Friday, November 1, 2013

Everything Changed When the Fire Nation Attacked

When I was six, I hated Halloween because it was so scary. I went to a K-8 school, so the eighth graders would take delight and freaking out the littler kids with their creepy masks and gory props. I'm sure my tendency to jump at everything made me a gratifying target of pranks.


But then, everything changed when the fire nation attacked I became a costume geek and science teacher. Now, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays because of the costuming opportunities, and seeing as I'm responsible for teaching teenagers to use Bunsen burners properly, few things surprise me anymore. I didn't get to dress up last year (possibly because of the phenomenon of regression to the mean, and the previous year I had two Halloween parties to go to), so this year when the administration announced that teachers could dress up, I got super excited. Now, this announcement was made about 48 hours before Halloween (and right after my all-day marathon pants-sewing session), and while I certainly have plenty of finished costumes to choose from, I had already planned on doing a fireball demo in my chem class, and most of my costumes have too many swooshy pieces, especially around the sleeve area, for me to do the demo safely. So I started mentally reviewing my costume wardrobe, and had almost settled on either Alice or a hobbit as the safest options, when it suddenly occurred to me that I've always loved the Fire Nation costumes on Avatar: The Last Airbender. And what could possibly be better than doing fireballs while dressed as a firebender?!

Thankfully, I had already planned on (and cut and prepped) making By Hand London's Anna dress from a red sheet for Red October, so having a deadline (well, I guess I already had a deadline with it being oh, the end of October) really lit a fire under me (pun intended) and I found myself sewing frantically in order to have it done by Thursday morning. You guys, all that hype about how awesome this dress is is no joke -- I didn't make ANY adjustments and it is just as flattering as it looks in everyone else's blog photos! I cut out the size recommended for my measurements, and for once I didn't have to take out 2-4 inches of ease, which is what happens when I use the Big 4 patterns. The only thing I would change for next time is to put darts in the back neckline, which a lot of people seem to do, since I have a bit of gaping back there. But the waist looks amazing, the skirt's gentle flare is perfect, and I am totally itching to make this up as a maxi or with long sleeves.

Not the best shot, and the wearing-a-shirt-underneath makes it sit a little funny, but you get the idea. I thought the sticky-out-y kimono cap sleeve was an excellent imitation of the wide shoulder armor that Azula wears.
(Apologies for the crappy bathroom mirror is it that I didn't get any good photos of my best costume yet?)

To get the firebender look, I layered it over a black long-sleeved tee and my Aladdin pants, tied on a random square of black knit fabric around my waist, and put on my most obnoxiously large gold jewelry, belt, and black boots. Most students couldn't quite place who I was supposed to be, but the few who got it loved it. The best moment, though, was when I revealed why I was dressed as a firebender:

Is that...?
Yes it is! It's real fire! No special FX!
All of these are fuzzy screencaps from videos shot on phones in a weirdly-lit classroom, hence the blurriness.

Then they all got to try "firebending" for themselves...over and over again. You know it's a good demo when the kids want to miss lunch to repeat it.

This was a photo collage that one of my students made. Some kids got more into the posing than others. 

If you're wondering how the firebending actually works, it's just methane gas bubbled into a dishwashing detergent and glycerin solution. The detergent makes the bubbles that you can scoop up in your hand, and the glycerin keeps the bubbles stable so that they don't pop right away. The gas is flammable, but if you wet your hand and arm thoroughly, the high specific heat of water protects your arm from the heat. The only thing I had to be careful of was making sure kids didn't scoop up too many bubbles, and that they kept the flames far away from their hair!

Fabric: Half of a 100% cotton king-size flat sheet, thrifted.
Notions: Seam binding, a 22" zipper
Hours: Eight, but I still want to go back and sew up the slits.
Will you make it again? Yes, yes, yes! I love fast and easy this dress is, and the pleats "opening up like flowers over your boobies" is a lovely design feature.
Total cost: $3
Final thoughts: It's not the most technically challenging or overtly impressive costume, but I love it because it just fit so well with what we were doing that day in class. I would love to get better pictures of me "firebending" while wearing the costume, but it was really for the kids. And of course, Mr. Cation thought it was pretty hot too. Haha get it? get it? He thought my firebending outfit was hot. His words, not mine :)

Besides sewing up the slits, I'm thinking of adding black lace trim to the dress so that it's not so plain. I've got a nice wide black Venise lace trim, but I'm not really sure where to put it. Thoughts?

[ETA: One of my kids sent me a video!]


  1. I wish you were my science teacher. Or my kids' science teacher. If I had children young enough to be in your class I would move to wherever you are teaching. Seriously.

  2. BRILLIANT! On every level! (I loved the Last Airbender!!!)

  3. Very nice dress/costume!!! You're a wonderful teacher!

  4. EVERYTHING AMAZING ALL THE TIME. my eyes popped at your post title (loved that show) and they just. kept. popping.

  5. My thoughts are that you are the coolest science teacher evah! If only I had a science teacher like you when I was in school! Oh yeah, the outfit is great, and the Anna dress looks very flattering on you. I have got to get to this pattern soon.

  6. I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS!!! Avatar, Halloween costumes, Awesome teacher moments - seriously I wish we lived closer so we could be best friends. Is that weird? Not sorry! LOL :) This is so perfect, and now I'm going to watch this show again - WEEKEND MARATHON!

  7. Man, I wish you could've been my science teacher-- maybe I would've liked science! What an awesome costume, and how perfect for the day!

  8. I had a geeky squee moment of awesome when I saw this! Love the costume, and perfect for the demo!

  9. FABULOUS!!! That couldn't have been more perfect! You throwing fire is pretty awesome! My brother's and I loved that show.
    You do look pretty good in this dress too. Red is a good color on you. Maybe lace around the hem?

  10. You are clearly an amazing teacher! I love everything about this post.

  11. AWESOME! I love both the fact that you actually teach kids to hold fireballs (and the science behind it) and dress like a firebender for it! I had a couple of very clever teachers, but they never managed a feat like that...

  12. I love the costume and as a chemist, love the experiment MORE! :-)

    I must get that pattern, it really does look amazing on everyone!

  13. Love your costume! So jealous of your students - I would have loved having a fun science teacher like you!

    I think lace at the neckline would be really nice without taking away from the design details at the bottom. And you wouldn't need jewelry when you wore it (as a dress and not a costume). Bring the eye up to your face and all that. =)

    ~ Brooke

  14. That is so many shades and kinds of cool and awesome on so many levels I think I may just pass out. GAH! It's great. I have a red fabric picked out for the Anna, too, but I have this sinking feeling it'll be spring before it quite happens... /cry

  15. Awesome. Just awesome. You make me want to be a science teacher. And make an Anna dress. I really feel like I missed out on the pattern of the year because of my silly baby belly. :)

  16. That is so cool! My boys would love doing that, but I don't think I'll introduce them to it just yet.

  17. I think this officially makes you the coolest freaking teacher ever! Not gonna lie, I kinda want to make fireballs now. Probably shouldn't though.

  18. You.
    That is such a fab costume (love that some of your students go the reference) and the fire makes it extra rad!

  19. I love your costume! My daughter was Katara last year and this year she was Katara's Painted Lady ( Glad to see someone else dress up as A:TLA characters. ;)

  20. That would seriously be the best science lab ever....and I'm saying this even though we got to make ice cream in chemistry class one day! Love it!

  21. Ha ha ha, loved the video of everyone gasping WHOA! Great job, Teach!

  22. Great dress/costume and such a cute post! Real Fire!!!

  23. This was so much fun! The outfit is seriously cool and you are one heck of a science teacher, education is lucky it has you!

  24. AAAHHH I started watching A:TLA shortly after you posted this - you were one of the metaphorical straws that broke the camel's back - and I just finished the show last night and went looking for this post to tell you.

  25. This is pretty amazing all around! Now I need to ask, is the fire bending safe to do on my own? I am part of a martial arts demo team and we are preforming as the four elements of Avatar. As you probably guessed, I am representing the fire nation and I've been looking around for something I can do. The crowd will be a safe distance away.



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