Intermediate Woodworking: The Arbor

The bench was not enough preparation. Before I’d even finished the bench, I roped my mother-in-law into a wood buying trip (she’s actually got a big enough vehicle to transport what I needed) for both the chicken coop and a new arbor for the entry to the backyard. She saved me from several silly mistakes (for example, yes, I should use framing on the coop instead of just slapping plywood together in a box shape).

(Edit from the future: Chicken coop posts can be found here and here.)

I thought the arbor would be easy. Four 2x4s for the uprights, three 1x4s for cross pieces, a bunch of 1×2 to lattice the sides.

And for a bit, it seemed like it actually would be easy. I framed a rectangle, and another. I laid out the lattice. But…

The screws we had lying around the house were terrible. Stripped the second you looked at them. There are still some sticking an inch or more out of the top of the final result. So I made another trip to the hardware store for some star headed screws.

The structure wouldn’t hold together when it stood up. Just fell to pieces. So I made a trip over to my mother-in-law’s to take her up on the offer of her extra L-brackets.

And then to top it all off, I didn’t measure the opening. The arbor is comparatively enormous. So terribly out of proportion. I almost cut the whole thing down (after Jeff helped me cable tie it to fence) to get it down to size. But I’m lazy. So “let’s give it the winter” we thought. And if you peek ahead (which you have to, because apparently I don’t do progress photos), you’ll see that that may have turned out to be a good thing:

The new arbor (camouflaged by previous trellis, now with sneak peek gate which you can now read about here) and a bonus snow-covered bench to the right.

New topic: Woodworking!

What can I say? I took a break from clothes. The tags (or some simple scrolling) will help you skip this section if you want. (And at some point maybe I’ll add more menu options. And then add posts about building websites. :P)

What got me into woodworking? It’s a little convoluted. The short version has basically two prongs:

– I went to an environmental school and helped raise chickens in 6th grade. My city now has a pilot ordinance allowing chickens through a licensing process. I want chickens, they need somewhere to live. Woodworking.

– I have actually used some power tools before. Besides sewing machines. (Can I just add that I think it is so funny that Husqvarna makes farming equipment in addition to my lovely sewing machine. I have to recalibrate my brain every time I go to the feed store now.) I helped build sets for several theatrical productions one summer…under heavy supervision. And Jeff and I (but mostly Jeff) have made a bunch of raised beds and a cold frame for our garden.

So needless to say I wanted to start small. Not with a whole chicken coop. We had a bunch of leftover boards that I (poorly) assembled into a bench. (With a little help from my mother-in-law, who not only owns a very handy chop saw but also provided a great trick for cutting two boards to the exact same length – stack them on top of each other!) So my bench now has a seat, and a back, and two wobbly little legs under the seat, and two identical long legs affixed to the back. It’s under a mound of snow right now, or I’d show you a picture. (Or would I? My mother saw it and thought I was finally getting over my perfectionism. Um…maybe not!)

In lieu of the bench, here is a nice view of my front garden, with a little bit of raised bed and some cold frame visible on the far side of the sidewalk. (And I’ve laid brick, too!)

A Different Queen

And then I got my first commission! By which I mean a friend was looking for someone to make something for their daughter, and I volunteered.

Do you know about tutu dresses? I didn’t. I saw the inspiration picture of a Queen of Hearts tutu dress, had a brief moment of panic when I thought I would have to call up the lady who graciously provided most of my stash to say “help! how I can I get layers and layers of tulle to behave in the sewing machine?!” (she is an experienced tutu maker as well), and then realized that somehow those strips were knotted on.

Luckily the internet is an expert in tutu dresses. I used this lovely blogger’s work as a loose guide (and somewhat regret not following the recommendation to get a crochet top to use as the base, having instead raided my stash for a strip of trim that could be coaxed into a similar configuration). For anyone familiar with latch-hooking yarn rugs, you may be interested to know that the process is about the same, but with giant strips of tulle, larger holes (ideally), and, if you’re smart and/or multi-crafty, a crochet hook.

Tulle is not something I have in my stash, and the friend was perfectly happy to pay for materials, so off I went to JoAnn Fabrics. I happened to hit the store at sale time, so I was able to get the narrow spools of tulle cheaper than buying a giant rectangle of fabric and cutting the strips out myself. Thank goodness. On the other hand, I carefully obeyed the request for “sparkly” and as I latch-hooked the skirt I ended up subjecting my house to an infestation of glitter. (Friend, of course, already has an irremovable colony and was not in the least perturbed.)

The other instruction was “grow with her” which I took as my biggest design feature. The bodice basically is an apron top draped on my (adult size) dress form. The hearts are glitter paper and velcro on, so they can shift up/down if needed. There’s lots of extra strap on the shoulder, designed to be let down an inch at a time. The back heart just kind of hangs, depending on gravity to sit where it’s supposed to (and is even more adjustable with its velcro). There’s a ribbon at the waist that  will tie in front for now and can shift to tying in back as she grows.

Other materials details: the black ribbons for border and waistband are from my stash, as is the white lace on the shoulder, and both exterior and interior of the “apron” bodice. The wearer will always have a t-shirt and leggings on underneath (and the tulle still tangles, so adding an underskirt might be a good choice). The crown and wand were more glitter paper (the gold very stiff and almost plasticky), a dowel, and a headband also from JoAnn. The part I got most excited about (having innovated a bit) is making the wand double as a “croquet mallet” (not actually good for hitting anything, but the shape is right, since I used one of the tulle spools).


The front view.
The back view (gold inside hidden by wearer of course).


The wand and crown!

A New Shirt for Sherlock

So in reality it is now December. Jeff read through the archives this week and sheepishly came downstairs to tell me that he enjoyed it and he’d really like me to write more. He’s even set it up for RSS, apparently. Therefore, using the magic of publishing dates (break? what break?), I plan to flood his feed. *evil grin*

Fittingly enough, this first post is about him. Er, his clothes. That new shirt for Sherlock we were planning on (which will also be part of the base for Jaime) was ready in time for him to wear to the local ComicCon (marathon-made the night before, of course).

Honestly it’s been so long I’ve almost forgotten the exact details of how I made it…and it doesn’t seem to be in the costume closet, so I can’t check seams. Because I couldn’t possibly go upstairs right now. Nope.

So I started with a big piece of white fabric from my stash – the only one that we felt was really the right texture to translate to Jaime. I’d planned to use the renaissance shirt pattern again, but despite being a lot of fabric, it wasn’t enough fabric. So I draped it.

By which I mean I folded it over itself, cut a T for the neckline, and shoved it over Jeff’s head. (I did ask first!) I made him stick his arms out and pinned the bottom seam of the sleeve in place – with a few adjustments for desired elbow motion. Then we discovered it sat funny at the shoulders, so I ended up cutting the original arms out and shifting the rough outline of the torso lower so I could put in proper shoulder seams.

The finished Sherlock look!

I think I did some pretty good 3-D thinking, building a lining into the neckline (which is rounded in back and has a straight line opening
down the center front). By which I mean none of it ended up attached to the “right” side of the fabric. Hooray!

I got to use a massive cheat on the cuffs – they were right on the selvage. And then we cut into them to add cufflinks… If I ever upgrade the piece at all, adding detachable cuffs so it looks more formal for Sherlock is item #1.

Sewing Cersei

I’m about five and a half hours into sewing Cersei (general intentions are here, if you missed them), and it’s been an adventure. No major disasters, but so many little things have gone wrong:

– Staystitch side edge of front above waist. Well great, I didn’t mark the waist. Guess I’m eyeballing it. (No ill effects obvious to date.)

– Stitch upper side front to lower side front. Um…you’ve got an outie and an innie…how do I sew those together? Incorrectly, the first time. (The intermediate step of staystitching the lower edge of the upper side front [the innie] means you can stretch it along the outie for stitching and then afterwards it sort of flexes back into place.)

– Stitch side front to front. The hems line up wrong, and not the way I planned. So much for the brilliant curtain hem intentions. It’ll all turn out fine when I put in the final hem.

– Basically repeat the above for the back and side back. I should probably mention here I’m too lazy to use pins, except for really tricky spots. The bigger mistake is keep forgetting to reverse the stitch at the beginning and end of my seams, to lock them in place…

– As mentioned, I’m skipping the ties.

– Stitch front to back. It finally starts to look like a thing! It’s not super fitted, so I could take in some seams if I wanted, but I think it looks okay. I’ll just have to be very specific about the hemming the front flap so it doesn’t spill over into the contrast section.

– The facing is really where it started getting weird. I hemmed the lower edge of the front, but I typically don’t press, so I missed turning in the seam allowance. And the hem of the back facing is atrocious – another outie, so it’s all wrinkled and overlapped. Stitched front to back okay, but then:

– I added the improvised collar when I stitched the facing to the dress. That step was mostly fine, but when I understitched the facing, I caught a bunch of extra fabric in several different spot and had to rip it out and re-stitch piecemeal (if I did the whole seam over again, it would probably just be worse.)

– Then, it didn’t actually say to, but I slipstitched the lining hem (instead of the armhole facing. And I had it on the dress form by this point. And the slipstitch went through the incredibly thin fabric covering the dress form. So I had to do that over.

– Finally, it was sleeve time! I got all the giant pieces together just fine, but then I started adding the sleeve band and my extra piece of darker contrast. As a single seam, they went on fine. But then I had to slipstitch both the band and the rest of the darker contrast. And I caught lots of bits of the outer sleeve fabric…that was folded under from another part of the sleeve. So I had to fix that, too. I finally got the first sleeve done and am hoping to avoid that problem when I pick up on finishing the second sleeve.

Ermagerd, a progress shot! And a sneak peek of the Steampunk Basement Craft Area series.

Normally the next step after this would be attaching sleeves to dress, but I am going to have a lot of quiet down time away from home next week, so I think I’ll work on embroidering the sleeves (which even though voluminous are smaller than the dress) before I attach them.


Game of Thrones Plan and Cutting Cersei

There’s one more big project I want to get done before Comic Con: a pair of Game of Thrones costumes. Needless to say, it’s incredibly daunting because the costuming on that show is simply gorgeous. I don’t have the right fabrics in my stash, and let’s be honest the publicly available designs are kind of a hack. But I’m going to try. (Full disclosure, I’m making full use of some wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey … stuff, here: I actually wrote this post in late September! So I’m not as hugely time crunched as you might think. EDIT: once we decided on only one day at Comic Con, though, this became a “work at your own pace” project – for good or ill, only time will tell.)

So for our first pair (yes, there’s at least one more coming at a later date), Jeff and I are going to go as Jaime and Cersei and loiter in corners and hopefully really amuse people. Starting with Cersei:

McCall’s 6940

I would have loved to do one of her high collared brocade dresses but my stash doesn’t even come close. Even the blue or pink wrap dress would be a little less popular, and I don’t really like following the crowd. But reds I’ve got, so red it is. (McCall’s 6940, of course.) The base red from my stash is actually a bit deeper, and the fabric a bit thicker, than the reference photos I’ve seen suggest. In terms of quantity, I’m limited to just the body – bodice and center front and center back – out of the deep red, which might be a silk. It’s got a lovely visual texture to it (though probably not so nice on the skin, and the bright spots that pop from those pin lines match a gauzy, slightly shiny red curtain I thrifted that I’ll be using for the sleeves. (I did manage to save some of the deep red for the peekaboo on the inside of Jaime’s collar, so that’ll be a fun touch!) I’ve also decided to forgo the recommended ties, since you can’t see them in screenshots, and will probably use more of the stick on velcro dots in my stash. I also don’t actually have any red thread, so am thinking I will try to make do with brown; it’s fairly light and shiny, so shouldn’t be that far off.

I’m satisficing on the contrast color, too. Again, from reference photos, it looks like a lighter and darker gold (but not shiny) brocade, whereas I’ll be using the “inside” of a pair of gold satiny curtains for the side fronts and backs, bodice lining, and the sleeve lining and trim. The pattern doesn’t call for it, but I’m using it for a collar as well, plus scraps from my gold bridesmaid’s dress as a darker contrast at the outside edge of the sleeve lining. I do at least have beige thread for places where that matters.

I refuse to use the enclosed lion appliqué as intended (and the fact that I’m out of dark red actually doesn’t have anything to do with it!); I’m determined to simply use the shape to mark the space in which to embroider them (as well as the sleeve hems and neckline). I’ve done a decent amount of cross-stitch and some needlepoint (though all very slowly), so I think it’s at least doable, if not in the time allotted. I did find a photo of one cosplayer who appears to have used puff paint for her sleeves, which I think is very clever, and if timing does become an issue I may go that route for some of my detailing.

I’m not intending to use the pattern at all for the belt. I have some dark gold trim that I think might be an okay substitute for the back of it (since I don’t have any gold chainmail lying around); I’m not sure how I’ll handle the leather or metal buckle yet. Maybe painted cardboard? At least there are some really nice reference photos.

So, caveats made, I can report that I have cut out all of the fabric for Cersei (making strategic use of the curtains’ hems for side front, side back and sleeves). I’ve probably set myself up for more of the trouble I had with the Sherlock vest and renaissance man‘s doublet, since I cut to the largest size but am once again going to be fitting different sections to different sizes. At least I have a dress form (should probably go spin the dials to match my current measurements…) and of course 100% access to putting the thing on my own body as I go.

I did order a $5 replica of Cersei’s lion necklace off eBay, because with all of the embroidery plans, and my lack of carving/molding skills, that seems like the best way to make sure I actually have one. I’m not sure whether she should have a signet ring in this costume or not. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

The Doctors Who

My last iteration of the Tenth Doctor.

Next up Jeff and I will probably be headed to Grand Rapids Comic Con. We’ll reprise Sherlock and Irene, of course (ideally with the vest snugged up and somewhere to hang the pipe). And we’ll spend some time running around – if they allow running – as a pair of Tens. Um, that’s the Tenth Doctor, from Doctor Who, in case you couldn’t guess from the title.

Edit: We’re only going to spend one day at Comic Con. So the Doctors will have to wait for Halloween. But since it’s basically Halloween party season already, it won’t be a long wait.

Anyway, to get back to your regularly scheduled post: These costumes are completely thrifted.

– Thrifted blue suits (pinstripe, for him)
– Thrifted dress shirts (actually, mine might be a leftover from choir)
– Thrifted ties (mine’s a clip-on!)
– Thrifted Converse (of course)
– Thrifted trench coats
– Thrifted khaki headband (for me, because what does a female Doctor do with her hair?)
– Thrifted pair of K-9 slippers (which we randomly ran into and how could we not?!)

And I lied. Mostly thrifted. We bought the sonic screwdrivers. Plus a couple of items of forgotten provenance:

– Psychic paper (I think it was a tiny wallet, once upon a time)
– Brainy specs (for him. My eyes suck so I have glasses all the time)

1_854723854536_619378964_nStill. Not much sewing here. (Even the WWII coat I hacked together for a Jack Harkness cosplay from a lady’s jacket didn’t have much – adjust the collar here, cut off the cuff straps there, sew them onto the shoulders for rank insignia instead… And paint the buttons gold. That was a pretty fun project, but Jeff wants to pick up a vortex manipulator before we bring it out again.)

Renaissance Lady


Let me tell you, this costume was a long time coming. I started on it a year or two ago, and chickened out just before I got to the zipper. So it sat and sat in the basement until we finally made that commitment to go to the ren fair, and I sewed my little fingers off making costume after costume.

I call it my fantasy renaissance dress. The pattern is pretty good, actually (Simplicity 8735), but the fabrics I’m using are incredibly synthetic. Piecing it together from my stash felt a bit like a work of art. I had enough light blue textured fabric for the front panel and the sleeves, enough sheer purple fabric for the overdress and what I’ve been calling the “gauntlets”, enough white fabric for the underdress minus the front panel (well, except for a little missing chunk), and enough dark blue sheer fabric for the modesty panel and the “gauntlets”.

I don’t really remember assembling the bodice or the skirt, it’s been so long. I do think I was surprised how well that portion went. I definitely remember the silver fleur-de-lis ribbon I grabbed from my stash to line the waistline and the edges of the overskirt crinkled like mad. Leaving it on my dress form for months on end actually helped it flatten a bit, but it still pulls up some. I went wild at JoAnn buying extra ribbon and lace for the bodice, which admittedly looks very nice. I hand sewed it on during a D&D session. And then it sat.

I got it out again this summer and finished gathering the sleeves. I repeated the USB cable trick to shove elastic through the gather. And then, terrified it wouldn’t fit, I sewed in the zipper. Wrong. Twice. Once I got the zipper in right-way round so that it could, you know, zip…it fit! Sort of. The bodice kept falling off my shoulders, I found a shortcut – put a dart in the neckline above each shoulder blade. I think I took 4 inches off! I hemmed the underdress and overdress (cheating, by machine) both a bit shorter than I’d intended but the ankle-length result turned out to be a perfect choice for the ren fair, what with all the mud. And I made one set of reversible oversleeves and set their grommets (tricky with that flimsy fabric!). Pre-lacing them was a mistake, as one shoulder then didn’t want to sit right, but one came untied partway through the day and I tucked all of them away.

Of course, a dress does not itself an outfit make! I grabbed brown velvet slippers at the costume shop, wore a necklace that had been my grandmother’s, and approximated a cap, ferroniere, and Italian style hair wrap out of a yarmulke and ribbon. Cheating, I know. I also carried a bag my aunt and uncle bought for me in southeast Asia that color coordinated nicely. I’d like to build an actual cap, add a dangling “jewel” to the ferroniere (or actually buy a real one), tie down the wrap tighter so it doesn’t come undone, and use the bit of brocaded silk in my stash to make a new handbag for future outings. Plus, like Irene, it could use a couple of petticoats.

Once again, we were invited to participate in the costume contest, but with better shoes (and extra arch support tucked inside!) we wandered far and wide for food, vendors, and entertainment. All in all, a lovely day, even if my outfit was a century out-of-date and several hundred miles south. Frankly, I prefer this profile to the wide skirts and stiff bodices of the Elizabethan court.

Renaissance Man

My renaissance man (all from Simplicity 4059) turned out to be an interesting exercise. Each piece went together very differently.


The doublet – fancy gold paisley on shiny black brocade and black liner and thread from the stash, plus ten phenomenal gold buttons my sister picked out at Field’s. I faced quite a dilemma cutting this one, since the armpit/shoulder angle is quite different for each size, and I had to make a multi-size fit. As with Sherlock’s vest, I cheated and didn’t line this piece, so it too is a bit flimsy. I ended up taking in a bit at the back of the neck to improve the fit, but we’ll need to switch from loop attachments for the buttonholes to actual buttonholes, which should snug up the fit some more. I’m going to recruit help for those.

The shirt – off-white cotton purchased for 14124450_10100534014921766_8135100569807480212_othe project, plus white thread, interfacing, 2 mother of pearl buttons, and lace from the stash. This piece was a joy to build. The fabric moved so consistently through the machine that I felt like I’d suddenly gotten massively better at sewing. I hand sewed the cuffs and hem just like I was supposed to, and it is clearly the most proficiently-built piece from the entire weekend.

The breeches – green fabric, interfacing, lacing, and thread from the stash, plus 3 neat black buttons my sister found at Field’s. After the shirt, this piece was a nightmare. For some reason the fabric was double thick, but when you pulled the layers apart (which was quite easy) it was no longer fit for use. Luckily I figured this out before cutting. The grain would not behave, and I had the darnedest time telling what the pattern was asking me to do. I put the yoke together wrong – wrong pieces, and sewed terribly off-kilter. The best that can be said is that I got to practice putting in grommets with the tool I’d bought over a year before (and I had enough sample grommets to do
them 14086278_10100537213252286_8151797378300252391_oin green!). Oh! And I discovered that the best way to thread lacing through the hem at the knee is to take a USB to mini-USB cable and inch it through, then tie the lacing on and pull the cable back. At least they fit, and the yoke is more or less hidden by the doublet, not to mention accessory #1:

A sword – what can I say? Jeff likes swords. They’re proliferating, so it’s nice to have an appropriate one he could simply pull out for this costume. We belted it on with a regular belt and some kind of cheap holster-y thing off Amazon that you drop the scabbard into. Of course he also wore:

Hose – from the local costume shop. Not actually hose, he tells me. They’re socks. And he’ll probably need points or garters or something because they kept drooping. Anyway, the point is his lower legs were covered. And he also wore:

Shoes – we didn’t like the options at the costume shop, so picked up a pair of jazz shoes at the dance wear store. But of course nothing is complete without:

The re-used hat and high school renaissance outfit.

A hat – we actually used the hat from his last renaissance outfit (which since it was from high school no longer fits). It would be good to rebuild it in a nicer fabric, but in the meantime I picked up a peacock feather and sewed it on.

Steampunk Irene Adler


So Irene. Irene was a bit of a hang-er on, but I like couples’ costumes. So with steampunk Sherlock Holmes on the docket, what else was I supposed to do?

(I did actually end up thinking of a fun little narrative that blended real life and our personas: Irene’s supposedly given up her wicked ways and turned tailor to Sherlock. Of course it’s all just a ploy to get close enough to slip him something nefarious. *turn to look at him* “You didn’t hear that dear, just go on and investigate that odd thing over there.” Etc.)

Most of the outfit was already made. The skirt was actually the second version of that set I had made, since I sewed (except for the hem) a shiny brown version for my friend’s wedding outfit (which she combined with a lacy white shirt and beige corset to look amazing). Here’s the best part: it’s a mash up: bolero skirt (without loopy trim) from McCall’s 7071 and train from McCall’s 6097. My skirt was a dull green covered in black velvety flowers with a dark green velvet waistband (from the stash!), and my train was a darker shinier green (which I may have purchased). The only thing I actually had to do for the ren fair was add buttons to attach the train to the skirt. So…repeat semi-freehand note from Sherlock’s vest.

The top I’ve had for a long time; it was a hand-me-down from my mom. I searched antique shops for a cheap cameo for a long time, and the result has been hanging from the top button hole for quite a while as well.

I could’ve just used the good black leather boots I’ve owned since high school, but I ran into a pair at the thrift store with silver buttons on the side just before the ren fair and couldn’t resist. This. Was. A. Giant. Mistake. They were way too big and I had enormous blisters starting on the balls of my feet before we even got into the ren fair because we parked at the back of beyond. I thought about buying shoes from a vendor, but they were ridiculously expensive. So I begged a wad of napkins off a pickle vendor and stuffed them into my shoes. It helped enough that we could move around a little, and kept the blisters from getting worse. But I’ll be cleaning the mud off those shoes and sending them back to the thrift store. Lesson: always, always walk around in your shoes. *sigh*

How how else did I dress it up? I bought half a yard of cheap black velour and built a steampunk hat and fingerless gloves (McCall’s 6975 again) and a cummerbund or waist corset (patternless!). The hat turned out to be good practice for Sherlock, and the gloves…I had to think hard about those gloves – which side was up, which hand was which. I ended up pulling some shiny black fabric from my stash to line the thumb and wrist, and to make a flat version of what was supposed to be a crinkled connector to pin the palm side shut. And I did all three in an afternoon! The amazing thing about the hat is once I pinned it on top of my head, I completely forgot it was there.

We also borrowed a parasol from the theatre props in our basement, but didn’t end up using it. I think eventually I might like to build her a matching one with a more period-appropriate profile. And I’ll admit I saw a poison ring at the same antique shop where we picked up Sherlock’s stick pin that was quite tempting.

I keep wanting to transition from costumes to historical clothing, though, and having the costume contest judge say it was only “kind of” 1890s really drove that home. I read on a historical clothing blog that the important thing is starting with the right undergarments to build the silhouette. I can improve this costume while setting the stage for future outfits simultaneously. I’ve got a pattern for chemise, drawers, and corset already, and clearly it also needs couple of petticoats and possibly a bustle. So we’ll see where that gets it.