Dinner Confessions

An open letter to my family:

I’d like to apologize for the meal I’ve prepared for tonight’s dinner. Out of the approximately 500 meals I cook and serve in any given year, it’s to be expected that a few will be not so awesome. Tonight is one of those meals.

In my haste to prepare the meatloaf I’d planned for tonight, I neglected to add any seasonings whatsoever to the ground beef. I did remember to put it in the meatloaf pan and pop it in the oven for about an hour. What you’ll find in the kitchen looks very little like the meatloaf you’ve come to expect from me and a great deal more like “old brown shoe.” Looks aren’t everything, folks, so I’d suggest you refrain from making comments about its appearance — unless you are planning to volunteer to make dinner for the next three weeks.

Please trust me when I say it is entirely edible and safe to consume. In fact, you could consider it a blank canvas, just waiting for the condiment of your choice to lend it flavor. Seriously, go grab some kind of condiment out of the fridge and pour it on because you’re getting overcooked, plain ground beef for dinner. At least the mashed potatoes have garlic in them (I bought them that way).

xoxo,
me


Thanks for the Fish

Another DragonCon is over and out! Four days of costumes, fandom and friends is really one of the highlights of my year.

This year was a little different in that I went solo Friday. My wonderful Honey had to work that day so we put Miss L on the bus Friday morning as usual, since he was working from home. It felt a little odd to head off without them and I was definitely glad it was just one day.

My professional commitments for the con were pretty minimal this year: two Costuming track panels, one Alternate History track panel, one fundraising event, a fashion show and judging a costume contest. Of course the hot summer weather that has been missing the majority of the season arrived just in time for DC. Yay?

Because I have been working on my next book, I majorly scaled back my costume plans. The only new costume I wore was the Snow Queen and my original plan was to wear my casual Wonder Woman on Friday, a geeky halter dress Sunday and the Snow Queen Saturday. (Most folks don’t costume Monday, me included.) Plans changed when I was invited to take part in the Vintage Vogue Fashion Show on Friday. I would have loved to include the Snow Queen in the show but it’s a major undertaking to put it on and I can’t do it without help. And it’s not exactly possible to drive while wearing it. I opted to reuse my aquanaut’s wife costume (updated with a new short-sleeve peasant top and my black wig) and managed to corral my son into lacing me up before he ran off to hang with his friends.

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Costuming is fun but costuming with your friends is even better! For me, the weekend really goes beyond that. Finding other people who love fabric and sewing as much as I do was so amazing and I feel so fortunate to have made friends who share that with me. Connecting with this crazy costuming bunch is like finding where I fit. I get to share this amazing career that I’m so passionate about where it intersects with these fandoms of so many things I love. I am constantly inspired and awed and able to help others achieve their goals, too. And this year I was able to spend even more time with some of my peeps, which made the weekend even more memorable (and maybe made for some unusually late nights, at least for me).

Saturday morning saw me hustling to get ready and into downtown far earlier than my body desired. It was painful but my sweet friend Meredith had connected me with her friend Pat so that I could get some nice pics in the Snow Queen. Worth it! (Photos by Pat Loika:)

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I lost track of how much time I spent on this costume. The basque, trained skirt ensemble, corset and bustle petticoat patterns I used are all from Truly Victorian. The Victorian Riding Hat is a pattern by Lynn McMasters. The coat is made with an aqua cotton no-wale corduroy from Joann with some Timeless Treasures Pearle on the faux vest. The skirt is a white cotton sateen (also from JA) with a gray apron. Faux fur accents on the collar and cuffs of the jacket and the hem of the skirt (15 feet of it!).

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My necklace is a one-of-a-kind piece by Andrea Wilkes of The Brass Button. I met Andi at last year’s Yellow Daisy Festival at Stone Mountain and was utterly captivated by her jewelry. I asked her at that time about possibly buying a necklace from her to wear with a costume. We emailed back and forth and I was overwhelmed with what she came up with. It’s stunning and just pulled together the look perfectly. (By the way, if you are local and planning to head out to Yellow Daisy Festival this weekend, she will be here, booth 78/79.)

Remember my comment about the weather? Yeah, it was 94 degrees on Saturday and the Con was packed. The Snow Queen all but melted. It was…uncomfortable. And also one of my longest days there: my last panel was not until 8:30. I love how it turned out and am so pleased with the ensemble but it was pretty miserable and I stripped down to my corset and petticoat for the walk back to the car. Yes, I walked through half of downtown Atlanta at nearly 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in my Victorian underwear. Keepin’ it classy.

My sweet girl did a little bit of costume wearing herself. On Sunday, she wore her Polly costume from the graphic novel, Polly & the Pirates by Ted Naifeh. It is one of her favorite reads and I knew the artist would be at the comic artist alley so we headed over first thing to see him and buy his newest comic, Princess Ugg.

photo 4 (1)He was so complimentary of her costume and happily signed the new comics we bought after he took a picture of her. And I was so happy he agreed to let me take a picture of the two of them. It made her day!

My wonderful publisher, C&T Publishing, has a cool product called kraft-tex that I thought would really inspire the folks who come to the Costuming track panels. I was able to get my hands on a few rolls, which I then passed on during one of my panels. I can’t wait to see what these folks come up with!

photo (12)One of the highlights of the weekend was seeing my young friend Caden on her first DragonCon panel. We met during DC last year, which was exciting for me because I had seen her winning entry in the Duck Tape Stuck at Prom contest and loved having the chance to tell her in person how awesome it was. I’m lucky to have gotten to know her over the past year and thought she did a fantastic job talking about working with duct tape (she’s second from left, flanked by thrifting costume babes Andrea Mast Kassel and Paige Gardner of CostumeArt).

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Top Ten Reasons to Write Another Book

10. My husband has completely forgotten how unavailable I was while writing my previous book.

9. Daughter’s nine hours of gymnastics each week equals prime writing time.

8. I finally cleaned my sewing room. Why should it stay that way?

7. The rest of my house needs to be cleaned.

6. My 30th high school reunion is creeping up and I need something to talk about.

5. Sleep is overrated.

4. Nothing motivates me quite like a deadline.

3. So. Many. Ideas!

2. Writing a book should make a dent in all this fabric, thus keeping me off Hoarders just a little bit longer.

And the No. 1 reason to write another book…

Stash Books/C&T Publishing accepted my proposal! Coming Fall 2015!

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(More details to come next year, like the title. And the subject. But yay! Another book!)

 


Got Vinyl?

I’ve recently added a new tool to the Craft Addict arsenal: a Silhouette Cameo. I think I’m in love.

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The Cameo plugs into your computer via USB and lets you send cutting files so you can make die cuts, decals and iron on elements. But it really can do so much more. There are pens that allow you to draw. And you can set it up to do what they call print and cut, which tells the Cameo to cut around a particular design. So many possibilities! I’ve already used it to cut fabric appliques for a bag and now I’m exploring the wonderful world of vinyl.

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So far, I’ve thrown our initials on water bottles and the case for my iPhone. Last night was spent cutting and applying a rather large damask decal to my KitchenAid stand mixer. My dear friend’s daughter is about to head off to college and I’ve offered to make monogram decals to apply to anything she wants. Honey joked that I’d probably put decals on my laptop. Pretty sure that’s going to happen, too.

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There is a little bit of a learning curve (I’m probably going to need a new cutting mat soon because I keep slicing this one) but it’s not too steep. My biggest challenge is not being distracted by the Cameo when I have other projects I need to be doing! Of course, I had to start a board on Pinterest with tips and project ideas. I have a feeling this thing is going to get a real workout for Christmas this year.


Dreams of Millinery

I have always been a researcher. As far back as I can remember, I would read and study in great detail any topic that struck me. Birds, mythology, web design. You name it, I’ve been obsessed with it.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my Snow Queen hat-making adventure comes after seven years of periods of intense research, acquiring appropriate supplies and working myself up to actually making a hat. “Obsessed” is probably the nicest word I can use to describe my approach.

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While there are a lot of resources for purchasing ready-made buckram hat forms, I opted to make my own. Drafting a pattern was definitely a consideration but I decide, instead, to use a Victorian Riding Hat pattern by Lynn McMasters. I liked the idea of having a solid starting point so I could focus more on the technique of making the hat rather than the trial-and-error exercise that drafting a pattern for an unfamiliar object can be.

The pattern was a bit of a leap of faith. I found really no reviews online. I had previously used another LM pattern to make a Regency-era bonnet, so I figured I would at least end up with a usable product. I was right but having plenty of sewing experience under my belt — plus all that research — really came in handy since some of the pattern instructions could have been a little more clear.

If you have ever been tempted to make a real, honest-to-goodness top hat, then you should know that 99 percent of the sewing is done by hand. Through buckram. I used a curved upholstery needle for most of it with a metal thimble and a pair of needle-nose pliers on standby. No joke. I only drew blood two or three times, which is less than the amount I bled on my first corset. (Hey, I’ll celebrate any victory!)

The crown and brim are edged in millinery wire and I wish I’d picked up some shrink tube plastic to finish the ends of the wires. I also wish I’d done a better job of snipping the ends. There’s one spot in particular that’s a little bulky because the wire overlaps. I don’t think it will be noticeable while I’m wearing it but I still know it’s there.

The biggest mistake I made was sewing the crown fabric to the fabric on the sides of the hat. You’re supposed to stitch by hand through all the fabric and the buckram just below the wire at the edge of the crown. I decided to cut corners and sew it on the machine, then slip it over the hat. In theory, it seemed like a good idea. The reality, however, is less pretty. The millinery wire really affects the shape  so it’s nearly impossible to get the seam to meet right on the edge of the crown. And oh my bulky seam allowances! If I’d had more fabric, I would have re-cut those pieces and done it the right way. I also think I should have used narrower binding.

I still have more embellishing to do and need to decide if I’m going to add some ribbons inside to use for anchoring the hat to my wig (a frothy blonde concoction that weirds out my husband), but that can wait.

 

 


Lessons Learned at Summer Camp

Another June and another session of Fashionista Sewing Camp is done. This year I had six girls, aged 10-17, for six hours a day. I’m not going to lie: It wears me out. But it’s also incredibly fun and rewarding to work with these kids, who inevitably teach me something, as well.

Most years, my campers don’t know each other. Occasionally, I’ll have a pair who are friends sign up to take camp together but usually Monday morning is the first time any of them are meeting each other. One of the first things I do is randomly assign partners to complete an activity together. This year, they had to interview their partner and then design an outfit for that person to wear. Each person then shared the design and explained the reasoning behind it. As I listened to the descriptions, it was clear how seriously they each took the assignment and the depth of questions they’d asked each other. Lesson: Engage the people you meet, ask questions and really listen to what they have to say.

After sharing their designs, I set up all the drawings on a table and asked each person to write down what they liked about the piece. Comments like “I like the colors you used” or “The design on the shirt is really interesting” may not seem like much but I think it’s important to encourage positive talk among kids that age. As the week wore on, I listened as they would compliment each other’s fabric choices or congratulate someone on finishing a project. Or commiserate on having to “un-sew” something. Lesson: Be supportive of others.

One of my sneaky ways of reinforcing a skill or technique is to have my students help each other. Even though they all work on the same projects during the week, they don’t work at the same speed. Having someone who has already sewn the rise of a pair of pajama pants explain to someone else how to handle that curve helps both of them. It doesn’t take long before they volunteer to help each other instead of waiting for me to suggest it. Lesson: Help when you can because sometimes you’ll be the one who needs help.

As the week wears on and the kids warm up to each other, they inevitably find out they have friends in common. It happens every year and it’s always fun to hear the kids discover the connections. This year two of my campers found out they are going to be together at another camp this summer. “I’m so glad I now know someone there!” I heard one say as they departed today. Lesson: It’s a small world — so be nice to others.

My expectations regarding their work depends on how much sewing experience they have. This year, I had two campers who have been sewing for a while, one who’d just completed my Sewing Basics class, one with a little bit of experience, and two who’d never sewn. My experienced two had a much higher bar to meet than the others, so I’d send them to rip and re-sew or press again if needed. The others? Well, I’m generally a bit more relaxed: if it’s workable, we can live with it. Otherwise, it gets redone. Regardless of who it was or how many times I sent her to fix something, not a single person complained. And when someone else made the same mistake, they’d happily share about what they did and how they fixed it. Lesson: Everyone makes mistakes. It’s not a big deal.

 


It’s Progress

I’ve had to take a close look at my costume plans for this year’s Dragoncon and do some scaling back. I’ve got a massive deadline that basically coincides with the convention (yay!) but it means the majority of my non-work time this summer will be spent working instead on that project.

getting started

On the upside, it’s forcing me to not procrastinate when it comes to the two costumes I decided to make. I’m already in the thick of it with the most labor-intensive of the two I’m planning to make: the neo-Victorian Snow Queen. I’m using my existing Truly Victorian corset (which I need to rebind) and bustle underneath and revisiting the TV Vested Basque and Trained Skirt Ensembles for remainder. These are the same patterns I used for last year’s Night Circus costume, which makes things a bit easier on me: no drafting or working with new patterns. I am making a couple of modifications, mostly to the skirt, to accommodate trim and also to make sure I actually have a skirt that’s long enough to wear with shoes. Unlike the Night Circus costume…

Of course I have to amp up the difficulty level a bit and am making a Victorian riding hat from a pattern by Lynn McMasters. I’ve had the supplies and pattern for years but just couldn’t get started. It’s amazing what a little incentive and vision can do to get you moving!

hat in progress

Did I mention how much of this hat involves handsewing?

I more or less raided my stash for the fabrics I’m using for this project. I picked up a nice chunk of aqua no-wale (featherwale) corduroy at JA five or six years ago. It’s a lovely, lightweight but plush cotton cord that looks a bit like velveteen. I did not have enough fabric for the skirt in my stash (it’s about 5 yards) so grabbed some stretch sateen in white at JA (surprise!). I know a lot of costumers look down on fabric from the chain but I’m on a budget and wanted to be able to get more easily if something messed up.

For the vest part of the basque, I grabbed some of the Timeless Treasures Pearle in white. It’s got a bit of a frosty look to it, which I think will be a great detail to play against the aqua.

The finishing touch for the outfit will be the white faux fur I’m using for trim on the hem of the skirt and the cuff and collars of the jacket. Yes, this is for a convention on Labor Day weekend in Atlanta where the average daily temperature hovers around 90 degrees. Yes, I am going to sweat to death. Yes, I am crazy.

skirt progress

I was inspired by another Victorian gown (OK, actually several) I ran across on Pinterest and decided to embroider snowflakes on both the skirt and jacket. There are a dozen on the center front panel of the skirt and another 20 arcing up on the rear train of the skirt. I chose two colors for the skirt snowflakes — aqua and silver — which I thought would play nicely against the white. Because it is a HUGE expanse of white. I could host a circus under that skirt! And since I can’t do anything the easy way…I’m hand beading to accentuate each snowflake. All 32.

beading


100 Days

It’s a little more than 100 days until DragonCon and I’m thinking I need to actually get started on sewing if I want to have my costumes ready in plenty of time. I always start out with the best intentions but procrastination gets the best of me and I’m lucky to have my plans solidified by August 1.

I tend to start thinking about costumes before the current con has even ended. This year is no different! I think I actually had four or five ideas on the table but practicality is winning out and I’m going to have to scale that back to two or three costumes. Fortunately I actually have been buying fabric — and even decided on one that will use a fabric from my stash — so now I need to just force myself to get working.

1174569_10151722137223387_505476339_nFirst up is a costume based off this work by artist Michael Dooney, an 1887 version of Selene from Underwood. I seriously have a thing for Victorian-era costumes and I’m thinking about doing the corset in leather — always a great choice for Atlanta in the dog days of summer. *eyeroll*

riddlersuit

Frank Gorshin’s Riddler from the 1960s Batman TV show has always been a favorite of mine. My version will be much more feminine. It may also be the only non-period costume I make for DC. I’m not 100 percent certain whether I’ll cover the suit in question marks — but I have some great ideas for doing them if I go ahead with them!

4a682d87262d6279ecf32b18cede4fcbI fell in love with this Victorian ensemble the moment I saw it. It’s serving as the inspiration for another costume — again, seasonally appropriate — that I’m planning to embellish with lots of machine embroidery and beading. I have nearly all of the fabric for this one and will use the same Truly Victorian patterns I used for last year’s Night Circus costumes as the starting point. I’m also thinking of blogging my progress with this one as the summer progresses, to help keep me motivated.