27 August 2013

Bridal DIY: The Dress, Part 1

Detail of the back of the dress, mild corset-like lacing
And the craftiness continues! As promised, this will be the first part in a series concerning How I Am Making My Wedding Dress. This installment of Bridal DIY: The Dress will cover the big muscle movements of the creation, such as the inner and outer lining, chiffon overlay, and tulle netting underskirt. I'm sorry there aren't more pictures of the process, but I didn't think of taking any pictures of the process until, well, very recently...and all of the big stuff is already done. I think the end result will reflect the cultural mish-mash I am going for, which is somewhere between Greek Goddess, Celtic Faerie Princess and Steampunk with a little bit of Hippie thrown in for extra flavor.

In the words of one of my best friends, “So basically it will be like everything else in your closet.”

She’s not wrong.

I will admit I cheated slightly, in that I half-used a pattern—originally purchased for a formal dress I wore to a Military Ball (see here for that post)—but I reused the pattern mostly to get my sizing right. I cut the inner and outer lining in the bust and torso region based on the pattern dimensions and then freehanded the rest (skirt, overlay, etc). True story. I didn’t even draw it out or pin it first (which, unless you’re psychotic like me, is not a method I would recommend attempting). The top part of the commercial pattern (this one, in case you’re curious) resembled the basic shape I wanted to use for my wedding dress since I am mildly obsessed with sweetheart necklines and firmly believe in showing off my epic shoulders with a strapless gown. Ok, so my shoulders aren’t all that epic, but they are mine and I like them, plus I have a very special tattoo that needs to be visible.

So. Here are my tips, relatively in chronological order, of things I’ve learned from the process.

1) Decide on a design. If your crafting process is anything like my crafting process, the original design is a fluid thing that will change a lot by the time everything is finished; however, it still helps get things started if you draw a few sketches first. The ones I drew are mostly doodles in one notebook or another. I am trying to post pictures, but either blogger or my computer is being lame because even though the photos are upright on my computer, for some reason when I try posting them on blogger they are either upside down or sideways...so hopefully eventually they will let me get this photo upload right.

2) Acquire your fabric. I actually purchased my fabric (this and this) before I had completely finalized my design, and then once the fabric came in and I was able to play with it, I had a better idea of what the end result would turn out to be. I knew I wanted a flowy, dreamy overlay, and I knew I didn’t want to wear white. I ended up with a champagne color that in person looks much more like a pale gold, and then a very soft, very nice ivory silk chiffon. I wanted to still look somewhat like a bride, but I didn’t want to look like every other bride. Shocking, I know. I also used a lot of tulle netting in pale gold that matched the taffeta, but you can find tulle pretty much everywhere.

3) If you plan on washing/dry cleaning your dress when it’s done, wash/dry clean the fabric before you cut. For this particular dress, I really only plan on wearing it once, so all I did was iron out the chiffon so it wasn’t so crinkled. The crushed taffeta already had a texture to it that ironing would ruin, so I did absolutely nothing to pre-treat that fabric. For the second dress I’m making (yes, I will be changing into a new dress for the reception) as well as the bridesmaids’ dresses, I will wash that fabric before I do anything with it since those dresses are intended for multiple wear.

4) MEASURE YOURSELF. Or better yet, GET SOMEONE ELSE TO MEASURE YOU. If you’re using a pattern, you need to know your actual measurements, not your regular size. Pattern sizes are very different from commercial sizes. For example, in commercial sizes I am a 6 at my hips and a 0 up top, which makes for very difficult dress shopping (one of the reasons I originally got into making my own clothes); however, in pattern sizes, I am usually somewhere between an 8 and a 12. Luckily patterns come in multi-size cuts, so my ridiculous cartoon proportions are easily accommodated. (In case you’re wondering what my measurements are and why they’re so difficult to shop for, I’m 31in at the bust, 25in at the waist, and 38in at the hips…like I said: cartoon proportions, or else maybe a pear.)

5) Sketch, Pin, Cut. If you’re using a pattern, use sharp, small pins and use as many as possible with the fabric as flat as possible. I usually use the guest bed as my cutting surface because it’s the right height for me, but if you’re taller (which is likely the case, as I am vertically challenged) a table may work out better for you. Spread it out, double it over, whatever. It depends on what you’re cutting. Be cognizant of where your folds are, if the fabric has a noticeable grain, or a pattern. “With nap” versus “without nap” took me a long time to figure out, but luckily Google came to the rescue with the answer. If using a pattern, just follow the layout directions for with versus without nap, and it helps to highlight or mark which layout you’re using beforehand so it’s easier to not get confused. If you’re not using a pattern because you’re insane like me, it helps to still have a sketch. You can use chalk—I believe they make a specific type of chalk for sewing, but I don’t own any and I’ve never used it—or else you can purchase a disappearing ink pen, which I do own but have never used, so I can’t vouch for its efficacy. Or, if you’re truly insane like I tend to be, you can just eyeball and freehand cut. I wouldn’t recommend this method unless you are familiar with the trial-and-error method of getting the right size, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for something like formalwear unless you’re going for a boho look. My method was somewhere in between pinning a pattern and freehanding, as I used the pattern sizing for the torso portion and then just expanded it freehand-style for the skirt. As for the overlay….I freehanded the whole thing. Also not recommended for chiffon, but hey it worked out well enough for me, so you can probably do it too. I recommend cutting everything you need before you start sewing, so then you have ALL of your pieces already cut, and then you can just keep them organized in whatever order makes sense to you, or label them with a sticky note. I did no such thing, and in hindsight I should have, because let me tell you—all pieces of chiffon look the same, because damn that fabric likes to shift and stretch into a shapeless monstrosity. It all turned out ok in the end, but it was way more difficult than it could have been had I followed my own advice, or anyone’s advice, really. As you can see below, little Kitty Hera likes to help cutting the fabric by grooming herself on top of it.

6) Follow the directions, or else just start pinning seams. If you’re using a pattern, the directions—complete with illustrations, yay!—tend to be pretty clear, and they get easier to read the more times you use them. My first time using a pattern was for the dress I made for the Military ball, and it took me about four hours of just staring at the directions before they started to make any kind of sense to me. However, since then I’ve begun using more patterns for different little things, and now I can read them pretty easily. It’s just a matter of becoming versed in the pattern lingo. Once again, Google comes to the rescue whenever you have a question! Or if you’re still confused, I check my email daily—contact me here—and I can help clarify something in layman’s terms, or in crazy-person’s terms, or I can give you pattern-less sewing tips. Whatever. I ignored the pattern for this part because I knew what I was doing, so I just attacked it with pins. I made the outer lining out of the taffeta first, then the inner lining using leftover taffeta, then the overlay.

7) If you are less than well-endowed (like me), add boobs. They have all kinds of nifty padded, molded, foam, cotton, et cetera boob-shapes you can sew into a dress, and they go especially nicely with corset like creations. I used molded foam boobs with almost no padding, just the nice round shape, and sewed them into the inner lining after I had connected all of the fabric. I recommend adding these before you add the bones and connect everything, but I got a little carried away and had to sew them in by hand after the majority of the dress was assembled…my bad.

8) If you’re making anything corsety, add bones to the inner lining. Sewing bones in a dress/shirt is a total pain, but like anything it gets easier with practice. You can either sew them into the seam allowance if you left enough room, or you can make little pockets and sew them in wherever you want, which is generally the method I use, but as I’ve said a billion times already in this post, I’m a little crazy with these things and my methods are not the standard practice. I always have a hard time trying to explain how exactly I make the things that I do, because my thought process isn’t in words, it’s in seeing the end result and then and occasionally seeing the steps to get there, but more often than not I just see what I want in my head and I just start executing. It’s mostly pictures up in this brain of mine, at least where crafting is concerned, and the rest of the space is song lyrics and stories I haven’t written yet.

There’s no room for mental math.

9) Connect your layers! For me, this meant the overlay (chiffon), outer lining (taffeta) and inner lining (more taffeta, but this time with boobs and bones). Again, I was slightly dumb so I added the bones and the boobs after these three pieces were assembled, but that is not a method I would recommend because it was very difficult to add them in that way, and would probably have looked better if I put them in before. My philosophy has always been that it’s ok for the inside to look like a hot mess because no one sees it but you, but I’m trying this whole thing where I make the inside and the outside both look good, or at least more professional. So far I have one success in that department—my Samhaine costume for this year, but more on that later—an unfortunately my wedding dress is only halfway a success. I may add *another* layer of lining, this time out of an actual lining fabric, to my dress once everything else is complete just to cover up some of the messier seams.

Here you can see the overlay of the skirt with some
of the shirring detail I'm adding to the bottom.

10) Seal all your seams! You can do this throughout, which is usually what I do, but it helps to keep edges from fraying if they are not enclosed (i.e., French seams). I didn’t figure out how to do French seams until after I had sewed the inner and outer lining, but in hindsight I intend to only use those from now on because they’re freaking awesome and they look SO much nicer. However, if you have just normal seams, you can iron them flat and then put fabric glue (I’m a fan of this kind, it dries clear and is very strong, and doesn’t come off in the washing machine) or a no-fray type thing. Make sure you test a section first so you know how your fabric is going to react. Some types, like thicker satin, are perfectly fine because the glue/no-fray doesn’t show through; however, I didn’t use this on the chiffon, which is transparent, because it bleeds through (obviously) and looks bad. Hence, test. Then seal.

That’s all I have for now, as this is turning out to be quite the lengthy post, and I mainly wanted to hit some highlights for dress construction that a pattern may ignore, or online sewing tutorials seem to think you already know, or for the free-hand pattern-less constructioners like me. Surely I’m not the only one out there, right? RIGHT!?

[echoes, cricket chirping]

16 August 2013

Cano Vitae

While driving home for work yesterday evening, a twist of melody and some words popped into my brain, so I shut down my radio and started humming along like the crazy songwriter I am without any regard whatsoever to who sees me singing in my car. So. By the time I got home, I had the first stanza locked down pretty tight. I pulled out a notebook and knocked out the rest in a fraction of the time it took me to drive home in the first place. Thus, a new song was born. Once I replace the batteries in my guitar tuner--Princess, my Gibson Cascade, is decidedly out of tune and my ear is not quite what it used to be for matching the right pitch (thanks, Army)--I will work on the music portion. Having recently decided to ignore all of the sappy, annoying, broken-hearted emo songs I wrote in college entirely and revamp my sound with my present musical soul, this is the first song in that series. Recordings--eventually--to follow. For now, enjoy the words! The title, "Cano Vitae," means "I sing of life" in Latin. You know how much I love naming my songs in that wonderful, immortal language.

I’ve been listening to the silence,
     trying to figure out what it says,
     but the words are getting harder to decipher.
Because silence speaks with a voice
     that few have ever heard,
     and I am no exception to this either.

I’ve been looking at the wind,
     trying to see it clearly,
     but all that I can see is where it’s been.
I swear that it’s mocking me,
     casually floating through the trees,
     all the while keeping its face hidden.

I’ve been dancing in the rain,
     trying to feel the sunshine,
     but I guess Apollo’s sleeping in the clouds.
Everywhere I turn, the world
     is turning faster, and the music
     always seems to be too loud.

I’ve been running through the woods,
     trying not to lose your trail,
     but as for prey, you’ve proven yourself clever.
Perhaps you are faster than I;
     only one of us will eat tonight,
     but the song of life is never truly over.

The song of life is never truly over.

05 August 2013

Verba Immortalis

Giambattista Tiepolo, Venus Appearing 
to Aeneas on the Shores of Carthage.
Virgil's Aeneid. Now there's a hell
of a read (says 5 years of latin).
If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.
~ Benjamin Franklin

Color me patriotic but apart from their rampant sexism and occasional hypocrisies, I’ve always been a fan of our founding fathers, even good old Ben. I came across this quotation the other day, and it resonated with my present situation. I am standing at a crossroads, wondering what my legacy will be; hell, I’m wondering what I even want my legacy to be. Am I creating things worth reading, seeing, listening to? Are my voice and my presence affecting a positive, lasting change in my environment? Am I living a life worth remembering? I would like to think so, but for obvious reasons I do not have an objective opinion on the matter.

I have this really annoying, awkward love/hate relationship with my day job. The Army certainly keeps me busy, and while I was a Platoon Leader I felt that I legitimately was able to make a difference in the lives of my Soldiers, which was all that mattered to me. Now that I’m on staff, the difference I make is subtle at best and not nearly as gratifying, and it occurs to me that all of the preparation and training and education I received as a Cadet was to prepare me for a job that I have already done and will not ever be able to do again. My PL time, as much as I hate to admit it, is over. For the vast majority of my career, should I stay in, I will be on staff in a support role, not a leadership one, and I will only get further and further away from the Soldiers as I continue to get promoted through the ranks.

Part of me can’t wait to step into that next leadership role: Company Command. Part of me still believes that all the staff time and bureaucracy and sexism and frustration are really worth stomaching just for those brief, awesome leadership opportunities. Soldiers are amazing. Period. And being a Platoon Leader was the best experience of my life, this coming from someone who has gone cliff diving off of waterfalls inside a cave in the middle of the Belizean rain forest. (Yes, I know; check my privilege.)

However, an increasingly large part of me wonders if the brief rewards of the Army are worth the numerous, immense down sides. Sexism so ingrained in the culture of the organization that 99% of them don’t even realize they are being sexist, no matter how many Equal Opportunity and SHARP “training” sessions the organization swallows. Part of me is sick of always being the only woman in the room, in the conference, in the group, in the formation, at PT. It’s frustrating and it’s annoying as hell, and if I complain about anything at all, I’m told to stop being a girl. I could wear the subtlest, most natural of makeup, paint nothing but clear strengthener on my nails, or barely spritz on the subtlest of perfume and I get accused of trying to attract, distract, or otherwise act inappropriately around the men at work. I know because it’s happened too many times to count. Clear nailpolish! CLEAR! So I never wear makeup in uniform, not even mascara, or nail polish or perfume. Ok, I still use my scented hair products and deodorant, but come on. I’ve gotta have something.

But the constant, sometimes subtle but more often quite blatant, sexism isn’t the only headache of the military lifestyle. Prolonged separation from loved ones, for example. Even as busy as I keep myself, Orion’s deployment has hardly been easy thus far and I’m only 1/9 of the way through the wait. Based on my own experience with deployment, you’re as likely to get stuck there for an extra three months as you are to actually return roundabouts the time they initially tell you. Waiting isn’t easy, and unlike most “Army wives” I understand what he’s doing, what he’s going through, why I can’t hear from him as often as I’d like, precisely how much danger he’s really in that he can’t tell me. Being dual-military has it’s ups and downs. We have the mutual understanding of our jobs and how time consuming and mentally/emotionally draining they are, but at the same time, we have jobs that are time consuming and mentally/emotionally draining. Even when we are together, there isn’t much left of daylight (if any) when our workdays finally end, and those workdays usually begin long before the sun rises.

So I wonder what, and where, I want to leave my legacy. Do I want to make a career out of the Army, fighting tooth and nail for recognition as an equal in what will likely never be an equal organization—certainly not within my lifetime—or do I want to just fulfill my commitment and then pursue something else? I wonder what kind of wake my magical practice leaves behind me, if there’s even a dent in the ether. I wonder if all the little things I make and draw and paint and bedazzle will be appreciated by anyone other than me.

I wonder if my words are worth reading.

Sure, I like all the things I make, and I enjoy making them. I love the way my guitar feels in my hands when I’m in the middle of composing a new song. I love the satisfaction I get when I finish writing or editing a chapter in one of my stories (yep; editing the first and starting to write the second). I love the calluses on my fingertips from sewing and sculpting and playing. I even love how my fingernails bear the proof of my crafting, as they will never be long and luxurious, painted or no.

But does anyone else? I make all these necklaces and pendants and earrings and bracelets and paintings and statues and a bazillion other things, but I tend to either keep them myself or give them away to friends and family. My family has always been supportive of my “hobbies,” but that’s how they seem to view them: just hobbies. Just expensive habits I have that cause me to shudder with glee when entering a craft store, and they're not entirely wrong. I presently spend far more money funding my hobbies than I earn from them, but creation has never been about money for me. It’s always been about joy. My creations, my art, my music—they bring joy to me. They are an outlet for my emotions, the high ones and the lows, and when the act of creation is complete, I feel complete. I hope that my creations bring as much joy to those who see them, hear them, read them as they do to me, but the insecure part of me wonders if it’s possible that my intense joy in creation could transfer like that.

I’ve always strived to live my life as a beacon, a ray of hope to light the way for the lost and the, well, hopeless. I firmly believe in living by example, so I try my very bestest to walk my own talk. It’s not easy, and I’m human, so I slip up now and then; but on balance, I think I do a pretty good job. So I hope that is what turns out to be my legacy: that whatever I decide—to stay in the Army until I retire, or to get out at the end of my commitment and focus on family and my hobbies and whatever other career path comes my way—I can lead others toward love, life and hope, that my life was one worth remembering.

And, of course, one day I’d like to write something worth reading…but we can’t all be Virgil.

02 August 2013

Lammas Runes

Bill Oliver, Lughnasadh
Considering today marks a holiday for my spirituality, with the celebration beginning at sunset yesterday for those of the Celtic persuasion (like yours truly) and continuing until sunset today, this will be one of my more Pagan-centric posts. Of course, if you are a regular reader instead of one who just google-image searches the Virginian flag and subsequently stumbles across my state-riotic rant, you probably don’t require a disclaimer. Thus, without further ado, Merry Lammas or Happy Lughnasadh! Whichever title you prefer.

Ideally in the World Between the Trees, I would have properly kicked off my celebration of the first harvest with a riotous, community-oriented bonfire feast, with lots of corn cakes and wheat-based products we harvested ourselves from our own fields, served with honey from our very own bees. Unfortunately, I live in a semi-urban apartment and my fields are full of concrete with not a forest to be seen for miles upon miles in any direction, unless you count the shrubs and cacti, which I don’t.

Around festival time my pining for my home state nestled in glorious Appalachia always peaks.

Also, unfortunately, I remain a solitary practitioner. The closest thing I have ever had to a coven is scattered far and wide across the continental US (namely, my mother, my aunt, one of my cousins, and my bestie Amphitrite). So instead, after a long and arduous day of (ugh I hate it) paperwork and meetings and briefings, followed by the usual domestic chores of cleaning out kitty litter and omg what do I have to eat in my damn kitchen that won’t kill me, I wasn’t exactly in a celebratory mood. Instead, I marked off another day on my calendar, watched a few episodes of Merlin whilst munching on some still-edible leftovers, cuddled my kitten and—wait for it—got my creativity on.

Yes, that’s right, I celebrated my Lammas by making something for my wedding. I began the project last night when the sky first started to darken, and finished it today around the time the sky went completely dark. What did I make, you ask? Well, let me tell you; or better yet, let me show you:

Aren’t they lovely? And what do you know, they match my handfasting color(s) to boot! Since our Pagan/Technically-Agnostic-But-Sorta-Super-Openminded-Christian celebration of love and family will be predominantly Celtic-themed (with a touch of my Eastern European heritage thrown into the mix, mostly with traditions for the reception), I’ve decided to use Ogham tree-correspondences in place of table numbers. Each table, in stead of a number, will be assigned a tree from the old Irish alphabet (sometimes referred to, in fact, as the “language of trees,” as each letter corresponds to a tree or tree-like plant/shrub [let’s be real…honeysuckle? really? you ran out of other ideas?]). Amphitrite and I will be making centerpieces—eventually—out of recycled wine bottles, feathers, moss, reclaimed branches/twigs, whatever I find in the woods, and flowers once a) I know how many guests are coming and b) I know how many guests fit at each table. Since each centerpiece will also have a sign with the type of tree (or tree-like shrub) from the Ogham attached to it, I also envision a little dangling rune with the actual Ogham on it nestled somewhere in the woodsy-wino monstrosity.

So I made a set of Ogham runes to celebrate Lammas.

(Whilst drinking a bottle of Chianti.)

I cut 25 pieces of permanently dyed gold-toned armature wire (leftover from what Orion and I used to make the skeleton frames for our cake topper statues) to form little loops, which I then immersed in a slightly teardrop shaped pebble of polymer clay. Then I focused my intent by thinking of the corresponding tree as I carved the Ogham into each one, starting with beith (b – birch) and working my way down to phagos (ae – beech). I carved the stemline first, then carved the cross lines left to right. Once every rune was carved, I laid them all out in a baking pan and fired them in the oven to harden the clay. A good rule of thumb with Sculpey—my preferred brand of polymer clay—is 275 degrees and 15min for each ¼ thickness. When I’m making pendants or something small like this, however, I tend to just put it in the oven for a standard 20min.

After they were done baking, I paused the process of creation and went to bed. I restarted the process this evening, following a very relaxing trip to the spa—it was about time again for another back facial, and my gods are those amazing—with mixing my paints. I wanted a nice, deep forest green, so that they would match the green in my family’s and Orion’s family’s tartans, as well as the fabric I chose to make my bridesmaids’ dresses. To achieve this color, I mixed silver with three different shades of green (hooker’s green hue permanent, phthalocyanine green, and deep green permanent) of acrylic paint. I’m very happy with the resultant blend, which reminds me of an emerald cabochon crossed with a Japanese beetle and then blessed by a Faerie princess. Three layers later and once the green dried, I mixed gold with primary yellow and yellow oxide to color the carved rune like an inlay. Once the gold dried, I finally sealed each one with a high-gloss varnish to preserve the paint and prevent chipping.

Voila! Ogham runes to add a subtly magical, Druidish touch to my table centerpieces, and which I can definitely reuse after the handfasting for all sorts of home-d├ęcor and blessing projects. I could even turn them into pendants, worn to evoke the aspects of a particular tree or color or bird or any of the other correspondences tied to each Ogham letter. The net cost of making them, as they were entirely constructed of items I already had from previous projects, was next to nothing, whereas the enjoyment and personal satisfaction I received from creating them cannot be measured. The hardest part was keeping Little Kitty Hera out of the paint!

I deem this a successful Lammas, and that was quite a tasty Chianti.