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I Swear By My Pretty Floral Bonnet, or How I Became Seamstress for the Band (part 1)

Posted in Projects by unboundpage on April 30, 2012

When we last left off, I had just delivered a super-quick Jayne hat to the dress rehearsal and photo shoot for Firefly: The Musical.

It will surprise absolutely no one, but that was not the only costume piece I created for that show.

I made a pretty floral bonnet.

…and a shawl.

…and I retrofitted a shirt.

…and I made a starship console.

I’ll start with the bonnet.

While waiting for the Firefly: The Musical dress rehearsal to start that Friday, I learned that the cast was unable to procure a pretty floral bonnet, a critical prop for the opening scene of the show. (If you’ve seen the episode of Firefly, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the episode, you will have no clue what I’m referring to. Just know that a main character wears said bonnet to great comedic effect, then references it later for greater comedic effect. It is a seriously critical prop.)

Naturally, I hop on Twitter to ask my two best seamstress friends (Dear Roommie and her previous Dear Roommie) for help putting together something that could pass as a pretty floral bonnet.

Dear Roommie, naturally, had a bonnet and matching apron stashed away in her costume collection at home in San Antonio.

Dear Roommie’s Dear Roommie tweeted instructions for a possible bonnet design. Four tweets. Full instructions.

I love both of these women more than I can possibly say.

I ran home after the rehearsal and put together a bonnet mock-up from the muslin that I just happened to have on hand – because I am apparently getting serious enough about this sewing nonsense to have a muslin stash.

Even in its thin, floppy state, it looked like an actual bonnet.

I took it to the tech rehearsal Saturday morning, and the stage manager nearly kissed me.

After rehearsal, I ran out and purchased the gaudiest floral calico print I could find. I made a few adjustments to the design, including fusible interfacing in the brim (because I keep that on hand now, too – wow, I feel like a grown-up seamstress, almost), and about an hour later, I had something that actually looked like a pretty floral bonnet.

In case you want to make your own pretty floral bonnet, here’s a brief explanation of the construction:

I think my favorite part is how much more hilarious it is than the bonnet used in the original show. Brown frilly bonnet with dainty flowers? Pfah! I want to hear that bold, flowery print screaming from the back of the theater!

I hadn’t slept a whole lot in the last week, and had to get up pretty early for that Saturday rehearsal. Then I constructed a pretty floral bonnet during the time I’d initially intended to spend napping to make up for that lost sleep, so I was pretty loopy by the time I finished construction and headed out to watch a truly amazing musical improv extravaganza that evening. I think I showed that picture to everyone I saw Saturday night. (Sorry about that guys – it really was the sleep dep talking.)

Needless to say, the squeals and hugs from the cast and director when I showed up with the actual bonnet at Sunday’s rehearsal were well worth the lost nap time.

Aside from the ego stroking involved in having a dozen talented actors and crew ooh and ahh over my creations, this has actually turned out to be a good educational project.

I don’t think I’ve sewn anything completely without a pattern before, so mentally designing and then just making a frakking bonnet has been a good creative exercise. I feel a good bit more empowered to design future projects, rather than be completely dependent upon expensive and confusing patterns.

Putting together the bonnet has also just been good practice with the sewing machine. I’m still not as skilled at putting stitches right where I want them to be as I’d like. I have difficulty making straight lines, and I’m even worse at making curved lines that move the way I want them to. It basically comes down to a dexterity problem, and the best way to overcome coordination issues is to practice. But you can only practice so much when materials aren’t especially cheap and can’t be recycled as easily as, say, beads or yarn. I generally only pull everything out when I have an actual project, at which point I’d rather it look right when I’m done. While I was madly assembling the bonnet, it dawned on me that because stage costuming doesn’t have to look perfect up close, it actually makes for ideal sewing practice!

So, friends, if anyone needs something ridiculous sewed/crafted for a show, you know where to find me.

…and I have now said “bonnet” in person and text more times this week than possibly the rest of my life.

Bonnet.

Surprise! Jayne Hat

Posted in Projects by unboundpage on April 27, 2012

So remember when I said I was going to finish projects?  What I meant by that was finish projects before I start other projects.

I failed.  Like, the day after that post.

I spent the better part of two months engrossed in one massively involved sewing project that I should have been finishing that week, but a friend needed a Jayne hat.

For the uninitiated, Jayne Cobb is a big, tough-guy character on Joss Whedon‘s tragically short space western television series Firefly.  In one of the final episodes, he receives a comically uncharacteristic care package from home, complete with a hat hand-knit by his mother, which he obviously loves, because it’s from Ma Cobb.  It is the signature costume piece from the series.

So I woke up to the follow inquiry from an improviser friend of mine:

Now, we’re going to skip over the bit where I was the first person he asked and get right to the important bit.

I *have* a Jayne hat.  It’s a very nice Jayne hat, made with lots of love by a wonderful friend from college who was just learning to knit and happened to make two while she was learning the pattern.  She just up and handed over the spare when I said I loved it and would like to have one of my own one day.  (Clearly, this was from my pre-knitting days, as I didn’t just ask for the pattern and make one myself.)  I’ve worn it as my primary winter hat every year since.

But you see, the colors aren’t quite right.

And the friend who needs the hat is actually playing Jayne in a local production of Firefly: The Musical, and we already knew we’d have a lot of fans out to see it, so I just couldn’t bring myself to put him out on stage with an inaccurate hat.

So I made another one.

Seriously – he asked at 10:00am on Tuesday, and I was in the HobLob by noon, and knitting by 12:30.

Yes, it’s a sickness.

No, I’m not getting help.

I’m (more or less) using this pattern, because the girl who wrote it obviously obsessed over all the details the way I would have, if I had that sort of time.  Frankly, she deserves a medal for doing all this work and putting it online for free.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the definitive Jayne hat pattern.

Actually, stop reading my post for a few minutes, and peruse that blog entry.  You need to see it.  I’ll wait.

Now back to my hat!

I used Vanna’s Choice yarn in Brick, Rust, and Mustard, on size 10 circular needles.

I started with 68 stitches, because my Jayne has a large-ish head.  As I finished the main portion of the cap, I discovered the best part of this pattern:

There is no decrease.

During her many pained hours carefully examining the original hat as seen on the show, she found that it bunched at the top, which means that the hat is made by forming one big tube, then just drawing up the top like a bag.

Fun fact: Making a giant tube and gathering the top drawstring-style makes for a really stinkin’ cute hat!

Final dress rehearsal and photo shoot was at 6:30 on Friday.  I finished sewing in the ends during lunch.

The hat was going to be a complete surprise, but I was working on it at a show on Thursday night, and took the opportunity to ambush my friend and check the size. The surprise turned out to be instead that the hat he saw half-finished at 11:30 on Thursday night was done the next afternoon.

Rather cunning, dontcha think?

What have we learned from this project?

I am:
a) not above buying the love of my friends with ridiculous hats
b) a hopeless geek
c) addicted to knitting (again)
d) really pleased to return to my old role as the go-to gal for crafty things.  Go on – ask me to make something.  No, don’t – I have other projects to finish!
e) All of the above

On Performance Anxiety, or Back In The Saddle Again

Posted in Waxing Philosophical by unboundpage on April 25, 2012

Well, look at that. I haven’t dropped off the face of the planet after all.

I haven’t posted anything in a while in part because I have been very busy with projects and improv, but also because I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence. While this has made wonderful fodder for a long string of comic scripts that may, one day, actually get drawn, it has done very little for my sanity.

In May, I will have been in Austin for one year. The past year has been overloaded with new experiences, new people, new places. I’ve been trying out new projects with varying levels of success. I’ve been auditioning for both improv and scripted shows to disastrous effect.

Long story short: I have been doing a lot of new things, and with a less than 50% success rate overall, I’m feeling a tad emotionally bruised.

Short story long:

Somewhere during college I was beset with a really awful case of performance anxiety. I’m talking sweaty-palms, dry-mouth, stomach-in-knots, every-muscle-goes-limp-and-my-brain-just-shuts-down stage fright. My voice goes all wibbly, my vision blurs, and I’m pretty sure I turn a bright shade of pink.

I know I haven’t always been this way, because I have distinct memories of getting really amped up and blowing performances out of the water in middle school. In eighth grade, I walked into a region band audition with so much confidence I made other people in the room nervous, and I took first chair without breaking a sweat.

Frankly, I think I was just young and dumb enough to not recognize how freaked out I was, so I could fake my way past it.

In the latter half of high school and into college I gradually lost that confidence, and became practiced at being anxious in front of an audience. Now anything that even remotely looks like a performance – improv shows, auditions, work presentations, conversations with more than two people – triggers an automatic nervous response.

(Seriously, folks. I’m getting Pavlovian jitters just visualizing a stage as I write this.)

This isn’t just a fear-of-strangers thing. A few weeks ago I was told by a very nice doctor who I’d only met minutes before that the weird spot on my nose that I’d been ignoring for two years was actually a mild form of skin cancer.

I faced that conversation with infinitely more grace and dignity than a musical audition the same week.

It should have been a slam dunk. I walk into a room with four people I already know, read some scenes from a show I love so much I’ve effectively memorized it, and sing a song I’ve known since I was ten.

I can say with some confidence that that was the single most embarrassing thing I’ve done in the last year.

A couple of weeks later, I thought I had a chance to redeem myself. One of my favorite improv friends invited me to perform a very silly set with him, three people I’ve been dying to play with, and a former classmate that I terribly missed playing with. I spent the vast majority of our 25 minutes becoming intimately acquainted with a corner in the wings where I could completely hide from the audience and most of the stage.

I even jumped back into a couple of short improv classes that, if anything, have left me feeling even more inadequate as a performer. This is not by any fault of the teachers, of course (though taking the elective where the teacher is intentionally mean to the students was probably not my best idea ever) – this is just me at my most paranoid and self-conscious.

This crisis of confidence is even bleeding over into my crafting. I haven’t been posting lately because the new things I’ve tried have not all come out perfectly on the first try, and I’m feeling that performance pressure as I write up the posts.

Which is ridiculous, I know.

So for my own sanity, I’m trying a different approach to my creative efforts for the near future:

I’m only doing things that I’m good at.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, because one thing I am exceptionally bad at is sticking to plans once I’ve shared them with others. I’ve already tried a few new things since I first decided I wouldn’t be doing new things (yes, I’ll be posting about them – promise!), so clearly I’m full of crap. But my ego needs some TLC, and my craft cabinet is taking over my home, so for the near future, my goals are very simple:

I’m only doing things I’m good at, and I’m finishing projects.

Sometime later, when I’m feeling cocky again, I will charge back into the unknown. But right now, I have loads of things I want to get done that I know I can do.

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