Shepherd Greys, or How I Became Seamstress for the Band (part 2)

Back on set with Firefly: The Musical.

While I was pondering the bonnet, I discovered that another other costume was incomplete.

Shepherd Book, the ship’s resident preacher-man, had a very distinctive grey shirt on the original show. It looked like a standard dress shirt, but with a plain strip of cloth where the buttons should be, and a flat collar that evokes the typical look of modern-day clergy, with a stiff white liner peeking out the top all the way around the neck, instead of showing an inch or two in the middle of the throat. (This may, in fact, be a style some real-world priests wear, but I haven’t seen it.)

Our Shepherd was wearing a lovely grey dress shirt backwards.

This worked for the photo shoot, but the moment the rehearsal started, I spotted a problem. He had more than one scene where he spent a majority of the time with his back at least partially to the audience – buttons, backward collar and all. He looked ridiculous.

I stole his shirt at the end of the rehearsal and promised to have something better by the final run-through on Sunday.

I miraculously found a cheap grey that was a perfect match for the Shepherd’s shirt. I cut two strips about 4 inches by 2 feet, folded them long-ways, and stitched together the edges and one end. I turned them inside-out, pressed both along the seams and fold, and then started pinning.

With the shirt’s original collar tucked safely inside-out (outside-in?), I stuffed the stitched end of one of the strips into the top of the shirt, then safety-pinned it down the side of the placket so that the button holes were still accessible. The second strip was pinned around the collar so that the stitched-up end could overlap about four inches on one side, and the unfinished end was again unceremoniously stuffed into the top of the shirt.

The final product looked a royal mess on the hanger, with loose ends hanging out and safety pins everywhere, but our Shepherd could get the shirt on and off with minimal fuss, and with the shirt tucked in and the collar fully pinned up, it looked remarkably like the original.

It wouldn’t have won any fashion awards, but it looked pretty great for a $5 thrift-store-and-scraps costume. And as an added bonus, the alterations could all be easily undone, leaving the actor with a nice, normal grey dress shirt.

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

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

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

Tiny Basketball Cap!

I have a cousin who has managed to mold a lifelong hobby into a legitimate career.  He has lived and breathed basketball, as far as I can tell, for his entire life, and now he’s a sports writer who follows all his favorite NBA teams, watches every game, and interviews the players and coaches for a living.  (Obviously, lately he’s been following more legal shenanigans than actual games, but… that’s really not relevant to the post.)

It seemed only natural, when I learned he and his wife were expecting a little girl, to make something special and basketball-ish.

Possibly I was a little too literal?

In all seriousness, I actually put a good bit of thought into the design.  I could have gone for the plain old beanie design, thrown some stripes on and called it a day.

“Hey, cuz!  Check it out!  Now your kid’s head is a basketball!”

But baby beanies are just so… common.

Furthermore, I wanted to add some element of fashion, because my tiny victim’s mother is a dance teacher who somehow even manages to add some style to her slouching-around-the-house clothes.

Clearly, I needed some kitsch.  Something hip.  Something that says, “I look at fashion trends at least once a year… y’know… when I’m bored.”  Clearly, a newsboy cap was the way to go.

As an added bonus, I knew the smaller size of the hat would drastically reduce the problem I usually encounter with brimmed hats.  Specifically, the brims tend to get… floppy. It’s a simple matter of physics, really.  The kind of yarn I want to make a hat out of tends to be very flexible, and then the design of an adult-sized hat would call for a brim that is a good six to eight inches long, and more than an inch wide, at which point the flexibility of the yarn will cause the piece to droop.  Since I am generally far too lazy to do something as involved as conjuring plastic inserts, I just very rarely make brimmed hats.

This is especially sad because I love brimmed hats.

As usual, any excuse will do, and I made a tiny brimmed hat with a tiny brim for my tiny new cousin!

 

Two Shawls!

By the time my fellow tech-monkeys and I started attending rehearsals for Charles Dickens Unleashed, the cast was mostly done assembling their costumes.  I asked if there was anything else they needed, and a call came back for accessories.  Specifically, there was a shortage of shawls.

Well, do I ever need more than a half-baked excuse to crochet something?

A few short weeks later (I have a day job, people), I give you two shawls!

(Please forgive the awful photo editing.  Turns out it’s tricky taking good pictures of large things that blend in with all my usual backdrops.  Go figure.)

Both are made with I Love This Yarn sport weight that I just happened to have in my stash.  The black shawl is made using an increasing treble stitch pattern.  Needless to say, it took both skeins of my sport weight, half a ball of a medium weight (also I Love This Yarn), and at least three times as long to complete as the white shawl.

I’m not entirely sure what the proper name is for the method I used to make Whitey.  It is basically a netting technique used most commonly in market bags.  It took only a skein and a half, and maybe a whole three hours to complete.

This the kind of project I live for.  It’s quick and easy, and when it’s done I have something pretty to show off.

Happy Mirth Day?

Mother’s Day and Birthday, rolled into one!  Get it?

Heh.

Yeah.

So I was in the midst of the Great Moving Marathon for both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday, and used that as an excuse not was sadly unable to get her anything.  I mean, she’s impossible to shop for anyway, and doesn’t like just stuff, so in a way, I was giving her what she wanted.

(Yes, I am the worst daughter ever.)

Then she came to visit, and asked me – point blank, “Can you make me one of those purses?”

I was so thrilled, I nearly started work right away.  I asked what color she wanted, and pulled out the big box-o-nylon thread.  She pulled out this lovely red and peach variegated.

She noticed I had less than one full spool and expressed concern that I might not have enough to finish the purse, but I assured her that I could always buy more.  After all, who am I to pass up a good excuse for a trip to Hobby Lobby?

Funny story.  I couldn’t buy more.

That’s right.  That nylon thread I spent three months looking for?  Yeah, this was why I needed it.

I didn’t find it.

After a couple dozen unsuccessful trips to every store within 20 miles (and a few very generous expeditions by friends in other cities), I gave up and improvised a match, and I’m pretty sure I like it better:

The main body of the purse is a 4×4 basket weave texture, in a clever mix of two shades of red, off-white, and a ridiculously bright pink variegated I never thought I’d use for anything.  The color pattern actually got slightly complicated.  I had to switch colors every row to get the color variation I was aiming for.  Each row incorporates two threads, and I switched out one color at the end of each row:

Row 1:  Light Red/White
Row 2:  Light Red/Pink
Row 3:  Dark Red/Pink
Row 4:  Dark Red/White

At the end, I had a loose end on every single row that had to be tied off, trimmed, and fused.  Needless to say, finishing the bag was… time consuming.

But now, finally, I can show you a finished product!  Mom’s Red Purse:

This final picture is for Uncle Mike, in loving gratitude for his color commentary while I foolishly tried to finish anything while hanging out with my extended family.

Windmill Bag – now with handles!

Hey, remember that fabulous windmill-pattern bag I made for Dear Roomie last Christmas?  The one made from fabulous hand-dyed wool purchased from the fabulous little yarn shop in my parents’ fabulous little hometown in the NC mountains?  The one that was all done save the handles?  Welllll guess what I finally purchased, 8 months later!

Yes, the amazing little red bag has handles!  I was back in the mountains for the annual Mt. Mitchell Crafts Fair a few weeks ago, and nabbed these red leather handles at – you guessed it – the Yummi Yarns shop.  Of course, they had these same handles a year ago when I purchased the yarn, but I foolishly thought I’d be able to find something comparable closer to home.

Lesson learned, handles acquired.  The bag is complete!

…now I just have to get it to Dear Roomie, who is no longer actually my roomie.