Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Analysis of a school girl

I started writing a post about future projects I'd like to tackle but stopped because I've barely even worked on the current project.  But, this morning I had an epiphany!  I can merge two projects into one.

And now, since I've told you that much about it, I might as well tell you the rest.

Meet Agatha Heterodyne.  She's the star of Girl Genius, a webcomic by Kaja and Phil Foglio (who, by the way, I met at the Steampunk Symposium and are awesome and really fun to talk to).

For a Steampunk/Gaslight character, she's more on the Edwardian side of the spectrum, style-wise at least (I mean in the silhouette).  I had originally planned to do a steampunk Star Trek captain cosplay in an Edwardian suit and thought that it would be very easy to whip up an additional skirt and vest.   But those plans have changed, and I will be doing a steampunk Star Trek captain cosplay in a giant bustle gown instead (but more about that when I have a chance).  This separation also allows me to get two different shoes, button-boots and extremely historically accurate Edwardian/Roaring Twenties shoes: the lovely American Duchess's Tavistocks and her new Gibsons!

Now, I'd like you to meet some of the earliest students from my school.  For a 123 year old school in Los Angeles, established the same year as the Eiffel Tower was finished for the World's Fair, we're a pretty old institution (you know, between the founding of the state, 1850, and the kinda early days of the Golden Age of Hollywood, 1920s-1930s).  Apparently, we're the oldest independent girls' school in Southern California.

Many thanks to the wonderful archivist at my school.  I went to him for help collecting pictures of the early students and he scanned these for me.  I wanted to recreate a dress that a girl would actually have worn to school, to my school, in 1890-1910 (and that right there is the extent of my school spirit).

Students in 1889 -- probably the very first class
1892 -- It's easy to see on a few of these girls that they were wearing corsets, which is expected.  Some of them also appear to have pretty small waists, but that could just be the angle.
An art history class on the lawn  -- my guess is that this is in the 1890s, judging by the sleeves.  Any other guesses?
The basketball team in 1902.  Note their hairstyles!
Our illustrious founder, Mrs. C, probably in the first decade or so of the 1900s 

While we have a uniform today, Mrs. C did not require uniforms during her term as head of school, from the school's founding until she died in 1924.  She did have a strict (by today's standards) dress code (I have a "don'ts list" she wrote--I can tell you that I do almost all of her "don'ts" everyday) .  In a letter she wrote to parents around 1920 (again, many thanks to our school archivist for helping me out), she goes into great detail about the importance of having free dress -- so that girls may learn what is suitable for everyday clothing and for festivities -- but since I'm trying to stay on topic about what a student my age would have worn, I give you this snippet from her letter:
Velvet and chiffon, high heels, earrings, paint and powder like wax figures are absurd for school.  Plain wool or gingham dresses of "middy suits" are only suitable.  Girls must not wear earrings to school; paint and powder can be washed off here. . . .  Sleeves too short and necks too low; heels too high and stockings too fine; powder and paint and lipsticks and expensive jewelry; hair as much like heads in a show window as inexperienced fingers can make it; velvet, satin and chiffon -- it is true that there is very little of this fantastic vulgarity among us, but the little is too much. . ."  -- Mrs. C, around 1920
Whew.  If you're still reading this, you are asking yourself what any of this "boring" history has to do with the Agatha Heterodyne from Girl Genius cosplay.  The answer: absolutely everything and yet nothing at all!

Agatha's world is fictional but, at least at the beginning of the comic, she is a university student.  So if I'm essentially going to be making an Edwardian outfit appropriate for a student, I might as well make it appropriate for a student attending my school around the Edwardian period.

You can hardly see, but some of those girls on the porch are sporting massive sleeves. 
This was probably the entire school.  Note that the younger girls (center front) have skirts considerable shorter than the older students, and some of the teachers?  I think that the woman sitting down at the right is Mrs. C, but the picture isn't clear enough to tell.

I probably won't start this project until summer break.  I'd like to finish it by SDCC in July, but there are other projects that need to be finished sooner, so they get priority!  I'm just so excited about the idea that I had to write about it now.

Mrs. C established what was then a finishing school but she was against women's suffrage, which is why I leave you with this completely unrelated, but exceptionally awesome music video parody.  Okay, it's totally related.  Strangely enough, it's actually the video that made me curious about the early students in the first place.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Behind schedule, but getting there

First, allow me to introduce the project.  In early March, three of my designs will be featured in a charity fashion show, along with several other student designs.  I've briefly touched upon this fashion show before, so I won't go into much detail here, except to say that due to monetary concerns, I had to give up my two "Punk Rock" designs.  I'm rather upset about it, so I hope my other three designs will go well.  Yes, you heard correctly: three designs.  I had a last minute addition (before I had to drop the punk rock designs).  It's a vaguely 1950s designs in the Hip Hop/Pop category, like the Marie Antoinette/Lady Gaga dress.

Because of what fabrics I had already, I started with the bodice of the new design.  Okay, that's a lie.  I actually didn't work in it at all.  I started by adjusting the corset from Simplicity 9769 to an overbust for myself for my Semiformal dress.  The first mockup came out too big, the second waaaaayyy too small, and the third just a bit too small (even for a corset).  With less than a week to make the entire corset, I gave up and wore a lovely back-up dress to the dance instead (I had a lot of fun, by the way.  I played 20 questions with my friends and then chatted about Marvel Comics, architecture, and Steampunk).  Fortunately, I realized that the third corset mock up would fit my friend who is modeling the new 1950s-eque design for me.  I had her try it on when I saw her at school and we had a good laugh about it.
Sorry about the cell-phone pictures.  I forgot my camera.

I need to take a bit out of the bust and out of the hips.  I'm using denim for the base fabric and zip ties as boning.
I'm behind schedule, because I would have liked to have the skirt and the fashion fabric for this cut out and stitched today and because I haven't actually worked on my school work yet tonight.

But hey, at least I updated!

Also: I will talk about the skirt and petticoat I was going to use for Semiformal soon. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Steampunk Symposium

Boy, have I got loads to tell you.

Yesterday I went to the Her Royal Majesty's Steampunk Symposium at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.  The decision to go was very last moment, so I went with an old outfit.  I did manage to finish my 50s petticoat in time to wear it underneath my long yellow skirt to give it a lot of poof, but I'll write more about the making of that petticoat later.

I convinced my dad to come along with me.  We through together his outfit in moments and I can only take credit for his shirt and the goggles.  The scarf and neckerchief was his own initiative. 

I wore the same outfit I wore to my friend's holiday party back in December, but borrowed my grandmother's gloves.  By the way, does anyone know how to clean dirt off white leather gloves?  I'm afraid that the gloves got dirty over the course of the day from touching handrails and such and I don't want to give dirty gloves back to my grandmother, who so kindly lent them to me.

The poofy skirt you see here did not last very long.  At some point during the event, the hook and eye closure holding the 50s petticoat closed came undone and it slipped down my waist to my hips, reducing the poofiness at the top.  Fortunately, it never fell all the way down! :)

The Queen Mary is a very large, very beauty ship-turned-hotel/attraction/museum.  I have to say that I was not as impressed with the inside of the ship as I was with the outside.  Also, the ship is docked in such a protected area that there is no movement whatsoever, which sometimes made it feel like we were in a building rather than on a grand ship.

Signs like these were posted around the part of the ship were the convention took place.  The small print on the one above says, "SPECIAL EXEMPTIONS ARE GIVEN for Royal Privateers with current Letter of Marque, parolees, bearers of Amnesty Decrees, Passage of Parley holders, Carte Blanche carriers, King's "X" recipients, corsairs, travelers under white flags, subscribers to Holly-Holly Auction Free, pedigreed pirate nobility, Ephemeral Posse, descendants of Sir Francis Drake, actors, members of Abney Park, diplomats, licensed bounty hunters, bona fide nonpartisans, boondogglers, Men Who Cannot Be Blamed for Nothing, dead pirates, Pittsburg Pirates, or bogus buccaneers."

Other signs reminded convention goers to be safe and use their goggles.  At the ball we saw a sign that said, "What do we want?  Time travel.  When do we want it?  It's irrelevant," which amused us to no end.

The ship itself had lots of fun photo opportunities.  For the convention, we tried to go to a few panels, but the panelists for the ones we really wanted to go to did not show up, which was really disappointing.  So instead we took pictures, walked around and talked to vendors.  I didn't do much shopping because a) it's impossible to get money out of your purse while wearing gloves and b) what money?  I'm broke.

I'm very disappointed that the panels were such a let down.  I think that the convention may still be new enough that the organizers haven't quite figured it all out yet.

At one point, there was a rather uneventful "battle" between a pirate yacht and the Queen Mary.  The royal family was out and about, with the Queen ordering the ship's captain to fire, but I didn't even know they were the royal family!  It was a very unorganized event, but it was fun to see everyone in all their finery on deck.

I adore this man's costume.  I think he accessorized very well.  In fact, I was so taken with his accessories that I didn't notice he was just wearing a dress shirt and jeans until I posted this.  It just goes to show how versatile and creative Steampunks are.

In the vendors room, I met Michelle of Damsel in This Dress.  I met her first at Comikaze back in September, and since then she has become an inspiring figure to me.  She has set up a wonderful, very successful business and I admire her greatly.

I also met Kaja & Phil Foglio, the writers of the web comic Girl Genius, which I absolutely love.  I read the entire archive, all 11+ years in just two or three days the week before exams.  I learned how to pronounce Agatha Heterodyne's name correctly, which is very important if I am going to cosplay her for SDCC in July (Heterodyne is pronounced with an "aye" sound rather than an "eee" sound).

In the afternoon, there was a bird show in between each category for the costume contest.  The birds were from Sky King's Falconry.  The presentation was very interesting and really cool!

We had dinner at one of the restaurants aboard the ship and then went to the ball.  I didn't take many pictures because I stowed my camera, purse, and hat as soon as the dancing started.

I found a TARDIS bustle gown!  You can't see it too well, but the actual bustle part of her gown is a TARDIs fabric.  She told me she had even made a TARDIS hat complete with lights and all but didn't want to risk bringing it in her luggage.  Shame.  I would have loved to see it!
I had seen this woman before, cosplaying as a Steampunk Storm (from the X-Men) at Comikaze.  She has these really awesome shoulder pads.  I wish I'd asked where she got them (or how she made them!).

The dancing was very fun.  My dad taught me some basic waltz steps and was a good sport when I messed up.  We decided to call it quits after my shoe started to fall apart (the outersole of the heel came off.  I fixed it this morning with some glue).

All in all, a great day.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Semiformal Dress

I've been procrastinating on making a dress for my school's semiformal dance, which is in a week.  I thought that if I wrote about it as I make it, I would be able to see my progress and that would encourage me to keep working.

I'll start by giving a bit of background about the dress.  Ever since I took a corsetry class in October, I knew that I wanted the dress to have a corset bodice -- both for the waist-cinching that it provides and for the general hullaballoo about wearing a corset.  At some point, I decided that I wanted a big 1950s-esque skirt.  I think at around the same time I also decided that I wanted to have some form of netting over the skirt (for elegance) and as a kind of partlet over my chest (to give some sense of modesty).

I looked at images of 1950s/1960s dresses from Mad Men and authentic sources (ie, whatever shows up in a Google search or comes across my Tumblr dashboard) and also images of modern dresses with the kind of netting I was imagining.
From a 1941 movie about the 1840s
(The Flame of New Orleans)

From a 2007 TV show about the 1960s
(Mad Men)

Alice Lon, a 1950s singer/dancer known for her petticoats

1955 wedding dress

Veronica Lake, 1941

Fire and Whispers by pure-insomnia

Russian designer Ulyana Sergeenko
Originally, I had thought that the dress would be black and light blue, with the petticoat and netting being black and the skirt and corset being blue.  I would find the blue for the corset in the remnants box at F&S Fabrics (on Pico Blvd) and then match the color in a cheap fabric for the skirt.  To spice it up, I would add some beading or sequins to the skirt and bodice, time permitting.

In reality, I did not find any blue in the remnants box that I liked, but I did find 1 3/4 yards of an interesting knit gold fabric.  My plans changed to a simple gold bodice and a black skirt, which is also better for my budget.

So far, I have finished the skirt (except for topstitching in gold around the bottom) and figured out how to cut out the fabric for the petticoat.

I got smart and cut the fabric on my mother's kitchen island, which is raised.  The circle skirt pattern can be found here, but be warned that the measurements are the diameter, rather than radius (length)!

My goals for today are:
  1. cut out the petticoat fabric
  2. sew each tier together
  3. baste + gather the tiers (bottom to middle, middle (1) to top, middle (2) to top)
  4. finish the waistband with bias tape, sew on hooks
  5. get out to the fabric store to get stuff for the fashion show
  6. work on sizing the corset pattern, add some to top for boobage control
I will post again tonight with my progress!


I grossly underestimated the time that cutting about seven yards of fabric would take.  I promised to post my accomplishments last night, but by the time I finished what I could do it was 3 AM in Los Angeles so I opted to go straight to bed.  I cut out the fabric and sewed almost all the strips in each tier together.