Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ladies of Narnia

The girls were Narnian royalty this Halloween. 

I had an absolute blast making these costumes. Unlike in previous years, there was no waffling this time. The girls said, "I want to be Susan" or "I want to be Lucy" and we got on the internet, pulled up stills from the movies, they picked their favorite Pevensie outfits, I pinterested them for reference, spent an evening at JoAnn picking fabrics, zippers and trim, and got to work.

There's nothing I like more than having a photo to work from. It's my favorite way to sew, especially when I'm not in the mood to design new stuff: take a photo or picture, deconstruct it, get out slopers, adapt, lay out, sew. Sometimes the type of fabric requires extra fittings and major pattern overhaul (I'll whine about that in more detail when we discuss Emily's dress in a later post), but otherwise it's a straightforward process. Kate's dress, for instance, required just one fitting and, subsequently, got done in a day.

What made it especially enjoyable this year was the absence of fleece and satin. Yay! They wanted dress-up costumes for playing, the girls said. Everyone voted for knit (although they called it "that Tshirt cloth like our old Renaissance dresses"). Emily was even more specific: "No zipper. Just over the head, please." Then they all convinced me that knit was more comfortable and, unlike their other fleecy Halloween dresses, wouldn't get tight when they grew bigger. 

Good argument. I completely bought it.
Besides, omitting the fleece under-layers and awful satin outer-layers reduced the production time to less than half. Totally win-win. I finished the costumes with an entire week to spare before Halloween. That never happens! 

Here they are - Queen Susan's Coronation Parade Gown (from Prince Caspian)

on Jenna;

(she wanted it exact).

Queen Susan's Coronation Gown (from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe)

redesigned by and for Emily 

(she wanted it completely redone her way);

and Queen Lucy's Dress (from Prince Caspian)

on Kate 

(she had no opinion on its exactness as long as I made the pouch for Lucy's healing cordial).

Each girl also got one handmade accessory to add to their outfit.

Emily's was a flower garland,

Kate wanted the belt and pouch (as earlier mentioned),

and Jenna got the Horn that summoned aid for Narnia from other worlds.

More photos to come in separate posts, along with random drafting drivel.

Till then -

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Act 3A: Fairytale Doll - A Workshop For My Readers

Remember when I wrote two posts about blogging? Of course you don't - it was ages ago and so far apart that they totally lost their context. So here's a recap: Act 1 was about how not to hate blogging and Act 2 was how not to let your blog become a monster. Here's Act 3: how not to take your readers for granted. 

The short version looks like this:

How Not To Take Your Readers For Granted

  • Do giveaways
  • Make your sponsors do giveaways and discount codes
  • Hold surveys to invite readers to weigh in on the direction your blog should take, the kind of banner it should have, and so on.
  • Set up flickr and other photosharing pools for them to contribute photos to
  • Feature selected photos from those pools in random posts on your blog
  • Do shoutouts about readers 
  • Answer questions from readers
  • Write a book and launch a book tour and give dozens of copies away to readers. 
  • Bare your soul and show your human side and confide to the entire internet that you're actually a lousy seamstress and your housekeeping skills stink and you feel like you're wading through parenthood blindfolded and with your ears plugged.
I've failed you, dear readers. I don't do giveaways much (ever since Blogger upgraded itself and confiscated my comment-numbering function thing), I don't have sponsors, I can't figure out how to do those poll widget things, I sorely neglect my flickr pool because I forgot my password and I keep putting off shoutouts because I don't have the time to surf the net, let alone capture other people's blog images to format into a post. And the book? Uh, we covered that here.

Finally, I don't bare my soul because I am deeply mistrustful of the internet. I mean, if it turns people's high school inebriated barfing episodes viral on youtube, can you imagine what it might do to a photo of a dress with ugly armscyes? Shudder! 

So how do I say thank you for being my readers? For subscribing and reading my drivel week after week? For writing to me with your wonderful, moving real-life stories? For sending me photos of your precious children, nieces, nephews and grandkids enjoying something you made from my tutorials or patterns? For passing along links to awesome cardboard resources and inspiration? For inviting me to visit your blogs to peek at your masterpieces and swoon? 

At the risk of sounding sorry for myself, let me revisit my favorite cultural issue and beat it to death here. I am an immigrant. I may be quite good at pretending to be unimmigrant-y because I speak English (and only English, sadly). And while this country is now my home, I was born somewhere else far away and I've lived here for less than a decade. As I said in this earlier post, adjusting to my new life and identity here was not at all dreadful (it was quite the opposite, actually) but I grieved a lot in the early years out of sheer disorientation and missing Mum and Dad and stuff like that. Therapy helped, but so did starting this blog. For one thing, it made me feel connected to the entire world, which consequently made Singapore feel not quite so far away. For another, you guys shared your stories, which was like being in a gigantic, remote support group. And, finally, this blog became my new career of sorts (in addition to motherhood). I'm still amazed at how far it's come and at all the different opportunities with which I've been blessed as a result. To anyone who's ever had to work hard to launch anything, this is a fabulous gift. But to an immigrant starting anew in a foreign environment, it is doubly humbling and exhilarating.

A blog can only do as much as it has readers to support and carry it, so, logically, I have you guys to thank. And I can't think of a better way to thank you than to teach you more stuff. So... ready for a doll workshop?

(The correct answer, by the way, is, "Yes, ma'am! Put us to work!")


We're going to be making the felt-haired doll (but with ponytails, because they're simpler) in this workshop, and her dress in the next. I am also in the process of writing the new pdf pattern that includes four more felt hairdos and the yarn hair, four more shoe variations, one more regular, reversible dress and the fantasy costumes: the fairy suit, the mermaid suit and the princess gown. And a carrying bag that transforms into a sleeping bag and storage unit for all the clothes. This way, everyone can make the classic doll and her dress for free and you only have to buy the pattern if you want all the variations and accessories.

Before we start cutting and sewing, let me show you three pieces of equipment that have helped me sew dolls (and stuffed creatures, in general) more enjoyably.

1 Forceps aka hemostats

In cooperation with dowels or chopsticks, you can also use your seam ripper or long-nosed pliers like I've used for years, to turn out small limbs. But recently I saw these forceps recommended here in Abby's - Softie Engineer Extraordinaire - shop here and thought I'd pass that tip along. These hemostats have a nifty locking thing that keeps the jaws closed tightly around things without slipping. They're also very good for stuffing small corners. 

I bought mine hereAll three - seam ripper, pliers and hemostats are much more useful for turning out small tubes and doll arms and legs than dowels or chopsticks alone. 

2  Medicine scoop.
Every household with small children has these, right? Extremely useful for scooping those poly pellets (or polybeads) into doll feet and bottoms without spilling most of them on the floor the way I inevitably do. And since it's a measuring spoon, you can actually determine the amount of beads you put in one leg so that it's equal in the other. 

3 The Contraption. 

Fancy name, huh?
I designed mine out of desperation - I was making more than a dozen dolls for the Fairytale Party (i.e. more than 24 legs and 12 bottoms) and I needed a fast, spill-proof way to get those poly pellets into small, tight spaces. The Contraption is essentially a bubble tea-sized straw with a cone of paper taped to one end for a funnel. You can insert it into narrow places and openings to direct the poly pellets right into their very bottoms. Grandma G, my fabulous pattern-tester, made her own variation of this contraption, and you can see her photos here

Now we're ready to start!

Gather these materials:
  • Fabric for the doll body/head/legs
  • Polyfill stuffing
  • Poly pellets /polybeads (or use small beans if you don't intend to wash this doll, ever)
  • Wool or wool blend felt for hair and shoes
  • Pearl cotton or embroidery floss for facial features
  • Ribbons and small buttons (optional)

  1. I strongly recommend non-stretchy fabric for the doll body and legs because the final product keeps its shape better and doesn't look bloated. Also because the dress as is may not fit bloated dolls and you'd have to make your own adjustments. Some possibilities: no-stretch robe velour (it's not the same as craft velour, which tends to stretch all over the place like thick pantyhose), flannel, cotton. I also do not recommend felt (bulky and hard to work with) or fleece (bulky AND stretchy). In the templates, I've included arrows for you to align the paper patterns with the selvedge, in case your fabric has a little bit of give (e.g. cotton). 
  2. For the hair and shoes, I recommend wool or wool-blend felt. Buy these by the yard in limited colors at actual stores like JoAnn, or in 9x12 sheets on etsy.
  3. Whenever sewing two small identical pieces of felt together to "double-layer" them (e.g. the ponytails), I often cut one piece to size and leave the second bigger, trimming this second piece to size after it's been attached to the first. You will see this technique in Step 2.  
  4. The seam allowances (SA), where present, are all 1/4" for uniformity, and for ease of sewing under the presser foot (you can use the edge of the foot as a guide). To reduce bulk after the seams are sewn, these SA are often trimmed to about 1/8", or pinked with pinking shears, or snipped.
  5. If you've sewn rag dolls before, you might be more familiar with the method of making all four limbs separately and then attaching them to the body-sewn-inside-out. I do this, too, with my larger dolls (e.g. the Owie Dolls) but with this smaller doll, it is easier to make them with attached arms.
  6. I'm omitting the more pedestrian instructions like, "Don't forget to backstitch!" I'm going to assume you know this (and other things) as standard sewing skills.

Step 1
Edgestitch (i.e. topstitch about 1/8" from the edge) the shoes in position to the RS of each leg piece (two for each leg; shown here). I used larger basting stitches to sew within the SA region because it will be hidden later in the seam.

You can leave the shoes plain or embellish them. For example, you can sew an "X" in satin stitch (i.e. set your machine to the zig-zag function with the shortest stitch length) for laces. We will stick felt buttons on the ends later.

Do embellishments (if any) only on the front shoe piece. The back shoe piece is left plain. 

Now place these two leg pieces together with their RS touching, and sew all around, leaving the top short edges (where it will attach to the body) open for turning RS out and stuffing. 

Turn each leg RS out (use dowel, seam-ripper, pliers or forceps). Stuff the two legs - I poured in about 1.5 tsp of poly pellets per leg, followed by polyfill stuffing. Set aside.

Step 2

Edgestitch the hair pieces onto the heads. Again, I used a basting stitch for the parts in the SA. 

With the hair in place, sew on the facial features. Here follows a series of photos of another doll I was sewing, to show you the face construction. I used pearl cotton (or you could use embroidery floss in a 3- or 4- strand string) and two kinds of hand-embroidery stitches: 
  • 5-round french knot for the eyes and a single stitch for each of the eyelashes.
  • 3-round french knot for the mouth dimples and backstitch for the mouth itself.

The completed face.

Now, we'll make the ponytails. Following the next two photos is a series of diagrams showing how to add ribbons to the ponytails before attaching them to the doll's head so their SA are completely tucked away. This is completely optional; if it looks like too much work, skip it and just make the blank ponytails, then tie ribbon bows to them when the entire doll is complete.

Edgestitch one ponytail piece (cut to size) to another (deliberately left bigger).

Trim the bigger piece to size.

Here is that series of diagrams for that completely optional ribbon step. Feel free to skip it.

Attach the completed ponytails to the front face as shown and stitch in the SA to hold them in place.

Here is the finished hair (ignore this very different face - I was experimenting with stitched vs. glued faces; yours will look different).

Step 3
Flip the completed legs upside down and position them with their fronts touching the RS of the Doll Body Front (the one with the face) as shown. Match up points X and Y on the doll legs to those on the Doll Body Front to get the right positions. Baste within the SA to attach them to the Body. Incidentally, ignore the fact that in this photo, the arms look sewn on - they are, because they were part of my earlier trial dolls who had separate arms. Your doll's arms are integrated into the body piece. 

Step 4
Place the two body pieces together, RS touching, and, with the legs tucked inside the body cavity, sew all around on the stitching line. Leave an opening, about 1.5" long, on one side under the armpit for turning out and stuffing later.

Prepare the SA for turning out: 
  • small snips the concave bits at the side of the neck (orange arrows) and a single deep slit at each armpit (blue arrows).
  • notch - I used pinking shears - the convex bits around the arms and the head (red arrow).

Step 5
Turn RS out and stuff just the arms. Long-nosed pliers or those hemostat/forceps things really help with this.
Then sew a line of stitching to define the shoulder. This impersonates the seam that would have joined a separate arm to the body. I used a zipper foot so that I could bunch the stuffing in the arm right up to that fake seamline. It helps to draw the seamline in marker or chalk.

Repeat for the other arm. 
Here is the flat doll with stuffed arms and those fake seam lines. These seamlines will allow the arm to bend and have some movement, as if they were attached to the body the traditional way.

Step 6
Now stuff the rest of the doll. Begin with the head and make sure that you stuff the neck well. To avoid neck creases, don't stuff the head or the chest too densely. Stuff her bottom loosely, then pour in about 3-4 tsp of poly pellets/ beads, aiming for the region of her buttocks (The Contraption will help), and then plug up the rest of her and the opening with more polyfill. 

Handstitch the opening shut, preferably using the ladder stitch (google that term for tutorials).
Add any final embellishments (e.g. hair ribbons, buttons on shoes -I used a hole puncher to make small wool felt buttons to glue on).

Shoes - fancy

or no-frills.

Your doll is completed!

Go here for the Dress Workshop!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Marker Pouch

Here's another project I let myself do as a reward for having finished the girls' costumes. I've been wanting to make a pouch for the girls' coloring implements that they can use in church. We've tried various things in the past - marker rolls (like crayon rolls, but for markers), pencil rolls, regular zippered pencil cases, pencil boxes and even plain old ziploc bags. None of these worked - either they were noisy or the kids had to dig in them for what they wanted or there was too much fiddling, or pens fell out and rolled under the pew in front or all of the above. Saw one of these zippered pouches somewhere that was closest to what I wanted and kept it on pinterest so I would remember to make it at first opportunity. 

First opportunity, it turned out, was a long time in coming.
But last night, after three summer birthday parties, one wedding, three halloween costumes, some skirts and who knows what else, I finally had an evening without a deadline to put this together.

This is much fatter than the original, obviously, because it is meant to contain a lot of markers and not just cosmetics or skinny pencils.

It opens from the bottom to expose a partial wall

and when fully unzipped

sits squarely to allow easy access to its contents. 

The top half of the back wall folds down

to allow easy access to the contents, much like a pencil cup.

We managed to squeeze in at least 16 markers and still zip it up. However, while open, it held quite a few more - we counted at least 25 (see first photo) before we ran out of markers to fill it with.

The front wall flattens out to keep the cup open because there's thin plastic in the bottom half of the back wall that provides a slight spring-loaded action. I used template plastic and batting for structure, along with homedec fabric for the outside and ripstop nylon for the lining. It's not as robust as it would've been if I'd added a layer of 600D nylon packcloth to stabilize it. But I wanted to see if it would work with just regular fabric in this prototype. Well, yes, but... no. Packcloth would've sealed the deal.

Now that little front pocket looks very handy but, honestly, it was introduced purely to hide the base's seam allowance. 

Here's the view from the bottom, showing the base when there are 16 markers in there. The actual shape of the base is a dome with straight sides (sorry, forgot to take a photo).

And here is the pouch again, all zipped up.

Go ahead and point out the hideous edgestitching if you want to. I don't mind. This was my "muslin", afterall. I didn't even bother to use the zipper foot when I was supposed to, or the best thread color or the correct thread tension after the last project (four layers of vinyl). I was only interested in testing the dimensions, the sequence of construction and the way the pieces fit together.

It came together very quickly - a couple of hours at the most. And it's structurally very simple because it has only a few pieces to assemble. But the way it comes together is awkward and several times I found myself thinking, "Seriously? You have to do this before that? Oh, that's crude." And then I wasn't happy with the finish - it isn't a project for beginners who like sewing straight lines on flat layouts; there's a fair bit of 3D manipulation involved. I'm not planning to make a second one, or (therefore) do a tutorial anytime soon. Which is why I took so many photos from various angles and let you know all the materials I used, so you could try making it yourself without having to experiment from scratch. I'm disappointed at the irony - I was initially interested in deconstructing it for you guys because it had such a simple structure, but the process turned out to be quite the contortion act. It isn't often that a whip-up type project is simultaneously a mental (and presser-foot) workout. Sorry :(