Thursday, November 21, 2013

November Stashbusting: An All-Purpose Plushie Pattern

Friends, meet the snootiest looking cat plushies ever:

Can't you just feel the disdain dripping from their downturned mouths?
And their friend, the most derp-faced generic dinosaur of no particular species:

"Hallo there, I don't believe you've had the pleasure of making Sewasaurus Rex's acquaintance!"
He's a much friendlier guy.

There's also a Golden Retriever (or a Yellow Lab...I'm not entirely sure which) in the neighborhood.
You can tell they're all friends because their arms are around each other. 

As you know, November's stash busting is about making things to donate to charities. This last weekend, a bunch of ladies from my church came over and I taught them to sew little stuffed animals. Only a couple had ever used sewing machines before, and even then only for home dec type straight line sewing, so it was a bit of an adventure explaining concepts like "right sides together," or keeping the needle down while raising the presser foot in order to pivot while sewing, and how to do a ladder stitch.

Ladder stitching: necessary for doing up dino butts.


Since they were all new to plush-toy-sewing, I decided to draw up a simple pattern that involved easy to sew shapes without tricky joins like the mole pattern I tried last month. And because we all have different personalities (and not all people are cat-obsessed like I am), I decided to design it around a generic body pattern and then include easy modifications for paws and such in order to make it into different animals. With just one pattern, you can make a cat/dog/mouse/penguin/bunny/dinosaur/sheep!

Not pictured: the mouse and the bunny.
Ah, there they are. Not the best shot, but I just snapped this really quickly before they left with their makers that night. The mouse's butt has yet to be sewn up, and the bunny certainly looks disapproving about it. 

Even with all the options, the pieces are basic enough that it can be good practice for someone getting used to sewing curves on a machine (kind of like when you practice cutting wiggly lines with scissors in preschool). Alternately, if you don't have a machine, the pieces are small enough that hand-sewing won't take too long either.


Download the pattern here.

Since my plushies were made in a cat-haired home, even with all my lint-rolling and laundering, I unfortunately won't be able to donate these to children with compromised immune systems. However, they'll still go to (hopefully) good homes, to brighten the day of someone who needs some whimsical cheer, through Operation Christmas Child.

"I say! Are you acquainted with my dear friend, Juglans regia?" Snooty cat is snooty.
Sewasaurus gossips with his pal Walnut. 

So, how are you using your stash to give back to your community? Anyone up for making a snooty cat, disapproving rabbit, or derp-faced dinosaur of their own for adoption to a good home? 


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Making Loki's Chitauri Scepter

...the cheapo non-screen-accurate version, though.

While there are plenty of tutorials out there for fancy versions that involve Wonderflex and heat-bending PVC pipes and wiring switches for lights, what if you don't need to fool anyone into thinking you're actually Loki? My costume was already only vaguely Loki-inspired, so I figured I could take liberties on the staff as well. In case you're curious about how I made mine, or want to make your own without breaking the bank (or spending hours on end), have a photo faketorial:

Step 1: Acquire a free LED flashlight from a conference. Paint the top part gold, and glue a little strip of craft foam to the rim so that the "crystal" will sit there securely. 
Step 2: Get the cheapest clear acrylic faucet handle from the hardware store (something like this, except even cheaper...mine was $3). Coat the inside with watered down light blue paint.
Like so.
Here's my "crystal" wedged on top of the flashlight.
Step 3: Get a 3/4" diameter wooden dowel about the height of your nose. Paint it gold. Measure the diameter of your flashlight, then pad out the dowel top with craft foam strips until it is the same diameter as your flashlight. This provides a platform for the flashlight to rest on.
Step 4: Use another layer of craft foam to make a cylinder around the top of the dowel, enclosing the platform and providing walls to hold the flashlight in. Cover in gold duct tape. 
See? A nice little space to slip in the flashlight.
Step 5: Trace the outline of the whole crystal-flashlight-dowel assembly, then use that to sketch out the blade shapes. 
Step 6: Trace the blade shape onto foam board, cut it out carefully with a sharp X-acto knife, then paint silver. 
Step 7: Use hot glue to attach the blades to the sides of the dowel, then use more craft foam strips to help secure it.  I also added a couple of pins to the tip of the smaller blade to keep the point from getting bent. I painted the strips silver eventually.
Step 8: Cut elongated pentagons out of more craft foam, wrap them around the base, and secure with hot glue. 
Step 9: Paint that part gold too.
Step 10: Put a brass hex end cap on the bottom of the dowel. This gives it a satisfying weight and noise when you thump the staff emphatically on the ground. 
Done! And for under $15, too.
It's actually quite brightly blue!


My final "weapon" actually ended up looking vaguely Asian, like the kind of long spears that were used historically (and currently, but mostly for kungfu demos). So, all in all, quite fitting for my Mulan/Loki mashup costume!


Eventually I'll get around to turning this into an Instructable. I seem to only make Instructables in November-December, usually coinciding with movie releases. Next up: party king Thranduil!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I Do What I Want, Thor!

...including wearing a Mulan/Loki mashup costume three days after the midnight opening, at a random theatre in Daly City for an early afternoon matinee. If that's not an anticlimactic cosplay opportunity, I don't know what is.

My parents' house has no good empty backgrounds for taking photos. Also there are cats just waiting to photobomb.
What did I say about the photobombing cats?
Emily's was a slightly more subtle, modern day femme-Loki outfit, plus horns. 
"[We are] the monster that parents tell their children about at night."
"All humans crave subjugation." 
"Kneel, you mewling quim!"

My mom asked us as we were leaving the house if anyone else would likely be dressed up to see the movie, to which we had to admit that no, it's just her daughters that are that ridiculous. My dad thought I was supposed to be a Chinese fairy. Needless to say, we were the only ones dressed up for the movie.

At the movie theater, with my light-up scepter! More about the making of that in another post.  You can kind of tell here that the cape is just attached to the edges of the center gold piece of the necklace. 
"I am burdened with a glorious purpose."

It was gratifying to cosplay at an "event" (if you can even call it that!) that had no other cosplayers, though -- we got lots of appreciative clapping, shouts of "Love your costumes!" and whispers of "Daaaang!" under the breath, and even one couple who asked us to take a picture with their son -- despite being an introvert, I do love being the center of attention if it's for something like this!

So sad when kind-hearted strangers' photos turn out blurry. 

I started with my Asian!Loki costume (it's not totally out there, right? both are second-class citizens in their culture, and they go all out waging war to make a point to their fathers, and they wear dark green in their respective movies...yeah, totally makes sense) right before I left TCOCC, and finally finished it in a fit of last-minute sewing and crafting this past couple of days since my sister and I decided that we wanted to see Thor: The Dark World yesterday. I sewed up the cape/necklace combo (gathered rectangle bound at the top with bias tape, pinned to the necklace), the black gauzy overskirt (gathered rectangle with an elastic waistband...that's 120" of chiffon about my waist, believe it or not) and made my own version of the Chitauri scepter (how to in an upcoming post). The long green silk charmeuse skirt is actually an $8 thrift store find from 2006 that I've saved (and never used!) until now...thereby rewarding my hoarding tendencies. A gold tie belt with Chinese knots continued my theme, but it was mostly hidden by the black overskirt, unfortunately. The crowning touch, of course, was Loki's signature horns, which I improvised with the help of a cheap Forever 21 necklace and some hot glue.

It was harder than it should have been to find a thick, round gold cord. It bothers me that it doesn't quite match the richer gold of the tassels. 
Necklace turn headdress, thanks to hot glue and some twill tape to tie it on with. 
The back is a hot mess...because I used hot glue. Get it get it get it??


While the finished costume isn't exactly Loki or very historical, it still gives some nods to each:

Teen Loki from Young Avengers gave me the idea for the horned headdress.
I didn't take too much direct inspiration from Loki's actual costume other than the dark green, black, and gold color scheme, plus the scepter and the gold bit at the top of the chest and a cape. 
The historical inspiration is a bit more obvious, I think. This Song Dynasty painting shows the overlong sleeves, flowy overskirt, dangly bits at the belt, and a cape-y thing. 
This diagram of a ruqun was another inspiration image. While there were certainly changes over the couple thousand years of Chinese history, the basic costume was remarkably similar, as can be seen on my pinboard for this project. 
For example, this Wei Dynasty statue from ~500 BC has the crossover top, overskirt, and voluminous sleeves...
...as does this lady from a mid-18th century painting.

It probably took me a total of forty hours spread over a few days earlier this year and in the last weekend to finish this costume. It was quite economical, considering the many parts (thrifted fabric for the top and a thrifted skirt, finally using the last of the leftover chiffon from my Girl on Fire dress, and more leftover black faux suede for the cape; the staff cost less than $15 to make, making the jewelry the most expensive parts at $8 each necklace), and definitely fun to wear.

Back home, after the movie, with the cape off so you can see the outfit better. 

Probably the most gratifying moment was walking back through the parking structure after the movie and catching the eye of a little boy...he just stared and stared until I smiled at him, then he gave me the hugest grin in return. I love that cosplaying can bring a little more fun and whimsy to people's day!

Goodness knows, we had enough fun, trying to wrangle two cats into taking pictures with us!
I'm so glad to have a sister who loves being goofy and dressing up too!

[Title references this random panel from a comic, which I have not read, but still find convenient for justifying this bizarre cosplay mashup, even if it's not truly Lokean in ideology.]

Monday, November 11, 2013

November Stashbusting: Being Thankful

Whew, now that my pants-making classes are over (but textiles is still going on!), I've got a bit more breathing room. I totally fell off the the map when it came to the Stashbusting Sewalong, but thankfully EmSewCrazy has been way more on top of things than I have! If you've seen her blog page about the sewalong, you may know that this month is about sewing for charity. Being a purely hobbyist seamstress is a privilege, as my mom reminded me, and I'm fortunate that I don't need to support or clothe my family through my sewing. I'm grateful for being able to run out and buy the supplies I want for whatever strikes my fancy, and even though I make most of my garments for under $10 each, it's more of a contest with myself than a real necessity. So I'm glad for the chance to use my sewing to give back, to hopefully bless those who could use some handmade cheer.

There are many ways that you can use your sewing for the benefit of others, but if you need some concrete suggestions for charities that are specifically looking for handmade items, here are just a few that I've rounded up.

  • Project Linus collects handmade blankets (and you can knit or crochet them, too!) for children in need and distributes them through hospitals, shelters, or other agencies. They have donation sites and chapters throughout the US, so find one near you!
  • If a whole blanket is too intimidatingly large for you (or if shipping is prohibitous), try making a fun, colorful pillowcase for a child with cancer. I think I might go this route, since I've got plenty of novelty print sheet remnants that are perfect for kids!
  • If you're all, I hate sewing endless straight seams, you can make a softie for Cuddlies for Foster Kids. They're based in Washington state, but you can mail them your items. 
  • If you are in possession of very small scraps, you can still make them into something comforting with the Comfort Doll Project. This is the one program I could find that didn't involve children, so if for some reason you hate kids but still love adults, this one's for you!

The good thing about these programs is that they run year-round, unlike Operation Christmas Child or other seasonally-based drives, so if you don't get your act together this month (or even this year!), you can still contribute at a later date when you're more able. And of course, feel free to look up charities in your own area or for causes close to your heart -- I'm thinking socks for military service members (it's Veterans' Day, after all!), pet beds for shelters, or some other need that you see -- the goal is just to sew something. And since this is a challenge, we'll have a link party at the end of the month where you can show off your work and we'll pick a winner to get some goodies!

Do any of you know of other charities that will accept our handmade goods? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lessons I've Learned Regarding Pants Sewing

This is only my last two versions of my skinny pants draft...not pictured are the four that have since been recycled. 

I was going to title this "Final Thoughts on Pants Sewing" but that sounds like I'm done with pants altogether and have Figured It Out, which I most definitely have not! But I thought I'd share with you some of the things I've learned both in class and in the actual process of sewing.

In no particular order (and some of these are repeats of what I've said in various posts here and there):
  • Drafting from measurements is great and all, and it will probably give you a better fit than if you were to sew up your size from a commercial pattern (which is based on a block that may or may not be similarly-shaped), but it is not a miracle. Drafting still makes some assumptions about your body, about how those same thirty inches are distributed, about how your knees do or don't stick out, about your posture, about the angle at which your legs meet your pelvis, or even the amount of ease you prefer. My first draft was made to my measurements, but the drafting guidelines couldn't possibly have known about my swayback, my hyperextended calves, or that my lower legs come out of my knees at a funny angle. I still had to make corrections to my muslin, then transfer those to my draft, only to make another set of changes because the first set of changes affected how other things hung. Fitting is a trial and error process, and unless you are shaped exactly the way the drafting book thinks, you're still going to need to make changes. It's okay, you didn't do anything wrong, and your body is definitely not wrong
  • It's so much easier to see where changes need to be made when you have the balance lines drawn on your muslin. Having horizontal lines at the high hip lets you see when things aren't parallel to the ground, and having vertical lines up the middle helps you adjust things like grainline.
  • When making changes, it's way easier to just wear the muslin and have somebody else do the slashing, spreading, pinning, and seam ripping. Although I more or less managed with previous pairs of pants, it's dang hard trying to turn just your top half around to evaluate wrinkles without moving your bottom half. If you can pair up with a sewing buddy to have a fitting day, it makes life so much easier!
  • When making changes to your muslin, start from the top and work your way down, since the way the crotch fits will affect how the legs hang. If you make a knock-knee adjustment before correcting the crotch depth, you may find the first alteration unnecessary or just plain wrong. 
  • Sometimes the easiest way to tell what adjustments you need is to look at how your RTW pants fit (or don't fit, as the case may be). If the inner thigh area always wears out first/pills the most, that might mean a full inner thigh alteration (see #3 here for how to do that). If you're always getting a wedgie, you might need to slash and spread to lengthen the back rise (see #9). If, like me, you're always getting stuck in dressing rooms when trying on skinny jeans (true story), you might have very full calves...
  • Check your inseams: the front inseam should be about 1/2" longer than the back inseam. By sewing from the bottom up, and keeping the front and back at a 1:1 ratio up until the knee, and then stretching the back inseam to match the front above the knee, you make it so that the fabric will hug the back of your leg more in the curve under your butt. Totally makes sense, but I never would've thought of that on my own!
  • I already said this in the previous post, but it bears repeating -- make a muslin in a comparable fabric! "If you're going to make a paper garment, then go ahead and fit it in paper. But if you're planning to make a fabric garment, fit it in fabric!" This is especially true for pants whose final fashion fabric is going to be significantly different from cotton muslin in stretch, hand and drape. 
  • Of course, it can be hard to find comparable muslin fabric when your final pants are going to be made from stretch denim, so when sewing pants with stretch, baste together the pieces to check for fit before you insert the fly front or do pockets. My flocked brocade had a pretty significant spandex content (when it comes to stretch, even 2% is significant!), so I ended up taking in the side seam by about 1.5" on both front and back, and 1" on the inseam. 
The gray pencil lines are my skinny pants draft, which fit fine in cotton muslin. The light blue color pencil is what I brought it in to after the initial fitting. You can see I also lowered the waist significantly. And look at how flat that curve is, especially compared to these!

  • A lot of commercial pants patterns, and even drafting book guidelines, have a much deeper front crotch curve than is normally found in RTW pants. If things are baggy in the front crotch, flatten out the J by taking out what is essentially a vertical fisheye dart in the paper pattern (see #8 here). That will make the pants fit more like what we're used to.  For example, in my Edisto, Clover,  and Audrey pants, which are all made from commercial patterns, I had some level of bagging/pouchiness in the front crotch area, but in my work gauchos, which were rubbed off of a pair of RTW pants, I didn't have that issue. 
  • Before we made our final pants, our prof had us make a fly front sample set; she divided the process into four steps and we made a little sample for each step. I found it extremely helpful for reference since I can never remember how to do a fly front. Of course, it would've been more helpful if I'd done the samples in the correct direction! The principle is still sound, though...it's way easier to refer to physical samples that you can touch and manipulate than a diagram (or worse, just a list of steps!) in a book. 
These are my fly-front samples. We had to sew up step one four times, step two three times, step three two times, etc. In case you're wondering: 1) Sew up from the bottom of the curve, backstitching at the base of the fly and then basting it shut. Line up the edge of the zipper tape with the CF seam, sew to fly flap only. 2) Flip the zipper over and topstitch the fly piece to the tape. 3) Flip the zipper facedown again and sew it to the other fly flap (don't catch the other pants front...ask me how I know). 4) Flip the whole thing over and topstitch the little J; add a fly guard and bar tacks if you wish. It was tedious to do, but I'm glad in hindsight. 
Completed sample from the front!
  • Our prof also recommended that instead of trying to draft a contour waistband, to just cut a straight rectangle, baste it to the finished pant, and then pin darts in several places to get the right curve. Then you can just transfer the darts to a paper pattern and cut them out to make a curve. 
Now I know why all commercial waistbands don't fit me well...they're not nearly curvy enough! I wouldn't have ever believed this if I hadn't pinned out those darts myself to end up with this. 

  • Lastly, the whole point of a waistband is that it should act like a belt to hold the pants up. To that end, it should usually be about 1/2" smaller than the top of the pants, and the top of the pants should be eased into the waistband. I used to always have a problem with waistbands that were too big, and now I know why!
Finally (okay, I know I said I wouldn't say final, and I just said "lastly," so obviously I am having issues with ending and diction), don't feel bad if it takes a long time to actually make a finished pair of pants! I was sewing like a madwoman very very intense person to get my pants done in nine hours, and our prof even said that she doesn't think a good pair of jeans can be finished in under eight hours, and she's been sewing for 35 years!

Ever since I started sewing pants, I've spent a lot of time staring at people's butts and crotches (surreptitiously, of course) trying to figure out what kind of adjustments they need, if any. Learning to read drag lines and wrinkles can be tricky (and make you seem like a perv?), but it's worth it for a great-fitting pair of pants.

My smirking "I'm secretly staring at the drag lines at your crotch" face. And hey, thank you all so, so much for all your really sweet comments on my last post about these pants! I wore them all day and they were so comfy (and they didn't sag and bag, at least not that I noticed) and I felt so proud knowing that I made them.  

So, what do you think? Have I inspired you to tackle pants? Any enlightening lessons of your own you'd care to share with us?