Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Very Mirkwood New Years' Eve

How can the holidays be anything but merry when Party King Thranduil presides? After all, it's now movie canon that he doesn't shirk on the quality of the drink. And I found this gem in Weta's art and design book for the movie (Mr. Cation good-humoredly let me choose my own Christmas present from him):

See that? The open collar symbolizes his rockstar-ness! I think that's as close as we're going to get to admitting that he really is as fabulous as tumblr makes him out to be. It does rather unfortunately bring to mind the vampire Lestat, though...
Gorgeous concept sketches for his throne.
When I saw this in the movie, I was ready to swoon. Much as I liked Rivendell and Lothlorien, they can't hold a candle to how the Woodland Realm took my breath away.

As I mentioned before, my sister Emily and I have a holiday tradition of building things, and this year, it was only logical that we build the Elvenking a throne. I cannot say enough how much I love Alan Lee and John Howe's imagining of what the Thranduil's underground halls looks like, and the movie was every bit as fabulous (actually, more!) as what I had in my head when I first read the book. The challenge was to make our cheap cardboard version do justice to it. Thankfully, we had plenty of large boxes in the garage; the flatscreen TV box turned into the antlers, the vacuum box turned into the top layer of the seat back, and a monitor box turned into the backing.

I sketched out the design onto the box, then Emily cut it out with a box cutter. Gosh, I just love elvish design elements. All those curved lines and intertwining branches! If I could outfit my whole house with Art Nouveau furniture, I would.

After that, it was just a matter time, paint, wooden chopsticks to stabilize the antler points, and plenty of hot glue before we had a throne. As always, things started out looking awfully dubious, but then it all came together spectacularly in the end (as my mother once again grudgingly admitted...poor lady, I'm sure she thought that a mess of cardboard scraps and the threat of paint on her white carpet should have ended once her daughters became adults).

Brown, black, white, red, and gold acrylic paints can transform cardboard.
It's really too bad the boxes had so many folds in them, though; it really messed up the painting.
If we'd had more boxes, we could have built up the sides more so that the back wasn't so narrow. Considering that we spent zero dollars, though, I'd say it turned out pretty dang well.  
Welcome to the Woodland Realm, mellon. Check out my fabulous throne (and not my hideous seam allowances).

We broke out the Christmas decorations after that and had entirely too much fun taking pictures and trying to get the cats to cooperate.

I need Oonaballoona's expertise in coming up with an appropriate cocktail for Thranduil. 
You know it's a good party when the Elvenking starts throwing tinsel boas in the air?
Celebrating the fact that my son's not pledged to a lowly Silvan elf!
Gummy got interested and came over to check out the bar. 
Oh hello there, fey creature! Would you like to party with us? You're welcome as long as you're not a dwarf.
Have you been a good cat this year? What would you like in your oversized hosiery?
The answer: Gummy would like to not be roped (boa-ed?) into such shenanigans. 

I'm not really sure what's going on, but I know I look good.

I thought about apologizing for the ridiculous spate of Thranduil posts this past month, but then I'm not actually sorry. I guess I'm sorry that I'm not more sorry? Anyway, now that 2013 is almost over, it's time to start thinking about my year-end wrap up. There's been rather less sewing than in previous years, but it'll still be interesting to see how my making has changed in this last year. Thanks to Gillian for organizing a way to reflect on the year; without her helpful lists and guidelines, I'd probably be too overwhelmed to even start!

A very happy new year to you from Party King Thranduil and the Party Elk!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Genderbent Han Solo!

I know, I know, another costume? As Mr. Cation said wearily, three costumes in four weeks is a bit much...but I just can't resist an opportunity to dress up! A bunch of guys from my church have been talking about going to check out the San Jose Tech Museum's Star Wars exhibit for a while, and Sunday ended up being the day. With only 48 hours notice, I rather ambitiously decided that I could whip up a quick Han Solo costume. I love me a rogue of ambiguous moral character (I mean, have you seen Thranduil and Loki?), so I figured I could just finish up my year with everyone's favorite smuggler-turned-Rebel-hero. Besides, his outfit is the most "normal," and considering that we ended up having dinner with my in-laws right afterward, perhaps it was best that I wasn't wearing Leia's famous white gown, even if it would've been much easier to sew.  

Oh, you mean this dress?
I was so excited about getting to see the costumes on display! Leia's gown looks to be a fairly thick, white, classic 70s  poly-knit of some kind, with the sleeves cut in one with the gown, front and back all in one piece, medieval style.

To make my costume, I started by taking my first real pair of pants, the dark blue McCall's 6440s, and adding the Corellian blood stripes up the sides. This pretty much renders them unsuitable for everyday non-cosplay wear, but honestly, after coming up with my perfect pants block, I'm not as thrilled with the fit of this first pair anymore, making it an ideal candidate for repurposing. After experiments with dark blue Sharpie on red seam binding, I discovered, like the Stylish Geek, that the effect was not one I was pleased with, so I ended up spending a couple hours carefully sewing tiny pieces of dark blue ribbon to the seam binding. They're not as closely spaced as they really should have been, but I'm afraid I just didn't have the time or patience to make it more screen-accurate. After sewing up two yards of faux-blood-stripe, I settled for using Steam-A-Seam to iron the strips to the side seam of the pants. I was afraid it wouldn't hold, but I didn't think I could fit the pant leg under the sewing machine foot well enough to sew it on in a straight line. A couple spots came off where I bent at the hip and knee, but generally it was fine. I still wouldn't expect it to hold up under the duress of laundering, though. 

The definition of tedious. 
So convenient that I had navy blue pants that I was willing to give up in my wardrobe!

The cream-colored shirt was sewn from stash fabric, but the jersey knit I had was painfully thin. I ended up doubling up the fabric, which helped give it both opacity and more structure. I just used my standard not-a-Renfrew knit block, and modified the neckline for the slash and collar. Unfortunately, I didn't take into account the changes necessary for adding a collar, so I took a page out of the historical sewing book and added some helpful neck gussets! Yay for faux historical sewing!

My method of construction resulted in no seams at all on the sleeve and bottom "hems." This was nice for preserving the stretchiness of the knit without the use of a coverstitch machine. 

Gussets! My stitching in the ditch also needs work. 

I did have to buy new fabric for the vest, unfortunately. Much as I would've liked the whole outfit to be made from stash, I just didn't have any suitable black fabric, so I had to purchase this black cotton twill. The three main vest pieces were taken from Simplicity 2246, aka the Lisette Traveller Dress, but shortened to vest-length and with the side seams straightened and the bust darts taken out. Since it was a costume, I faux flat-felled the seams (i.e. just pressed them toward the back and topstitched, leaving raw edges inside but still stronger than just loose seam allowances). The neckline and armscyes were finished with bias tape, and the hem was just pressed up once and stitched.The fiddliest part of making the vest, though, was having to put together all the pockets -- and I didn't even do all of them!

This fabric is a cat-hair magnet. 

For the three main pockets on the front of the vest, this one thread I found emphasized that the pockets aren't just simple patch pockets. Considering how much I fudged on other parts of the vest (no yoke! pocket flaps not exactly the right size! placement not quite spot on! not even lined!), I'm not sure why my brain suddenly decided that the pockets had to be vented...but there you go. I used Pretty Ditty's Accordion Pocket Tutorial, but modified it slightly so that there wouldn't be quite so many folds. I just cut off one of the V-sections on each side:

I cut off the piece on the right from both sides, and a similar piece from the bottom. Unfortunately, I didn't realize until after I'd cut and sewn the pockets that the pattern didn't have seam allowances included. 
As a result, the bottom layer of the pockets is a bit too small. 

By the time I finished the vest, it was almost 3 AM, so I sadly had to give up the idea of making Han Solo's holster. Maybe one day! Anyway, sleep deprivation aside, I enjoyed myself greatly at the exhibit, which was extremely well done. I love me a good science museum, especially when it connects back to geeky fandoms (hello OMSI Sherlock!). This one featured sections about programming and robotics (and whether self-aware droids like C3PO and R2D2 have rights like humans), maglev technology (for all those hovercrafts), adapting to the extreme cold on Hoth Antarctic research expeditions, advances in prosthetics (tied back to Luke and Darth Vader, of course), and what would be required to make lightsabers (hint: the power unit would be the size of a house, not a flashlight). They also had the miniature models of the spaceships from the movies and several costumes (although none of Padme's more impressive gowns, sadly) on display. 

Did you know that X-wing fighting styles and formations were based off of WWII planes? 

Doing my best to imitate Han's pose...

Anakin Skywalker's and Obi-Won Kenobi's Jedi robes. I loved getting to see the textures up close!
Wookiees are very, very tall. 
They might be the original steampunks, though...don't these Wookiee guns look so steampunk? It fits with their artisan aesthetic; according to the card, Wookiee weapons seem to be hand-crafted, rather than mass produced. 
Did you know wampas were actually based off of polar bears...both are tertiary trophic level predators living in icy climes, camouflaged with white fur. 
Look, it's the ship that made the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs!

The last part of the exhibit was an opportunity to sit in a recreation of the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and watch a planetarium show about our universe...I have to confess, it was frankly kind of a letdown after the rest of the exhibit. I mean, I know the point is to be educational, but I was hoping to see a tour of the Star Wars universe instead. The exhibit runs until February, so just as an FYI, it's probably not worth making the reservation and waiting in a additional line to do that. 

Mr. Cation snapped a quick photo right before the show started. 
At least the entrance was cool!
Also, these black boots are the most useful cosplay item in my closet. They work for every costume, and they're super comfortable to boot! (Sorry, not sorry.) 
Found my best bud in the gift shop!

Anyway, if you're in the Bay Area and are a Star Wars geek and/or have little ones that are, I highly recommend this exhibit. This isn't a sponsored post at all (I wish they would pay me to write reviews like this!); I just think good science museums should be supported! 

I love that Mr. Cation is willing to take silly pictures like this with me (and go through a whole dinner in public afterward with his wife-dressed-as-Han-Solo).

This year has been a banner year for dressing up (and also a banner year for staying up late sewing), and the more I do it, the more excited I am for continuing my Theatre and Costume Design program at Canada College. Staying up late to grade papers doesn't get me excited, but building costumes does! By the by, if you haven't see Brooke of Custom Style's post about the differences between the various costume department roles/titles, you should check it out! 

They had a SW-themed Christmas tree out front...Merry Sithmas Christmas everyone!
(Incidentally, if you've ever heard the ultra-cheesy Christmas song "Mary Did You Know?" there's this hilariously awesome parody called "Vader Did You Know?")

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All These People Want to Know...

Normally I hate it when fashion bloggers make sweeping statements like "____ people should never wear ____," or "____ is the must-have item this season." However, I'm inclined to agree with the "every lady needs at least one fabulous statement coat in her wardrobe" sentiment. While I understand that, for many people, function and practicality are more important than style and statement-making, I have to admit I'm a sucker for 1) red garments, and 2) anything long enough to swoop around in. Besides, long red coats always make me think of that infamous international burglar...

Can you guess who I am? (And don't you love my superb photoshopping skills?)

Fun fact about me: I hate games of chance. I prefer to win based on my (perceived) intellectual merit; trivia games are the best because they allow me to show off the results of way too many nights of following Wikipedia rabbit trails. Even when I was younger, I enjoyed collecting tidbits of knowledge the way some of my classmates liked collecting Sanrio items, so it's probably no surprise to those of you who grew up in the 90s that my favorite kid's game show was -- you know what it is* -- Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? 

Please tell me you read that last run-on sentence super fast, in Greg Lee's voice. 

Anyway, by now you've probably heard about Lolita Patterns' latest release, the Spearmint coat. I was originally contacted about being a test sewer a few months ago, but due to a sad comedy of errors (a tragedy of errors?), I wasn't able to finish the coat before the deadline. I was originally going to use the rest of the velvet tablecloth from my pirate coat, but there wasn't quite enough for a long coat, it was too drapey for the my liking, and my machine's walking foot decided to give up the ghost, so pile fabrics were not going to happen. By the time I switched gears and prepped, cut, and underlined new fabric, there was no way I was going to finish in time to give Amity and Leila any feedback. I was pretty disappointed in myself for botching my first test-sewing experience, but thankfully those two lovely ladies were very understanding. I did finally finish my coat about three weeks ago, though, and thank goodness it's such a fabulous garment, because my initial bad feelings toward the coat are now totally eclipsed in my memory by how much I like this coat! Seriously, every time I wear it, I get so many positive comments. And I can't help but feel good when wearing such a bold color. The Lolita!CarmenSandiego cosplay potential doesn't hurt either!

Likes: dramatic collar, full skirt, and slim-cut sleeves. I don't know why so many Big 4 patterns have sleeves big enough for two of my arms. 
And oh hey, look at what's hanging out in the side seam...
Okay, totally geeky of me, but look what I've got on my pocketses lining fabric: rings. Pay tribute when you can, right?
The coat looks good hanging open, too. 
I need to press and steam it better. 
Side view...oh hey, I'm following one of those fashion blogger tips: if you've got a small bust, wear something with large ruffles in the chest area to make it look fuller. 
Back view...I'm in love with how huge the collar is!

After getting over the initial bad mojo from the failed tablecloth version, I have to say that the sewing process itself went fairly smoothly. For all that the collar looks so impressive, it's actually extremely easy to sew, and I think a confident beginner could tackle this coat. When I showed my mom and sister, they were both duly impressed that I had actually made it myself.

I have to say, I'm pretty impressed with myself too!

Fabric: 100% wool coating from Jo-Ann Fabrics (purchased two years ago with the intention of making a winter coat, only I decided that I wasn't ready to tackle it yet), underlined with a cotton/poly bedsheet since the coating was still pretty thin and drapey. The lining was another sheet, but a 100% polyester microfiber one instead, since I wanted it to be somewhat slippery, but not as slippery as actual satin lining fabric. I did actually start using the "real" lining fabric for the pockets, but it misbehaved so much that I opted against using any more for the sake of my sanity.

Notions: A yard of horsehair canvas, plus a hook and eye.

Techniques used: You guys, I actually bag-lined my first ever garment! I think I've read this Threads article about fifty times, and been confused every time, but the ladies over at Lolita Patterns did a good enough job explaining it that I did it right the first time (an achievement in and of itself), and, get this, it was 2 AM. If my sleep-deprived and sickness-addled teacher/student brain could do it without seam ripping, those must be some pretty dang good instructions. Oh, and I used horsehair as interfacing for the first time! Good thing, too, since it then gave me the idea to interface Thranduil's collar with the leftovers.

Hours: Ummmm, this might be the only downside. It took me a good 4-5 hours to cut everything, and then an additional 15 or so hours to do the sewing (but I was also underlining everything). I didn't need to do any fitting though, thanks to the forgiving front opening, so there was that. I also didn't do the bound buttonhole, so that saved on sewing time. What I did appreciate was not having to waste time trying to figure out why pieces didn't fit together -- guys, this pattern is well-drafted and everything actually matches up!

Total cost: Thanks to massive sales, teacher discounts, and excellent coupon usage, I was able to get the wool for the coat for $12, and then the two sheets were an additional $3 each. I think the horsehair was about $12...throw in another few bucks for thread and it brings the price of materials to about $35. Not bad at all, considering that a coat like this could easily run upwards of $100 at Nordstrom.

Will you make it again? I think it's unlikely, since it's a pretty singular coat, and more than one garment with a huge ruffled collar is not really necessary. However, I will most likely steal the sleeve and armscye of this pattern, because it is one of the nicest I've ever had to set in. Also, as mentioned by several other test sewers and the actual pattern debut blog entry, this is a "top coat," so it definitely runs snug.  I cut the size recommended for my measurements and I can't wear this with anything bulkier than a long-sleeve tee or a thin sweater (think the kind of flimsy ones they sell at Target in the Merona collection). Since I live in California, that doesn't really bother me, but if you're intending to actually layers items under this, I'd go up a size or two. I would also check the size of the pocket opening, too, since they feel rather large to me. I might just go and sew up the bottom third of mine, actually.

Final thoughts: Thank you, Lolita Patterns, for coming up with such a fabulous coat pattern! It's almost as fabulous as Thranduil's spangly tunic, it's that fun. And while some people have said (hi Mom!) that the front neckline is too open and I'll catch my death of cold, I personally think of it as a built-in scarf showcasing mechanism. Now I have an excuse to get more huge statement scarves.

If you're interested in purchasing your own Spearmint pattern, you can get it here at their online shop, or you can even buy it in a bundle with the other Lolita Patterns releases, the Gunmetal and Sugarplum.

Twirl time!

And if you haven't seen Knitnbee's and LadyKatza's red Spearmints yet, you should go check them out! Apparently this pattern just begs to be made up in such a vibrant color. Hmm, what are the chances of one day having a red Spearmint meet-up IRL?

* "Do it Rockapella!" Oh my goodness, this song brings me back to middle school like no other. It used to be my dream to get on the show, even though I'm terrible at making decisions/answering questions when under a time crunch. I'm pretty sure I would never buzz in first and then end up being the gumshoe that doesn't even make it to The Chase.