Monday, December 23, 2013

How To: Alarmingly Large Sesame Street Muppets!

This past Halloween I agreed to make 2 Sesame Street Martian costumes for some coworkers.

Translation from Martian: "Help us! Help us! We are forced to perform
lessons for children! We are astrophysics professors! Why won't anybody help us?! 

Apologies to my friends at the The Ridiculous Puppet Company, LLC I will most likely forget my "Muppettiquette" (portmanteau, bitches!) and use the terms "muppet", "puppet", and "frikkin' pink abomination" interchangeably. This is technically bad form, my cherished readers, and you should head over to the website of The Ridiculous Puppet Company to learn why. At least, watch their videos from The Institute for Ridiculous Science.

I digress. I told my friends I would make their Martian costumes. Not the just the muppets, mind you; full-size costumes for full-size humans. The arrangement for the costumes was made about a week before Halloween, and as per usual, my procrastination burned that down to 2 days before Halloween to build the costumes. Here is my tutorial on

How to Build Two Adult Sesame Street Martian Costumes
at a Frantic Pace Because You Put it Off to the Last Minute:

Step 1) Blow off the project for a few days. Claim to be "formulating the process" in your head.

Step 2) Obtain your materials. When you realize you only have about 52 hours before the costume deadline (Halloween costumes are pointless in November), go to the local fabric store for materials. When you discover that their stock of novelty fur is decimated because Halloween, ditch them and drive over to the local fabric warehouse/outlet/wonderland that is S. R. Harris (only in Minnesota, ha). S. R. Harris has everything. Except, apparently, any muppet-appropriate faux-fur.

Non-Minnesotans: It's basically this, but more organized.

Step 3) Obtain your materials, for realzies. Return ashamedly to the chain fabric store and purchase whatever you can. In my case this was curly faux fur in neon pink and white (Convince yourself that making a spooky zombie Martian would be just as hilarious). Other materials you will need: matching pipe cleaners, 2" styrofoam balls (2 for each), black felt for pupils, a styrofoam ring or dome (cut in half to make 2 pieces), floral wire, black knit mesh fabric (1 yard, 60" wide), matching thread, and lots and lots of coffee.

Step 4) OK, these steps are going to be a lot more vague from here on out; I'm on a time-based deadline to publish this post and I still have to upload & caption the photos!

Step 5) Fold the faux-fur inside out, cut large U-shape to form the mouth. Begin worrying about how much the fur is shedding, because it's getting all over your room.

Abandon all fur-free hope, ye who travel here.

Step 6) Cut out the mouth shape from the black mesh. Set aside, to be repeatedly lost amidst the chaos of tools and scraps flying everywhere.

Step 7) Sew the body shape. Through trial-and-error. For 4 hours. Coffee. Then serge the black mesh (where the hell did I put it?) in over the mouth-hole. You now have a creepy, screaming, gaping, lifeless shell that is still shedding pink fur everywhere.

Monster construction has never been so cuddly!

Step 8) Trim half of the styrofoam ring or dome to fit into the bottom lip of the puppet. Sleep-deprivation has set in by now, so try on the muppet-form, eyeless, and make sure the mechanics of the lower lip work. Yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-uh-huh, uh-huh, yip-yip-yip-yip... Scare the cat out of the room.

puppet bone! um. Not that way, perv.

Step 9) Attach black-felt pupils to styrofoam eyeballs. Take a length of floral wire and sink both ends into the eye ball in a gruesome fashion. Thread the wire ends through the top of the puppet form and secure. Have a staring contest.

I lost. Better have more coffee.

Step 10) Use the pipe cleaners to make antennae, thread and anchor those onto the puppet, just behind the eyes. Avoid eye contact with muppet. can see my soul...

Step 11) Cut strips from the bottom up into the body. Leave the edges raw, because if your room is going to be coated in pink and white muppet-shavings, then so will the client's room be.
...kidding! Leave edges raw because it is now 2:00am and you still have a second puppet to make.

Step 12) Repeat steps 5-11 to make a second, even creepier (didn't know that was possible) white, zombie Martian. Wad both puppets up and stuff into plastic bags, so they can't stare at you anymore. Collapse into bed and get 2 1/5 hours of sleep.

They'll stare anyway. Oh, will they stare.

The reception of the costumes was great. The friend wearing the pink one had even practiced movements to mimic the "body language" of the Martians; the two of them went on to win the "Nerdiest Costume" award at our company's Halloween costume contest. I'll add their photo later; I didn't have the forethought to bring my camera, but 3 hours of sleep will do that to a lady.

They looked so convincing in their costumes that I discovered: even though I made them, these large, unblinking, inarticulate creatures still activated my slight automatonophobia. I'll consider that a job well done.

Photo credit to Klamkins. I couldn't even
get within 5 feet of either at this point.

Except I still have pink and white faux-fur dusting my workspace. The project I can never forget.

My work is based on this Instructable. I was able to discover some engineering improvements, though. I plan to make one last Martian to employ them in an orderly manner. During waking hours. Without sobbing into the faux-fur.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tailor Fitted: The New Standard for Your Clothes, Not Your Shape.

Tailoring should be accessible to a wider variety of client. Providing quality tailoring at a lower price point will hopefully re-establish well-fitted clothing as a fashion standard. The truth is that I’d rather have my work making people feel and look dapper more than marking up its cost. I want everyone to be able to afford tailoring. I want to change the public opinion that tailoring is expensive and snobby; instead it should be seen as a wise investment. It’s a step I can help my clients take towards loving their bodies, liking their clothes, and discovering their personal style.

“Fast fashion” sells junk that loses structure, wears out, and falls apart if you look at it funny. Cheap, quickly-made clothing that doesn’t look good on almost anybody. It’s not supposed to look good on almost anybody; it’s supposed to convince you to spend money. As a result, if so many people spending so much money on crappy clothes, that’s exactly what the market will supply for us. Pretense and schmatte (Bubbie wants to know why you’re spending good money on this schmatte. You can’t even clean the windows with those rags!).

In my head, Louise Nevelson is my Bubbie. 

Off the rack clothing doesn’t fit most people, tailoring is necessary. It’s become common knowledge that mass-producing clothing retailers design their clothes to fit the impossible fictional ideal of women’s and men’s bodies. Then the design is sized up or down; seemingly done by an Apparel Department intern just clicking “OBJECT > TRANSFORM > SCALE > +120%”. Boom, larger garment. Repeat with negative percentages, then take an early lunch. In the real world with real bodies, scaling a design requires math (like that algebra crap from high school you thought you’d never actually use), a knowledge of human proportions, and a good eye for adjusting the construction and details of a garment to look best on a body different than the original pattern. This last skill is quite rare, necessary for good fit, and was voted “Most Likely to Be Utterly Disregarded by the Industry” in the Fast-Fashion High School Year Book (Yeah, I made high school an analogy about the fashion industry. Suck it up, cupcake).
Having a garment tailored is going to make your unique shape and proportions look fab in comparison to wearing off-the-rack. Sometimes your boobs will peek out from between a strained button-up. Sometimes your wide shoulders will hike your suit jacket into your armpits. Sometimes your waist says, “size 10!” while your booty’s all, “size 14, honey!” and your legs chime in with, “petite misses, yo”. But fast-fashion doesn’t plan for that. Tailoring is your back-up, because the final goal of having your clothes tailored is to make you look your best. Not somebody else’s best, fuck that guy.

You want to dress how Lagerfield wants you to dress?
Don’t trust the opinion of a dude in love with a cat.

Shopping with an eye for your proportions and visualizing tailoring potential are good skills to develop. Trying to find just one fucking pair of jeans that doesn’t gap at the small of your back is exhausting. No one gets excited to go shopping anymore; it’s a chore. It’s an exercise in disappointment and embarrassment and that is bullshit. However, a little education and a teeny-tiny tape measure can go a long way in helping your dominate the shame-gauntlet that is clothes shopping. Even if you don’t know what you want to buy, knowing your measurements and knowing clever style secrets that emphasize your features will make the experience less torturous. You don’t have to know how clothing can be tailored, but recognizing that certain parts of a garment can be tailored will put the power over your wardrobe back into your hands. That’s where Velvet Tart comes in; my tailoring services can improve the fit of your clothes, make you look good and feel good, and maybe even make shopping a little enjoyable again.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Humble Pie Tastes Crap.

It's ok, Meatloaf says, "Two outa three ain't bad".

You know how the saying goes, "You can have it good, fast, or cheap; you can only pick two". Last week I had to drop the "good", and the result was "bad". Quite bad. I was frantically making costumes for a show; my first attempt at professional costume design. Now, I do judge my work harshly, but calling it "bad" wasn't a product of my hyperbole. My client straight-up told me how awful these costumes were; told me how my lack of professionalism and shitty time-management screwed over the show. That sounds kind of mean--except for the fact that it's all true. If I manage to book any future clients, I owe it to them to learn from this clusterfuck. I owe it to myself to break my bad habits.
Working really hard to get something done and knowing that it's still not going to be good enough sucks balls.

MICE can do it better than I can?! RAGE QUIT

Okay, pity-party is over. Who likes reading list articles? I love me a good list article. Throw in some fun pictures, cussing, and plenty of kitties--click-throughs shoot right up. Writing about this embarrassing, devastating experience as a light-hearted list hopefully will take away the sting of failing so miserably. So here is my list of


1) Sketch, sketch, sketch. To get a solid idea of how a costume will be built and how it will look, you must sketch. A lot. Because how a costume looks effects several other factors; lighting, set design, costume changes, movement, combat (if you're lucky), and overall theme. The director has an idea of how the show will look, your costume ideas had better line up with that. 

There's crazy in my creativity? It's more likely than you think.

2) Make mock-ups for large costume pieces first. When somebody puts on something you made; something that matches up with all the measurements you carefully took, and it doesn't fit, is really discouraging. Having to take the costume back, disassemble it, adjust it, rebuild it, or even...kinda
fudge it into looking better burns up your time and is just fucking frustrating. Make adjustments
at the beginning of the process. Do the largest/most complicated pieces first; to make sure they
get done even if you run out of time. The actors need as much time as possible to rehearse with
large-slash-complicated costumes. Because...

Even Dior had to make mock-ups

3) It's hot on stage. Yes, the costumes have to look good, but they also have to be some degree of comfortable for the actor inside them. This actor is embodying somebody else; remembering script, cues, choreography, costume changes, exits, and entrances. All of that is ever harder to do if they are roasting under the cans. Simplify and fake the structure at every possible opportunity. It also cuts down on the amount of work you'll have to do. Back to your Sketches!

She burst into flames, but they gave her a standing O for it.

4) Meet a deadline? Tell director. Miss a deadline? Tell director. Directors love communication. They have to keep pretty much the whole production in mind while they are directing. The stress of juggling all of those balls (heh, juggling balls) is exponentially multiplied if you can't add your ball in when it's expected. Keep the director up to date, in the loop, whatevs; so they won't have to waste time chasing you down to check in. If you're running behind, they need to know that, too. Swallow your fucking pride and tell them what you can do to make up for lost time; the director may even shuffle some crew around to get you more help. There is nothing wrong with accepting help (as long as they can manage to not sew their fingers to the costume)

I drew a blank for a helpful picture. So here's a kitteh.

5) Efficiency throughout costume changes; a mixed bag. If you plan the costumes changes carefully, you may be able to streamline your workload. Reusing or concealing pieces means less things to make, and less time to change. However, building the costumes to be changed in a hot minute takes some clever engineering. Also, testing. A lot. of testing. You don't want a snap popping open or a velcro strap giving out at the wrong time.

Even Dame Edna's wardrobe malfunctions were classy.

6) Collaboration happens, whether you want it or not. The director will give you feedback (because they're the director). The actors will also have feedback; because they have to wear whatever monstrosity you've created. It's important to not take it personally, because it's about the costume, not your skill. Feedback is not about just the costume; directors and actors discuss entrances, exits, costume changes, accessories, props, character development, and script--and you have to be there for all of it. Maybe a costume gets cut, or ensemble is changed; it's still not personal. It's part of the job; listen to
everything laid out so you can glean the info you need to improve the costumes.

"Hm...not what I had in mind for Rum Tum Tugger..."

7) I should probably get some training. When it came to the actual process of designing costumes for a show; I was in over my head. I wasn't even aware I was about to drown. The job isn't just designing and sewing costumes; it's about you helping the director to create people. The show is a world inside the theater, the costumes become possessions of the characters; stains, patches, tears and all.

The day-to-day process of designing costumes isn't a piece of cake, either. You've got to use your resources to procure all the correct clothing to be used. Sometimes you build it, sometimes you buy/borrow/rent it. Sometimes you delegate certain tasks to other people. You must stick to the deadlines for each phase of building; making sure every actor is has a complete costume. You also have to keep track of costume changes, when they happen, how they happen, and make sure the director is on board with all of it. Sounds exhausting? It is, and I didn't even do it right!

Tim Gunn be like- Corduroy? Really?

I didn't know any of that shit. I had hoped I could just pick it up as I was doing it; by way of osmosis for the routine of costume design. Pretty sure it doesn't work like that. If I can assist a real costume designer to watch and learn what is actually done, I'll be way more comfortable trying to design for a show again.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Velvet Hammer (it's not what you think)

I've a rough mission statement for Velvet Tart. Just to sum up what Velvet Tart is about in a few short paragraphs. Plus I'm totally going to copy+paste parts of it to Etsy, FB, press releases, or graffiti.

"no...let me sum up: a mask is not an accessory."

I want to make clothes and I want to change clients’ self-perception. I believe self-confidence is the foundation of feeling beautiful. I want to help my clients to feel beautiful: their self-love is reflected in their clothing choices, they have self-awareness and control over their appearance. I don’t want them to just be beautiful—their clothing a facade to hide behind, a role to perform that can be removed or invalidated. 

Also, vanity-sizing. FUCK THAT. Both women and men should know how to shop for their body, rather than paying any mind to the arbitrary numbers and letters tacked onto clothing. My tailoring and consulting services can teach clients what looks good on them individually, rather than stressing about clothing-rack navigation.

Also, bullying. FUCK THAT. As much as I'd like to, I can't punch shitty trolls through the internet. I can, instead, give my clients encouragement and education to speak up against those who would tear them down. Online and in reality. I can add VT's voice to the growing number of businesses who do not tolerate that shit. I can write about it; from resources to retorts against the stupids. 

Also, (any)-shaming. MAJOR FUCK THAT. Also related to encouragement and education of my clients: speaking up against fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, queer-shaming, slut-shaming; whatever kind of guilt trip your boss/aunt/pastor is trying to give you. My bespoke clothing services can create garments custom-fitted for the size and lifestyle my clients wish to have. They will be supported and accepted; and encouraged to support and accept themselves.

 AND MENS: You too, can be beautiful creatures.

Body acceptance. I believe the healthiest thing for men and women is to accept that their body is the only one they’re going to have. I wish they would appreciate their bodies for the individual features and unique beauty they possess. Desire to change one’s body should be an internal decision made with healthy goals in mind (which are various). Change should not happen because of pop culture, peer pressure, and current beauty standards. I want clients to have clothes made to fit them; instead of trying to make their body fit the clothes


There it is. I will probably edit and refine the mission statement further; I prefer my thoughts to mean as much as they can with as few words as they can (efficiency!). I'd like to know your thoughts, my cherished audience. How do you define feeling beautiful, in contrast to being beautiful? Why do you think I address the body acceptance issues of men along with women? Does anything need to be clarified? Can I have more validation? Validaaaate meeee!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Snack Time!

Last week I promised to release my mission statement for my sewing business, my services and my pricing. That didn't happen. To me, it's just another blown deadline, in a long, long....(really damn long) history of falling short of my goals.

To you, my gorgeous readers, it's probably confusing. Maybe even disappointing. It definitely shouldn't be surprising; still, I do apologize.

Sew! Today I give you a tiny teaser of the name and logo of my soon-to-be sewing venture. My target audience has "a sense of humor, a touch of glam, and a streak of cheeky." I introduce to you:

logo for velvet tart costumes and couture: a smirking woman with vintage finger-wave hair giving you a wink.
That sassy vixen is me! Let me style you!

Velvet Tart: costume & couture. I created the name sometime last winter, with the help of my then-husband. It's been waiting in my brain all this time, and after a summer of brainstorming type arrangements, I ended up indulging in my own vanity. I am the mischievous dame winking and smirking my way into your wardrobes!

The colored squares comprise my color palette, and are not represented very well (I used the built-in camera, sue me). Starting on the left they are: a bright salmon, navy, this warm purple that's sort of 80's, and a sunny, sherbet-y orange. I used color theory, friends.

There it is! More on Velvet Tart to come; but it's now 8:08 am--I'm late to start sewing! Story of my life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

About that..."time management" thing...yeahhh...

It's a little embarrassing that the day after I make a determined, proud pep-talk about how I'm going to get my shit straight....I dive right back into that hot mess. No sleep + costuming + skeletons + sewing + math + microwave burritos = body temperature drop and unexplained crying jags. So I went to sleep. Lots.

This evening I caught up on a pile of computer work I've been neglecting and applied for a couple of jobs. One was for a cake decorator position. I have always loved watching and fantasizing about being a cake decorator. You get to draw, paint, and sculpt in frosting! How could that possibly be awful? It can't be awful--because CAKE! Besides, I've seen the tiny sculptures those kids on Cake Boss have made and I know I have way more talent than that. Disclaimer: I don't want to be a cake decorator just because I obsessively watched all the Cake Boss that Netflix had.

It's because I watched all the Ru Paul's Drag Race Netflix had.
All those ladies were serving confectionary realness. Can't you imagine some Queen's bustier pattern all up on a cake? With glitter and jewels and eleganza?!

While I'm waiting for the cake-painting job offer, I'll finish costuming for which I was commissioned for a play next week. My time management for that has been crap, so I'm way behind. Lucky for me, the director is sympathetic, resourceful, and forgiving. We teamed up and scoured his costume stock to reduce my workload. Making the masks for the last vignette has been delegated to a cast member who actually makes masks, thankfully.

I'm feeling more confident about finishing my work for these costumes, now. However, I'm stuck with a lot of extra fabric since I won't be making as many things. It's nice fabric. Bought for Edwardian/Victorian costumes. I think I may just know what to do with it....

I don't know where I meant to go with this entry, but I'll end it with this: Friday I intend to drop my business mission statement, list of services, and pricing on this blog. Photos of past work and an Etsy shop to follow, hopefully finished by this weekend. Check in tomorrow--I'll be open for business!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

There's dreams...and then there's dreams.

My dreams have become weird. I'm already pretty weird to begin with, and recently my dreams have even been off those charts. Last week I dreamt that I had to help a Japanese water god have a baby. First thing, this Japanese water god is like, 30 feet tall. Next, how the hell does a male spirit squeeze out a baby? I'm on the bank of the river, and I have to search through a codex of different types of spirits to figure it out. When I find the entry for water gods, the description comes with an illustration of exactly how water gods deliver their babies. It's anally. I have to help this giant water god deliver a giant butt-baby. ugh. It was a girl, by the way; so that's how weird my dreams are.

I am not going to write about those types of dreams today (anymore). Instead, here are my dreams for being successful in the very near future. Hopefully before my next student loan payments.

I will get more work. It's hard out there for a ronin artist; one can't just be the production department, one also must be the sales, research, marketing, and payroll departments as well. Also: taxes. However, I know I have talents that people actually need today: tailoring and graphic design. These talents can also provide what people actually want: costumes and pretty pictures. Now, I have the free time it takes to focus on promoting my work, as well as actually completing it.

I will promote my work. Part of getting the word out about your business is just straight up showing it to people. I am really critical of my graphic design and I often get caught up perfecting the most specific details that the layman consumer doesn't need. I also forget about how much costuming I've done over the years; even if they weren't perfect items, they were learning experiences. Downplaying my talent and passion for making clothes isn't helping anyone!

I will make and keep job schedules. My time management is crap. That's how I lost my job. Ask any one of my friends, and they'll tell you how it's pretty much the norm for me to be running a little late. It's never surprising when I'm running super late. I put things on my calendar--then promptly forget them (then wtf is the calendar even for?!). I think this is going to be the hardest item to follow; I basically have to change a core personality trait and learn to follow a routine. This is one of the reasons I'm blogging daily now (yes, it's only been 2 days, shush).

I will eat healthy and get enough sleep. These two items pretty much support all the previous ones. Good food and good sleep improves one's mood, energy, brain function, and ability to follow a friggin' schedule. I'm not on a diet, but I don't exercise very much. So I'm pretty sure I don't need those 14 servings of Cheez-its at 2:00am.

It is a proven fact that platonic affection is a basic human need (no, I'm not going to cite sources for you, google it). It's not a luxury or a preference, it is something that people need to thrive. I'm not an affectionate person normally. My friends respect that, and acquaintances learn quickly about my personal bubble. However, the isolation is starting to wear on me. I am craving human contact and that's rather uncharacteristic of me. But I am, and I'm okay with that. My sweet and joyful Aunt Holly reminds us every time she visits Minnesota that hugs are necessary and loving. Holly gives wonderful, welcoming, warm hugs (woo, alliteration!). So I'm taking a page from her book; I will hug you all. My affection often takes the form of a swift kick to the shin, or jab to the solar plexus if I'm close enough. But now, hugs will not be my way of getting within range; it will mean that I'm happy to see you, and enjoy your company. You know, like a real person. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

#5. I am undecided if I have screwed up my life irreparably.

I wrote the post's title on my Facebook yesterday as I was filling out some meme about "# of things you may or may not give a shit about but you're still going to read because there's no one else posting at 1:00am". I wasn't trying to be clever (for once), I truly don't know if I've made everything FUBAR. Debt, depression, divorce, unemployment (damn, I wish that last one was alliterative), I started wondering if there was a certain point where I could have turned it around; stopped barreling towards the edge of something beyond which I can only see empty space.

Then I cleared the edge (read: lost my job by my own fault), launching out into the air, trajectory unknown. All the fear fell away then, because fear didn't matter. Anxiety and grasping for control were no longer options. I'm in mid-air now, marveling at the space around me, a new perspective that is astounding and terrifyingly brilliant. The rushing wind flaps my clothing, my hair stings as it whips about my face, the height I'm hurtling through takes my breath away. I am hurtling. Towards the ground. Fast. I'm falling, I'm going down! I'M. FALLING. DOWN.

...When I am upset, I want it to stop. To make "upset" stop, I talk to myself; and ask why I am feeling this way (it's ok, manna), what caused this feeling (that's life, manna), and most importantly--what can be done to change this feeling (let's fix this, manna). Once I can identify a logical solution, I can begin to move away from upset. Sometimes, I can't get a hold on a solution; instead I acknowledge my emotional state and give myself permission to wallow. But only for a little while. Wallowing for too long has and will lead to depression, and depression lies. It's easier to get up again when I'm not scolding myself for falling down in the first place.

Falling down....where have I heard that....oh shit. I'M STILL FALLING. I never should have made this analogy because falling usually ends poorly. I still have time, though, and space, between me and the ground. All of my past experiences will lend to my actions in this moment, and that's how I know I will survive. I feel it in my bones; I have the skill and fire and speed and joy (what?) to recover my stability and brace myself for the future.

Life, prepare for impact. 'Cause I'm gonna hit the ground running. (Fuck if I know. I'll tell you tomorrow.)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Color Me.

Sometimes, certain songs remind me of seasons, people or memories. Deep Winter in Minnesota is cold, brittle, and desolate. One Christmas in college, my uncle gave to me the Ani DiFranco album, "Revelling/Reckoning". So I always feel like listening to this moody, winding, narrative collection around this time of year. It makes me feel cozy, wistful, and melancholy. I love wrapping myself in melancholy every once in a while. Especially when I hear "Grey":

I wear a lot of grey, also. It's formal but not severe like black. Details don't disappear like black on black. I do love my black, but I like feeling subtle and secretive with grey. I even found a decadent nail polish, titled "Greycian Goddess". The name's a bit contrived, but I love it. It's not "pretty" like nails are supposed to be.

The Wheel of Time still does turn. Spring is soon approaching, soggy, green, and fresh. And I will begin listening to new songs: