Sunday, April 26, 2015

The LOTR Symphony: A Costume Extravaganza Weekend!

We interrupt your regular stream of SHB Sew-along posts with a special newsflash about the Lord of the Rings Symphony! (Actually, can it really be called a newsflash if my report is a week late? Ah well, I blame the upcoming AP exams and SHB. Always convenient for an excuse, the latter.)

I've seen the LOTR Symphony twice before, but that was 1) several years ago, 2) before I knew how to sew/make costumes, and 3) just select pieces played from the soundtrack in a standard three hour-ish long concert. When I first found out about the Symphony Silicon Valley's three concert, play-along-live-to-the-movies extravaganza, I knew right away that I had to go to all three and dress up. After all my sadness about the movies being over and done with, it was one last chance to be immersed in the world of Middle Earth with other equally enthusiastic fans. Well, the concert series took place last weekend and it was everything I ever wanted. The music itself was incredible, of course; Howard Shore's score is a masterpiece and the musicians deserve all the props for learning that much music and performing it so perfectly over the course of three very long concerts. But this is not a music reviewing blog, it's a record of my creative output, so let's recap the costumes instead!

For Saturday's FOTR concert, since the focus is on introducing hobbits, I pulled out my hobbit maiden costume again, but added a dark green apron for another layer over the skirt. It's a small thing, but I think it really helps to pull it all together. Fashion bloggers (and San Francisco tour books) are always harping on the importance of layering and apparently that applies to hobbits, too.

So excited about the series of concerts I'm about to attend! I love that the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts looks so Rivendell-y in architecture. Okay, they were probably just aiming for Art Nouveau, but then elves are very Art Nouveau

My companions (only two, alas, not eight, and I am not so fortunate in my friends as to have elves and dwarves in my company) were my sister Emily and her boyfriend; they went a decidedly more offbeat route with their costumes:

Can you tell what they are? Travis is the black hole down which Pippin (Fool of a Took!) dropped the bucket and skull in Moria, and Emily is an assortment food from the seven hobbit meals!

A hobbit and her breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. 

A shortcut to mushrooms! Also non-broken carrots, ashless-tomatoes, and some nice crispy bacon! I don't think hobbits had lobster or farfalle pasta, but then IKEA wasn't really aiming for making hobbit meal plush toys, I don't think. 

For Sunday, I decided that if I was going to do this, I would do it right, so I brought two costumes (and a breast pump and freezer bag!) with me so that I could have different outfits for TTT and ROTK. Since we were sitting by the same people, by the time ROTK rolled around, they had definitely noticed that I was crazy enthusiastic with my different outfits for each movie.

I had originally planned to make Arwen's mourning gown for TTT (I even had fabric stashed for it!), but time and SHB got the better of me and it never happened. This just means that there has to be another LOTR event in my future, right? Anyway, I settled for an easier elven look and just added the stereotypical long elven sleeves to an existing floor-length white gown. Drafting the sleeves was easy enough, and I cut them out of white rayon jersey from the stash so that it would be sufficiently flowy without needing a hem. The most difficult part was actually unpicking the old sleeves, which I originally sewed on with a stitch length setting of 1, for reasons unknown to current-day me. Totally worth it, though, because something about those sleeves reads instant elf!

Ideally this would all be silk chiffon instead of polyester and rayon stretch knits, but hey, I'm a low-budget elf. Besides, my elven princess doesn't need to destroy Middle-Earth with dry cleaning chemicals. Also I don't get unsightly wrinkles even after sitting through a three-hour concert. 
Here's what the top part of the sleeve pattern looked like. They ended up being 45" long from the top of the sleeve cap to the bottom and floated beautifully behind me when I walked. 
So swooshy and fun when I'm moving!
I got carried away with flapping my sleeves and realized I could use them the way Zhang Ziyi does in House of Flying Daggers. 

Of course, the whole elven princess look was also helped along tremendously by a lovely delicate wire circlet made by my friend Kristy (Etsy store here, should you wish to order something similar for yourself; she does custom orders). She only had a week to make it (on top of her day job) so I'd say it was pretty great for a rush job!

A close-up of the circlet. The best thing was that it stayed on by itself; no need for bobby pins!
If you thought the stand I had it on was weird, it's because it's a plush octopus (not me-made, though). Even octopi deserve to feel like pretty pretty (elven) princesses?

I loved how swooshily elegant I felt in my Galadriel-esque gown, but I must confess that I was most excited about my ROTK costume. I decided to reprise my very first costume, the Eye of Sauron, which I originally wore for the ROTK midnight showing as a college student. Has it really been that long since these movies came out?! I find it incredible that Emily is older now than I was when these movies came out. She went offbeat again, dressing as the web-bound Frodo, complete with a giant stuffed spider.

Emily made the spider and pinned the white blanket around herself and penguin-waddled up the walkway of the that's dedication!
"Looks like old Shelob has been having a bit of fun!"
Don't worry, I took the eye off before the concert started so that people behind me could see! 
Impromptu shot with other dressed up fans after the show!

The first time I dressed as the eye as an enthusiastic but clueless college student, I was surprised that people kept stopping me for pictures; that was my first experience with the fun of cosplaying and in retrospect that was what got me hooked. This time, things were no different and I could barely get two feet during intermission without being stopped. In fact, many people said it was the best LOTR costume they'd ever seen, which was gratifying, of course, but probably not entirely fair to people who spend hours upon hours making elven armor or hand-embroidering trims. After all, my costume cost less than $10; I merely used Sharpies on a balloon again and used fishing wire to suspend it between two papier-mache horns. Tape and junk mail, that's all I ever use for my costumes!

I used red, orange, gold, and black sharpies to create the flaming eye look.
Nothing says all-seeing evil like a latex sack full of my breath... 
It turns out that plush red sea creatures are just perfect for displaying costume headpieces. I used hair ties to secure the horns to a headband, meaning that I can just reuse it again as a normal headband at a later point if I wish.  
My super low-tech rig for getting the eye to look like it's floating between the horns. 
"The eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened to a pit, a window into nothing." And an adorable red lobster. 

I am so grateful for Mr. Cation being willing to be on duty for so long so that I could enjoy myself.It was hard to be away from SHB for so long but it was so worth it!

I know, I know, I should've dressed him in his hobbit costume (and moved the Duraflame log)...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Geekiest Baby: Clothes for the SHB Sew-Along

High on the excitement of having finished SHB's first real costume, I was able to use that momentum to launch into cake sewing. SHB has an abundance of short-sleeved onesies, but it's still cool enough (even in California, the land of 1.5 seasons) that he needs a few long-sleeved shirts for mornings and nights. And because I can't leave well enough alone, even his utilitarian "cake" ended up geeky.

The Blue Sun logo (from Firefly/Serenity), the baby scientist in training, and the biohazard symbol were all done with fabric marker. The first two were freehand, but the biohazard symbol was done with the help of a freezer paper stencil. The Cheat was fleece applique with lots of careful hand-stitching on the spots. All of them have held up very well in the wash!

I had saved a whole bunch of old free t-shirts from college and teaching that I had originally planned on making into a t-shirt quilt, but on second thought (and with some perspective provided by the intervening years), I realized I'm not actually that sentimental about them. If I'm honest with myself, I only really saved them because I felt like they should be more meaningful than they really are. So once I got over that, I realized I had a whole bunch of free stretchy cotton in lots of colors, already pre-shrunk...perfect for making baby shirts! I tried making one with an envelope neckline but didn't like how it fit on SHB (plus he's always scooting out of them), so I went with snaps at the shoulder instead.

And because I can't leave well enough alone (and because mass-producing tiny shirts is so fast and satisfying and mindless), I even made him a Kumamon sweatshirt to celebrate my sister's birthday. She's the biggest (okay, only) Kumamon fan I know.

I love how he has the same expression as Kumamon's here!

Bonus garment: When I was testing the envelope shoulder concept, I used an old tee that had a faux tux screenprinted on it, which made for a very bizarre-looking romper...

I used this pattern, but ran out of fabric so I had to settle for three-quarter length sleeves. 

Pattern: Traced from an existing shirt, modified to make the shoulder button closure.
Fabric: Six old cotton tee shirts, resulting in four long-sleeve shirts, one romper, and a pair of pants, plus scraps leftover.
Notions: Lots of snaps. I am so pro at sewing snaps now. 
Techniques used: Binding knit necklines? Does that even count as a technique? Setting snaps for the romper, which was a whole ordeal in and of itself. In the end, I found this tutorial to be the most helpful since that was the tool I had on hand.
Hours: Once I got going, I was at about an hour per shirt, not counting the drawing/applique-ing. So with cutting and decorating and all, this was a good ten-ish hours over the course of two weeks. 
Total cost: I paid $5 for the snap kit (I already had the pliers) and $3 for the fabric marker, and the rest of the materials were shirts/scraps I've had for so long, they're basically free. 
Final thoughts: I seriously love these little shirts! It's so fun to have him participate in fandoms that I love, even if he's too young to know about them. I find myself reaching for these shirts first before his RTW shirts, and hoping people get the reference. So far people at school have loved the biohazard and baby scientist ones, but The Cheat and Firefly are probably too obscure. 

I think I got a little carried away with the embellishments...especially considering that SHB won't be able to wear these for very long. Oh well, that's my prerogative, right? Besides, it means that I can stage silly pictures!

Best use of tiny lab equipment: posing it with a tiny scientist! 

I briefly thought about trying to get a picture of SHB in his biohazard shirt with a biohazard container at school, but then I came to my senses.

"The Cheat is grounded! We had that lightswitch installed for you so you could turn the lights on and off, not so you could throw lightswitch raves!"
"Six men came to kill me one time. And the best of 'em carried this. It's a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun."
"This the best gun made by man. It has *extreme* sentimental value...I call it Vera."

So that takes care of Category 1 of the sew-along! Next up, Category 2: Accessories. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Geekiest Baby: My Little Hobbit

It is the curse of younger siblings that they always get the older sibling's hand-me-downs. Not that I would know what that's like, being an eldest child myself. And not that my sister would know what that's like either, being so much younger than me; in the seven years between my birth and hers, my mom had plenty of time to discard and donate my old things. Although the same number of years separates Walnut and SHB, he has no such luck. When Walnut decided that he wasn't a fan of the cat house that my sister painstakingly crafted for him two Christmases ago, we put it in the garage and saved it for SHB to play with once he got old enough to enjoy it. And by "enjoy", I mean "forced to take pictures in front of it to satisfy mom's geeky fancies."

In the spirit of the SHB Sew-Along, I decided to finally get back behind my sewing machine and make something, anything really. While I know what SHB really needs is more pants and pajamas, I also knew that the thought of such utilitarian sewing wasn't going to be enough to get the sewjo going after a month-long sewing standstill. So I did what I always do to get the creative juices flowing: I made a costume. And because I'm just a huge dork, I went for -- big surprise -- a Middle Earth-related costume. This outfit is based on Bilbo Baggins' first costume, when he has his ridiculous good morning exchange with Gandalf.

I realize, of course, that he should really have a pipe instead of the One Ring, but I don't want to encourage smoking. Also I don't have a wooden pipe.

I'm pretty pleased that I had a fabric in the stash that was vaguely similar to his waistcoat pattern! 

I actually started sewing the vest while I was still on maternity leave, but got stalled by a combination of the four month sleep regression and being undecided on how to finish the vest. The thought of doing bias binding around those tiny little armholes was just too much at the time. Well, the sleep regression never went away, but somewhere in those dark watches of the night my sleep-deprived brain hit upon a solution: if I had to make a long-sleeve onesie to go underneath the vest anyway, why not just combine the two and put the long sleeves on the vest? Then I wouldn't have to worry about an ugly armhole binding showing and it would be one less piece to make (and subsequently wrangle onto my little wannabe-nudist). So it's not really a vest anymore, which is fine. It does show, though, that the costume was conceived and cut when SHB was half his current age, because look at how short it is on his torso!

Good thing you can't really tell when he's sitting.

Confession: the dark green leggings are standard RTW baby clothes, which means there's a dinosaur appliqued onto the butt. Very unhobbit-like. Good thing you can't see it when he's sitting. Moral of the story: make sure your baby hobbit is sitting. Fortunately, he just started being able to sit independently in the last two weeks!

Testing the One Ring's composition by biting it...nope, not gold. 

Pattern: Traced a bodice+sleeve "sloper" from his RTW clothes and heavily modified to get the vest and poofy sleeves.
Fabric: A fat quarter for the vest, and old t-shirts for the sleeves and scarf
Notions: Two gold plastic buttons, velcro, a tiny piece of bias tape
Hours: 2.5-3? Spread out over last November and this past week
Will you make it again? No, but I will definitely keep using his "sloper" for more garments, I'm sure!
Total cost: Everything was stash and/or given to me, so basically free!
Final thoughts: Um, I might love this the best of any costume I've made. Actually no, who am I kidding, that title is reserved for Thranduil. Or Eowyn. Or my pirate coat. But this is a close fourth!

Really, Mommy? Just fourth?

I'm pretty sure I took over a hundred pictures on my phone because SHB is so cute (and so wiggly), so indulge me as I spam you with more.

Hmm, what's this? A ring? 
You say it's a magic ring? Hahahahahaha you're so funny. That's nonsense! Great joke, but April Fool's Day was last week. 
You say mysterious writing appears on it? A secret that only saliva can tell?
Well that's easy enough to disprove. Here, I'll saliva it up right now.
Nothing's happening, right? 
Great Bullroarer Took, there ARE runes appearing on it!!!
My Black Speech is rusty, but it looks like it says "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them..." 
Sigh...I guess it has to be destroyed now, huh? Phooey. 

He has to love Tolkien now, right?

(Also, extra geek points to me for finishing this in time to post on April 12, the actual day that Gandalf arrives in Hobbiton to tell Frodo the truth about the One Ring!)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

SHB Sew-Along: Baby Accessories Inspiration

If you're planning on sewing along with Mikhaela, Clio, and I, hopefully you've had a chance to think about (or even start!) what you're going to make. We've already shared some clothing inspiration posts, so I thought I'd share a little about what I've done for the second category, baby accessories. There are quite a few free tutorials out there for a variety of bibs, burp cloths, mobiles, toys, and such (here's an excellent collection of links), and it can quickly get overwhelming. When I was on summer break last year and in my third trimester, I aimlessly made a whole bunch of stuff without knowing how useful it would be, so I thought now would be a good time to share what I've found to be actually worth making.

In no particular order:
  1. PUL changing pad: unused. I got two changing pads at my baby showers, both of which are lighter weight and fold up smaller. I may eventually take mine apart to reuse the PUL. For the amount of time I spent trying to get everything lined up and keeping the layers from shifting, it was one of the biggest wastes of time.
  2. Bibs: used once. SHB had a super drooly period where he was going through bibs like no other, but of course, as soon as I made him more, the drool stopped. Even now that he's teething, there isn't any drool. Still, they're easy enough to make (and personalize!) that I would do it again.
  3. Pacifier clip: moderately useful, although not for pacifiers. SHB doesn't do pacifiers, but the clips are still useful for keeping his toys off the floor when he's in his stroller or high chair. 
  4. Car seat cover: very useful. I used this tutorial to make a zippered cover and I love being able to open it part-way to keep an eye on him. I made mine out of leftover sheets from this dress and this skirt, but if I were to do it again, I'd make it out of a more light-blocking material, and possibly a more water-resistant one as well. There have been a number of times that we've been caught in the rain and cotton sheets don't do as well as say, fleece. 
  5. Baby toys: taggie, lovey, shark: very useful. SHB loves sucking on the various appendages of the shark, especially. Good thing hammerheads have so many bits that stick out? (dorsal fin, other fins, tail fins, and the two eye stalks) The lovey is actually the least popular, possibly since it's a little large for him to handle right now. 
  6. Crib sheets: very useful. Paying $16 for sheets is silly when it's so easy to make your own. I used donated fabric so mine were free! My only regret is that I used cotton jersey, reasoning that it would be more soft and cozy, but I've observed SHB grabbing them and pulling them up...not enough to be a suffocation hazard, but enough that there are weird bagged out sections. Next time, I'm going to use a cotton woven. 
  7. Quilts: extremely useful. I was actually afraid at first that they wouldn't be useful since we were gifted so many baby blankets...but I quickly learned that baby blankets are quite tiny, and once SHB hit the 3-month mark he was too big for them. Right now, we mostly use the quilts as floor mats since he's not supposed to have blankets in his crib, but I'm holding out hope that he chooses one of them to be his special blankie one day. 
  8. Mobile: only vaguely useful for a very short amount of time. SHB quickly got bored with seeing the same shapes all the time. Granted, he's a very active baby and generally prefers to interact with things/people instead of passively watch, so that might just be a personality thing. 
  9. Reusable wipes: extremely useful. Because babies have a lot of bodily excretions. Mine are just a layer of flannel (my old pajamas) and a layer of jersey (my old sheets) sewn together into squares, but we use them all the time. 
  10. Nursing pads: extremely useful. I was gifted some Bamboobies, which get pretty good reviews, but they just weren't as comfortable or absorbent as my homemade nursing pads. Mine are just three layers of flannel and one layer of fleece circles zigzagged at the edges, no fancy darts or anything, but they get the job done and are fairly invisible under my clothes. Some people have had issues with reusable nursing pads leading to thrush, but *knock on wood* so far that hasn't been a problem for me. 

I've also been able to figure out what things I wish I'd sewn (and am going to try to sew for the sew-along):
  1. Suck pads for my Ergo carrier: I didn't realize they were a thing until SHB started sucking on the Ergo straps all the time. I started googling solutions that didn't involve washing the Ergo all the time and discovered the booming Etsy trade in suck pads. I'm partial to this design since it offers more coverage than the standard rectangular kind. 
  2. Boppy pillow cover: I used it for nursing and tummy time when SHB was still small and floppy, and now I use it to cushion his falls when he practices sitting. It's gotten a lot of use and while I try to spot clean it as best as I can, it really needs a washable cover. Since I don't already have a cover to trace, I'm going to try to improvise by just tracing the outline of my pillow and adding a couple inches like this tutorial.
  3. Fabric basket: There are so many small-ish items that accumulate once you have a baby, and I feel like I need containers to, well, contain them all so they don't just take over my house! This tutorial looks easy enough and would be a good way to use up scrap fabric. 
  4. Small soft toys: Okay, SHB doesn't really need anymore of these, but they're so fun to make!
After all, look how much fun he's having!
Incidentally, is anyone interested in a pattern for my hammerhead shark plushie?

Since I was stashbusting when I made most of my accessories, I didn't end up with a very coordinated look. If you've got the energy and resources, you can always go for a specific color scheme, theme or motif for your collection. For more ideas, check out the links on our Pinterest board, then hop on over to our Flickr group to share your goals!

Friday, April 3, 2015

SHB Sew-Along: Baby Boy Inspiration

When I first found out I was pregnant, I was not-so-secretly hoping for a girl. After all, I'm a female oldest child, so I thought it would be cool to share that with my kid, and I had all sorts of ideas for making adorable geeky (non-pink) clothing. Well, now that I have my little boy, I can't even imagine what it would be like to not have a son! He's such a little personality, and I'll be honest, I'm a sucker for all the dinosaurs and sea-life that's ubiquitous on baby boy clothing (not such a fan of all the dogs and monkeys, but you can't win 'em all). Still, it would be nice to have some diversity in his clothing (more geeky things! more cats!), which is part of the reason why I'm hosting this sew-along with Mikhaela and Clio. They've already shared baby girl and neutral/unknown gender clothing inspiration, so I'm here to wrap up the clothing inspiration series with some fun ideas for boys. Although to be honest, most of these would work for girls too!

There are lots of free patterns out there for onesies, shirts, pants, and rompers out there (check out our Pinterest board for more), and most are pretty quick makes, so that leaves you with more time to think about customization. I'm a fan of these fun fabric combinations:

You can do solids+stripes, different size stripes, different colors, and pockets and plackets in different fabrics.

The nice thing about doing different fabrics for sleeves vs. body is that you can use up even the teeny tiny scraps in your stash. You can also use the small pieces for appliques (elbow patches and knee patches have a soft spot in my heart):

Make formal wear by adding a faux vest front and bow tie, or add an applique in unexpected ways (on the side! not animal-related! a monster face!).

And if you're more into doodling than sewing around lots of tiny curves and corners, you could always make a plain tee or onesie and have at it with fabric markers:

Even if you're not good at drawing, you can always print out some line-art and transfer it to your shirt for tracing. I've had the most success with these Tee Juice markers in terms of holding up to repeated washing (used on multiple projects, like the cat face sweatshirt, my Star Wars tee and (he)art dress). Or you could always go with iron-on transfers, like Mikhaela did.

If you've got a particular fandom, this would be a great way to add some geeky quotes, regardless of your baby's gender:

I'm partial to the LOTR ones, of course...looks like it's time to sew up some plain onesies! And according to our Flickr group discussions, I'm not the only LOTR-obsessed mama/sewist. Join us over there to share what you're planning on making!