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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Hi there! Remember me?
Since this year is strange and shocking in so many ways, I figured I would just add to the unexpected by actually sitting down at my computer to write a blog post! I hope all is well with you and you’ve found ways to make the most of life while everything seems to be stuck in limbo.
(If you’re curious what I’ve been up to for the past 5 years, you can surf my Instagram account. Teaser: I had my hands inside Dior dresses at a museum install last year!)
My seasonal full-time Opera Costume Shop work started back up as usual in February (after a two-month hiatus), and then a month later, a virus had shut the world down. It was a really good thing the shipment of locked costume hampers was late to arrive for the last big rented show of the season – since we never opened them, we didn’t have to do a complete inventory before sending it all back! As it was, we were able to walk away after doing a few weeks of in-house stock reorganizing & cleaning when the rest of the season was officially canceled.
As weird as life is for a lot of people this year, I’ve found that not much has changed for me personally. I’m used to long undefined breaks between jobs, and I was an expert in social distancing before it was cool. (My husband, thankfully, is able to work from home and he’s been busier than ever.) I found a few sewing projects to keep myself occupied with, and I can’t express how happy I am that I invested in a brand-new industrial straight-stitch Juki last summer! It has been soooo nice to have my “work” machine at home this year!
I made a few rainbow color-spectrum swirl skirts – one for myself, 2 have sold, and 3 have yet to sell. I also made 3 other swirl skirts (I’m calling them “color swipe swirl skirts”). I’ve claimed one for myself, but I still have 2 more for sale. Using up lots of fabric I already had for these!
If I ever get around to it, I’ll put them in my Etsy shop (I set it up years ago and have yet to list anything!) unless someone claims them before I list them. Email me if you’re interested in details.
Then I ended up drafting my own multi-sized face mask pattern because I had non-sewing friends who needed masks for work, and were having difficulty finding any that fit well:
Soon after that, I was making masks for family in Michigan:
And then I had a flash of brilliance to make my 5 year-old nephew a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask (of course, I wanted one for myself too):
And then it morphed into a few commissioned TMNT masks – mostly for adults:
Some people sent me photos:
Fast forward to the end of summer when there doesn’t appear to be an end to the mask requirements, and I was inspired when I saw Jen’s craft foam mask frame on Epbot.
A mask that keeps everything away from your nose and month so you don’t feel like you’re eating it when you talk – yes, please! Being able to wear chapstick underneath is the cherry on top.
Here’s Jen’s full video tutorial:
I printed out her template, made a few modifications, slightly adjusted my self-drafted mask pattern to be the perfect fabric cover for it. I also graded the frame pattern to fit all my other mask sizes.
Click the link below to download the pdf of my modified version of Jen’s frame and patterns for all sizes with fabric covers:
Print it out and mask some of your own!
I’ve been sewing my craft foam. It’s faster and less messy than gluing. Jen wrote a second post about sewing the frames after I told her how I did it.
Here’s how I sew craft foam face masks:
I stitch mine from the outside (side where the metal nose wire is stuck) and let it cup up around the back of the machine as I sew the seam. Then I carefully turn it right side out starting at the bottom edge. That way, the feed-dog tracks end up on the inside.
The metal nose wire can then be carefully curved over your finger (don’t just bend it in half without a curve). I use stick-on nose wires instead of a paperclip sandwiched between two layers of craft foam.
If the bottom edge is a little bit off after stitching, you can trim the foam with paper scissors to even it up.
Some colors of craft foam stick to a regular metal presser foot more than other colors do. If you find that the foam isn’t feeding though your machine very well and at the right speed (stitches are really close together), use a Teflon/non-stick foot or put a piece of Scotch tape (the invisible “magic” kind) on the bottom of your regular foot. If your machine has the ability to reduce the presser foot pressure, that can also help.
I’ve been using either Kam snaps (this is the off-brand snap kit I have) or Velcro to attach the frames to the fabric mask covers. That way I can make mine with ear loops or around-the-head elastic. (See Jen’s video above for another style option using eyelets and removable around-the-head elastic.)
If you order packs of craft foam, you’ll need to air them out for a couple days by spreading them out. My living room smelled like a shoe store for a few days, but that goes away once the foam has been unwrapped for a while.
You will also need to test each color of craft foam to see if it bleeds! I found that only hot pink, royal blue, and dark purple (the worst!) bleed when soaked in hot water. If your foam bleeds in hot water, it will also bleed color onto your face when you wear it.
I sealed the craft foam with an iron set to “cotton blend” like Jen’s video shows. It gets a little stiffer and shinier when you seal it:
For my fabric covers, I sew the center front seams of both the outer fabric and lining fabric, Then I stitch the seam allowances down on both sides of the seam. No need to press the seam open with an iron because the machine will do that as you stitch.
If you want a nose wire pocket on the fabric cover, here’s the photo step-by-step of how I do that:
Then sew the outside to the lining (right sides together) at the top and bottom. Leave the sides open and turn through one of them. After turning, edge-stitch the top and bottom.
Fold and press ¼” to ⅜” to the inside on both sides. Then fold in another 1” and press. This will be the casings for elastic. Attach snaps or Velcro before sewing the casings down.
To save time, pre-make ear loop elastics (cut them around 9½” or so) and put them on before stitching the last seams. If the elastic ends up being too long, you can just re-knot it to fit the person wearing the mask. And the knot can be rotated to hide in the casing.
You can even make the mask frames to wear loose under disposable masks or others you already have.
Craft foam frames can be hand-washed with soap & water as needed. Fabric covers can be washed & dried as normal laundry (just make sure you preshrink any fabric before making the covers).
And now on to new things besides face masks…
A few months ago, I started a new social media community on Locals.com called The Sewing Sphere. I even hired one of my online artist friends to help me design a great logo.
The Sewing Sphere is the place to go if you’re looking to escape the frustrating algorithms and hang out with others who sew. It’s not all sewing, and it feels so much more connected in real-time than other social media platforms. It’s free to join – you can see posts and give “thumbs up” to posts you like. If you’d like to participate in comments and posting, you have to subscribe (help support what I do!) for a minimum of $2/month. I’ll be coming up with new things and sharing special content there. Come help me grow it into a great community – free from trolls & spam!
This summer, I’ve also been learning to tambour bead from my friend and fellow costumer Janet Gershenfeld, who was trained by the ladies who beaded Michael Jackson’s iconic glove! We have plans to offer couture beading services in the near future. I just need to finish building our website and we need to take care of a few boring business-y things.
This crazy year has given me the time to consider multiple career directions, and I’m looking forward to what the future brings!
I hope we don’t need masks much longer, but if we do, maybe my pattern and photos will help you build some you don’t mind wearing all day! And if you don’t sew and would like to commission some craft foam frames and/or fabric covers, email me.
Now that I’ve dusted off my blog a little, we’ll see if I can manage to post a little more regularly again. I really need to give it an overall freshening up!
I honestly did not mean to take such a long break (a full year!) from blogging – where did 2015 go??
For the first few months of the year, I was finishing up the second half of the season at The Dallas Opera and the long commute across town eats about 3 hours each day. So, needless to say, blogging at the end of a day didn’t hold much appeal.
When the opera season wrapped up at the end of April, I unexpectedly found the motivation to do a bunch of sewing for myself – I was whipping up a lot of things I had been wanting to make myself and didn’t want to risk losing enthusiasm by stopping to blog. (I did Instagram most of it though so I have a few crummy selfies & construction shots.)
My husband and I were also slowly working our way through a home office makeover on the weekends from the middle of February to the end of May. So the computer wasn’t properly set up at times during the DIY mess.
And then the phone rang with a job offer and I was driving over to Louisiana on Memorial Day to work on a TV series filming in Baton Rouge.
I was promised a week of work. I packed for a month.
Television shooting schedules are a bit insane. I worked at least 12 hours a day and even worked one 18-hour day in the costume shop at the production office. (So glad I wasn’t working on set in the humid Louisiana summer heat!)
It was the middle of week 5 before I found myself driving home. I’ve worked in the film world long enough to know that once someone puts you to work and you don’t fail spectacularly, they will try to keep you as long as possible.
The day after I got home, a collarless pug showed up at my door. Luckily, I was able to track down the owner by the next afternoon thanks to DFW Pug Rescue. (If she had been chipped, it would have been easier – please have your pets micro-chipped!)
I think I spent about a week just staring at the wall after everything got back to normal.
And a couple weeks later, I found myself going back to Baton Rouge. Good thing I hadn’t bothered to unpack my sewing machine from the first trip!
I only let them have me 2 weeks, and then I came home again.
I had about a month before the new opera season started, so I tried to finish up a bedroom makeover I had started between Louisiana trips.
I recently made myself a new wool coat during daily breaks at the opera. And I even managed to get photos! I’ve been working on a blog post about the coat, but I decided to briefly put it aside because I found a TV promo of the show I worked on in Louisiana.
So here’s the first tiny (and I mean tiny) peek at a ball gown I miraculously cranked out in only 6 days, at about the 0:27 mark. You mostly just see the petticoat someone else made.
UPDATE 6/4/16: The original teaser I linked to disappeared, but I found a full length trailer instead. The ball gown is now at about the 1:48 mark:
Underground premieres March 9, 2016 on WGN for those of you who are interested in watching it.
Aside from a couple other projects that I’ll be able to talk more about in the coming months, that pretty much sums up my 2015.
I promise my next blog post will not be a year away!
Happy New Year, everyone!
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!
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.
All those stripes are why I met Spray n Bond and we became good friends.
I stitched faces.
I made eyeballs.
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!
The moose ears made nice bunny ears too. I kind of want some!
It’s a little weird to have your work stare back at you while you hand-stitch its ear on.
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:
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:
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Merry Christmas to all, and my all your Christmases be white!
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)…
And here’s a teaser video of this year’s show, in which you can see some of the costumes in motion:
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.
Recent freelancing has suddenly gone from “absolutely nothing” to “I’m booked into the beginning of next year!” Such is my career.
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” ??
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?
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!
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.)
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! =)
You 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.
You can sharpen any kind of metal paper-punch by punching through aluminum foil. Punching through wax paper also helps if a punch is sticking.
My friend discovered that fusible interfacing ironed to the back of a favorite and frequently used sewing pattern makes it much more durable.
When 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.
After 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-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!
Remove 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!)
Ease 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.
When 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.
Sew 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.)
A 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.
Create 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!)
When 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.
You 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.
Use 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.
Snaps have holes in the center for a reason! Mark a center dot on your fabric and pin straight through for perfect placement while sewing.
And 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!