Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Superman Cutout Back Dress: Completed!

Okay, this is officially the awesomest thing I have ever made. Alright, alright, I know, I feel that way about each newest creation, but I'll bask in superhero goodness at least until I make something new. This does worry me, though; will I feel that way about my children? I'm going to say no, since I don't feel that way about each successive cat. Walnut > Fenxi > Gummy. Poor Gummy; nobody loves him.

Right. Cat favoritism aside, I really do love this dress. I started it for the Sew Weekly Do Over Challenge, but it ended up taking longer than I expected. But that's okay, because this week's Sew Weekly is all about using fabrics for the home for garment-making instead! Which is really my challenge every week, but hey, if Superman sheets don't scream "children's room," I don't know what does. Anyway. I should really stop being surprised at how long hand-stitching takes. I always find myself thinking "All I have left to do is hand pick the zipper and the lining and attach the hook and eye!" Then I inevitably spend at least 223 minutes doing so. How do I know it was 223 minutes, you ask? It's because I watched listened to the entirety of The Two Towers, my favorite of the LOTR trilogy, while sewing. Yikes.
Walnut insisted on sitting on my dress. My stitching is pretty uneven.
I really need to get better at hand sewing, but at least I can say I no longer hate it. I used to never replace missing buttons or put hooks and eyes on any of my dresses because I hated sewing them on; now, I actually enjoy the process. Especially if I get to listen to the beautiful Rohan theme playing in the background.

Hook and eye on the top of the cutout.

The hand-picking is a little better on the outside. Choosing a thread and zipper color was tricky since this fabric is so many colors.

Besides modifying the back for the cutout, I also made it a scoop neck in front. I was trying for the look of the ever-popular BurdaStyle 2/2011 magazine dress #101 with its cute cap sleeves. Unfortunately, all my modifications made choosing where on the sheet to place my pattern pieces a little tricky. I wanted to get the Daily Planet building and the large Superman on the bodice, but with the large scoop neck I had to settle for just the "Daily" and a legless Superman. This resulted in two awkward fists coming out of my armpit.

That building is also not earthquake-safe. Look at how it's sliding.

I didn't want to do the original slim-cut skirt from McCall's 5845, since I'm much more likely to wear a dress if it has a full skirt. I just did a giant gathered rectangle and attached it to the bodice. I managed to get two of the large Supermen and a smaller flying one more of less centered in front, but that resulted in more headless fists on the side-seams. Surprisingly, they kind of matched each other in their headlessness.

Also, what have I got in my pocketses? Because yes, this dress has pockets!

I wore the dress with a red sash I already had to define the waist more (and add a big splashy bow), then proceeded to weird out my apartment complex by taking pictures out on the walkway since it was getting too dark in the apartment and our little landing.

Vintage tint!

Twirling shot!

And of course, for my husband's sake, I had to try and look normal by covering it with a black cardigan. But this dress is much more assertive than the Batman dress, so I don't think it works as well.

Fabric: Thrifted 60/40 cotton/poly blend twin size flat Superman bed sheet, muslin for lining (pre-washed, of course!)
Notions: Red 14" zipper, thread
Hours: About six, but three of it was abominably slow hand-sewing. The cutting and sewing went together quite quickly, but figuring out the cutout took some thinking.
Techniques used: Ummm...spatial manipulation? I've hand-picked so many zippers it doesn't really count anymore. If you are interested in making your own cutout back dress, the tutorial is here.
Will you make this again: Probably not. I think there's only figurative room for one such dress in my wardrobe. But butcher McCall's 5845 again? Definitely!
Total cost: My usual, about $5. The sheet was $3, the zipper $2. 
Final thoughts: I really, really love the look of this dress. Only downside of the wide shoulders and the cutout back is not being able to wear a normal bra. Also, I need to be careful about gaping in the front when I lean over or hunch my shoulders. At least it encourages good posture? But anyway, I am happy knowing that I was able to realize my vision, a dress whose design elements echo the fabric.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tiny Steampunkish Top Hat How-To

Not totally steampunk, because it's missing about five million gears and cogs.

Remember the tiny gun that I made for my friend Elaine for the Tucson Zombie Walk? Well, it turns out that Elaine's psych lab group is really into steampunk (why aren't my lab mates ever like that?), so they're having a steampunk lab meeting! Everyone will sit around discussing brains and sleep while decked out in corsets and gears and things! So jealous. Anyway, she asked me to mail her the top hat from the walk so that she could be properly accessorized for this lab meeting; I decided, in a typical me fashion, that rather than finding a box big enough to mail the hat, I should just make her a tiny hat to go with her tiny gun. That way, she will always have a proper accessory should something like this come up again (which is actually not too unlikely).

Here's how I did it!

I began by raiding my kitchen to find a glass and a bowl of appropriate circumferences for what I envisioned as the base and top of the hat. I traced the circles out on a cereal box. I also sacrificed one of the yogurt containers that I use as tupperware (because I'm azn like that).
This is also the best yogurt ever. At least on this side of the Atlantic. There is nothing quite like yogurt in Europe.

I cut the base off of the yogurt container and cut a slit down the side. This yielded a nice template for the side of the hat, which I wanted to be slightly larger up top, just like the yogurt container. I traced this template onto the other side of the cereal box.
Ignore the cat head that wanted to investigate this madness.

The resulting cardboard piece. Cut it out, curl it up, and tape the sides together.

A raid of my fabric stash yielded the scraps leftover from my ren-faire bodice, fittingly enough. I cut out a circle a little larger than the top of the hat, then spread tacky glue all over the cardboard to attach the fabric circle. I folded the sides over to get it covered on the edges, too.

Just fold the extra edge bits over. I had to add a heavy textbook on top to get the edges to stay while it dried.
Repeat the steps above to cover the side piece (slightly larger fabric scrap, glue and fold over the edge).
I didn't bother adding glue all over the sides, just at the seam.
I then cut out a hole in the center of the base cardboard circle, trimmed a fabric scrap to match it (with enough extra on the sides to fold over again), then glued it all together. Note that I clipped the middle circle to get it to fold over.
The circle line is traced from the base of the side piece. I cut the hole a little smaller so there'd be a lip for it to stand on.

No need to be super exact on the cutting here!

All folded over. Looks kind of like a messy Star of David.

All nice and neat on the other side!
At this point I broke out the hot glue gun and proceeded to assemble all the pieces. This was done a little haphazardly by squirting a circle, then plopping the next piece on top. Unfortunately, it resulted in ugly glue seepage at all my edges.
It looked a lot worse in person.

To cover this up, I raided my trims for black braids, then glued those on to cover the glue. Ironic, isn't it. I used hot glue for the fat braid at the base, and tacky glue for more control on the thin braid at the crown. Finally, all that was left was decorating! I found a button to match Elaine's outfit, and hot glued that on along with some black tulle and a feather from one of Walnut's cat toys. I am nothing if not resourceful.

In order to secure this tiny hat to Elaine's head, I cut a circle of black felt to cover the bottom of the hat, added a strip of black felt through which a headband or hair clip could be inserted, and used that to cover the mess on the bottom of the hat.

I really, really, tried to get Walnut to wear the hat before sending it off to Elaine, but he was all like NOOOOO WAT IS THIS DESCENDING ON MAH HEAD DO NOT WANT. Sorry, no adorable picture of a cat in a hat. Have this t-shirt instead.

On the dress-making front, I have finished my Superman dress and it is pretty epic, if I do say so myself. I'm hoping to get some pictures later when the sun comes out.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Doings

This was the first Thanksgiving since my freshmen year of college that I haven't been with my parents. This year, they decided to go to Hong Kong and left us "kids" to get Thanksgiving done on our own. So my brother, sister, and cousin came to the magnificent City of Culver City to NOT have turkey. Here's what went down on Thursday. Apologies in advance if you're vegan; we do love our animal-based products.

It is tradition in our family to have deviled eggs for holiday meals. Also, my mom inevitably burns the walnuts while toasting them, but I'm happy to report that I did not burn the candied walnuts!
Walnut does not approve of my husband's attempt to make Midori-based cocktails (he didn't actually have any alcohol, of course!)

There is nothing so good as candied bacon.

My sister makes the most amazing HK-style sweet dinner rolls.

Our unorthodox Thanksgiving menu:
deviled eggs, scallops (only one made it into the picture), 餐包, tri-tip, tiramisu, sea-salt caramels, candied walnuts, and candied bacon. The only normal things are green bean carousel* and sweet potato pie.
Summary: in that one meal, we used a pound of butter, 16 eggs, a pound of bacon, a pound of scallops, and three pounds of steak. And also a pound each of green beans and sweet potatoes.

We didn't just eat, of course. Much as my sister and I love cooking up a storm, we also love plushies and cats. So we did a photoshoot with Walnut, who helped us demonstrate the three levels of done-ness of turkey legs.

We made turkey legs out of three different colors of fleece to represent burnt, cooked perfectly, and still raw. Notice that the legs get smaller the more cooked they get, since proteins contract when cooked.

Walnut comes over to investigate.

This one is burnt. Do not approve.
This one, though, is to my liking.

I'd better wash my paws before eating, though.
Later we lined up all the legs next to him. My brother said they looked like they were his babies, all clustered around him for milk.

It's been great fun having family over and all, but also kind of crazy. Definitely no time for sewing (other than quick turkey legs, which took maybe ten minutes each). Hopefully I can get the rest of my Superman dress done before the weekend is over!

*My mom was the one who accidentally called it a green bean carousel the first time, so one year my sister and I actually made a carousel out of cardboard and a lazy Susan, then strung up green beans on ribbons like an actual carousel. My mom was not amused. Ever since then we never called it a casserole.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for Sew Many Things

Sorry, I couldn't resist. My husband likes making fun of me by using "sew" instead of "so" all the time, especially when talking about my sewing projects. He'll even spell it out so that I know. "That dress looks sew good on you. S-E-W."

That's what you get for making fun of me. Photo by Orange Turtle Photography.

But speaking of husbands and sewing, Tasia over at Sewaholic posted a great thought-provoking entry about her fiance and his support of her sewing. It was so fun to read through everyone's comments about their own sig-o's and their support (or lack thereof). It made me so (sew) grateful for my husband's graciousness when it comes to my sewing. It being Thanksgiving and all, I'm thankful for many, many things, but my husband is definitely one of the major ones.

It seems that a lot of the other sewists who have supportive sig-o's have two things in common: they "came with" their hobby, and their sig-o has another equally engrossing hobby. This is definitely true here; my husband bought me my machine for Christmas in 2009, before we were married, and he loves watching sports on TV. Of course, I am supremely grateful for the gift of the sewing machine, without which I couldn't have produced any of my stuff. I remember how frustrating it used to be to have to wait until I went home for holidays so that I could use my mom's machine. Now, whenever I feel the itch to create something, my machine is right there! I am also grateful that football and baseball seasons take up essentially the whole year, so there's always something to keep him occupied while I sew away.  Even more so now that he has statistics and accounting homework!

And don't forget the juggling. He's got juggling to work on while I iron. Photo by OT Photography.

But beyond being my sewing machine supplier and not bothering me about my sewing time, my husband is one of my biggest supporters when it comes to a slightly obsessive hobby. He lets me have the whole spare bedroom for my sewing stuff (giant table, machine, dress form, giant ironing board, way too many boxes of fabric). He lets me take over the living room floor when I need to cut something huge (hello, fluffy skirts!). He went fabric shopping with me for a whole day in London (and carried all my bags and paid for all my purchases). He lets me know, honestly, when something does or doesn't look good (and even apologizes afterward when he has to deliver the bad news that something I've made looks strange). And he is always bragging to people about my work when I'm too embarrassed to. We'll be out with friends and I'll be wearing something me-made, and when people compliment me on my dress he'll be the first to say "Did you know she made it?"

Even better, my husband never asks me to make anything for him :) Although I guess one time he did ask me to sew a button back onto his shorts. And hem some jeans. But that's it!

And he helps with the laundry. Photo by OT Photography.

I'm so thankful that God gave me a husband that supports me and cares for me in so many ways. It's because of his encouragement that I feel like I've been given free rein to explore my creative side and pursue my interests. Of course, I'm also thankful for many, many other things, like a dad who nurtured creativity, a mom who took the time to teach me to sew, a place to live that even has space for a sewing room and a cat who loves fabric as much as I do. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Making a Cutout Back Lined Dress with a Center Back Zipper

It's Do Over Week over at Sew Weekly, which means a chance to revisit an old pattern, whether a failure or a success. Well, I don't know about you, but I don't have a particular wish to revisit my failures; enough new ones pop up without going back to dig up old ones. So I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite dresses, and incidentally the most-favourited of my projects on Burdastyle. It's based on McCall's 5845; I love the shoulders and collar of the bodice, and the numerous darts, while a pain to sew, make the fit absolutely perfect.

In my Nothing But Blue Skies dress, my favorite feature was the interesting back, which featured a tie knot and was definitely a little surprise when contrasted with the more austere front with its high neckline (as much as a bright blue cloud print can be austere).

High neckline gives no indication of the party in the back.
For my retake, I decided to use my other thrifted superhero sheet, Batman's fellow Justice League-r, Superman. Might as well get all my geekery out at once, right?

I decided to put a cutout on the back of the dress that would echo the shape of Superman's iconic S emblem. After some poking around the internet, I found Chie of Vivat Veritas' heart cutout tutorial and Adrianna of Crafterhour's keyhole back cutout tutorial. However, neither was quite exactly what I was looking for; I wanted a center back zip instead of a side zip. So after some thought and mental spatial manipulation, I came up with the following process.

First, I sewed up the neckhole and armholes of my bodice, right sides together. Then I sketched the shape I wanted on the lining of the dress using a washable fabric marker.

I pinned around the cutout to hold the bodice and lining together, then sewed the outline of the cutout.

Next, I cut out the middle with pinking shears and clipped the corners.

Then I carefully pulled the back pieces through the straps of the dress in order to flip the whole bodice right side out. I pressed the sewn edges to get the nice, crisp look that befits a superhero.
Lining side.
"Fashion" fabric side.

I sewed the side seams by flipping the two sides up and matching them, as shown in this very helpful tutorial by Kitschy Coo. Here's how it looks on Cecily:
Held in place with pins for now.

To finish the dress, I'll insert a zipper in the bottom portion as I normally would, then add a button or a hook and eye to the top little strappy thing. I haven't decided which would be better yet. Obviously, you could do this with any shape -- a heart, a cat head silhouette, or get really ambitious and do a bat signal. Or something. Just saying, you're not restricted to a Superman cutout.

I'm planning on just making a quick gathered rectangle skirt for this dress, and then look out! Crazy geek girl in a superhero dress (but with a cool back detail), the reprise!