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Picking proper fabric: Fiber content (super sexy OOOOOO)

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Picking the right fabric can make or break a costume. And I don’t mean screen correct, but I mean quality, weave, texture, pattern, shine. You don’t have to spend a fortune on getting the most accurate fabric possible, but understanding what kinda of fabrics are best to use can take your costume game to a whole new level.

I’m not going to give you a crash course on textiles or how they are sewn. Getting into the specifics of burn tests and fiber content percentages isn’t something you need to know going into your costume planning. Instead I’ll go over a few important points for you to keep in mind, and a few examples of what fabric’s I’d choose for different costumes. Originally this was just going to be one post, but I get really excited about textiles and can ramble (such a nerd about this stuff). So this post is about fiber content, the next one will be about different weaves.

When I first started sewing fiber content was something I never, ever thought about. I never looked at the end of bolts because it didn’t really matter. And when I’m sewing stuff for normal wear, I don’t think about it a whole lot. I’m not a real snooty sewer who is silk charmeuse obsessed, I sew with what I like. But with costumes I’m really anal about what fiber contents I use.

Natural fibers
Natural fibers are my favorite! Mostly because it breathes. If you’ve ever been stuck in a walkway at Dragon*Con you’ll understand the importance of being in a costume that doesn’t retain every drop of sweat.

Cotton: From the humble cotton plant, this is the best fiber ever, in my opinion, It sews well, it presses well, and It also dyes really well. You can also find all kinds of different weaves and weights. But keep in mind, not all cotton is created equal. Some are thick and lovely, while others can wrinkle badly or too lightweight. Price range $-$$$

Wool: Sheered from our cute and cuddly animal friends! From Sheep to alpacas, this bad boy also breathes and dyes well. Downsides include dry-cleaning… and it’s wool which is known for being a bit on the warm side. $$-$$$$

Linen: Are you looking for the best fabric to make your Avatar: The Last Airbender cosplay out of? Use linen. Linen is a plant based fiber from flax. It has a lovely rustic texture, is easily washable, dyeable, and sews well. Downsides include wrinkling, but that kind of adds to the charm, I think. $$-$$$

Silk: Taken from the cute little silk worm’s cocoons. I’m gonna be straight up honest with you on this one, I hardly ever use real silk for cosplay costumes. I think it’s really price prohibitive and can be a pain to work with. It’ll show water drops if your iron leaks, you may or may not have to dry clean it, it can be really slippery depending on the weave, but it’s also really lovely. You can dye and paint silk in amazing ways and get absolutely beautiful color. It feels amazing, and there’s so many different weaves and textures to choose from. It’s also an investment $$$-$$$$

Other natural fibers I don’t use much but are available include Bamboo, soy, hemp. They are basically better cotton and hemp is like a stronger variation of linen. $$-$$$$

Leather: I think we are familiar with leather. It can be luxurious, slightly stretchy (and I mean slightly), easily manipulated, you can dye it, stain it, paint it. But buying leather is a different process since you are buying hides of animal skin, and it’s measured by the square inch. It’s also pricey, and you may or may not have a desire to use animal hides for personal reasons. $$$-$$$$ More information about leather hide measuring and purchasing can be found here.

The middle child, Rayon: I’m having a stupid love affair with Rayon right now. But it’s not technically a natural fiber since it’s man made, but it’s not a synthetic material because it’s made from plant cellulose. It can be stiffer or flowy. It feels wonderful, it can breathe, and it doesn’t have to be stupid expensive. Other terms you may see include viscose, modal and lyocell. $-$$$

Synthetics
Synthetics are great because they are less expensive than natural fibers. And there is basically 2 kinds: Polyester and Nylon The downside is, they aren’t as versatile when it comes to the ability to take dye and they don’t breathe like a natural fiber does. Well, except for one big caveat: super fancy sports manufactured fabrics. Think Under Armour shirts. Those guys are polyester and sometimes nylon mixed but science has made them wickable and breathable. When I need spandex, I look here first. If I can find the color I need with a moisture management spandex I will. And it will make all the difference in the world.

Not all synthetics are stretchy like spandex, but they can be much cheaper than their natural alternatives. But there is a downside, if you aren’t careful you can melt it if ironing it too high, and sometimes it’s hard to get a good press.

And my favorite synthetic: Faux leather/pleather. It’s still pricey, but is no where near as pricey as real leather. It doesn’t have the same texture or share the same richness as real leather, but you can buy it by the bolt, and they make some really nice ones these days.

Tip sparkle rightA note on dying synthetics: They make dye for polyester. There is one called iDye by Jacquard (it will say “for Polyester”) and Rit just came out with a new formulation called Dyemore which I wanted to try, but nowhere local carries it right now. I recently tried iDye and, straight up, those colors are rich and intense (not what I was looking for at the time) and mixing colors can be a bit of a challenge, especially with their “mess free bags” which dissolve when water touches them. Not ideal for measuring it out 1 teaspoon at a time.

Nylon CAN take dye really well (and normally does) or it can be stupid stubborn and won’t take any. It’s a bit of a crap shoot.

Fiber blends
This is what happens when a natural fiber and a synthetic fiber fall in love. Who cares if their love isn’t natural? So they run away together and have a fabric baby that is part natural fiber/part synthetic. Like if a human and a robot had a baby and it was born Robocop. They are kinda freaks, but can also be REALLY AWESOME!

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Like stretch denim. Something most people have fallen in love with. It’s denim (cotton) with a little spandex to keep it stretchy. So it fits all your curves, is flexible to move in, and can allow you to take your jeans off on the 3rd wear without having to unbutton them.

Or blend poplin: 65% Polyester/ 35% cotton. Semi breathable, crisp, irons well, resists fading, and resists wrinkles! Its no wonder it’s used for uniforms.

When not making magical happy things that defy normal laws of fabric physics, they create cheap alternatives of more expensive types of fabric. For example: You know you need a wool texture for a coat, but wool is $20 a yard, a wool/poly blend can cost half that! But you are reducing the breathability a bit, so it might actually make you sweat more than normal wool would.

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So you’re ready to shop but aren’t sure where to find the fiber content? If you’re in a fabric store, check the end of the bolt. It’s mandated by law to have the fiber content listed. Online fabric stores will have it listed in the product description.

What’s your experience with fiber content? Is it something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about? Are there fiber types you like to use? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Until next time…

*banner photo credit http:[email protected]/15786685051

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Weekly round-up 5.15.15

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I joke I have my own little Toothless (well, 2 of them now). And by joke I mean clutch them close to my chest and cry whenever I watch How to Train Your Dragon. Now you can make your very own Toothless with this tutorial  (7 part tutorial series on Deviant Art)

I really enjoy taking ridiculous selfies with my cats. This is Midna, btw.
I really enjoy taking ridiculous selfies with my cats. This is Midna, own lil’ Toothless. She treats me like a tree.

Did you know by putting fishing line in the narrow hem of you petticoat can get you from square dancer to anime approved?

Apparently you can make your own Worbla if you have ingenuity. Here’s a video tutorial outlining how to do it. Personally buying it pre-made is worth paying the extra few bucks if for not other reason than to save my sanity (and my marriage).

This amazing set of Cigarette cards depicting possible professions for women from the the 1880s popped up in feed recently.  I want to make them all!! I’m definitely drawn towards the Amazon King, personally.

Also, Nimona is out this week. If you didn’t follow along online, I’d suggest picking it up. I got mine this week and can’t wait to read the epilogue!

Did you know the Princess Leia ceremonial gown from A New Hope had been lost for years? It was recently found and restored to the best of their ability and was displayed at Star Wars week in Anaheim. You can look at all the amazing details here. Makes me wish I wasn’t already married so I could make this for my wedding dress and make my 10-year-old self’s dreams come true.

Last but not least, I just finished watching Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. One part Enders Game mixed with one part Waterworld, if Waterworld was a good movie. As of right now it’s on Crunchy Roll and Netflix and I recommend it!

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The Power of Practice

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Oh man, just the idea of practicing things gives me cold sweats. I remember as a kid taking piano lessons and procrastinating on practicing and then I’d go into my next lesson embarrassed because I still sucked at playing Frère Jacques. I think there’s two parts to that equation: 1) I had no desire to play Frère Jacques (rock and roll, please) and 2) practicing is scary because you screw up. A lot. And that can take a toll on your self esteem.

I mean, this is true of everything we have to practice. It’s not like I understood the quadratic equation the first time I tried it, but because my homework sheet had 20 problems I had to answer using it, I
eventually figured it out. But when it comes to hobbies or extracurriculars, it’s up to us to tell ourselves its something we want to learn. And that’s hard. For one thing, it’s really sucks not understanding it the first time. I think we all have grand dreams of being perfect the first time around. We are just SO awesome, and that can’t be THAT hard. We’re bound to be prodigies. And for some people, they are. And for the rest of us, well we have to work for it. Which means you have to motivate yourself to get there. And we can all get there with one simple attribute:

Blind stubbornness.

Seriously.

You have to pump yourself up, play “Eye of the Tiger” or “Don’t Stop Believing,” or “I Believe I Can Fly.” Whatever your poison (Hey, if “Talk Dirty to Me” is your thing, go for it!). If you need to pin up a piece of paper entering your crafting space and jump through it, do it! I do this:

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And then you tackle your project. And screw up, rip it out, re-cut it, re-glue it, and probably cry a few time along the way. But you can’t give up, because you are gonna own it (literally and figuratively) when you’re done!

You all know I’m a huge fan of sewing. It’s my favorite. I’m comfortable with it, I’ve been doing it for years, and I’m always trying to get better by trying new things. Once you learn the basics, you have to try new things. It gets really boring if you don’t.

My one word of advice here, take baby steps. Don’t try and make a ball gown your first time out if you haven’t sewn before.

That nonsense is tricky. There’s usually a lot of technique that goes into a fancy gown. I mean you can do it, but it’s real easy to get frustrated and drop everything. Lots of tears, anger, “I sucks” and a crushed crafting self esteem. And that’s no fun. This stuff should be fun!

 

Tip sparkle leftNow in respect to cosplay, man, we are swimming in some uncharted waters (unless you went to school for it). So I’m gonna drop some SeamsGeeky™ Wisdom on you: practice on something smaller first.

 

Shocking, I know. But that’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes. I mean, we want that sweet, sweet movie accurate Black Widow catsuit NOW! But from experience, cosplay isn’t cheap and the last thing you want to mess something up half way with your $25 (or more!) a yard fabric because you jumped into the deep end before you knew how to kick.

Sewing breaks down into levels of techniques and skills which add up to the knowledge of making something. You kinda have to build up your own mental toolbox before taking on something crazy.

• Sewing a straight seam
• Knowing what are the best tools for the job
• Understanding how patterns look and how they go together
• Pattern alterations
• Understanding textiles and textile best practices
• Fabric grain
• When to machine stitch, when to hand stitch
• The right interfacing for the job
• Fit (this is the hardest, I think)
• Tailoring
• Draping

I could go on for days. And there is, like, a billion variations on themes. It seems overwhelming, I know.

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So when I want to learn something, I break down what exactly I want to learn. I HATE learning with “samples.” I don’t want to insert a zipper into a square of fabric, I want something usable at the end, not just a zipper randomly floating around my sewing room. I don’t have the time or space for that. So I figure out a project where I can use a new skill and try it hands-on then complete that project. And I try not to make it too hard on myself.

Need to learn how to put in a zipper? Sew up a simple, unlined skirt (from a  sewing pattern. Online sewing tutorials when your learning can suck, and having an instruction sheet really helps) out of a basic cotton. Seriously. You get something usable you can be proud of (Self Esteem Booster!) And you’ll have learned how to put in a zipper, and gotten better at cutting out patterns, understanding pattern shapes, sewing a straight seam, seam finishing, probably interfacing, hemming, and most importantly, putting in that zipper. (the cotton helps you hide those holes if you have to rip it out and redo it).

Rinse. Repeat. You’re going to get better and better every time. I had an art teacher who told me, “Draw it 3 times, and you’ll be amazed how much better the last one looks. Then do it 3 more.” But drawing an apple 6 times is boring. 3 skirts and 3 dresses to add to my closet? Plus with all the amazing licensed fabric there is now, you can fill out your geek wardrobe and have much more fun.

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Anytime I try something new, I try to do it in a small scale on a wearable project first. And I’m probably going to repeat this over and over. In every post. From here to eternity. The main reason I like doing things this way is because it boosts your self esteem, which is hard to keep up sometimes. That way when you’re ready tackle that costume, you feel armed with the skills to figure it out! Scared to work with spandex? Make some leggings or a swimsuit. Unsure of leather? Make a bag, or add some leather accents to a jacket. When you spend 3 months on a costume, you want to be proud of it, so you need that firm foundation. I mean, every costume is it’s own adventure, and it can feel like you are running full steam in one direction, and hoping that it’s the right way.

We are all students in the classroom of life (<——cheesy, but I don’t care). And new things always seem scary, but you have to face it sometimes. You might need to amp yourself to start, but you don’t have to run if you just learned to crawl.

You totally have this under control. You got this! You can do anything!

And I’ll collectively help as much as I can!

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When all else fails, buy white (A fabric dying tutorial)

Sometimes you’re working on a sewing project (in this case, a Captain America jacket) and you can’t find the perfect fabric in the color you need. I went through this before with my original Captain America costume, and after doing my due diligence of searching, I resorted to dying my own fabric.

Now, dying fabric is one of those things where I always think “Piece of cake! I’ll just dye it” until I get into it and realize “Wow, this is a time suck.” And with my picky nature, always get wrapped up in that whole “But the color isn’t PERFECT! I must dye it again!” You may know the pitfalls already; uneven dying, dye freckles, bleeding color to name a few.

A note about fabrics you can dye:
Always know what’s in your fabric! Different textiles have different dyes (or dying processes). Natural based textiles dye the best (linen, cotton, silk, rayon, hemp, etc), but you can also dye most Nylons with great success. Today I’m going to show you how how to dye cotton fabric.

Not all cottons are created equal, and keep in mind, the base color will affect the final color. I opt for white for the purest tones, but not all white are the same. For the most vibrant dye colors, you need to start with an untreated cotton specially for dying. But not all fabrics are easy to find this way. I am using a cotton knit pique fabric because the texture most closely matches Captain America’s fabric from the Avengers. But I couldn’t find a dye-ready version, so I went with white and hoped for the best. Most fabrics you buy that are white are treated with whitening agents that could affect the final color, so it might not be as bright as you’d expect.

Dying fabric at home is a bit of bad science. You can’t always predict the outcomes. I tend to opt for a lighter color and re-dye darker since it’s much harder to get darker dye lighter. I’ve re-dyed fabric several times over until I get a shade I’m happy with.

Note: They make a special dye for Polyester fabrics, but I have yet to try it.

Now on to the tutorial:
I am tub dying. This can be done in a washing machine, but we have a front load HE washer, and I haven’t had the best results with it.

Gather all your materials together:
• Your fabric (pre-washed, please. This removes as many added chemicals, pre-treaters, and grease that might affect the dying process. Plus, it’ll help keep shrinkage down)
• Dye (For this blue, I am using a mix of Royal Blue and Cerulean Blue.)
• Soda Ash (this is a fixative for the dye)
• Urea (helps the dye to dissolve completely and reduce freckling on the final fabric. It also can help achieve a more saturated color.)
• Salt
• glass measuring cup
• dry-measuring cups and spoons
• Plastic spoons
• large pot for heating water
• a thermometer (optional)
• Rubber gloves (go with tall dish gloves to minimize hand stain)
• a trusty bucket*
• a plastic basin/tub

*Everyone should have a trusty bucket. I, sadly, could not find mine, so I used a clean trashcan.

First, weigh out your fabric on a household scale. Notate how heavy the fabric is so you know how much dye and water to use. My fabric was 14 oz, so I am going to round up and say it’s 1 pound of fabric.

Next, a little fabric foreplay. Fill up your bucket with hot water and submerge your fabric in it. Fabric should soak in hot water for 20-30 minutes (just enough time to gather all the materials you need).This opens up the fibers to get it ready to accept for the dye. I placed this outside in the sun along with my empty dying tub.

Now, gather all your ingredients into one place. Today I’m using Fiber Reactive Procion Dyes from Dharma Trading. I have used Rit dyes with success in the past, but found it took a lot more work to get a vibrant color, and freckling is a bigger issue.

Rit dye sidetone: If using Rit dyes, I find they work better with consistent almost boiling heat.

In your glass measuring cup, measure out 1 cup of hot water and mix in 1 Tablespoon of Urea (always makes me giggle). Once that’s dissolved, add in the appropriate amount of dye for your weight. There are charts with specific amounts of dye to use for different colors, but for this, it’s fine to use the approximation method which is 1 Tablespoon of dye for 1 lb pound of fabric. I used 2 tsp Royal and 1 tsp Cerulean to make up 1 tablespoon. For a darker color, you can use more dye. Stir this up until all the dye is dissolved in the measuring cup, then move it outside with your fabric and dye tub.

Fill up your large pot with 3 gallons of water and start warming it up. The best temperature for dying is 105 degrees F so we’ll want the water around 120 degrees to account for cool down when we move it from the heat. Next, add 3 cups (yup!) of salt to your water heating up on the stove. I use the cheapest table salt I can find at the store. You want to make sure it dissolves completely in the water.

Now, measure out 1/3 cup of Soda Ash. You can dissolve this in 1 cup of water now, but since I only have 1 glass measuring cup, I just take the soda ash out as is.


Take all your remaining supplies outside, put on those lovely gloves and dedicate the next hour to dying your fabric.

First, pour your salt water into your dying tub.

Then adding your concentrated dye. I swish the measuring cup around to get as much dye as possible into the water. Then stir until it a consistent color. You can check the temperature now and make sure it’s still above 100 degrees but below 120. It should feel about the same temperature of a hot tub.

Now that I have an empty measuring Cup, I add in my soda ash, and pour some of the water my fabric has been sitting in, and stir it around to dissolve. You’ll need this later.


No turning back now, add in all your fabric! You can use solid yardage, but I’ve found I get a better, more consistent dye, when I cut out all the fabric ahead of time. Because I have pre-washed the fabric, I know it won’t shrink anymore. But either way, when you add the fabric, make sure all of it is separated and isn’t sticking together.

For the next 20 minutes you are a human washing machine. Stir that fabric and keep it moving. You want to agitate the fabric and try to keep dye from getting trapped and sitting in the crevasses of the fabric. Unless you want a mottled look to your fabric… then let it sit and stew. I like to use my hands, but you can use a large spoon, stick, whatever. If you want it darker, you can leave it for longer, but most of the time I find maximum color saturation happens in around 20-30 minutes. If you want a darker color, you’ll have to dye again, with either a darker color or a higher dye concentration.


After 20 minutes, add the soda ash solution. Do not just dump this in! you want to add it slowly, bit by bit offer the next 15 minutes. Slosh all your fabric over to one side of the tub, and add a little to the dye bath being as careful as possible not to pour directly on the fabric (this will add dark splotches), then slosh around, add a little soda ash… over and over until all has been incorporated. Continuing stirring until the 15 minutes are up.


Whew! The hard part is over. Now, pull out all the fabric and place is your trusty bucket. Take it to a sink and rinse until the water is clear, or throw it in your washing machine and put it through a few rinse cycles. I then like to do a full wash cycle on delicate with soap to get out as much extra dye as possible. Once your fabric is dry, take a look at the color. You now have beautifully dyed fabric!

Now, getting rid of the dye water: Do not just pour this out on your lawn, it will kill anything growing. Ask me how I know. Find a safe place to dispose of your water. Remember there is salt and chemicals in it.

Go forth! And good luck!

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Memphis Fashion Week 2014

Late last year I submitted designs to the Memphis Fashion Week Emerging Designer showcase, and got accepted! Riding my costuming high from DragonCon, and filling the gap in my life from costume down time, I created a collection based heavily on more “geek” centered themes. I really wanted to show that nerd-culture inspiration can still be fashionable and innovative without being redundant.

Here’s my submission:
Designer statement:
This collection is inspired by the strong women in video games and comic books. However, rather than create cat suits and body-baring clothes, I wanted the collection to project confidence and strength – to empower while being easy to wear. Working with the Spring, 2014 palette, I chose colors that reflect another world, inspired by the colors of nebulas and the “Twilight Realm” from Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess video game. The results are strong, sassy, and smart. I plan to use fabrics that can easily be worn and cared for. I plan to use Supplex (a sportswear fabric with some body) along with twill (both stretch and non stretch), and knits. The pieces will also incorporate mesh fabrics. I will keep my collection fresh and modern through interesting piecework and lines, mixing newer technology fabric with more traditional materials.

Mood board
Seams Geeky collection Moodboard

Sketches
Seams Geeky Collection sketches

I unified the collection by using black mesh on each look, and spent a lot of time playing with dyes and hand stitching linings.

In March, my styles went down the catwalk. I may not have won, but I did find that melding the worlds of High Fashion and geek culture (sans copyright infringement) was a very real possibility.