Halloween: Some Little Girls Never Quit Playing Dress-Up

My mom never got us store-bought costumes. Some we would assemble from garage sale treasures, some my mom would make, but most we assembled from things laying around the house. My mom’s favorite was a dinosaur costume she made for me from an old vellux blanket when I was about 4. My personal favorite was “bubble gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe” at age 20.

When I was a kid, I loved playing dress-up. My sisters and I had a big dress up bin where we kept all our toys and accessories. My last vestige of childhood play was getting dressed up or dressing up my barbies with my little sister, then getting bored and end the game. Then I “grew up” and like all the other 7th graders left “play” behind. Or so I told myself…

Here’s the truth: most little girls never really grow up. They stop playing dress up and go to the mall to dress up “for real” with clothes they don’t intend to buy. They flip through magazines and images on the internet, thinking of things they’d like to wear. They play with hair and makeup, frequently trying out a style at home where they can practice a technique before wearing it out in public. They convince themselves that this is what “grown ups” do, and continue to tell themselves that throughout life. Prom? The biggest Dress-Up Game of high school.

I have always gone all out for costume contests and formals. As I was developing “my style” as a teenager, I would find the most outlandish outfits at thrift stores and wear them for the shock value. 1950’s house dress with combat boots: check. 1970’s bubble gum pink formal to school dance: check. Denim skirt, yoda t-shirt and skate shoes as Sunday Best: check. I’ve had a different cut or color hair every 3-6 months since I was 12. People used to ask my mom why she let me go to church dressed like that, to which she responded “she’s out of bed, she’s covered, I pick my battles.”

Then I grew close to a dear mentor, who is my definition of beautiful. B.J. was in her early 70’s and every year had made her more beautiful. She was the Glam Gram, with loud animal prints, vibrant colors and rhinestones on her glasses. The difference between her and I was that I wore loud and obnoxious, and she wore loud and classy. Over the years, she gently helped me develop my own personal flair while remaining classy. About 3 1/2 years ago, she passed away from a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. While her death was a blissful release from the pain she felt her last years of life, every time I wear something new and striking, I want to run to her house to show it to her.

The past couple years, I have moved from fan-assembled costumes to homemade cosplay. I had a major dilemma: Which of my costumes should I wear on Halloween? My solution: 3 days of dressing up. Fortunately I have a supervisor who was perfectly okay with that. So here it goes:

Dress-up Day One:
image

Saturday: The Saturday before Halloween is the traditional Party Day.

wpid-IMG_20131026_204220_069.jpg

Saturday, October 26: Steampunk Princess Belle & a Courtesan

wpid-IMG_20131030_155724_192.jpg

Wednesday, October 30: The Entire Sexy Universe

wpid-IMG_20131030_233428_673.jpg

Wednesday, October 30: The aftermath of my updo

wpid-IMG_20131031_110158_839.jpg

Thursday, October 31: Courtesan & her dressed up coworker

wpid-IMG_20131031_124607_996.jpg

Thursday, October 31: A Courtesan and her ‘Rockin escort

wpid-IMG_20131101_144147_734.jpg

Friday, November 1: Marc Ecko Stormtrooper sweater.

wpid-IMG_20131101_144136_727.jpg

Friday, November 1: Once all my Halloween updo’s were over, I chopped off about 5 inches from my hair.

How My Iron Maiden Became a Time Nanny

It was a normal Saturday night, and my normal group of friends were gathered in the kitchen to play Tabletop Games. Daanon had just bought a new one called Evil Baby Orphanage. In the game, some of history’s most villainous individuals are pulled from the time stream, and each Time Nanny (player) must rehabilitate these babies by keeping them together in an orphanage. Babies in the game include Hitler, Genghis Khan, Elizabeth Bathory, Billy the Kid, and many more. The game refers to the players by the name “time nanny”, and at one point my friend Jill said “I keep getting this image in my head of Doctor Who meets Mary Poppins”. I loved the idea, so we immediately started planning her dress!

178-1The following week I met Jill at Joann Fabrics and we picked out a pattern for what we would call the “Steampunk Time Lord Nanny” dress (Butterick B4954). Jill liked the wide skirt rather than the narrow mermaid style one. Living in AZ, though, she was nervous about a jacket. After some creative brainstorming, we decided to make the jacket out of navy blue lace, along with a separate pattern for a Corset-style top. We went to SAS, our local discount fabric store, and found some TARDIS Blue stretch taffeta for $3.99 a yard. We went back to Joann and found navy blue lace with a 40% off coupon.

Jill is a very crafty person. She hand sews Plushies (stuffed animals for you n00bs) and other items, many are featured here. However, she has never learned to sew with a sewing machine. That’s right, every impressive item she’s made was 100% hand sewn. Because of her background in sewing, she quickly learned how to read, lay out and cut out a pattern. The concept of the foot pedal is the same for both driving and sewing, so it is often easier for adults to learn than youth.

IMG_20130908_164949_817

Seam ripping: the bane of my sewing hobby

The seams on the skirt were mostly straight lines, and we got most of it done in one day. This made us falsely optimistic on how long the total project would take, and we set our deadline to have the sewing finished by on October 5. Each year, one chapter of the Firefly fan club the Browncoats hosts a  Browncoats Ball. For 2013, the AZ Browncoats are hosting. Jill and I were quick to buy tickets!

The corset top, though, was a different story. All the womanly curves that make it so attractive meant more complicated sewing and lots of seam ripping… Jill decided that since she would be wearing it to conventions and events, she wanted to skip the boning. The solid color taffeta was pretty much reversible, so we had to be very careful about which piece was front or back, right or left. For some reason, I kept sewing the front center pieces wrong. The first time I sewed the front right to back left. After I ripped that seam, I sewed the front right piece backwards. To let out tension, at one point I shouted “I can’t get your boobs right!” After I sewed a section together, I would ask Jill to press the seam flat for me. At one point, Jill looked at me and announced “Am I your Iron Maiden now?”

IMG_20130916_220038_088

Jill laying out the lace jacket

IMG_20130916_220101_821

Kathy, saving the day!

The lace jacket was probably the most difficult part. Since the inside seems on a lace jacket with no lining are visible, we decided to take our stuff out to my friend’s house in Maricopa (a 35 minute drive) to use her serger. For those who don’t know, a serger automatically trims the edge of a garment as it sews, to avoid frayed and ugly ends common in homemade clothes. I generally cut out a pattern a size larger than necessary to leave room to take it in. This did not work for the jacket, so when Jill tried it on it was ridiculously large. We consulted my friend’s mom, who has a lot more experience than me, and the finished product will look much nicer than Jill or I could have done on our own!  Alas though, we have not finished the lace jacket by our deadline. Jill will be wearing her Tardis Blue skirt & top to the ball, though, that’s an entry for another blog!

the Miss Persephone pageant

inara shrug

From left: Inara, Mal & Sir Warrick Harrow

I have assembled and/or made many costumes over the years. When I was little, my mom did not buy ready-made costumes for us. She would help make or assemble one, depending on our creativity to come up with one. This set me up for life, as I still can’t stand store bought costumes. I’ve worn costumes like “the bubble gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe” (solid pink with a shoe glued to a headband on my head), Mara Jade (assembled from Goodwill finds), Darth Hassenfuhr (a Sith Lord I made up), the entire universe (dress made out of solar system fabric), Hobbit maiden, Pirate / Tavern Wench, and most recently a bounty hunter who specializes in imprisoning Wookiees and selling them into the slavery of the empire. I feel a back story is important for any costume, especially when it’s a generic character I made up.

My sewing skills have been steadily improving lately, so when I heard about the Browncoats Ball hosted in Phoenix this year on October 5, I knew I wanted to do an official cosplay. I had my eye on a few different costumes. In the episode Shindig there is a fancy ball like the one I will be attending. Captain Mal Reynolds accidentally challenges Inara’s date/client to a duel for what he feels is insulting her honor. I thought my date could pull off Sir Warrick Harrow, so I decided to make the purple dress Inara wears at the end of the episode.

M6030

Original pattern, before my modifications

While shopping for my friend Jill’s dress, I also was looking for mine too. I picked out a pattern that was not necessarily my favorite, but on sale for $1… I had to alter the neckline to match Inara’s dress, but otherwise the pattern was reasonably close to Inara’s.

At my local discount fabric store, SAS, I found plum taffeta for $2.99 a yard. I had leftover lining from my purple Tavern Wench dress, so that worked out well. The dress turned out to be pretty simple, with few minor hitches. Sewing the entire dress only took about 4 hours. After that, I just had some accessorizing to do.

 IMG_20130924_205715_051IMG_20130909_221416_628 

IMG_20131001_241533_314

Accessories that will have to do… for now…

Inara’s dress in the movie had subtle sparkle around the neckline. I bought gold fabric paint, but when I tried it on some scrap fabric it didn’t look right. That’s a problem I still have to tackle… The dress has 8 teardrop shaped jewels spaced evenly about 3 inches below the neckline. I found some on Ebay that were relatively inexpensive.

In the episode, she wears an antiqued gold bracelet that widens around the wrist with a jewel at the center, which is attached to a delicate chain that runs up to a matching antiqued gold ring on her middle finger. I ran out of time to order anything online, and couldn’t find an inexpensive replica. I did find a ring that matches a bracelet I already have, so I think I will just wear those until the next time I wear this outfit.

Inara also wears a choker-style necklace with beads that resemble bone or tarnished bronze dropping from the necklace down her decolletage. Again, I ran out of time to order anything online, but I was surprised I couldn’t find beads resembling them at my local craft store. However, I have a really cool brown necklace that is not entirely dissimilar, so I will end up wearing that to the Ball.

And with that, my costume is complete. I still have 2 days before the Ball to do the finishing touches. Until then, my free time will be taken up with beautifying myself & Jill and finishing every last detail!

Easy Modesty Shrug / Shawl / Wrap

It seems that all formal & wedding dresses these days are strapless, spaghetti strap or halters. Fashion choices are frequently limited for women who don’t want to wear these. Several online retailers offer matching jackets, which can look very classy.

Image Image

However, most department stores don’t sell coordinating jackets. If modest women cannot find a coordinating cover (jacket, wrap, shawl, shrug, etc.), they must look for a generic jacket that kind-of goes with the dress. This often looks hasty and unplanned, and it detracts from the beauty of the dress.

ImageImage

Rather than buying a plain black, white or other solid color jacket, as the two pictures above have done, one option is to make one in a coordinating fabric. A solid color dress with a coordinating pattern shawl can add elegance. I greatly admire many Muslim women for combining fashion and modestly with elaborate outfits that coordinate from head to toe (literally)!

Firefly is one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It is a space western done by Joss Whedon, writer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a little thing called The Avengers. Despite the fact that the show was cancelled midway through the first season, the show has steadily grown in fandom over the past 10 years. Their official fan club is called the Browncoats. The Browncoats organizations have two goals: enjoying the company of other Firefly fans and raising money for charities. The Arizona Browncoats are hosting this year’s International Browncoats Ball in Phoenix. I chose to make a cosplay tribute to the elegant Inara for this night. Now, Inara is a professional “Companion”, which is pretty much a high class Courtesan or Geisha. She is not at all worried about modesty, but elegance is not about how much skin you can show. In the episode Shindig, Captain Mal Reynolds accidentally challenges a rich jerk to a duel for what Mal feels is insulting Inara’s honor. Inara wears a plum colored dress to the duel with a gold paisley shrug over it. The dress is for another blog entry, but here was the process for the shrug.

Image

This shawl is so easy, you don’t even need a pattern for it. I started with a rectangle of gold brocade which resembled her fabric. The following guidelines would work for size: S: 60×30, M: 75×30, L: 90×30, XL: 105×30, etc. Keep in mind it is quite oversized, so you may want to estimate lower than your actual size.

Because I chose a Brocade, I had to line it. I found an inexpensive coordinating sheer to line it, and I like the result quite well. It may not need a liner if you choose a sheer or silky fabric. I suggest avoiding slippery fabrics. 😦 It probably took me longer to sew the 4 edges of the lining on than the rest of the project took!

Pin the lining and fabric, pretty sides together. Sew left, top and right lining to fabric. Trim the edges close to the seam. You may consider sewing a second seam close or using an alternating stitch if fabrics are slippery.

ImageTurn fabrics pretty side out and press seams. Press and narrow hem bottom side as close to the seam as you can get it.

Fold the rectangle in half vertically. Press the fold, or mark with chalk at least halfway up. Measure and place a pin 5 inches from the bottom along center line. Measure and place another pin 10 inches from the bottom line.

Image

Pinch the two pins together, right sides facing each other, and pin together on the wrong side of fabric (pretty side of liner). Measure another pin 5 inches from this second fold (15 inches from bottom).

Image

Pinch the three sections together and pin in the same manner as before. The three sections should be barely visible, as seen below.

Image

Fold the bottom line up, right sides facing together, to meet the three sections. You now have 4 sections pinned together, 0″, 5″, 10″ and 15″ from the bottom. Bring bottom right side of fabric to center and pinch in place.

Image

Bring bottom left side of fabric to center and pinch in place. Pin through all 6 layers.

Image

Stitch together all 6 layers. If your sewing machine can handle this, you may want to switch to a heavy duty needle. Mine didn’t fit underneath the foot, so I hand stitched the layers together. Here is the final result:

Image

Image

Here is a sneak peak at the outfit together:

Image

Practice Makes Perfect

I’ve never been big on practicing, so at a certain point, I have abandoned all my creative outlets due to dissatisfaction that things never turn out how I envision. In high school I decided I wanted to learn the piano, and my parents found a piano teacher to give me a few lessons. I graduated from Big Note Piano to Easy – Intermediate, but never really put in the effort to get past there. I played the trumpet & French Horn from 5th-9th grade, but when my mom told me that my band director told her that private lessons wouldn’t help unless I practiced more on my own, I decided I was already working hard enough and the solution was to quit band. I almost took up marching band my Junior year of high school after my friend taught me to play the tuba, but that meant getting up ridiculously early and laziness won out once again. My Freshman year of college I learned the trombone for our little pep band of 20ish people, but yet again, I didn’t practice much and dropped band all together. My Junior year of high school I took Beginning Drawing and Watercolor Painting, and another teacher told my mom that I had raw talent, but I needed to refine it through practice. I kept looking at my art and getting frustrated that it did not come out “right”. Rather than taking more classes and practicing, I dropped art except for a creative burst every once in a while.

A few years ago, I asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. My mom taught me to sew when I was younger, but due to the high cost of fabric & notions, it didn’t seem like a practical skill. The first thing I did with my new sewing machine (fancier than my mom’s, which is older than I am), I made a military-themed quilt for my (then) Active Duty Army Husband. It turned out horrible, but he denied that. After that project was completed, I started making alterations: turning men’s 2XL t-shirts into fitted babydoll T’s, taking pants in when I lost weight (hooray!). In May 2012, I decided to make my first clothing project for Phoenix ComiCon Geek Prom supporting Kids Need to Read. I found a really cool Outer Space theme fabric and a pattern to go with it.  I entered the costume contest as “The Entire F*****g Universe”, but was later told that none of the judges got my joke. Even still, I was hooked. I then made a medieval-style costume for the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Then, I found a new pursuit: purses!

Geek Prom6

Today, I regularly make purses, wallets, clothing and costumes. My rule is generally not to make anything I may be able to find in a store, as it would be cheaper, easier and better quality just to buy it. I’ve found that with each project, I spend less time ripping seams. I think this means that practice yields improvement, which not something I’m very experienced in…