30% since the fabric and shortcuts and mods really take away from it.
Total cost: But I will pat myself on the back that it really cost nothing since everything was from stash.
Final thoughts: I seriously love this outfit, but the breeches are definitely the weakest part of the ensemble. *shrug* They're a necessary part of the outfit and I'll appreciate them for that. I'm just glad that I finally finished them and got to wear it all to a ball!

I know the ball was in February, but we only just took down our Christmas wreath a week ago...how's that for procrastination?

At some point I'd like to retrim my tricorne and take up the sleeves of the shirt (they're about half a foot too long!) and then take non-dim non-iPhone photos of the outfit with the cane I made to go with it. In the meantime, though, here's the one "real" photo I have, with the coat off because it was too warm for a polyester velvet coat while dancing!