Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lady Vader Cosplay Part I

Comic Con is over now, and I am sad.  But also happy because I can now show you the costume that I have been working on.  I think I'll do a "whole costume" post (Part I) and then a "details/construction" post (Part II) when I finally get around to taking pictures of the details.  And then maybe a "Comic Con: The Experience" post.  Eh, maybe not.

But first, some background: I had the idea of doing a steampunk or Victorian Darth Vader floating around in my head.  Sometime in January, I came across an ad on the local Steampunk group/forum/page/whatever-you-want-to-call-it asking for people interested in being part of a steampunk Star Wars cosplay group at SDCC.  Since I knew the woman who posted the ad from some of the panels I went to at Comikaze last year, and since I already had the idea floating around my head, I messaged her that I was interested.  Long story short is that I created a Lady Vader steampunk cosplay that I debuted with a group of other steampunk Star Wars characters, including Luke and Leia, C-3PO, Han Solo, Darth Maul, Boba Fett, and Rianna Saren.

Second, I need to say that I haven't taken any pictures at all of my costume, so all of these pictures are by photographers at Comic Con or by other members of the group who posted their pictures.  I will give credit where credit is due, but for the sake of the privacy of the other members I will not say their real name, just their character or their initials.

I will also be adding to this post as I find new pictures.  It takes a few days for all the photographers to upload their pictures.

The Skywalker Family
Photo by Howie Muzika

Saturday Starburner Awards/Steampunk Meetup -- I am in the first row, second from right.
Picture by Howie Muzika

Leia, Vader, and C-3PO
Picture by Howie Muzika

Perhaps my favorite picture so far!
Picture by Sebastian Jespersen

Lady Vader and Darth Maul
Picture by Darth Maul's friend

The whole group out on the exhibit floor
Top row, left to right: Lady Vader, Boba Fett, Han Solo, C-3PO, Darth Maul
Bottom row (kneeling): Luke, Leia, Rianna Saren
Picture by Rianna's friend

Vader vs. Luke
Picture by S.C.

Vader and Luke
Picture by S.C.

Leia, C-3PO, Vader, Luke
Picture by S.C.

Picture by Rianna
Photo by David Degadillo

Saturday, July 13, 2013

First tutorials!

San Diego Comic Con is just four days away!  WHOA.

Aside from the obvious awesomeness of going to the largest and perhaps most infamous comic convention (it is THE Comic Con people are talking about when they say Comic Con), I am really excited for this year because I am participating in a cosplay group.  

(For recent comers to the site, cosplay = costume play, the act of dressing up in costumes, usually as a character from a favorite book, movie, comic, etc.  Frequently, when I say cosplay I mean dressing up as a specific character, though others might refer to dressing up in anything other than Muggle clothes as cosplaying.)

Unfortunately, since I'm in a group, and since the group has some unspoken rule about not revealing to the outside world what it is that we are cosplaying until SDCC, I cannot in good conscience tell you anything about my costume.  However, I will tell you this: I am the gender-bent Victorian version (as I interpret it) of one of the most well-known science fiction villains.  Was that obscure enough?  I'd actually be very curious to hear your guesses.

Since I cannot tell you about what I am making until next week, here are TWO "tutorials".

1.  How to Turn a Tiny Bit of Fabric (Like a Tube) Inside-Out:

A few weeks ago as I finished my bustle and needed something to use for waist ties, I looked in my notions box to see what color ribbons I had available.  It happened that I came across a piece of bias tape in the same fabric that I was using (the piece was left over from the 1920s dress).  I had just enough of the bias tape to make two ties, exactly what I needed.

I cut the bias tape in half, folded each piece in half, and sewed along two of the three raw edges, leaving one of the short edges free.  I was then left with an inside out fabric piece that was too small for me to turn by hand.  Hmm.

I had some vague recollection of the sewing class I took many years ago, where we learned to use some kind of tube and a metal stick tool thing to turn straps for a tote inside out: you would place the tube inside the fabric pieces, then put the metal stick through the bottom of the tube and use it to grab the fabric and pull it through the tube.  (There must have been some sort of pin on the metal stick, otherwise how would it have grabbed the fabric?)  I tried to recreate that tool using a straw and wire, but the wire part failed.  I realized that the metal stick thing only served to grab the fabric at the top and pull it through the tube, so I tried again with a needle and thread.  It worked!

Here begins the tutorial for real:

You will need: 
  1. Your piece of fabric to be turned inside out, henceforth known as THE TUBE.  It should be sewn with right sides together along at least the long edge.  It does not matter if you make a seam along one of the short edges, as long as you do not do it to both.  You must leave one short edge free.  Trim seam allowances.
  2. A straw (length does not matter, but circumference does.  It should be able to fit easily inside THE TUBE.
  3. Needle and thread.  Using a double thread (whereby a single thread is knotted to itself to make a double thread) is best.  Make sure the single thread is cut at least twice as long as the length of the straw so that the double thread is the length of or is longer than the straw.

Insert your straw into THE TUBE.  Push it all the way to the other end.

Insert the needle through the end of THE TUBE so that it goes into the straw.

Play around with THE TUBE, the straw, and the needle until the needle comes out the other end of the straw.  I have found no "correct" way to do this so use logic and common sense. 

At this point, you should have the thread anchored to THE TUBE at one end of the straw with the thread traveling through the straw so that the needle is at the other end.

Gently pull on the needle whilst holding onto the straw, not THE TUBE.  THE TUBE will be sucked into the straw.  It's really cool to see, but remember that you are trying to get a relatively large amount of fabric into a very small space so you must go SLOWLY.

Once THE TUBE has been turned inside out, go ahead and cut the thread.  If you enclosed one of the short edges, use a pin or needle to pull the corner out.

Press THE TUBE and go revel in your awesomeness for using a straw to turn tubes.


Of course, as soon as I took all the pictures, guess what I found? How to turn fabric straps or tubes with a drinking straw, a tutorial by Sewmentalmama, that demonstrates the same technique, but about 20x simpler.  No "playing around with the fabric" to get a needle from one end of a straw to another. :D

2.  How to change the battery in a battery-operated pocket watch

For my costume, the one I cannot tell you about, I will be borrowing my brother's pocket watch, which has been out of battery for a very long time.  Since I initially was going to be borrowing it purely for aesthetic purposes, the lack of battery didn't matter.  However, when I realized that I won't be able to wear my watch with my costume, I suddenly had a need for a pocket watch that worked.

I brought the pocket watch over to my dad and asked him if the battery could be replaced.  I didn't see any screws on the back of the watch, so I didn't know if it was even possible.  I was getting mentally prepared for the possibility that I might have to go to a jeweler or horologist just to get the battery replaced.  Thankfully, my dad showed me the trick to opening the back, a trick which I am going to share with you!

Look around the seam of the back piece.  There should be a little gap somewhere.  Find that gap and use a large precision screwdriver to pry at it and pop off the back piece.  If you are unsure as to which part of the watch is the seam of the back piece, look at the second picture.  In it, the back piece is at the top directly under my index finger and the seam is the first line from the top.

Inside the watch you may find a plastic piece.  This piece is surprisingly important.  For my watch, it holds the battery and the actual face of the watch in place.  Gently remove it and set it aside.

Make a note of what kind of battery the watch runs on.  In the picture above, the battery looks somewhat like a nucleolus in a cell nucleus, if you can see the watch as a cell.  Watch batteries are small and round, but there are different kinds of "small."  My watch runs on a SR626.  Change the battery as you would normally change the battery: pop it out and replace it.  The best thing about replacing watch batteries is that you know immediately whether the new battery works or not because the watch will begin ticking when you put the new battery in.

To put the back piece back on, simply join it to the watch and squeeze to pop it back into place.


Well?  Your thoughts?  

Please feel free to give me feedback on my tutorials!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Singing and Bustle

About a week ago, I started a lobster-tail bustle that I thought I would have finished in a day or two.  How very wrong I was.  I certainly could have finished it in a day or two if I had chosen to actually work on it.  However, I chose to read instead, because after all, summer vacation + books = happy bibliophile.

When I did finally get back to working on the bustle, I decided to add ruffles.  It's fairly common for most lobster tails or similar bustles to have a ruffle or flounce on the bottom, but I for some reason decided to add a ruffle above every boning channel, presumably to help hide any lines from the bones, but really because I had a lot of the fabric I was using and I felt like practicing hemming.  No, seriously!

I should mention that this is entirely a stash project.  The fabric, a synthetic weave of bright yellow and an ugly dark green that comes together to make a very pretty green, is left over from the 1920s dress from the fashion show.  The boning channels are made from bias tape left over from the purple corset.  The bones are super-long 36" zip ties that, according to my dad, can be found right next to the air duct stuff at Lowes.  For ties, I used plain ole string that we had in the kitchen.

It happened one night as I stayed up late to put all the ruffles on that a little song came into my head.  It was a strange experience made even stranger by the fact that I was listening to Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities on tape.  I hereby present the song that got positively stuck in my head, to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad."

I've been working on this bustle
All the way into the night.
I've been adding lots of ruffles
Just to pass the time away.

Can't you hear my machine whirring
Right up so early in the morn...

And then at that point the song would start again.

But now onto the important things: the construction of said bustle.  I used a combination of American Duchess's pattern and the Dreamstress's tutorial to draft and construct it, with only slight changes.  Rather than cutting out two back pieces and then stitching them together at CB, I cut out one large back piece.  Also, Am. Duch.'s pattern, the picture for the Truly Victorian 1887 Imperial Tournure (tournure is "bustle" in french), and various images of extant bustles all point towards the top bone or two being placed at an angle, rather than a perfect horizontal.  I couldn't quite wrap my head around this in my math, so I placed all the bones horizontally.

My bustle is 27 inches at center back, with the first bone placed six inches down from the top.  Every bone after the first is placed 4 inches down from the previous one.  Since I wanted a huge (and by huge I mean immense) bustle, the first bone is 30 inches long and the last is 45.

Skip the next part if mathematical talk bores you.  To get a relatively rounded shape towards the top, the higher bones increase in length more than the lower bones do.  The first four bones are each 4 inches longer than the previous (an = an-1+ 4, where a1 = 30), and then the penultimate and last bones are an inch longer and half an inch longer, respectively, from the previous (a5 = an-1+ 1, a6 = an-1+ 0.5).  Yes, this is actually how I think of it.  The fabric for the ruffles were cut in a 2:1 ratio of ruffle to bone length, which is pretty standard.

Pinning bone casing/bias tape to back piece. 
The picture below hardly shows it because of the shiny-ness of the fabric coupled with the flash, but I sewed the ruffles on upside-down above the boning channels, so that when the bustle is upright, the ruffles flip down to cover the ugly, unfinished gathered ends of the ruffles, and any bone marks that might show through.  Hopefully, the ruffles will allow me to cut down on the number of petticoat needed to erase bone marks.

Pinning and sewing on ruffles.

Before I put the ruffles on, I tested the shape of the bustle by putting in a few small zip ties in the top boning channel and pinning the bustle to Louisa around where I wanted it.  I had to put a couple pins on each side to simulate the location where the ends of the boning channels would be with ties.  The shape was extremely disappointing, I suspect because I was not using the right kind of zip ties (numerous thin, short ones rather than the super-long ones), though anything from the way I pinned the top to the fact that I didn't put zip ties in any other channels could be affecting the shape as well.


The disappointment of my first test of the shape led me to strengthen the super-long zip ties with duct tape.  I cut off strips of tape and then carefully wrapped them tightly around the top and bottom two bones.  Though the shape of the finished bustle came out better than the first test, it still drooped a bit, so I stuck the pillow-bustle I made for my Steampunk Irene Adler underneath the lobster tail to support the top.  It takes a bit of finicking to get the pillow-bustle to sit between the ties and the boning of the lobster tail, but it looks great when in place.

Taping the zip tie.

Immense bustle from the side 

Immense bustle from the back
Though the bustle is technically "done," I need to trim the ties so I don't step on them whenever I walk.  You can see the ties hanging in the picture below.  I didn't have any spare ribbon so I grabbed some string from the kitchen and used it.  A word of advice to all who ever plan on sewing string in any way: set your machine to tiny stitches or else the string will come loose in just a few gentle tugs.

Immense bustle from the front.
Of course, then my sister came home and insisted on trying it on.  I believe she is demonstrating "The Chicken Dance" in the picture below. *Sigh.*