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.

inara shrug

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.


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?”


Jill laying out the lace jacket


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!