Category Archives: sewing

Firefly on a Shoestring

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My friends and I are firm believers that if you have a costuming niche, you should totally exploit it use it your benefit. A great example was this amazing Scotty at DragonCon:

Even though this picture is from 2011, he was at DragonCon again this year, and he looks exactly the same.
Picture from http://www.wingedmammal.com

I, of course, have my Asian niche. I do try to branch out sometimes and try non-Asian characters (they are costumes, after all), but people are always less confused when I’m an Asian character.

My husband’s niche is Nathan Fillion. He really does have an uncanny resemblance to him. He’d gone as Captain Hammer the last two years, so when our friend said she wanted to go as Zoe from Firefly this year (she’s got the Black female niche covered), I decided my husband had to be Mal.

From browsing some of the Firefly fan sites, I know that some hardcore Browncoats drop serious cash buying or making exact replicas of the costumes and props used in the show. I was just going for passable, though, so this is what I came up with.

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Pants:

The (mostly) authentic pants cost upwards of $50, so I found some khakis on clearance at Walmart for $7, ripped off the beltloops, changed the back of the waistband,  added jean buttons for suspenders, and added stripes down each side with brown grosgrain ribbon.

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The back of the waistband before finsihing and adding buttons

Suspenders:

I bought some replacement suspender ears with sew-on attachments off of eBay for a few dollars and made some suspenders out of brown bottomweight material (I couldn’t find canvas in the right color, and I didn’t feel like dying anything).

Boots:

Boots are expensive! While I can (sorta) justify spending money on boots for myself because I can wear them again, there is no place in my husband’s non-costume wardrobe for knee-high boots. I was looking around for cheap men’s boots to no avail when I learned that Mal’s actual boots from the show were just slip-on Steve Madden shoes with spats glued on to them. So my being cheap was actually leading to a more authentic boot! My husband happened to have a pair of brown shoes that he hated that were close enough to the Steve Madden shoes. I made spats out of brown vinyl and glued them on with rubber cement. I meant to paint/weather the vinyl to give the boots a more uniform appearance, but I never got around to it. Maybe next year.

The actual boots from the show

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Holster:

The holster was made with some leftover brown vinyl scraps, brass studs, and a sandal buckle (the same ones I use in Zoe’s costume below).  I coated the back of the vinyl with a layer of glue to stiffen it a bit. The back and edges of the vinyl are white, so I painted them with brown acrylic paint to make them look more like real leather.

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I also added a stud and snap to the trigger strap, but I didn’t get a picture

I also helped my friend with her Zoe costume.

Vest:

I happened to have the McCall’s M5800 pattern on hand, and the bodice had the right princess seams for Zoe’s vest.

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This is before trimming and finishing the straps

I didn’t realize until after I already made the costume that the back isn’t exactly right (Zoe’s had one seam down the back instead of two princess seams), but I don’t think most people cared. I lengthened it a bit as the bodice was supposed to hit at the waist, and Zoe’s vest is a bit longer. I opened the two side seams and added four sandal buckles on each side (I found a pack of 20 for $5 on eBay!).

Holster:

The holster is basically a T with one side of the top arm longer than the other. I used a gold buckle that was leftover from another costume, so it’s not quite as big as Zoe’s, but it worked. I didn’t have a shotgun shell on hand, so I used a AA battery as a guide in making the bullet holders. In hindsight, I should have tried to get my hands on some fake bullets so that if she ever intends to put some in there they’ll be functionable. The real holster had a hook to hold the gun in place, but becasue my holster was not made of stiff leather, there was no way to put a functioning hook on. I sewed on a couple of straps instead, which means that in a gunfight, my Zoe would be shot before she could get the first strap unbuckled, but it looked fine.

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Cash Envelope System Wallet

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I’m a fan of plastic. And by that, I mean the kind that fits in my wallet. I rarely ever have much cash in my wallet because unless I’m at a place that takes cash only, my purchase is going on a credit card. I don’t care if I’m just buying a pack of gum. I know that’s not the most financially sound thing to do, but I hate using cash. I think it’s because I always feel like I might need the cash later somehow, and that’ll run out if I use it. The credit card, however, magically lets me use it as much as I want. Of course, I suppose I have to pay the credit card company sometime, but that’s only once a month, and my husband usually does that before I even have to look at the statement, so it’s like I never had to pay for anything! There’s always some grumbling from my husband about how high the bill is, how we need to stop spending so much, blah blah blah, but I just tune that out.

 A couple of weeks ago, though, I was out at dinner with some friends, and a friend of a friend pulled out an adorable wallet with all these little pockets. I asked her where she got it, she explained it was a “cash system” that she’d made based on a tutorial. I looked up afterwards and learned that the “cash envelope system” is a way of budgeting developed or endorsed by Dave Ramsey where you set aside a certain amount of cash for different spending categories and organize them in envelopes. The cash envelope system wallet is just a neat and pretty way to keep all the envelopes together.   

The tutorial for the wallet is sold on Etsy, so I bought one (for the bargain price of only $1.61) and decided to take a stab at making one. I did make some modifications. First, I couldn’t find any oilcloth, so I made the outside cover out of outdoor canvas and the inside out of coordinating cotton prints. I reinforced the cover and pockets with fusible craft interfacing to stiffen them a bit. I decided to give the outside cover a more finished look by giving it a lining and topstitching the edge.  

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It’s hard to see, but there are 3 card pockets and an ID window here.

 

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I added a pen holder and two extra card pockets to the top of this side.

One of the biggest modifications I made was making the envelopes removeable. Instead of attaching them directly to the wallet, I attached them to another piece of cotton that I reinforced with interfacing that can be inserted into the two large pockets or removed when I don’t feel like carrying the envelopes. This also eliminated the neccessity of having to have the unsightly stitching on the back spine of the wallet.

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Wallet with envelopes removed

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Envelope insert

I’ve been using the wallet itself for about a week now, but I still haven’t used the envelopes. That would require sitting down an actually coming up with a budget. Good thing I made the envelopes removeable!

Homemade for the Holidays

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It seems that every year the list of people I have to give gifts to grows longer, yet my gift budget stays the same.  And, every year, drunk on Thanksgiving decadence and holiday cheer, I come up with my brilliant plan to stretch the gift budget by making half of my gifts. Inevitably, I spend the next several weeks frantically researching blogs for inspiration, scouring craft stores for supplies, staying up all hours of the night cutting and gluing and sewing and beading while my projects slowly creep onto and take over all available surfaces of my house, driving my husband insane. I usually finish the season asking myself why I did all that and swearing to go retail next year. Of course, Thanksgiving rolls around again, and the cycle repeats itself. It’s like a Christmas curse.

This year, I thought I had finally broken the cycle. It was well past Thanksgiving, and while I had not purchased a single gift, I still had no crafty inclinations. On December 8, though, I was checking my Facebook updates when I was reminded that Hanukkah was starting and I now have four Jewish relatives. My sister-in-law shocked my very Catholic family last year when she announced that she and three of my brother’s and her four children were converting to Judaism. Last year was the first year they celebrated Hanukkah instead of Christmas, and while we’ve all learned a lot about Judaism since then, I somehow completely forgot to factor in Hanukkah when I thought about my gift-giving timeline this year.

Scrolling through all the Hanukkah posts, I saw one from a Jewish friend about “awesome and unexpected menorahs.”  There was an adorable felt menorah that just jumped out at me, teasing me with its perceived ease of fabrication.

A felt menorah (even kids can light it because there's no actual fire):

$60 on Etsy!

I ran to my scrap pile and found I had plenty of felt to work with. The process was fairly simple. I needed a half circle for each “candle,” so I used two different sized plates as my pattern and cut circles out of freezer paper to reinforce the felt. I then ironed the circles on to the felt and cut the felt the same size as the paper.

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Once I had four small circles and one large circle, I cut each circle in half.

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I then sewed a zigzag stitch along the edge of each semicircle. I sewed  a button in the center of the straight edge of each semicircle and finished by folding the circle into a cone and securing with adhesive hem tape.

I found the simplest way to make the flames was to first cut out the inner flame, baste it to the felt I was using for the outer flame, and then sew in the buttonholes. Once the buttonholes were sewn in, I cut out the larger flame shape.

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After a few hours, I had a menorah that, admittedly, is not as awesome as the original but not bad for what I had on hand. I love spontaneous projects. There’s just something extra magical about making something out of practically nothing.

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Of course, I learned the next day that this isn’t a kosher menorah, but it didn’t matter. I had once again been hit by the Christmas crafting curse. I’ll write more about my other gift projects if I ever get out from underneath them.

Space Man

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Remember that space man costume I started making for my son a few months ago? No? Well, my son thought I’d forgotten about it, too. He said this morning, “MOM, you’ve been working on my costume for YEARS! I wanted to wear it LAST Halloween!”  I know I’ve been a little slow on this project, but I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been that long (OK, I just looked at my post on it. It was mid-July, which is further back than I thought it was, but not as long as my son thinks it was.).

Anyway, I started working on it again a few weeks ago (on and off, admittedly), and it’s morphed a bit from what it was initially supposed to be. I learned about  electroluminescent (EL) wire  a few months ago, and I’ve been dying to try it out. It’s basically a lightweight, bendy wire that’s fairly cheap and a great way to light up a costume (think Tron). Well, every space suit can use some hi-tech-looking lights, so I thought this would be my perfect opportunity to try it out.

I ordered two nine-foot strands of EL wire in blue and green with controllers from a seller on eBay for $9.88 each including shipping.  They weren’t fancy but seemed to work fine once I installed two AA batteries in each one.

Attaching the wire was easy if somewhat time-consuming.  I made a black jumpsuit as the base to the costume, and I drew a design in white chalk on it where I wanted the EL wire to go. Once that was complete, it was just a matter of hand stitching the wire to the costume with transparent thread. I tied the thread off at every turn in the design.

I went into a bit of a panic when after hours of sewing in the green wire found that it no longer lit up. I started fidgeting with the wire and controller to see where the problem was when the EL wire just completely FELL OUT of the connector. Luckily, my husband who can be handy when he wants to be (or, in this case, coerced) was able to reattach the wire , and it seems to be working just fine now.

Not pretty, but fixed.

I debated whether to hide the controllers inside the suit, but I thought they’d look fine attached at the hips to look like weapons of some sort on a holster. The controllers came with a clip on the back, so I sewed one flat strip of elastic that the clip would hang on and another strip above and one below that strip that went around the outside of the control box.

I have to say, I think Cael is going to be the coolest trick-or-treater in town on Wednesday. I hope he thinks it was worth the wait.

Finn approved after careful inspection.

Look at that pose. He is SO going to be a cosplayer some day.

 

The suit looks even better in the dark/semi-dark, so I’ll have to see if I can get pictures of that posted soon.

Spats Tutorial

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I know it’s been a while. I keep telling myself I’m done with my DragonCon preparations, but I can never leave well enough alone, so I’ve been busy reworking some things and adding various details. One thing I decided my Steampunk Baroness costume needed was a  pair of spats. I had looked online at a lot of tutorials on how to make these things, but when I actually sat down to make the pattern, I couldn’t really get the other methods to work for me. After some trial and error, I came up with a pretty good way to make the pattern and was able to replicate the process (with a few changes) a few days later when I made another pair for my friend.

Of course, I learned a few things in the process. First, in making my spats, I thought it would be nice to line them. You can choose to do this or not, but I found that lining was completely unnecessary, so I skipped that step in making my friend’s.  Also, I thought it would be cool to have working buttons on my spats, but I’ve found that they really are a pain to use in practice.   I have ten working buttons on each of my spats, and it’s hard to button and unbutton them, especially because I’ve tried to get the spats to fit tightly over my boots. I used zippers on my friend’s spats, and they are definitely the way to go.    However, I used invisible zippers on hers, and they look fabulous, but the problem is that the bottom of the spats are too narrow for the foot of the boot to go through. She’ll have to put the top of the boot through the spats and then put her feet in before she zips up both. Separating zippers would work much better, but you won’t get the nice clean look you do with the invisible zipper.

Materials

1 yard fashion fabric

buttons or zipper

1 yard iron-on interfacing

thread

1 yard muslin or other scrap fabric for the pattern

small binder clips

chalk or marking pen

pins

boots

Step 1

To make the pattern, cut out two rectangles of scrap fabric a little taller than and as wide  as your boot.  Hold the two pieces together and use binder clips along one side of the fabric to temporarily hold them together. Then, wrap the fabric around to the boot with the binder-clipped side to the back to the boot.  Pin the other edge of the fabric pieces down the front side of the boot as closely as possible from the top of the boot to the top of the foot. Once the front is pinned, remove the binder clips from the back side and pin.

Step 2

Once the pattern is pinned, take a marking pen or chalk and mark along the seams that were pinned. Then, mark a line at the bottom from the heel to the front of where you want the spat to go, following the curve of the boot.

Step 3

Remove the pins, lay the pattern flat, and retrace the lines to make them more clear.  Cut the pattern out with a 5/8″ seam allowance. Once you have the pattern cut out, sew along the front and back lines and put it back over the boot to check the fit.

Step 4

Once you are satisfied with the fit, rip out the seams. Take one panel and draw a straight line where you want the buttons or zipper to go and cut. You should now have three pieces.

Step 5

Trace the pattern pieces on to the fabric you plan to use for the spats. Add a seam allowance where the buttons or zipper should go. If you plan on using buttons, add a 1 inch seam allowance. For a zipper, add a 5/8″ allowance. Cut two of each pattern piece. Repeat the same process with the interfacing. Iron the interfacing pieces to the fabric pieces.

Step 6

Match up side seams with the right sides together. Sew. Clip curves and iron out the seams.  Topstitch one line on each side of the front and back seams. Fold down top edge of spat  5/8 ” and edgestitch. Do the same with the bottom edge of the spat.

Step 7

If using buttons, fold side seams in one inch and edgestitch. Add buttonholes to one side and buttons to the other. If using a zipper, install as you normally would with the pull at the bottom of the spats. Decorate away, and you’re done!

My spats

My friend’s Wonder Woman spats

Well, after months of preparation, DragonCon is finally here. We’re heading to Atlanta tomorrow. I’m hoping to post some pictures from the convention, so stay posted!

Mary Marvel(ous)

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I know I’ve been quiet for a while, but even superheroes need a break every now and then. After finishing my Baroness costume, I was just costumed-out. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the whole process of making it, but after working on it every spare minute for a month and a half, I just needed some down time. So, I vegged out a bit, caught up on some shows (I’m still mourning the loss of Eureka), and read some books (I was a bit disappointed in the last volume of Gail Carriger’s Soulless series). After a few days, though, I remembered I had another costume to make for DragonCon, and time is running out! Luckily, in a moment of clarity, I chose a simple costume: Mary Marvel.

Of course, I say it was simple, but the costume required me to work with knits, and I hate working with knits. Knit patterns seem to always have vague instructions like, “stretch slightly while sewing,” so it ends up being trial and error until I get it just right. I was going to attempt drafting the pattern from scratch, but I decided to play it safe and found an easy pattern to work off of.  I used McCall’s M6612:

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Seriously, who thought this was an attractive pose?

Line Art

I’ve had some cotton jersey print lying around my fabric stash for years, so I decided to make a version from that to check out the fit.

My bonus dress!

I’ve got to say it may be one of my new favorite dresses. It was just so comfy! I made a few adjustments to the pattern, giving it a boat neck and cap sleeves.

For the costume version, I raised the neckline from the pattern and shortened the skirt (I think it’s actually a rule that comic book heroines have to show ample amounts of skin). I used some gold spandex for the trim and to make a Shazam symbol applique.

For the cape, I cut a large semi-circle out of white satin and a smaller one for the collar. The edges were trimmed with the same gold spandex from the dress. I used some gold chord to add the cross(?)/star(?)-shaped embellishments along one side of the cape. I ran out of chord after I finished the one side, and I’m not sure whether I’ll do the other. I guess I’ll see if I’m up to it one of these days. I used some gold buttons and the left-over gold braid from my Baroness costume for the closure.

Phew! I’m more or less done with my costumes, and I still have over a month left until DragonCon. Maybe I am a superhero after all.

Convertible Maxi Dress Tutorial

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On lazy summer weekends when  I haven’t gotten around to shaving my legs and just don’t feel in the mood to whip out the razor, I like to reach for my maxi dresses instead (sexy, I know). Yesterday, I pulled out a dress I made a few years ago when I was going to London for the summer and wanted something that was versatile and could travel well. There are so many different ways you can wear it depending on how creative you want to be with the tying. Here are a few ways I tried it yesterday before my husband got tired of taking pictures:

I love this dress, and it was so easy to make, so I thought I’d share how I made it on my blog.

Materials:

4.5-5 yards lightweight knit (I used silk jersey for mine)

thread

1/2″ wide elastic (length= waist measurement minus 1/2″)

Tools 

sewing machine

scissors or rotary cutter and mat

serger (optional)

Step 1

The skirt is a simple A-line with slight gathering at the center front for some added interest. I cut one panel for the front and two for the back, but it would be simpler to just have a front and back. I’ve made a handy-dandy diagram for you:

For each panel, fold about a yard and a half of fabric in half along the grain.  Measure your waist and divide by four. Add one half inch to that measurement. That will be the top measurement to the front panel. The length of the panel should be the length of the waist to the floor plus a half inch. The half inch is for the seam allowance, so the skirt will end up being floor length (my skirt ended up being a bit shorter than I intended because I didn’t do this. Oh well.). For the bottom measurement, I decided to make the panel as wide as the fabric I had (mine’s about 40″ wide).

 

 

Step 2:

Sew the front and back panels together along the sides. I used a serger for this, but you can also use a regular sewing machine.

Step 3:

Sew a six-inch gathering stitch in the center of the front panel at the waist. Pull the threads to gather. Baste over the gathers to secure. This step is completely optional. I just added the gathering for some extra pizzazz.

Step 4:

For the straps, cut out two strips of fabric that are eight to ten inches wide (depending on how busty you are and how much coverage you want) and nine to ten feet long.

Step 5:

Position the two straps on the center front of the skirt along the waist with the right side of the straps against the right side of the skirt, overlapping the straps by one inch. Stitch the straps down.

Step 6:

Cut out a two-inch wide strip of fabric the length of your waist measurement plus one inch. With the right sides together, pin the strip around the waist of the skirt. starting at the center front. Sew. This is the waistband.

Step 7:

Fold the waistband over and sew to create a tube for the elastic to fit in. Leave the last inch open. Insert the elastic into the waistband. Overlap the ends of the elastic and sew to secure. Sew the waistband closed. And you’re done!

Just experiment, and you’ll figure out lots of different ways to tie it. If you decide to make this dress, I’d love to see the  ways you’ve worn it. Have fun!