Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More Elven Cloaks: Tips and Tutorial How to Sew a Lord of the Rings Half Circle Cloak.

I'm in the middle of a mad sewing dash, trying to finish outfits for Halloween.

I love how the hood turned out. This one was unlined, but the fabric was thick enough that it worked really well.

I had promised my twin to make cloaks for her and her roomate for a Halloween party. I thought, half-circle cloak?  I got this totally figured out.
I learned a lot, I think I've perfected my cloak making technique now.
First, I used the Medieval piecing technique to get the half-circle cloak long enough.
From a Bog Man

 Last time, I had used 55" wool, and cut that into a half-circle with a radius 55". But I had not accounted for the neck hole (radius 8"), and thus ended up with a cloak only 47" neck to shoulder (after hemming, perhaps 46"). It showed off my awesome boots (too large hand-me-down snow boots with twill tape wrapped around to keep them from flopping. Looks kinda like the boots in Skyrim), but was a bit shorter had wanted.
Last time (no piecing) cloak ended up shorter than I wanted, approx 46-47" from shoulder to edge
So this time, when making cloaks for my twin and her friend, I was determined to use the piecing technique.
See how the "pattern" is wider than the width of the fabric. So you piece in the back edge. (I just haphazardly drew my pieces, depending on how big your semicircle is, you can find the best arrangement for the pieces. You could do it with one piece or as many as you need.

It worked really well. I made my twin's cloak, cutting it with a initial radius of 62-63" (using piecing to fill up the edge on the bottom, like the Medieval example above), with the 8" radius cut out of the top for the neck, I ended up with a shoulder to edge length of 54-55". At my 5'4" height, this brushed the ground. I ended up cutting 3" or so off the bottom and getting a nice length of 51"-52".
What I ended up with, perfect for a 5' 4" person

I thought it ended in just the right spot.

For the closure, I used 2 metal rings we had made from a hanger (instructions here,[ insert link]), and brown cotton canvas I sewed 2 layers together, then flipped inside out and ironed to make an "applique". I then handsewed this to the cloak, and sewed the rings onto it. Its then an adjustable opening, with a leather strap. I did a little quick leave embroidery on them.

And here's a few more glam shots of it.

Ignore my silly expression. Note the beautiful drape of the cloak.

I LOVED the drape of this fabric. It looks like linen, although its actually 100% cotton. It's medium-heavy weight is matched with a loose enough weave, that it drapes really well (unlike canvas, whose tight weave keeps even its heavy weight draping stiffly). I dyed it to its current elvish color myself, with dark green RIT dye, and extremely hot water and salt.

Sadly, I didn't get the best pictures of this. I was up till 11:30 last night finishing the Princess Leia dress, and then spent all morning/early afternoon sewing up these cloaks. Then I had 2 minutes to snap pictures, and then we rushed to the post office to mail them before they closed. Hence I didn't get to show off the drape as well as I wish. Just trust me, it looks awesome.

For the neck-hood attachment, I knew I needed at least a few pleats in the cloak, so it wouldn't pull so hard on my shoulders like my wool one did. I put 2 pleats in on each side, approx 5" from the neck opening, and then another 1" away from that. Each pleat was about 1/2" thick, "eating up" about 1" each. See diagram.

It worked really well, just enough ease in the shoulders that it didn't pull funny, and yet not so fitted (like a bag) that you lose the cool sweep of the half-circle drape from the shoulders.

This one, I had some adventures. First off, I didn't have enough cloak fabric for 2 cloaks, so I went to walmart, where the only thing I could find that could possibly work, was a beautiful deep forest green fabric that was sadly, rather light-weight (quilting cotton weight) but was 100% cotton, claimed to be 44/45" wide, and had this beautiful soft feel to it. I bought 4 yards, and washed it on hot and dried it in the dryer to shrink it.


It turned into the crinkliest stiffest stuff ever. I washed it 2 more times, trying no soap, air dry, and more dryer dry. It remained stubbornly stiff. Which is what you want for a vintage sundress, but not what you want for an elven cloak.  (the drape is all about the loosness/tightness of the weave ratio to the weight of the fabric.)
Well,  I knew with multiple washings/wearings it would soften over time. Theoretically. Praying. But the color was gorgeous and we didn't have time to go back to the store.
Then I measured it. It had somehow shrunk (?!?) to 38.5" from its vaunted 44/45".
I had a brief freak out.
I tried to cut creatively, to piece, etc, but there just wasn't enough fabric in the 4 yds.
In the end I ended up with a cloak 47.5" from shoulder to hem, just a smidge longer than my wool cloak. I was sad. But it still works, and shows off your boots. I think Faramir's cloak hit him about there too.
So that was the sad part.

The good part, was I spent a lot of time trying to make it look beautiful. I sewed on a strip of brown fabric to the inside edge of the front, and really liked how it made the forest green pop. I then bag lined the inside of the hood with brown, and it really really looks good. (If I say so myself)
You see the facing strips down the front. And how awesome the hood looks. Ignore the weird faces, I was tired.
Strangely enough, it seems it did come down a lot longer than I thought it would. Interesting.

I really like how it looks when the hood is down, how it falls and the brown peaking out.

How the hood looks down with the cloak thrown back. Ignore the face.

I went a little crazy with the applique. 2 layers of brown broadcloth, cut and sewn in the shape of a leaf, flipped inside out to hide the seams, hand embroidered.
Also to make up for the cloaks other problems, I used a fancy clasp that adds instant class. I tried to mirror the leaf theme with the applique.
I think it worked :)
I was quite pleased with how my embroidery turned out. And how the clasps mirrored the effect.
When I was done, I noticed it didn't seem as short as my wool cloak. Perhaps I used a lot more in the hem of the wool cloak, making it shorter. With this cloak I used very narrow hems.
Anyways, at the end of the day, I think it looks pretty awesome :)

Things I learned:
  1. French seams are awesome, don't do the half-job of just felling it, taking the time to trim and iron in order to enclose the raw edge is totally worth it (especially for many washings...)
  2. Stabilize the front opening. Fold over/hem the front opening twice, or better yet, sew a facing onto it (that folds under, enclosing all raw edges and sewn down on the inside) to stabilize the drape of the front opening.
  3. Bag Line the hood. It looks really good. Especially if you do it in brown.
  4. When Sewing the hood to the cloak, sew it with a facing strip, then fold down the facing strip over the raw edges, enclosing everything nicely before sewing it down. No scratchy raw edges at the neck!
  5. For a 5'4" person, a shoulder to hem length of 51-52 is nice.
  6. Keeping circular hems as narrow as possible and try not to stretch as you are hemming, it keeps it from going all rumply.
  7. Don't trust the bolt when it says 44/45", bring your measuring tape and measure it. And if you do get 45" wide, buy at least 4.5 yards.
  8. You never know what a cotton's drape/weave/softness will really be until its shrunk and washed
  9. Avoid quilting cotton weight for cloaks in the first place

Sneak Peak~~~~
update: here's pictures of the finished dress
I finished a (gorgeous) rendition of Princess Leia's Ceremonial Dress for my sister in law. I improved the bodice and sleeves from the original design, in my humble opinion.
I actually inserted in invisible zipper, drafted double French darts and (drumroll) SEWED WITH CHIFFON!!!
It was a series of firsts for me, and it turned out absolutely beautiful. Photoshoot and construction
details coming soon.

It looks like these, only much better :)

And to me, it looks kinda like Arwen's angel dress.

I also sewed Isaiah up a little Luke Skywalker outfit. I haven't finished the outfit yet, more on that too...
And still am working on Jenny's R2D2 dress for tomorrow.... ahhhhh too much sewing.....

Monday, October 28, 2013

Is Virtue Found in the Middle? Rambling thoughts...

"virtue is found in the middle.
Courage is the virtue between recklessness and cowardice. Hope is the virtue between presumption and despair. Humility is the virtue between vanity and self-deprecation."

I don't think so. I think it appears that way, because we are seeing a 3-dimensional thing with 2 dimensional eyes, so it appears #3 is sitting between 1 and 2, when really, its a triangle, and 1 and 2 are only a few feet apart, while 3 is actually a mile away from them. (does that make sense?)

At least, all my life, I struggled with what humility was. Like you said, it seemed this delicate balance between self-deprecation and vanity. There was something so...creepy/sad/irritating about self deprecation. And I wondered how you balanced it just right etc etc, until something CS Lewis said really hit home to me. Both Self-Deprecation and Vanity are focussing on self, whether to extol or harangue. But both are looking at yourself.
And as a teen, an older girl told me "Humility is truth, it is seeing yourself as you really are". And suddenly it made sense. Humility isn't this balance between the self-haters and the self-lovers, figuring out the right balance of censure and praise to give yourself.
Humility is knowing yourself as you really are---and fixing your eyes on God. Humility is its not about you. You don't look at yourself, to revel in loathing or pride. You're too busy looking at God.

Same with Hope. I don't think hope is in between presumption and despair. Both Presumption and Despair are God-not-being-in-the-picture. Despair, obviously. (I mean, w/o God, looking at the horrors in this world, it does make sense to end it all, like that creepy-planet-euthenasia thing in the end of Season 4 of Doctor Who) But presumption also is not looking at God. The faith in ourselves, in cheerfulness, etc to make things right. That's presumption.
But Hope is looking at God. With him, we see, yes the world really really really sucks and evil is more horrific than we imagined, and yes, our frail attempts at fixing it can't do much--but there's HIM. And we can not presume too much good/hope about God. He does "more than we can ask or think". He's God.

So virtue, isn't in the middle. Often both "poles" or "sins" are actually, at teh root, the same (self-deprecation and vanity = focussing on self; despair and presumption=not putting God into the picture) and virtue, at its root, is looking to God. Fixing our eyes on Him, expecting, waiting, worshipping, seeing Him for who He really is. "Christ, our Hope" and all that.
Virtue does not fall between 2 vices, but rather, its on a whole new dimension.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why this is the most Romantic Picture in the World

Because...he's looking, eyes open, at the light. She's struggling with faith that the light will ever come, and he's not telling her that he will be her light and salvation and saying he loves her will make everything dandy.
Instead, he insists that the light will come. Or, as the movie puts it "...I do not believe this darkness will endure"....
He has a sureness.
And he looks out toward the light, reminding her, the light will come.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to Maximize Lord of the Rings Authenticity (awesomeness) on a Shoestring Budget

(shall be updated with pictures, examples, and links)

First off, I am talking a real budget here. Not "under $100" kind of "budget". We are talking, a highschooler whose minimum-wage-job-money goes mostly to non-recreational things kind of budget, or a unemployed with $2000 in the bank kind of budget, or a living off a grad-school stipend with 3 kids kind of budget...  basically a real budget. It's exciting :)

1. See it as a challenge, an adventure!   Don't just drool over beautiful re-creations that cost $300-$800 for materials alone (or this one...) and resign yourself to tackiness. I wish I could go to the fabric store and buy silk, but I'll go to the store and buy poly satin on sale instead...
That does not have to be the case. Because in some ways, you are being more authentic. When you have to hunt down scraps of leather at a thrift store (in the shape of coats, weird pants, etc) and then painstakingly piece the pieces, you are being more like the real Medievals (and hence, Middle-Earthites) to whom all fabric was handwoven (and thus, precious), all leather had to be skinned and tanned, metal things had to be hand-hammered and hand-crafted. Beauty cost effort.They had to work to make things.
Medievals used fabric saving techniques (gore insertion, leaves virtually no waste. Eowyn's Refugee coat cut the modern [fabric wasting] way can use up to 8 yds, while cut the medieval way can get the same look for 4 yds).
Example: When I was making my husband's Faramir Hauberk,we were on a very tight (nonexistent) budget. I needed largish metal rings for the side lacing. The best I could find was on the internet for $9, which my unemployed husband said no. So I sulked for a day. And then, inspiration. Together we took old metal hangers, bent them in a spiral around a fat marker (use a dowel, the marker shattered), and clipped them apart with tinsnips. My husband then, using pliers, got the ends lined up with eachother. We had forged our own metal rings, perhaps the way Faramir's Hauberk makers had. It was extremely satisfying.

2. Just because its going to be technically cheap doesn't mean it has to look cheap. Cheap looking costumes often look like they were slapped together, without real effort.
But you are putting effort and ingenuity into it, so it's not going to look cheap.  (note: avoid poly satin. Thrifted sheets/curtains can actually look pretty awesome, and cost less than poly satin) I have seen techinically expensive costumes (using real wool, real silk, etc) that looked cheap and costumey due to poor construction or design. You need to keep your eyes open for these pitfalls, which brings us to no. 3

3. Learn from other re-creators outfits, especially the silly looking ones.RESEARCH. When you want to make something, google "sewed Eowyn white wool dress" etc for fan made pictures (you can find the correct fan name for each dress on
Look at as many pictures as you can. Don't just study what the successful ones did. Study what the (in your mind) unsuccessful (tacky, silly, cheap looking) ones did. You are learning from their mistakes, so you won't do what they did.
Examples here (sorry about the lack of photo-credit. I saved them from the internet for private study ages ago. But as I am holding them up as what not to do, I don't know if I should link even if I could...)
Arwen's Blood Red Dress (sleeves too short. Sleeves that look ridiculous bc they are movie she always has arms positioned just so)
Faramir's Hauberk (too pointy and long, etc)
Note for women: Not all of us are built the same. Some designs need to be altered to flatter different figure types. You often will see this problem in fan made costumes that stick to original construction, at the cost of being less flattering. e.g. The actress for Eowyn has a very slender, athletic build with a long waist (like my sisters) which looks really good with the dropped visual waistline of the Shieldmaiden dress. On my more curvy short-waisted figure, it looks silly. I loved the Shieldmaided dress though, so I simply raised the visual waistline (the trim at the bottom of the corset) by a couple inches. 
Also, Eowyn's slender build works very well for her 2-piece bodice with shaping only in the side seams, that makes up most of her dresses. When curvier women try to wear a 2 piece bodice with shaping only in the side seams, a very unflattering wrinkle develops across the chest. We simply need more room there. I need to modify it with severe levels of darts, or simply use a (shoulder) princess-seamed pattern instead.

4. Learn from other re-creators outfits, which elements are most important to you. The outfits that look "That's awesome" break it down why. Compare to the original, and break it down element by element. They almost always are not exactly the same as the movie's. But they preserve certain elements that you hadn't put a finger on before, but that really 'made' the outfit for you. Write down those elements.
Example: For me, Arwen's Blood Red dress. Boatneck. Red and Gold emphasized (not silvery gold). Blue hints in the blue-backness. Sleeves just a tad shorter than the movie

5. Prioritize (in a list) what's most important to you vs what's less so. After all that research, make a sketch of what you want, what you want to do with it. Differentiate which elements are most important to you, and which things you would just like to have. That way, you can maximize your efforts. One thing that helps with this process, is deciding what you are going to do with it.
Example: for my husband's Faramir outfit, I decided having something that was more practical (e.g. that he could run through the woods and camp in, something Faramir really would have used) mattered more to me than having it look exactly like the movie prop. Thus if I had the choice between some plain short leather boots, and crafting together some very convincing knee-high boots with lacing using hot-glue, deerskin, and sneakers, I would opt for the short boots. Someone going to a convention, who wanted to look like they stepped off the set might opt for the latter. Infact, someone filming a medieval movie would probably opt for the latter. As long as it looks convincing on screen, that is what matters. 
However (until I make that medieval movie...) I'd rather have something he can actually slosh through mud like Faramir in.
It's all about figuring out what's important to you.

6. Make a mock-up if you can. I hate making mock-ups, because it wastes fabric. "Use old sheets*" people say. . Well, I was going to use that sheet for my dress!
But I have found, mockups are worth it. They do end up saving money. And I, who hate 'wasting' any kind of fabric, and who is always looking for a shortcut, finally admit its true. So do it.
*(2-5 bucks for flat sheets at thrift stores, a Queen size flat sheet is equivalent to at least 4 yds of 45" muslin. Don't buy the fitted sheets, they are usually more worn out as people actually sleep on that part. And if you are creeped out by using people's old bedding, you can always pray over it :) I do...)
Tips for speeding up mockups: you don't really have to do the skirt, usually all the fitting issues are on the bodice. Find some hideous poly-cotton 70s sheet and you can get a ton of bodice mockups out if it, and not feel guilty hacking it up.
Alternative to mockups: If you really don't want to waste materials on a mockup (like with Faramir's Hauberk) do a version 1.0 version. That will be your best effort with really cheap/free materials first. It will stand in its own right, perhaps be altered at the end to be, say, one of Faramir's Ranger's and not Faramir's. Or perhaps you will gift it to a little sibling later. But don't think of it as a waste, its a 1.0 version. This is what I did with Josh's Hauberk. I used a (free) shiny reddish brown leather (hideous) 70's jacket with very thin leather. (it actually turned out better than I thought). I found out how to hand-sew leather, what works, what doesn't (insert link). I found the thinnest leather can be reinforced with layers of canvas to hang better. I learned a lot. (insert link).

Now that I've made all my mistakes on it, I know what to do when i actually buy thick leather to make version 2.0
Tip: For guys's Hauberks, even pinning the canvas you are going to use (inside out) onto the guy, and drawing the dark inset on it with marker will tell you how the lines will look. Then, not to waste your canvas, you can flip it around, and sew the 2nd layer of canvas to it, and no one will see the inky lines. (tip: don't use permanent marker, it bleeds alot. And don't use dollar store 'skrples' from China. They smell very very strange...)

7. Embroidery.
It's cheap ($0.30 a skein at Walmart), it can be quite fun, and it lends an aura of authenticity and beauty that the most expensive trims can't match.
It even made this cut-from-an-old-T-shirt tunic on my baby look awesome...

8. Save up for those things that are really important to you (that you really can't make).
For me: a decent sword.
Someday I hope to build a forge in my backyard, others have done it for under $100, if you do it right. But first I need a backyard.... :)
Note: Making your own bow and arrows from (sticks, string, metal cans, tins snips, pliers and a pocket knife) that shoot through pizza boxes, aim to 100 ft, and look awesome, are totally doable. You can also get really nice knives (good for cutting wood, meat, etc) from Walmart for under $20. Good Christmas present idea....

9. Have fun :) Making things is about creating something.
Where would the fun be, in having an unlimited budget to simply order the best materials without batting an eyelash, and hire a seamstress to sew an exact replica which you would then wear for a photo-shoot, then send to the dry-cleaners, and hang it in your bulging wardrobe with 50 gowns?
Challenge makes it fun. Creating beautiful things takes effort. See it as learning a craft :)

My dress (actually a mock up) $6; Kid's outfits $1 worth of embroidery floss on old T shirts. Josh's Hauberk: $4 not counting paint (I have an almost full bottle) (alas, I didnt lace it tight enough, so the thinness of the leather is on display...) Josh's Cloak: $6.  Total Cost of everyone's outfits: $17

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Worst Thing

I think one of the worst things is to not recognize the worst things, going on in your time. Because, by virtue of it being everywhere, you are inured to it. Like the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, like Slavery in the (Christian) American South. Like infanticide in most of the pre-Christian cultures of the earth. And we say, "If I had been in the South when preachers defended slavery.....If I had been in Germany when Hitler was running for office....If I had been a Roman woman ordered to expose her infant...."

But it's hardest to see one's own culture's blindspot. The particular segment of people that your culture has decided to dehumanize, (Jews, Africans, newborns...)

This is ours.

And we can't just say its the way the world works. Anymore then the Southern Christians could say that slavery was just the way the world was. Or the Germans say that Jews just were going to be gassed and that's that, and it's better ignore this, so we can focus on bigger issues, like economic justice and making sure there's a chicken in every pot. (Not that we shouldn't care about poverty, education gaps, etc. But we need to get our priorities straight)

These people...should not get married.



 They. Just. Can't.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lost without Cause

Now therefore, what do I have here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that My people have been taken away without cause?” 

Taken away, 
the children lost, 
for no reason. 
While we worried for them

We, harried and half asleep,
nod to the ones who creep
to nobly trash their souls
Never looked into the faces
Too busy on our phones

Truth as cheap as trash
Drowned in the blur 
of Newspaper Headings and small talk,
(World is going on as before)
Same old same old...

Fields won by battle,
surrendered without a word,
travelling in a muddle
We muddle down the road 

The Lord declares, “Those who rule over them howl, and My name is continually blasphemed all day long.
Therefore My people shall know My name;

When we sit among the ashes
wondering what went wrong
Surrounded by the bodies 
Staring at our hands

When at last the worst has happened
We have nothing more to lose
Knowing we lost our Treasure
---Sold it for a song 

When the captors inflict their jeers
We hear our lies in blackness
--Our eyes gouged out by spears---
Our own lies soft and fair
Will finally appear,
as they are...
Therefore in that day I am the one who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Scorn That Withers as the Fire

The lies come thick and fast
The scorn the withers as a fire
And petty groups display their cards
(showing they are the ones)
Wise, accepted, educated, respected
Laugh the crazies, the sufferrers, the mad ones
Blind and beaten by injustice, pierced with shards of hate

But the Final Time comes, the real fire comes
Burns away our creds like dross
Every deed lies bare, stripped of its skin
Motives bare as bones, every thought spoken
What then?
And in that inferno of our failure
What stands?
but you and I
Our souls inflammable, unbreakable
Naked and alone.

The only covering,
An edge of a cloth
--pulled from the hem of a robe---
Red with blood and White as Fire

Thanks be to God

Thanks be to God for the little things
the sunrise after dark night
the laughter of a baby
the stars wheeling through the sky
Telling us the world is not ended
God still reigns
And despite our darkness, the Light comes