Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Oh, this fairy dress.

I don't even know what fairies wear. Rose petals and cobwebs would be my guess. Or something similarly skimpy, gossamer and insubstantial. So they couldn't possibly be native to Minnesota. Or, if they were, they must fly south with the geese, come autumn.

But this dress - I really like it. 
It's so different from the other costumes that I've sewn - it's short, sleeveless, asymmetrical (the last time I vaguely did asymmetry was this other one), fast and simple. And so ceruleany-violety. And with fabric flowers. Fabric flowers! They're from the same fashion family as ruffles, gathers and pink, aren't they?  And-gasp -is that really me talking - the one who, all through her childhood, dressed like a boy? Does my brain even acknowledge those fashion concepts, let alone like them?

All credit to Emily, for insisting that this be a dress-up costume, rather than a trick-or-treating one. She was all prepared to wear layers of stuff inside it and under it, to brave the cold of Halloween night, so that she could float in it indoors for the rest of the year. She had a point - all the costumes I've made for the girls so far have been gowns - they have to be, to avoid freezing in Minnesota in October. And the girls happily wear them all year round in their pretend play. But do you know which are their favorites? It's their jersey knit Renaissance Festival dresses - the ones that slip on over their heads and feel like nightgowns - light and soft and free. 

So this year I decided to sew their costumes without getting all hung up over the warmth issue. The girls are old enough now to know how to layer up without complaining like they did when they were younger. And if they're going to wear them mostly for pretend play, then I should make them suitable for pretend play. There would still be fleece, because one just doesn't play the fool with Minnesota temperatures. But the skirts got shorter, twirlier, flouncier. And we adapted and compensated by adding boots to keep legs warm outdoors. 

Emily, however, wanted to push the limits even more. Sleeveless and spaghetti straps, she asked for. Whoa. Well, you know what they say - in for a penny, etc. 

As long as she let me design how those straps turned out. 

And the "short skirt" she wanted -well, there are short skirts, and then there are short skirts.

"Trust me", I told her. "I know short skirts (having expertly identified and avoided skirts of all kinds for years). You'll like the kind of short skirts my mind thinks of." 

Because they know how to move

and fall

and drape.

"And I want ballet shoes, Mum. Not boots. So I can dance and wear them inside. And I want the straps to go up high.."

"..and please don't let them fall down."

"And I need a butterfly mask. Can we make one together? Will you help me?"

"And I'd like everything to match my wings (I'll buy them with my allowance)."

It felt like a dry run for prom night in the not-too-distant future. I remember my mother and I having a conversation just like this one (minus wings and mask). It was my first prom. I couldn't stand fancy dresses. I didn't even know what I wanted. But she made the dress. And the coordinating shoe bows. And the purse. And I thought she knew magic. Now I know it's a gift. Nobody is born with it - all you need to do is have daughters and your daughters will give it to you. 

Suddenly you will understand their world. You will pull it out of yourself as if it had always been there.  

It will make you look like you know magic. 
Even if you still have no clue what fairies wear.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


This is Wonder Woman.

This is Wonder Woman posing.

This is Wonder Woman getting ready to

transform from her "person" state to her "superhero" state.

This is Supergirl.

This is Supergirl posing.

This is Supergirl making a joke - "It's a bird! It's a plane!"

This is Supergirl opting for WW's method for transforming - and just as well, seeing how cellphones have made telephone booths a rare commodity these days. 

And these are the two superheroes I am lucky enough to have living under my roof - they are "best buds" and sidekicks and all the best things that sisters are.

This year's costumes were sooooooooooo easy compared to last year's costumes, which were killer. And so much fun to make, with all the shiny gold and silver fake-metal accoutrements. The only real challenge this year - as with every year - was to make them warm. Not sure that the miniskirts passed the test but the girls said they'd wear pants underneath.  

As a reminder, here are the boring underlayers -all just fleece -before the shiny stuff went on over them.

Here's Supergirl's finished costume- standard long-sleeved fitted bodice (satin over fleece) with jewel neckline 

and a full circular skirt, also satin over fleece.

The cape was literally a one yard cut of red liquid gold (that's the name of this fabric). Jenna initially refused a cape, and only after I practically tricked her into trying on "a silky piece of cloth on her shoulders" did she consent to having a cape at all. 

Supergirl's boots are based on the same design as the musketeer boots from last year, except a bit taller.

This is Wonder Woman's costume.

The bodice is a satin bustier over skin-tone fleece. Again, it's a standard long-sleeved thing with a jewel neckline. The belt is only attached at the top edge, leaving the bottom edge free to accomodate the moving drape of the circular skirt.

Her boots are also the same design as the musketeer boots.

Her tiara/crown/headband is elasticized in back.

And her silver bracelets were an ammendment - I'd forgotten that they were silver and actually layered on gold bands on the bodice wrists. Had to make detachable silver bracelets to cover them. This turned out to be very fortuitous because Kate thinks the gold bands her her "normal clothes" and, by slapping on the silvers, transforms into Wonder Woman herself. 

Her lasso of truth (random gold trim bought at JoAnn) attaches to her belt by a velcro loop.

So all in, very straightforward costumes this year. Hurrah!

Q: How do these superheroes actually locate villains? 
A: With their Bad Guy Detector.

Jenna explained to me at length how this works:

Incidentally, the Fairy Witch is Emily. Her costume is coming up next!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

And I Made The Other Three And A Half Yesterday

I used my own tutorial for the boots. Can I say, without meaning to be egotistical, that I am so thankful for my own tutorials? Because I always toss out my paper patterns when I'm done, thinking I'll never make the same thing again (why would I? It's boring), and then the next year -surprise!- I'm making the same thing again. Thank goodness I can download my own patterns and print them out and follow my own (sketchy) instructions to make something I made just last year but already forgot how to.

Now, if you're thinking, "Um, Wonderwoman's left boot looks like it might be a bit taller than her right one." you're spot-on. That overtall boot was the half-a-boot I was struggling with the other day. It doesn't fit as well as the other. This is what comes of following a pattern (even if it's my own) exactly without thinking, or altering for fit. Of course I'd forgotten that my children have grown since last year, when I made the pattern. Why would I remember such things? I'm in denial.

And now, here's the tally for what I have left to make by Wednesday:
  • Two silver bulletproof bracelets
  • One red cape = cut a rectangle out of red liquid gold and declare it a cape.
  • One pair fairy slippers, with criss-cross ballerina ties. 

And guess what? I forgot how to make my own ballet slippers, too. So useless. Not surprising, though. Good thing I can use my other Own Tutorial for those! 

Unrelated: Watched Titanic with the husband. Kate Winslet's outfits = sublime. We gave up halfway through the movie, though. Too depressing to have to watch all those good clothes lost at sea, not to mention Leo. Sniff.     

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Made Half A Boot Today

This is not a good omen- Halloween is on Wednesday. And now I must stop mucking about in the sewing room and come upstairs to put supper on the table (how is still a mystery).  In the blink of an eye, it will be midnight and I'll not only still have that miserable half a boot but also an entire kitchen to clean up. And yes, I'm wearing my Superhero Costume today.

P.S. Did you notice that there are no photos in this post? This is the real deal, people. 

P.P.S. Wonderful and strange: I am on Apartment Therapy today, promoting my favorite children's books. Which goes to show you that people can be absolutely falling apart and inefficient in reality and still appear as if they're on top of things. Bless you, folks at AT, for making me look good on a day like this :)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

We have superpowers

Three superpower dresses done.

And yes, fairies have superpowers, too. They fly, fight crime and control the weather (obviously Minnesota's fairy population is wiped out).

Just the boots left. And the magic lassos, of course. All superheros need them, even those that don't do the cowgirl thing. 

And since I've emerged temporarily from my cave, I might as well do some miscellaneous updates. How has everyone been? 

Again, I apologize to everyone who's written to me by email, comments or any way else: I'm not going to be able to get back to you till the end of October or early November. Strangely, there has been a spike in the number of requests for drafting- and clothes-sewing-related help. Must be that everyone's realized summer is over and it's time to hibernate and be domestic. Hurrah for you! I'll try and give some generic answers here but anything more specific will have to wait till after Halloween and Jenna's party.

  1. No, I am unable to give advice on how to convert toddler measurements to infant dimensions. As I've said before, I can only produce a pattern if the body is physically in front of me to measure. I don't do disconnected numbers and I don't work with standardized charts. The concept you are looking for is "grading". So google "grading", "sizing chart", "measurement chart", "pattern grading" etc to find help elsewhere on the internet. 
  2. Please accept my tutorials as they are. If you see a project on this blog that has no accompanying tutorial, it is because I didn't intend to create a tutorial for it. Also, I have no plans to beef up my current tutorials by adding more detailed steps - what you see is all I have time (or motivation) to share. 
  3. Also related to my tutorials: I do not have plans to convert them into other formats e.g. pdf. But guess what - you can convert them to pdf documents yourself if you prefer hardcopy. Ask a tech-savvy friend or do some googling to find out how.
  4. Unfortunately, I am not interested in inviting guest bloggers to write about scrapbooking on ikatbag. Or crocheting cats. Although if you are a cardboard artist with exhibits in the Smithsonian, it might be fun to hear from you. 
  5. And, finally, I'm sorry if my free patterns are not in the size you want for the child you're sewing for. If you need a pattern in multiple sizes, either draft it yourself or buy one. Remember: I don't grade patterns (see point 1). 

Unrelated: I bought myself two swimsuits yesterday. Not the pretty, flimsy lounge-by-the-pool kinds but real racing suits, for swimming laps. Yes, these are the ones without ruffles or fabric roses and whose only promise of "waist slimming" and "hip minimizing" is by actually wearing them and working out (groan). I bought them because I've been wearing my old ones from pre-baby days and uh, let's just say they don't hold as much in as they used to. And I was suddenly struck by the urge to sew my own racing suits. Then I realized how sad it was that I would feel excited about choosing sewing over shopping. I attributed it to all this intense Halloween costuming making my eyes stray to other garment projects. Bad LiEr. Bad LiEr. Must focus. Only six days more to Halloween and we have six boots to make. That's a boot a day! Talk about needing superpowers. Get on it!!!!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Halloween Party: Luminous Wands

8 more days to Halloween and I'm halfway through the costumes! The plan is to finish the dresses this week and work on footwear all next week, plus the perishable stuff for Jenna's party, like the cookies and other treats. 

Today we'll be making one of the unperishable elements of her Halloween party: luminous wands! 

There are many directions a person can take with a Halloween theme. Jenna wanted nothing to do with ghouls and dead people. She wanted dress-up and candy and treats and pumpkins instead. And "darkness but glowing" (i.e. not scary). So I thought we'd do do wands for the party craft. Not delicate fairy wands with streaming ribbons and flower toppers but regal scepter-like things you can really cast good spells with, and dispel foul shadows with, and that you could even engage in noisy swordfighting with. Like lightsabers with their safety catch on.

All you need is dowels,

plastic Christmas ornaments

and glow-bracelet light sticks.

So here's the how-to.

First, you buy dowels. Ours were 3/4" dowels, which we bought at Michaels (Joann has them too, as will most hardware stores) in one-yard sticks. We sawed ours in thirds so each wand-stem is a foot long. We chose 3/4" ones because they wedged exactly into the openings of the ornaments.

Then you paint them. Or you let the birthday girl paint them. Whichever involves less crying. We Jenna used acrylic paint.

When the paint is dry, we wrapped painter's tape around the dowels in a spiral. I split the tape in half with my craft knife to get it this narrow.

I thought they actually looked quite pretty already with the painter's tape on

until we actually finished painting on the stripes and Mod Podging them. Whoo, those are sparkly! 
You don't need to use Mod Podge, incidentally - and I'm saying this especially for our non-USA-dwelling friends who may not have access to Mod Podge. The only reason I used Mod Podge at all in this project is because I had a bottle of Sparkle Mod Podge, which makes things turn out looking like they'd been coated in fairy dust. I'd just as soon use regular polyurethane varnish (buy it in the same section as the acrylic paint), too.

So those wand-stems are done. Set them aside. Now let's make the wand toppers.

Go buy some blank Christmas ornaments. Michaels has them for about $1.50 each. Look for the plastic ones. They're the ones that are sold singly. Do not be tempted to buy the value multipack - they look the same, but they're actually glass. I got fooled, and had to return mine. Can't have glass and small children at the same craft table - that's just idiotic. The ones we got were the flattened-circle ones, not the spherical ones. They accommodate the glow sticks more easily than the round ones. These had 3/4" openings. We stuffed a dowel in to test for fit before loading our cart up. You probably should, too.

Pull the top off and discard.

We chose to paint our ornaments to render them translucent, but you can leave them plain (and -if you have leftover Sparkle Mod Podge) sparkly. We wanted the glow sticks inside to look a bit more diffuse.

So first coat: Sparkle Mod Podge Sparkle (again, because we had it on hand). 

This is a sample of some of my acrylic paint. The one in the middle has "transparent" on the label and the one on the right is "semi-opaque". This is just to show you that acrylic paint comes in different opacities, so pick the one you like most. 

This is a pretty opaque second coat of white over the Mod Podge. It is sort of grainy (because of the glitter in the Mod Podge coat) and nicely diffused. Jenna, however, didn't like how it looked when it wasn't glowing.

She wanted silver instead. A bit more transparent, and more streaky than grainy, but prettier. Paint as many coats as you think you need to get the lighting effect you like.

When the paint is dry, stick the toppers on the tops of the dowels and your wands are complete! Because the dowels varied slightly in diameter, we had to sand/file a few down a teeny bit to ram into the ornaments. Takes a few seconds. Best to do it before painting, though! 

To make them glow, activate a light stick, curve it into a circle (but don't secure the ends) and slide it into the ornament before installing it onto the wand stem. We designed our wands this way so the glow sticks were removable - they could be replaced when they faded and the kids could change the color whenever they wanted to. To remove the glow stick, especially if the end has slipped well into the ornament, just use pliers to grab and yank it out. 

Before I elaborate on how the Wand Decorating Craft will proceed on the day itself, here's a little explanation on how we do mess control when crafting at parties. While I am very tolerant of messes when making things (my sewing room is Exhibit A), my kids are trained to manage their mess so they don't actually damage furniture or walls. For instance, they instinctively grab newspapers and cardboard sheets to line tables and the floor when they're working with anything wet and permanent (like Sharpies). And all glitter work gets done on the driveway or in the garage, even in the dead of winter. I drill these rules into them hard and they know that in return, they get to work with "Mum's good stuff (like my good oil pastels and art markers and fancy pens)".  And occasionally, when they forget, they are absolutely horrified when they realize they've gotten Sharpie ink on the kitchen table. When that happens, we get out the solvents and give them an impromptu chemistry lesson. I am pleased to say that this very rarely happens nowadays, even with little Kate. And I am comfortable letting them have access to paint, glue, glitter, glitter glue, colored sand and permanent markers -they have earned the right to them.

But back to our parties. Since I can't expect other kids to be similarly crazy-trained in The Art of Managing Mess, we play it safe and avoid anything wet. So absolutely no white glue, hot glue, glitter glue or anything of the sort. And glue sticks are useless for anything 3D, so we use glue dots and stickers. If you've been following our parties, you might have noticed this trend: all our crafts involve only decorating, not actual constructing. And all sticking is dry: adhesive sheets, duct tape, glue dots, stickers, labels. The one time we were foolish enough to try white glue, the adults had to help and it was so ridiculously messy and ineffective and frantic that I swore never to do it again. At Jenna's party, the craft table will be laid out with these - glue dots, beads (the transparent ones work best for this project), glow sticks, permanent markers and tinsel. The kids get to dry-decorate their ornament toppers, pop in a glow stick and take home their wand. 

Here's a sample (this is a spare spherical ornament I had lying around) of what it might look like when it's all dolled up.

And we'll send a tube of glow sticks home with each kid so they can swop colors 

and keep casting happy spells all the way into Christmas.