Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mommy & Me Mulan Cosplay

When I was a very little girl, I loved Disney princesses. When I (jokingly) complain about rereading Spooky Pookie to my kids for the bazillionth time, my dad likes to remind me that when I was two or three years old, Cinderella was my favorite and I requested that he read the storybook basically every night for the longest time. The Little Mermaid was the first movie I saw in theaters, and I still remember singing "Part of Your World" in the shower for an embarrassingly long time afterwards. When Beauty and the Beast came out when I was eight, I instantly identified and fell in love with bookworm Belle. Feisty, spirited Jasmine the year after was everything I wished I could be, and who doesn't want a pet tiger? I proudly wore my Belle and Jasmine sweatshirts in fourth grade but was teased for it, and after that I eschewed all Disney princesses. They were too dependent on men, I told myself, and fairytale romances weren't real and besides, other than Jasmine, they were all so...white.

It wasn't until high school, when Mulan came out, that Disney wooed me back. My mom had told me stories of Fa Mulan the warrior heroine, but I never expected to see a Chinese story told on the big screen. Even though her story was set in ancient China, Mulan disappointing her father and wiping half her matchmaker make-up off while singing "Reflection" was *me* as a Chinese-American girl failing math, dropping out of AP Physics and piano, and taking Creative Writing and art classes instead. Every time I hear the Lea Salonga version of that song (never the Christina Aguilera one!), I'm instantly transported back to wrestling with what it means to be Chinese and American, wondering if I can honor my parents while still carving my own path. All that to say, Mulan has always meant a lot to me. #representationmatters, y'all.

Once I discovered cosplaying, I knew there were certain costumes I definitely wanted to make: Belle, Jasmine, and Maleficent, but the dream was always Mulan's outfit from when she saves the emperor from Shan Yu. I'm grateful for Disney putting a heroine who looks like me in their princess line-up, but I've always been scornful of their choice to highlight her matchmaker outfit, which is the most patently unemblematic of the character! Also, I look terrible in pink and light green (her ending outfit, which is also featured heavily), so blues and maroons near my face it is! I decided to try to make this outfit in time for my fourth Silicon Valley Comic Con, since I've always wanted to do a Disney princess cosplay at a con and I'm not comfortable wearing my Slave Jasmine at such a venue. Conveniently, I had all the necessary colors of fabric in my stash: light and dark blue sweatshirt knit remnants from my raglan sleeve sweatshirts, maroon poly-cotton leftover from Ballister Blackheart's cape, pink rayon challis stockpiled as underlining for sheers and laces, and of course I have a whole bunch of thrifted white sheets. Now obviously none of these are historically accurate for ancient China, but then Mulan's outfits in the movie are kind of all over the place too...I'd rather be economical and green instead of running out to buy more new fabric. Bonus: knit fabric on top means that this costume is super comfortable and not restrictive at all, which was very important as I ended up taking my two year old daughter with me to SVCC by myself, and wrestling toddlers requires all the mobility I can get!

This is the only full-length photo I have of the outfit, taken after I got home, and I'm sweaty and tired and didn't realize the sash got flipped to the side :(

In deciding to depart from historical and/or screen-accuracy, I felt freed to go with very costume-y construction and design choices. The base bodice was just my knit t-shirt sloper with slashed and spread sleeves to make them appropriately blouse-y and rectangular cuffs at the end. To make it look more "princess-y," and flattering, I opted to make a full-length 3/4-circle skirt out of an old sheet, which has a bonus of being very washable! Very important for a white skirt at a dirty convention center.  The waistband of the skirt is a wide piece of elastic and that closes with flat hooks and bars, and I didn't even bother with a zipper or any kind of placket on the skirt since it'll be hidden under the top. Instead of going for a tabard over the top, I decided to make things easier for myself and just a make a wrap top, rather than futzing with how far to the side it should extend and how to make things stay in place. The bottom portion of the wrap top ended up being more of a peplum than a skirt since I was running out of fabric. This ended up working out since the shorter length better accommodates the fullness of the wrap skirt.

Not the greatest picture, but it gives you an idea of the general shapes of the different pieces. The maroon waist wrap was just a 34"x6" rectangle. 
For the sash, I didn't want a big lump know where it was tied together, so I interfaced a 3" tube that was long enough to go around my waist, then attached another 50"x3" tube (un-interfeaced, to keep the flowiness) perpendicularly at the end. The whole thing was secured with hooks and bars, then the top layer of the sash could just flip down to cover up the closures. You can get a better feel for how it was put on in my first photo where my sash got accidentally flipped to the side. 

Now that I have a daughter, I've had to go back and think a lot about what I want to expose her to in terms of princess media. I read this rather concerning article from NPR about how girls around the world have been raised on such a diet of Disney princesses that they default to drawing the early white princesses. I was fortunate to grow up in a predominantly ethnically Chinese area of San Francisco, so I didn't actually feel "othered" much growing up, and somehow I managed to really notice until much later how few princesses of color there are in the Disney pantheon, but I think I'm an anomaly in the general Asian-American experience. I don't want to leave SHB#2's experience to chance, to so for now I'm opting to not show her any princess media at all. That said, I couldn't resist making her a matching outfit since I still had fabric left and toddler clothes are such a good way to use up remnants. Instead of making her two separate pieces for the top, I opted to just make her a wrap top but use the light blue knit to make long sleeves in order to give a layered look without the bulk. Her gathered rectangular skirt is just an old undershirt from Mr. Cation that's had the top half cut off, and I even used the elastic from a pair of his old boxers: how's that for the ultimate green costume?

The first thing she did upon getting to the con was bite into a cherry tomato and spray seeds and juice all over herself. And here I thought I was being such a good mama in packing healthy least her top was dark enough that the stain weren't obvious. 

If you think finding appropriate shoes for cosplay is hard for adults, it's even more ridiculous for toddlers. They have OPINIONS about how sparkly their shoes need to be and their feet grow so fast! Hence the pink glitter jellies.

Fabric: lots of poly-cotton, in both knit (light blue and navy blue) and sheet (maroon trim and waist wrap, white circle skirt) form, some dusty rose rayon challis for the sash.
Notions: 3" white elastic for the skirt waistband, lots of hooks and bars for the skirt and sash closures. I used some pale pink piping from my stash between the maroon trip and the navy blue body; light blue would've been more screen accurate but I couldn't be bothered to make new piping when I already had yards of this other stuff. The wrap top and the waist wrap piece are both held in place with hidden safety pins. The part of the sash that goes around my waist is interfaced, and the neckline of the undershirt and the armholes of the wrap top are finished with bias tape.
Props: For the crest of the emperor, I got mine 3D-printed with this free file, and then I sanded and painted it with acrylic paints and sealed it with a matte polyurethane varnish. For SHB#2's crest, I woodburned a little wooden gift tag that I had in the stash and then painted and sealed it in the same way. The color is slightly different on hers because of the light beige of the wood versus the dark gray of the 3D-print plastic. For the hair clip, I made mine out of Crayola Model Magic (petals), cardboard (leaves), and gold head pins, all hot-glued to a plastic hair comb and judicious colored with markers. SHB#2's hair clip was a standard child's white flower hair clip that I added rhinestones and a green fabric leaf to, and again colored with markers. 

The 3D print was generously done for free for me by one of the members of the SheProp! FB community. If you're a female-identifying or nonbinary person who wants a safe, welcoming space to ask prop-making questions, this is an amazing, knowledgeable group that is such a far cry from the toxic masculinity of the RPF. 

And here are SHB#2's accessories! The sword is made from a paint stir stick and chopsticks and tape, but we ended up not bringing it with us because of the con's prop weapons policy. 

Hours: I didn't really keep track, but this was an easy costume to make, fitting wise, so both pieces took maybe a few weeks of naptimes. Knits are forgiving and the skirts are so voluminous that it's easy to just sew without having to stop for a lot of fittings. The most tedious part was all the circle skirt hemming. The knits I didn't bother to hem at all.
How accurate is it? I think it's very recognizably Mulan's outfit, even if the light blue could've been more teal and less periwinkle, plus the design differences described above.
Total cost: Literally everything was from my stash, so essentially free (in the present day)! In the past, the knits were inherited from a friend's destash and the the sheets couldn't have been more than a few dollars each, so even counting past costs, the whole thing was definitely less than $10. Pretty sure that's the most Chinese thing about this, is how cheap it was...j/k.

She's blurry because she was bouncing up and down in excitement. 

We had a good time at SVCC together, after the initial awfulness of standing in lines for over an hour. It was so fun to have people see me and be like, "Oh cool, Mulan!" and then see SHB#2 in the stroller and start squealing "AND THERE'S A BABY MULAN TOO!!!" Once she got used to the con atmosphere, SHB#2 was totally eating up all the attention and by the end of the day was proclaiming herself to be cute. She didn't want to leave, but as soon as we got into the car and onto the freeway, she totally conked out after the excitement of the morning (and early afternoon, since we didn't leave until 2:30 pm, well after her usual naptime). I still want to get some more pictures of the both of us in our costumes; one of the downsides to going without another adult was that I didn't get any full-length shots of just the two of us. I am grateful, however, for the generosity of Gloria and Mike of In the Long Run Designs for squeezing in a few photos of us in their shooting schedule!

I decided that the slightly frazzled, hair-flyaways-galore look is appropriate for having theoretically just climbed onto a roof and battled Shan Yu. 

I adore my (both literally and figuratively) cheeky little girl.

I'm so happy to have these photos to commemorate our little date, even if she doesn't look quite as thrilled! 

Friday, August 9, 2019

I Left With A Quilt, I Came Back With A Quilt (Or Four)

So ummm, last time I blogged, I was very pregnant and had just finished a quilt for SHB#2...two years later I have birthed the SHB#2, made a whole bunch of random things (plushies! a tiny hut on chicken legs! art! more than 250 nativity figurines!) and a few costumes. Due to said SHB#2, who is less inclined to play by herself than SHB#1, I've opted to do save my me-time for making things instead of blogging, relying on Instagram to quickly document most of my finished projects. I do miss the more detailed, longer form of blog entries though, and always meant to get back into it. Now that the new school year is starting and I have cosplays to finish before SVCC next weekend, this is the perfect time to procrastinate with a blog entry, y/y?

Since my sewing area is accessible to the kids, and I don't really need more clothes (more on that later), I haven't done much sewing until recently, when SHB#2 got old enough to (kind of) understand that she needs to leave Mommy's things alone. And even then, I was so brain-dead most of the time, I couldn't handle complicated things like fitting or figuring out new patterns, so I've defaulted to making quilts, which are not easy per se, but at least once I have the pieces laid out, it's more or less mindless sewing of straight(ish) lines.

I made this from florals that I inherited from the school drama teacher's mother-in-law's stash. All straight lines, and can you tell that I really didn't think too hard about the placement of my blocks?

I mean, look at how haphazard all the piecing on the backing is!

After the stashbusting quilt, I made a few quilts for important babies in my life:

Very simple, vaguely sportsball field-esque look. 

A dear friend's baby had a difficult start in life, spending time in the NICU and then working hard to recover for the first year of his life, but now he is a healthy, thriving boy who outweighs my own little girl, despite being almost a year younger! Maybe one day he will play sportsball for one of his parents' alma maters, you know, because the quilt I made him is so inspiring...j/k.

The back was fleece (no batting inside, since San Diego weather doesn't require a lot of warmth).
 I'm glad the school colors don't clash. 

Another dear friend had her third daughter, and I wanted that little girl to have something special of her own that wasn't a hand-me-down from her older sisters, so I made a Harry Potter and Star Wars mashup quilt so that she would have both of her parents' fandoms to wrap her in love. And then because those are also two of my big fandoms, I made an almost identical one for SHB#2. Like her big brother, Chewbacca is her first favorite SW character (SHB#1 has since moved on to Darth Vader, mostly because his lightsaber is red), so she enjoys pointing him out.

This was a challenge to design (even though it's all just rectangles) because so many SW fabrics are so dark, and HP fabrics are so bright, so to put them together in one quilt and have it look somewhat cohesive was tricky. I'm inordinately pleased with what I came up with!

This is the back of the one I kept. The one I gifted had a border of Hogwarts house crests instead of the spaceship blueprints shown here. All of these licensed character fabrics are from Joann's. 

And lastly, one of my college friends struggled with infertility for many, many years, so when she found out she was expecting, I knew I had to make something for her baby. She and her husband are huge LOTR nerds (they previously attended my LOTR birthday party and her husband won the trivia contest), so I wanted to incorporate that somehow into a quilt that also illustrated their story. While googling LOTR-themed quilts, I came across this amazing art quilt, but I knew I wouldn't be able to replicate something like that, nor would it really be baby-friendly. More googling of landscape quilts yielded this one, which seemed much more doable with its pieced strips (yay straight lines!). I decided to try to combine these two ideas to make my own take on an "Into the West" quilt; the more I thought about it the more I was set on it as the perfect representation of their journey. They had walked through the wasteland of Mordor in their quest for a biological child, and now after all that exhaustion, they were finally getting to sail into the west, into the rest and peace and hope of the Undying Lands. Not that having a newborn baby is at all as restful as I imagine Valinor to be, but you get the idea.

I had purchased a sizable lot of quilting cottons in various colors a year ago from somebody else's destash (some of the pieces were used to make up the rainbow blocks in the HP/SW quilts), and I tried to use those as much as possible in this quilt. I figure elves and hobbits would be all about being green and not purchasing new fabrics, right? The only new fabrics I had to buy were some browns for the cliffs and the backing fabric. Anyway, I started by laying out my fabrics in a semblance of the final image, then I got to all the tedious cutting and sewing of sky and water strips.

I initially wanted to have hobbit boles at the bottom, hence all the green bits. After doing some measuring, though, I realized it would end up being too long of a quilt for its width. 

Figuring out the cliffs and greenery was more fun and challenging. I wasn't sure how to attach them, so after more googling I treated them as appliques, folding the edges under and hand-stitching them down. The little boat was done the same way, but I interfaced the pieces since they were so tiny and fiddly to work with.

I chose a neutral gray, vine-y backing fabric; I wanted a fabric with some kind of busy pattern to disguise my inevitable quilting errors, and vines seemed appropriate for the elvish theme of the front. For the binding I went with a plain solid navy blue since I figured the edges would get dirty fastest and I didn't want to take away from the design. The quilting was all sort of haphazardly done; I didn't mark any of my lines beforehand and just sort of sewed with a vague plan in mind. I think it turned out pretty well, all things considered. One day I'll take a quilting class and figure out how to do things the real way instead of just winging everything...

This quilt took a month's worth of nighttimes and naptimes, but since AP exams were over it was mostly a relaxing way to wind down after a hard school year. We were even able to make it down to San Diego as an entire family to deliver it in person at their baby shower; it was gratifying getting to watch them unwrap it. This is why I'll probably only ever make quilts for people I love a lot -- I don't think most people would be willing to pay for the hours and hours it takes to make one, but this is the best way I know how to show how much I care. I may not be a baby person, but I'll be a sewing-for-your-baby person as long as it's my idea and not an outrageous request that belongs on @canyousewthisforme!

These last two pictures taken by the mom-to-be's sister.