Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hat trick

Now that I've made four hats from Simplicity 4083, I confess that I have not learned the secret to easy, great-looking hats. It is safe to say that this hat is perfect for costuming/cosplay and it is quite possible to cover up little imperfections with feathers, flowers, ribbon, etc.

The first hat was made following the pattern, size small. I used acrylic felt for all the hats as wool felt is not available in retail fabric stores here and I imagine it costs more than I wanted to spend on a test hat. I used heavy weight fusible interfacing and was not altogether thrilled with the flexibility in the crown of the hat. The top and brim seemed pretty stiff, for their intended purpose anyway.

In an attempt to further stiffen the crown and solve the problems of "dents" or small sags, I tried Aleene's fabric stiffener that I bought from JoAnn Fabrics. I could have diluted it with water, but not knowing how it would turn out, I used it full strength. It seemed a lot like runny, white school glue. It did dry clear and it did stiffen the fabric. So A+ on that account. However the moisture caused the acrylic felt to pill. The stiffness of the fabric did not allow much give at all, so I wouldn't recommend it full strength if you want something soft. I tried using a stiff brush to smooth out the pills, but all that did was make the stiffener flake and turn white. I have not resolved the texture issue, and was planning to try a razor blade or something to try to remove some of the pills - but the hat has been donated for use as a prop. Next time I will also try applying the stiffener to the inside of the hat, so the look won't be so much of an issue, maybe. Since the inside was covered with interfacing, I couldn't tell if the reverse side pilled as well.

Since I could not achieve that perfect stiff hat look with the glue stuff, I decided to try craft weight interfacing. Pellon Peltex 70. I've used this before in a collar and it worked nicely. It is $6/yard, so a coupon is great for this (but not at Hancock since their coupons expressly exlcude interfacing). The hats were stiffer, but since Peltex is a sew-in and not a fusible, there were a few dent-looking areas in the crown, but not as many as with the lighter fusible interfacing. I shortened the crown about 2.5 inches to look a little better on a female and also used size medium for a more comfortable fit for the three females wearing the hats.

While this process did not create a professional-looking hat, the hats were easy to make (less than a day per hat) and folks seem to like them. It took me until the third hat to realize that pinning the bias tape on the brim while slip stiching is much less painful on the hands (duh). The hubby is now patiently waiting for his hat, once I recover.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The best laid plans

Every month I  look forward to the new sales flyers from Hancock and JoAnn. And every Sunday I check out the sales flyer and coupon for Hobby Lobby. These are the only places in town to get apparel fabric. I carefully go through the flyers - circling the things I want and need. Then I make a list of what I need and who has it on sale. I also make a list of other things on sale at each store - you know, just in case I "need" something else. I note the dates of the sales and what coupons I have. This is a standard process for me. And I always take the flyers with me to double check as I shop. Yes, wound a bit tight, it's true.

So I head out today for Hobby Lobby and Hancock. List in hand, coupons ready to go, flyers in purse. Found what I needed at Hobby Lobby: calico prints on sale, check; heavyweight interfacing with coupon, check; purple ribbon on sale, check. Next I head to Hancock, to pick up cotton and velour. Plan is coming together nicely. I'll be washing and pressing fabric in no time. But I wonder why some of the sale prices are wrong. Shouldn't the cotton be 40% off. Isn't velour 50% off instead of 30%. Thinking the sales associates didn't get the signs changed out, I grab what I need and head to the cutting counter.

I ask about sales prices before I have anything cut. "I don't think this is on sale" the lady says. I deftly present my sales flyer and point to the add in question. "Oh, yes, it should be on sale. Hmmm" says the sales lady. "Oh - they changed the dates of our sales. They start on Sunday now." Mouth open, I stare. "What?? After years of starting on Thursday, they up and change it to Sunday?" "Sorry dear," she says. "Will you please come back on Sunday?"

So now, I have no fabric. And I'm mad. Thinking an email to customer service is in order. And a change in my fabric shopping planning list. So all you folks used to shopping at Hancock - be warned to check the dates carefully on the sales flyers. For now, I think I'll dig up the old sales flyer and see what else I can get until Sunday. Hrmph.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Easy, floral branch wings

For my three dryad costumes (spring, fall, and winter) I used branches from the floral department at Hobby Lobby to make decorative wings. My inspiration came from a woman selling branch-like wings . Her work is amazing. Since I couldn't afford her gorgeous wings, I needed to make a cheap replica. Based on some experimenting with other materials in the house, I decided the branches need to be flexible for shaping (so no natural branches) and firm enough to hold their shape (so nothing flimsy). I also considered how to get the mossy look with model "flocking" and spray adhesive or natural moss and hot glue.

I found some lovely fake branches at Hobby Lobby and bought them when they were 50% off. I think I paid around $12 for 4 branches. The branches already has a nice mossy look to them, and the "leafy" parts looked very natural even from a close distance. The picture shows the spring branches in preliminary stages of twisting.

When making wings, you should consider the purpose, weight, and the place/event where you will wear them. These decorative wings would not be great for flitting about or for dancing in, as they are tall and wide. They aren't very heavy, which is good since I planned to wear them a lot. Also - a lesson learned by anyone navigating a crowd with folks in costuming - no one appreciates being poked in the eye by someone's wings. In contrast, people are not very considerate of costumers wearing wings. So try as you might to be careful how you turn and where you walk - someone who is not paying attention will run into you or get snagged on your wings. So be prepared for choice words - hearing them or saying them. Also be prepared for damage to your wings from walking in crowds.  I have found large, pointy, or bulky wings are great for contests and parades. Small, fabric or pantyhose wings with no sharp edges are great for crowds.

Before you assemble wings, consider how you will wear them and how to brace them if they are top heavy. There are many ways to wear wings. Elastic straps are the most common, but won't hold up very heavy wings. Under-bra back braces are great for light-weight and fabric wings - if you have a high backed shirt or stiff bodice to support the wires. Exterior, over-shoulder frames are good for heavy duty wings. Constructed bracers can also be added at the back for more support and decorated to match. Also consider how the attachments will look with your costume, if you will have or need help getting them on or off, and the ever practical question of how to go to the bathroom. You don't want to find out too late that you have to take your shirt off to remove the wings that won't fit in the bathroom stall.

For these wings, we decided that a simple bracer made from bending the ends of the branch inward into a loop would work nicely and would compliment the design and theme of the wings. First, we connected the branches in the center, at the desired width. I kept the middle width where the branches connect smaller than the width of my back. Zip ties are great for connecting the branches - just be sure the tips don't poke you in the back. I also used brown floral tape in places to cover zip ties. For the autumn branches, I twisted the left branches together first, then the right, before attaching all four together with zip ties. We used pliers to shape the ends of the branches around a can of soup to get them round. Then we used the pliers to shape the branches and clipped off any extra length.

In consideration of the color of my spring dryad top, I made simple casings for the elastic out of green fabric, with brown fabric at the ends for attaching to the branches. I made white casings for the winter wings and brown for the autumn. This really helps the elastic blend in with the costume if you don't want it to show. Just remember to make the casings long enough to fit around your arms when the elastic is stretched. In other words, the casing is longer than the elastic. Yes the fabric casing will be bunched up a little while you are wearing the wings, but it is a trade-off for an obvious band of elastic contrasting with your costume. I used clear elastic with no casing for my nyad wings.

The next step was embellishing and covering the connection area. I found a great natural branch garland that was small enough to fit. I used the model flocking and spray adhesive for the mossy look. Zip ties were used to attach the garland to the branches. For the autumn wings, I hot glued silk leaves and small branches to cover the middle.

These have proven to be pretty good wings. I do need help getting my long hair unstuck from the edges when I put them on. And the branches need to be reshaped after wearing. These are not recommended for crowds, by the way. Hair pulling, eye poking, and fabric snagging have resulted from passing folks in tight quarters and I've offered many an apology. They are also a bit wider than the standard door frame, so I have to remember to turn sideways. Hanging/storing them and transporting them have been the biggest challenge. I've worn them for 2 years and they still look good and are comfortable to wear. The green bits on the branches are showing some thinning in spots, as they rub against things and get transported, but I can still get more use out of them.  I've made four pairs of wings like this and will likely make more using this design. I've helped my sister-in-law make some awesome wings from gold metallic branches. My sister took the concept and made some with sprays of feathers and pearls. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

In the beginning...

In the beginning, there was DragonCon. The mysterious place my husband disappeared to on Labor Day. My sister-in-law and I finally witnessed the glorious spectacle ourselves in 2006. We didn't have tickets - we just wandered around, awestruck at the people and costumes. We were hooked. We both costumed the following year (I paid someone to make a costume for me), and in winter 2007 I bought a sewing machine and took a sewing class so I could make my own costumes.

I wore my first hand-made costume, a spring dryad, to DragonCon in 2008. And I have been addicted ever since. DragonCon is an annual event now for me, my husband, brother, and sister-in-law. My sister has joined us and we hope to continue to drag her along as well. My husband and I now seek out Cons and ren faires in the southeast - any excuse to put on a costume (or look at costumes)! ImagiCon, Mid South Con, Shadow Con, TN Ren Faire, AL Ren Festival, and Stone Mt. Highland Games so far this year.

Although I only took the one sewing class, I have spent countless hours viewing web tutorials, reading sewing books, and pouring through costume websites and blogs trying to learn more. Some of the topics I've researched and applied include: priming and painting plastics, paper mache, feather masks, gathering and ruffling, using a serger, handling special fabrics (such as metallics, fur, sheers, etc), patch work skirts, circle skirts, pattern modification, boning and eyelets for bodices, various sewing techniques, stiff cape collars, fabric identification, and much more.

I hope to post photos of all my costumes and give a description of how I made them. I'll post links to favorite sites and sources of information and materials. In my web and blog seaches, I have found so much useful information on handmade costumes and thoroughly appreciate the costumer that documents each step of the process and lets me know what materials and techniques are used. Many costume descriptions show a photo and have not provided the detail I crave, so my posts will be fairly detailed.

Please share with me your favorite sites and sources (and photos) - I am always looking for ways to make costumes bigger and better!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Well that was easy.

So I decided to start a blog about costuming. Big news there right? I thought it would be nice to share all the useful tidbits of information I have gathered while learning to costume during the past 3 years. Having researched a wide range of costuming topics myself, I hope these posts prove useful to someone else. My goal in costuming is to try to have a minimal impact on the environment - natural fabrics, used materials, non-toxic paints, found items, etc. That's not always easy to do, but I try. Thrift stores are very useful for this purpose, and ebay. I got an entire box of pre-owned paint from ebay; so much better than buying new product.

So now that I have spent 3 whole minutes setting up a blog, I will have to think about what to post. Feel free to make suggestions about topics or ask questions. I'm not an expert, but am happy to share what I know. I also appreciate new information if anyone would like to chime in.

I am currently working on some simple costumes from the original Willy Wonka movie. I'm making a feminine Wonka costume from Simplicity 2525 and an Oompa Loompa. A good portion of the fabric for the Willy Wonka costume came from a thrift store - purple crushed velvet for the jacket, purple cotton for the jacket liner, and tan linen-like for the dress. I had to buy some purple floral cotton for the vest and am using some purple cotton for the vest liner. I also had to buy some canvas material for the jacket interlining - canvas isn't something I come across often at the thrift store. I like that the canvas is cotton, but wish I could have thought of something cheaper than $5/yard for stiff interlining. Something that could go in the dryer would have been nice.

I also made my first costume hat using Simplicity 4083. Since the local fabric stores didn't carry wool felt, I used acrylic felt. The heavyweight fusible interfacing didn't make the hat as stiff as I would have liked, and the hat straight from the pattern is a bit too tall for the small-framed female I am making this for. So I will likely make another one a few inches shorter. I will either use craft-weight interfacing (the kind for bowls and purses) next time or try some fabric stiffener I just purchased. A quick web search for "how to stiffen acrylic felt" was not as useful as I had hoped, but I did find some tips if I ever make a wool felt hat. Those tips led me to the commercially available stiffener product and seemed less complicated than the other suggestions. So I'll try that first.