Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Brandy Cinderella Dress for a Small Human Being

Cinderella was my first favorite princess. My dad likes to remind me that when I was in preschool, he read the Disney Cinderella book to me every night at my request until he had memorized it. Cinderella was the reason why my parents started calling me Cindy (because my name is not actually Cation), and I watched the movie so many times that I have to think it must have had some effect on my eventually learning to sew, because I'm pretty sure it has the longest sewing sequence in a kids' movie. My parents were too frugal to ever buy dedicated costumes or dress-up clothes, but no doubt I would've worn a fancy Cinderella dress to rags (in a bizarre reversal of the movie's progression) had I owned one. I don't love Cinderella now (I much prefer my princesses to have more agency and badassery, like Mulan), but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for her. So when SHB#2's best friend, K, who loves Cinderella and dressing up, turned three last month, I knew I wanted to help make her princess dreams come true.

Here's the catch: K loves the 1997 Brandy version of Cinderella, and not the classic animated Disney one. There are tons of tutorials and patterns out there on teh interwebs for the classic Disney dress, but not much for Brandy's ball gown. Thankfully, at last year's D23 Heroes and Villains costume exhibit, the Brandy gown was on display so there were plenty of good reference pictures available even though the film came out awhile ago. I picked up a couple of different light blue sparkly fabrics from Joann's remnants selection (I make exceptions to my no new fabric buying rule for gifts, but even then I try to shop the remnants for small pieces that other people may not want) and started plotting about how to make this dress happen for a very small human being.

I love that  on the left you can see an Asian guy dressed as Paolo Montalban's prince taking a picture of the dress on display...I mean, how often does one get a canonically Asian, non-animatedprince?  

Having taken the evening gown construction class, I now know that a waist stay and boned bodice are essential for having a strapless dress stay up, but obvious I wasn't going to be putting such structure into a child's dress. Also, the fabric I found for the bodice was stretchy, because I wanted this to be a comfy, easy(ish) to put on fun costume. I decided that clear swimsuit elastic was the way to go, in the form of straps to hold up the top while the little droopy sleeve swags just hung decoratively. I knew that K and SHB#2 were more or less the same size, so I used one of her tops to draw up a vaguely raglan-sleeve-type pattern, where the sleeve had enough room to fall off the shoulder to look like Brandy's dress. I sewed some pintucks on the front and back to visually mimic the Vs made by the rhinestones on Brandy's dress, and added some pearls and silver beads from my stash to give the suggestion of a jeweled dress without covering the entire thing. Since the velvet is sparkly, I think the overall effect is sufficiently fancy. After semi-blinging out the top, I cut and attached a circular ruffle that was longer in the back to match the peplum on Brandy's dress.

Sorry, these are really not the best pictures because 1) glittery/sparkly throws off my phone camera, 2) our house does not get great light, and 3) SHB#2 was grabbing me while I was trying to quickly snap some pictures before wrapping it up to leave for the birthday party.

Tiny silver and pearl beads at the bodice neckline! Also, the tiara was one I bought for a costume party in high school, wore once, and forgot about until my mom was cleaning and found it and gave it back to me. I figured it should go to a little girl who could actually appreciate it. 

Brandy's skirt has layers and layers of fluffy tulle, but I couldn't find a good color match at Joann's. I did find half a yard of this nylon net with embroidered glittery flowers, though, which I deemed to be good enough. I layered it over some white dotted net (leftover from this top) and periwinkle blue knit fabric (leftover from making Mulan costumes) to get the blue-ish layered look, which worked pretty well, I think! The three layers were gathered into a white 2"-wide soft elastic waistband, then I hemmed the knit, innermost layer with some horsehair braid to help it stand out and away from tiny feet. The dotted net layer I left unhemmed, and the outermost embroidered flower layer has a whopping five inch hem. Since I didn't want a line of stitching going around the skirt, I just hand-tacked the flowers together where they overlapped. The nylon net is sheer enough (and there enough going on in the underlayers) that the overall effect is a mostly invisible hem, with the added bonus of the wide hem helping the overskirt to poof out more. With such a generous hem and the elastic waistband, there's plenty of room for growth (at least in the skirt, if not the top) for years to come.

Sparkles and glitter abound!

You can see the three layers of fabric here. 
Here's a close-up of how I folded over the outer layer. The flowers lined up very nicely, and the stiffness of the embroidered flowers at the bottom also help to keep it from collapsing in on itself. 

I think the finished outfit was received pretty well, considering K put it on right away and has been wearing it regularly ever since. I know the Selfish Seamstress (oh how I miss her presence in the sewing blogiverse!) says that sewing for kids is not to be done, but alas, motherhood has changed me and I am less selfish about sewing for others now. That said, I'm still only going to sew fun things, like costumes!

Blurry again, because have you ever tried to get a photo of a three year old in the evening, indoors?

The only problem is that throughout this process, I kept trying it all on SHB#2, such that by the end she thought it was for her. She was a little disappointed that it went to her bestie, so I think this means I need to make a floofy princess dress for her now...

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Back to My Roots

This past Christmas, I celebrated (okay, posted on IG stories) my sewing machine's tenth birthday. Mr. Cation got me the machine for Christmas in 2019, and the first thing I did was sew a whole slew of zippered pouches. I started out with unlined pouches, then added appliqued cats, then graduated to lined pouches and then even pouches with little "windows" that gave a hint as to the contents. It was good practice for sewing in straight lines, being precise, and thinking about how one would need to arrange right and wrong sides of outer and inner fabrics in order to get the correct sides showing and raw edges hidden, and the mass output was fine because you can always use more containers for things and they made for nice little hostess- or stocking-stuffer-type gifts. Then I discovered garment sewing and, with the exception of some forays into plushie- and quilt-making, I pretty much stopped sewing non-wearable things.

Now that I have small human beings, though, I need more zippered pouches to contain all the miscellaneous things that they "require." Requirement being a loosely applied term, though, because the other day SHB#2 "required" that I bring for her 1) a reusable ice cube, 2) two unopened packets of hot sauce, 3) a small pair of tongs, 4) a slap bracelet, and 5) an old hotel key card. Kids and their treasures of the day: you never know what piece of junk will be indispensable! At any rate, it's much easier to contain all these little things in a zippered pouch instead of in three tiny pockets or two tinier hands or one enormous diaper bag that also contains changes of clothes and washcloths and restaurant toys and water bottles and sunscreen and hats. So, more zippered pouches it was!

Coincidentally, at around the same time that I realized I was going to need more zippered pouches, C&T Publishing contacted me about trying out Kraft-Tex, a leather-like fabric that is made from mostly paper and a small amount of synthetic latex. I was intrigued, because I don't love using leather (when I do, I try to source it from thrifted items) OR pleather/vinyl (which is terrible for the environment), but there are some costume items that kind of require leather or leather-looking materials. I agreed to try out Kraft-Tex, thinking that if it worked out, I would be able to use it for the "leather" sections of the Pozu-knockoff Rey boots I'm theoretically trying to make. C&T Publishing has a color-of-the-month program for bloggers, where they send you a different color 18.5" x 28.5" sheet each month in exchange for a blog post about a project made with it. January's color is Crimson, which worked out because you know, Chinese New Year! Much red! So lucky! Very fortune! Wow!

Tiny toddler hand sneaking in to grab a pouch because this girl loves bags. She is forever running off with my make-up bag, my pattern weights bag, my pencil case, etc. 

I was able to get three zippered pouches out of my piece of red Kraft-Tex, and I learned a lot in the process. I've had some experience sewing with trickier materials, but this still felt like a pretty steep learning curve, mostly because, like leather, once the needle goes through the Kraft-Tex, the hole is permanent. The Kraft-Tex is very stiff, so while it is bendable, it's not easy, so manipulating around curves on a non-flat object was tricky. It's also quite thick, so my (admittedly cheap) machine didn't have enough power to get through multiple layers and I had to resort to using the hand wheel. Also, I still haven't been able to get the thread tension right (although that might also be because of my machine, not the material, since my machine is oh, two years overdue for a tune-up), so there's a pretty visible gap between the pieces when there's tension on the seam. All that said, I do really, really like the look and sturdiness of Kraft-Tex, and the fact that I don't need to interface it, so I want to try again after my machine's been serviced and see if I can't figure out a better way to sew with it. Anyway, here are the details!

It's hard to photograph this bright red material with an iPhone,
but hopefully you can see that it does have a nice leathery-looking texture.

Wonky hand-stitches on the bias binding, because by
that time I couldn't be bothered with keeping things
neat while sewing with pliers. 
The first pouch was Aneela Hoey's Zip-Up Tray Pouch, which I first heard about from SewBrooke. It's a tray that zips up into a nice little carrying case. I originally planned to give this to my son for putting Legos into so that he could bring them to different places to build, but since it doesn't close up all the way, tiny pieces can still fall out. I'm using it for my sewing stuff instead, since I really do like how it zips up somewhat compactly, but still allows for opening up to see all the contents without having to rummage to the bottom. In retrospect, this was a poor choice of first project for a new material, since there's a lot of tricky maneuvering to get around the corners, and the bulkiness and stiffness of the Kraft-Tex made for hideous stitching on my bias binding. It's kind of embarrassing to look at, but it's functional? I think I forgot that, just like with garment sewing, it's important to match the material to the pattern and not assume that you can force any material to work for a particular project. 

Fat and happy taco cats! And burger cats. 

I then made the Noodlehead Open Wide Zippered Pouch two times, thinking that less weird maneuvering would be better suited to the Kraft-Tex. Since my machine didn't like sewing through multiple layers of the material, I used a different coordinating fabric for the part that would actually be sewn to the zipper. My sister was planning to donate this sweatshirt with cute junk food cats all over it; the print is cute but the fabric is 100% polyester and feels pretty awful. I figured it would work for a non-garment application, so I fused a some light interfacing to the back to increase stability since it's a knit. I thought everything would be pretty easy since I wasn't manipulating strange shapes under the presser foot, but I realized when I flipped the pouch right-side out that my thread tension was all off, so the bottom looks pretty bad. It's still functional, but I wouldn't want to say, gift it to anyone. I made one more pouch with the same combination of fabrics but without the boxed corners on the bottom, thinking that that would reduce the obviousness of the thread tension issues, but it was only partially successful. The gaping is less noticeable, but still present, so I wouldn't quite call this a win. 

Top pouch, lined with a fruit-print quilting cotton from the stash, has been claimed by SHB#2 for holding her random treasures: a garbage truck, two magnetic pigs, pink and purple Duplo blocks, some Trader Joe's stickers, and her "phone," which is actually a random remote. The flat pouch, which I keep in my backpack, has extra utensils for if we go places that only give out disposable ones. The fold-out tray has all my essential sewing stuff for bringing to class: paper scissors, fabric scissors, pencil & eraser, fabric marker, tracing wheel, chalk, seam ripper, awl, tape (for flat pattern manipulation), hera marker, French curve, and extra bobbins. I should have a box of pins in there too, but I took it out to use. 

In the end, I do have three serviceable pouches that have already been corralled into holding things, and I love the look of the red with the cats (which vaguely remind me of the similar-colored Chinese lucky cats). It's very appropriate for a Chinese New Year set of projects, although cats are probably inappropriate for it being the Year of the Rat and all... Also, I'm feeling more motivated to actually take my machine in for its tune-up, which always seemed a little silly to me, seeing as how that costs as much as the machine itself originally did, but then I remember that I'm all for making things last as long as possible. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Very Star Wars Halloween

Raising Small Human Beings is oftentimes an exercise in simultaneous frustration and amusement, and the selection of Halloween costumes is a prime example. When SHB#1 was three, he was obsessed with zebras, so he wanted to be a zebra for Halloween. That was fairly easy to make, and the fleece zebra suit I made for him got plenty of wear afterwards for pretend play. The next year, he was into construction vehicles and dinosaurs, so he alternated between wanting to be a pteranodon, a stegosaurus, or a "construction stegosaurus." I managed to convince him that a stegosaurus would have a hard time fitting a construction vest over the plates on its back, and together we settled on his being a "construction zebra" since the zebra suit still fit. I had to laugh when I saw his class picture: so many store-bought superheroes and princesses, and a lone zebra wearing a neon vest.

Here's a picture of the zebra costume, with a red cape so that he could be Superhero Zebra (4yos are nothing if not literal) for his third comic con. His stuffed zebra is also wearing a tiny red cape so that they can match! I was dressed as Dark!Rey. 

This past year, he was into the Octonauts for a good deal of it, so he went back and forth between wanting to be Tunip or Kwazii. I was despairing about finding teal or orange pants at the thrift store when he suddenly, in the last month before Halloween, got super into Star Wars, and decided he actually wanted to be Darth Vader. SHB#2 wants to do everything big brother does, so she immediately declared that she, too, would be Darth Vader (despite my best efforts to convince her that she would make an adorable Ewok). SHB#1 then decreed that we should be a Star Wars family, so I had to be Rey and Mr. Cation had to be Luke Skywalker. I can't lie; since Star Wars was one of my first fandoms I was super proud of the kids' geeky decision and secretly thrilled to have an excuse to make all these cool costumes!

Both kids already had black pants, and finding black turtlenecks at the thrift store was easy, so then it was just a matter of figuring out how to make Darth Vader's iconic chest plate, belt and cape. I thought about trying to applique all the pieces onto the turtlenecks, but that sounded like waaaaay too much work, plus I wanted them to be able wear the tops for regular, non-costume things. In the end, I decided to cut all the little buttons and "lights" out of tape and put them on black felt that I had leftover from a school costuming project. Gray duct tape worked for most of the details, and for the red and green bits I just used Sharpie to color over masking tape. After I showed the completed chest box to SHB#2, though, she immediately tried to take off all the "stickers," and I realized I would need to find a way to make them more durable to survive kid handling. I bought some iron-on vinyl and put that over the chest box and belt pieces and it worked perfectly; the tape seemed to really meld into the felt and it was easy to stitch it onto some scraps of black fabric and ribbon in order to allow it to all be tied on. The capes were just half circles cut from stash black jersey knit and sewn on with some elastic to gather the top and allow for easy slipping on over the kids' large heads.

Finished costume, a little worse for wear after being stuffed into a backpack, but still holding up fine! 

On Halloween, with their matching lightsabers. SHB#2 absolutely refused to wear a DV mask. 

Since SHB#1 hadn't specified which version of Luke he wanted Mr. Cation to be, I went with the easiest to put together, the ANH Tatooine Luke. I borrowed a gi top from a friend, and then it was just a matter of wearing his own khaki-colored linen pants and a dark brown leather belt with the buckle turned to the back. I also wrapped some strips of brown linen around his calves to mimic Luke's puttees.

Rey was the last costume to come together, even though I've been working on her the longest. I was originally planning on making her Resistance outfit to Rebel Legion standards, but stalled when I realized how difficult it was going to be to thrift the right fabrics. I'm committed to making my costuming greener where I can, and if that means not being screen accurate, then so be it. Costumes already get so few wears, I'd rather not add to their environmental burden by buying new fabrics for each one. Anyway, a year ago I thrifted some long brown pants; I cut off the bottoms and used those to make the kneepads. The shirt is made from a tea-dyed large white polo shirt, and the belt and wrist cuff were purchased from a seller in the Rey FB group. I found a very 80s grey wool herringbone coat at the thrift store for $10 that I initially thought might work for Rebel Legion approval, but upon closer examination, I realized that it was actually black and white herringbone, which together looked gray from far away. At this point I was too disappointed to continue work on Rey, so I stuffed everything into a garbage bag for a year.

From (a galaxy) far far away, it reads as gray, but up close it's pretty obviously black and white ;__;

A year in a naughty bag gave me time to get over the sting of disappointment, and when I pulled the coat back out, I felt okay about making the vest to complete our family costume. Thankfully, I still had the pattern pieces that I'd drafted and the mockup vest, so after what felt like miles of seam ripping to take apart the coat, I managed to get the pattern pieces to mostly fit.

From my Instastory. See the welt pocket I had to work around on those top pieces?

I ended up using a bunch of the scraps to practice the closed blanket stitch that's used on the edges of Rey's vest.
Why I chose to put in the time for that tedious that detail for a non-RL-approvable vest is beyond me. 

I did have to fudge a little by sewing some buttonholes closed, but it worked out in the end. I lined the inside of the vest with gray cotton flannel, which, with the interfacing that was already fused to the wool, made the vest stiff and heavy enough. I did reinforce the center front edges of the collar with some ironed and stretched horsehair braid, a technique I learned from my evening gown class with Lynda Maynard. After that, it was just a matter of adding the hand-sewn closed blanket stitch to all the edges. That took forever, and I only finished it just before we had to leave for trick or treating!

See that buttonhole I had to sew up right next to the side seam? Also I probably should've done something about the bulk at the shoulder from all the layers of wool+flannel+batting+turned seam allowances, but at that point I no longer cared. 

Look at all that time I spent carefully doing all that ladder-stitching by hand!
Gray flannel lining and wool held together by closed blanket stitches, and also all the whipstitched edges on the shirt.
So. Much. Hand. Sewing.

And here we all are! 

During trick or treating, it was so fun to hear people react to SHB#1's costume -- "Aww, a tiny Darth Vader!" -- and then to hear the even more excited reaction when they saw SHB#2 come up to the doorway right afterward -- "OMG AN EVEN TINIER DARTH VADER!!!" -- because obviously the smaller something is, the cuter, right? Only a couple people realized I was Rey, and not just somebody with somewhat odd clothing choices, but Halloween is really about the kid costumes. I would like to finish making my knock-off Po-Zu Rey boots at some point in the future, but in the meantime I'm just glad I finished this vest so that I could remove at least one UFO from my costume list and make my son happy at the same time.

Then again, maybe his happy face is due to the fact that he just ate a piece of his trick or treating loot. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Most Extra Lab Garment Ever

Apparently, when you take a non-elective class with the fashion department at Canada College, you are usually required to sew a "lab garment," aka something quick and easy to meet the requirements for lab hours and total number of garments sewn. This was the first time that I've had to do this, because somehow all my previous classes have been electives. The syllabus for my tailoring class said our lab garment should be something that goes with our coat, to make it into a complete outfit, but our professor said it could be anything. Most people made simple tops, some people made dresses from nice, well-behaved cottons, still others made easy gathered skirts from rectangles of fabric. I decided to be extra and make a 1920s-inspired evening gown to go with my coat. Also I was going to draft it myself. And I was going to use velvet. And I was going to add five yards of beaded trim that could only be sewn on by hand. And just to make things extra interesting, I wasn't going to bother making a mock-up; I was just going to just assume my draft was fine and try it on the week it was due, after all the work was finished and everything was pretty much irreversible. Maybe it's just as well my actual tailored coat was so simple.

In my quest to only sew my stash or secondhand fabrics, I already knew I was going to use this wine-colored stretch velvet leftover from costuming An Actor's Nightmare. I also had this lovely dark brown beaded and sequinned trim that I got seven years ago at the FIDM scholarship store, back when I still lived in The City of Culver City. I'd been saving it for a suitably glamorous project, and there was definitely no way I was going to do my own beading for a 1920s-esque evening gown, so it was the perfect time to use it.

I've used the armscye shapes from this dress before for my Anna May Wong dress

For my pattern, I started by looking at the shapes of pattern pieces from period publications, as well as the ones from Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 2, and then sketching out similar shapes in my size as best as I could based on my measurements. Then I just made a V-neck in front and cut the back piece down the middle and folded some of it back to make the very low-cut V. For the skirt, I was pretty limited by what I could fit onto the remaining yardage, so they were just four vaguely A-line pieces, with more fullness on the back pieces. Because of the shapes of my remnants, I had to cut it with the nap going up instead of down, but I actually like how it looks richer and more luxurious that way.

You can see how tricky it was to fit my pattern pieces onto my remnants. I originally planned to have the deeper V on the front and the back to be cut on the fold with a scoop neck, but I couldn't fit that onto my fabric. I actually like my final arrangement better, since it allowed for fun back details. Also, laying out shifty fabric with both a cat and a toddler around is an exercise in patience.  

After attaching the pieces at the center front and shoulders, I cut facing pieces out of the stretchy black net remnants from my Ursula skirt, then proceeded to brace myself for many, many hours of hand-sewing on the beaded trim and tacking down the facings. Thankfully, Disney+ had just come out so I went through The Princess and the Frog, Cinderella, Sleeping BeautyThe Little Mermaid, and Mulan while sewing. I sewed the trim on the top first, then attached the skirt and added the waist trim and and skirt front trim. The hem is left raw, since with my limited fabric I didn't want to lose any length (that also gave me the excuse to not have to figure out how to hem the velvet without sacrificing its slinky movement...pretty sure I would've had to do more hand stitching to avoid a visible hem line).

Blurry nighttime shot of my facings pinned into place. 

Because the deep V of the back meant that the straps would try to fall off my shoulders, I wanted to add a T-shaped decorative something to help hold everything in place, like in this vintage dress. Fortunately, I was able to find these brownish necklaces at Joann's that were a perfect match for the beaded trim, so I rigged up two of them to make the back detail. Of course, the cut of the back and slit in the center front of the skirt meant that I had to wear this over a slip. I had grand plans to try making a bias-cut slip from some cotton sateen, but of course didn't have time. Instead, while thrifting for my school's drama production, I found a brown slip that matched nicely and was a good length. I do need to adjust the strap placement a bit, but otherwise it was a perfectly fortuitous find.

Oops, the tag on the slip is showing and it looks like it may have gotten twisted around a little bit, but you get the picture. 
A closer look at the beaded necklace detail on the back, and you can see where my invisible hand-picked facing isn't really that invisible around the armscye...

Pattern: Loosely based on vintage garment shapes, but drafted for my measurements
Fabric: Weirdly shaped remnants of wine-colored 4-way stretch velvet that was originally 58" wide and 5 yards long, but had large sections cut out of it for a 1930s-ish evening gown; bits of black stretch net for the facings
Notions: 5 yards of 1.5" wide brown beaded and sequined trim
Total cost: Since the fabrics were all purchased for other projects, I'm counting them as essentially free. The trim was $1/yard, the necklaces were $15, and the slip was $8, so the whole fancy outfit was less than $30!
Would you make this again? Well, I do have a lot of beaded trim in champagne that I bought at the same time...but I think I would probably make a different look. As it is, I've realized that the shoulder straps are, sadly, a little bit too long for me. It's fine and wearable now, but it would be perfect if I could just pinch out half an inch at the shoulder seams. *cue tears* because of course all my trim is already sewn down. I doubt I'll ever bother with fixing it on this dress, but at least now I know if I ever want to use this draft again as a basis for another 1920s dress.
First worn: Again, just to class for pictures, but I'm hoping that now that we're entering the Roaring Twenties again, my life will suddenly, miraculously be filled with Gatsby-themed events to which I can wear this. *insert laugh-crying emoji here*
Final thoughts: I really seem to have a thing for making fancy dresses that I have nowhere to wear to, don't I? It's hard when I really like making pretty things but my life is really more about milk spills and cleaning up poop and putting away chemicals. But if I'm ever invited to a 1920s weekend extravaganza that requires multiple fancy dresses, I'll be all set!

Although when I think about it, I started making my fancy gentleman pirate outfit three years before I had an event to wear it to, or my Galadriel gown four years before reworking the sleeves for the LOTR symphony, so maybe in 2024 I'll wear this to the Costume College Gala or something...

Monday, December 30, 2019

A Dangerous Coat

I used to think the 1910s and 1920s had the worst fashions, but the VPLL 1912 Project, Downton Abbey, the new Great Gatsby movie, the Fantastic Beasts movie, and Phryne Fisher have all conspired to totally change my mind about that. I now love love love these eras, so much so that when at a loss for what to do for my Cañada College fashion department classes, I've just sort of defaulted to the 1920s. I drew drop-waisted dresses for my fashion illustration classes, made a summery cloche for my millinery class, and for this past semester I've worked on making a 1920s-ish coat for my tailoring class.

This tweed+fur coat of Phryne's was my inspiration.

When McCall's started releasing updated vintage patterns as part of their Archive Collection, I immediately snatched up a copy of M7259, a (sadly now out of print) caped coat pattern, and filed it away for "someday when I have a good reason/the time and skills." Since I can only take classes at night, and tailoring was the only class I hadn't taken yet for this past fall's evening classes, that gave me the reason, and presumably I would learn the skills and make the time. Admittedly, it's not a very difficult coat to make (it's even rated as "easy" on the pattern); a shapeless boxy coat doesn't require a lot of fitting, there's no notched collar or vents anywhere, and not even a welt pocket! But I knew I would have a busy semester already, what with parenting in general, Halloween and cons, and costuming. Did I feel a little embarrassed about the simplicity (even though it's a McCall's pattern...haha sorrynotsorry) of my pattern choice when I saw my classmates making five or more muslins, making all sorts of alterations, drafting new collars and sleeves, and putting in eight welt pockets? Maybe a little. Was I grateful I kept it uncomplicated when, after finishing up the drama production I had a little over a week to put together all my coat pieces and do all the fussy hand-stitching? You bet! Besides, I know I would never wear a blazer, and I already have two perfectly serviceable RTW coats that I love, so I might as well get going on my dream of having a Phryne-esque wardrobe.

The pattern: I was definitely swayed by the brilliant red sample. 

My little compilation of scraps to give me
an idea of how things might look together.
First step was selecting fabric: I knew I only had a couple of pieces of yardage with the right length, drape, and fiber content (our professor preferred natural materials, especially wool because of its "pressability"), so it was basically between a dark green wool blend suiting material or a gray wool tweed suiting with little colored specks in it. We decided that the gray tweed would hide more sins, what with this being my first serious coat, and I did have a little more of it so as to allow me to make the cape as well.

Next step was to do a pinned-together paper mock-up, which to me seemed a little pointless, but I can see how it would be a cheaper, faster way to get a sense of major size or fit issues without the effort of making a real muslin. As it was, I only had a very minor swayback adjustment to make, but then I do realize that I am extremely fortunate that I usually fit Big-4 patterns with very few adjustments (usually only swayback, narrow back, and small bust adjustments). Then we made actual fabric mock-ups with cotton muslin, and again, not much to report here, other than that I decided to shorten the cape significantly so as to keep it from being visually overwhelming.

Without and with the cape, with dark threads marking the grainline on the sleeves and the center front line. 

I sewed my mock-up with the side seam pockets that the pattern called for, but decided later that I didn't like them; they made things hang weirdly, I didn't like the bulk of the pocket bag, and they were too far back to feel natural when I put my hands in them. I decided that I needed to make pockets on the front of the coat, but at that point I had a minor crisis about what kind of pockets to make, and proceeded to flood my IG with way too many stories debating various pocket types and placements and their historical accuracy vs. general aesthetic vs. ease of use. Since I was also in the thick of drama costuming, the pocket issue gave me an excuse to not work on my coat for a month. I did assemble the cape (but not hem it), but three weeks before the coat due date, and I had really only a bunch of fashion fabric pieces (that I had at least interfaced with soft fusible knit interfacing; since my fabric was so thin and loosely woven, it really needed some extra support) and lining pieces.

This was what I was primarily deciding between: a shield-shaped patch pocket, or a swoopy-looking patch pocket that would be sewn into the side seam. Although the swoop won by a small margin on IG, I realized that I really preferred the look (and historical accuracy) of the shield and went with that option. If you want to see all my ridiculous wibbling about the pockets (and other construction bits), you can check out my 1920s coat highlights on my IG here.

The antepenultimate week (and also the week leading up to the show, so lots of last minute decisions, fittings, and runs to various stores for accessories and such), I sewed together the facing, lining, and lining patch pockets. The lining patch pockets were hand-stitched so that I wouldn't have topstitching thread showing, per this extant 1920s coat (I did briefly consider smocking the tops of my pockets, but then dismissed that idea as that of a person with more time than I had), which looked lovely but took a long time.

Here's what the facing + lining looked like hanging on Cecily. You can also see the only dart in the entire thing where the shawl collar is. Ignore the stack of toddler clothes storage boxes in the background...

The penultimate week (and also the week after the show, i.e. all the tasks of costume striking to be completed by me, the one-person costume shop), I sewed together the fashion fabric fronts and back, and sewed the sleeves (but didn't set them in) and brought them in to class to have them hung by my professor (I put on the coat and she pinned them in place in the position that caused the least drag lines. Since many of us work on computers, we have forward sloping shoulders and lining up the shoulder seam notch and underarm/side seams may not actually be the best position for a lot of people; my sleeves needed to be rotated forward about 3/8"). I basted the sleeves in by hand in class, then brought them home to set in by machine. I also had decided on shield-shaped patch pockets as being the best compromise between historical accuracy (while there are some examples of welt pockets on coats of the era, the vast majority of them had large patch pockets...or no pockets at all, but that was a non-option for me), general aesthetic (a heckin' large square, while historical accurate, looked a little too boring to me, so I went with a slightly more interesting shield shape), and ease of use (I placed them low enough that it wouldn't be awkward to put my hands in them, even if the perfectly vertical placement is a little less ergonomic than a slanted one). Like the lining, these patch pockets were hand-stitched invisibly, and thanks to the busyness of the fabric, they don't break up the lines of the front as much as I was afraid they might.

That last week, I set the sleeves in, put in all the tailor-y bits (homemade shoulder pads, sleeve heads) attached the outer shell to the facing/lining, and then went about the tedious business of evening out my hems and catch-stitching everything down. For the hem of the cape, I catch-stitched the fashion fabric and the lining separately, then used French tacks to secure the two together at the side seams and center back. I had previously attempted to attach the lining entirely, but couldn't get it to sit right with a jump hem on the bias portions, so I opted to let it hang separately.

You can see the shape of the cape here, as well as the snaps that hold it onto the coat. 

For the coat, it took a couple of tries (and lots of staring at the coat on Cecily as a pinned, glared critically, repinned, glared again, etc.) before I got everything to hang right without pulling, but eventually I got it all sewn down (again, by hand) with a jump hem and everything! Oh, and I also tacked the lining to the coat at the neck seam allowance and the side seams so that the lining wouldn't billow out separately from the outer shell of the coat. I finished all the hemming with two days to spare, but the next day was full of frustration as I attempted to sew in the fabric-covered snaps and large button in exactly the right places and without any weird pulling anywhere. The morning the coat was due, I plopped SHB#2 in front of Sesame Street so that I could sew on all the snaps that attached the cape to the coat, and then I was finally done!

Without the cape, with nicely-blending-in pockets. 

Hello, 1920s-esque ulster coat!

Pattern: McCall's 7259, part of the archive pattern collection, circa 1927
Fabric: A little over 3.5 yards of a 60" wide, dark gray, tweed wool suiting with little flecks of ivory, burgundy, black, cornflower blue, and mauve; I originally purchased this from an antique furniture store in Berkeley seven years ago when I found a tiny little shelf in the back of the store that had some random yardage. The lady said she had got it for herself to make something fabulous, but had come to realize she likely never would, and she just wanted it to go to a good home. I paid all of $30 for it, which I now realize was an absolute steal for fabric of this quality. The 2ish yards of 55" wide lining fabric was mostly this dark burgundy floral damask polyester satin, which is on the thick side for a lining, but that just makes it feel extra luxurious. This was from my best friend Elaine's partner's stash, that they passed on to me when they moved (out of Arizona, ultimately back to the Bay Area!), so when I look at the lining I'm reminded of their generosity. It wasn't quite large enough for me to be able to cut all the lining pieces, even with the shortened cape, so I supplemented with some black Bemberg rayon for the sleeves since they wouldn't be seen.
Notions: 3 yards of 20" wide fusi-knit interfacing, which I used on every pattern piece except for the lining pieces and the back piece. I didn't have enough to do the large back piece (and actually had to piece together bits for the side edges of the front, and didn't want to wait to order more, so I just used black silk organza to underline the back piece. The organza was a fortuitous find from the free shelf in the back of the sewing classroom, and I still have yards left! I also purchased six 3/8" metal snaps for the cape attachment, a 1.5" covered button kit for the coat closure, and used a set of 1" metal snaps (covered with fashion fabric) from my stash for the inner closure. The facings on both the cape and coat are piped with black silk dupioni left over from my bustier project, and the hem of the cape lining is finished with burgundy-colored lace hem tape from an inherited stash.

I love that the inside is so secretly beautiful, even if nobody will ever see it!

Will you make it again? Unlikely, since I don't really need another coat like this. I do want to make another Phryne-inspired 1920s coat though, maybe a lighter duster in linen?
Total cost: $30 for the wool, lining was free, about $15 for the interfacing, and $5 worth of snaps/buttons = about $50! Of course, throw in the cost of the class tuition + toll + parking...and all the hours spent...
First worn: Just in class to show off and for pictures, but I'd like to wear it to go see the Phryne Fisher movie when it comes out next year!
Final thoughts: I'm really glad that I was able to make this coat almost primarily from stash/secondhand fabric, thereby keeping to my unofficial pledge to not purchase new in order to stay as green as possible in all my sewing endeavors. Things like interfacing or the exact size of snap are hard to come by secondhand, so I'm making an allowance for those things, though. I'm in love with the (detachable!) drama that the cape provides, and the instant Sherlock-y vibes of a caped coat. I have a little bit of wool leftover; maybe I should make another deerstalker? Actually, I would rather try to make it into a 1920s hat to match, so maybe if I find a suitable pattern one day. Without the cape, the coat is a little boring, but that's fine, because I decided to splurge a little and buy myself a fabulously fluffy, white faux-fur collar from Amazon that I can throw over the shawl collar of this coat to up the Phryne-ness of it!

This was taken by the fashion department's blogger. 

I'm really pleased with the whole tailoring class experience: I got a lovely coat out of it (even if I later realized that I had made myself yet another grey wool coat (aforementioned RTW coats in my wardrobe are also grey wool, so I guess I have a definite coat type...), and while mine didn't have more technically challenging bits like bound buttonholes, welt pockets, or a notched collar, at least I got to practice those skills when I made my samples, and best of all, I got a scheduled sewing time every week (and I even got to throw in the bonus of regular conversation with another adult, since my costuming friend @simply_mi was also in the class!). Even though the lead up to class is always stressful (get dinner ready! make sure the house is somewhat in order! spend some time with SHB#1 when he comes home from school! make sure my bags are all packed with all the sewing things I need!), in the end it's really nice to know that I'm guaranteed at least three hours every week to do something just for me.

Sometimes I feel guilty for taking so much time for myself every week -- it's not just the sewing class itself, but the commute there and back, the time it takes me to do my assignments for the class, and the time it takes to go out and acquire the materials I need to do my assignments -- but just recently I fell down the rabbit hole of Bernadette Banner's historical sewing videos, and she mentioned Cathy Hay's Worth peacock gown reconstruction project, which then led me to this very helpful video where she talks about how not to feel guilty about sewing when you have a family. She quotes Iyanla Vanzant: "My cup runneth over: what runneth over is for you, but what's in the cup is for me." At first, it seemed like just another variant of the "put on your own oxygen mask first" mantra that I blogged about before, but upon further rumination I realized the problem with that: oxygen masks are vital to life, so it makes sense to take care of your own basic needs first. But sewing costumes, or just giving in to my drive to make things: that's not *really* a basic need, is it?

I don't know if it's the child-of-immigrants, sacrifice-everything-for-your-family, just-work-harder rhetoric that was drummed into my head growing up, or leftovers of my childhood church's very conservative, Puritan-esque suspicion of anything that seems like too much fun, but it's very, very difficult to let go of the feeling of guilt that I should be spending all my free time doing something less frivolous. Like I said, I already have two fine coats, and there's always something more productive I could be doing with my time: research on developing children's emotional intelligence, integrating NGSS into my science teaching, or figuring out how to reduce waste in our family. I go ahead and pursue my hobbies anyway, because I'm a selfish Slytherin like that, it's just that I carry along a lot of guilt with it that prevents me from fully enjoying it. I'm not sure where to draw the line, since I know it's obviously not an either/or issue. Taking time for myself is healthy, but parenthood does inherently involve some sacrifice, and there must be a balance somewhere...and what if I just have a really, really big cup and "need" lots of replenishing time before I give the runoff to anyone else? See how I'm hesitant to even call time to create a need, I mean it's not one of those things that form the foundation of Maslow's bogus hierarchy of needs now, is it? If any other sewing moms out there have any brilliant insights, I would appreciate them!

Anyway, all this to say, it's so hard to know how to break out of societal constraints and expectations for women and undo the years of programming. A man cave is, if not expected, definitely not frowned upon for a stereotypically male breadwinner to be able to relax, get away from responsibilities, and putter around. How that translates in my mind for a non-breadwinner is trickier until I remember that I'm trying not to devalue traditional "women's work" like childcare and sewing, and I want to set an example for my kids of self-care and not self-martyrdom. So I suppose it's kind of perfect that my coat has four nice large pockets, perfect for carrying leaflets to spread sedition? Or, you know, fairness, kindness, and equality. Ladies, I guess I did take the advice of Irish poet Sharon Owens, and sewed myself a dangerous coat made of pockets and sedition (go read her fabulous poem if you aren't already familiar with it).

Pockets! (Photo courtesy of my professor, Ronda Chaney.)

[Apologies for the mostly terrible photos in this post. Most of the construction photos were taken at night, since that's when I sew, and I kept thinking I would take better finished garment photos in an atmospheric location, but let's be honest, that's probably not happening anytime soon and I'd rather get this blogged before I forget all about how I made it! Also, more about my lab garment, a 1920s-ish evening gown, in the next blog post!]

Friday, November 8, 2019

A Glamorous Loki-Inspired Evening Gown

I never thought that having a second child would result in my finally making all my dream cosplays, but something about having another drain on my energy/time made me think "oh f*** it, things are never going to ease up so I might as well just do it now." Since I've had BBG, I've done my Asian-inspired Wonder Woman, victorious Mulan, and many other dream cosplays, and Glam Loki is another one! Loki is my favorite MCU character, both for his sartorial style and his snark+angst. (what can I say, I love me a well-dressed antihero...see also: Thranduil, Ballister Blackheart, BBC Sherlock, and Prince Zuko). I did an Asian-inspired version of Loki for the Thor: Dark World movie many years ago, but wanted to do another one with more of a nod to the overlapping torso pieces on his original Thor costume. I bought Simplicity 2253 many years ago with an eye toward making a glamorous genderbent version of Loki, but just never had a reason or enough courage to tackle the 30+ pieces that I would have to cut out...until this year.

I made view A.

I've been taking fashion design classes at Canada College for oh, six years now, and one of my favorite professors is Lynda Maynard: she's hilarious and so knowledgable and I just like her teaching style. I've taken all her classes (French moulage, pants drafting and construction, bustier, and copying RTW) and was kind of bummed when I had finished them all, so I was super excited when it was announced that she would teach Evening Gown Construction over the summer. I was a little less excited when I found out that we would be making a strapless gown, as my only foray into strapless gowns was not my favorite. I kind of had this idea in my head that only certain body types could pull them off, and mine was not the right kind; spoiler alert: I was wrong. Thank goodness for education and expanding ones' knowledge, right?

I have not yet, however, expanded my knowledge when it comes to doing hair for cosplays. 

Besides learning lots of tips and tricks for working with tricky fabric (velvet! chiffon! sequins! things cut on the bias!), I also learned that the key to making strapless gowns work (i.e. stay up without lots of periodic tugging) is having a well-fitted corselet underneath. A corselet differs from a corset in that the former is meant to be a close-fitting garment that conforms to the curves/shape of the wearer, but is not meant to change one's measurements or silhouette. A corset, on the other hand, is a garment that is specifically worn to change the measurements or silhouette of the wearer (think wearing an S-bend corset to get the fashionable Edwardian silhouette, or any number of literary heroines tightening their corset laces to fit into their gowns). Having worn both, I can say that they can both be comfortable if fitted and made correctly, but they definitely serve different purposes and the latter is certainly more restrictive (but not in a painful way, unlike all those corset myths about women removing ribs and fainting all over the place!). In a lot of ways, the corselet is similar to the bustier; the only real difference is that a bustier is meant to be a standalone garment, so it has an additional fashion fabric and lining layer.

Front view of the corselet on Cecily, who is close to my measurements but not quite the same. 

Back view.

Side view. 

My corselet was made from unbleached muslin, but any tightly-woven, thin, stable natural-fiber fabric can be used; other recommendations were cotton batiste or bobbinet. Essentially I made the lining pattern of my dress twice, then stitched the two layers together, sandwiching the steel boning in between. I also added a grosgrain waist stay and decorative lace and the whole thing closed with lingerie-style hook-and-eye tape.

Did it bother me slightly that the hook and eye tape was bright white and the muslin was unbleached ivory? Yes, yes it did. 

You can see the boning placement (and my humongous seam allowances) really well in this backlit picture. 

The finished corselet is then hand tacked at the top only to the neckline of the evening gown. Because the corselet is fitted perfectly to one's body and lengthened by an inch to combat the inevitable settling over time, it serves to hold up the weight of the entire garment and no awkward tugging up of the gown is required! I know this is true because I wore this gown for a whole day at Silicon Valley Comic Con and did not once fear a costume malfunction.

Don't judge my hand stitching please. 

Once I made the corselet, I had to cut out all the pieces of fashion fabric for the gown. It was both more tedious than I thought it would be (all those pieces, but x2 or x3, because I underlined the black twill with silk organza, and some of the pieces had an additional lace or gold taffeta or green velveteen layer!) and easier (the actual construction is easier than it looks; no weird pivoting around angles because of the order in which it's sewn). The back closure is a hand-picked zipper which disappeared beautifully into the green panné velvet of the skirt and the black and gold lace of the bodice.

Tiny prick stitches!

I did run into a problem that turned into a happy accident when it came to piping the front upside-down V. Since I was trying to avoid buying anything new if at all possible, I used some gold lamé bias tape that I had leftover from a previous project. After I sewed it in, it looked too flat, so I had the (I thought) brilliant idea of plumping it up with some white pipe cleaners I had. Unfortunately, since I was inserting the pipe cleaner after sewing, I poked a hole through the fragile lamé, right at the center front! I tried to stitch it down with some gold thread to keep it from getting worse, but it just made the issue more obvious because there was a giant lump of messy handstitching. On the day my gown was due, I had an epiphany and realized that I could cover it up with the gold necklace I'd originally bought to wear with this gown. I found it at a thrift store and thought it perfectly echoed the little curved gold piece of Loki's first outfit, so instead of wearing it, I detached it from the chain and sewed it to my gown. The concave back fits perfectly over the ugly bit on my gown and I honestly like the look better than my original plan.

Look at the shameful bunch of hnnnghhh in the middle! You can see here that I already started trying to cover it up by hand-stitching a little piece of of green material over the mess.

Glorious. Like it was meant to be there. 

Once I finished the gown, I decided the skirt portion needed something more in order to bling up all the green, so I added gold chain "draperies" to the hips. I'm toying with the idea of making some kind of necklace that has similar gold chains draping over the shoulders to visually break up the expanse of neck and shoulder skin. When I wore it at SVCC, it felt like it was missing something and maybe that would help visually tie it all together? Or maybe it'll just look too busy?

I measured out two sets of four chains in increasing 2" increments, then attached them all to jump rings that I sewed to the center front point. 

On the back, I attached them where the lace panels end. 

To go with the dress, which was only subtly Loki-ish, I decided I needed to make his signature humongous horned headpiece. Googling and Pinteresting (I know the former is a real verb now, but the latter definitely isn't) turned up Red Shoes and Wine's Burlesque Loki, so I followed her brilliant lead and used a sawed-up floral heart to make the horns. After carving and sanding it down, I used wood filler to coat it all, sanded that down too, and painted it with a base layer of brown acrylic craft paint, several layers of gold, and finally a matte polyurethane coat to seal it. I cut out the rest of the headpiece from craft foam and painted it the same way, then hot-glued it all to a flexible headband. To make sure that the horns wouldn't detach themselves suddenly, I used two tiny nails to poke through the craft foam and into the styrofoam. The flexibility of the headband meant that I could bend it around my forehead enough to get it to stay, as long as it wasn't too windy, I didn't look too far down, or turn too suddenly. Since Loki would definitely have some blinging huge rings, I purchased the largest green and gold beads (I don't know if there's a better word for them; they're flat and have the holes situated such that they would be perfect on a bracelet or choker) I could find and strung them on black elastic cord to make matching rings. I borrowed some gold cuffs from my sister, and of course, I had to break out my Chitauri scepter from my Asian-Loki in order to complete the whole look. Thankfully, the batteries were still working and all I had to do was touch up some paint.

Accessories! The gold at the bottom is a purse that I ended up not using. 
The staff looks pretty good still, even after hanging out in a closet for several years!

Fabric: Muslin for the corselet; black twill (Han Solo vest remnant), black silk organza (secondhand from the Canada College free shelf), black and gold lace (remnant from Dark Garden, purchased during a trunk sale), gold poly-taffeta (inherited stash), and green poly-velveteen (inherited stash) for the bodice; stretch green panné velvet (leftover from McGonagall) for the skirt
Notions: Cream-colored lace hem tape and bias tape (inherited stash), pink grosgrain ribbon (FIDM store), spiral steel boning (leftover from Elaine's wedding dress) and hook-and-eye tape for the corselet; gold chain, zipper, and nylon horsehair braid for the dress
Hours: So. Many. I made a test muslin of the corselet as well as the dress, then there was the actual construction of the whole thing. Basically it was my main project for the eight weeks of class. I'd estimate upwards of 50 hours.

My muslin fitting of the pattern. 

How accurate is it? Seeing as how it's my own imagining of the character, it's extremely accurate, hah! But in all seriousness (as serious as one can be about a cosplay outfit), despite the upside down overlapping torso pieces (the original outfit is Vs; mine are flipped the other way because that's what the pattern was), the color scheme was enough that when I wore the gown (sans headpiece and staff) for the class final showcase, people asked if I was meant to be Loki. And of course, with all the props, it was pretty obvious at SVCC, and it was gratifying to see people's eyes light up when they recognized my cosplay.
Total cost: $92 for the cost of the class, $64 in bridge tolls and parking permits for the eight sessions, about $20 worth of muslin, $10 for various notions, $6 for a floral heart, $3 for a headband, $4 for the beads for the rings, and all the rest was from stash. Did all my driving back and forth by myself negate the sustainability efforts of trying to avoid buying new fabric? Sigh, probably.

I am trying really hard to be more green in my costuming efforts and going with stash or secondhand materials whenever possible, even when it's tempting to buy something shiny and new (all those sequined fabrics and laces and burnout velvets -- Jo-Ann's has really upped their game, yo!). The unfortunate reality of living in the East Bay, though, is that all the classes I really want to take are going to require a drive somewhere, so's not easy being green. My consolation is that I would've taken the class anyway, and at least I made a conscious effort not to unnecessarily purchase new fabrics.

At any rate, attempts at sustainability aside, I am really pleased overall with how this came together, and that I was finally able to use that pattern for its intended purpose. I loved how grand I felt swishing around at SVCC in it; it was worth the burden of wearing heels all day just for the added three inches of glorious purpose!

I found a Professor McGonagall (in a cloak of much nicer velvet than mine) so of course I had to take a picture with her: