Monday, January 27, 2014

Nimona Science Buddies!

Whew! Where to even start fangirling about getting to meet Noelle Stevenson, aka Gingerhaze, at this weekend's AOD con? Maybe let's start with proof:

Aaaah there she is right next to us! She was super nice and possibly just as excited to see us dressed up as we were to see her.

My sister Emily and I have been planning this cosplay ever since we found out Gingerhaze would be in our hood. We both love the webcomic Nimona, and we both love science, so it was only natural that we dress up as Dr. Meredith Blitzmeyer* and Ballister Blackheart as Gregor at the Science Expo.


How do you think we did? Close enough?

Why hello there! Come check out this Anomalous Energy Enhancer!
I say now, there's a science if there ever was one. 
The tubing on the side had escaped its hot glue by this point. 

As I mentioned before, I started out by making the red cat Nimona to go around Emily's shoulders, and the last couple weeks have been a scramble to make the lab coat, goggles, beard, and cape. The lab coat was fairly easy as costumes go -- I used the back piece from Simplicity 2365 and the front piece and sleeves from Simplicity 2246, then modified them for length and design features -- and of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't make it from a thrifted sheet. Yay for stashbusting while making fun costumes! It's actually very functional and has good mobility, so I guess there's nothing keeping it from being a "real" lab coat. The red cloak of disguise was another thrifted sheet, but I went out and bought it specifically for this costume. So sue me. It was a bit trickier to design since most of the times we see Ballister wearing it, it 1) manages to still show most of what he's wearing, and 2) has these swathes of fabric that cover the top part of his chest.  The final cape ended up not being totally screen-accurate (panel-accurate?), but I guess it doesn't really matter since the yarn beard hid most of the front...also Emily loved it, so that's always good. The final touch to it all was making the business cards that Dr. Blitzmeyer hands out.

I managed to obscure the goggle lenses by ironing a couple sheets of iridescent cellophane together and then cutting out circles to fit. Visibility was only somewhat obscured; the real challenge, though, was that the goggles kept fogging up. 
I'm pretty pleased with how the yarn beard turned out! I used about half a skein of fairly bulky yarn and loosely followed this tutorial; the main difference was that I secured the beard to a headband.
Is there anything so fun as an excellently swooshy cape? It was so fun walking behind Emily and getting to see it billow dramatically behind her.
I only ended up passing out a few :(

After the initial giddiness of meeting Gingerhaze, we spent another couple hours wandering around looking at all the wares, art, and of course, other cosplayers:

BBC Sherlock! He likes science, right?
And Ms. Frizzle -- she definitely likes science.
Not science-related, but check out this ridiculously awesome Magikarp. I may have screamed a little bit and then went running through the hotel trying to track it down.
Seriously, best use of a sleeping bag ever...

We wrapped up the day by going back to Gingerhaze's booth to pick up the sketch we commissioned:

Science buddies! I was so tempted to ask for Party King Thranduil, but in the end decided there needed to be more Nimona art.
Oops, we're standing in the wrong positions.

It was a very good day for all. Oh, except for the family cats, because when you have a yarn beard, the natural thing to do is to make them try it on:

Poor Gummy. 
Poor Fenxi. Don't worry, they got lots of treats afterward.
*Not a witch.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Manatee Plushie Sewing Pattern

My best friend from college had a baby shower this past weekend, and while I opted for stocking the baby's bookshelf, I still wanted to be able to give her something handmade. I mean, what's the point of knowing how to sew if you can't sew love into every stitch, or some such nonsense, right? Anyway, since manatees are one of her favorite animals, I decided to make her one. Only problem is, I couldn't find any patterns I liked. Obvious solution? Make my own!

Dawww, that face. 

He's quite plump, as befits a manatee. 

I chose to make him in this "pose" because it looks a little bit more like Barbara Manatee.

Want to make your own manatee? I've put my pattern up for download here. Please note that it is meant for personal use only, and not for commercial purposes (i.e. don't make them to sell!), and it goes without saying that you should not put up the pattern on your own site and/or claim it as your own. 

I've added an alternate snout option on the pattern, which is more biologically correct but 1) more difficult, and 2) IMHO, less cute. Then again, that might just be the fact that I sewed it on off-center...

So sad and derpy. 

Anyway, if you've never sewed a plushie before, I actually remembered to take pictures of the process!

Sew the flippers and tail pieces together, right sides together. 
Flip them right side out, then fill the tail with beans or poly beads.
I used a leftover PVC fitting from my Loki staff as a funnel.  
If you use rice or beans, it'll be cheaper, but the poly beads are waterproof.
Sew the center back seam. You should leave a gap in the middle for turning it all right side out at the end, but I forgot to do so here. I had to go back and use my seam ripper. 
I used a narrow zigzag stitch with a very short stitch length to embroider the eyes on the front piece, then I cut a hole for the snout. 
The alternative snout piece was a little tricky to join since it was so small.
After it's stitched, turned, and nostrils are embroidered.
Hand-stitch the snout piece to the front piece, right sides together. I started by just matching up one edge, and slowly bringing the sides together as I worked my way around. 
Here's what it looks like inside. 
At this point I may or may not have screamed a bit because it was off-center. 
Baste the tail and flippers onto the front piece. 
Sew the front to the back pieces, right sides together. 
Flip the manatee right side out! Laugh at how flat he is.
Stuff him up with poly-fil.
I also added some poly beads to the butt area so that he could sit up properly.
Stitch up his butt and you're done! I like using the ladder stitch.

I didn't use stash fabric for this manatee (it being for a friend and all), but I think this pattern would still work well for scrapbusting. I only used a 10"x24" piece of fabric to make each one. If you do use this pattern, let me know how it works for you!

Manatee and Sewasaurus are friends: sounds like a more interesting book than Frog and Toad Are Friends. I know, I was supposed to give away the dinosaur, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

January Stashbusting: Nimona Cats

Those of you who saw my ridiculous series of posts about Party King Thranduil may already know about my love for webcomic artist Noelle Stevenson, aka Gingerhaze. Besides LOTR/Hobbit, Avengers, and Hunger Games doodles, she also draws an absolutely fantastic webcomic, Nimona, about a shapeshifting girl in a medieval/futuristic alternative universe. Seriously guys, if you haven't heard of it before, go check it out -- it's won a whole bunch of awards and is simultaneously funny and poignant and thoughtful. Anyway, at one point Nimona turns into a red cat sleeping on Ballister's shoulders.

Pretty sure this isn't giving away any major plot points. [picture source]

I have all these red fleece scraps in my stash leftover from Squidney, and as you know, fleece takes up a lot of room, so following in my own footsteps from last year, I made another fleece thing:

Curled up sleeping cat!

Quick snap proving I can carry the Nimona cat around my shoulders and a hood, like in the comic. This was actually taken before I ripped out some of the stitches in the face to make it cuter. 

And then I made this other cat, based on this panel (not including it here since there are vague spoilers):

This guy was made with an elongated version of my all-purpose plushie pattern, and with a different face, of course. I think I prefer the look of general concern to the original snooty expression. 

I'm glad that January stashbusting always starts out small and easy; somehow it's easier to think about using up scraps than those giant 3+ yard pieces I've got hiding under the guest bed. Each of these cats took about an hour from conception to finish -- much better than the 30+ hours that a full on costume would require. Of course, I only used up one of the seventy pledged yards of stash...

So cat! Much red! Wow! (Is it wrong to use doge-speak to describe felines?)

And of course, no post about cat plushies would be complete without some obligatory Walnut photos!

I couldn't resist; they were both in such similar positions!

Okay, seriously, Mom? You interrupted my nap for this?! Dude doesn't even have a proper mouth. 

If you're wondering about what possible practical purpose all of these plushies could have...well, my sister and I are going to be cosplaying two of the characters from Nimona at the Animation on Display convention in a couple of weeks. Anyone else in the Bay Area going? It's family-friendly anime, video game, and comic-centric; if you're interested in a meetup, let me know!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Things I've Learned From A Year of Stashbusting

Can you believe it? We've not only survived a whole year of stashbusting, but (at least for some of us) a whole year of fabric-buying moratorium as well! Even though I stopped being able to follow along with the monthly themes by the end, I'm still pretty pleased with the fact that I used over seventy yards of stash fabric and saved myself over $200. Of course, such a prolonged project is going to lead to some lessons, so I thought I'd share some of those thoughts with you:
  • You don't really need that piece of fabric. There were many times last year when I found myself thinking that there was no way I could pass up a particular piece of fabric, only to find that now, I can't even remember what those pieces were, or what was so great about them. There will always be deals on great pieces of fabric, and with limited time on my hands, there's no way I'm going to sew up every idea I ever have, so it's okay to just let that piece go. Ms. McCall of Brown Paper Pattern helpfully put it this way on one of our trips to the Fabric District in LA: think of buying fabric as buying sewing hours instead; that is, think about how many hours it would take to make whatever you have in mind for that yardage. For someone whose limiting reactant is hours in a day (and not necessarily cost of fabric or space required to store it), this really helps to put things in perspective. I'm not buying six yards of silver brocade at only $1/yd -- I'm buying fifty hours of work to turn it into the fantasy gown in my head. Yikes! Suddenly it becomes a lot easier to put it down! 
  • When you know you have to actually sew up your stash fabrics, it becomes a lot easier to be selective when fabric shopping. I know, I know, that might sound obvious, but hear me out. When I lived in TCOCC, just fifteen minutes away from all sorts of great fabric stores, it became really easy to buy stuff that I only sort of liked, just because it was a good deal. This dress and this top that I feel ambivalent about as clothing now? I felt only a shade more positive about them when they were just fabric...but I bought it because I thought that rayon or embroidered cotton at such prices were too good to ignore. Throw in a pattern I'm not crazy about, and that's a recipe for garments that are for laundry emergencies only. So even after we moved up to CV and I was technically allowed to buy fabric again, I was much more picky about what I would let into the stash. 
  • If you have to stash, be real with yourself. Even though I'm drawn to ridiculous prints, there's really only so many loud dresses one can wear in a given laundry cycle. For a more practical stash, it makes much more sense to buy solids that pair well with existing items in one's wardrobe. I think that's called SWAP, or sewing (stashing!) with a plan...
  • Don't feel boxed in by previous decisions. There were a lot of pieces in my stash that had been bought with a specific garment in mind, but when I felt like I *had* to make what I had originally intended, I would sometimes feel stressed because it didn't fit anymore with my current wardrobe needs. It's okay to switch plans, including the original stashbusting plans! I didn't sew up most of what I had pledged to, but I decided to stop feeling guilty about not making that one thing that's been stewing for three years. I mean, it's been sitting for that long; it can sit a little longer, right? Instead, I went with what I felt inspired to sew, and that worked a lot better. Similarly, I had big plans for some of my larger pieces, but decided it was okay to axe them and use the fabric for multiple smaller projects. Better to use some than to keep saving it for the humongous project that would realistically not happen for another few years!
  • Along similar lines of letting go -- it's okay to just give up on a piece of stash fabric. There have been some nice pieces that I gave away or swapped this year because they no longer fit my current wardrobe vision. I'd rather give them a chance at new life, instead of trying to hold on because "it was such a good deal!" or "it has so much potential!" Then there were the failed projects: in the end I decided to chalk it up to a lesson learned and just throw it out, or cut it up for stuffing/rags instead of stashing it in hopes that I'd come back and fix it someday.  
This year, instead of specifying what pieces I'm going to use up, I think I'll settle for saying I'd like to use up the same number of yards of fabric. I won't say no to buying new fabric (especially for very specific projects with deadlines, like for class or a costume event), but I'll definitely be much more careful about choosing what I let into my stash. So without further ado:

I, Cation Designs, commit to sewing up at least seventy yards of stash fabric in 2014. I also commit to not buying any fabric unless it is for a specific project that has a deadline, or it is required to turn a piece of stash fabric into a completed project. 

Good golly, seventy yards sounds so scary written out like that, even though I used about that much last year. We'll see how it the meantime, if you'd like some more community interaction for your stashbusting, take a gander at our Stashbusting Facebook Group! We're going to try moving to FB instead of Flickr so that we can have more conversations and such, and you can post to specific albums for specific challenges. Also, TBH, I spend more time hanging out on FB than Flickr, so if you join and post stuff, I'll be pleasantly distracted at work while waiting for kids to finish tests and such! 

Aside from stashbusting, this year I'd like to continue taking part in Sewcialist and Historical Sew Fortnightly sewing projects when I can, but I won't feel guilty if I can't. I definitely want to participate in March of the Shieldmaidens, though -- I've got plans for a Lady Sif costume

Although I'm partial to the stashbusting sewasaurus button, I gotta say, I love that the shieldmaiden is saying "hwaet!" It's one of the few things I remember from reading Beowulf in high school.

What about you? Are there any cool sewalongs you're planning on joining that I should know about? What have you learned while stashbusting (or not)?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Summary of 2013 Sewing, Plus Stashbusting Wrap Up

There's just something about making lists that's so appealing to the J in me. Thank goodness for Gillian's Top 5 prompts, because that means I get to make five lists! Also because it's a convenient way to sum up the year in sewing. Sew so here goes:

Top 5 Hits: Favorite Creations -- Most Worn or Most Loved
  1. Elaine's wedding dress: I'm pretty sure this is self-explanatory; although Elaine only wore her dress for the one day, it was a labor of love and an expression of our friendship. It's also easily the most complicated thing I've ever sewn. 
  2. Eowyn/shieldmaiden costume: Again, only worn once, but this is the dress that I always wanted when I was younger and dreaming of being a warrior princess. 
  3. Party King Thranduil: Gack, why is it that this year's top makes are all so impractical? But again, despite its being relegated to the costume closet, and the very uncomplicated pattern, it is too fabulous and I loved wearing it so much.
  4. Perfect pants: Finally, something practical, but only just barely, seeing as how they are covered with flocked damask print. These pants were a few months in the making, but they were worth it!
  5. Pirate coat: Yikes, another non-everyday item, and one I haven't even worn officially yet? But every time I see it in my sewing room I feel warm fuzzies, knowing that, like Eowyn's dress, this is one garment I've been longing to be able to make for myself for years. 

Top 5 Misses: Sewing Fails, UFOs, worn once, or complete disasters
  1. An attempt at remaking my Spiderman dress from another sheet: I didn't ever blog this because it was such a fail. I never wore it, not even to take pictures. This was really sad, considering that the dress I was trying to recreate was one of my top fives last year
  2. Dotted Anthro top: I just didn't like the fit on this, so I just donated it after I took pictures. 
  3. Strapless dress: Let's face it, I'm never going to be comfortable in a dress that depends on a knit tube top to hold itself up. I did go back and add straps, but then I never wore it because it was too cold by that point.
  4. This other DIY Anthro top: It's not that I don't wear it, but it's just not my favorite. The colors aren't really me, and the sleeves make it impractical for layering. 
  5. Regency sheet dress: Not super accurate in terms of look or material, and never worn again. Sure, there are other things I've only worn once (or not at all!), but I still have positive feelings toward them. 
Bonus "fail": I originally categorized the accidental Aladdin pants as a fail, but then I went on to wear them all summer because they were so dang comfortable, and then they came in handy on my firebending costume. I take back all the mean things I said about it!

Top 5 Reflections: What did you learn about yourself or sewing this year?
  1. I really like free things. That is why I ended up reviewing so many Japanese sewing pattern books.
  2. Unfortunately, that meant I was sewing things that weren't originally my idea to sew. I guess it should come as no surprise to me, then, that those garments just feel "meh" to me. Considering how much less time I have to sew these days, I just can't afford to sew things I don't actually want to sew.
  3. Not really a revelation, but more of a confirmation: I REALLY LIKE MAKING COSTUMES. Like, a lot. The garments that had the highest time-invested-to-positive-feelings ratios are almost all costumes. 
  4. There's no need to buy fabric all the time! This year, I bought much less fabric than in previous years, and new fabric was only purchased because I "needed" it to complete a costume or project by a deadline. Of all the items I sewed this year, only 15% required non-stash fabric. I did still acquire some new stash, but most of it was free (and therefore doesn't count in my mind!) or so incredibly cheap, like <$1/yd, that it was too good to pass up. Granted, there were only two purchases like that this year, totaling less than $15. Because of this self-imposed no new stash rule, I've really changed my mindset toward acquiring new fabric. No longer do I stalk the thrift stores looking for sheets to stash; things are purchased only with a specific, immediate, project in mind.
  5. I really love the sewing community that's sprung up! Last year, I felt like I was getting to know people via their blogs and comments; this year that feeling has multiplied thanks to Twitter and Instagram, along with real life sewing meetups. I love that there are so many likeminded people with so much knowledgeand experience and good advice right at my fingertips. 
Top 5 Inspirations: What motivated you this year? 

I don't have too many new inspirations this year, but if I had to pick a couple, I'd say:
  1. Deadlines: Having set dates that things need to be finished by (whether for HSF, the Stashbusting Sewalong, or costuming events) really helped me to be ultra-productive. I've always worked best under a deadline, and this year there were a lot!
  2. Chances to dress up: Call me a big kid, but I really, really, really like getting to wear a costume. It got to the point where if there was anything remotely costume-permitting (movies, and not even midnight showings! school spirit days! going to a museum!), I was all over it. I don't know what it is about pretending to be someone else, but as an introvert, it's one of the few times I like being the center of attention. Even when I made "normal" clothes this year, they tended toward the costume-y, like my Carmen Sandiego coat or my Slytherin bolero
Top 5 Goals for the New Year:
  1. Continue not buying RTW if I can help it: In 2013 I only bought 5 items: leggings, a fleece thermal top, a cardigan, and socks. Mostly these things strike me as not being worth the hassle of making them myself, or because I don't know how to knit (yet). The fleece top was something I could have made myself, but I was in a hurry to get something warm to wear under Thranduil since it was a midnight showing in December, and I didn't have time to make something. Leggings, I do want to attempt this year, since Cake Patterns released the Espresso
  2. Continue not acquiring stash if I can help it. Now that I'm in the habit of shopping my stash, I want to keep going! More on this to come. 
  3. Make more pants. Making jeans has been in my sewing resolutions for a couple years now, and there's really no reason not to, now that I've perfected my pants block. This is especially urgent now that my two favorite pairs of jeans have started developing holes. 
  4. Make difficult things in a sustainable way. Prior to 2013, I didn't really sew anything that required prolonged attention; I was churning out dresses like a machine, each requiring about 5 hours. Now that I've had a chance to sink my teeth into some really involved projects (like the shieldmaiden dress, wedding dress and pirate outfit), I find that I enjoy these multi-part outfits that take a whole work week to complete. I still want to make a complete rococo outfit, Victorian outfit, and Titanic evening gown, but doing so will be a challenge this year between school and school. I tend to work best when I have a huge block of uninterrupted time, like four straight days of sewing, because mentally detaching and re-entering the real world is really difficult for me. Sewing in short bursts is more sustainable for my current life stage, but it will be a challenge mentally, since I tend to think "oh I only have an hour, so I might as well just waste it on Pinterest."
  5. Make more things for other people. I didn't sew anything for Mr. Cation this year, despite making it a resewlution last year. I did sew a wedding dress for my best friend, a couple of things for my sister, and some plushies for others, but I want to do better. I don't really need to make more clothes for myself, and even though I'm sure I will anyway, I want to make it a bit more balanced. My mom wants me to make pants for her, and Mr. Cation needs a nice wool coat, and I still want to perfect a shirt block for him. We'll see if that happens. 

Phew! That's a lot of reflecting! And the reminiscing isn't quite over yet, because I've still got my stats of 2013 to show: 

Compared to last year, number of garments sewn (37 total) has decreased significantly in most categories, except for costumes, headgear (costumes require matching bonnets, turbans, and hats!), and outerwear. (There were definitely less squids and bow ties for cats, which obviously needs to be rectified in 2014.) I used less of my own patterns, but increased in my use of non-Big-4 patterns. In lieu of vintage patterns, I opted for using historical instructions to create patterns to fit me, so that's not quite my own pattern, but also not quite the same as a pre-printed pattern. I went back to sewing with wovens, mostly because stretch fabric is inappropriate for historical and/or fantasy garments, but when I used wovens for everyday clothing, a significant portion of it was either a stretch woven or cut on the bias, allowing for less closures than in previous years.

Other stats:
  • The average time spent per garment approximately doubled, from about six and a half the previous year, to about twelve hours in 2013. Most of this was due to the fact that I was making so many complex costumes, and of course the wedding dress and pirate coat pulled the average up a lot. The amount of time spent sewing overall decreased slightly, from 491 to 447 hours. 
  • The average cost per garment increased from $6 to $10. This doesn't include the wedding dress, because hello, wedding dress. Again, the increase is mostly because of involved costumes that require yards of trim or lots of buttons. Without factoring in the wedding dress, my me-made clothing (and costumes) this year cost $369, but 2/3 of that was materials already in the stash, so it wasn't actually money leaving my wallet. 
  • I sewed a total of 108.5 yards of fabric into garments this year, averaging 3 yards per garment.
  • I continued sewing with non-traditional yardage, using over a dozen sheets, a tablecloth, and a placemat. 
  • I participated in many more sewing community events: the Historical Sew Fortnightly (despite petering out in the second half of the year, I still completed 12 items!), Jungle JanuarySew Grateful Week, a sewing challenge with GingerMakes, the Sew Weekly Reunion, Red October, pattern testing for Lolita Patterns (while not really an event, it was fun knowing that other ladies were sewing the same thing, albeit secretly), and of course, the Stashbusting Sewalong!
  • Not sewing output related, but I took my first "official" sewing classes! I didn't get to do too much sewing in the latter half of the year due to being a student again, but I learned loads (and I hope you did too)! You'll be pleased to know that I got straight As this semester in both textiles and pants. Actually, you probably don't care, but hey, 4.0 is a number and this is a list of numbers. 

Whew, that's a lot of tallying and calculating. If you've read this far, thanks! And if you're just here for the pictures, like previous years, I've collected all of my finished garments of 2013 here. Unfortunately, I'm not fancy enough to have them be clickable links to the original post...sorry :(

We also have several sewn non-garments:

And now, to wrap up this absurdly long post, let's talk about the Stashbusting Sewalong. When I look over my original list, I didn't use up even half of the yardage I hoped to use, but I did end up using other stash fabric that hadn't been listed. Actually, 29 of my 37 garments utilized stash fabric, using up $248 in the form of 74 yards of fabric. I had originally listed about 70 yards of fabric, so I think I can still call this year a success! Of course, let's not think about how many more hundreds of yards I've got stashed...

EmSewCrazy and I have plans to continue this challenge in 2014, but it'll likely take a different form...stay tuned for more information! In the meantime, how have you done with your pledges? Leave a comment telling me how many items you sewed from stash fabric, and how many yards of stash you busted. We're planning on some fun little prizes for the most successful stashbusters!