Making of Marie Antoinette costume: the wig

For this year’s Carnaval Brasileiro Austin, I again wanted to make a costume in all white.
I love white costumes because they stand out in the dark. The only better approach for a costume that stands out would be a costume with lights!
Marie Antoinette costume, front view Marie Antoinette costume, left side view
Marie Antoinette costume, right side view

The “Marie Antoinette” costume idea came to me after seeing pics of amazing paper wigs on the InterWeb:

I had the usual requirements for the costume. I have to be able to wear it comfortably for the whole night. I should be able to go to the bathroom without too much struggle. And, obviously, it has to be kick-ass sexy! 🙂

The wig had to be light and had to be attached securely. Nothing ruins revelry more than discomfort, such as a headpiece that’s too heavy, or always threatening to fall off.

Ideally, I should be able to get in a car and drive wearing the costume, but failing that, I need to be able to change into it quickly, without help. It’d suck if the costume takes too long to change into, or if I need help changing into it. I need to be able to go the bathroom without too much costume hassle 🙂 , so I opted for a two-piece approach for the “dress”. The top and hoop skirt are separate pieces, attached at the waist with hooks and eyes. That way, I can take off the skirt when going to the bathroom. Also, since there will be nowhere to put them in the toilet stall, the wig and the skirt need to have hanging loops so I can hang them up,

In this installment, I will be detailing the design and making of the wig.

To keep the wig’s weight down, I used white 2mm craft foam (Jo-Ann). This is the first time that I was making something with EVA craft foam. I loved it. It’s light, easily cut and shaped, can be glued securely, and is rugged enough to last for many wearings.

I got the idea for the wig’s contruction from a blog called The House That Lars Built: a “frame” upon which to build the “wig”. I used the same approach, but instead of corrugated cardboard for the frame, which won’t stand up to many wearings, I used an extra-stiff tapestry grid cut into strips. I wanted the wig to be sturdy enough for multiple wearings since it will probably be my costume for this year’s Halloween and for a couple of other Austin events where people dress up, such as Eeyore’s Birthday and Queer Bomb. Florist wire, hot glue, and Shoe Goo adhesive worked perfect to assemble the frame. (I have some hot glue sticks that are easily ten years old, but they still worked great!)
ultra stiff plastic canvas assembling frame of wig with florist wire inside of wig, showing wig's frame Shoe Goo adhesive

To form the wig, I glued strips of foam to the frame, using hot glue and “Shoe Goo” adhesive. Hot glue gives almost instantaneous bond, but Shoe Goo is much stronger. I used Shoe Goe as much as possible, avoiding using too much hot glue because hot glue is relatively heavy. A gob here, a gob there, and pretty soon I’d have several sticks worth of glue in the wig, and that’d be too much weight.

I used hot glue to “tack” pieces together to hold them in position while the Shoe Goo dried. A Shoe Goo joint is stronger than the foam itself. If I try to pull a joint apart, the foam would tear long before the joint would give way!

I made the fringes around the hairline by wrapping 2mm craft foam around an 1″ dowel and heating it in the oven at 250′ for 1.5 minutes. I could not just put the dowl onto the oven rack because the foam may stick to the rack when heated, plus the rack may leave marks in the foam, so I devised a way to suspend the dowel under the rack.
foam about to be formed in oven detail of how dowel is hung in oven

The foam needs to be heated long enough so it’d start to melt and deform a tiny bit, otherwise it will not hold a shape.
foam should deform a little foam should deform a little
The two pieces on the right in this pic were not heated enough. They started losing their shape after a few hours.
if not heated enough, foam will not hold shape

I cut the “hair fringes” to go around the hairline of the wig with a rotary cutter. I glued the cut-off bits back onto the fringe to give it more body.
fringes added to the wig's hairline close-up of fringes at hairline

To decorate the wig, besides the guillotine, I made flowers and roses from foam and roses from white polyester fleece. I made the roses following the instructions on this page. The roses were ridiculously easy to make, and the result is quite impressive! For the leaves, I just winged it (wang it?!) and cut leaf shapes from white polyester fleece and sewed a pleat into the stem end to make it 3D.
foam flower poly fleece flowers & leaves

The guillotine took quite a bit of engineering. It had to be super light since it will be on top of the wig. Any additional weight that high up would have made the wig more prone to tipping over. It had to be stiff and be able to stand up straight. It had to be attached to the wig securely enough to withstand the inevitable times when I misjudge, or am unaware of, a doorframe’ clearance! To achieve all that, I used 6mm craft foam glued in layers. I added bracings in the appropriate places so it’d be stiff and straight and attached secure to the wig. Again, Shoe Goo did a phenomenal job.
guillotine, ready to be attached to the wig
The guillotine’s blade was 2mm foam, since it did not need to be especially sturdy. In retrospect, I would made the blade all in white instead in black with a white strip along the cutting edge. The black part got completely lost in the dark and the guillotine lost some of its visual impact.

It was around this point that I needed a “wig stand” to hold the wig in the same position as it would be when worn, so when I attach the guillotine, I could be sure that I’m attaching it as vertically as possible. I added a couple of cleats to the inverted plastic bucket that I had been using as a wig stand:
make-shift wig stand in use make-shift wig stand

The wig was a rousing success! It was sturdy, light, fits me almost perfectly, and stayed on my head securely. I hardly needed to adjust it. A very small fly in the ointment was that by the end of the night, the wig’s headband started to feel a little too tight and the top of my ears were hurting a bit from the wig’s lower edge resting on it. The next time I make something like this, I will probably devise an alternate attachment method, maybe using hair combs, so I don’t have to rely only on a snug headband and the top of my ears to support the wig. I might try something similar to how I made the “Road Warrior” mohawk for my costume last year

Next time, I will talk about the making of the hoop skirt dress and the “let ’em eat cake” purse.

Blue lace dress for a July 4th wedding!

blue lace dress, 3/4 front view

I made a dress for a wedding on July 4th. The theme of the wedding was red, white, and blue (what else?). Wedding guests were requested to wear their patriotic best. I suppose such a dress code would not be too onerous because most people have some red and blue stuff in their wardrobe. People have white stuff, too, but obviously, wearing white at a wedding is like breaking wind in a crowded elevator: nice people simply don’t do it!

I opted to make a dress from blue corded lace from Fabric Mart Fabrics, underlined with a “blush” (dark nude) stretch silk charmeuse from Mood Fabrics. The silk charmeuse is somewhat heavy, and since the wedding will be outdoors in Southern California in July, I did not want the additional layer of the lining, so I opted not to have a lining and instead bind the edges, where necessary, with bias binding. (Doing the binding proved to be a bit of an adventure!)

The intent was to match the underlining’s nude color to my skin tone as closely as possible. As it turned out, one to many trips to Austin’s nude “beach”, Hippie Hollow, made my skin a little too dark, so, oh well. (The beach’s rules include “remember to apply sunblock between your rear cheeks”, and this being Texas, “no weapons”.)
blue lace dress, close-up front view

I drafted patterns in Dress Shop for a sleeveless top with square neck line and a pencil skirt, and married (how appropriate!) the two patterns into a sheath dress. I opted for an over/under skirt look, where both skirts would be of blue lace and the outer skirt would be longer and open in front, and the inner skirt would be significantly shorter. I drafted both skirt starting with the same pattern, the “Pegged Skirt” pattern, but specified a “close fitting” fit for the inner skirt and a “normal fit” for the outer skirt. The outer skirt’s length is knee length. I deemed the appearance of skin tone under lace was not attention-getting enough so I made the inner skirt’s length Dress Shop’s “micro mini” length, which would be a “getting detention” length in Catholic girl schools.

blue lace dress, front view blue lace dress, side view blue lace dress, 3/4 front view blue lace dress, 3/4 back view blue lace dress, back view

I probably should have added something interest at the belt line, because the transition between the single lace layer of the bodice and the double lace layers of the skirt was a little jarring visually. Maybe a blue grosgrain belt and bows…

I still needed some white and red to complete the look, so I made a flower using white polyester lining and some red lace. My plan was to pin the flower to my dress with a safety pin. While out in Orange County, I had the opportunity to visit a flea market where I bought some red chiffon for one dollar (!) and made an impromptu choker:
red & white choker

On a lark, we also got our nails done in red and blue, with little stamped white stars!
red, white & blue nails

Bias binding an inside corner!

I was making a blue lace dress for a wedding. The wedding would be on July 4th, so the theme was red, white, and blue. I drafted patterns for a sleeveless top with square neck line and a pencil skirt, and married the two patterns into a sheath dress.

I backed the lace with a “blush” (dark nude) stretch silk charmeuse from Mood Fabrics:
blue lace bodice underlined with stretch silk charmeuse

The charmeuse is somewhat heavy, and since the wedding will be outdoors in Southern California, I did not want the additional layer of the lining. So I opted to bind the edges of the bodice with bias binding. I made bias binding from a blue polyester lining material as I didn’t like how heavy weight of the cotton bias binding available in stores. And thus my adventure begun of applying bias binding to inside corners!

As it turned out, the process is pretty much the same as for applying binding to an outside corner. There are many Web pages detailing how to apply bias binding to quilt edges, which of course mean applying binding to an outside corner. It’s a little difficult translating those steps to apply to an inside corner, but once I got the hang of it, it was easy. The Big Idea, as it turned out, is to match up the binding’s raw edges with the garment’s raw edges in every step.

The first step: marking.
inside corner of front neck line

Then after stitching, when I folded the binding, I folded it such that when I folded it back on itself in the next step, its raw edge will match up with the garment’s raw edge:
bias binding stitched and folded back bias binding folded again

I stitched all corners before clipping and turning them. Here, the armscye:
bias binding, stitched and ready to be turned corner clipped and ready to be turned

All in all, it was not too bad a process. Though, next time, if at all possible, I’d opt for facing and lining instead of bias binding! Stay tuned for a future post on the completed dress!

How to use tissue paper as stabilizer

I’m sure you probably already know about the trick of using tissue paper to aid in sewing delicate and/or fluid fabric. Sandwiching the fabric between two strips of tissue paper prior to stitching adds stability, preventing the feed dogs and the press foot from distorting the fabric as it’s being stitched. The tissue strips are torn off after stitching. I use tissue paper scraps from commercial patterns, cut into strips of about 1″ to 1 1/4″ wide. I cut the strips freehand using with a rotary cutter.

The trick I’m detailing today is how to orient the tissue when cutting it so that it’d be easier to tear off after stitching. Commercial paper is almost guaranteed to have grain direction, just like woven fabric. The fibers in a sheet of paper are parallel to each other and oriented in one direction. The grain almost always run parallel to one edge of a sheet or strip of paper. This is true for sheets of paper as well as paper on a roll such as toilet paper, paper towel, examining table paper, etc.

Fibers of sheets of paper almost always run in the lengthwise direction. Fibers of paper on a roll run lengthwise. My conjecture is that this is because the paper is tensilely stronger along the direction of the fiber, which makes the manufacturing process easier, the paper being less likely to tear when pulled in the direction of the grain.

The way to find the direction of the fibers is to tear the paper. When torn parallel to the grain, you will find it quite easy to tear long continuous strips with fairly straight edges:
tissue paper torn with the grain

When torn across the grain, it’d be almost impossible to tear in a straight line:
tissue paper torn across the grain

Once you find the grain of the tissue paper, cut the strips so that the grain runs lengthwise. Since paper is tensilely weaker across the grain, it’ll be much easier to tear the strips off when the grain runs parallel to the stitching line than when the grain runs perpendicular to it:

Here is an example of using tissue paper in a pseudo-flat felled seam. I first stitch the seam, then tear off the tissue paper on one side, press the seam to that side, then add another strip of tissue paper on the right side with its edge right on the seam’s fold, pin, then stitch and tear:
flat felled seam in lace with tissue paper, step 1 flat felled seam in lace with tissue paper, step 2 flat felled seam in lace with tissue paper, step 3

As an aside, it’s not practical to use zig zag stitch when using tissue paper as stabilizer. A straight stitch creates a straight line of perforation so that tearing the tissue paper off would be simply “tear along the dotted line”. There is no one line of perforation with a zig zag stitch and that makes tearing the tissue paper off more difficult:
tissue paper does not work well to stabilize a zig zagged seam

This is sewing too!

white lace blouse, from Goodwill, back view

There is “sewing”, where one raises silk worms, spins the yarn, weave the cloth, drafts the pattern, and sews the garment. Then there is “sewing”, where one buys a ready-made garment and then alters it to get the custom-made perfect fit or customize it to add one’s own touches.

I do a lot of the former type of sewing, though not quite that hardcore. I also do a lot of the latter type of sewing. Specifically, I love buying stuff at greatly discounted prices from thrift shops and then alter or customize them to be my own.

An example is this white cotton lace blouse that I got from Goodwill for a song. It’s a size S and fits me OK, but I wanted a better fit so I added shaping, using front and back darts as well as some re-shaping of the side seams. I love the result and have gotten many compliments on it.
Of course, the compliments are that much sweeter when I tell people that I got it at Goodwill!

white lace blouse, from Goodwill, front view white lace blouse, from Goodwill, side view

Hitting a pin :)

I’ve stirred a hornet’s nest written before about how I leave pins in a seam and sew over them. My position is that since I use very fine pins, the chance of the needle hitting a pin is reduced to almost nothing. However, as lottery winners will attest, a probability, no matter how small, is still non-zero. The same is true with hitting a pin when using very fine pins. The probability is much smaller, but is still non-zero.

Which is to say, I have hit pins, multiple times. However, the difference from using “regular weight” pins is when I hit a pin, there is hardly any damage done because the pin is so fine. The pin would get bent neatly where it’s hit, and nothing else happens:

Hitting the pin feels only a little sharper than, say, sewing over thick sequins. The machine’s timing does not get messed up. Granted, my machine is 40+ years old and weighs 30 lbs and most components are metal, but I am pretty confident that newer, lighter weight machines would fare just as well hitting such a pin.

Duplicating my fav denim shorts

There are multiple methodologies to divest a feline of its epidermis. That’s my pointdexter version of “There are many ways to skin a cat.”

I had made shorts using patterns generated by Dress Shop App before. They turned out great, but truth to tell, I was aiming to reproduce my favorite pair of denim shorts:
my fav denim shorts red denim shorts, side viewssible and duplicate its shape to produce the pattern. For complex areas such as the underarm or the crotch, the duplication is done in smaller sections at a time.

I pin the shorts on top of a sheet of paper, on top of a sheet of 1/4″ foam core board. If the fabric has obvious grain line or print, use that to ensure squareness when possible.
duplicating denim shorts
Repeatedly sticking a pin through the garment yields a perforated outline of the garment on the paper.

I think I came very close to an exact duplicate. There are only two tiny fit issues that I will fix in the next iteration. First issue is that there is a tiny bit of looseness at the top center back; the center back piece needs to slope a bit more. Second issue is the side of the legs: they stick out a tiny bit. Fortunately, I could fix those issues in the first pair that I made with simple alterations.

I used a 100% cotton red denim, probably 11 or 12 ozs, from Jo-Ann Fabrics. I added white flat piping at the lower edge of the yoke. The piping is of Kona Cottons, an 100% quilting cotton from Jo-Ann, in Kona White. I had a YKK zipper with white zipper tape and red zipper teeth and pull which matches the shorts perfectly, so I decided to showcase it as a design element.

I make the shorts suitable for wear to clubs and concerts, where I don’t want to bring a purse, I added a “cell phone pocket” at the front left in the waistband. It’s basically a single welt pocket. I also added another welted pocket with a flap at front right of the waistband, for ID and credit card and cash and car key:
red denim shorts, close-up front view

finished shorts, view of inside front, showing pocket bags

finished shorts, front view, showing pockets

Here are the steps in constructing the welted pocket with flap:

steps in constructing welted pocket with flap steps in constructing welted pocket with flap steps in constructing welted pocket with flap steps in constructing welted pocket with flap steps in constructing welted pocket with flap

Finished single welt phone pocket:
steps in constructing welted pocket with flap
The phone pocket being where it is, at the body-to-limb junction, makes it impossible to sit down if I have a phone in the pocket. Next time, I think I’ll position the call phone pocket around the back…

And here’s the result. I have gotten many compliments for this pair of shorts. I suppose the piping adds a lot of “pop” to the shorts.

red denim shorts, 3/4 front view

red denim shorts, front view

red denim shorts, 3/4 back view

Tips on taping together Dress Shop App PDF patterns

road warrior costume: completed

I have been using Dress Shop a lot lately and I have discovered a few things that make the taping-together process a lot quicker for me.

  1. Use the thinnest (and cheapest) printer paper possible. Thinner paper makes it easier to see the registration marks when one sheet is on top of another. I use Office Depot-brand 20-lbs paper.
  2. Work on a light color surface with one-inch grid. The light color surface makes it easier to see the registration marks when one sheet is on top of another. I work atop my cutting mat. (Of course, it’d be even better if the work surface can somehow be lit from below.)
  3. The cutting mat’s grid makes it easy to line up the pieces quickly: the registration marks for Dress Shop are exactly 3″ apart and are near the sheets’ edges. I can align the registration marks to the grid, making lining things up easy and quick.

(BTW, Dress Shop seems to generate about the same number of sheets per pattern as, say, patterns, and from the sounds of it, Style Arc. This shirtdress, for instance, were 30 sheets: front (10 sheets), back (10 sheets), sleeve (6 sheets), and collar (4 pieces).)

One interesting alternate method is to trace the pattern, piece by piece, onto tissue paper. This method has the advantage of producing one-piece pattern pieces of tissue paper, which makes storage easier. However, I’m not yet convinced that this method is quicker than the paper-and-tape method. I might try it one day and see.

So, all that said, the assembly process is quite straight forward. Here is what I did for the top of my costume for the Austin Carnaval. There are only a few rules to keep in mind:

First, make sure to align registration marks and paper edges to the grid. Use pattern weights to keep the page from shifting.
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheet 1

Follow the same rules for subsequent pages, also additionally aligning the pattern’s cutting lines and registration marks:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1 and 2

As you add additional sheets lengthwise, remember that the registration marks are 3″ inches from each other:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1, 2, and 3

And voilà, all done:
taping up Dress Shop pattern: sheets 1, 2, 3, and 4

Singer Fashion Mate’s pedal fix!

Singer sewing machine pedal contact springs, fixed

Do you ever wonder what’s the average age of sewing machines of all serious sewists out there? Maybe when you’re trying to justify that Husqvarna Super Automated sewing machine, the one with the built-in kitchen sink and waste disposal?

My Singer Fashion Mate Model 248 is almost 40 years old. It weights like it’s 40 years old as well, about thirty pounds worth of metal and plastic. As expected, some parts in it are beginning to show wear and tear. It’s not so different from its owner. The difference is that the broken or worn parts on the Singer can be fixed for about $24. On me, $24 would only fix my eyebrows.

A few years ago, I begun to notice the pedal behaving differently. It seems to have develop an intermittent on/off behavior where it’d either not do anything at all or it’d make the machine scream at full throttle. A quick disassembly revealed worn and burnt contact springs. Contact springs are thin flexible copper leaves, the pressure on which would result in varying levels of electrical power to the machine’s motor.

Years of duty left the contact springs either charred or broken. Being the thrifty resourceful type, I decided that, copper is copper, and I would use a few copper pennies to fix the broken contact springs:
Singer sewing machine foot pedal, lower springs, making contact

Singer sewing machine foot pedal, lower springs, before

Singer sewing machine foot pedal, before, close-up

The result was actually very serviceable and lasted for several more years:
Singer sewing machine foot pedal, before

Then I found a place on the Web that sells replacement contact springs. Alleluia! (That’s religious-speak for “About damn time!”) One of the new contact springs is a precise drop-in replacement:
Singer sewing machine pedal upper contact spring Singer sewing machine pedal upper contact spring

But, one of them has a hole in the wrong place (a problem I’m happy to say I don’t have). A little time and some judicious application electric drill and round rat tail file and all was good:
Singer sewing machine pedal lower contact spring

And voilà, good as new:
Singer sewing machine pedal contact springs, fixed

A better mouse trap: an improvement on how to cut a continuous bias strips!

cutting bias strip, step 3: sew ends and cut to separate strips

How often do you hear of a better mouse trap? Probably about as often as hearing of a better wheel. That’s not square. Or that does not rotate around a single axis. However, I guarantee you that you will get your money’s worth with this new and improved method of cutting bias strips! I am so confident I am offering a guaranteed 100% refund if not satisfied. Oh wait, this is free. Never mind!

The two more common methods are to cut single strips and piece them together, and the “tube” method, where you cut a piece of fabric on the bias of a width of several bias strips’ worth, mark cutting lines, join the ends offsetting by one strip and press the seam open, then cut the resulting tube on the cutting lines to yield one long continuous bias strip.

I use the tube method myself. I do dislike having to make the final cut by hand with scissors because it’s slow and not as accurate as it could be. Two of my friends from a local meet-up, Susan and…, Susan, came up with an improvement to the mouse trap that is the tube method. They would partially cut the strips before joining the ends so that after joining the ends, the number and length of cuts are greatly reduced.

Here are the steps.

First cut the parallelogram, as you normally would with the tube method:
cutting bias strip, step 1: cut trapezoid

Then partially cut on the cutting lines:
cutting bias strip, step 2: cut most of the straight cuts

After joining and pressing the ends, finish the cuts by hand with scissors:
cutting bias strip, step 3: sew ends and cut to separate strips