Firefly: The Musical ran its inevitable course – it got shut down prematurely by Fox.
So the theater finished out the second month with the Joss Whedon Pajama Party, a variety show with sketch, musical, and improv acts inspired by the work of Mr. Whedon, as well as a collection of videos that were written and shot usually in a week or less.
One video series featured Firefly’s Wash playing with his toy dinosaurs at the bridge console when he should have been flying the ship. Simple enough, right? We had the actor from the musical, toy dinosaurs aren’t hard to come by, we just need a stationary camera and… oh yeah, the console.
Mind you, this is the week that I was getting minor surgery done on my face. I should have volunteered for lying in bed and being useless. But no.
“Yeah, I can make a console.”
Surgeries were Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, the shoot was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Monday evening was my only available work time.
Step 1: Raid the Craft Cabinet
poster board (assorted sizes and colors)
faded black construction paper
assorted wooden doo-dads
one tiny can of metallic spray paint
three rolls of packing tape
Wait. That is a ridiculous collection of materials. Pare that down.
poster board (assorted sizes and colors)
faded black construction paper
assorted wooden doo-dads
one tiny can of metallic spray paint
three rolls of packing tape
In the interest of time, I opted for drawn-on buttons, knobs and screens, rather than some complicated collection of bits and pieces that would take too long to construct, and would be very likely to fall off in transit.
Step 2: Find Reference Photos
Folks, I challenge you to find photos with a clear view of Serenity’s bridge from the tv series. No really – Google it. More than half of the images returned are from the film, which used a much more complicated and rounded set – not ideal for a reproduction that is clearly going to be made from poster board base.
How about a shot from the show itself? Every time you see the console, there is someone between it and the camera.
Finally, finally, I collected a few decent images.
Step 3: Get Over Any Expectations of Making an Accurate Replica
Seriously. The set designers had a budget, better materials and probably a couple of weeks. A high-quality replica is not going to come out of a pile of paper products and some spray paint in 6 hours or less.
Step 4: Construct the Base
The console is basically broken into three parts, each at a different angle. Using the poster board and a truly stupid quantity of packing tape, I built fairly close approximations, then painted them with a combination of spray and acrylic paints, in shades of metallic bronze and brown.
Step 5: Make the Doo-Dads
I made the lights, switches, buttons, and screens using chalk pastels on black construction paper, then liberally applied fixatif to keep it all from rubbing off on Wash’s hands while he played with his toy dinosaurs.
The final product was not at all glamorous, and bore only a passing resemblance to the real thing, but given that the video showed only a small portion, and that wasn’t the focus anyway, it served its purpose.
As an added bonus, I was able to just slice through the tape along the edges and store it flat, just in case the need arises again.
Oh, and that “seamstress for the band” bit?
After the first Firefly show, the cast and crew hung out and sang karaoke for a few hours, and toward the end of the evening, they sang Tiny Dancer to me.
Blue jean baby
…seamstress for the band
One final costume project from Firefly: The Musical
Saffron, one of the lead characters, was supposed to have a lovely red shawl, something that looked like it was hand-knit either by herself or one of her “sisteren” in the backwater maiden house from which she came.
Our Saffron had a really lovely, not-at-all-handcrafted crimson wrap.
It didn’t kill the backwater farm peasant costume, but it didn’t really help. The shawl is also one of those memorable costume pieces that a lot of fans would just expect to see. So in my last act as impromptu costume mistress, I took on the task of making a proper shawl.
Now, the shawl from the original show is pretty clearly knit, and it’s a fairly intricate lace pattern, making an accurate replica well out of my reach because (a) I never learned to knit lace, and (b) I didn’t have the time to learn just then. So I took the most obvious course of action: I faked it.
Using Caron’s Simply Soft in Garnet, and a size N hook, I crocheted a pretty slick shawl.
The pattern is pretty simple:
DC 4 in first ch
Then repeat this pattern for as long as you can stand:
Three rows of spaced Treble Crochet:
Ch 4, TC 1 in last st of previous row, skip 1 ch 1 to the middle stitch of the previous row, TC 1 ch 1 TC 1 ch 1 TC 1 in middle stitch, skip 1 ch 1 to the last stitch of previous row, TC 2
One row of solid Double Crochet:
Ch 3, DC 1 in last st of previous row, DC 1 in each st to the middle stitch of the previous row, DC 5 in the middle stitch, DC 1 in each st to the last stitch of the previous row, DC 2
End with a spaced Treble row.
Add fringe to your heart’s content.
I completed the shawl in time for the third show, and our Saffron gleefully tied it over her shoulders, and fiddled with the long fringe when she got nervous on stage, and enjoyed having her arms free for the action scenes.
(For more adventurous knitters, this is far and away the best-looking pattern I was able to find before giving up my search.)
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.
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.
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?
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
Finally, finally, I can safely post the sketches I collected at Webcomics Rampage. It only took three tries!
Seriously though, this was a banner year. Let me back up a little bit to explain.
(Warning: Thar be fan-girling ahead!)
In the beginning…
Three years ago, Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy here in Austin decided to put together their own mini-con just for web comics. They invited a bunch of artists to talk at panels, sell merch, sign pretty nearly anything that’s handed to them, and generally be the wacky, wonderful people that they are.
That year, three of the invited guests were creators of comics I was reading regularly – Scott Kurtz of PvP, Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue, and –gasp! faint!– Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content – as well as Randy Milholland of the infamous Something Positive, which Dear Roommie has been reading since before webcomics were cool.
These were the comics with which I papered my dorm room door. These were the guys that helped me procrastinate for hours that should have been spent doing schoolwork (sorry, Mom). These were the guys that put ideas in my head about one day doing my own comic.
I was particularly stoked to see Jeph. Someone turned me on to QC midway through college, and I’ve been reading it religiously ever since. It’s not just that the comic strikes just the right balance between ridiculous and relatable, but he’s really open about his process and inspiration, and has fearlessly let the internet at large watch as his art and character design evolved into really good, dynamic art from the glorified stick figures of his first strips. He has become a rock star in the webcomics community, and yet that first year, he still seemed to be surprised by the ridiculously long line at his signing table at the end of the panel. “What? People read my comic? How’d that happen?”
I had the bright idea of getting the artists to sign the few empty pages left in my trusty sketchbook.
Sadly, I ran out of pages before I ran out of sketches, so I had to ask Randy to… err… piggyback on someone else’s sketch page.
Now, I try to keep this blog in the realm of PG-13. While all involved found the resulting sketch pretty wildly entertaining and predictably juvenile, it is sadly not exactly blog-friendly – hence, the censor bars (…sorry, Mom).
Rampage II: The Rampaging
The next year, Dear Roommie tagged along to see her old buddy Randy (there was something about forums and a party… it’s generally best not to ask how she meets people). When we both pulled out our respective knit/crochet projects, he actually suggested I should make my comic about crafting, and my day was made.
I came prepared with pre-drawn sketch-starters featuring some of my own characters, and the artists all graciously played along. I even branched out and got sketches from two artists I wasn’t following yet; Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots, and David Willis of Shortpacked, et al.
Once again, the sketches were not exactly fit to print. In fairness, I completely brought it upon myself that time, but it was a whole lot of fun (sorry, Mom).
In fact, it was so much fun that I came home and immediately started following the whole lot of them on Twitter, then started shotgunning entire comics archives. I made it through Girls With Slingshots in three days. Then I started in on Something Positive and Willis’ insanely large body of work and… well, I’m not quite finished yet.
Now back to this year’s Rampage!
I came super-duper prepared. First, I decided it would be fun to let everybody deface the same sketch page together, so I bought a nice big drawing pad, added a few of my own doodles, then let them all at it.
All the fun character sketches are from Randy, Danielle, Jeph, Joel, and David. I had specific requests for Danielle and Randy, and as I expected, everyone else just piled on, playing off of the previous sketches.
That stunning nude holding a cute smiling thing up in the top right? That was the creation of Nicholas Gurewitch of Perry Bible Fellowship. PBF is one of The Boy’s favorite comics. It is terrifically clever and twisted and punny, and the art runs the gambit from minimalist cartoons to elaborate, whimsical watercolors.
Getting to meet him was really a treat. I’m not sure what I expected, but he’s just this super-chill geeky guy with longish hair and suspenders. I didn’t get over to ask for a sketch until right before the final panel, when everyone else was sitting at their tables, fighting off the post-dinner coma. But he was very enthusiastic, and just nonchalantly started drawing something free-hand with an insane brush pen. He was most of the way through sketching when he paused, looked up, and asked, “Is it ok that I’m drawing a naked woman? I don’t really know why I did that…” I managed to pick my jaw up off the table long enough to tell him that yes, it was absolutely fine – better than fine, even – damned impressive. Then he went back to shading while he and The Boy chatted about… honestly I can’t even remember what. There was some discussion of carrots and donkeys. Then Boy bought the print of the one with the awful, awful visual pun.
The panel was fun, the sketch-collecting was fun, merch-buying was fun, but the very best part was the success of the hats.
I started a Choo-Choo Bear hat for Dear Roommie’s birthday back in March. I finished it… last week. Since she was sadly unable to get out to Austin this weekend, I took the hat with me to get Randy’s blessing:
I am pleased to report that his beard did not eat the hat, and Rommie will be receiving it soon.
Remember the Magical Pink Unicorn Hat?
I made another one.
I gave it to Danielle.
She loved it. I got a hug and everything!
Then there was a question about gifts from fans, and she whipped out the hat again and said, “Have you SEEN this HAT?” and gave me a quick shout-out, and then I pretty much suffered a geek-gasm right on the spot.
I suspect I will be riding this comics-and-hats high for the rest of the week. I feel invigorated! I’m itching to get started on some more crafting projects, and I have ideas for the comic that I can’t wait to make happen.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
I’ve been out in Central Texas for almost two years now, yet I’m still losing my shit every time I spot one of these guys – much less the three that appear to live – or at least feed – right along my daily commute route. In my defense, several of my coworkers who have lived out here much longer than I have are just as thrilled as I am with our neighborhood roadrunners.
For the uninitiated, Hyperbole and a Half is one of my very favorite blogs. Dear Roomie and I have spent many an hour reading and re-reading her stories aloud to each other, sobbing with laughter.
One of my very favorite posts is “The Alot is Better Than You At Everything.”
I’ve been looking for a good excuse to make an Alot, and now I have one.
One of my cousins is beginning his third year of teaching high school English, and I just introduced him to the Alot this summer. Obviously, he needs one for his classroom.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job