Custom Style

Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic

Christmas Parade Costumes

Over the summer, I was part of a small team of costumers that helped build some walk-around character costumes for a Christmas parade at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri.

It had been years since I had helped make true mascot type costumes, so it was a fun break from the norm and a good reminder of why I don’t want to do this kind of sewing all the time. Foam, fur, curved needles, and seriously wacky pattern pieces – give me real clothing any day!

Lime-Green-Stretch-Crushed-Velvet

Radioactive looking shiny lime green stretch crushed velvet. Lime green is my favorite color but this fabric causes some retinal burn-in when you look at it too long!

We constructed 2 moose heads that perched high (as in 12 feet high!) atop giant Santa hats, 2 big candy canes, and 2 elves that looked like Christmas tree ornaments. All were based on the designer’s sketches and completed with hundreds of LEDs.

There was lots of stretch crushed velvet and glittery stretch velvet for me to create striped yardage from.

Piles-of-Stripes

Stitching-Stripes

All those stripes are why I met Spray n Bond and we became good friends.

Spray-n-Bond

A little more about that in this post.

I stitched faces.

Constructing-the-Face

Looks a bit like Lady Cassandra. “Thin and dainty!… Moisturize me moisturize me!

I made eyeballs.

Making-Eyes

And I shoved large amounts of foam fabric through a small domestic sewing machine. I was really wishing I had a long arm machine to use for this!

Stitching-on-Yards-of-Foam-Fabric

I had to do some of the sewing standing up so I could see what I was doing over all that bulk!

Moose-Head-Construction

Moose head construction.

Ears-in-a-Row

Moose ears all in a row.

The moose ears made nice bunny ears too. I kind of want some!

Ears

I love this selfie with the ears so much it has been my Twitter avatar since I took it. (I’d use it for my Gravatar too if so many blogs didn’t do circle style avatars – it just doesn’t work as a circle.)

It’s a little weird to have your work stare back at you while you hand-stitch its ear on.

Looking-at-You

“I’m looking at you!”

I have tons more photos, but it’s more interesting to watch video because you can see all of the lights and get a better sense of the size. I was actually one of the test models for the elf costumes in order to help work out some of the awkwardness of wearing them – glad to see that no one was tripping and falling during the parade!

Happily, there were plenty of YouTube videos posted of the parade for me to choose from. (Ironically, the official Silver Dollar City one was not the best and was filmed on a night when not all the lights were working.) So I’ve chosen two of the best videos.

(See timestamps below each if you want to fast forward through them.)

This first one is nice for closeups:

  • 1:14–1:32 Moose heads on giant Santa Hats
  • 2:22–2:38 Big Candy Canes
  • 3:00–3:33 Elves that look like huge Christmas ornaments

And this video is a view of the parade from a little farther back, giving you a better look at the whole 12-foot moose on Santa hats costumes:

  • 0:48–0:59 Moose
  • 2:33–2:52 Candy Canes
  • 3:19–3:42 Elves

This year has been full of Christmas projects for me! And I still have one more to post about next time!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Historic Dresses Undressed

I’m sorting through photos for a couple more Christmas costuming posts, which I’m hoping to have up before New Year’s, but in the meantime, I have to share this wonderful video!

The same friend & coworker who sent me the link to the amazing Dior video also sent me this one a few weeks ago. (Thank you, Matt!)

The undergarments required for a proper period silhouette are often a bit unfamiliar to us in modern times. So many layers! And if you’ve ever wondered what pregnancy fashions looked like in the 1800s, there are a couple examples.

I hope you enjoy this beautifully simple film about historic dresses and all the layers beneath!

 

 

White Christmas Dresses for The Fantasy of Lights

There was a little blood (on the white fur, of course! but easy to fix), a lot of sweat (heavy upholstery fabric is hard to wrangle!), but thankfully, no tears for this build!

I ended up having to sort through 415 photos for this post! Needless to say, I have reduced that number down a little bit. (Click photos to enlarge.)

1-White-Christmas-Santa-Dresses

Back at the end of September, I was hired to build dresses for two identical mannequins for a revamped outdoor Christmas display in Wichita Falls. The request was for something that resembled the red satin dresses with white fur trim seen at the end of the 1954 movie White Christmas.

2-DVD-and-Printed-Screenshots

Luckily, it’s a movie I love and own so I was able to re-watch the end a bunch of times and grab some good screenshots to work from.

One of the mannequins was brought to my house.

I called her Keira. She was about the same dress size as I am – but 6 feet tall! A GIANT Barbie.

Keira-the-Mannequin

Her old outfit was sad and her wig was scraggly. So I threw away her clothes and let her borrow some of mine after a bit of a spa day.

3-Spa-Day

I ordered a swatch of the Sunbrella brand red outdoor upholstery velvet. It ended up being the perfect color and had a decent drape, so I ordered 16 yards (but it seems to be sold out at the moment – not sure if they will restock it, but I hope they do!).

I bought some rip-stop nylon for lining and some white acrylic fur with an olefin backing at my local Hancock Fabrics. I also purchased outdoor upholstery thread, acrylic rhinestones (JoAnn Fabrics), and fabric glitter glue (Hobby Lobby).

I ordered hoop skirt petticoats from Petticoat Junction and the client ordered ice skates for shoes. I bought some red “parade gloves” at a Halloween store (perfect timing of a project!).

My really good friend Marlene, who is a professional film & television makeup artist, was tasked with finding and styling some appropriate wigs that could stand up to the elements.

4-Sitting-Fail

I thought Keira might like to sit down for once in her life. Not sure it worked out so well for her.

Wensley did not like Keira and hated it when I touched her or moved her around. I think she bothered him because she wouldn’t look at him, hehe. (My dress forms don’t have faces so he just ignores them.)

There was growling and barking for many days after she arrived. Just when he had gotten a little used to Keira visiting, the big roll of velvet fabric arrived and he greeted that with the same suspicious “intruder alert!” and I caught it on video:

A package was delivered while Wensley was outside. BIG fabric roll #intruderalert! #jrt #jackrussell #dog

A video posted by Brooke Wilkerson (@sewbrooke) on

My husband and our brother-in-law helped me rig a stand for her, and then I was able to start working on a mockup.

5-Mannequin-Stand

My starting point for both bodices was Vogue 2979 that looks like a reproduction of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress (pictured in this old post). But the sleeve caps as drafted were too short and caused all kinds of fit issues until I popped the seam open at the shoulder. (I tried the bodice on myself and had similar problems with the fit, so beware if you are trying to use this pattern straight from the envelope.) I also lowered the underarm curve a slightly like I usually need to do for myself.

6-Sleeve-Cap-Too-Short

Therefore, I drafted my own sleeve from scratch and made it a two-piece sleeve while I was at it. This allowed me to include better elbow ease for Keira’s perpetually bent arms. It also made it so much easier to dress her.

7-New-Sleeve-Draft

8-Old-and-New-Sleeve-Comparison

Original sleeve (left) and new self-drafted 2-piece sleeve (right).

My friend used glossy red model paint to repaint Keira’s outdated ‘80s lips (check out that unbelievably sharp line!) and Keira got her lovely new hair. So much better!

9-New-Lips-and-Hair

The skirts were just basic full circles (but huge! because she’s so tall!) and I draped & drew the cape pattern on Keira. I was really surprised that the upholstery velvet cooperated and did what I wanted it to do for the most part.

I didn’t have enough fur (I bought all there was at the store) to double fold it like I wanted to on the capelet and skirts, so I lined it with some white polyester utility fabric and did a lot of picking to pull the fur out of the seams.

10-Pinned-Darts

Assembly-line dart sewing in my usual way of marking & stitching darts.

11-Circle-Skirt-Cut

12-Quality-Control-Dog

Quality Control Dog inspects my work.

13-This-One-Is-Empty

14-Helping

15-Evened-Hem

16-Samples-and-Machine-Blind-Hem

After making stitch samples, I determined that hand-stitching looked no better than a machine stitched blind-hem. Machine sewing FTW! Much more convenient than sewing miles of circle by hand!

17-Husband-in-Wig

My husband found Keira’s old hairdo.

18-Picking-Fur-From-Seam

19-Attaching-Fur-Trim-To-Skirt

Attaching the fur trim to the skirt. And then starting again for skirt number 2.

20-Trilby-Hat

So I’m hemming the 2nd skirt while listening to Glee Madonna album and I come out to find this. It’s 1983 all over again! I took Keira’s wig off to remove her skirt & my husband put his hat on her head.

21-Springy-Santa-Hat

Husband stikes again but with a silly hat.

22-Draping-the-Capelette

23-Bored

24-Scattered-Notions

25-Bars-Attached-to-Bodice-for-Skirt-Hooks

The skirts ended up being so heavy I had to add bars to the bodices and corresponding hooks on the skirts to hold them in place.

26-Gluing-Rhinestones

27-Rosemary-Mannequin-Comparison

28-Dress-Back-Comparison

29-Fur-Ring-Headpiece

30-Muff

31-White-Christmas-Dresses-Front-and-Back

If you have questions or would like to know about specific details, ask me in the comments. =)

Overall, I probably spent about 3 weeks total on this project but the work was spread out over about 6 weeks. It was a huge build to complete on my own and I was so glad when it was finished! So was Wensley.

32-Emtpy-Mannequin-Stand

“Good, that weird lady who wouldn’t look at me is gone!”

 

Merry Christmas to all, and my all your Christmases be white!

And My Resume Gets More Convoluted

I have so many things to share! This is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge post.

Some of you may already know from talking to me directly or seeing it on Twitter, I no longer work part-time at Fabrique Fabrics. It was fun for the year and a half it lasted and I’ll miss my coworkers, but since it was never really my “career” I’m not really upset about it. (I think everyone who knows the details is more upset about it than I am.) The short explanation is my boss decided to reduce my hours to “none” to save some money, so I’m moving on to other things instead of waiting around.

On to more exciting things (and LOTS of links)…

  • Something I worked on last summer will finally be on display at the Dallas Arboretum for the holidays! The 12 Days of Christmas exhibit is “an elaborate collection of life-size Victorian gazebos filled with the charming costumed characters made famous by the beloved Christmas carol.”** You can see it for yourself from November 16, 2014–January 4, 2015. Since the opening was delayed a year, I’m looking forward to remembering what I did. I can’t wait to see it installed and share some photos (and possibly video) once it opens!
  • I helped make some youth circus costumes back in May. Lots and lots of tiny appliqué (spandex on spandex) and ruffles… and thread! I really blew through the thread on this project:
Circus-Costume-Appliques

Circus costumes with detailed appliqué designs and what the trashcan next to my machine looked like halfway through.

And here’s a teaser video of this year’s show, in which you can see some of the costumes in motion:

  • If you will be in San Antonio this weekend (September 26-28), you can see some of the fun costumes I helped build this summer in the opera The Fantastic Mr. Fox put on by the new Opera San Antonio.
  • More of my summer sewing work will be in a Christmas parade at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri this year.

Hopefully, I will have more photos of both the opera and the parade to share later. (I’m crossing my fingers that someone will post a video of the parade on YouTube at some point!) Update: Post about the parade.

  • If you will be in Dallas, TX anytime now until October 5, go see the Oscar de la Renta exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. It’s fashion inspiration! I went and took a ton of photos a few weeks ago, so if you aren’t able to see it yourself, I promise a detailed blog post about it soon. Here’s a teaser:
Oscar-de-la-Renta_5-Decades-of-Style

Oscar de la Renta – Five Decades of Style exhibit

Recent freelancing has suddenly gone from “absolutely nothing” to “I’m booked into the beginning of next year!” Such is my career.

Keira-the-Mannequin

Meet Keira, one of the mannequins I’ll be making a custom dress for. She’s had a hard life and it’s time for new hair and better clothes.

  • Then it looks like I’ll be finishing out the year working at The Dallas Opera. They have a few new costumes to build. =)

And just because I’ve been looking for a place to share a couple of great costuming videos, I’m going to include them here.

I found the first video because of the second one. It is a really nice overview of what it’s like in any professional costume shop – whether it’s opera, theatre, dance, or film – when there are costumes to construct and fit. “Recreating a Tutu” at the New York City Ballet:

And if you have the time to watch (it’s over 26 minutes long), the following is a truly fascinating video on how a ballet pointe shoe is made (teaser-not-quite-spoiler: inside out!). If you don’t have time to watch it now, come back and watch it later when you do! I promise you will enjoy it.

They use some cool sewing machines and do an amazing amount of the work by hand. And to think that all shoes used to be made this well! “What’s in a Ballet Shoe”:

** What my husband/editor read at first glance: “An elaborate collection of life-size Vulcan gizmos filled with charred costumed characters made famous by the beloved Christmas carrots”  ??

The Lie Revealed

Did I leave you hanging in suspense about which was the lie in the list from my previous post? From the people who decided to guess, the results were pretty evenly distributed across the three choices.

The logic some of you used to make your choice was really quite good! I had fun reading your guesses.

So without further ado (and in no particular order), here are the rest of the stories:

I once won a three-legged race – without falling down!

TRUE!

Yes, I did in fact win a three-legged race. And yes, my partner and I did it without falling down… while running!

I was in 4th grade and we had a school track & field day, Olympic-type games & events, and competed as classes. We knew ahead of time which events we would be competing in, so my friend and I decided we would practice for the race during recess. I remember classmates being amused as they watched us casually walk around the schoolyard with our legs tied together.

The training really paid off because we could move together without thinking about it by the time we had to race. We got so good at it, the day of the race, we sprinted to the finish line only to turn around and realize everyone else was still at least half the field behind – and most of them were stumbling or already lying in awkward 3-legged heaps along the way.

I have no photographic evidence of that day (I can’t remember if we were even awarded actual ribbons) so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Batgirl is my cousin.

TRUE!

Surprised? You see, Yvonne “Batgirl” Craig is in fact my cousin. My second-cousin-once-removed to be exact. Stated another way, my mom’s grandmother and her grandmother were sisters.

Batgirl_Tree

I’ve never actually met her, but there have been a few emails back and forth between my mom/mom’s sister and some of the family on the other branches of the tree. I remember watching reruns of the Batman TV show as a kid and thinking she was so cool. Now when I watch the show, I wish I had all of Barbara Gordon’s clothes in my closet!

I love country music.

LIE!

When asked what kind of music I would like to listen to, I always answer “anything but country or rap.”

I have very eclectic taste in music. I grew up listening mostly to classical and ‘50s & ‘60s Oldies. My music collection contains a little of everything – Big Band, The Beatles, The Monkees, ABBA, The Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Broadway musicals, movie soundtracks, techno, synthpop, and mp3s of miscellaneous songs from almost every decade up to the current year just because I like them or have memories associated with them. (Some of the songs in my collection aren’t even in English.)

I can listen to pretty much anything, however, if you make me listen to more than a couple of country songs in a row, I will become more and more irritated. The general whiny sound of modern country music and the style of singing that accompanies it just plain annoys me. There are exceptions, but very few of them.

The one artist I never, EVER get tired of listening to is Owl City. I can go for weeks playing those CDs and nothing else without tiring of them – Adam’s songs just sound happy and have such clever, poetic lyrics full of puns and double entendres that I’m surprised I can sometimes still hear something “new” when I’ve practically worn those discs out.

There’s even an Owl City song that mentions a sewing machine and sewing “miles and miles of thread… in navy and red” :

Hope you enjoyed this bit of blogging fun & games!

“It’s been fun, but now I’ve got to go”:

Two Truths, A Lie, and More Honesty

For many days I have been pondering my Two Truths & A Lie. (Gillian of Crafting A Rainbow started it at the end of this post and MaLora of Bird and Bicycle dared me to join the fun.) I find it hard enough to choose random facts about myself and then trying to come up with a convincing lie made it even more difficult!

So here you go. Can you spot the lie?

  1. I love country music.
  2. I once won a three-legged race – without falling down!
  3. Batgirl is my cousin.

I’ll let you know if you guessed correctly in the next post. And now…

I’ve been nominated to join in another blogging “game” or blog hop by Karen of Fifty Dresses about sewing and why we blog about it.

What am I working on?

I’m currently trying to find the motivation to leisure sew (as opposed to hired sewing). I made the mistake of actually starting a written To-Sew list, and it has become a little overwhelming because it’s so long! I’ve been slowly trying to produce practical garments to put in my closet so I’ll have more than just church clothes from my portfolio to wear.

Why do I write?

I guess I write because I feel like more people listen to what I have to say when it’s in print. That way, they have the option of ignoring/skimming a text without feeling like they have to be polite to my face, and those who really want to absorb my meaning can. I find small talk awkward, and when I do join group conversations, I’m often ignored or drowned out by those who are louder and more charismatic.

I started my blog mainly because I was tired of answering the same questions about sewing/costuming over and over in real life. I feel like I’ve been able to write a handful of posts with really useful information that couldn’t easily be found elsewhere online. Google often seems to think so too. =)

Now I find my own blog useful because it’s a bit like a portfolio/diary that I can refer back to when I need to remember when or how I did something.

How does my blog differ from others of its genre?

Well, I suppose my blog is different because I am one of the few sewing bloggers who actually sews professionally during the day. It’s the actual blogging part of the sewing that is my hobby.

How does my writing process work?

I usually start with the photos.

I take a lot of photos during and after a build. (Many teasers end up on Instagram.) I weed through the overabundance of pictures and choose the best ones to edit. Then I try to connect the photos with words.

Once I have my thoughts down in a somewhat logical order, my wonderful editor (aka ever-patient, non-sewing-husband) plods through my droning about things he’s mostly not interested in reading, and makes me sound so much better than I normally would. My readers have no idea how much to thank him! He is also the best blog post title composer – you know all those clever titles? Yeah, all him. My blog would read like a dry history book without him. (I’m actually really worried when he doesn’t fix more than a couple of commas in a post.)

Most of my posts end up being longer than I plan for them to be, but I think because I’m not posting daily, it sort of balances out. At least I hope it does!

Nominate!

I always feel a little guilty about passing these things on, but I would like to know what Catja of Gjeometry and Melanie of The Seeds of 3 would have to say about their process (including a lie!) if they are inclined to play along. I don’t think either of you have been asked, have you? =)

And Karen of Fifty Dresses, do you have Two Truths & A Lie? Thanks for giving me the push to crank out a blog post – I’ve been trying to find the incentive to write for days!

So who wants to guess my lie? Leave your guesses in the comments of this post! (And no, Dad, you can’t play.)

Sewing Hors d’Oeuvres

Since social media moves fast and things often get completely missed or quickly buried in the constant flow, I’ve decided to assemble some of the miscellaneous sewing tips I’ve shared on Instagram and publish them together in a single blog post. That way it’s a little easier for you to link, find, and reference later.

So whether you missed them before or just forgot about them (some of these are over a year old!), I hope you savor these quick tidbits! Enjoy! =)

Copy-Instead-of-Trace-PatternsYou might recall that I like to trace sewing patterns (especially the vintage ones) to preserve the original. But I also like to use my printer to copy the pieces that are small enough to fit on a page or two.

Sharpening-Hole-PunchYou can sharpen any kind of metal paper-punch by punching through aluminum foil. Punching through wax paper also helps if a punch is sticking.

Interfaced-Sewing-PatternMy friend discovered that fusible interfacing ironed to the back of a favorite and frequently used sewing pattern makes it much more durable.

Cutting-Fur-FabricWhen cutting fake fur fabric, cut from the back and cut only the backing. That way you aren’t cutting any of the long fur and you can easily cover the seams in the end.

Sewing-Fur-FabricAfter some trial and error, I recently determined that pins on the bottom help when sewing fur fabric. Sew with a zig-zag stitch so it’s easier to pick the fur on the front to cover the seams after.

Spray-n-BondSpray-n-Bond is my new favorite thing! It was the only way I could appliqué stretch crushed velvet on top of another layer of stretch crushed velvet without it shifting all over the place. It even made using a walking foot unnecessary!

Removing-Beads-from-Seam-AllowanceRemove beads from the seam allowance by smashing them with a hammer. This will keep all the beading threads intact so the beads you leave on the outside don’t become loose and fall off as easily. (Protect your eyes! Wear safety glasses when pounding beads!)

Easing-with-PinsEase with pins. (You don’t need to use gathering stitches to help with easing!) I do this all the time and with all ungathered sleeve caps. Pin both ends, then pin the midpoint, and keep pinning the “middles” until you have the ease distributed evenly.

Gathering-Zigzag-Over-ThreadWhen you need to gather tightly or are using a thick fabric and you’re afraid of breaking a thread when you pull the gather, zig-zag over nylon or upholstery thread (or even dental floss!). You can then pull the stronger thread without fear of it snapping off mid-gather. Just be sure to secure the other end to the fabric or knot it to another row of gathering stitches.

If you have a presser foot with a hole for stitching over cord or trim as pictured above, it’s even easier.

Baste-Stitchline-for-GuidelineSew a stitchline to follow when seam allowances are different widths or uneven. This is especially helpful when attaching bias tape without pins. (Larger stitchline at far right was for basting two layers of fabric together.)

Use-Cone-Thread-Without-Thread-StandA domestic sewing machine rigged to feed cone thread without a cone stand. You can use a roll of tape or a mug to hold the cone.

Topstitching-Stitch-GuideCreate a topstitching guide with painters tape for things like a fly-front zipper. (It took me until the third pair of pants to remember this trick!)

Serging-Tail-FinishWhen you have a serged edge that isn’t crossed by perpendicular stitching or serging, tuck the thread tail under the serging using a large needle to prevent it from unraveling.

How-to-Flatten-Plastic-BoningYou can flatten curly plastic boning by ironing it and using steam. Just make sure to iron it in the fabric casing or under a piece of fabric to prevent melting.

Sewing-Button-with-Thread-ShankUse a small knitting needle under a button when you need to sew a thread shank. Makes for an even and pretty shank once you pull the knitting needle out to wrap the thread.

Sewing-Snaps-on-CenterSnaps have holes in the center for a reason! Mark a center dot on your fabric and pin straight through for perfect placement while sewing.

Handsew-with-Loop-Instead-of-KnotAnd finally, my favorite way to handsew, especially buttons – put both ends of the thread through the needle eye and catch the loop after making the first stitch. No knot!

This is particularly helpful when sewing on net or loosely woven fabric when a knot won’t catch and stay.

*****

Do you have any favorite quick sewing tips to add? Share and/or link to them in the comments!

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