Friday, July 14, 2017

My Other Miscellaneous Geeky Fangirl Doings

Besides working on fashion illustrations and sewing plushies, I've also been crafting my fandoms and doing some cosplay-lite. I wanted to chronicle these, however briefly, before SHB#2 arrives, since this blog is supposed to be a record of my haphazard (and some are definitely more haphazard than others) projects.

I was late to jump onto the Hamilton bandwagon, but I console myself that once I jumped on, I jumped on hard. The soundtrack has been on repeat in my car for oh, more than half a year now, and SHB knows and enjoys a good half of the songs (his top requests: anything sung by Aaron Burr or King George; not his favorites: cabinet battles, anything having to do with Maria Reynolds). Although I'd seen it recommended by basically every blogger I enjoy and many real-life friends I love, I didn't get into it until my best friend's girlfriend got her into it. As a thank you to the two of them for finally getting me into my favorite musical ever (sorry Les Mis, you've been relegated to second favorite, although you'll always have the distinction of being my first love), I drew/painted these two pieces:

I took all of Alexander Hamilton's and Aaron Burr's best lines and turned them into a ham (A Dot Ham!) and a burr (A Dot Burr!).

Time is such a theme in Hamilton, so it seemed appropriate to make a clock. "Why do you write like you're running out of time?" 

Bonus LOTR-themed clock that I pyrographed for Elaine:

I love the new craft kits that Target is putting out! 


It's really thanks to my fashion illustration classes that I even did the first two pieces; I had all my nice pens and paints at hand already and felt empowered to use them. I also drew this little illustration based on my best friend's cat for her husband, who is a Toothless the dragon fan.

Cactus the cat looks a lot like Toothless the Night Fury, don't you think? Color pencil and pastel illustration.


It's been hard to find the time and energy to make proper costumes this year, thanks to pregnancy and a busy schedule, but I'm proud of myself for still managing a couple of less-involved outfits. Elaine and I went to see the next installment in the HP symphony series at the Silicon Valley Symphony, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I originally planned to make a Fawkes costume, but time and a baby bump got the better of me and I went for a much more low-key and goofy costume: the actual Chamber of Secrets! I'd seen all those Buzzfeed-ish "articles" about ridiculous uses of a baby bump in cosplay (Krang! the Death Star! an alien/parasite bursting out!), so it seemed to follow that my incubation chamber should hold a basilisk. I painted some painter's tape to make a quick "sticker" because I didn't want to paint directly onto a perfectly good black tee, then painted the door to the Chamber of Secrets onto a piece of craft foam and fastened it over my belly.

I put a bunch of painter's tape onto a piece of waxed paper and used acrylic to paint the basilisk, then cut out the shape. 

I considered stressing about the not-quite-symmetrical door design, then decided it wasn't worth it. Same goes for the scale pattern on the snakes. 

My crowning glory, though, was the tiny Moaning-Myrtle-in-her-toilet headband I made to direct people to the chamber:

Don't ask why I have a tiny pink plastic toilet readily available in my house. 

Elaine was a great sport and let me slap a printout of the blood-painted warning wall on her dress, so that we could go together like we did at the first symphony, where we were McGonagall and her silver cat Patronus.





I'm hoping to get my act together post-birth and make a Snape-boggart costume for the third movie/symphony...we'll see how that goes.

Shortly after the symphony was the second Silicon Valley Comic Con; I wanted to dress up as something, but with AP exams coming up I had no time to make the pregnant Princess Serenity or pregnant Zoe Washburne costumes I originally envisioned. When my sister Emily told me she was going as Imperator Furiosa, though, I knew I could pull off a quick pregnant Splendid Angharad costume. Can you even call it a costume if you're just wrapping white fabric around yourself and throwing cinnamon and coffee grounds at it to dirty it up? At any rate, it was a very comfortable costume to wear and certainly easier for toddler-chasing than my original ideas. Just FYI, if you bring a two year old to a convention and you're pregnant, it's very helpful to also have the best aunts along to help chase and wrangle.

The orange convention wristband kind of ruins the whole look though. 

Right after we took this picture, SHB squirmed out of my arms and took off across the exhibit hall to point at a Batman display. I guess I was asking for it by dressing him in his caped Batman shirt. 



I was really excited for the Wonder Woman movie coming out, but sad that there was no way I was going to make either of my two preferred costumes from the film: the wool suit, which is actually quite historically accurate for a superhero movie, and the blue dress with the sword down her back, which is just awesome. I still want to make both, but they'll have to wait. In the meantime, I'm still pretty pleased that I managed to spray-paint my own maternity Wonder Woman top and make a quick craft foam tiara. Emily went as Doctor Poison, who, although a villain, still has a tiny piece of my heart as a female chemist.


Yes, I succumbed and bought the toy sword. 


So that's what I've been up to this spring! I still have to blog SHB#2's quilts and then I'll be all caught up. Minus those Antigone costumes, of course.

A Year of Fashion Illustration Classes

For the last school year, I've been taking fashion illustration classes at Canada College in Redwood City. This is the same community college where I took Pants Drafting & Construction, Bustier, Copying RTW, Intro to Theater Costuming, and Textiles. In fact, the professor for this class is the same as the textiles class, and she is basically everything I would've wanted to be in a different life: an illustrator, knowledgeable about the chemistry of textiles, and a teacher! And what a teacher -- I haven't taken a serious art class in more than fifteen years, when I took an introductory drawing class my senior year in high school because I dropped out of second semester AP Physics. That was all about shading and stippling techniques and I think I drew a pretty awesome pine cone, but that's about all I remember. And before that class, the last time I picked up my paintbrush to do a serious painting was in eighth grade. Even then, I was pretty lost because my teacher's instructions basically consisted of "get your paintbrush wet and then paint until it looks good."

The one painting from that era that I don't cringe at was copied from a calendar when I was in a horse phase. I don't have any real pictures of it, but I found it in the background of this picture from Thanksgiving four years ago. My parents still have it hanging in their dining room, bless them. 


With that background, it was like an epiphany when our prof actually gave concrete instructions on how to proportion figures, illustrate different fabric types, and use various media effectively. As I told her on my last day of class, I feel like a whole new world has been unlocked for me (you know, because I needed more types of hobbies that involve a cabinet of supplies). No more staring enviously at other artists' illustrations and wondering how they knew how to do that; now I can do it too! Er, kind of.

Last fall, after several weeks of drawing stick figures, blocked figures, various body parts, and types of fabric, our first assignment was to put all of it together to do a black and white drawing. I drew a 1920s-inspired figure wearing a beaded flapper-ish dress and holding a fox-fur stole. It's funny, I was so pleased with it when I drew it, but looking back at it now I see so many mistakes!

Her right shoulder is too high and her pose looks a little awkward. 


The next assignment was to do a figure in sepia and/or monochromatic pastels, i.e. not a lot of color, but shading and texture as a focus. I went for a 1930s look, with a drapey bias-cut satin dress and huge fur coat. In contrast to my first assignment, I still love everything about this piece.

In the category of draw what you know, most of my figures read as Asian. 

The third assignment was an illustration using colored pencils, so we were supposed to choose nubbly and textured fabrics to render. I illustrated what was meant to be a boucle wool coat with tweedy trousers. This was my least favorite piece from first semester, which at the time I attributed to the medium, but it's funny because I ended up using color pencil a lot during second semester. I think I just didn't know what I was doing yet. Also I went overboard on the background. Or maybe I just didn't like it because it wasn't a vintage look?

I realized that the white hair made her look a lot like Ororo Munroe, so in a late night, last minute decision I added in the background, then hated it. I've gotten too used to being able to Ctrl+Z everything!


Our final project was a watercolor illustration, and I went with an Erte-inspired Art Nouveau figure. Despite a mistake on the shading of the draped folds on her dress, I still love how this one turned out, mostly because of the cheetah. This was the illustration that made me fall in love with watercolor as a medium; I realized I could actually control the moisture in order to get the color to do what I wanted, instead of letting the moisture control me. It's amazing what a good teacher can help you achieve!



I debated whether or not to take Advanced Fashion Illustration during second semester, because I knew I was going to be super busy with prepping my AP students for exams, plus the inevitable exhaustion of pregnancy and the continued demands of caring for a toddler. I'm so glad I did it, though, because I was able to build on my momentum from first semester, and who knows when I'll be able to take another class? It took two years for me to carve out time for myself to take these classes after having SHB, and he's a fairly easy kid, so I figured I should do what I can while I still can.

We started the semester by drawing more "extreme" poses (read: more attitude) and working on profile and back views. This was my attempt at a Poiret-inspired cocoon coat (something I definitely want to make one day, if/when I find the perfect velvet fabric) from the back, using pastels and color pencils:

Backgrounds: not my strong suit. That tree is just sad. 


Then we experimented with timed drawings, where we used brush pens to quickly capture a figure's style and movement. Unlike my previous pieces, these poses were based on fashion magazine photos since the limited time didn't allow for coming up with and perfecting my own figure poses.



We also spent a class period playing around with acrylic paints in the Stipelman technique, where, according to our prof, you just smoosh paint around until it looks good. I somehow ended up painting a pink wedding dress. I don't even like pink.




The first official assignment was to render four different types of fabric. I did a floral jacquard, an iridescent silk dupioni, a gold-flecked acrylic sweater knit, and a lovely ombre organza that had little colorful crinkles in it.

My silk dupioni rendering looks too dark because of how the light hit the fabric sample. Doing the jacquard was lots of fun though!

I seriously love this fabric; it's hard to appreciate the gold flecks until you see it in person and the light hits it right. I'm really pleased with how I captured the fuzzy boucle-ish texture though. This outfit is based on the actual costume I created for our high school's production of post-apocalyptic Antigone. One day I'll get around to blogging those costumes...

My inspiration for this figure/outfit was a combination of Zac Posen's 2016 Met gala gown for Claire Danes and the announcement of Noma Dumezweni's casting as Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I had this lovely iridescent organza with periwinkle in it and I imagined what Hermione's head-turning Yule Ball gown could've been. 


The next assignment was a fashion illustration portrait, where we were supposed to focus in on the face, which we hadn't really done before, while still illustrating at least part of an outfit up close. I chose to illustrate Anna May Wong, whom I've blogged about before, in her iconic Travis Banton sequined dragon dress.

I based the pose on this photo. I love how the sequined dragon turned out, but got carried away when doing the fabric at the bust area and it makes the dress look much less fitted than it actually should be. Also her face got too slim and doesn't look so much like Anna May Wong as it does my mom...


Then we spent several weeks working on an advertisement using a fashion figure; I really didn't want to spend that much time working on a random fashion line, nor did I have a business I really wanted to promote, so I ended up making a propaganda piece instead, for International Women's Day! I figured that I might as well advertise for something I actually care about, i.e. women's rights, and not a perfume or handbag.

I really wanted to capture the feel of teens-era women's suffrage posters, with the Art Nouveau-inspired font style and the vaguely military/heraldic imagery. I used an actual slogan from the women's suffrage movement on the banner.  


Our final project was to put together a presentation board with the technical flats, specs (measurements), photographs, and illustration of an actual garment, as if we were trying to sell/manufacture it for RTW. I chose my Roaring Twenties dress, as I figured that it would involve relatively few measurements, and since I came up with the pattern on my own, I could say it was really MY garment that I was showing off.



Even though taking these classes made for a hectic year (hello, late night drawing, rushing home from work to drive across the bridge in time for class, and extended screen time for SHB while Mommy finishes up last minute cutting and mounting on the days assignments are due!), it was so worth it to be able to make beautiful art again. I remember being in college and having an Elfwood account (anyone remember that site?) and marveling at their artists of the day and being so blown away by the art of Stephanie Law and Anke Eissmann especially, and wondering if I would ever be able to draw anything that beautiful. I've still got a long way to go, but art like that feels achievable instead of impossible now.




Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Ease-in to Motherhood

Thanks for inviting me to be part of the conversation on sewing and motherhood, Erin!

Before SHB, I used to get slightly annoyed whenever one of the sewing bloggers on my feed reader would announce her pregnancy, because I knew that she would either 1) post much less frequently, or even disappear entirely, and/or 2) start sewing irrelevant-to-me items, either baby things or maternity/nursing garments. Oh pre-motherhood Cation, what a selfish, clueless sewing blogger you were! The minute you had SHB, you basically became all those things, even going so far as co-hosting a sewalong centered around sewing for small human beings! I can't remember the last time I sewed a non-costume garment for myself (although to be perfectly honest, I was such a prolific sewer before pregnancy that I really didn't need to keep sewing to keep myself clothed), and the last thirty things I've sewn have all been plushies for SHB. So yeah. But let's talk in more detail about how motherhood has changed my sewing.

As I'm sure is the case for many of you, sewing is a vital creative activity that keeps my brain active and my heart happy. In my early sewing years, I relished finding ways to use the crazy fabrics I was finding at thrift stores in the form of bedsheets, and making fit-and-flare dresses out of them became part of my identity: I was a quirky green Ms. Frizzle wannabe who wore her fandoms on her sleeve (literally), I knew what looked good on my body and had the time and means to dress it how I wanted. After the fashion-related insecurity and teasing of my pre-teen years, it was such a relief and release to be me and, as I got older, the more I realized I only needed and cared to please myself. Sewing was the vehicle to self-love for me, not only with my body but with my mind and talents.

And then I found out I was having SHB. Suddenly I wasn't a selfish seamstress anymore, and while I did still sew for myself, I had so much fun making cute things for my coming baby, too! Having a baby meant rediscovering my love for sewing non-garment items, as well as discovering new forms of sewing expression, such as quilting. I was excited and felt like new worlds were being opened to me.

Then I actually had SHB, and it was miserable. He was bad at sleeping (I wore him in the Ergo and bounced on a trampoline to get him to nap for the first six months of his life), I was tired beyond belief (hello, 9 PM bedtime in anticipation of waking up five times every night!), and when I had a moment to myself (rare, as we didn't have any regular babysitters and I nursed SHB until he was two), I was so brain-dead I couldn't make my mind work enough to go through the mental exercise of sewing. I started just sleeping or wasting time on Pinterest when I had free time, but was still confused about my ongoing grumpiness until I realized that I wasn't creating, and I missed and needed it. Talking to other creative moms (mostly sewing bloggers I met through here!) helped me realize that what I needed more than sleep was to Make Things Again. I don't remember who said it, but basically what I needed to do was at least one irreversible thing every day. So many of my life tasks were reversible (baby needs to eat again! dishes need to be washed again! toys need to be picked up again! papers need to be graded again!) that I felt like I was in the Red Queen's race, running and running just to stay in the same place (or actually fall behind, TBH).

Once I realized things needed to change, I made a plan to Get My Life Back. For me, this meant sleep-training SHB. I realize that that's a controversial decision in a lot of parenting circles (and I had my fair share of nights crying while he cried because I was afraid that I was damaging him forever by not going to him), but it was the best thing I could have done for us. It took several months (like I said, terrible sleeper), but once SHB was out of our bed and out of our room, I finally had the space (physically and mentally) to create again. Even if all I was making was simple items for him, it was enough to see concrete evidence that I had Done Something With My Day. Around the same time, I was hosting the SHB Sewalong with Mikhaela and Clio and just having other sewing moms to commiserate with helped me see the importance of community. As my social psych prof used to say in college, misery loves miserable company, and while we weren't necessarily miserable, I felt so much better knowing that I wasn't the only one trying to figure out how to manage a needy, demanding being while still being one's own person with hobbies and a changing body that needed to be clothed.

SHB finally started sleeping through the night at around a year, and since his 7:30-8 PM bedtime is fairly early, I get the whole rest of the evening to be an adult. Sometimes that's sewing, sometimes that's just catching up on adulting tasks, but it's glorious to know that my nights are my own again (especially since I'm a night owl...midnight bedtime means I get a few hours to myself). I'd say that around the 18 month mark was when I felt like I really had a handle on this whole motherhood-while-not-just-only-being-a-mother-I'm-my-own-person-too business, and it's only gotten better as SHB becomes more independent and verbal. Now, at almost three, SHB has enough of an attention span and his own interests that I can even sew during the day sometimes; of course, that's only if the items are for him...




While I've mostly reclaimed my creative time, I'm still working on how to reclaim my style. All those fun sheet dresses I made (mostly) still fit before I got pregnant again, but they're really not practical as a parent of a toddler. I'm satisfied with living out my geekiness in cosplay instead of everyday life; I don't think quirky clothing is as central to my identity as creating is. I believe strongly enough in slow fashion to not sew when I don't technically need to, so I think this is one of the areas where I'm content to wait and see. I'll wait until I'm done nursing for good to see where my body settles, and then decide what kind of style suits me then.


***

Now that those I'm-so-tired-I-hate-my-life-why-did-I-decide-to-have-a-kid moments are a (somewhat) distant memory, I sometimes wonder why I'm subjecting myself to the horror of having another small human being; I think knowing that the newborn months are short will help me make it through to the toddler years, which I find much more enjoyable. I have more mom friends now, both online and IRL, which will hopefully make a difference when I'm in the worst of the sleep deprivation and demands of two small human beings. I'm hoping that since I'm more experienced now, both as a mom and as a person, I'll recognize sooner the importance of having my own time to create, and make an effort to make room for it. My self-care mantra in this past year has consisted of trying to remind myself of the truth of the airplane oxygen mask -- take care of yourself first so that you can take care of your child -- instead of succumbing to the lie that I'm being selfish by not giving of myself constantly. We'll see how it goes in a few weeks when SHB#2 arrives!


THIS.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sew ALL the Plushies!

One of my (not so) secret addictions is making cute plushies. Unfortunately, adults just don't need that many tiny stuffed things (or large stuffed things, for that matter), so while I occasionally indulge in this addiction by making gifts for people, it's hard to justify making things that are just going to sit around collecting dust.

[Enter SHB, a toddler who loves unicorns and dinosaurs.]

I know unselfish sewing for small children is supposed to be a thankless task, and for the most part it has been -- SHB is not into any of the quilts I made for him, nor the ocean-themed plushies and accessories -- but when the small child is finally old enough to make requests and then express definite (positive) opinions, it suddenly becomes supremely rewarding. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I love the mental exercise of 1) figuring out what aspects of a creature are most important to preserve for maximum recognizability, then 2) translating the 3D stylized creature in my head into 2D pattern pieces, and 3) coming up with a best order of operations for actually sewing up the creature. It's just enough work to feel like I'm exercising my mental muscles, but not so much work that my school-is-out-and-third-trimester-tiredness-is-really-kicking-in brain feels overwhelmed. Also it feels like a still somewhat productive activity as a means of procrastinating re: figuring out a potty training strategy and how on earth I'm going to deal with having two small human beings.


It all started with this Goodnight Moon parody book, Goodnight Unicorn. SHB loves the original classic board book, so I picked this book up at the library because I love parodies/spin-offs and the illustration style appealed to me. For some reason SHB totally latched onto this book, and kept asking where it was after I returned it to the library, and I totally went through a unicorn phase when I was in elementary school, so I was not at all averse to purchasing our own copy. SHB's favorite unicorn was the "jet black," and for some reason toy manufacturers only make pastel-colored unicorns, so it was up to me to make SHB's unicorn toy dreams come true. And of course, in a if-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookie scenario, he then wanted a mommy and daddy unicorn, and then a rainbow unicorn to represent his coming baby sister, and then because the Warriors were in the playoffs, a Steph Curry unicorn, and then things just spiraled out of control.

In the book, the rainbow unicorn and the jet black unicorn sleep in a barn at night.

Steph Curry unicorn with a basketball. I used leftover fabric from the Warriors' pajamas I made a couple Christmases ago. 

He just loves cuddling as many as he can hold at once. 

Current count at ten, but still requested: an orange one, and one with a "patootie," i.e. a cutie mark. I don't know if I'll get around to those, as that would require buying another bag of stuffing. 
And because SHB takes books very seriously, the unicorns needed a rainbow to slide on. Also to please make sure, Mom, that there's pink in the rainbow.

I used craft foam inside the rainbow to get it to stand up. 

I know, I know, he really doesn't need more stuffed toys, but how can I say no when this is the happy face I get when he sees the newest plushie?

And then he immediately has to get the book and copy the picture with his toys. 

I used Nuno Runo's zebra plushie pattern to make the unicorns, and in browsing her other stuffed toy patterns, discovered that there was a stegosaurus pattern as well. Unfortunately, making a stegosaurus just opened up an even bigger can of worms since SHB then realized he could request that Mommy make ALL the dinosaurs. This wouldn't be a problem if he only knew a few dinosaurs, but he has this pack of 30 dinosaur flashcards from the Target dollar section, so after stegosaurus he requested a tyrannosaurus rex, then a triceratops, diplodocus, ankylosaurus, parasaurolophus, brachiosaurus, pterodactyl, pteranodon, and dimetrodon.

I had so much fun designing this pattern! I'm really pleased with how the bony frill turned out. 

The diplodocus was easy; the ankylosaurus' wedge-shaped head, armored back, and clubbed tail was a little trickier. 

The parasaurolophus turned out exactly as I envisioned, but the brachiosaurus' neck had some grain issues so it looks perpetually perplexed with its cocked head. 

Dimetrodon was just a thicker version of the original NunoRuno stegosaurus, but the flying dinosaurs were trickier because they're so unlike any of the other shapes. The magenta one was version 2.0, because the first one was too skinny and fiddly to make, and was missing its hands. 

A favorite activity: matching the dinosaurs to their flashcards. Poor (magical) liopleurodon, of Charlie the Unicorn fame, doesn't have a flashcard. 

As I got better at making dinosaur patterns, I realized that my original T. rex didn't really look very accurate, so then I went back and improved the pattern to give it a boxier head and allow it to sit up better. And once I made two, because toddlers are nothing if not consistent, SHB labeled them as the parents, which meant that once again, we needed the rest of the family...

According to SHB, he is the purple one because he loves ube ice cream, I am the teal one, Mr. Cation is the magenta one, and baby sister is the seafoam one. 

I then turned the original derpy T. rex into a dragon since the unicorn book features a red dragon, but (and you can probably guess what's coming) it didn't look very dragon-y either, so then I had to make a better one. SHB requested purple, so I gave it orange accents so that it would look like Figment.

A pair of wings and horns does not a dragon make. "Mom, where the bony plates on his back?" Okay fine, you picky boy, I'll make a better one. 

There, bony plates added. Happy now? (Also the creeper gingerbread man who looks more like a voodoo doll than anything was added by SHB while I was taking pictures of the dragons.)

All this to say, SHB now has a veritable menagerie that he sleeps with every night. Which is more trouble for me, because now there are thirty-odd creatures that we need to track down every night and they barely fit on his bed, and if he wakes up in the middle of the night and can't find one of them in the dark, he'll start crying until I get up and help him find the prodigal plushie. Sigh. Mr. Cation has very little sympathy for me, though, since, as he rightly pointed out, this is really a problem of my own making. Literally.

This isn't even the entire collection of his "friends." There are more that can't fit, but this is the core group.

Eventually, I'd like to turn the dragon and dinosaurs into cleaned up patterns, but with only a month to go until baby girl's arrival, that's unlikely to happen anytime soon. My one goal is to make a quilt for her so that she has at least one new thing that's all hers and not a hand-me-down from her big brother...