Friday, March 20, 2015

Costumes for Legally Blonde: The Musical

I've been pretty busy with costume work again, this time for our local high school performance of "Legally Blonde: The Musical." Because I apparently live under a rock, I was not familiar with the story at all. Why on earth would a movie about a ditzy lawyer need a bandleader outfit and a Playboy bunny suit? And why did they also need a cheerleader's outfit copied in shades of gray and white? And what's with needing a breakaway dress?

YouTube to the rescue! There was an upload of an MTV broadcast of the Broadway show, so I finally understood the context of the outfits. So I got to work.

I knew the most challenging piece was going to be the bunny suit. Ever try and find a pattern for a Playboy Bunny suit? I tried, I really did. The best I found was this Instructable, which at least got me started. I used PatternMaster to get the basic top fitted, but even they didn't offer a tightly-fitted princess seam bodysuit. I ended up doing a bit of a Frankenpattern routine, using a princess-seamed strapless top and adding the front and back by hand, drafting the leg curves and crotch pieces. I knew what her crotch measurement was, so I used that as a basic guide to get the length right. In looking at pictures of the traditional Playboy Bunnies, I saw that the peak of the leg curve was in the front of the leg, rather than over the hip, so I had to figure out where that fell as well.

The first muslin wasn't too bad; I pinned out the extras and sliced where it was too tight, then did a second muslin in the final fabric, which looked worse.

I was despairing of ever getting it right, but fortunately the third time was the charm. We used a scrap piece of rabbit fur for the tail, and I also made cuffs, a collar, and bunny ears (thanks to that Instructable!).

On to the Bandleader outfit!

The prime concern about this one is that it was a double quick-change. The actress had very little time to get into it, and to get out of it. So I decided to make the top and the jacket into one piece, zipped up the front. The slinky gold shorts were worn under the previous costume, so that wasn't too much of an issue. In the end, it came together pretty quickly.

The costume director also wanted me to decorate the hat they had for her, with the proviso that I not damage it, which meant not gluing or sewing anything directly to the hat. The hat was a very deep blue, so it had to be completely covered. My solution was to make sort of a "slipcover" for the hat, and gluing decorations to that. The tassel and button are actually part of the original hat; I just cut a slit into my cover and pulled them out. The front ornament is also part of the original hat.

Now, about that cheerleader...

The director handed me this cheerleader dress and said she needed a copy in shades of white and gray for the same actress.

 I traced the dress rather than try to create a pattern, and got a pretty decent fit the first time. The contrast stripes were simply topstitched onto the bodice; I knew the costume would only be on stage for a few minutes, so I applied my "30 foot rule" and didn't bother with edge finishes. It was knit fabric, after all, so it wouldn't fray. I didn't even hem the skirt.

Breaking Away

In one of the earliest scenes of the show, the main character walks onstage in a flimsy white dress and moans that it just screams "bride".

She is then surrounded by a circle of her friends and two seconds later emerges from the scrum in a vivid pink number!

How did she do the change so fast?

Snap tape to the rescue! I just opened up the entire back seam and sewed in about three feet of snap tape. It's pretty much undetectable, even from just a few feet away, and once the actress is within the circle of girls, the one in back simply yanks the entire back seam open and pulls the dress off in one smooth motion, revealing the pink dress underneath. It's a great stage moment!

Closing night is Saturday the 21st, and I'm looking forward to being in the audience. I always have fun making costumes for this group, even though my kids have long since graduated from the school. I'm also happy that my daughter has become adept at hand sewing and on-the-spot alterations backstage; for this show she is serving as the main character's dresser backstage. I'm so proud of her!

Note: All production photos taken by Eric Lader.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Everyone needs their own Minion

A sewing group I belong to does an annual gift exchange at the February meeting, and this year I stumbled across Lady Joyceley's pattern and instructions for making a Minion pincushion. In case you're not familiar with Minions, they are the adorable little yellow sidekicks from the "Despicable Me" movie franchise.

Here's my completed pincushion:

It came out pretty well, but I did do things somewhat differently than the instructions said. There was also a LOT more hand-sewing involved than I had realized, and some of the instructions weren't terribly clear (like for the legs). The instructions said to embroider the mouth, but I cut a sliver of black felt and glued it on instead.

Another view:

The feet came out kind of wonky, but the recipient still loved it. While I'd love to make one for myself, it will have to wait until I have enough free time (hah!) to do it justice.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What the well-dressed knight is wearing

You may be familiar with Reddit, the online forum that has something for everyone (really! Check out their sewing subreddit, or the one for knitting, or the one for sushi, or the one for potato salad... you get the idea!). One of the subreddits is called Secret Santa, and they organize gift exchanges throughout the year. You sign up for an exchange and are given a name and address to send a gift to. All the exchanges have themes, and one of the recent ones had a Medieval theme.

I was stumped as to what to do for my giftee, until my daughter pointed me at an online picture of a hoodie that looked like a suit of armor. Perfect!! But, of course, there's no pattern for it. Which, or course, has never stopped me before. I drafted the base pattern with PatternMaster Tailor Made and kind of winged the remaining pieces.

It took a little trial and error, but overall I'm pleased with the final result, which was sent out this afternoon and should reach its recipient early next week. Can't wait to hear what he thinks of it; I hope he likes it.

I asked my daughter's fiance to help model it as he is about the same size as my giftee, so I was able to get some pictures prior to packing it up.

Front view:
Alex just happens to have a sword he could pose with.

Back view:

And a close-up of the hood:

The helmet parts do swing up and down, and can also be removed.

Everything is made of fleece. The add-on parts are two layers, and some of them (like the helmet face pieces) have a layer of Pellon Decor Bond in them to provide stiffness. The black "grill" on the face piece was done with strips of heat-transfer vinyl, cut with the Silhouette Cameo.

Alex has now requested one for himself, and as soon as my son Ian saw it, he said he wants one too. They really weren't too difficult to make, and now that I've made one I have some ideas on how to improve it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Snuglet is back!

When I migrated our family website to a new platform, one of the things that didn't make it across was my popular Snuglet pattern. I've had a few requests to make it available again, so here it is!

Just click here to download the PDF. My only request is that you ask permission before using the pattern for a class or guild meeting.

Friday, January 2, 2015

First sewing for 2015!

Not to skirt the issue, but... I need skirts.

I did a pretty thorough evaluation of my wardrobe a few weeks ago, and found that the biggest gap was in skirts. Lately I've fallen into a fashion rut, where my go-to outfit is a pair of jeans and a knit top. Safe, but boring. My resolution for 2015 is to break out of this pattern and start injecting some variety into my closet.
All last year I participated in two online challenges: the Make a Garment a Month challenge (which I failed at... I think I only sewed about five things for myself all year) and the Ready-To-Wear Fast (which I aced... Didn't buy a single item of RTW all year, much to my shock!).
But this doesn't mean I can now go on a shopping spree; both challenges have been extended into the new year, so if I want some new clothes, I'll have to make them.
So, I dug into my stash and produced a lovely piece of gray wool (source unknown; probably got it from a swap at a sewing retreat) and a piece of shocking pink silk to use as lining. The pattern was drafted with PatternMaster Boutique (as usual). Assembly was pretty straightforward; the outer wool pieces were edge-finished with the serger prior to construction, then everything was just stitched together. The lining pieces were serged.

The finished skirt!

Front view:

I'm standing kind of wonky, I realize... But really, the hem IS level.

Back view:


A peek at the lining!

The lining isn't attached to the outer fabric; it hangs free.

I'm very happy with how the hem came out.

Because of the curve of the hem, I elected to use a facing rather than trying to turn the fabric up. I stitched the hem tape to the top edge of the facing prior to attaching it. I then fused a strip of medium Pro-Weft interfacing to the outer fabric, and hand-stitched the hem, being careful not to go all the way through the outer fabric. This was a BIG hem... about ten feet around. It took me two full episodes of "Mission: Impossible" on Netflix to get it done.

A Skirt for Diana, Too

After much trepidation, I cut into the camel hair wool I bought ages ago to make a skirt for Diana. And once again, I was reminded that I really do know how to sew, and that sewing fine fabrics is actually a lot easier to sew with than crappy stuff.

It's the same draft as for my own skirt.

It's a big hem sweep.

The lining was from Chanel; I got it at A Fabric Place in Baltimore.

She's already worn it to work twice (I finished hers last week).

The nice thing about this skirt draft is that I can use it with a bodice pattern to make a dress, too.

Here's to more sewing for me in 2015! Happy new year!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My worst nightmare...with a happy ending

My next-door neighbor had a baby this summer, and the baptism is this Sunday. I had made a baptism blanket for her first child five years ago, and was planning on making one for this baby as well. Then her mother contacted me and asked if I would be interested in using the train from her wedding dress to make the blanket. Of course! So she sent it up to me and I started planning what to do with it.

Paralysis sets in

I was so incredibly nervous about even starting the project. This was really one of those times when it absolutely must be right the first time, as once that material was cut, there was no going back. So I spent a LOT of time fretting and planning and thinking, until finally I just had to make a decision and do it because the event was coming up. So last week I took a deep breath and started to take the train apart.
First I removed all the lace from the hem, then looked at the placement of the lace appliques on the main section and based the size of the blanket to incorporate them. Then I cut into the train for the basic blanket shape.


The baby's name, birthdate and baptism date would be embroidered onto the blanket. This was another nerve-wracking moment, since it had to be right. I confirmed the name and dates with the grandmother (couldn't ask mom, since the blanket was to be a surprise), and digitized everything with Embird. Then I carefully hooped the fabric and watched over my machine like a hawk to make sure nothing went wrong. Fortunately, my machine agreed to behave!


I had initially planned on using a pale blue blanket binding, but realized that wouldn't work with the rounded corners I had cut. So instead, I used the remaining pieces of the train to cut out strips and turn them into a ruffled edge. I cut the strips 5" wide, to give me a 2" finished ruffle. However, wouldn't you know it, I couldn't for the life of me get it to feed properly through my ruffling foot. Arrgh! Rather than spend a lot of time arguing with getting that foot to work, I figured it was time to learn how to ruffle by hand. And you know what? It was actually a LOT easier than I thought it would be. I got into a rhythm of folding and stitching, and the end result was surprisingly even.

The backing is a very soft Minky-type fleece, which meant it had stretch. To prevent it from getting baggy, I fused a knit interfacing to the back, which made it very stable and didn't affect the softness at all. I stitched the ruffle to the front, sewed the sides right-sides-together, turned it, then edgestitched to keep the ruffles nice and flat. The embroidered label was stitched on by hand.

Here's a close-up of the label.

(I've blurred out some of the embroidered stuff for privacy reasons)

Disaster Strikes

I gave the blanket to the parents Friday evening, and they loved it. But about half an hour later I got a text from the mom... "I hate to say this, but the middle name is wrong." Oh no!!! Somewhere the wires got crossed in the communications with her mother. She asked if there was any way I could fix it, and I said I would do my best.

The Repair

Thank goodness for Peggy's Stitch Eraser! I've only had to use it a few times, but it's been a lifesaver. I unpicked the bottom edge of the blanket so I could get at the back of the embroidery, and started carefully shaving the bobbin threads. Working front and back, with tweezers and a very sharp surgical blade, I got the middle name stitching removed in a little more than half an hour. I then brushed and steamed the fabric to smooth it and even out the needle holes so they wouldn't be too noticeable.

Restitching the Name

I corrected the name on the embroidery file, and very, very carefully rehooped the name area (being very careful to keep the rest of the bulk of the blanket out of the way of the hoop!) and fine-tuned the needle position, then took another deep breath and hit "start".

And it worked out just fine! Once the embroidery was done, it only took a few minutes to re-sew the edge of the blanket, turn it, and topstitch the area I had taken out.

I was amazed that there is hardly any indication that an error was made at all; you can barely see the original stitching and I'm sure that will even itself out when the blanket is cleaned for the first time.

Here's the finished, corrected blanket!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A new dress for the colder months

Greetings! It's been nearly two months since my last post (why does this feel like a confession?). It's not that I haven't wanted to sew; it's just that other aspects of my life (house, job, family) have eaten into my sewing time and kept me from sequestering myself in my sewing room to actually complete a project.

But I did finish a project this morning!! A few days ago, Wild Ginger released the new version of their wonderful pattern drafting software packages. I immediately upgraded my PatternMaster Boutique, and will upgrade the remaining programs as finances allow.

In the meantime, I decided I had to make a dress with the new version to test it out.

First of all, the Upgrade Wizard in the new Version 6 makes importing my existing patterns and charts a breeze! With one click, everything migrated automatically, so I had all my old charts and saved patterns all ready to go.

Since I realized a few days ago that I don't have any cool-weather dresses in my current wardrobe, I would make a corduroy shirtwaist dress using my favorite draft: the kimono bodice. This style has the sleeves and bodice in a single piece, so there is no armscye seam. I call this style my "Peterman Dress" as it is a copy of a dress I got from the J. Peterman catalog ten or so years ago.

This is what the pattern pieces look like. The dress has a shawl collar, standout cuffs, and a gored skirt. The closure is a single-breasted button front.

See that diamond-shaped piece? That's the underarm gusset. This draft is called the Square Kimono, and in order to be able to lift your arm higher than horizontal, you need a little extra fabric. The underarm is slashed along the line, and the gusset piece inserted. It's really amazing how well this design works!!

Front view of the dress:

I'm going to make a self-fabric belt for it eventually, but for now this purchased leather belt would have to do. The dress is actually just a bit too loose; I didn't check my circumferences prior to drafting the pattern (shame on me!) so it's possible they have changed a little. However, it's very comfy!

Back view:

The bodice has four small darts at the waist. I'm not really sure where the bust darts get rotated to on this draft; will have to investigate that. So there are a few more wrinkles in the kimono draft than I would like, but it's still a very nice style.

Here's a close-up shot of the gusset:

To insert the gusset, I sewed the underarm and side seams but left the overarm/shoulder seam open. Then I matched the gusset to the two seam lines and pinned them in place. Sewing them was a challenge, but I'm happy with how they came out. I honestly don't think I've ever done gussets before.

The collar lays nice and flat; I will attribute that to the small darts in the undercollar:

Kind of hard to see in this picture, but there's a long, narrow dart right on the fold line of the undercollar, which pretty much forces the collar to lay flat where it's supposed to. Shawl collars are a bit of a challenge to sew, but I love the results.

Oh, and see that headband? That was a last-minute project to wear to my PMB Users Group meeting today. My hair's been getting long enough to get into my eyes all the time, so I'm going to make some hair bands to help keep it under control (I'm growing it out for a while). I plan to make matching headbands for every outfit I make! It's basically two layers of the corduroy, about 2" finished width tapering to 1" at the ends, 16" long, sewn together on the long edges and turned, and a piece of elastic inserted into the ends to hold it snug.Took about 15 minutes to make... but ten of those minutes were spent searching for my stupid Fasturn tube set so I could turn the thing right side out!!

Of course, I put pockets in the dress. Can't have anything without pockets anymore.

I love this draft, and plan on making a few more of these dresses to get me through the colder months. I might try a version out of a heavy flannel. Depends upon what strikes my fancy at the fabric store.