Monday, May 20, 2013

White Queen AAR - Lessons Learned and Next Steps

Writing a few quick after event thoughts (what the DoD calls an AAR for After Action Report) while they're still fresh in my head on what worked, what didn't work, and why.

1.  Need new boots!  The shoes I had, while barely seen under the spats, were just some cheap Mary Jane heels I'd picked up around Halloween for $15 on eBay.  Great look, but definitely NOT made for 10-12 hours or more on your feet.  These need to go!  Already found a pair of vintage white leather ankle-length laceup boots on eBay, so that's resolved.  Of course, this will also mean I need to trim or sew new spats...

2.  Web Cloak worked brilliantly.  I wasn't sure about the spider-web type fabric and how it would look - up until this weekend, I'd used a more basic white linen that breathes and drapes well.  Spider web fabric was a royal pain in the white backside to work with, but really looked beautiful.  So that was clearly a win.  The main danger here is that it tends to catch on things very easily - ratchets, canes, car doors, pretty much anything that sticks out even a little bit.  Still worth it though.

3.  Corset needs to be lined.  Up side to beautiful handmade corset - looked amazing and gave me plenty of support throughout the entire day and well into the night.  I know a lot of people ask me if corsets are uncomfortable, and I always reply that if it's designed well and fits you properly, it's very comfortable.  The problem most folks have is wearing a poorly fitted corset.  In this case, the fit was dead on, but the hand-stitching of the grey applique wound up rubbing on my skin and by about 9pm, my skin was feeling pretty raw around the appliqued parts.  I think I'm going to take some felt and just bind that with rubber cement to the corset, to prevent future rubbing and cover over the seamed areas.  Alternate plan is to get some sort of waist cincher or Spankx just to wear around my waist under the corset, but I think the felt is a better long-term plan.

4.  Develop a cool weather version of cloak/coat.  Again, really pleased with my existing cloak - but because it's so open (and one of the only pieces that's synthetic rather than a natural fiber), it won't retain heat worth a fig.  By the fall, I'm hoping to make a wool coat version like this, to capture both the Steampunk flavor and also provide more warmth.  The trick here is going to be finding a white wool that's as close to true white as possible....wool in particular tends to run very warm/ivory, like the fox fur in v1.  For the design, I'll be copying the Emmeline Frost coat in Earth-889 of the X-Society version of X-Men, as shown below.

Emmeline Frost and the X-Society from a Steampunk alternate universe called Earth-889.
Next step is clearly sewing Ian one of the other outfits.

5.  Sew the long skirt from the Earth-889 picture above.  This clearly calls for dupioni silk.  Added bonus, if I ever get bored with doing the White Queen at costume cons, it will also double perfectly as a Mystique skirt.

6.  Boffin-ize Emma.  By next year, I'm hoping to have a secondary version of the White Queen, keeping some elements but adding in others for differentiation.  I've been a big fan of the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and one of the more interesting characters is Dr. Emma Nora Darwin Barlow, a geneticist and (fictitious) granddaughter of Charles Darwin.  She's known for being a brilliant scientist, fluent in multiple languages, and always impeccably dressed with a black bowler hat.  Ever since my husband bought me the first book in the series, I've wanted to do some sort of version of Nora Barlow and just never got around to it.  This is a perfect costume melding for me of two characters I love - Emma Frost, and Nora Barlow (who oddly enough is *also* an Emma - never knew that until today!).  So by next year, I want to incorporate:

  • a long white walking skirt, likely wool or cotton twill.  Possibly with a mermaid tail, verdict is still out.
  • a white felt bowler, which I will try making my own from boiled white wool felt using the instructions here.
  • a pair of white goggles - again, going to see about making these, but plenty of suppliers if I can't figure it out.  Worst case, I can get a pair of cheap plastic ones and dry-brush them white and silver.
  • a silver and white walking cane.  Plan is to find some stainless steel plumbing pipe, a nice crystal or white enamel doorknob, and some epoxy - if it works out, I'll post pictures and instructions.
7.  Sew a formal/ball-appropriate skirt.  The short version is perfect for the day, but I'd love to do a really fantastic, full-skirted affair for evening wear.

8.  Wig?  I've been very on the fence about getting a long blonde wig.  I am blonde in the world of reals, though not quite as blonde as Emma - more medium to dark blonde than pale.  On the one hand, it would certainly help cement the look.  On the other hand, good wigs are *very* pricey, and cheap wigs look tacky and I find them a bigger distraction than compliment to most outfits.  Plus, I'm not sure my coloring is cool or fair enough to pull off the pale blonde.  So still mulling this one over...

9. Insanity time.  Once I finish everything else, and decide to well and truly take leave of my senses - I want to make the Lulu skirt, (outfit?), though in white and grey.  Already have the corset, the overdress is very straightforward and I could sew that easily enough, white stockings are readily it's just finding white and grey leather to make the buckle skirt.  Easy, right?  /cues famous last words

Someday, I will do this.  Someday...

Because sanity is *clearly* over-rated, and what could possibly go wrong sewing an entire skirt out of nothing but leather straps and buckles???

The more likely result of me wearing something white and with buckles if I try the Lulu skirt...
Anyway, for any costumers or steampunk fans out there, please feel free to offer suggestions, post your own costuming sites or tips and tricks, or whatever!  One of the best parts of the community is the modding and collaborative nature of it, so I love learning what other people have tried, what worked, what didn't, and comparing notes.  Thanks!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Steampunk White Queen V2 - Steampunk World's Fair 2013

Long time, no write!  That's why I don't do very well at keeping blogs..../makes note to self.

In any case, hubby and I just got back from the Steampunk World's Fair in Piscataway, NJ and I'm delighted to report that not only did I get to premier the latest and greatest version of my Steampunk White Queen costume, it actually won first prize in the costume contest!

Think this was right before my cloak turned into a D&D cloaker and ate me...

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself - and it was an impressive crowd, so really was a spectacular honor. If only I hadn't gotten horribly tangled up in my cloak trying to show off the ratchets....but that's so very, very me, trying to being sexy and instead winding up awkwardly charming instead.

In any case - first, the outfit!

Steampunk White Queen/Emma Frost outfit

That's the completed outfit in all its white glory.  Now, to talk about how it came to be...

As I've mentioned in an earlier post, I think one of the most important parts is to first find something that really appeals to you and you want to develop.  It will become a real labor of love, and at times your mortal enemy - so it's important that you're really excited and passionate about the costume you're working on.

The next step I always try to do is to find a primary element, and then build around that.  In my case, the primary element is of course the leather corset.  This is a corset I commissioned and worked with Steward Facile of Life Tree Leather, writing back and forth to discuss design options, color options, fastenings, all kinds of details.  His work is really outstanding, and I've recommended he post the design above as a steampunk wedding corset - I think there would be a lot of demand for it.

The corset is white leather, with a dove grey scrollwork design that is hand-stitched onto the white.  We used pewter/gunmetal colored rivets and swing arm box latches, to match the grey of the corset and to give a little more contrast.  Originally I'd debated doing this in all white with silver trim, but then thought some level of differentiation would be good, to give a little more interest and versatility to it.  I'm glad I did - it not only allows for options such as pairing with a grey skirt down the road, but I think pure white might have been too boring.  It's still clearly White Queen enough.

The cape I sewed from a lace-type fabric I got from JoAnn Fabrics, trimmed with white fox fur around the color.  Under the cape are lace elbow-length fingerless gloves, which you can make from any stretchy cotton/lycra blend lace.

The "boots" in this case are white spats, made from cotton twill and lined with felt.  Instructions here.  The felt is important because if you wear any sort of stocking or nylons underneath, the felt helps to give a bit of grip to the fabric and helps hold it up.  I've trimmed it with petwer color buttons, though I think I probably need 12 rather than 6 per leg.  The spats were made from taking newspaper and wrapping it around one of my legs (buddy to assist recommended), and then duct-taping the newspaper as snugly as you want your spats to fit.  Trace seam lines where you want seams (generally front, back, and then outer leg side), and then cut the newspaper/duct tape off to make a pattern.

The necklace is two separate elements in the above picture - one is a hand-tatted lace choker by RĂ© Teague of Custom Clothing and Costumes that I bought at the Steampunk@Gettysburg event in March, and the beaded parts are attached to another choker I made using seed beads, Swarovski crystal separators, and pearls.  This allows me to wear either piece separately or layered, depending on the look I'm going for - when I want something more subdued, or with the v3 boffin outfit (in planning), I'll want just the lace choker. For balls or something more flashy, I like having the beaded lower section as well.  Future post will have instructions on how I made the necklace - it was one of the easier and lower-cost, if time-consuming - elements.

The hat was a commission I designed with Belinda Lockhart of Ms Purdy's Hats - white feathers, a white satin band, and then there's a large bow with a train on the back.  The train I sometimes tuck under the hat (as I did above), depending on if I'm wearing a cloak or not.  V3 will have a white bowler,and the current plan is to make from felted wool myself - but we'll see how ambitious I am this summer.

The skirt, if you can believe it, is what gave me the biggest headaches.  I was stumped for months on what to do, and tried various versions.  While bustles with trains are gorgeous - and my first idea, based on a pattern from Truly Victorian - using white fabric makes this a Bad Idea in the long run.  I wound up doing a short bustle of cotton twill, just to make sure it worked, and will ultimately do one out of dupioni silk (because the shimmer is divine).  The front skirt took a while.  I tried multiple fabrics, but everything that had the right drape was too sheer (again, when wearing white, sheer is a Bad Idea).  The fabrics that had more weight were too bulky and didn't lay well.  I finally, in desperation the week before the even, tried making some short Victorian-style bloomers - after all, the White Queen from the comics wore a bikini bottom in the original ensemble.  They came out well, but it still didn't have quite the right look - it seemed to make the rest of the outfit a little casual.  Finally, I bought a couple yard of bridal lace to make an over-skirt to wear over the bloomers, and that worked out very well.  Did version 2 of the bloomers the morning of the event, but finally got the right length and flounce for what I was aiming.

And, voila!  It was a lot of work and a lot of time putting together, but very pleased with how it came out.  Now to begin modifications, the white wool skirt for my boffin version, a white and silver cane, a parasol....

Steampunk White Queen, Version 1 - Halloween 2012

As the title of the blog may indicate, one of my many hobbies is steampunk costuming.  For those not familiar with steampunk, it's basically Victorian science fiction - the future, as imagined in the late 1800s by writers such as Jules Verne, HP Lovecraft, and Orson Wells.  Also, there are often a lot of buckles and gears (for reasons I can't entirely explain)....

I've been trying to do more serious costuming and sewing recently, both to develop my own skills (and maybe even get to the point where I can sew well enough to make real life clothes too), and also because it helps being able to make the items you can imagine rather than relying on others to do so and hope they get it right.  I had the idea at Baltimore Comic Con of trying to do a Steampunk version of the X-Men's White Queen, formerly of the Hellfire Club and now one of the leaders of the X-Men Academy.  How times change, right?

Now, the goal when I try to adapt an existing character to a steampunk version is to meet two criteria I have for "successful" costuming:

1.  Does it look properly Victorian/Steampunk?  (AKA does it look good)

2.  Can people tell who you're actually supposed to be?

Obviously the first rule is fairly self-evident - did I make a costume that looks pretty, and that I'm not embarrassed to wear?  Oddly enough, this is the easier part of my two criteria - making something that looks good and fits well is a fairly straightforward enough goal, with enough practice.  In the picture above, there are definitely things I want to still improve - the cloak I think came out very well, and I'm very pleased with that, but the corset fit could stand some improvement.  Regrettably (I think), there's a little more me than the top allows for, so I could stand to enlargen that part.  I used lace as a quick-fix to get a bit more coverage on the bust area, but in an ideal world I'd like it to fit better - enough so that I'm not terrified to bend over.  Also, while you can't see the skirt (as I had my cloak covering my legs here), it's one of two pieces that were *GASP* store-bought, and I need to make a proper, draping Victorian skirt to really make this work.  The boots were also purchased, but they are leather and my leatherworking skills in no way extend to making footwear - so this, I can live with.

The second part of the equation is the trickier one - can people tell who it is you're supposed to be a Steampunk incarnation of?  I'm pleased to report that at least three people at the party from above did compliment me on my Steampunk Emma Frost outfit, so I think I'm on the right track so far. I was worried people would ask if I was supposed to be some sort of bride (all in white, after all) - and only one did, so as long as more people can correctly recognize the character, I call it a win!

For those not familiar with the character, this is a fairly iconic version of the original White Queen (in her pre-good girl Emma Frost days):

Now obviously, I wanted to tame it down some - no way at my age I want to be prancing around in a little bikini!  There's still a lot to work with though, and adapt for steampunk purposes.  As far as the individual components of the above - the first thing I tried to do is identify the main or key elements of the original character, and adapt from there.  In the White Queen's case, there are really three main parts to her classic outfit that stand out visually.  One is the long cape with the fur collar, the second being the front-lacing corset, and the third being the very tall white boots.  So that's where I tried to begin, in terms of developing the costume - items that I needed to keep very prominent in my adaptation so as to recall the original.

The boots, for now I just kept as long white leather boots.  I did actually sew a pair of thigh-high white spats, to see how those would work out in terms of incorporating the look but adding more steampunk flair, but I didn't finish them before the party - so those are for v2.  The corset I made, though I stayed with a traditional back-lacing corset rather than a front-lacing one as this was the first corset I've made.  The cape, I decided to construct out of white linen, to be lightweight and breathable, and then added a vintage fox fur stole I found on eBay.  I went with linen rather than wool because it runs a little more true to white (wool can run more cream-colored), and also because most Steampunk events and comic cons tend to be in the warmer, summer months than the winter ones.  Plus, I can tell you wearing it on a cooler evening in October - even with the linen cloak, the fur will definitely keep one warm!

What I'll try to do in the coming weeks is to draft out patterns for what I did and how, in case any other aspiring Steampunk costumers ever come across this and want to try working on their own character adaptations.  For now though, I figure even posting this much is a start!