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I’ve moved!

Happy New Year, readers!

It has been a while since I last posted anything and guess what? My blog has moved and is now  the Fabric Alchemist. I mentioned previously that I was looking to refocus my blog topics on crafting (albeit with a geeky twist). Originally I had a slow transition process mapped out to double post on both blogs through the end of 2012, but then life got in the way. So, I just decided to start fresh on a new domain with a new theme. I’ll be porting over relevant sewing and crafting posts, but http://duckpond.wordpress.com will continue to exist for anyone looking for my sustainability posts. Thank you for your support and comments on my self-sufficiency/sustainability journey.

I’ve already completed my first project of 2013, and in the coming weeks I will update you on the projects and geeky events that occupied my second half of 2012. I am super excited to tell you about the cosplay I have planned for Emerald City Comic Con, Sakura Con, and Pax Prime 2012. I am unofficially calling this the “year of strong women characters with similar hair color as me”. Catchy, no?

BearSuit

A peak at my first project of 2013. Details forthcoming at http://fabricalchemist.com

Please follow me over to http://fabricalchemist.com and don’t forget to update your RSS feeds. I hope to continue to build our crafty-blogging relationships in the coming year at my new home.

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What’s on the mannequin?

My in-progress projects have various states of being:

  • Folded on the sewing table with pins in place
  • Folded in a bag or crate, no pins, and likely out of sight (possibly forgotten until next year)
  • Hanging on the dress form/mannequin

My primary active project tends to hold the coveted mannequin spot, and right now it is modeling part of a Halloween costume I am making for a friend.  I cut up a jacket from Value Village to mimic a Victorian-era (-ish) bolero or cropped jacket. Notice the lace sleeve? Eventually it will look less like a bad band uniform and more like a victim of Jack the Ripper.

Beneath the surgically-enhanced jacket is the muslin for an underbust corset (Simplicity Pattern 1819). I will use the muslin as the corset’s interior lining down the road. Once I finish this costume, which also uses Simplicity 1819 for a skirt pattern (short version), I want to spend some time discussing the merits and drawbacks of this pattern. It seems like a lot of people are using it for Steampunk costumes, but the costume itself has only been reviewed a couple times online.

Already I’ve found that I can comfortably use a corset pattern one size smaller than what is recommended on the back of the envelope. This is consistent with my previous Simplicity pattern experiences. We’ll have to see what happens with the skirt.

An impending blog “refashion”

Question for the bloggers in the audience: How often do you change your blog?

I have been blogging for just shy of 2 years, and I am feeling the itch to change my blog’s focus.

I started blogging as part of a new year’s resolution to be more environmentally sustainable. I’ve been pleasantly satisfied with the new habits I have adopted because of that first blogging project (shopping organics section first, buying used clothing instead of new, being more careful about food waste, etc.). Over time, however, this theme has come to feel overly repetitive and too open ended at the same time. I kept trying to interject “sustainable” blog posts, and I remain very concerned about our planet’s environmental future, but at the end of the day it isn’t exciting to tell you about how I turned off the lights when I left a room. Sustainability is a lifestyle that impacts my decisions and actions, but as a blogger it is the actions (like my sewing hobby) that provide me with more engaging stories.

I embraced sewing and knitting in 2010 as alternatives to buying mass produced ready-to-wear clothing. Now these creative outlets are a major part of my life. And I think that by discovering my ability to sew, I also opened the door to a phase of self-discovery as a gaming, cosplaying geek.

Sewing ==> “I can make my own costumes” ==> Attending conventions in costume ==> Meeting new friends ==> Feeling connected to the geek/gamer communities ==> Realizing I haven’t felt this self-assured and comfortable in…ever(?)

I was always a geek, but that aspect of my background has…um…leveled up over the past couple years.

Our guest room is home to hundreds of Dungeons & Dragons miniatures, dungeon tiles, and maps. Our closet’s “Costume Section” continues to grow with every passing convention. When I am on hikes I may or may not be silently writing a D&D adventure in my head as I scramble over rocks and keep a watchful eye out for traps or monsters. In addition to costumes, increasingly I find that my craft ideas have been geek-inspired (an ipad case decorated with dragons, a shoe accessory tied to Dungeons & Dragons, or greeting cards with fantasy or sci-fi images).

I think this blog is heading in a direction of crafts, costuming, and thoughts on geek culture. Sewing will remain a big part of that, and I will keep refashioning used clothing instead of buying new clothes.

Thank you for following me this far. I hope you will continue to find enjoyment in my future blog posts.

Costume Notes

Today the costuming gods shined down on me while on a quick trip to Buffalo Exchange.

I found a gorgeous velvet dress ($13) that, with a few alternations, will form the base of a Full Metal Alchemist costume—the Lust Homunculus. The lace sleeves will be removed, but they will not go to waste. I am helping a frield with a “victorian era” Halloween costume and she has requested black lace sleeves for her jacket. Two birds, one dress.

Fabric Alchemy: a denim skirt

Sewing is like a puzzle. No. Wait. Sewing is like putting together a LEGO set.

You can follow the instructions to build the pirate ship or the castle pictured on the front of the box. Or, you can take creative liberties and construct something a little different. Or you can take apart the castle and the pirate ship and combine the pieces into something COMPLETELY unique.

I think this is why I enjoy sewing so much. Each project is a problem that needs solving.

Problem: I needed (yes, needed) a denim skirt that fit and could be paired with either casual or slightly “nicer” outfits.

But despite there being a plethora of denim skirts available from most major retailers, I try not to buy *new* clothes anymore, remember?  Instead I periodically perused the racks at Goodwill, Buffalo Exchange, and Crossroads Trading Co.  Even though I found a decent number of used denim skirts for sale, I always felt a little bit like Goldilocks.

  • This one is too big…
  • This one is too small…
  • This one is too edgy/deconstructed/wrong color…
  • This one…is not worth $30 (used)

Solution: Buy a skirt that is *close* and alter it. 

On a trip to Crossroads in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, I found this:

Decent enough, but did not look good on me.

The denim fabric (more accurately a chambray) was a thickness and weight that would lend itself well to a business-casual pencil skirt style. The gray knit shirt that was attached to this dress, well, I was willing to look past it. In its original form, the waist band of the denim skirt[dress] rested at my natural waist. When I bought this for $7, I imagined that it would be an easy alternation (1. remove the top, 2. wear the skirt).

With my trusty seam ripper, I dispatched with the gray top and tried the skirt on as-was. The gathered aspect of the skirt at the waist looked nice on the dress form, but it had too much volume for my body type and did not pair well with my existing wardrobe.

After brainstorming, I settled on a pencil skirt design, based on the skirt sloper I made during my summer sewing class.

Process: Seam rip, cut, and resew.

I detached the waistband, ironed out the gathers at the top of the skirt. With the skirt side seams still in place, I cut a panel from the front and the back. The lines were determined by the placement of the dart/princess seams on my skirt sloper, in order for the skirt to fit my hips and waist. Based on a skirt made from this sloper, I wanted the hem to have a 19-inch circumference.

(Secret: I opted for the princess seams because this particular alteration would be faster than ripping out the side seams, darts would have been needed to adjust the waist line anyway, and the seams add variation. Also, the side seams already had a place for the side zipper.)

The newly cut panels were re-sewn along the cut lines. Some adjustments were made to the princess seams and side seams at the waist until the skirt fit better. The length of the skirt was not altered.

I wanted a thinner waistband, so I folded it in half. Now that the skirt sit at my hips, rather than at my natural waist, the waistband came up a bit short. To hide this, I stitched some of the scraps together to create a chevron design for a button tab at the left hip. This also hides the bright red zipper (I lost track of the gray zipper that came with the dress).

All done!

Now I own a denim skirt that meets my overly-specific criteria.

Constructing the Assassin (Ezio Costume Series Part 3)

After staring at screen caps and fiddling with pattern pieces, these are the steps I took to construct the details of Ezio:

Fabric Choices

Under tunic: Lightweight linen, cotton, or broadcloth would work very nicely for the under tunic. They have the right weight and drape, the only issue is wrinkles. If you don’t mind wrinkles from sitting, then this isn’t an issue. If I had not stumbled onto curtain lining fabric by chance, I would have likely chosen a lightweight cotton sateen or broadcloth.

This curtain lining was a cotton-polyester blend, so it was less likely to wrinkle. It was thin enough (but also opaque) that I felt it would enhance the “puffy” tunic sleeve. There was also a slight sheen to the fabric, making it pop a little more than a basic cotton would.

Doublet and Cape: Historically, doublets were often padded as they evolved from military garments (under armor). To produce a firm, structured garment these close fitting doublets would have been made from multiple layers of fabric (including padding & canvas beneath the exterior wool, linen, or silk) (Thursfield 2001:95).

In an effort to achieve the stiffer structured look, but also remain relatively flexible, I opted for a washable white microsuede upholstery fabric. You might recognize this as couch fabric. Certainly not the most authentic (100% polyester, I believe). The sheen of the fabric made Ezio look a cut above the linen- and wool-only commoners, but still less opulent than the silk- and velvet-laden nobility. The weight of the fabric gave the cape some good draping effects.

Red Accents and lining:

Initially the red lining (and sash) was a beautiful red taffeta. It had the ideal drape, shine, and texture for Renaissance Italy, and the color matched Ezio perfectly. You can read about the mishap with this taffeta bleeding on the white garments here and here.

This situation showed me that I need to learn more about fabrics and factor “color fasting” into my project timeline. I repaired the Ezio costume for PAX Prime 2012 with a decent red satin that did not bleed. (I tested it on a scrap of the white microsuede before purchasing.)

Sewing Techniques and Details

Topstitching:

During a corset-making class, I learned about the aesthetic and function benefits of topstitching. By pressing both sides of the seam allowance to one side (use an iron), and then stitching on the garment’s exterior 1/8″ or 1/4″ from the first seam line, the seam less likely to tear. A corset needs to be strong enough to withstand the force that goes into the lacing one up and the force of the body pushing out.

This is very similar to the contrast topstitching you see on your favorite pair of jeans. The extra stitches help the garment made of heavy fabric keep its intended shape.

Even though Ezio’s doublet is not a corset, you can see from the screen caps that the pieces of his doublet seem to have some kind of piping or topstictching for reinforcement. He is jumping across rooftops and fighting a lot, so it makes sense that his clothing would need to be durable. (Although, he does own a number of tailors…)

I chose a light gray thread for the topstitching to mimic this contrast stitching. For every seam on the doublet, after sewing two pieces together I pressed the loose ends of the seam allowance *toward* from the center of the garment to match the doublet’s layered look in the screen caps.

An example of topstitching

I also topstitched the seams on the hood to add decorative stitching and to help the hood keeps its shape.  Without the topstitching the hood (made of upholstery fabric) would pucker and bend the wrong way.

Black spiral trim on the under tunic sleeves:

The two images above provide one example how the clothing from the promo pic and the opening cinematic screen shots differ. In the upper image, the under tunic sleeve look like they have a three lines of decorative stitching spiraling around the sleeve. The lower image makes it look like there was some kind of black fabric sewn into the sleeve.

I opted for a variation on the cinematic screen cap. Decorative trim made more sense to me than just three lines of thread.

I bought 2 or 3 yards of a black trim that resembles fancy knot-work. The fabric store also had a few nice looking decorative black ribbons, that would have been good alternatives.

I actually built the trim into the sleeve pattern, and forgot to mention in Part 2 of this series. I allowed the sleeve pattern to be slightly longer than Greg’s arm so that I would have enough fabric to fold over part of the trim and topstitch in place. (I am sorry I did not take more photos of the sewing process.)

  1. Align strips of the trim diagonally on the sleeve (use Mueldex’s sleeve template as an example). This will look like a spiral when you sew the sleeve together. Pin in place.
  2. Starting at one end of the sleeve and working your way to the other end, using thread to match the trim, sew the trim (end to end) to the sleeve.
  3. For each line of trim, fold the fabric on the shoulder-side of the trim over the trim, now stitch 1/8 from this folded edge. You will be looking at the wrong side of the sleeve and your stitch should pass through fabric-trim-fabric.
  4. Finally, when you lay your sleeve out, it will look like the trim is sewn into layers of the sleeves. Topstitch these sleeve-trim seams just like you topstitch the doublet.

Fasteners (no zippers allowed!):

Zippers are convenient for the person wearing the costume, but I’ve had problems sewing with them in the past and I did not want a visible zipper to distract from this costume. I opted for buttons and hooks (and a few snaps).

To fasten the under tunic without overlapping the front pieces, I sewed four buttons to one side and created button loops for the other side. I turned to the internets and sewing guides for making button loops.

  • Sew a narrow strip of fabric
  • Cut it into lengths that are just slightly longer than double the width of your button
  • Pin and sew the loops to the “right side” of main fabric (and/or lining). Make sure the loops face away from the seam allowance, so when you fold back the seam allowance of the main fabric, the button loops stick out the other way.

Ezio’s Gear

Thrift stores are your friend. They have belts, leather purses, and miscellaneous materials at affordable prices.

Greg had accumulated some leather gear from Renaissance Fairs, namely the bracers and one leather pouch. But Ezio has at least 3 or 4 belt pouches and a leather pauldron. We took a brown purse apart and turned it into a belt pouch and the leather part of the pauldron.

Greg also carved up a large rubber stamp slab (available at craft stores) to be the paldron armor. Unfortunately, the torque on this large rubber stamp caused it to tear where it had been weakened by the carving.

For the Ezio’s debut Greg made a belt emblem out of cardboard and fake foliage, spray painted it with metallic paint from Home Depot, and glued it over this crazy belt buckle. It has since been revised using the same rubber stamp material.

And that brings us to the end of the Ezio Costume series. I know that I did not touch on all the steps of sewing the costume, but I tried to touch on the major design elements. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Ezio enters the Hunger Games

The founding members of “Wrist Daggers Anonymous”

A fantastic array of Assassins Creed cosplay

Designing the Assassin (Ezio Series Part 2)

Once I had identified the components of Ezio Auditore’s costume, it was time to create the patterns.

At the time I began my work on Ezio I was not ready to draft my own patterns from scratch. Thankfully, I already owned a couple of Renaissance and Fantasy themed sewing patterns (Simplicity Patterns #4059 and #9887), which formed the basis of the Ezio costume.

The following descriptions are in need of illustrations, but without a scanner I am unable to share my sketches and pattern alterations. I hope to add these down the road.

Sewing Tip! Sew a dummy garment, also known as a muslin to check that the pattern fits. If not, adjust. I took an old bedsheet and sewed a quick version of the tunic and the doublet. This helped me get the right shape and size for Greg.

Simplicity 4059

Simplicity 9887

Undertunic

[UPDATE: for an illustration of how I modified the tunic pattern, look here.]

The Undertunic = A (modified) sleeveless tunic (9887) + sleeves of a puffy renaissance shrt (Simplicty 4059)

To modify the sleeveless tunic pattern I did 3 things:

  1. I extended and curved the hem to match the Ezio screen caps. The front and back center points of the hem extend to mid-calf/shin, but the sides of the tunic hem only extend as far down as his knees.
  2. I opened up the front. Normally the front and back pattern pieces are cut “on the fold.” For Ezio, I cut the back piece on the fold (normal) but for the front piece I added a seam allowance (for a center hem) and cut out 2 front halves. Now, Ezio can don his tunic like a button up shirt. (See Post 3 for details on the buttons.)
  3. I made it skinnier. The width of a “small” (34-36 chest) tunic is 58 inches…not circumference, width. This width ensures that the original tunic can be taken on and off (over the head) easily. As you can see in the image above, the tunic looks fine, if it has a belt. I interpreted Ezio’s tunic as a long button-up shirt. As such it required a slimmer fit, which also helped it fit under the doublet.

A hemed (but sleeveless) tunic

Trial and Error was the name of the game when I attempted to add sleeves to the tunic. I took the sleeve pattern from Simplicity 4059 and reduced its width so it would not be outrageously poofy. Even though the tunic armhole and the sleeve were not a perfect match in terms of circumference, the extra fabric on the sleeve did fit with the Renaissance era of Assassins Creed 2: Brotherhood.

Cape

The Cape = HALF (one front and one back piece) of a short cape pattern (Simplicity 9887)

This was the easiest “adjustment” in the entire costume. I took the short cape (seen in the lower right of the pattern image) and only cut out one of the front and back pieces in the main fabric and the red lining. TA-DA! A half cape.  Although this cape does not have the same drape and flow that Ezio’s cape does, I am satisfied with it.

Be aware of “right” and “wrong” sides of fabric when you are only cutting out half of a pattern. I accidentally cut out a right front and a left back because I had not place the patterns on the fabric correctly. If it helps, cut out one side at a time.  This was a variation on the “measure twice, cut once” lesson.

Doublet

[UPDATE: for an illustration of how I modified the doublet pattern, look here.]

Ezio’s doublet was built on the bones of the Renaissance doublet I already made in summer of 2011 (Simplicity 4059). The first doublet ended up being too loose, so I used a smaller size to imitate the snug fit of Ezio’s doublet.

I traced all pattern pieces onto plastic sheeting (the kind you use to insulate your windows in the wintertime). You can use any kind of paper for patterns. But I really like the transparency and the durability of the plastic. I did a lot of retracing, recutting, folding, and taping. Tissue paper would have torn.

Once I had the doublet outline, I created the sections to imitate the screen cap. I then traced over these lines and added a ½ inch seam allowance for each individual piece. The doublet ultimately included a dozen pattern pieces including the bodice, the collar, the shoulder flanges, and the hem.

Doublet in progress.

(Another method you might consider, draft the pattern to allow for pin tucks—show example image—and then sew the pintucks down as if they were separate pieces. I am not sure sewing-wise this saves you any time. BUT it might save time cutting fabric, AND it might save you from the error of accidently sewing the seam allowance too much or too little and having the shape change because the size has changed.)

An example of pintucks from another project

Ezio has a pretty large and flared-open doublet collar. The existing neckline of the Simplicity 4059 doublet needed some extra umph. Following instructions in a pattern design book, I cut out a rectangle that matched in length the circumference of the existing pattern neckline. Now I had a stand-up collar to work with.

If you have a background in sewing, I recommend picking up a book on pattern adjustments and design. I currently own and use: How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan. When it came to adding the sleeves for the tunic and the collar for the doublet I referred to these books a lot. Admittedly this book is focused on women’s patterns, but many of the core techniques are the same for men’s garments.

Flaps

Based on where these fall on Ezio (brushing the knees) I estimated that the white and red ribbon flaps were 4 inches by 2 feet, and 6 inches by 2.5 or 3 feet, respectively. I used grid paper to draw these geometric patterns. I ultimately attached these to the interior doublet lining with large snaps.

Flaps, cape, and incomplete undertunic

The hood…

There is a hood pattern in the Simplicity pattern 9887 but it is a very loose hood with a pointy end. If you curve this, it makes the hood more fitted. I used a variation of Mueldex’s hood design. But rather than just sewing the lines, I made the front section from separate pieces. For this, I turned to forcebewitya to see the shape he used for his hood.

Ezio’s costume has a lot of curved pattern pieces, including the double hem and hood. Sewing curves requires a lot of pins to hold the pieces in place and patience. It might seem like the piece don’t fit, but trust yourself. I had to pause sewing to rotate the fabric and adjust the top fabric to keep from puckering.

Pinned hood, ready to sew

Check back soon for Part 3: Constructing the Assassin (fabrics, sewing techniques, and details).