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.


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.


On Baby Slings!

The baby shower has now past, so it’s safe to post the full details of the all-consuming Baby Thing – a Baby Sling!

My sister actually had the original idea; since most every commercially sold baby sling we’d ever seen was made with some very pretty – and very girly – floral print, she wondered if I could find a baby sling pattern and then make it from more manly fabric, for the sake of my brother.  I thought this was an excellent idea, and soon set out to find a pattern.

There were two patterns readily available among the patterns at my local JoAnn’s.  One called for velcro fasteners… no.  The Simplicity pattern called for parachute clips… winner!

I took my boy and my sewing expert roommate with me to choose male-friendly fabric appropriate for the project.  We quickly determined that the corduroys and heavy polyesters would be far too hot for Houston in the summer, and settled on finding a denim outer and light cotton lining. We quickly found an adorable cotton that was off-white with a fantastically cute jungle print in brown, and the grand victory was a dark denim with embroidered brown paw prints.  I was so thrilled with my purchase I spent the next week showing it off to everyone I knew – except for my brother, of course.

Naturally, I managed to put off starting the thing for two months.  When I went to cut the fabric, I found myself short on fabric.  After a panicked run back to JoAnn’s for more, I was able to restart the project with a little more than a month before the baby shower.

Naturally, I wound up working until midnight on the last possible night.  It will surprise no one that I hit a few snags along the way.

The pattern called for gathering the ends of the large middle section, and I blew two hours trying to successfully achieve this gather, breaking the thread, removing said broken thread, and trying again.  Then I established that the gather was not skinny enough for the end pieces, and was way too thick for the machine to stitch through anyway.  So I blew another evening yet again removing the gather stitching, and pleating the thing instead.  As a side note, Karen thinks it looks better pleated anyway.

Then of course, I broke a needle and had to consult the expert roommate again to decipher the cryptic needle classification system on my box of replacements.

I still haven’t quite mastered the art of sewing in a straight line, and I really haven’t mastered the curved stitch, but I am getting very good at pulling out crooked stitches and trying again.  Those little crossed squares holding down the straps are particularly cruel to make, especially since they went over the thickest layers of fabric.  To add insult to injury, I spent two hours making them really pretty, only to find that I’d stitched them down to the wrong side.  Again, I’m really quite good at pulling out stitches now.

I’m not 100% happy with the final result, but lacking a bigger, heartier machine and the kind of skill that only comes with lots of practice, I am definitely satisfied with what I have created:

On Eleventh-Hour Victories

The baby thing is more or less successfully completed.  More if no one looks too closely at the visible seams.  Less if anyone looks too closely or we count the casualties:

Aside from my sanity and a good deal of pride, I lost two sewing machine needles (the 90/14 snapped pretty quickly; the 100/16 bent just as I finished), bent one hand sewing needle, and have worked my fingertips into a rather persistent state of pain.

I can’t quite believe I managed to run yet another project up to the eleventh hour, especially given the three-month head start I gave myself.  I’m just glad I managed to finish tonight.  I was seriously contemplating taking the sewing machine with me when I go home to Houston tomorrow night if I didn’t manage to finish tonight.  The shower is on Saturday, so I’ll be posting the pictures of the actual project then.

On Minor Miracles

There is a God, and she stocks fabric at JoAnn’s.
I managed to get back to the same store during lunch, and there was my cotton lining fabric, in all its brown and white cute-ness.
It took a good deal of restraint to resist buying up all they had, but I did pick up two yards when one would almost certainly do, because at this point I have zero faith in my ability to not screw up something else.
As an added bonus, I made the whole trip in 45 minutes, so I didn’t blow my entire lunch break on the outing.

On Properly Measuring Fabric, or Easily Avoidable Catastrophes

I finally got started on the baby thing tonight (I am avoiding project details on the off chance my brother finds this blog before the baby shower).  I should have been more wary when the denim outer layer couldn’t be laid out exactly as shown on the pattern.  Karen dismissed it as a dumb pattern error, and we thought nothing more of it.

I finished cutting the denim and started on the hopelessly adorable cotton print inner, only to find that no matter which way I turned the large pieces, I couldn’t seem to get them to fit.  Sure enough, I go back and check the pattern… it calls for 60″.  I measure the fabric in my hand… 44″.  (The critical piece really requires 45″.)

The JoAnn website shows they still have the same pattern… but in the wrong color.  I have a sneaking suspicion I will be spending a good deal of the next week tearing through the baby fabric in every craft store in town, looking for a minor miracle.

In the mean time, I am putting the scissors away and going to sleep, because at this point, sleep is more productive than crying.