Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mermaid costume endnotes

Mermaid, mermaid, blah, blah blah. Anyone who's talked to me in the past month has had their fill of hearing about sewing this costume. Still endnotes are productive for future projects, and for anyone interested in sewing something similar--maybe I can save you the time of reinventing the wheel.

So, here are a some notes on the costume making, for those of you who are interested in such things...

A few lessons learned:
  • Ada's scaly blue tail was a perfect fit, but because I sewed a blue sequin border where the blue tail meets the fin, we lost some of the stretchiness of the blue scaly fabric there. As a result, Ada had a bit of a challenge walking.

  • I made the cape with the idea that it was going to be cold, and, for the first time in decades, it wasn't. The evening temperature was around 68 degrees! Fortunately, the cape is something that will work for magician play, or fancy dress, and it's reversible. I'm hoping she gets more use out of it.
  • As I was attaching the bodice to the scaly tail, I realized they didn't match: the bodice was too wide, and the tail was too narrow. After some reading, I realized I could probably make a few darts in the bodice to decrease the waistline. I had no idea how to do this, so--more reading. After some fiddling around with samples, and lots of ripped stitches, I got four darts into the waist, and--big grin here!--it worked.

  • The biggest time-eater was sewing a lot of this by hand, from attaching all the sequin tape to putting the layers of the bodice and tail together. My hand sewing is atrocious, but maybe it got a little better with the can only hope.
  • The fin was tough to fit onto the scaly tail--it flattened out at first, so I sewed a little triangular piece to each side to make it more circular (essentially I made two gusset-like pieces, I think), and then suddenly it had dimension.
  • I did decorate an old pair of shoes for the costume, too. I used pale pink sequined tape, glitter, and some little shells. But because I glued all of this onto the shoe--they were too stiff! Ada shuffled around a bit and admired them, and then we decided to just keep them as a decoration.

My favorite parts of the costume:
I really love the entire cape. It's hangs well because it's got some weight to it. I used a heavier silk lining for the dark blue, and then I used batting between the layers to add warmth and heft. And I was pleased with how the ruffled collar came out. It was my first stabilized collar, and yay! It worked. My favorite part of the cape, though, are the plackets on the cape armholes. I taught myself how to make these, so I don't know if they are technically right, but I think they look really nice, and they make the cape look that much more elegant on Ada.

I lined the entire costume with a green stretch satin, and I loved the color so much I wanted to pull it through other elements. I made the piping for the arms and neckline with some of the sparkle organza wrapped around the green satin. I really liked this, and I'm going to find a way to use this fabric again.

I also used the satin to make a little tape to ruffle out around the edge of the bodice. It's tiny next to the piped border, but I think it's a sweet little detail.

The tail is really fun, and was neat to watch come together. I used four colors of an sparkly organza called "fairy dust." To make the tail, I used an interfacing base, and then added layers of different colors. Then, for the flowing part of the tail, I used unfaced bits of organza just cut in wispy shapes. We lost a few of these on the trek through the neighborhood, but that's okay--it still looked fishy!

If you are sewing your own mermaid costume, I would be happy to offer any advice--drop me an email!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mermaid costume in process

If you've spoken to me in the past two or three weeks, you know my studio is awash in mermaid-like fabric.

Here are some peeks at what is happening at the sewing machine:

This is a partial view of the tailpiece. Stretchy blue, and a neat compromise between lycra and vinyl, it's perforated with little half moon shapes, which seem to perfectly suggest scales.

I attached the tail to the bodice with a little piped border. In the process, I learned how to make darts to pull in the bodice fabric. Everything has a little stretch, so the end result should be snug on Ada, but only to the point of fitting well.

This sparkled organza is flowing and crisp at the same time, and it makes for a perfect tailfin. I'm putting together pieces of blue, green, white, and pink, and layering them. The base piece has interfacing sew in as a base so it is pretty stiff, but the other pieces are loose. My goal is to attach them to the tail in a a V-shape, then add a border along the top to neaten the edge. This element has taken longer than I anticipated!

The part of the costume Ada loves best is the sequined bodice. I am sewing sequined trim tape to the top in strips. Talk about taking longer than I anticipated! I have been up late many nights with a needle and thread as I catch individual sequins and anchor them to the satin. To save some time, (and to be sensible about who is wearing this thing), I decided only to sequin the front of the bodice. The back will remain plain satin, which will be much easier for Ada to sit in.

There are other details I'm working on: shoes, a shell necklace, and a cape (it's cold on Halloween night!). I'm hoping I finish them.

And all of this because....well, because it's fun to try to learn to do new things, and Ada's face when she sees each step completed is a fantastic motivator. She appreciates all the things I make, and she is learning how to do these sorts of things herself, too.

I'll post the final results this weekend!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Because the mind of a toddler is ever-changing,

a wise grownup should not commit to a handmade Halloween costume.

Halloween is not a huge holiday around here--that is to say, we don't go all in for the decking out the house all things spooky, and most years, my husband and I don't dress up.

But the entire month of October is filled with costume-making activities for Ada and Esme. We actually sometimes start the sketching and fabric hunt as early as August. Ada and I love making designs and poring over fabric colors and textures. And by October 1st, the studio is noisy with the whirr of the sewing machine, and my under-the-breath mutterings as I stick myself with pins or rip misjudged stitches.

I rip a lot of stitches. As soon as the fabric gets into my hands, the costume becomes less about Halloween fun, and more about how I can learn from the sewing at hand. I get obsessive about trying new techniques, experimenting with lining, or seam finishes, or little embellishments. I have to stop from time to time to remind myself that this is just a costume, and that Ada will love it regardless.

I admit I almost feel guilty about how much I like the whole process. If one of my friends coos over "what a good mommy I am" for making the costume, I'm quick to correct her that this is really not the altruistic act she thinks it is. Once that fabric hits the sewing table, the costume really becomes selfishly and deliciously mine. As obsessions go, it's pretty tame. But it's a bit magical just the same, I think--the sensation of the fabric changing form is wonderous. With some cutting and stitches, it goes from a flat, smooth square into something with dimension. And if I am lucky, it somewhat resembles what Ada requested in the first place. Win for her, win for me.

This year, Ada has decided to be a mermaid, and true to form, I have gone overboard (very punny). I will post more about it in the next few days after I've taken some decent photos of it in process, but for the meantime, think: Sparkles! Turquoise! Texture! Oh, and a lot of pin sticks for me.

As for Esme, well--she is a toddler, and her interests change from day to day, or sometimes from hour to hour. I had the ambition to make her a fancy, fringy, leather-skirt-and-vest kind of costume costume when she first declared she would be a cowgirl, but five costume ideas later, I gave up on sewing anything for her this year. That same day, we stumbled over this Dalmatian costume at Old Navy, and we decided it was perfect. Esme has worn it for many days now already. My only fear is that she will decide that, come Halloween, the Dalmatian costume is too "everyday." Ah well.

Ada's costume is draped over the back of my sewing chair, singing its siren song.
Must. Finish. Soon. Ada reminded me at breakfast that there are only three days left before she needs it. Wish me luck!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Balancing Act and a Time Audit

Like every other woman I know, I spend altogether too much time trying to "achieve balance." The fact that that tired phrase includes the word "achieve" is telling. It's held up as a goal for the modern woman; being balanced is an achievement, balance is a treasure we "find."

I've been thinking of this a lot lately. I go through projects in fits and starts, and sometimes I berate myself for not being able to do all the things I want to do in a day. But recently I started reevaluating my standards for completing things. Last month, I caught myself ending a string of days with a sigh of resignation that I "didn't do enough." That was a clear signal that something was indeed out of whack: my perspective.

I love the idea of having a balanced life, a picture perfect combination of rest and activity, of giving to others and cherishing myself, of order and chaos, of consumption and saving, of social activity and alone time.

And why wouldn't I love that idea? Consumer media feeds my desire of such a life with images of a sleek woman in a lotus pose, or a neatly put-together "mommy" type person vacuuming her home with the super-efficient Dyson, or whatever. I'm admittedly hungry for approval, and so a perfect patsy for advertisers who prey on that need. I buy into it, and chase after balance in my life.

The funny thing is that as much as my imagination would like to run with these images and flesh out the details of such a "balanced" creature, I cannot. I can picture pieces of that life, sure: the put-together Kirie, lithe, made-up, wrinkle-free. I imagine patient hours with my kids spent in spotless spaces of my kitchen, my studio. Nutritious dinners, which I have prepared, are eaten, without complaint, by our daughters, and evenings with my husband are quiet and long.

Nowhere in my imaginings are the real nitty-gritty of day-to-day. Into what spaces does the balanced woman squeeze the following?:
  • the endless washing and folding of laundry
  • the scrubbing of dishes
  • the tidying of toys and books and markers that creep under chairs and couches and everywhere else
  • the reading time--how one book turns to ten books, and afternoons are dreamed away with a curious toddler cuddled in a lap
  • the continual process of reorganizing spaces--drawers, cabinets, shelves
  • the packaging and mailing of gifts and letters
  • the coaxing of said toddler into naptime, or bedtime, or getting dressed time, etc.
  • the visits to friends' houses, the entertaining when a friend visits ours
  • the baking--for school, for friends, for our own cookie jar
  • the endless sweeping and vacuuming
  • the workout--and recovery!
  • the self-care time, from a simple shower, to a self-manicure, to keeping my eyebrows neat
  • the fixing of all things broken--from the leg of a Playmobil deer to the toilet paper holder that's come out of the drywall
  • the cleaning of spills, from milk to scat
  • the spontaneous walks or outings or explorations that lead us away from the house for untold hours
  • the late night "pop ups" from the kids, with worries about monsters, or excitement about caterpillars
  • the mommy-time reading--from books, to blogs, to the newspaper--that fills my mind as I move through the other tasks of the day
  • making any kind of art at all--from music to painting
  • the phone calls to and from friends
  • the slow and savored time spent gathering fruits and flowers from the garden
  • the whole chase of groceries, from shopping to putting things onto shelves
  • the minutes (or hours) that can be lost because you sat down, and were too exhausted to get up to finish any of the above...

What of these? The advertisers have left these out, the most pleasant, most repetitive, and most necessary parts of the day.

I give up. The logical part of me sees this list and recognizes there is absolutely no way I could complete all of this in the space of a day, or even in a week. I would be crazy to even attempt it. So no more berating myself for not doing it all.

My daily schedule is like a balloon, with finite space in it. Squeeze one end, and the excess air will have to go somewhere. If I take time to do one thing intensively, it will steal time from somewhere else in the schedule. It does not all fit into the small space I've been allowing. So obvious! But I'm only just now starting to recognize that.

Perhaps, over the course of a month, I do have some kind of equilibrium. Regardless, the majority of my tasks these days seems to focus on making order or the illusion of it. Instead of fighting it, I'm trying to accept it as part of life at this stage. As I get older, and our kids get older, I imagine that will shift slightly away from chasing after toys and spills, and into the very different focus that teenagers bring. I recognize that my mix of activities will always include some need to control chaos around me, as well as my need to create new things, whether it be a painting, or a quilt, a costume, or a song. These are endless chases of their own, each pleasurable and challenging in their own way.

With my revised view of balance, perhaps my goal instead should be to look at whether my life is balanced as a whole, as a long line of days that each offers opportunities to indulge in the repetitive or the generative. It seems to me to be a much more forgiving and reasonable perspective. Maybe, if I see it that way, I will start to see I've "achieved" the elusive balance already.

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