May 8, 2011

So I was looking at Simplicity costumes last week and what did I find? A Steampunk pattern. Two, actually, though one feels more goth than punk.

I thought the one on the left was kind of cute and would be fun to flounce around in , and was bemoaning the fact that I have no place to wear it. And then what happens? Reapercon announces a costume contest! The theme is Pulp Adventure, but anything is welcome.

I have a whole two weeks to pull something together. Aiiiieeee!!!!

This weekend has seen the first crazy flurry of activity. We don't have the luxury of time to spend on much planning, so we're kind of jumping in at the deep end.

A quick look at websites and sale ads and I discover that the pattern which is $17.95, is not on sale anywhere this week. Bugger, because I really hate paying that price when I know it's going to be a dollar in 3 weeks from now. Yup, Simplicity goes on sale the weekend of the con.

However, I know I can make the skirt without a pattern, and even do a better job of it. I already have a corset pattern custom fitted to myself. And I can *probably* figure out the coat given enough time. All I have to do now is decide on fabric, and I have piles of it just sitting here waiting.


One of my resolutions this year is to Use the Stash First. I actually started stash-only projects last year, but have decided to continue it for all of 2011. So, no hectic trips across town trying to match fabrics and find the right weights, I can do all of that here at home.

This is what I have to choose from. There's more in bins, but I'm not dragging it out unless I need to, and right now I don't see a need.

Choices choices. On the one hand I have the dark deep red silk which would make a fabulous skirt, and the red linen which would make a nice coat, and then a choice of two reds for the corset. One is poly and embroidered in red and green, thought he embroidery is spaced a little too wide to look good on a finished corset. The other red is a really bright brocade with little flowers and has a slight asian feel, which would be kind of cool. More on that later.

On the other hand there is a luscious rust brown silk for the skirt, a choice of two brown linens for the coat (it may come down to which one I have enough yardage of) and an embroidered brown poly satin for the corset. I really like the rust and the darker brown, but I'm not quite sure if it packs enough punch, you know? I think the browns say "good girl", while the reds are more "bad girl". I wonder if I could pull off a villainess.

So, I've sat on a decision for three days now. Time is ticking away, I know. I've asked my artist friend for an opinion, and I'm hoping to hear back from her soon.

Meanwhile, Jay has been working on modding up a couple of plastic Nerf guns. They seem to be all the rage among the steampunk crowd, and I can see why. I would not have believed it unless I'd seen it. Check out the awesome before and after shots. On the left, obviously, the before shot. On the right, an example of what you can do to it.

May 9

I am going to start this morning by outlining some ideas of what I want to build, and then documenting materials and costs, as much as possible. This should serve to both keep me on track, and give you, the reader, a guideline for your own costume.

I want to make:

  • skirt
  • corset
  • spiffy coat
  • shirt/chemise?
  • fascinator/hat/hairpiece
  • jewelry/accessories

    Jay has a Victorian vest and top hat from a previous costume, and I am borrowing a pair of goggles from a friend. He is modding two pistols as props.

    Important consideration: we will be wearing costumes in a small space, so no sticky-outie or pointy things. It is expected to be 90+F during the event so layers must be minimal and fabric coolness taken into consideration.


    I don't remember the costs of most of the fabric I already have. The dupioni silk runs $14.99-$19.99 at Joann's but I only buy it when it gets marked down, usually only when the Red Tag is half price, meaning I paid something like $4.99 per yard for it in the end. Likewise, I'm sure I bought the linen and the satins on clearance and didn't pay more than half price for them.

    We found the two Nerf guns at K-Mart. One was $9.99 and the other was $10.29.

    Jewelry, buttons, and misc bits: $20.59 and $5.93.

    So already I'm in this for approximately $85, and that's with half of it being bought at discount.

    Inspirations and References

    Well, there's the pattern, for starters. I like that it's cute and it almost looks like Victorian clothing. I'm using the book Patterns of the Gilded Age, vol 1 for the skirt pattern. Almost any pattern book on Victorian clothing will have a diagram for a simple underskirt which is flat in front and flared in the back.

    There's a thousand web pages and blogs that talk about steampunk style, but I found very few of them to be useful or inspiring. There are some truly horrid costumes out there and a lot of them seem to be little more than an excuse to dress like a slut. I just don't think that's the best interpretation of the genre. Some positive notes though:

    Check out what Liz did with the Simplicity pattern I am using!

    I just love the simplicity and elegance of this outfit. It's a Butterick pattern.

    I also enjoyed browsing the Craftster forums.

    This is my corset pattern. It's from the Laughing Moon pattern #100 and it is the Silverado variation for curvier ladies. I had it fitted to me several years ago by an acquaintance but never had a reason to make it up in nice fabric. I tried it on a few days ago and had to let out some of the seam tucks. Sigh.

    I had a few moments of panic over the weekend when I got to Joann's and discovered they were completely OUT of ALL boning. I called some other locations in town and all they had left was the pre-cut packaged stuff. But then, it is Prom season, isn't it? Luckily I looked in my stash and I have a little over 4 yards left, which should get me through this corset.

    I don't know what I am going to do from now on though, Greenberg and Hammer has gone out of business. I guess I will be relying on those 50% off coupons a lot more.

    I started by ironing my fabric. I chose a remnant piece of cream silk for the lining. I was going to start with that, but decided to start with the brown fabric instead because I wanted to interface it. Interfacing will give it a little more body and help it stay stiff and smooth while I am wearing it. Nothing looks worse than a saggy wrinkled corset. I used about 1.5 yards of lightweight interfacing and just ironed it onto the fashion fabric. Then I pinned and cut out the pattern pieces. I chose to not interface the bust gussets because of the closeness of the seams in that area, I do not want to added bulk.

    Now it's sew time.

    May 10

    I bit the bullet and went out to Hobby Lobby this morning and bought the Simplicity pattern. They have patterns all the time at 40% off and that's the best deal I can hope for on short notice. I printed their web coupon and bought a zipper for the corset.

    Yesterday I made good progress on the corset, I got both halves of the outer shell assembled and then I kind of floundered on what to do about the closure. I don't have a busk with hooks and can't get one by Monday. I don't want to put grommets into it. I really don't want to mess with putting in 16 pairs of hooks and eyes. Thus the zipper.

    I started the skirt yesterday too. I cut the rust silk after careful measuring. It went together easily and I finished it today. It's 4 panels gathered into a waistband. It hangs straight in front, with all the fullness behind. It's not as full as other skirts I've made, but it seems to hang right for the period it's from.

    I've been worried about what to do about shoes. I have large feet and I don't have a large collection of shoes and the ones I thought might go with this outfit no longer fit. I figured I didn't have much to lose by trying an experiment. I used the ice trick to stretch out my pumps. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it worked after only one application. Where yesterday I could not get my foot into the shoe, tonight I am wearing the pair with heavy socks. (They're still wet). If my feet don't swell up I ought to be able to wear them at least half a day at the convention.

    Pictures... yeah I know you want to see pictures but the truth is I have not been stopping to document steps like I normally would have because I am so pressed for time. At the moment there isn't much to see, anyway.

    I made more progress today on the corset. Mostly I worked on the lining. As I was sewing the lat pieces together I noticed something didn't look right. It hadn't been going together all that well, the ends weren't lining up exactly and I thought maybe I had just rushed things a little, and then it dawned on me that I had put it together wrong. Somehow during the assembly I mixed up some pieces and put some in backwards. So I ended up having to rip out about half the seams and redo them. Twice, because apparently I messed it up when I redid it, too. But the lining is all in now and pinned to the corset, and tomorrow I get to start with the boning.

    May 11

    Still working on the corset. Today I sewed in the boning channels and cut my boning. I'm a little short, but I think we can find some cable ties to fill in the gaps. It fits a little looser than the pattern corset, which I can live with, but it's a little large in the bust area. I'm hoping that after I get the rest of the boning in that will tighten up some. If not, I think I can ease some of it into the binding.

    I'm wondering now if the zipper was such a good idea. It's sewn together at the hip, which makes it a little tricky to get into, and trickier to get out of. I should have thought to get a separating zipper. But it will work as long as nothing rips out.

    May 12

    It's been a day of trials and error. I laid out my brown linen for the coat (all 4 yards of it) and realized it was not going to be enough. I can squeeze the main pieces on, but not the sleeves. So it was off to Joann's to find a replacement. By sheer good luck they still had the same brown linen in stock, so I only needed to buy 1 yard for the sleeves.

    An hour later I trimmed up the pattern and started pinning the pieces. This was about when the cat woke up from her morning nap and decided she wanted to help. Fortunately she's not one of those cats that likes to put her claws into the tissue and shred it, so I got out of that relatively well.

    While I was out I also picked up a package of featherlight boning. This stuff comes in a casing and is very light. I normally would not use it except I have little other choice right now. I was there, so I got it with a coupon and saved myself a trip to the hardware store later. I will probably double it up in the channels.

    June 6

    Ok, well things got kind of crazy there in the last couple of days and I did not have time to spend blogging the construction details. Suffice to say that I got enough done that the outfit was wearable.

    Warning, bad photos ahead!

    There's a couple of fit issues with the coat. It is wide across the back and it does not fit well around the armscye. I'm not sure theres a lot I can do about it at this point, but I may revisit the topic.

    The corset I had some different issues with, and I will be fixing it. For starters I should have got a separating zipper like the instructions said to. I should have figured that out even without reading the instructions. Second, I left out some darts in the corset and I should not have. Between that and putting the bottom binding on too tight I ended up with convex shaping over the abdomen instead of concave. So the corset will be coming apart and getting some fixes.

    Minor issues: the lacing for the back of the coat, as given by the pattern is not long enough. Rather than make the tie out of fabric I used a ribbon of the same length (approx 2 yards) and it was barely enough to lace up and get tied in the back. I wanted something that would hang a little longer.

    I left the ruffle off the coat. I'm not a ruffle person. In retrospect without it the coat is very plain and maybe I should go back and add one. I do have that orange and gold organza. Likewise I left the ruffle off the skirt. However in this case I am not sure I have enough fabric left to add one. I considered the idea of putting a ruffle on the corset, but I thought it would rub against my skin and itch so I left it off. If I can find soft enough trimming I may add this.

    I put cool square industrial looking buckles on the front of the coat and they did not work well. Every time I moved they came unhooked. So I may end up removing those and going to the buttoned look in the pattern.

    The guns really needed holsters. It's just a pain in the ass to carry them around at a con. There's enough stuff like door handles and railing to grab, let alone shopping and things other people want to show you to have one hand tied up all day carrying a prop. I swear we have some fake leather around here someplace that I can use, it's just a matter of finding it.

    June 6

    Let the Ebaying Begin! I held off even searching Ebay last month because I knew I could not count on there being enough time to get anything mailed and I did not want to spend the time browsing.

    I'm past all that now. I went looking for additional accessories and bought a ladies pocketwatch. Then I put a bid in on a cameo ring that I plan to tear apart and make into a choker.

    I'm also looking at a couple of cute little hats that I plan on re-trimming... if I get one. Still not sure if this is the look I want.

    Today I also started ripping the zipper out of the corset.

    June 15

    My cameo ring arrived. It's pretty much exactly what I expected for $2.99 and it will make a great choker.

    Jay has ordered the items at left from Amazon:

    It hasn't all been shopping this week. I made myself a petticoat using some sheer orange and gold ribbon I had. It was something I got on Christmas clearance, really wide and wired. I made the petticoat base from a simple tube of muslin, with a drawstring waist. It is the same circumference as my skirt. I cut a double length of the wired ribbon, removed the wire from the hem edge, and used the wire on the other edge to gather the ruffle to fit. When I wear it, it will just peek out from under the skirt by an inch or so. The idea here is to give the skirt a bit of fullness and weight -- so it's not just one thin layer -- and add detail to the costume.

    I also used some leftover rust silk to make a pleat for my skirt hem. The Simplicity pattern shows a ruffle, but I felt that was too casual for the look I was aiming for.

    June 27

    It's been a while since I updated because I haven't accomplished much. I spent most of last week doing absolutely nothing because I pulled something in my back and could not bend over the cutting table or sit at the sewing machine.

    All the ebay goodies have arrived and they are satisfactory. I also did a bit more shopping for notions and trim, so I think it's time for a costs update.

  • fabric and initial purchases: ~$85
  • ebay: $13.48
  • amazon: $11.02
  • thrift stores: ~$19.00
  • zipper, buttons, trim: $14.60

    So that puts me at $143.10, plus or minus a few bucks (and I am sure I have not fully accounted for the costs of fabric) to date, NOT counting the initial costs of my husbands re-used Victorian/western costume from a few years back. It also does not include the cost of books and patterns I used.

    I am aiming for a completion date of July 31. That gives me 5 weeks left to complete the outfits.

    July 18

    I've made a little bit of progress the last two weeks, but my back is still giving me pain when I sit at a table to work. I'm glad that at this point all of the major sewing is done.

    I started trimming the hat. Dumped out a bunch of trim and feathers and just started playing with it all. I have no skill at trimming hats. After a week I came up with one ribbon rosette and a pouf out of my sheer fabric. The plan is to add feathers but I'm not sure how to make them look good.

    I also started on the choker. It was suggested that I line the ribbon to give it some stiffness so it would not sag from the weight of the cameo. I used some iron-on interfacing but it did not want to stick to the smooth side of the ribbon so I ended up going around the edges and tacking it down.

    The back of the cameo piece was concave and I needed some way to attach it to the ribbon securely. The tip I got was to fill the back of the cameo with glue and place small eye hooks in the glue as it dried. That worked like a charm. I snipped the ends off some so they'd fit and used plain old two-part epoxy. I sewed the pieces down, using lots of thread to cover up the shiny metal. I think it looks great. All that's left now is to attach a fastener. I was leaning toward velcro, but I think I might use a large snap instead.

    I got a new zipper put into my corset today. I know some of you are cringing at the thought, but really, it's better this way. I do not want to mess with lacing this bugger to get in and out of it. The zipper I bought a few weeks ago I managed to ruin by not paying attention to what I was doing. I measured it carefully, sewed over zipper teeth so I wouldn't loose the pull, and then cut the end off. The separating end of the zipper. Yeah. I got lucky and found another one in my stash, and it's black, which matches my brown satin slightly better than the beige one I had bought. Why is there such a sucky selection of zipper colors out there?

    The separating zippers are meant for coats and jackets so they make them out of thicker stuff which is harder to sew through. I was trying to attach the inner lining without the threads showing, but it was slow going because it was hard to get the needle into the fabric of the zipper. Then I thought, screw it, just use a black Sharpie on it afterward on the outside.

    July 26

    One week left. I made a good amount of progress over the weekend. The pain in my back is easing up and if I take frequent breaks I can use the sewing machine now.

    Saturday I pulled the sleeves out of the coat and moved them in 1" at the shoulders. The underarm placement fit fine and I left that. It looks significantly better now. There's a little "kick up" at the crest of the shoulder, instead of the almost 1830's droopy bag sleeve. I also cut a collar from some dark brown nubby fabric that I have had forever, which kind of looks like short fur or velvet from a distance. There will be cuffs too.

    I put button holes in the front of the coat but have not cut them or sewn the buttons in yet.

    While cleaning off my serger I found some packages of feathers and one of them with clusters of pheasant feathers was perfect for finishing the hat. I will probably still add one of my long tail feathers to it, though.

    Last night on a whim we picked up 1,000 Steampunk Creations. It's got hundreds of inspirational photos of things people have created and it's fun to look through.

    Aug 9

    It's all over. I got the costume scraped together in the final days and we went off to GenCon. More on that later.

    Here is the hat.

    Here is a photo tutorial on the small accessory box that I made at the last minute.

    get some cardboard and draw out your box using a ruler
    cut it out and arrange the pieces
    use your pattern to cut craft paper (I used scrapbook paper) to cover the inside of your box
    glue the paper inside the box and fold it up to dry otherwise the paper will not fit properly
    A view inside the box with paper applied
    paper tape the outside seams of the box
    draw out the shape for the outside covering
    this is the back of the box, note the bubble that forms when the lid is open
    I used strapping tape to hold the hinges and covered it with paper
    soon Completed box. I used strips of paper to make pockets for the tiny specimen bottles.

    Here is a shot of one of the holster patterns laid out on the back side of the vynil that we used. I sewed it up using a leather needle in the sewing machine.

    The Wardrobe Malfunction

    We got to GenCon and the plan was to wear our costumes in the hall on Friday afternoon. Thursday night, 500 miles from home, I realized I had left my coat in the house. *facepalm*

    On top of that, my husband's jetpack self destructed in the trunk on the drive to the con. We talked about it and decided to go ahead with the pieces we had and enjoy ourselves.

    I managed to get one photo of myself, and none of us in costume together, but you're really not missing that much. Lots of other people took photos of us and you may find them out there on the web somewhere (and if you do, please let me know).

    Look for us again in 2012!