Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doctor Who Fan Orchestra #8: 50th Anniversary Suite

I participated in the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra's 8th collaboration, the 50th Anniversary Suite!  Check it out here - I'm the Clara playing the viola!  But the most exciting thing is that Ben Foster, the Doctor Who orchestrator, appears in the video!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It's Time for a Break ...

I've been making costumes for over ten years, but I've spent the past five years cosplaying.  I try to make costumes that no one else makes, and I try to expand my skillset by trying more and more complicated costumes.

Cosplaying is something I've always enjoyed.  While cosplaying at a con is always the best part of making any costume, I've always also liked the challenge of altering a pattern and the thrill of finally getting something right.  I've found it to be an incredibly rewarding hobby.

I say that my motto is, "It's not a cosplay until there's blood and tears" because it's true: I (accidentally) injure myself during almost every costume construction, and I end up breaking down in tears once or twice per project as well.  There have always been days when I just get completely aggravated and throw the costume it across the room (or hit the serger in frustration and unintentionally put a hole in the wall), but I think that's all part of the creative process. Once I get that frustration out of my system, I can refocus with a new energy.  This has always been a part of making costumes for me, but it's never been the dominant theme.

This past year, though, something changed.

I've had quite a difficult year, struggling with issues at work and feeling worthless and like I couldn't do anything right.  I haven't felt so shitty since I was in junior high.  And that transferred over into my cosplays.  I went from feeling pretty confident in my skills to feeling like I'd never made a costume before.

This year, I made three extremely difficult costumes: Shadow Weaver, which I had to draft most of myself; Eowyn, which required a lot of major alterations and drafting; and Clara, which shouldn't have been as difficult as it was, but ended up being a lot more work than expected because of the difficulties I had with the fabric.  The fabric alone for Eowyn and Clara took almost as much work as making a costume, since I had to scour the Internet and every fabric store in the Chicago area, only to have to give up and dye fabric from JoAnn's.

And those once-a-costume breakdowns turned into every-other-day breakdowns.  With every costume I made this year, I said, "I can't do this anymore."  I felt completely stupid every time I sat down to work on something.  I made careless mistakes.  The simplest things, like keeping a gorram machine threaded, turned into impossible tasks.  Things that I thought were going really well ended up disasters.  A hobby that used to be fulfilling and give me a lot of joy became a burden; instead of being eager to work on my costume at night, I began to dread it.

Worst of all, I felt like a fraud.

When I said that I didn't expect to win anything at the Chicago TARDIS Masquerade, I wasn't being humble, I meant it.  The Clara costume kept me up at night, and when I did fall asleep, I had nightmares about it.  I almost gave up on it entirely two or three times.

So it's time to take a break, at least from new costumes.  For a while now, I've wanted to remake parts of my Susan costume and remake my Liesl costume entirely.  I'd like to work on embroidering Eowyn's bodice, and I want to learn to knit so I can make Clara's shawl (and remake the Gryffindor scarf that was stolen out of my office when I was in grad school).

But none of these are projects that I HAVE to do.  If I don't feel like working on them, I don't have to.  We're not going to Dragon Con in 2014 because we're taking a trip to the UK in the fall, so there's no pressure to make anything new.  I have plenty of clothing projects (skirts, tops, dresses) that I keep putting off in favor of costumes, so I'll still be sewing, but if something goes wrong, I can take my time, or forget about the piece entirely.

I should probably fix that serger-shaped hole in the wall, too.

I just think that if I take a break from cosplay, then I can relieve some of the pressure I put on myself. For as much as I tell new cosplayers not to worry about being perfect, I can't bring myself to settle for "okay".  Now, that doesn't mean that I think all of my costumes are perfect, but that the final product is what I envisioned.  A lot of that has to do with knowing that I made something to the best of my ability, and I just feel that the costumes I made this year could have been better.  I had to settle for a lot, and I don't like putting out a final product that doesn't meet MY expectations.  Being a perfectionist used to be a positive part of costuming for me, but now it's a burden.  What's the point of having a hobby if you aren't getting any enjoyment from it?

Matt says that because we won Best in Show, I shouldn't take a break.  On the other hand, I think there couldn't be a more perfect time to stop.

That being said, I still plan on posting about the projects I'm working on, and we will have some more photo shoots coming up, so the blog should still be updated on a fairly regular basis.  So, don't go away, and remember - if there's something about one of my costumes you'd like me to go into more detail about, just leave me a comment and if I'm able (i.e. I remember how I made it), I'll write a post about it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Chicago TARDIS 2013

This Thanksgiving weekend, as all Thanksgiving weekends, was Chicago TARDIS.  This is my second-favorite convention, and this year was one of the best cons yet.

Matt and I were cosplaying as the Doctor and Clara from the 2012 Christmas Special The Snowmen.  We both spent months trying to find the correct fabric, so we both started construction on our costumes pretty late.  This week we were both staying up way too late trying to get them done.  We'd switched around our Thanksgiving plans so that we could participate in the Cavalcade on Friday night, but due to Matt catching a cold earlier in the week and being unable to work as quickly as he'd wanted to, he hadn't finished his coat, and hadn't even started his vest.  Consequently, I ended up spending all day Friday making the vest, which ended up being a lot more complex than I'd originally thought!  Since we weren't done yet, we were unable to go to the con on Friday night, but I did run in and grab our badges.  (We live literally four miles from Chicago TARDIS, which is a FAR cry from Dragon Con!)

On Saturday, we arrived at the Westin around noon, and managed to just sneak into the Masquerade signup.  We met up with @booksavvy and @freckledcrafts and a few others and hung out for a while.  Our group included a Jenny and a Vastra, and because they also appeared in The Snowmen, we were absolutely mobbed for photos!

Vastra, Jenny, Clara, Doctor
I also met several mini-Claras!  It was great to meet young cosplayers!  And I just want to put this out here - I do NOT want to hear any of you saying how your costume isn't as good as someone else's!  All cosplayers have different levels of skill, different amounts of time and money they can spend, different amounts of resources available to them, and different levels of insanity.  As long as you put effort into your costume, then please realize that there are no bad cosplays.  As long as you're having fun, that's all that matters.  This is something that I myself forget quite often in regards to my own costumes.  I'm obsessed, and I'm a perfectionist.  It's not necessarily a good or healthy thing, and I sometimes get extremely upset with myself.  Because of this, I admit that I used to sometimes think about other costumes, "oh, that's not the best cosplay."  (And I doubt that there are any cosplayers who have never thought that about a costume.)  THAT WAS WRONG, but the nice thing about being a human is that we're allowed to make mistakes and grow and become better people.  That's what I hope young cosplayers can do - realize that they don't have to be perfect, that ALL cosplayers can find at least a dozen things wrong with every costume they make, and that the best part of cosplaying is to get into character and have a good time.

I give very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.

This is also a good time to mention that I don't want to hear ANYONE saying that this version of a costume is better than that version of a costume, for the same reasons as above.

Moving on!

I sat on the "So You Want to Cosplay" panel at 2pm on Saturday, and according to my friends in the audience, we did a pretty good job! (For more information on how to get started with cosplay, please view the post from my 2011 costuming basics panel.)

Courtesy of

After the panel, we went to the Masquerade meeting and then home for lunch.  When we got back, the rest of our friends had found Strax!  We were again mobbed ...

Jenny, Vastra, Strax, Clara, Doctor

We also ran into a terrifying Snowman!

Soon after, it was time to meet in the green room for the Masquerade.  We got to talk with a ton of super-talented cosplayers.  Honestly, I had no idea how the judges were going to make a decision, because every costume represented in the Masquerade was fantastic.  I didn't think we had a chance at winning anything in our Journeyman category.

And, oh look, the scary Snowman has an equally-terrifying sister, who was dressed as a Peg Doll from Night Terrors.  They both absolutely delighted in standing and staring at me.  Matt says, "now you know how everyone else feels when you're dressed like the Clockwork Droid."

We also met ANOTHER scary Snowman.  Sheesh, kids these days.

We spent most of the evening chatting with a Seventh Doctor cosplayer, and I am absolutely kicking myself for not getting his photo, and because I was so sleep-deprived, I forgot his first name*.  He had a lovely dog, too!  So, if you're reading this, hope we see you next year!
*His name is Daniel, and I found him on Facebook, so we're all good.

Here's his hat, though, next to Matt's!

Then it was on to the stage where we were supposed to hit the orange "X", but I totally didn't see it and I felt like I didn't spend enough time onstage because the Master was still speaking as we left ... but oh well.

Courtesy of

The Masquerade was set up a bit differently this year.  Because the con attracted twice the crowd as last year, they had no seats in Main Programming for us to sit in after leaving the stage.  Therefore, after our appearance, we went back to the green room.  We waited in there while the judges deliberated, then all had to file back out into the hallway and wait for the results.  We couldn't hear what categories were announced, so someone would come back and yell out the winning entry's number -  "FIFTEEN!  NUMBER FIFTEEN!" - and the appropriate entry would have to go running onstage.

Well, entry after entry was called, but we weren't.  We had no idea who was in what level (Novice, Journeyman, Master), so we couldn't even guess where they were in the announcements.  Then we heard the crowd shouting, so we assumed that it was over, and all the winners were being cheered.  There wasn't so much disappointment as there was confusion.

And then, the director came running back and shouted, "TWENTY-NINE!"  That was us!  We ran onstage and accepted our ribbon and a packet of ... something ... and moved over on the stage for the next winner.  I was vaguely aware of the audience going mad.  I nudged the person standing next to me and whispered, "Do you know what we won?"  She said, "You won Best in Show!"  Matt and I stared at her in shock, and suddenly my legs started shaking and I thought I was going to fall over.  Since I'd thought it was too much to hope for a Workmanship award, I had never in a million years even considered winning Best in Show!

After the Masquerade, we ran into the most mini of Dalek Claras (she must have been about five), who seemed pretty nervous to have her photo taken with me.  Her mother told me that mini-Clara was mad because she'd wanted to wear the Barmaid costume, but her mom thought it was too complex.  Haha!  She was a cutie, and I wish I had a photo with her, but Matt had run to the car.

We then attended the Brit Rock party for a bit.  We didn't stay too long because Matt was starting to feel pretty tired, but we did manage to have fun with some glow sticks!

On Sunday, we got there around 10:30 so that I could get a Virtual Queue autograph ticket for Freema Agyeman.  We sat in on some panels, wandered around and got some photos, and then we got to sit INSIDE A DALEK!  AAAAHHHH!

Matt is looking at the video monitor so he knows how to steer!

I am not a Dalek!

Then I went to the autograph waiting area while Matt went to listen to the Bears game in the car.

When it was my turn to get an autograph, Freema said, "I love your costume!  It must be difficult to go to the toilet in that!"  I responded that I just try not to drink too much water.  I didn't know what else to say!  No celebrity has asked me about going to the bathroom before ... She was lovely!

As I left the autograph room, I got a text from Matt that he had drained the car battery.  You've GOT to be kidding me, right?  I went out to the parking garage, assessed the situation, and texted our friend PlayItGrand from Space Gypsies to see if she'd be able to give us a jump.  As I was texting, someone came up to us and asked for our photo.  We said we'd do the photo if she gave us a jump!  She very graciously agreed, and after figuring out how to jump a car with her Hybrid (the battery is in the trunk), our car came back to life!  I'm sorry that I didn't get her name, but whomever you are, thank you for saving the Doctor and Clara!

After lunch, we went to the Freema panel, then separated again.  I recorded the Typecasting the Doctor panel for the Space Gypsies website, and Matt stayed for the Main Programming.  We then attended the Three Doctors panel, which was pretty cool, even though we haven't seen their episodes yet!  Peter Davison and Colin Baker are hilarious and play off of each other.  You can tell they really get along, that it's not just an act.  Paul McGann was pretty quiet, but he could hold his own.  However, I am so bloody tired of people asking for hugs or telling their life story before asking their question.  That's what getting an autograph is for.

We left after that because we were both exhausted.  It's perfect that Chicago TARDIS is held on Thanksgiving weekend, because I think all of us Doctor Who fans are extremely thankful that we have a great place to hang out with other people who share the same level of obsession.  I'm so grateful for all the con friends that I have now.   I'm sure that most of us were the kids in high school who were totally geeky and unpopular, and were even ostracized by others.  We're the ones who never thought we'd fit in.  And now, thanks to cons and even social media, we can connect in a way that we never thought possible.  I know that we're having more fun now than the kids who DID fit in during high school.  I am so hopeful for the next generation of fans, because they won't feel like they have to hide their enthusiasm for a fandom.

It was a fantastic con, and I can't wait for next year!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Clara Oswald Part 2: Skirt and Shawl

Clara's skirt was even more difficult than the bodice.  It consists of a ruffled skirt, apron, and bustle.

I used the Simplicity 1819 pattern for the skirt, apron, and bustle, but ended up modifying it quite a bit.  I was having a lot of issues figuring this all out, so I didn't take many photos.  I relied heavily on screen shots and publicity shots, and I found a fantastic resource over at  If you're planning on making a Clara Barmaid costume, I highly recommend you check out her walkthrough.

I started out with the skirt base, which is constructed from Bordeaux Wine broadcloth from JoAnn Fabrics.

I then cut out 8" ruffles out of the same fabric.  I finally broke down and purchased a cutting mat and rotary blade for this, and I was able to cut out the ruffles in about 15 minutes.  I cut them out in about 1-yard lengths, and ended up cutting out about 24 of them (sorry, I lost count!)  Check out the Lissie Rose website for a tutorial on how to do pleated ruffles.  I more or less followed the tutorial, but I had to gather the ruffles by hand, as I don't have a ruffler foot.

I started running a straight stitch about 2" from the bottom of each ruffle to prevent it from fraying up too high, but I didn't like how it looked.  I used fray check instead.  However, in the future, I wouldn't do either.  Clara's skirt is frayed quite badly, and while the fray check is effective, it did show up very dark after drying.  After it dried, I gathered the ruffles at the top and pulled them until they were about one foot long.

I then pinned the ruffles to the skirt and stitched them on.


The final step of the ruffled skirt was to add the decorative trim to the top ruffle.  I tried making it out of the broadcloth, but it just didn't look right.  I ended up using wired ribbon from JoAnn's (sorry, I can't find what it's called - just look for maroon that matches the Bordeaux Wine broadcloth).

I made the apron and bustle according to the pattern instructions, but I ended up leaving off the side cascade pieces.

Please note that for the apron, you will need to add another 8" or so.  I didn't realize until after I'd sewn it all together that it wasn't as long as Clara's, so I'll be going back and adding some.  Also, I did not pleat the apron according to the directions, because when I did, it didn't lay the same way that Clara's did.  Instead I eyeballed it on one side, measured each fold and mirrored it on the other side, then hand-stitched it to lay flat.

The bustle was a nightmare.  I worked on it for about four nights before I realized I had to simply cut out the entire bottom.  There is literally one second in the entire episode where you can see the bustle, and I can't even figure out what it's supposed to be.  It doesn't look like a normal bustle, that's for sure.  I bustled the darn thing up almost a dozen times before I decided there was just too much.  In the pattern, the bustle is comprised of four pieces.  It's those two bottom pieces that had to go.  I originally had the very bottom tied up, because that's how it looks in the photo, but I eventually decided to just let it hang loose.

Please note that the top of the bustle, where it attaches to the skirt, is heavily gathered.  It is very difficult to work with, so I used a TON of pins.

Also, I'm not describing how I bustled it, because it was nowhere near the right way of doing it.  If you want to know how to bustle, go find a YouTube tutorial!

The final thing to do was to add a waistband around the top of the skirt. I also put in four sets of hooks and eyes - two in the waistband, and two in the top of the bustle.

This photo doesn't do it justice ...

Clara's skirt is heavily distressed.  I mean, it is RIDICULOUSLY distressed.  I don't know what on earth that girl was doing that would make her ruffles so darned distressed.  To achieve the same look, I first pulled out all of the threads that had worked themselves loose just from handling the skirt.  I did this until the ruffles were quite frayed.  I should have done more in some areas, but it was about 1:00 in the morning the day before the con when I did it, so I had to settle.  I then took my tiny thread snippers and made small cuts along each ruffle, then tore the fabric.  The cuts and tears are varied for a more authentic feel.  I also took the snippers and stabbed them into the fabric in various places to make holes.  Some of them look like burns (I think I'll probably actually go back and burn it in a few places), as if she got too close to the fire, and some look more like she caught the ruffle on a nail or splinter.  It was probably just because it was in the wee hours of the morning, but I did give origin stories to many of the more unique tears and rips.

The final step to the distressing was to take a black stick of artist's charcoal and rub it all over the skirt.  I then took small sections of the fabric and rubbed it in my hands to make it look more worn.  I then gave it a quick spritz with hairspray.  NOTE: Do the hairspray thing before touching the fabric, or else you'll take most of the charcoal off.  (I will be redoing that, too.)  My only excuse is that by this time, it was 3am and I wasn't thinking very clearly ...

For Clara's shawl, I used a maroon Aspen Sweater knit, which I found in the Evanston location of Vogue Fabrics.  I made a pattern by laying out one of my own shawls.  After cutting the shawl out, I ran a straight stitch about 5/8" from the edge because I wanted a small amount of fraying, but not too much.  I then took maroon yarn (which isn't quite the same color), cut it into about 8" pieces, then pulled it through the shawl at regular intervals and tied it.  I then used a knitting needle to pull the individual strands apart.

Oh - I almost forgot!  I made a "petticoat" as well.  I just made a basic skirt (you can use the Simplicity 1819 pattern again if you want) out of Turkey Red broadcloth from JoAnn's.  I'm not pleased with it, so I'll be remaking it with one of their red linens, which I'd somehow missed the first time around. 

And here's the final product, taken at Chicago TARDIS, where Matt and I won Best in Show at the Masquerade!  Stay tuned for a Chicago TARDIS report, which I'll be publishing at some point this week.