Block printing with foraged fern fronds

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I recently participated in an art making activity where we went on a nature walk through an urban forest to gather textured materials and then used those foraged finds to create interesting patterns on fabric with fabric paint.

We gathered mostly leaves, but I gathered a few small twigs and woody material as well and wasn’t too sure what I’d use and cast aside until I sat down and considered my options.

The best “stamps” were the objects with a fair amount of texture and interesting geometry. We painted a thin layer of fabric paint onto the surface of each item and then carefully pressed the “stamp” down onto the fabric, covered it with a paper towel, and applied an even pressure over the area. Too much paint muddles the pattern and creates harsh lines and dark blotches. It was possible to reuse leaves and twigs several times before they started wearing down so it was easy to create a pattern over a small area with very little “stamp” material.

I didn’t want my old shirt to take on too much of a crafty look so I opted for the black paint and stuck with just the one color. I used small sections of laua’e fern (Microsorum scolopendria) to print out the general pattern, then filled in some of the negative space with a group of woody flower stalks. On the sleeves, I used the end of a kukui (Aleurites moluccana) leaf to create a different but complementary pattern. The pattern extends to the back of the sleeves as well, which I thought would be an interesting detail.

I wish I knew what brand the paint was. After it dried, I set the paint by ironing over it and then laundering. I wasn’t sure how I’d like the painted fabric because paint can make fabric stiff and uncomfortable, but because the layer of paint we used was so thin (and maybe because the paint is just good?) you can barely tell there is paint on the fabric at all. It isn’t noticeable when wearing.

A fun project for all ages!

DIY cat scratcher

diy-cat-scratching-post-sisal

Making your own cat scratching post is not so hard after all. 3/8″ sisal rope wrapped around a 2×4 and adhered by glue gun.

Cat shredding the paint on your walls? I’m having this problem now and decided to put a cat scratching post right next to the problem area to hopefully provide an irresistible alternative. Unfortunately my cat is a beast and has a reach that extends beyond the length of the tallest cat scratchers on Amazon (and thus probably everywhere else cat scratchers are sold). I remembered seeing a fun multi-colored DIY cat scratch post project on A Beautiful Mess (“Colorblocked Scratching Post DIY“), and decided it was time to attempt this project myself.

Based on a little web research it seems that sisal (Agave sisalana) is the best material for this application. Others say that cats are naturally attracted to scratching sisal. I’m not sure if this is true, but the light natural coloration of the fiber looks nice and is affordable.

What is sisal?

According to Wikipedia, no one really knows for sure where the sisal plant originated from, but it is thought to trace back to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Sisal was once shipped out of a Yucatán port of the same name. It is the fiber in the plant’s leaves that is used to make rope. As of 2013, Brazil produced the majority of sisal.

1/4″ vs 3/8″ rope

I wasn’t sure whether 1/4″ or 3/8″ rope would be preferable, so I ordered a roll of both to test them out. Amazon reviewers used both for making cat scratchers, and one reviewer recommended going with 1/4″ because it was difficult to wind the 3/8″ rope around the turns. I planned on making a vertical cat scratcher that needed to be quite tall, and a second shorter horizontal scratcher. I decided to try the 3/8″ rope on the longer vertical scratcher because its greater thickness meant less rope length was needed to cover the area (1/4″ and 3/8″ rope costs about the same per foot on Amazon at the time of this writing). The 3/8″ rope is also stronger than the 1/4″ so it may withstand scratching better, and it will provide more material thickness to “grab” on to. And finally, I thought the 3/8″ thickness would look better, that the rope thickness to scratcher dimensions would be more proportional than the 1/4″ would offer. I purchased a roll of 1/4″ for the shorter horizontal scratching pad to hedge my bet. Amazon reviews assured me at least one of these, probably both, would work.

It turns out 3/8″ was not too hard to work with after all. I wrapped a standard 2×4 piece of lumber with relative ease, and like the coarser look. Only time will tell how the rope holds up to use.

How to adhere sisal to wood

To start wrapping, I used a glue gun to tack down the rope end perpendicular to the direction of wrapping at the edge of the wood piece, then simply laid down a strip of glue gun glue along the edge of the lumber end and pressed the sisal rope down over it, applying pressure until the glue cooled. As I glued and wrapped, the rope end was hidden by the horizontal turns of rope. This should help prevent the end from becoming loose and leading to unravelling.

I considered using wood glue as other blogs recommended, but am so glad I went with the glue gun. Wood glue takes a long time to dry, whereas glue gun glue cools very quickly. I am certain wood glue would have been messy, and that making the turns around the 2×4, particularly on the 2 edge would have been fraught with difficulty. It would have indeed been a challenge (perhaps impossible) to get the rope to lay flat against the wood around these tight turns and stay adhered until the glue dried.

The glue gun eliminated all of these challenges. It was no problem at all to make the turns, and applying pressure to the rope briefly was enough to get it adhered in place. The greatest challenge was getting each row adjacent to the last without any gapping. I didn’t entirely succeed at that, but close enough.

I hesitated to opt for the glue gun because glue guns are often associated with “crafty” projects that don’t require durability. It will be interesting to see how the glue gun glue adherence stands up to cats. At least for ease of use and cost, the glue gun is a winner.

A package of twenty 10″ x 0.28″ glue sticks should be more than enough to complete most cat scratcher projects. You may be able to get away with half as much glue for a smaller project area.

diy-cat-scratcher

All I used was lumber, a glue gun, glue sticks, and sisal rope.

How to calculate how much rope you need

Note: Please read the whole section and proceed with caution at your own risk. This procedure assumes the ends of the board are left bare. You may also want to additionally consider how you will attach the post portion of the cat scratcher to any kind of base.

If you know the dimensions of the area to be wrapped and the width of rope you will use, you can estimate how much rope you will need to buy.

For the calculation, I defined “one wrap length” as the number of inches needed to wrap the rope around one time. For a modern 2×4 that actually measures 3.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, this is 10 inches (3.5 + 1.5 + 3.5 + 1.5). (If your cat scratching post is a cylinder shape, the circumference of a circle is 2 x pi x radius or pi x diameter.)

You also want to know how many “rope widths” are needed to cover an inch of cat scratch post length. For 3/8″ rope, it takes 8/3 or 2.667 rope widths to cover an inch. For 1/4″ rope, it takes 4 rope widths to cover an inch. This I defined as “# wraps per inch”.

The final parameter you need to know is how long your cat scratching post will be, i.e., “# inches to be covered”.

Approximate amount of sisal rope needed, inches = One wrap length  x  # wraps per inch  x  # inches to be covered.

Divide the above number by 12 (12 inches per foot) to determine the approximate length of rope you will need in feet, which is the unit that sisal rope is sold in on Amazon. You may want to add a few feet to this number to ensure you have enough rope to complete the project. Ideally the roll of rope is long enough to cover the whole area so that you don’t have to figure out how to add in a second piece of rope and hide the tail end of the first.

For convenience, here’s how much length of a modern 2×4 can be covered by 100 feet of 3/8″ and 1/4″ rope:

3/8″ rope:

100 feet of rope will cover a 2×4 board less than 45 inches long. Make sure to account for how the ends will be secured. I was able to cover 45.75 inches of a 2×4 including wrapping one end under, but one Amazon reviewer noted that the length of rope in each roll varies so it is possible that your roll may cover less or more.

1/4″ rope:

100 feet of rope will cover a 2×4 board less than 30 inches long. See notes above under ‘3/8″ rope’. I would personally not aim to cover a length of more than about 25 inches to allow for securing the rope ends and potential variation in actual rope length and board dimensions.

Recommended sisal rope products on Amazon

T.W. Evans Cordage 3/8″ by 100 feet twisted sisal rope

T.W. Evans Cordage 1/4″ by 100 feet twisted sisal rope

DIY horizontal cat scratcher

Cats seem to need something to scratch both horizontally and vertically. For a horizontal scratcher, those corrugated cardboard scratchers are a good option. You can make one yourself by cutting corrugated cardboard pieces of the same size and using wood glue to adhere them together. I made one of these years ago and it’s still holding up well. It was a lot of work to make (cutting through cardboard over and over again takes its toll), and so I’d consider buying one next time instead, but I once owned a store bought one, and it didn’t last nearly as long as the one I made. So who knows, maybe I’ll be up to the task again when the need arises.

I’m about to make a horizontal sisal cat scratcher using the same method as that of the vertical scratcher. I plan on using a 1×6 board instead and will place it outdoors in a covered area, and hope it will withstand the elements better than a cardboard product would.

I’ll try to remember to update this post on how these sisal scratchers hold up over time. If you’ve made a sisal cat scratching post, I’d love to hear how it has worked for you.

I think this would make a great project for young kids! Let me know how it goes for you, and if you have any tips on improving this project.

DIY Spoonflower leggings

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I don’t normally go for large bold prints on pants or leggings. It’s just not my thing. It’s been trending, though, and I’ve made an exception or two in the past for some exceptional prints. I’m sure my loulu print is not exceptional, but I still really like how it came out. It may be that I have beer goggles for my own work. That happens sometimes.

I never thought that I’d be able to make pants until I spontaneously gave it a whirl for my Prince costume. To be fair, what I made were really more leggings than pants. And to be fair, they didn’t end up fitting exactly as I intended. But stretchy knits are very forgiving, and they were still flattering and comfortable and 1970s-inspired enough.

Making those pants/leggings made me believe that I could make actual leggings, to actually wear. Like, not as a costume. I’m beginning to think that there’s very little difference between an outfit and a costume anyway. Costumes and outfits are both curated looks with a specific intention behind them, even if that intention is to get out the door as fast as possible.

I wanted new leggings. I did a lot of mental acrobatics to convince myself that I needed them. My old Forever21 stand-bys were getting stretched out. They always were a bit on the scratchy side anyway. New leggings can cost nearly a hundred dollars so I decided to try making my own. And why not try making my own pattern while I’m at it? (Read about making the fabric print pattern in this previous post.)

There are a few mandatory details I think all leggings should have: a diamond gussett to prevent camel toe, some sort of detailing on the back hip area to make your butt look better (details along the pant legs are nice, too), flat seams, a flattering sewing pattern. I haven’t seen this yet, but I really hope someone adds a kind of seamless shorts lining to increase the thickness of leggings in that area and eliminate the possibility of VPL forever. Maybe I’ll give that a shot next time.

I riffed off the pattern of my Forever21 leggings, winged the gusset, skipped the back hip detailing because that would require more time and effort than I had, and am still puzzled as to how manufacturers create flat seams along pant legs and shirt arms. There must be a special machine that does that.

I could not make the pant leg seams flat, but happily discovered that the “regular” seams weren’t noticeable at all when wearing. I made the leggings high waisted with a wide waist band, because I think wider waist bands are more comfortable. The gusset works fine. The pant legs are a little tighter in parts than I’d like (may need to be more generous when cutting the fabric, but you really don’t want to risk bagginess with leggings). I went with a wider hem on the pant legs just to try it, and I don’t like the look of that so much. Next time I would definitely go with a smaller hem. I may eventually alter them and narrow the leg openings a bit while I’m at it as well to get a more tapered ankle fit, which I think looks better. I miss the back detailing a little, but am happy to report the fit is still flattering!

What I love most is that because I made a matching bikini out of the fabric remnants, I can now put the top and leggings together to create a matching workout outfit. Matching workout outfits always seem to be an unattainable luxury for me, so this is so much fun!

I hope to make another print soon, and have a second go at making a swimsuit and matching leggings again.

For my experience with Spoonflower and more about the fabric, see the bikini post.

Note: I may have to post rather infrequently, like maybe biweekly or once a month, going forward, but do have several projects in the works.

This post is part of the WordPress Discover Challenge and Weekly Photo Challenge. Thank you for joining me on my journey here and letting me share!

DIY bikini and Spoonflower fabric design

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I’ve been thinking for a while it’d be cool to try designing a fabric print inspired by endemic plants. I heard about Spoonflower a long time ago, but always thought it was a bit pricey. My desire to try my hand at making my own textile design finally outweighed the cost recently and so I committed to do it. I’m so glad I did, and justify the cost with knowing that buying products to fill these needs from my favorite brands would have cost a lot more, would not have been made locally with American made fabrics, and would not have taught me as much or improved my design and sewing skills at all.

I didn’t want to put too much time into refining a complicated design only to find out that the fabric quality wasn’t there or the colors were too light (as others have described in the past) so I decided to use a photo to make the design figuring that would be faster than sketching or painting something by hand (also I’m not a great artist).

Looking through my photo archive, nothing immediately stood out as having potential so I did a quick search online for a Creative Commons image and found this photo of a Pritchardia beccariana  (Pritchardia what? More on this below.)

Once I had the image, I did a quick search for tips on how to make a repeating pattern that wouldn’t have any obvious hard boundaries. Tiled patterns remind me of 1990s desktop computer wallpapers, which haven’t quite made a comeback yet. A quick YouTube search returned videos like this one that show you how to make a simple repeating pattern. Here’s the design I ended up using:

loulu-thirdtry-swatch

Looking at this image now, the gray definitely looks darker and grayer in this image than my actual fabric, but I still like how it came out. Ordering any fabric can be tough online, and for an important project or if ordering a large amount, I definitely would recommend paying a little for a swatch first and waiting for the shipping. Note that it seems that only a portion of your Spoonflower print may fall within the dimensions of a swatch, so you may have to order a larger piece of fabric to really see what the full extent of the pattern itself looks like.

One thing I don’t like about this design is the “S shape” in the center of the image above. The lesson there for me was that when using photos to make a pattern, you really need to watch out for these types of “hard edges” that can result in unintended geometric shapes that detract from the overall pattern. It would not be hard to fade these edges to get them to blend in a little more or add something or move things around to hide them. I just didn’t see it, though, until I received the actual fabric. Next time, I may consider purchasing a yard of their most inexpensive basic cotton fabric (about half the cost of their Sport Lycra) first to test the pattern out if I’m unsure about the design.

What’s Pritchardia beccariana?

Usually when I see an image of Hawaii, there is either a beach, coconut tree, tiki, or pineapple in it, sometimes all four. While none of these is unique to Hawaii, there are many species that call Hawaii home that do not exist anywhere else in the world, many of which are endangered or threatened. Hawaii is a hotspot for biodiversity!

Pritchardia is a genus of palms primarily found in Hawaii, named after a nineteenth century British consulate to Fiji. Of the 27 species in the genus, 24 are endemic to Hawaii.

The species name beccariana is a nod to the Italian botanist, Odoardo Beccari (1843-1920), who put the Sumatran “corpse plant” (Titan arum) on the map in 1878. Titan arum currently seems to be a popular attraction from the NYBG to Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu, perhaps because the world’s largest inflorescence also delivers a remarkable stench when in bloom.

Known as loulu (“umbrella”) in the Hawaiian language, these palms were useful to Hawaiians for their edible fruit, wood (to make spears), and fronds (for thatching).

See this website for more information about Pritchardia in Hawaii.

Spoonflower fabric

The Spoonflower fabric I went with is their Sport Lycra, which according to their website is 88% polyester and 12% lycra with 4 way stretch and minimal shrinkage. It’s also knitted in the USA and printed at the Spoonflower headquarters in North Carolina, which is pretty darn cool.

Others have said the black does not print true black. Maybe that’s true, I’m not sure. I was happy with how the black color came out, but I do usually prefer charcoal to black. Any difference wasn’t noticeable to me. The other color in this print is a light bluish gray. I do think this color is significantly darker on my screen than it printed in real life. In real life it could be mistaken for white. Held up against true white (the reverse of the fabric), it clearly is not. I didn’t want a true white because true white can be bright and a bit harsh.

I like the fabric itself better than I thought I would. The fabric weight seems appropriate for athletic wear, which is one of the intended uses of this fabric stated on the Spoonflower website. It stretches more in one direction than the other, which is represented in the product description on their website (“4-way stretch, 75% in width and 50% in length”).

In the stretchier direction, the fabric weave separates and you can see lines of white fabric in between the lines of printed color (the color is printed on to white fabric). This is not a problem in the other direction, so if you don’t need the extra stretch, you can avoid this phenomenon with careful attention to which way you lay out the print and which way you lay out your sewing pattern on to the fabric. This also may not be a problem if you lay out your sewing pattern pieces on the bias, but that tends to consume a lot more fabric.

At $32/yard ($28.80 if you design your own print) plus shipping, it definitely pays to have an efficient plan for how you want to use the fabric. For comparison, I picked up a dark green, very thin spandex type fabric for less than $8/yard to make the swimsuit reversible (more on this fabric later).

Another thing to note about the Spoonflower fabric is that the print is like a large image printed on to a piece of fabric in that there is a white border around the printed image. I assume they don’t include this border in their description of the fabric dimensions, but didn’t check. I just cut the border off and will use it like string for something else.

Someone else also mentioned that Spoonflower fabric has a maximum length of three yards, meaning if you order six yards of fabric, you will get two 3 yard pieces instead of one 6 yard piece. I’m not sure if this is true, but it’s something you may want to ask about if you’re ordering multiple yards and need them to be continuous. (UPDATE 9/26/2016: Spoonflower can print up to EIGHT continuous yards. Please see the comments for further info.)

palm-print

Bikini design

I based the bikini top design loosely on a standard triangle swimsuit top I already had. I decided on straps instead of a halter style, and used some leftover black elastic to accomplish that. In my mind, it’s an attempt at combining the best features of J.Crew’s french bikini with some of the best details trending in swimwear right now.

I like the macrame and strappy caged back details popular right now (which I think is a huge and welcome breakthrough for American swimwear), and opted for a simple version using “strings” I made out of the same fabric. Turns out the “string” in “string bikini” is a long strip of rectangular swimsuit fabric sewn together on one side and flipped inside out to make a noodle. (Yep, I just called it a noodle.)

For the bottom, I again used an existing bikini as the general pattern. I tried to modify it, and ended up with a suit entirely too small. If you try making a swimsuit, definitely err on the conservative side in cutting out the pattern and leaving a seam allowance. It seems like cutting the pattern too small and then ending up with something a little too scandalous is a common problem.

One of the challenges contributing to this problem, at least for me, was how slippery this type of fabric is.

Working with spandex type fabric

The Sport Lycra from Spoonflower wasn’t too hard to work with. (This was my first time making a swimsuit and I was able to make something wearable.) The main difficulty I had with the fabric was the “final assembly” stage where you have the right sides out and need to sew the front and back pieces together to finish the garment.

I think my commercially made swim suit bottom was made by joining the sides before flipping the whole thing right side out, and then sewing the crotch seam last. This is what I would try to do next time.

I used two layers of Spoonflower fabric back to back for the top, and would recommend at least two layers of fabric for swimsuits in general (whereas I used just one layer for leggings).

The forest green fabric I used to make the suit reversible was much lighter weight than the Sport LycraIt is sheer and not great quality. I doubled up with two layers of it to compensate for this. It was much more slippery than the Sport Lycra, and therefore more difficult to keep in place, especially with two layers of it. Spoonflower says the Sport Lycra is 8.4 oz per square yard. I’d look for something of a similar weight next time around in the other fabric.

On the other hand, the green complements the palm print nicely and that fabric cost much less. Using a different, less expensive fabric for half the suit is a great way to reduce costs: you use half as much custom fabric and kind of get two different swimsuits. I am really happy with how it came out!

Leggings first

I actually bought the Sport Lycra wanting to make leggings, which is what I made first before the swimsuit (since it takes more fabric – I just squeezed the bikini into the remnants).

I had always assumed making pants was extremely difficult. Lo and behold, I discovered while making my Prince costume that stretchy fabrics are very forgiving and not too difficult to work with, and that leggings are not that hard to make after all. It turns out leggings are probably a great place to start learning how to make pants!

I’ll be back to talk about my leggings project next.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. I mentioned before that the third eye glasses don’t fit in a typical eyeglass case. As a quick side project, I made a simple case for my third eye glasses with the final scraps of fabric, so that kind of takes care of that. (I noticed while handling the glasses that the glue on one side was starting to come loose, so they’re pretty fragile and probably could use a rigid case, but this will certainly do for now.)

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This post is part of the WordPress Discover Challenge and Weekly Photo Challenge.

 

UPDATE 9/26/2016: This post incorrectly suggested that Spoonflower may print up to three continuous yards. They print up to eight continuous yards. Please see comments below for more info.

Easy DIY bag

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I needed yellow satin fabric for my Bowie costume project, but I thought the yellow fabric at my local fabric store was too yellow so I bought a nude colored fabric instead figuring it was the better option of the two. I was wrong. Once I started putting the costume together, the nude colored fabric clearly clashed with the other colors in the outfit. I went back and bought the too-yellow yellow fabric. Once I saw it next to the other fabrics I knew it was the way to go, and that it wasn’t too yellow at all. Now I had half a yard of unused nude satin, and no plan.

I initially thought I’d just donate it, but a friend was making cute little bags and inspiration struck. I had a snorkel lying around collecting dust so I decided to make a bag for it. Never mind that it is more the color of ballet shoes than the vibrant tropical print beach attire I’m seeing everywhere right now. I love light-colored fabrics paired with a tiny jolt of thoughtfully placed black. I rarely see it done, and can’t figure out why. I had wanted to make a drawstring type bag for a while, and decided that the drawstring for this bag needed to be black grosgrain ribbon.

I had enough fabric to line it, so that’s what I did. I made a large button hole for the ribbon to come out of, which wasn’t as wide as I originally wanted so I had to use thinner ribbon. I decided to cut the ribbon ends at a slight angle. It turns out finishing the raw edge of ribbon is surprisingly easy. All it takes is a couple of quick passes of a flame to melt the fibers together. This YouTube video taught me how to do it. It took a little practice to keep the edge straight and not burn off too much, but there’s not much to it otherwise.

Next time I’d make two openings for the ribbon instead of just one. It’s an aesthetic thing. I think it would look nicer with a space between each ribbon. I may also try folding the corners up to create depth to the bag, depending what it’s for. I’m also not sure how to prevent the ribbon from getting twisted. Maybe I’ll sew it down on the other end if I can find a way to make that stitching blend in.

Whelp, now I’m looking forward to becoming a bag lady. Bags for everything!

Love the hat for summer, by the way. It’s the Textured Summer Straw Hat by J.Crew. Wish I had a recommendation for a bikini, but I haven’t found the perfect one yet. If you have any recommendations, please let me know! Have you ever tried sewing a bag? What did you make?

 

Easy DIY original Star Trek insignia patch

star-trek-insignia

While making my Prince costume, I realized the yellow color of the outfit was the same yellow as Captain Sulu’s uniform on the original Star Trek. George Takei, who played the Sulu character, and is just an awesome human being, was headlining the Comic Con event that I was making the Prince costume for, so of course I had to make some sort of nod to Star Trek, even if I was the only one that would know about it.

In the future, I might make a removable black collar for the Prince tunic, or maybe even a full blown Star Trek costume. Now that I know how to cover eyebrows, I am pretty much only a wig and shirt away from a Spock cosplay. Wouldn’t it be fun talking to everyone using 100% logic and holding your hand up in a V-shape for photos?

But for now, I just made the patch that goes with Sulu’s uniform as a salute to Takei. The original Star Trek uniforms had different ribbon designs along the cuffs of the sleeves of the uniform tops. I decided against adding that to my top since my costume was primarily Prince themed. If you look at the outfit Prince wore to the 2015 AMAs, his top actually had large graphics printed on each lower arm sleeve and on the front and back. I also decided to leave these out because the design of the graphics is not my style and keeping the top plain makes it more versatile (like for a Star Trek costume).

I found out there are a lot of different Star Trek insignias, not only because of the old, newer, and newest Star Trek series, but also because different characters had different patches and insignia within the original series. Somewhere online there is a massive chart listing all the different logos, but all I can find now is this image of the four different original logos.

Captain Sulu was part of the Command branch so the patch needed to have the star shaped symbol in the center. I found an image of the general patch shape and drew it freehand on to a scrap piece of faux leather leftover from making the gold vest for my Prince costume. One side of the fabric is coated in what I assume is vinyl, and the other side is a cotton canvas type woven fabric. I drew the logo on the woven cotton side because I didn’t want the faux alligator texture to show and because paint does not seem to adhere well to the faux leather surface.

I used the L.A. Colors nail polish in the silver color “Live” leftover from my Bowie costume to paint the fabric silver, and then outlined the edge of the patch and drew the star shape in the center freehand with a thin black Sharpie. I drew this stuff freehand because I don’t have a printer. If you have a printer, feel free to print it out and trace it instead.

It sat around for weeks after that until I was able to get some black embroidery thread. Apparently black Sharpie marker is really not true black. It actually looked like a dark purple on the fabric. To get a more finished look, I hand sewed over the center star shape and around the edges with the embroidery thread. I traced out my patch and cut out a second layer of fabric to make my patch two layers of fabric thick. The fabric is medium to heavy weight depending on your definitions of those words, but one layer alone was a little too flimsy to me for a badge.

If you follow this procedure, I recommend sewing the embroidery thread to make the star shape first, then sewing the two layers of fabric together around the edges with the embroidery thread afterwards so that the thread in the back of the star does not show through to the back of your badge. I don’t know why I didn’t do this, but now the back of my badge has a bunch of haphazard black thread because I sewed through both layers.

To wear it, you can use a safety pin. I’d like to find some sort of magnet thing, though, because the yellow fabric my tunic is made out of shows holes in the fabric permanently.

I made the patch this way to try to reuse things around the house, but I’m sure there are so many other ways to go about it. I found this YouTube tutorial helpful, which demonstrates a similar method using slightly different materials. Also, how awesome are these Star Trek cookies?! Swoon.

My only regret is not getting George Takei to sign it.

How to DIY a Prince costume with a Purple Rain cloud

prince-purple-rain-cloud-walking

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the first time Prince ever performed “Purple Rain”. Here’s how I’m remembering him.

While making a David Bowie tribute costume, Prince unexpectedly left us so it seemed only right that my next project should be a Prince costume. Like Bowie, Prince was legendary: super talented and highly original, creative and prolific, with a specific and unique style and sound. I had just curated an 80s costume as a side project, and wasn’t feeling that inspired by the Purple Rain look that so many others have done well. My favorite looks of his were all modern. I can’t get enough of that knit top with flared bell sleeves silhouette, paired with flared 1970s inspired pants in the same stage-worthy fabric and coordinating vest, that ups the whole look from “glam prayer outfit” or “jazzy, perfectly tailored PJs” to “rock star legend”.

I don’t know for sure, but that seemed to be Prince’s style formula, and I love it. It is so practical and comfortable looking because of the knit fabric, and yet has such stage presence because of the fabric choices (metallics, for example, and for the vest, fur, feathers, leather). I imagine his uniform is highly versatile, appropriate for everything from snoozing to high-profile performances in the spotlight that require rocking out. The silhouette is unique to him, and that makes him instantly recognizable. Brilliant.

One of my favorite outfits of his is what he wore to the SNL40 after party. If I ever get to make a second Prince costume, that would definitely be it. I really liked the “third eye” glasses he wore to the 2015 American Music Awards and for one of his album covers because like Bowie’s outfits with an exposed arm and leg, the third eye glasses seem to have been Prince’s thing. (You can actually buy third eye glasses from the original designers Coco and Breezy here, but they’re very expensive and I wanted to see if I could make them.) I also liked his 2015 AMAs outfit because it combined a mustardy yellow and gold perfectly, something I never would have dared to do.

I decided to see how well I could replicate that 2015 AMAs outfit with a limited budget, but my main motivation for making the outfit was really so that I could make what I had initially envisioned when I first heard the sad news about Prince: a three dimensional cloud sculpture with purple “rain”. I liked the idea of the Prince costume floating around under a cloud raining purple. It seemed symbolic of the great loss and sadness surrounding his unexpected passing.

Making the costume

The first step was to make the wearable portion of the costume. I wanted to save the cloud project for last because I couldn’t find any tutorial for the type of cloud I envisioned, making it a riskier project. What if I couldn’t figure out how to make it? Finishing the outfit first would ensure I had something to wear, plus I really wanted to make the third eye glasses. Could I do it? I wasn’t sure.

I started with the top and pants. I couldn’t find any fabric at first in the right yellow color, so I purchased a white polyester prayer top with bell sleeves and true vintage high waisted light yellow polyester bell bottoms and decided to try coloring the top to match the pants. Just reading that, you may know this was doomed to failure.

Dyeing polyester was one option, but I couldn’t find polyester dye locally so opted to try fabric paint first. The cost of fabric paint added up quickly as I experimented with colors hoping to find a match. The polyester fabric dyes I found online didn’t look like the right yellow, and dyeing fabric to match another color sounded pretty technical and hard.

Abandoning that approach, I went back to my local fabric store, and found a mustard yellow spandex that I thought would work. I must have overlooked it last time (in my determination to avoid sewing entire garments). The fabric was actually a gold metallic lamé laminated on to yellow spandex. I didn’t like that at first because I knew it wouldn’t be breathable, but decided to embrace it and try to make the outfit reversible. You never know when you’ll need a matching shiny gold top and bottom, right?

prince-costume-gold

What the gold side looks like. Note the small area where the gold finish rubbed off after just one wear. The gold coating is not that durable, sticks to itself, and does not breathe…but it’s shiny, metallic gold!

I used various tops and pants as templates for cutting out the pattern (and found this YouTube video helpful for learning how to sew pants). I decided on a boatneck type neckline against a turtleneck, which Prince sometimes wore, since the fabric wasn’t breathable. I just eye-balled the patterns and hoped they would work out, figuring if the garments they are based on fit and I was cutting them larger than that, the resulting garments should also fit. To make the bell sleeves, I just flared the pattern pieces of the sleeves out towards the cuff.  For the pants, I flared the inside only so that I wouldn’t have to sew an outer seam because I was hand sewing and wanted to minimize the work. I made sure that the top was tunic length because that was Prince’s style and I liked the look of the longer shirt with the flared pants. I found some neat explanations online of different hand stitches and tips on how to make them even to make the hand sewing more enjoyable. I watched a lot of amazing YouTube tutorials on how to make foam armor to pass the time. I can’t really offer any machine sewing tips because of this, except that everyone says to use woolly nylon for sewing spandex so that the seams have stretch or use a zig-zag stitch to enable stretch and prevent seams from ripping.

Because I wanted to make each piece reversible, I had to think about how to finish the seams so they would look nice on both sides. I can’t find the name of the type of seam I made now, but I basically hid the raw edge inside the seam and in some places sewed the seam down flat like a flat felled seam. For the hems, neckline, and sleeves, I attempted a rolled hem. Maybe there is a better way to finish those edges. The fabric didn’t want to roll, and you can see the stitches up close (see photo below).

The final outfit was slimmer than I thought it would be. I was originally going for a looser fit, but it worked. The sleeves bunch a little at the shoulder more than I’d like (maybe because of the thick reversible seam), but the vest covers most of that.

prince-amas-third-eye-costume-2015-diy

Vest front and back, photographed against the original white faux leather fabric.

Making the vest

Initially I thought maybe I’d find an inexpensive jacket or vest that could be modified. Not so. I couldn’t find the right faux gator leather type material in the right gold color either. Like white, there are surprisingly many different types of gold. I ended up buying an off-white vinyl material embossed with the gator texture and tried to cut my pattern pieces so that the gator print matched Prince’s (it really was the best looking way to lay out the pattern I think, no surprise there). I used a jacket I had and improvised a pattern from it, modifying the lines where needed. The collar took several freehand attempts to get the shape more or less right. I think I just got lucky there. I then proceeded to cut away material from one side in the front and one side in the back to mimic the original design, but accidentally made the cuts on the wrong sides. At least they are still asymmetrical, so the overall look and idea is the same. If I were doing it again, I’d want to cut the pattern to eliminate those 90 degree corners along the bottom of the front of the vest.

I thought about lining the vest with black fabric but decided against it for three reasons: the cost of the additional fabric, the work required to hand sew it, and two layers of synthetic non-breathable fabric sounded uncomfortable enough without a third layer. I do think the vest would look much nicer and photograph better with black lining.

Spray painting the vest gold

To get the vest gold, I used Rustoleum metallic spray paint and the Rustoleum Comfort Grip to apply it. The grip attachment makes spraying the paint much easier and smoother and is worth every cent. I wish I had invested in one sooner.

I do not recommend this other gold Rustoleum spray paint for this particular application because when I tested it, it had a shiny plastic looking finish and looked more tan than gold. Although it said it was made for plastic and seemed to adhere better to the fabric, the color and glossiness was not right for this project for me. The upside of this paint is that the improved nozzle design makes it much easier to spray and paint flows evenly out of the can with little effort (unlike the old style topped can I used). The shiny finish feels smoother and more durable (although still does not really adhere to this fabric) such that I think it would be a better choice if you were going for more of a patent leather look. I mention this in case you find yourself standing in front of both cans at the hardware store unsure of which to get. In the photo below, the largest area of gold is the finished vest (“Rustoleum Metallic gold spray paint”). Note that colors may appear differently on your screen. They did not photograph exactly accurately, either, but I think it’s good enough to at least make the point that the golds are different.

gold-paint-comparison

What I learned from spray painting is that you should not paint if there is wind or even a light breeze (because a lot of the paint will blow away or lead to unevenness in coverage). Try to keep the nozzle the same distance from the surface at all times and keep the can moving. The grip attachment keeps the paint flow continuous and even so you don’t have to worry about that. Also make sure the surface you are painting is as flat as possible. If I were doing it over, I’d paint the pattern pieces lying flat before sewing them together.

The faux leather fabric is kind of a slick surface. I didn’t do any prep work to the surface before painting and didn’t use primer. The spray paint will come off with certain paint removers, so it is not technically adhered, but for light indoor use I think it is acceptable.

third-eye-glasses

I love that the waist band is gold!

Making the third-eye glasses

This was such a fun part of the project. I looked at a lot of different glasses in brick and mortar stores and just could not find the right combination of gold frame, truly round lenses (so many were slightly oval), and lens size. EBay has a better selection. It took four  pairs of glasses to find the right proportions. Once I found a pair that would work, I ordered a second and used “tin snips” to separate a lens from the second pair. It was a little difficult and I did end up with a small hairline crack in the lens. It’s not that noticeable, but next time I would try wire cutters.

I think that the “third eye” of Prince’s glasses is actually slightly smaller in diameter than the lower two lenses, but when I tried this, the proportions were not right so I ended up going with two identical pairs of glasses.

The nub left from where the lens frame connected to the “ear arm” would not come off, so I decided to make it part of the design. The end of that metal nub became the surface I glued to the intact pair of sunglasses. I cut a small piece of scrap metal from the glasses “arm” I had to remove and used it to fill the space on the other side between the other lens and the “third eye”. The length of the “spacer” piece wasn’t an exact fit, but it was close enough. It actually looks better with the third eye set off from the other lenses a bit than with the three lenses stuck directly together with no space in between.

prince-sunglassesthird-eye-glasses

E6000 worked like a charm to stick everything together. Soldering would no doubt lead to better results, but I had leftover E6000 and no soldering iron. My glue tube came with an attachment nozzle for detail work (a smaller nozzle opening than the tube opening itself) and that worked really well. It took a couple tries to get everything in place, and then it was about propping the whole thing up so the glue would cure in the correct position. E6000 is viscous and takes a while to “set”, which makes using it in this particular application slightly challenging but not impossible. I doubt the glue is that durable, but I like that it is supposed to be somewhat flexible. I consider the finished glasses fragile, and will be handling them with care, but think they look awesome. From very close up, you can kind of tell they are glued together, but at any kind of distance, it looks like they just came that way. The only downside is there is no case wide enough to fit them. I wonder if Coco and Breezy’s glasses come with a special extra wide case?

Total cost for the glasses not including cost of glue and tin snip tool was about twenty dollars including the other three pairs of glasses that didn’t work out. There are some inexpensive glasses on EBay great for costumes!

duct-tape-shoe-covers

Side project: shoe covers

For shoes, I found some 70s inspired, chunky heeled gold faux leather platform sandals on sale to go with the outfit. They were fine as is, but I’ve always wanted to try to make removable shoe covers. It just seemed like a great way to change the look of a pair of shoes temporarily. Plus, Prince didn’t really rock sandals as far as I can tell. He seemed to prefer pumps.

To make them, I layered newspaper over my shoes like papier mâché and then taped it in place with yellow duct tape that I had left over from my first costume. I worked around the whole thing, then removed the newspaper backing where possible and duct taped the back. Removing the newspaper was critical, because leaving it was too bulky. I then covered the outer surface of each with a few layers of gold and purple glitter nail polish to make them look less like duct tape and more like leather. I E6000’d scrap elastic (leftover from the waistband of the yellow pants pictured above) to the back of the shoe covers so that they would stay in place. This design may not work for all shoes – you need a good flat surface for the elastic to grip on to – but it does work well for these. There’s another photo of the shoes further down.

I walked around for over eight hours and did not have any problems. E6000 is amazing (but smells bad, so make sure to use it in a well ventilated space).

diy-cloud

So many iterations of trial and error and failure!

Purple Rain cloud

If you’re still reading, thank you for making it to my favorite part of this project! This was the biggest costume challenge I’ve taken on so far.

Trial and error

How to make the cloud part was tricky. I wanted the cloud to be lightweight and collapsible. I originally had other ideas about how I wanted to incorporate the cloud into the costume that required it to collapse, but ended up not needing that feature in the end. My first thought was to glue plastic grocery bags together to form a cloud-like shape.

I tried to collect some bags. They are banned where I live now, but some retailers still use them. I found one that had a cotton ball like shape that I liked, but the retailer wouldn’t give away the bags and I couldn’t make enough purchases to collect enough to get the coverage I needed. They did happen to have a purple umbrella for under five dollars that became the base structure for the cloud.

Experimenting with plastic sheeting

I went to the hardware store to look at plastic drop cloth sheeting in the painting section and found they carried different weights and types of plastic. I believe I ended up with 4 mil polyethylene plastic sheeting. It is lightweight, translucent, and has a bit of texture to the surface that makes it look cloud-like, especially when light shines through. The only problem with it is it lacks stiffness and does not stand up on its own very well.

Plastic sheeting comes in heavier weights and there may be other plastics that may work better, but I didn’t have money to fund experimentation so I started experimenting with ways to make the 4 mil sheeting work. The first thing I tried was laminating two layers of the material together by ironing them together. (I don’t recommend this because the plastic melts and off-gases and if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, you can melt holes right through the plastic.)

I started the iron on the lowest setting and adjusted from there to get enough heat to melt the layers together but not make holes. I ironed them on top of a magazine and put a few layers of newspaper over the plastic before ironing. I made sure to move the iron around continously and work quickly. Others that have tried something similar said to NOT use steam. I agree that that sounds like a bad idea.

iron-plastic-sheeting

4 mil plastic (left), two layers of 4 mil plastic ironed together (right). The ironed plastic looks extra wrinkly because I had crumpled it up.

Ironing two layers of 4 mil together changes the material properties of the plastic. The resulting plastic is thicker, glossier, and smoother. It’s hard to explain or capture on camera. The 4 mil material is like a thin plastic shower curtain liner, but the laminated plastic is like a thick wax paper or something. That’s probably not a good analogy, but it’s the best I can think of.

What worked

After a lot of sketching, research, and building a small prototype out of duct tape and newspaper to make a pattern for scaling up, the easiest solution I found was to cut semi-circles out of the plastic, iron them together along the curved edge, then flip them “inside out” so the seam was inside, and connect these little plastic domes together randomly. This is essentially making plastic bags without handles and joining them together (my original idea). I made the domes different sizes to get a more natural cloud shape. I joined some of them together by ironing them, but the iron was too wide, resulting in too much space between the “bumps”. I saw a mini travel flat iron in Sephora for about twenty bucks, and still wonder if that would work, but I opted for a lower tech and cheaper solution: hand sewing with fishing line. Heavy duty white thread may also work. Fishing line blended into the plastic sheeting pretty well and is very strong.

Before attaching the cloud layer to the umbrella, I used white primer paint from the hardware store to paint the outer side of the umbrella dome white. I tried leaving it purple, but the purple showed through and made it look less cloud-like so it had to go. Once painted, I sewed the cloud layer down to the umbrella along its perimeter with fishing line and tried to hide the line in between the two layers of material.

rain-cloud-ribbon.jpg

 

I decided to use ribbon for the “rain” because it was readily available and inexpensive. The umbrella is about 32 inches in diameter. I used purple ribbon that is 1/8 inch wide. I believe it was satin ribbon (see photo above), which has a bit of shininess that reflects light and photographs well. The strands are relatively thin so the reflectivity helps them not to get lost in the surroundings.

I attached the ribbon at random intervals along the metal umbrella frame, along the perimeter of the umbrella to the fishing line (taking care to hide the knots between the two layers), and also ran some ribbon between the metal frame parts to be able to tie ribbon off between the metal pieces. A double knot was sufficient to secure the ribbon. The ribbon pieces did move around a little along the metal and fishing line, but it was not much trouble to re-adjust the placement as needed.

rain-cloud-umbrella

Finally, I painted the umbrella shaft black. The silver metal was highly reflective, really noticeable, and detracted from the look because it had to be held right up against my face. A quick layer of black paint made the hardware disappear in photos. It will surely come off if I close the umbrella, though. I bet you could find an umbrella with hardware that is already black. That would be ideal.

Other ideas and lessons learned

You will see in later photos that the cloud shape has a strong horizontal line along the bottom. I wanted to add more plastic domes along the perimeter of the umbrella so that they hang down a bit below the umbrella edge by differing amounts to break up that line, but ran out of plastic sheeting (I used a good amount experimenting) and didn’t want to invest in another roll. Maybe I will make this improvement in the future.

There are so many great DIY clouds online that inspired me. I saw three dimensional clouds made by gluing polyester batting on to paper lanterns, and even cloud balloons. I also saw an umbrella with whimsical water droplet shaped cutouts strung together and hung around the perimeter of the umbrella as rain on Pinterest.

LED technology has advanced quite a bit and you can now get firefly type string lights of purple LEDs that are battery powered, not to mention there is EL wire that looks like it can be shaped into just about anything. I thought about lighting the cloud with white LED lights and then hanging purple ones down from inside the umbrella, and considered hanging purple EL wire down and blanking out sections to make it look like rain.

prince-shoe-covers

Hair and make-up

For hair, I found a cheap afro wig online and tried my best to fluff it out a bit. I should have sprayed it with dry shampoo to lessen the shininess, but forgot. Next time… For make-up, I was in a rush so I just thickened my eyebrows with brow powder, applied black eyeliner, and used the brow powder to draw in some Prince-like facial hair, which I probably should have made darker so people could see it from further away. If you have any tips for making brow hair and faux facial hair look more realistic, I would love to hear them! I haven’t quite figured that out yet. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say!)

Final look

Here are some photos of the finished costume.

 

What’s your favorite Prince song or outfit? Do you have any other ideas on how to use plastic sheeting? It’s a very interesting material and easy to work with. I bet you could do some cool things with it.