Browncoats Ball 2013: A Mighty Fine Shindig

Just over a year ago, I attended the Arizona Browncoats annual screening of Can’t Stop the Serenity. There, they announced that the annual international Browncoats Ball would be hosted in Phoenix. I instantly knew I had to be there. It’s been a crazy year since then, but after Phoenix ComiCon this year, I went into full sewing mode to get my dress done in time. During this time, my friend came up with a Doctor Who costume idea, so we worked on both of them.

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I attempted to recreate Inara’s costume shown here.

There were so many possibilities for Firefly costumes that I have considered over the years. I think I look closest to Kaylee, so the obvious choice would be her “Layered Cake dress”. I’ve always loved Inara’s elegance, so I’ve long been considering making one of those too. Initially, I had a date, so we decided to go as Sir Warrick Harrow and Inara at the duel in Shindig. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out and I went with Jill instead. But since she went as a female Time Lord, I guess it worked.

The dress I picked out was remarkably easy to make. From start to finish, the whole ensemble cost me about $100. I probably spent under 10 hours total on the empire waist plum taffeta dress. There were dozens of flaws in the sewing, but I’ve learned to stop pointing them out and accept complements. The shawl was even easier, it took only 3 hours. I spent about 1 hour on accessories. I have a pair of gold Clarks ballet flats that are about 7 years old and torn up. I long ago learned the benefits of wearing flats to a dance, so I bought some gold fabric paint and painted them, which worked out great.

The Train Job

The Train Job

Friday night, I went down to the hotel hosting the Ball and helped out a bit, then hung out with some of the other guests/fans there. I sold raffle tickets for a while for some wicked awesome prizes. When I met a group of guys there, they asked if I was doing any deals such as “$1 each, 6 for $5, sell by the cubit”, etc. Sadly I was not authorized, but one guy at the table did agree to buy as many tickets as I was tall. After some stretching and general overacting, we measured that I was 36 tickets tall from the bottom of my boots to the top of my Jane Hat. There was entertainment by Mikey Mason, belly dancers, crafts, a t-shirt contest, and general socializing. After the main portion of the evening ended around 10ish, a group of 10 of us rode the Light Rail to George & Dragon. I was the only person who knew Phoenix well, so I was dubbed “Lovey Local” and it was my job to make sure we didn’t get lost. We didn’t encounter any Alliance on our Train Job, though a group of zombies from First Friday got on the train about halfway to our destination. At first, we were slightly concerned they could be Reavers, but they made no attempts to rape us to death, eat our flesh, nor sew our skins into their clothing. The pub wasn’t too crowded for a Friday night, and we had a great time. Some of us played pool, though there wasn’t any petty theft and getting hit with pool cues. We arrived back at the hotel at 1:45, just in time to walk to Circle K for more beverage. We then headed upstairs to someone’s room to hang out for a while longer. The group gradually broke up, and I left around 4am.

With my friends Jill and Jane at the Ball

With my friends Jill and Jane at the Ball

Saturday, I awoke after about 4 hours sleep to finish some last minute alterations on my dress and put together the jewelry I bought at Michaels. I abbreviated my time to only 2 hours in Uber Girlie mode, but the end result was still perfection. I had volunteered to help out in the “Primping Room”, so at 3:15, Jill and I headed over to the hotel. I should add that we headed over to the hotel with 5 curling irons, 2 flat irons, about 300 bobby pins and an extremely large quantity of makeup. I did a few girls’ hair while Jill got her makeup done and exercised her Iron Maiden duties.

Everyone at the Ball looked great! There were many photos taken, which can be viewed here, here and here, among other places. A very nice buffet was set out and thoroughly questioned by attendees. Sadly, all I could eat was lettuce and tomatoes (stinkin’ allergies). I was also disappointed that the buffet had no mangoes or hot cheese things. The raffle prizes were given away, much to the delight of the winners and sadness of those who lost. There was some fancy dancing and then a Brass Band played the rest of the evening. After getting home, I hung my fancy dress is hanging up just past my bed to gaze upon with happy memories.

Bell tower at Taliesin West

Bell tower at Taliesin West

Sunday morning general activities were planned at the hotel and then the group took a trip to the Pueblo Grande museum. I tried to talk 3 others into going to my favorite local restaurant, Nourish. To strengthen my suggestion, I mentioned that Taliesin West was located somewhat close to it, which sealed the deal. We stopped off at In-N-Out on our way there, officially because the two East Coast people in our group didn’t get that chance very often. Unofficially, I wanted to go there because it’s the only fast food I can eat. After that quick stop, we were off to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winter home. It was worth the $32-36 to get in. Our tour guide was amazing! After we left Taliesin West, we drove over to Scottsdale Rd & Frank Lloyd Blvd to see the spire that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in his concept for the AZ State Capitol Building. After a little bit of goofing off, we then went over to Nourish. After that, we met up with the rest of the group that was still in town at the home of one of the AZ Browncoats.

All in all, this was a weekend that I will never forget. It reminds me a lot of my first year at Phoenix ComiCon: When I bought my tickets, only 2 of my friends were coming, though I had met many of the AZ Browncoats before. I have no problems making new friends, so this increased my social nature. I made many new friends with whom I hope to stay in touch with. There are still many details to work out, but if my evil plot to take over the world is successful, I hope to be able to go to next year’s Browncoats Ball in South Carolina!

P.S. Just for fun, count how many Firefly & Serenity references are in this blog and post the number in the comments section . We’ll see who gets the highest without cheating! Ignoring the descriptions of my dress in the first three paragraphs, there are at 10+ (depending on whether you count some of the references separately or several within one sentence as one)

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.

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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?”

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Jill laying out the lace jacket

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

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

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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:

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Here is a sneak peak at the outfit together:

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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!

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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…