Saturday, December 27, 2014

Making Dragonish Accessories

While the bulk of my Smaug look used pieces from previous cosplays, I did want to make some accessories that would bring it into dragonish territory, so that it wouldn't just be "ooh, fiery dress!" I originally wanted to delve into leather mask-making, but then I got pregnant and had a baby. I think that's just going to be my excuse for things, as in "I used to be an adventurer like you, but then I took an arrow (of sperm) to the uterus..." Anyway. So I settled for a simple horned headband and an eye mask, plus bracers with large "scales" to help bring the whole costume together.

Since I knew I was going to be short on time, I started with the headband first as the most high impact piece. I purchased a cheap plastic headband from the dollar store, raided the recycling bin for ads, and got to work.

I twisted up ads into cones, then taped them into submission. Even though painter's tape is pictured here, I wouldn't recommend it, as it wasn't sticky enough. I ended up going over it again with masking tape.  
Side fins were cut from foam, with floral wire taped to it to make spines. 
Horns and fins taped to the headband. 
I don't even want to know how much tape I used. In retrospect, I would have made the horns shorter, as they didn't quite look proportional. At least they're dramatic? 
Painted black and ModPodged. I bet I could use this for a Maleficent costume if I wanted to. (I want to.)

The eye mask was just a paper mache mask from Jo-ann's that I painted black. I toyed with the idea of building in some brow ridges or even adding a snout, but in the end I decided that it would be more versatile for future cosplaying if I kept it as a plain black mask.

After that, try everything on while the baby is napping in the carrier. 

The bracers were my favorite part of this costume, even though they kind of got lost against the black background of the dress and cape. I originally bought Simplicity 1347 for this project, but then -- I kid you not -- I was too lazy to unfold all the huge pattern sheets to find the one piece I needed for the bracers, so I just started making mock-ups from paper to get the right shape. Except that I ended up making something like twelve mock-ups, so I guess I should've just unfolded the dang pattern. And to think I used to always tell my students that being lazy always ends up causing you more work than doing things properly the first time...I should listen to myself I guess!

Foam shapes, all cut out and scored!
I sealed the pieces with my iron (with a muslin press cloth in between, of course!) then folded/bent the pieces while they were still hot so that they would hold their shape once cooled. 
I got super excited once I'd glued the "scales" to the bracers. They're starting to look real!
Eeeeeee it looks so cool!
Everything got a couple coats of matte ModPodge.
I pressed the grommet bases into the foam once I'd figured out their placement so that I'd know where to hammer them in.
All grommeted and looking cooler by the second!
I used black elastic beading cord to lace them up so that I could just pull them on and off without undoing them and retying them every time. I am so smart. 
Trying them on before the midnight showing. 
I ended up loosening the laces after taking this picture, as I am not a fan of weird underarm flesh bulges.

I am really pleased with how they turned out! Unfortunately, being made from craft foam, they're not too resilient and the ModPodge has started crackling after a night of banging around. They still look fine from far away, but up close they're a little battered-looking, and not in a "I've been through a battle" way, more like a "I'm wearing foam bracers" kind of way. I'm thinking I want to try making a more hard-wearing version from pleather and interfacing/batting, but we'll see if I ever get around to that. In the meantime, if you'd like to make your own bracers but don't feel like buying the Simplicity pattern, or making a dozen versions to figure out the pattern, I've made my pattern pieces available for download here. And just to fill up the space on the page, I've thrown in my headband's side fin thing as well.

I've made this into an Instructable with detailed instructions and a few more process pictures here. Sometimes I feel bad when I get emails saying I have new followers on Instructables, since I only post projects around December every year. And they're almost all props and such, so then I feel extra bad for people who might've started following because of the Superman dress cutout, and then I never did any more sewing ones...

Friday, December 19, 2014

One Last Time

First off, a heartfelt thank you to all of you who took the time to leave such encouraging and helpful words on my last blog post. It's good to hear from so many of you that things get better -- if so many of you are saying so, it must be true -- and I'm grateful to all of you who encouraged me both here and on IG to go ahead and dress up for BotFA. I don't think I would have made the effort to figure out logistics and deal with the aftermath (modified bedtime routine! engorgement and potential for a clogged duct! pumping! a lot less sleep!) otherwise. It was so nice to not be a mom for an evening and get all dressed up and be goofy with my sister, and even if the movie itself was goofily excessive, it felt right to put on a costume one last time to round out four years* of Tolkien/PJ movies.

I'd been wanting to do a Smaug costume since oh, about two hours after seeing DoS last year, but once I found out that I was pregnant and would have a three-month-old for BotFA, I knew I would have to scale my grand plans waaaay back. Forget making a whole leather Smaug headdress/mask, or a scaled corset, or huge wire wings, or clawed gloves...I wasn't even sure what shape I would be or if I'd be able to go, so whatever I did had to be fairly low-commitment, adjustable in size, and low on the time investment. So I settled on a horned headband and purchased eye mask, craft foam bracers, and reusing old costume components. I figured I could repurpose my MuLoki cape as a suggestion of wings, and since Smaug's signature line is "I am fire, I am death," I could wear my Girl on Fire dress, which is definitely adjustable, seeing as how the waist definition is all based on an elastic belt.

Heeeey Thorin, I've got your Arkenstone! Nyah nyah nyah!

My sister Emily, who is my cosplay buddy, decided that a fitting companion to Smaug would be his treasure hoard. Thanks to Bayfair Mall's ghetto fabulous stores, we had a plethora of cheap be-sequinned dresses and huge fake gold jewelry to choose from; she also hot-glued plastic coins to her leggings and shirt to complete the pile o' gold look. Her costume ended up being a huge hit and everyone wanted pictures with her!

Thorin is filled with lust for gold!
There was a much more serious Thranduil there than my last year's version
The whole group of dressed up people. I didn't know any of them before the movie, but found out about the group thanks to TORn's line party page. 

While it was fun seeing the movie with other dressed up people, I am sad that I didn't get to see it with Elaine. We've seen every Tolkien/PJ movie together (and some multiple times) since first squeeing over the FotR trailer as freshmen in college, and now that the last one is really over (as opposed to fake over, like with RotK), it definitely feels like the last goodbye. Even though I know I'll still cosplay and be goofy in the future, it's just such a huge contrast with my entry into this magical, beautiful world with FotR. Back then, we were still students with no responsibilities; now,we're both married, I'm a mother and a teacher and Elaine has her Ph.D and is helping people get their lives back together. It almost feels like saying goodbye to being a kid and stepping fully into adulthood.

Holding onto my carefree former life pile o' gold for dear life?

And in case any of you are wondering, I do intend on writing a how-I-made-it post for the bracers and headdress, so stay tuned!

*I didn't know about dressing up to see movies when I first saw FotR and TTT, so RotK was my first time dressing up for a midnight premiere.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Secret Lives of Teachers

Now that I spend so many hours a day (and night) sitting around feeding SHB, I've had lots of time to read random articles on my phone (I would rather read actual books, but my local library has an abundance of giant hardbacks, and reading in the dark in the middle of the night doesn't work so well anyway), and I've been loving NPR's series on the secret lives of teachers. When I first got into sewing and costume-making, we had just moved to TCOCC and I was taking a year off of teaching, so those two parts of my life didn't intersect. When I started teaching again, at first I tried keeping those two parts of my life separate. Then I became friends with some of them on Facebook, got an Instagram account, students started following me, which led them to my blog here, and suddenly it became known that I made not only my own clothes (which they already knew about), but crazy costumes as well. Finally, I decided to just out with it and showed up to school last Halloween dressed as a firebender for our fiery hand demo. It was a little weird, because some of my costumes, while not NSFW, still show more skin than I would show at work, of course, but generally I don't mind my students knowing about this part of my life because I think it makes me seem, I mean it helps them realize that teachers have a life outside of teaching.

A couple of weeks ago, the highlight of my short costuming career (can it be called a career if I don't make any money from it and only do it part time?) occurred. Lee Pace, the actor who plays Thranduil, tweeted my wacky cosplay from last year:

When a cosplay friend alerted me to this, I was in shock for a good while (Is that the real Lee Pace, and not just a fan account? Hmmm, Richard Armitage/Thorin replied, I guess it's real), then I was excited (The. Real. Thranduil. Saw my cosplay of him. And liked it enough to tweet it. I am, however briefly, Internet famous!!!), and then to my surprise, I got slightly depressed.

The last two months with SHB have been a learning experience, and there have been moments of joy, but there have also been a lot (dare I say more) of moments of frustration: why won't he stop crying, why won't he sleep for more than thirty minutes, why does he have to be held all day? I was expecting to be able to do my own thing during those legendary 1.5-2 hour naps that babies supposedly take, but it seems like they're just that -- legendary. And not in a Barney Stinson way, unless you count the part where I'm waiting for it to happen. It's been hard not to compare last year, when I put together a full-blown costume what felt like every two weeks, and got to inspire and teach students (who are capable of expressing their wants with real words!), to this year, when I didn't even get to dress up for Halloween, arguably a costumer's favorite holiday, and have only sewn some Christmas stockings and a couple of tops and bibs for SHB. Like I lamented to Mr. Cation, I feel like my days of doing cool things are over, and I'm just this boring zombie-type person who doesn't get dressed or out of the house most days, whose only function is to produce milk, only to have it all just spit up back over me. Sometimes I look back at my old blog posts, just to remind myself that I used to do things.

Now that SHB is a spit up monster, not unlike the Jurassic Park version of Dilophosaurus, he is going through bibs faster than our laundry schedule can handle. Solution? Make new ones when he needs them, from Mr. Cation's old t-shirts.
Man, it's a good thing he's so cute and charming when he needs to be. 

When that mournful feeling seizes me particularly hard, I have to remind myself that this is a passing phase, and one day I'll do cool things again. SHB will get bigger and more independent (and sleep better) and I'll have time to sew for myself again, and one day he'll see my costuming pictures and realize that Mommy has a secret life outside of mothering.

In the meantime, I've been slowly, ever so slowly, pulling together a costume for the last Hobbit movie, Battle of the Five Armies. I don't even know if I'll get to see it at the midnight showing, much less dress up for it in as grand of a costume as I'm envisioning, but I think I need to at least make the costume, just for my own pleasure.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Geekiest Baby: Underwater Themed Art

I originally meant to have this post done in the beginning of August, but then we ended up moving into our new house. So I told myself I would finish it when we were done unpacking and decorating, because then I could show off the art in its proper place, but then the school year started. So then I decided to wait until I went on maternity leave, but wouldn't you know it, my last day of school was a Thursday and SHB arrived the following Monday...

Anyway, once we had decided on a nautical/marine theme for SHB, I decided I should acquire some appropriate wall decor. We went to Babies-R-Us and came across this gem:


Yeah, no. One look at this questionably overpriced mass-produced piece (that was nautical colors but not actually all nautical objects) and I realized it would be more economical (financially, but not time-investment-wise) and meaningful to make my own. I started with making little pen and color pencil drawings to fill up these IKEA frames that I'd had sitting around for six years:

I was honestly really afraid my baby wouldn't be cute, but thankfully this has proven to be true. 
This is a statement that I need to remind myself of (and attempt to live out) everyday around 6 pm when I still have one more hour to go before Mr. Cation gets home from work and SHB is being exceptionally fussy).

It felt so good to finally find a use for those frames, I got on a roll and pulled out three canvases that I'd been carting around from apartment to apartment for *gasp* thirteen years (and as many moves!). I had originally bought them at the UCSD bookstore my freshmen year of college, for the purpose of making dorm-room decor, and now that I've finally used them, I feel justified in hoarding craft supplies because they might get used one day no longer feel guilty about them hanging out in various closets, taking up space. Even better, I used acrylic paints that I've had for ten years to paint them.

I love a good whale pun. 

Let's count the marine animals!

A classic alphabet painting, from anemone to zooplankton.

Some close-ups of the alphabet and number pieces:

Everyone's who's come by has tried to guess what each of the letters stand for. While some, like J is for jellyfish, are pretty obvious, others, like B, C, and I have been stumpers. 

Q is also commonly missed. My favorite animal is the narwhal. 

I am especially proud of how my five nudibranchs turned out!

I must confess, I borrowed heavily from these art pieces in making mine, which is why I don't feel comfortable selling prints, although people have asked. But I feel totally comfortable using stolen ideas to decorate SHB's room! I had so much fun painting these, even though they took dozens of hours. Thankfully, I painted them in the summer, when I had plenty of time. It was admittedly a bit of a challenge, though, working around my belly at the time (it made it difficult to bend over the canvas, and I don't have an easel). But worth the trouble, because look how nice they look hanging over the diaper changing station!

The garland is made by stitching together paint chips. Also props to IKEA for making a non-pink cat changing pad cover!

Two days before SHB arrived, during the one weekend of baby-free maternity leave I had, I was seized with another fit of craft supply purging, and made some faux taxidermy pieces to go with a couple of wood plaques that I'd been saving for eleven years (goodness, these numbers are just embarrassing). I started with a narwhal:

It was so ridiculously cute that I had to go for the other end of the spectrum and make everyone's favorite hideous creature, the much-maligned blobfish:

Both were made from fleece scraps and stuffed with polyfil, then hot-glued onto painted wooden plaques. They made a nice addition to the drawings and a painting that my sister made for SHB:

The last craft-bust was this door hanger:

So there you have it -- the geekiest baby series, marine edition, is now (finally) complete! However, the nice thing about waiting this long to blog these pieces is that I can actually report on how SHB feels about it. At first, the paintings above his changing table were more entertainment for me as I waited for SHB to do his business (he's a fan of waiting until I change him before pooping into the fresh diaper, so I've taken to standing around the changing table fanning his butt with the old diaper in hopes of not "wasting" another diaper...oh, the ridiculous things parents are quickly reduced to doing!). Lately, though, his vision and attention span have been getting better and he is absolutely enamored with (I imagine) the bright colors and interesting shapes above him, and he stares at the paintings for long (for a baby) periods of time.

Look at that face of intense concentration! Also, note that somebody at the bib factory got bored and never finished embroidering the second N in dinner on his bib. 
Some of you have asked how Walnut has been doing with SHB. Generally he pretends that SHB doesn't exist, but occasionally he will surprise us by being interested, usually during the most inopportune moments, like in the middle of dealing with a diaper change or spit up of epic proportions. He also likes sitting on me when I feed SHB in the middle of the night, which is simultaneously sweet and slightly annoying.  

The paintings, then, are an unequivocal success. As for the taxidermy, they're currently located behind his swing, so he can't see them. Perhaps that's for the best, though, since Mr. Cation contends that the blobfish would give anybody nightmares.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Introducing SHB

Wow, I took quite a break there, didn't I? I didn't even finish up my Geekiest Baby series, but in my defense A Lot of Things happened right after my previous blog post: we bought and moved into our first house, the school year started, and I birthed a SHB! I do plan on blogging more about that first item (although you can see a sneak peek of my new sewing area on Instagram!), the second item is irrelevant for now since I'm on maternity leave, and here I am to briefly discuss the third!

5 days old, sleeping in the Totoro bouncer.

8 days old, getting eaten by a whale shark.

It seems a little pathetic that it took me almost two months to get around to introducing SHB, but I think you'll all forgive me when I say that it wasn't really high on my priority list. Pretty sure that keeping said SHB alive (and myself, too) is more important, and my goodness gracious, they weren't kidding when they all said how demanding newborns are! I feel like the first month and half was just one incredibly long, sleepless day involving constant feeding/diapering/rocking/attempting to eat one-handed. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that SHB started settling into more of a routine and babywearing made it possible to ease back into sewing.

They say (goodness, I'm quoting "them" a lot) that parenthood is all about taking back your pre-parenting "I will nevers," e.g. "I will never cosleep" or "I will never drive around aimlessly just to get my baby to sleep." Well, I've ended up succumbing to the first and will probably do so to the second, too, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that I've reneged on my promise to never sew baby clothes, previous reasoning being that 1) they're unnecessarily small and fiddly (you can't even fit the armsyce around the free arm of a sewing machine!) and 2) the returns are low (baby will never appreciate or express gratitude for handmade clothes, they'll be outgrown before they even have a chance to get worn twice, everything ends up covered in spit up anyway).'s been getting colder and our house has spotty heating, and SHB has needed more cardigan/sweatshirt/non-hooded outerwear to keep him warm. And it is ridiculously hard to find said items in stores, so the solution is, of course, to *sigh* sew it myself. I quickly drew up a basic pattern based on one of his hoodies, then set about making a cardigan-y thing out of the fuzzy fabric leftover from lining this jacket. Unfortunately, my sewing skills are apparently a little rusty, because I cut two right front pieces. *headdesk*

See how the left side isn't as fuzzy as the rest of the jacket? Also note that I didn't even attempt plaid-matching.

There wasn't enough fabric to cut another piece (stashbusting at its finest!), so I just sighed and told myself that babies thankfully don't care if their clothing is sewn wrong, then went ahead and finished the garment. Since the front was already messed up, I didn't even bother finishing my edges properly and just left the serged edges from the original piece of fabric. Things got super dicey at the neckline, where laziness (and impending baby-waking-up-from-nap) took over and I settled for a quick zigzag to stop fraying. Not the finest return to sewing, but hey, at this point function over form is my modus operandi.

Serged edges at the sleeves.

You can see the questionable neckline finish up top. I did French seam the sides and shoulders, though. 
Rather than dealing with snaps or buttonholes (whose bright idea was it, anyway, to put such fiddly closures on clothing intended for wiggly squirming babies?), I settled for non-aesthetically-pleasing Velcro.

At least SHB seems happy about wearing it!

Testing out the mobility of the sleeve cap with some punches...
This face could persuade me to sew a lot more tiny garments...

I may or may not end up making more of these, depending on how cold it gets/how much spitting up happens/how fast SHB grows, but for now I'm just happy to be back! One of the things I remember from reading some mommy blog years ago was to do something irreversible everyday. That is, being a mom involves so much that seems to get "undone," like I just fed the baby and now I have to feed it again, I just changed that diaper, I just washed those dishes, I just did the laundry, etc., that it's important to do irreversible things just to save your sanity. Even though it took a whole week to sew this simple garment, I can attest to the truth of that statement. I feel more like me and less like a zombie cow when I'm able to sew, even it it's just sewing a stitch here and a stitch there. Of course, one could argue that even sewing isn't quite irreversible since one can always wield a seam ripper...