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.