Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Walnut!

It's been a little over a year since we brought our baby home from Carlsbad, but he's definitely become a fixture in our lives. It's hard to remember what life was like before he was around to sit on our laps and laptops, jump up on the bed to wake us in the mornings, and follow us around the house during the day. 
But it's so warm here!

It's been especially sweet seeing my husband fall in love with our fuzzy baby. He never used to be a cat person, and now he dotes on and plays with Walnut almost more than I do!

Father-son bonding time over the ESPN app on the iPad?

Pay attention to meeeeee!!!
It seems like a lot of the sewing bloggers I read have cats that keep them company while sewing, and Walnut is no exception. He loves burrowing in my fabric and "ironing" wrinkles into the fabric with his body heat. If I'm sewing, he's usually sleeping next to me on the guest bed.

Cuddling with his little stuffed doppelganger, Tinycat.

Anyway, Walnut turned four yesterday (he's an All Hallows' Eve eve baby?), so we decided to celebrate his new-found maturity by dressing him up as a working business cat, per The Oatmeal comic's Bobcats.

Have the reports done yesterday? How is that even possible?

I'm gonna scan my butt.
How am I supposed to mail these reports if I don't have opposable thumbs?
This little thirteen-pound fuzzball has brought so much laughter, joy, companionship, and loose hair into our lives. He is totally worth all the kibbles, litterbox trials, and renting-an-apartment issues. My husband has promised that as soon as he's done with business school and has a job, he'll get Walnut the monster cat tree/jungle gym/playground of his dreams.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bonus Costume Opportunity!

Even psychotic ballerinas need a nutritional breakfast?
I had already said that this year was a record-setting year in terms of opportunities to dress up. Well, it just got even better. Last night some other plans fell through and my husband and I got to go to another Halloween party...which meant a new costume! Because, you know, why would you repeat a costume.

Anyway, I'd been wanting an excuse to try out the Black Swan makeup; it took 45 minutes to put on, but I think it turned out pretty well. I used this excellent tutorial as a basis, but I've never used liquid eyeliner before and I don't even use makeup regularly, so mine came out a little odd. Also, I only had two colors of eyeshadow. In the end, it was more crazy butterfly than Black Swan, but it was fun.

I added the corset and a black tulle skirt that I already had, feathers, and black leggings to complete the look. Based on the last week alone, that corset has already been one of my best thrift store finds ($16!) in terms of usefulness. Of course, based on the rest of the year, not so much. I'm sad that after Halloween, dressing-up season is pretty much over. Oh well...until next year!
Walnut doesn't care either way. He just wants to get down.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Yet Another Helena Bonham Carter Character

couple costume sweeney todd mrs. lovett
My husband says I need to be the Red Queen next, but I think I prefer Alice's dresses.
Last night was, hands down, the most uhhh, shall I say, interesting Halloween party I've ever been to. Not that I've been to a lot. It all started pleasantly enough -- a bunch of MBA candidates from one of the top 15 business schools in the country, gathering at an absolutely amazing venue, the Petersen Automotive Museum. It was full of beautiful cars worth millions of dollars, and somebody decided that that was a great place to put 400 people and an unlimited open bar. Yeah, right. By the end of the party (which ended an hour and half early because it got shut down), someone had stolen bottles from the bar, a vintage 1927 half a million dollar motorcycle had been knocked over, and someone was arrested. This is why we can't have nice things, people. It's an interesting mental juxtaposition with the chapter I'm reading in A.J. Jacobs' The Guinea Pig Diaries, where he attempts to live out George Washington's rules for civility and self-mastery.

The original 1966 Batmobile!
Anyway, even though craziness happened, my husband and I had lots of fun looking at the cars (although he had more fun with that than me), looking at the costumes, and marveling at how stupid people get. And best of all, I got to dress up (again! This is a record-breaking year for dressing up!) with him in a totally awesome couple costume: Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett! The amusing thing was that most people just thought he was dressed up as Johnny Depp. That works too.

"These are my friends...see how they glitter..." He brought a butter knife as his razor since we didn't think a real blade would go over well with security.
"I'm your friend, too, Mr. Todd!"

The only vehicle there from close to "our" era was a 1897 1.5-horsepower electric motor-powered car.

Requisite buddy pic. You know, because he's my buddy. My best one.
"Ooh Mr. Todd! I'm so happy! I could eat you up I really could!"
The best thing about these costumes is that we didn't have to get anything new! My husband grew out his hair (even though it was seriously bugging him! He got it cut immediately this morning) for the Sweeney Todd look, and I just tried to make my hair as messy as possible. All of these are clothes we already own, and the props were things we had in our kitchen. I already had white hairspray from my Bellatrix wig, and then it was just a matter of getting him to stay still while I put on eyeliner. The finishing touch was tearing off a strip of my nice gray Bemberg lining for his makeshift cravat-tie-thing. I'm so glad he humored me when I presented him with my costume idea, and I'd like to think it was cute without being excessively couple-y.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Meet Cecily!

My husband promised me that once we moved to LA, I could get a dress form. Not before, because he didn't want to deal with moving it. Well, two months after moving, with the help of Craigslist, I finally have one! It was tricky to find one that was pinnable, more or less my size, and not $300. Much as I would love one of those professional forms that are always being sold by former FIDM students, we just don't have the budget for it. So when I found this form that was almost exactly my measurements, I knew I had to snatch it up.

It seems that the norm is for sewists to name their forms, so meet Cecily! I've always loved the name since first hearing it in The Importance of Being Earnest, but since it means "blind" I would never saddle a child with that name. However, blind is definitely a fitting name for a headless piece of foam. Which is what she is.
Disturbingly puke-colored foam, too.

When I got home, I immediately stripped Cecily of her meager clothing and washed it (by hand, in cold water, getting scratched by the metal zipper). There are still some questionable stains (actually, probably just from the foam adhesive) on her side, but it's good enough. The cover was definitely altered from the factory size by whoever owned Cecily previously, leaving her bust area a little lumpy. Still, I'm glad that I don't have to alter a cover.

I tried on a couple of my more form-fitting dresses on Cecily to see how she held up. First up: a sheath dress. It looks fine at first glance, but then I discovered some weird gaping at the underarm.

Not bad!

Oh wait.

I also tried my bustier-esque dress on her, but that fit perfectly with no gaps. Hmm. Well, I guess I'll just have to watch out for that when making dresses on her. Just goes to show that a form is no substitute for actually trying things on a real body?

I can't wait to try her out with my next dress (I've already used her for a tissue fitting, and let me say that it is extremely useful to have a pinnable body double), but before that, I have a bunch of pants to hem.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thrift Store Finds: Vintage Sewing Patterns!

While I was in Tucson, I got to do more than just shamble around like a zombie; I also got to visit several large used book stores and a fabric discount store. I know neither of those really fall into the category of thrift stores, but I figure that the books are still used, and the fabric was sent over from some other place... Anyway, I was looking for sewing books, specifically ones on vintage fashion, couture methods, or pattern-making/-drafting. Well, I didn't find any of the above, but I found a great collection of Victorian fashion, a compilation entitled Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper's Bazaar: 1867-1898. Also known as, a collection of steampunk fashion without the gears. It's chock full of gorgeous reproductions of actual fashions of the day, all rendered in astonishing detail.
Underthings! Handkerchiefs!

Love the trims and stripes.

Not a huge fan of fans, but those boots are something else.

This book was already pretty exciting...then I found something even better and totally unexpected: four early 1960s patterns! And, get this, THEY'RE IN MY SIZE. More or less. But really, that's super exciting. Especially since these were the only four they had! What are the chances? They're even patterns I would actually sew! Anyway, at a dollar each, they were a nice addition to my vintage pattern collection.

First up, the sole McCall's, 5781, from 1961. It's actually a teen pattern, although I'm not quite sure what makes it teen. Maybe the fluffy overskirt? "Slim dress with three-gore skirt, contrast collar with applied bow at back, tie-on overskirt and open front lined jacket. Dress has bateau front neck, V-neck at back; short unmounted sleeves, back pleat, left side zipper. Waistband of four-piece overskirt ties at front. Jacket has set-in sleeves; collar, fronts, lower edge and sleeves bound with braid." I love love love the V in the back with the contrast collar and bow. I'm curious about the jacket, although I don't know about that whole bound with braid thing. 

Then there were three Buttericks. Gosh, I do love their retro patterns. Butterick 4126, circa 1966: "Semi fitted double breasted pea jacket has epaulets; wide notched collar and wrist length sleeves. Overblouse has bateau neckline; sleeveless or three quarter length sleeves. A line skirt. Bell bottom pants." I don't know if I would ever make the pants, but this does officially mark the only pants pattern I own. The sleeveless top looks intriguing, especially since the Sorbetto blouse doesn't really work for me. I'm most excited about the coat!

And here's Butterick 9569, estimated early 1960s, based on the placement of the word "Butterick" and the price. I am in love with the bateau neckline (although I always thought they were called boat necks), as evidenced by how many of my previous dresses have had them! Good thing two of these patterns have bateau necklines. I also like the "business in front, party in the back" low backline, complete with bow detail. Wow, I think I'm repeating myself. While I'm not generally a fan of sheath dresses, that 3/4 sleeve LBD looks absolutely fetching. Of course, white gloves, perfect hair, and a 16-inch waist wouldn't have anything to do with that.

I also picked up Butterick 8509, from 1960. The pattern describes itself as a "Short-sleeved party-goer with low scooped neckline that plunges to a deep V in back, worn with ribbon belt. View B cap-sleeved version with sissy-front bodice and contrastic crushed cummerbund." Wow. I didn't realize that I could make an entire party-goer from the directions in the envelope! Apparently this amazing dress will go to my husband's business school events for me, leaving me more time to sew at home. Also, what the heck is a sissy front? I mean, based on the envelope it's gathered lace trim in vertical lines, but why call that a sissy front?!

Have you ever run into totally inexplicable terms in vintage pattern descriptions?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tucson Zombie Walk 2011: Steampunk Zombies!

Photo courtesy of Brittany Ann Barber, from the Tucson Zombie Walk Facebook page.
I am back from Tucson and pleased that it is not ninety-plus degrees during the day, although I could use balmy evenings. Elaine and I had tons of fun dressing up as steampunk zombies; it was a thrill to see all my costume components come together so nicely! Since the walk took place after dark, we got some shots before the walk began, at a convenient castle across the street from Elaine's apartment complex. Yes, I said castle. Apparently the guy across the street just wanted a castle, and so he built himself one. It made for a very atmospheric shoot.

I supplied Elaine's hat and guns. Everything else was hers.

Don't mess with me. I'm a zombie with guns. And a d20 to determine your fate.

You shall not pass! Also, I wasn't kidding about the castle. It has a front gate and everything.

We were so pleased with ourselves that it was hard to stop grinning. Even if it wasn't very zombie-like.
My very first zombie walk was over a year ago and I was just a kid grown woman in a paint-splattered, haphazardly torn t-shirt, marveling at the attention to detail exhibited by other zombies. I remember being floored by how awesome some costumes were and shyly asking if I could take pictures. Well, this time it was my turn to be approached for pictures, and gosh it was gratifying! Maybe I'm just a shallow, easily-flattered egoist, but honestly, that was my favorite part. There were definitely other awesome costumes there that night, including but not limited to a zombie Arthur Dent and bowl of petunias, a zombie Dr. Who group, and a steampunk zombie hunter with an impressive home-made light-up jetpack. My favorite part, though, was the families who went zombie together. There's nothing quite like tiny zombie Darth Vader or tiny zombie brides.

The costume components held up remarkably well, considering. My skirt was hemmed with flats in mind, so I was able to wear my comfortable flat boots. At the last minute, I added a purchased pocket watch necklace (can it still be called a pocket watch if it's not in my pocket?) from Forever 21 and my tiny gold D&D dice-in-a-vial necklace (attached to my it's a beltlace?).

The goggles I ended up balancing on my head, exactly how I tell my students they shouldn't wear their chem lab goggles. To attach the straps in the back, I ended up punching a couple of holes in the leather and inserting eyelets, then tying it all together with a scrap of ribbon that matched my skirt. Unfortunately, I realized the downside to loading up already-heavy goggles with a bunch of plumbing fixtures, gears, and brass -- by the end of the night I had a serious indentation right at my hairline from the weight of the goggles! Three days later, I still have a faint bruise, but nothing my hair won't hide. I think it's time to glue a strip of felt to the plastic...

To get the zombie look, we used a combination of gray cream make-up, zombie dirt, fake wounds, and congealed dirt from the Halloween store, and peacock-green eyeshadow and black powder eyeliner from Walgreens. This was a vast improvement on last year's fake-skin product, which had weird fibers in it and was a beast to mold. Also, it eventually started peeling. The fake latex fake wounds were like stickers that you peel off and stick to your (clean) skin; it sticks so well that getting it off afterward was like trying to detach a painfully stubborn band-aid. The congealed blood, which came in a tiny plastic lip-balm-looking container, worked much better than the "normal" fake liquid blood in a tube, both in that it didn't drip everywhere and in that it "clotted" on our fake wounds, making them look less obviously like stickers.

Look at how gloppy that blood is! Also, if you look carefully you can tell I'm checking my iPhone. Photo courtesy of Joel Smith, again, from the Facebook page.

Even though the walk itself was kind of long and through some fairly deserted lots in downtown Tucson, it was still extremely fun to be dressed up and shambling through the streets shocking passers-by. There were definitely a lot of people who knew what steampunk was, and a lot of people commented on the gun and goggles. The best compliment of the night, though, was definitely the kid who goggled at my goggles (sorry, couldn't resist) and said "You're like Mrs. Dr. Horrible!" I hope one day my kid is that awesome.

Photo courtesy of Joel Smith, from the Facebook page.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Going to Tucson!

I'm heading out to Tucson tonight to see one of my best friends, Elaine, who is my dressing up enabler. This time, we're going to the Tucson Zombie Walk. This is my second time doing the Tucson walk; I flew out for it last year too, and before that she drove out to San Diego for a walk yeah, we're kind of crazy.

Fake wounds: acrylic paint and black pepper. No kidding.
We've just been using old t-shirts that I cut up and painted to look gory, but inspired by all the incredible costumes we've seen, this time we're going way more elaborate. At first we were going to go as zombie bride and groom, but then we decided that it would be too much money to get a wedding dress and suit just for this. Since we both have the components necessary for steampunk outifts, though, we decided to just go with that. We haven't figured out yet whether to go as steampunk zombies or steampunk zombie hunters.

I did want to make sure Elaine had a proper steampunk-type gun, though, so I quickly painted up this tiny squirt gun for her. It used to be neon green and orange all over; I covered it all with my acrylic paints except for a little "vial" at the bottom of the barrel. Then it was just a matter of hot-gluing on some bits.

The green vial looks extra science-y.

Recognize the wing element?
I wasn't kidding when I said it was tiny. I think it's from the dollar store.

It'll be a pain lugging all the costume elements to Tucson, but I can't wait to get all dressed to come!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sew Weekly: Not Quite a Cocktail Lounge Dress

Good heavens, it's a red letter day! My Sew Weekly project is not only not late, but finished with several days to spare! Huzzah! Hip hip! Huzzah!

Ahem. Right. So this week's challenge was to create something appropriate for lounging around in, i.e. undergarments or sleepwear. Well, I don't really bother making things that no one is going to see (half the fun of sewing is other people commenting on your cute dresses), plus I already have enough free t-shirts to sleep in for the rest of my life. What's a sewintist* to do? Answer: take a nightgown pattern and try to turn it into a wearable garment. I started with a vintage pattern, Simplicity 5030 from 1972, which is actually meant for petite girls.
I made view 2, reasoning that it could pass for a sundress. View 1 looks awfully constricting at the neck for something that's meant to be comfy to sleep in.

Note that this is a petite size 6. My bust measurement (which is not that big to begin with) is bigger than the size 6 hip measurement. Wow. Also, I think the last time I had a 23" waist was in middle school.

I am not petite, but I figured that a nightgown would probably be pretty blouse-y and loose anyway. Well, I don't know what the folks at Simplicity had in mind, because I pretty much ended up with a muumuu for myself. I can't even imagine this on 12 year old me. I guess that's what happens when one tries to make sleepwear into actual wear. So yeah, I wasn't going to wear that out in public. Not that there's anything wrong with muumuus, but I want to make the most of my waist while I still have one.
Sad shapeless muumuu face.

I sewed up a quick belt with some extra wide bias binding (I seem to do that quite a bit, don't I?), but I made a quick bow with some hot glue and attached a hook and eyes to make it a little classier than my usual tie belt. 

Much, much better with the belt -- I would actually wear this.
I can pretend that this might have come from Modcloth. Except that then the hem would be about a foot higher.

The back has a big slit which attaches at the top with zippers, yay!

I have a waist!
Close-up of the buttons on the back.

Fabric: 2 yards of a beautiful, buttery, soft, drape-y poly-blend rayon from Joann's sale bin. It feels lovely, but was so slippery it was a pain to sew with. I'm glad I didn't use it for a more fitted dress, as trying to keep the grain straight was a nightmare.
Notions: I decided to embellish it up with red bias tape...mostly because I didn't want to have to think about pressing hems into this fabric. The tape also gave more structure to the yoke, which would have sagged down like crazy without that added stiffness. Also, two buttons on the back.
Hours: An embarrasingly large number, considering the simplicity (ha!) of the pattern. It's all because of my fabric choice and the bias tape, really. Probably about 6?
Techniques used: I don't know if you could call finishing edges with bias tape a technique.
Will you make this again? Heck no. Even if I made the muumuu work, I don't want another one.
Total cost: The fabric was somewhere around $8, a package of bias tape was $3, and the buttons were another $ $12 for a muumuu. Urgh.
Final thoughts: Not bad, for a nightgown pattern! Not great, either. But I can check off having used a vintage pattern, and gosh this is comfy to wear without the belt.

*Sewintist: new term for the modern seamstress, from the Sewaholic blog.