Self indulgence through sewing.

Archive for October, 2011

Quickest Costume Ever: Last Minute Derpy

I suppose this post could be subtitled something like: “And you thought this blog was gonna be all Victorian Garb”  😉  Nope!  To be truthful, while I was in the midst of all that hand sewing needed to construct my elliptical hoop skirt, I was watching a lot of TV. No, I take that back, while I was doing all that hand sewing, I was watching a LOT of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  “……….Wait, what?  But you’re a grown woman, Melinda,” I can hear you thinking – except not, because if you knew me you’d not be too surprised.

But if you don’t know me, you would have a right to think I might be a little off my rocker for spending hours and hours watching a show intended for little girls. Except I’m not! Not in this context, anyhow. As a child of the 80’s (and a child of parents who loved thrift stores and garage sales,) I was bit by the My Little Pony bug pretty dang early and at one point I had amassed a pretty large collection of G1 Ponies. While I wouldn’t consider myself an active collector anymore, when people heard My Little Pony news, they’d pass it on to me. And so I happened to be passed the link to the first episode of Tara Strong’s 2010 reboot of My Little Pony a few days after it first aired on The Hub. And hoo boy, was I expecting a train wreck! The ’90’s and ought’s have NOT been good to My Little Pony. But as I watched, I found myself enjoying the show. The art direction was fantastic, the characters likeable, and the plot had finally re-expanded past G2 and G3 conventions of “Oh NO! The Princess’s cupcakes got crushed! What’ll we dooooo?!?!” – I was hooked. And so were a lot of other people.

And so, by this internet following, I discovered a little pony by the fan name of Derpy Hooves.

A product of either animation error or mischievous layout artist, Derpy was so dubbed for her ridiculously askew eyes. Who was this background pony? What could her role be in Ponyville? Was she a total nutter or merely temporarily lost in her own quirkiness? She quickly became an internet fan favorite, and I realized what I wanted to do for the rapidly approaching Emerald City Comic Con. The convention that was 3 days away.

With such little time to prepare, I knew I’d have to take some short cuts. My first order of action was to find myself a base to work with. I knew I wanted my costume to be gray with yellow/orange accents, but past that I was at the mercy of the thrift store. I came home with a pair of gray corduroys, gray pumps, a yellow blouse, and a gray dress that was about a size or two too small in the hips.

Like this, but, you know, way too small for me. Still, it was the most promising option, so with the corduroys and blouse as back up, I started my dress surgery. Since I knew I wouldn’t be able to find an exact fabric match, I decided on using some darker gray fabric from Jo Ann’s to add triangular skirt gussets – this way I would be able to add some extra width to the hips, and incorporate the dark gray fabric I planned to use for additional accessories into the dress. I also found some quilters cotton printed with a gradient from dark red-brown, through orange, to yellow, to white. The orange/yellow looked to me exactly like the gradient of Derpy’s eyes, so I picked up half a yard’s worth to make into a ruched waistband for the dress. And thus began the 2 and a half day sewing and crafting marathon!  But I got it done!  😀

Thanks to my buddy Jean for taking these great photos for me!  🙂  In this photo you can see the contrasting gussets I added to the skirt and the rushed gradient waistband. I also made up arm and leg warmers to mimic hooves while still keeping with the gijinka look, and hand sewed on circles in blue felt on both sides of my skirt to match Derpy’s cutie mark. (I need to go back and add more detail to these.  It’s on my list of things to do if/when I ever re-wear this costume. Along with like a bajillion other things, lol – this was a very quickly made costume!)

I got super lucky with the wigs used for the head and tail – thank goodness that Derpy is a blonde, and huzzah for the Pacific Northwest Costume shop in Redmond. They helped me find a good enough quality wig that matched Derpy’s mane, and a cheap-enough-that-I-wouldn’t-mind-trashing-it matching blonde wig for Derpy’s tail. The wig for her tail began life as one of those long blonde hippie wigs with a sewn on headband. I removed the headband, and started gathering the wig around the skin top into a ball using a needle and thread. And a little bit of hot glue. I attached the compacted wig ball onto a piece of gray felt for stabilization, and attached a giant safety pin so that I’d be able to pin the tail onto my costume on top of the zipper up the back. I finished the tail up with a choppy haircut, and that was that!

The wings are made out of stiffened felt. I grabbed a screencap of a pony’s wing, and then laid the wing screencap over a photo of myself to determine the size I should print out my template. I then mocked up templates for each section of wing, printed them out at the correct size, cut out the felt, traced the edges with a dark gray copic marker for definition, and assembled with ribbon and hot glue. Ta da! These wings are super light and actually pretty sturdy (sturdiness is a must when dealing with props that extend past your shoulders in conventions.)  That said, if I were to remake these wings I would have attached the ribbon a few inches farther away from the center point. As they are now, they like to rotate, so I have to watch to make sure they stay straight. I should’ve thought about that while making them.  🙂

While searching at Jo Ann’s for fabric, I noticed some blue glass beads that reminded me of Derpy’s symbol. I strong 7 of them onto some left over ribbon for a quick and easy necklace.  The ears are made of Crayola Model Magic in gray. I split one package into two balls, and shaped an ear out of each ball, and hot glued them to a silver cloth covered headband.

In fan cannon, Derpy Hooves is the mailpony of Ponyville, so of course I had to have letters to deliver. Thankfully I had an old bag from college that matched the brown mail bag she’s often drawn with, so all that was left was to make some letters. I used my trusty gray copic marker to outline the seams of each letter envelope, and finished each letter off with a heart shaped sticker.

Derpy also loves muffins.  And so do I.  🙂

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Elliptical Hoop

Fresh off the success of my bustle for Steamcon II, I decided I’d try stepping it up a notch and make myself an Elliptical Hoop like the ones used to support skirts from a short transitional period between around 1865 through 1870. It’s a weird period where you can literally see the fullness of the traditional circular crinoline cages on the 1850’s and 1860’s (think United States Civil War era ladies fashion) moving further and further back to eventually become the bustles popular through 1870’s through 1890.

Above is a fashion plate from 1860 showing the circular hoop silhouettes which were popular from the 1850’s through ~1865.

This fashion plate from 1868 shows the elliptical hoop skirt silhouette with fullness moving to the back of the skirt and skirt designs transitioning away from radial symmetry. Is anyone else totally in love with the asymmetrical design used on the white and blue dress on the far left?  I’m smitten.  🙂

By 1869 you can really see the transition – there’s still more fullness to the sides of the skirts than there is with a lot of later bustle dresses, but the bustle has definitely established itself and caught on.

So are you curious to see what might’ve been supporting those skirts?  🙂

I say “might” because the more I research the more I find different hoop and bustle designs – they really weren’t standardized at ALL, but I’ve seen a few elliptical hoops that look very similar to this, and it’s such a lovely photo, isn’t it?  🙂  It looks to me like a very early elliptical hoop, since it seems to emphasize the push backwards, but without any of the bustling you see later on in the fashion plates. However, it’s entirely possible that the wearer could have added additional bustle pads above the hoop to create the additional fullness. Victorians were pretty resourceful.  😉

Long story short, I’m pretty damn smitten by elliptical hoop style dresses, so I set about to looking for a pattern to make my own. Again I turned to Truly Victorian (this whole blog is starting to feel like a huge advertisement for TV, lol – but hey, they make GREAT patterns!), and ordered their 1865 Elliptical Cage Crinoline pattern and three 12 yard rolls of hoop wire. It’s using a different design then the elliptical hoop shown above, and uses ties placed at the rear to create the elliptical bustle shape. It also uses fewer stays (hoop wires?) than the historical example. I believe modern hoop wire has more strength than historical wire, but it may just be to save material costs? I think more wires may be the way to go though if I ever make another hoop skirt – it’s easier to hide the wires under petticoats if you don’t have huge gaps between each wire.

I also ordered the pattern for the 1865 Elliptical Skirt since I knew eventually I’d want to make skirts and petticoats to cover the hoops.  🙂

The above photo from Truly Victorian shows what their finished hoop skirt looks like when completed.

And here is my finished Elliptical Hoop with muslin Elliptical Skirt petticoat (and totally asynchronous striped top – lol) :

Be warned!  This hoop took a LOT of hand sewing for me!  I wasn’t able to fit the skirt with wires under my sewing machine, so I had to hand sew each individual point where the hoop meets up with the stabilizing ribbon. I’m sure there must be an easier way to do this, maybe if I’d waited to add the hoop wire into the bone casings until after I’d sewn the casings to the stabilizing ribbons?  But there’s a step where you need to have the hoop wires in the casings before you sew the casings to the ribbon in order to check balance and correct joining placements.  So blah. I don’t know. Maybe the trick is to not keep your sewing machine in a tiny corner  on your desk next to your computer where there’s no room for giant hoop skirts.  🙂

But I digress.  Back to the skirt!

This skirt is almost too big to fit in my hallway.  🙂  Almost.

Obviously I still need to hem the petticoat, and I think I may add some rows of ruffle to further disguise the hoop wire underneath, but I keep putting it off with the thought that eventually I might buy my sewing machine a ruffling foot, and then wouldn’t I feel foolish for hand ruffling a whole skirt?  😉  It’s faultless logic, really.

I haven’t really decided what to do with this hoop skirt yet, but that might be a topic for another post.  🙂


Steamcon II!

With Steamcon II fast approaching, I had to figure out what all I could get done before the big day (remember, I only had about 3 weeks from start to finish until Steamcon, including ordering patterns, finding fabrics and corset supplies, and creating accessories, so time was of the essence.)

I ended up deciding that since this was Steam Punk and not strictly historical recreation, I could get away with no bodice. Not creating a bodice for my outfit also had an added bonus of allowing the hard work I’d done on my corset and chemise to be visible. Win.  🙂  So that left me with skirts and accessories. Before I get into the nitty gritties, wanna see the final product that I ended up wearing to Steamcon?  Of course you do.  🙂

Ta da!  Steamcon II was held at a great hotel down by the SeaTac Airport with a beautiful indoor atrium area. Wonderful for photo taking. Thank you to my friend Aidan for the lovely photos!  🙂

The first project I tackled was a long black skirt to go over the bustle. I figured black would be a good staple, something that I could use in the future with other pieces if I needed to. I used Truly Victorian’s 1885 Four Gore Underskirt pattern with pleated back, and added pleating at the hem. The fabric was a black home decorating fabric with a bit of a sheen, picked up again at Jo Ann’s. This fabric was lovely, but was tricky to keep pleated. I ended up making my own pleater board out of card stock, but that’s a subject for another post. I used three rows of top stitching about an inch and a half down from the top edge of the pleats to hold them to the edge of the skirt, but they refused to stay up. When I re-wore this skirt for Steamcon III I revisited this skirt and tacked the top of each pleat up onto the skirt by hand for a more orderly appearance.

For an overskirt I found some chocolate brown smocked taffeta and used Truly Victorian’s Waterfall Overskirt pattern, shortened by about 4 inches in front and back. I used a beautiful desaturated gold/tan fabric I found at Hancock Fabrics for the lining and front ruffle. I was so stretched for time by this point that I was still sewing the ruffle on to the overskirt by the morning of the convention. I also found that using ribbon under the front of the overskirt to tack down some of the pleats helped with the look of the skirt immensely. On the day of the convention my friend Jean added two tiny hot pink bows to match my hair.  🙂

Me, Jean, and Claire showing off our awesome bustles. Fun Fact – Claire’s skirt and overskirt were made using the same base pattern as my skirt and overskirt. Huzzah for the magic of fabrics and pattern alteration.  🙂

All that was left was to accessorize!  I bought a small black felt top hat at the Ben Franklin Crafts, and Jean helped to cover the hat in matching black satin left over from my skirt and decorate with feathers and ribbon to match my corset. We made asymmetrical stretch lace gloves using a zig zag stitch and some black stretch lace, and made a choker from leftover fabric and lace scraps and a broach from the craft store.

The morning of the convention I added some long pink curled extensions to my hair, and that was that!  Jean and I wield a mean curling iron.  😉

Claire introduced me to The League of Steam at the convention, so I had to get a photo with Zeddediah the Zombie.  🙂


It’s Bustle Time!

The next project in preparation for Steamcon was to make myself a bustle. After having such great success with Truly Victorian patterns with my corset, I went to them again for the bustle, using TV101 and their precut bustle wire. This whole bustle went together in about a day and a half, but it would’ve gone much faster if my sewing machine had a ruffleing foot. I think gathering each ruffle was what took me the longest (it was murder on my finger tips, too.) But the result looked great, and you can’t see the hoop wire at all once it’s all under skirts.

The bustle is made to be hemmed a few inches higher than your outer skirts to reduce the likelyhood of stepping on it when going up stairs and the like, but it looks a little silly when worn all alone.  🙂 I was also very pleasantly surprised at how easily the bustle collapses for storage and ease of sitting.


Moving Up: Corsets and Bloomers, Oh My!

Working on the bowtie and bolero for my wedding had been a great kick start project for reteaching myself how to sew. It had gotten me to blow the dust off my inherited Bernina 1130 sewing machine, and reacquainted me to reading sewing patterns.

To set the stage, it was early October, 2010. Stu and I had just returned from our Honeymoon – we rode the Rocky Mountaineer Scenic Railroad from Calgary to Vancouver, BC.  It was fantastic and very relaxing, but by the time we got back I was itching for another sewing project. (You can take the girl away from sewing but you can’t take sewing away from the girl?) I didn’t want to accidentally stop sewing for another 5 years like had happened when I left home for college.  🙂

Conveniently, Steamcon was only a month away!  Steamcon is a Steampunk convention, held once a year outside Seattle, Washington. My friend Jean had just finished up making her first corset for the convention using the TV110 1880’s Corset pattern from Truly Victorian. Jean’s corset looked fantastic, so with a bit of help pinning and fitting, I set to work on making one for myself.

Ta daa!  I didn’t even have to make any pattern alterations after measuring myself and making a muslin mock up which is very rare and super fantastic. I used home decorating fabric from Jo Ann’s for the outside of the corset, lined with cotton denim for strength, and edged in light yellow ribbon. At the time I didn’t know how to make or use bias tape to finish edges, so I made due.  🙂

The chemise and drawers were made using Simplicity 9769. This pattern was great in terms of long term strength – there are no raw edges on the chemise because every seam is flat felled, but I do wish the sleeves were handled differently. They’re lovely, but they have a lot of bulk. I may make a new sleeveless chemise someday.  The lace is actually multiple pieces layered on top of each other to make a wide band around the neckline and sleeve cuff.


The Restart

Unfortunately, going to college and moving to Boston took a big bite out of my free time for costuming, and I didn’t sew anything on my own for about five years. It wasn’t until a month before my wedding in September 2010 that I finally broke out my old hand me down sewing machine and started my first solo sewing project: a bolero jacket for my wedding dress and a hot pink bow tie for my Groom-to-be, Stu.  No pressure, right?  😉

Thankfully for Stu’s bow tie I was able to use a bow tie he already had to make a pattern, but the bolero was a little more work.

I believe I started by using this pattern:

By the end though the result was pretty different. I eliminated the darts, adjusted the bust, and shortened the sleeves. The end result?

It turned out alright, and the day was beautiful, but if I could redo the bolero I think I really should’ve picked a fabric with a little more body.

The fabric I used was very smooth and silky and draped wonderfully off the bolt at Fabric Depot, but when made up into the bolero it was a constant effort to keep it from slipping off my shoulders. C’est la vie.

Stu’s hot pink silk dupioni bow tie turned out great though.  🙂


So lets get this rolling!

I figured I should start out with some older costumes. When I was little, my mother worked as a seamstress, and for a time had her own shop making custom wedding dresses. While I helped her with the pinning, straight seams, and ironing, I wouldn’t say I knew how to sew. It wasn’t until High School that I caught the cosplay bug and started urging her to teach me how to sew in earnest. Here are some of my favorite costumes my mother and I made together during that time:

Belle from Beauty and the Beast

Shelinda from Final Fantasy X

Princess Leia from Star Wars: A New Hope

Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz

Yeesha from Uru: The Ages Beyond Myst

Ahhh that’s a time warp for me.  🙂  It’s like hauling out embarrassing baby photos.