Apr 302015

We finally got around to building Isaac’s shoulderpads for this convention. And it was a lot easier than we expected! We bought some wonderflex, which is a polymer material made by the same people that make the fosshape I adore so much for ears. It’s super easy to work with now that we’ve bought a heat gun.

Step one: Chaos made a mold out of poster board that fit his shoulders correctly and had the right amount of curl to it.

Step two: Chaos draped the wonderflex over the mold, heating it with the heat gun until it softened. It was super important here to keep the mold bent; laying it out flat would let it flatten out and not give the correct shape, so he ended up hanging it to keep the right bow shape. A more sturdy mold would have worked better, but we were experimenting here.

Step three: Now you have shoulder pads:

The spine, resting in my lap

The spine, resting in my lap


Edge-on view to show the bowing

So it’s time to cover them with something! We could have painted them for a metal look, but we decided to cover them in faux leather instead. I traced the posterboard molds onto the faux leather, added about half an inch all around, then cut four pieces. I stitched pairs together to make a pocket, then used hot glue to anchor them onto the spines (to ensure they curved correctly) and seal the seam.


Shoulder pad

Shoulder pad

I then took some more of the faux leather and, having measured the length from shoulder to hip on Chaos and cut out four wide strips. I then folded each strap in half, stitching it shut, then stitched the straps at right angles at the hip. Finally, I glued the tops to the shoulder pads (you can’t stitch through wonderflex).


The strap


Step Four: I stitched on some quick pockets so he could hold his wallet 🙂




I had him try them on over the robe from last year’s con:


Armor over the robe

Armor over the robe

Just like the spec… but way too ren faire. Not nearly steampunk enough! We ran out and scrounged up some other pieces in a last-minute shopping flurry. I think the result works well, don’t you?



Oct 032014

Since we knew we wouldn’t have time to do the full costume, and because the Symposium’s theme this year is “Steam Wars”, we decided to make Isaac a basic green Jedi robe and then trick it out with accessories.

When searching for patterns, we narrowed down the choices to two: this excellent detailed post from SithariRog or this Instructable by MrTinkerer. We decided to go with the Instructable because it looked easier to adapt to Chaos’ plus-size frame, and because I hate math. Not that the pattern for the Instructable didn’t involve enough math already 🙂

We took Chaos’ measurements and jotted them down. I added an extra measurement for girth, since the model for the Instructable was built skinnier than Chaos is and I wanted to be sure the thing closed. I then attempted to map the measurements onto the pattern like so:

Image (2)

(Sorry for the wrinkles, it almost got thrown out before I scanned it).

Once we had the plans on paper, we used graph paper (and tape!) to measure out the pattern; I find graph paper helps me keep the dang measurements accurate, whereas a measuring tape often slips sideways and a ruler is too short. I guess a yardstick would work 🙂

By the time we had everything cut out, however, I didn’t feel confident at all about the size. So we went to Dollar General and bought some bedsheets — a cheap, quick source of fabric for prototyping.

Thankfully, it fit just fine, and we were able to stitch up the real fabric next:

A Boy and His Automaton

All done, and just in time for the con!

Sep 262014

Chaos got me to watch Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a show about… well… it’s not really important what it’s about 🙂 The show’s all well and good, but I fell in love with this hat:

Tell me that’s not the most awesome hat of all time!

After months of rolling about my head, I came up with this sketch I like:

Image (3)

It shouldn’t be too hard. I have plenty of black slacks, so it’s just a matter of making a vest and round three at hat-making 🙂

Mar 192014

Hello everyone, Yami and Chaos here. Today we’re debuting some information on Top Secret Project #1: a joint build we’ve been working on together.

Later this week you’ll see one of the more costumey pieces of the build, but today we’re debuting the central piece, the brain that makes it all run. Yes, that’s right: we’ve gotten into electronics. Woo!

More importantly, we’ve gotten into electronics that we have to assemble ourselves. Which is equal parts, exciting, interesting and dangerous.

The number one name in hobbyist electronics is, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the Arduino. The Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform; there are dozens of variants of the boards, including the Uno, which you can buy at Radio Shack *shameless plug* (I was shocked, too, I thought they ditched all that in favor of cellphones). We went with an Uno-like variant that’s meant to slot on top of the Raspberry Pi called the “AlaMode”.

Which is called that because someone thought they were clever. It connects to pins on the top of the board and it tends to be white, so it’s like ice cream on a pie.

See? Sit's right on top

See? Sit’s right on top

It comes unassembled, so we had to solder the servo pins, analog pins, and GPIO headers. We also soldered in the digital pins, but turned out not to need them just yet. If you want to get into soldering, get some instruction, because it’s really dangerous, but you’ll want the following:

Soldering iron:

Stand and sponge:


Patience also helps, but we couldn’t find an image. So, obligatory safety spiel: be VERY careful with soldering irons. They get really hot and you will know very quickly if you’re touching anything you shouldn’t. You also want to make sure you wash your hands, as most solder you buy has lead in it. You can buy lead-less solder, but it’s harder to work with, and you can be perfectly safe with the normal solder as long as you wash your hands.

So…how do you actually solder electronics? Well, the idea is that you heat up the area you want to connect and you melt the solder into the connection, allowing electricity to flow through. In our case, we wanted to attach the pins through some of the holes in the Arduino.

You can tell where you solder since those holes have metal on the sides.

You can tell where you solder since those holes have metal on the sides.

First, make sure that you have the pins oriented the right way. Look at your board and think about how the connection should look like when you’re done. This will save you a lot of headaches later.
Make sure you have all pieces flush against the board, that way you’ll know that the connection will be good and you’ll only have to do this once.
Take the soldering iron and press the tip so that it touches the metal around the hole and the pin you have going through. You’ll want to hold it there for about 2 seconds, leaving enough space so that you can get the solder a little into the hole and to the iron.
Take the piece of solder and carefully touch it to the iron while getting as much of it over the gap in the hole as you can. The solder is going to melt pretty quickly so you won’t have to do this part long.
Once you have a bead-sized bit of solder, pull the solder away, but leave the soldering iron there for another two seconds. This will allow the solder to flow into the hole, making a full connection.
Pull the iron away and dab the tip in the wet sponge. Also, make sure that it’s actually a wet sponge, since sponges are actually pretty flammable and you really don’t want to start a fire in your workspace.

And there you have it! That’s basically how you solder electronics. It’s not nearly as scary as it seems, but with some practice you’ll find it easy. Yami found a nice little comic that gives the beginner’s run-through of how to solder in case you want some more detailed instructions. A couple more pieces of advice: when you’re first soldering several pins, after the first one check to see if your connection is straight. It is a LOT easier to remove the solder from one pin than it is to do several and it will save you a lot of time, frustrations, and possibly burnt fingers. Also, if you have the parts that will be connecting to your pins, you can plug it into the loose pins as you solder it. That way if it’s only a little off, the connections should still work.

As far as my first adventure into hobby electronics, the Arduino is pretty good. The board has a lot of labels so you know what is going where, and it’s pretty easy to put together. If you take your time and make sure you understand what’s going where, you’ll have an easy time putting it together. The actual programming of the Arduino is also pretty simple, but I’ll let the more experienced programmer go over that.

There will be more parts in this series, rest assured, because we only have half the build working so far. The Arduino IDE allows you to program the Arduino in C, using special Arduino libraries, and upload the resulting bytecode to the board. Since I’m the only one in our household who knows any C, that’s where I come in 🙂 We ran through a number of sample sketches to ensure that we’d hooked up our pieces correctly, and then I wrote the final sketch.

First, we hooked up a servo and a potentiometer, verifying that we could read from one and write to the other using the Sweep and Knob sample sketches. Then, I wrote the following sketch:

#include <Servo.h>
Servo myservo; 

int pos = 0;
int potpin = 0; //the pin that the potentiometer is attached to
int val;

void setup()
    myservo.attach(3); //the pin the servo is attached to
    myservo.write(0); //resets the position after the power has been lost
    delay(5); //wait for servo to reach position

void loop()
    val = analogRead(potpin); //Read the potentiometer's value, which will be between 0 and 1023
    if (val < 700) { //700 is the cutoff for when we stop the sweep, as the potentiometer never seems to send the max value
        val = map(val, 0, 700, 5, 30); //scale it to be between 5 and 30 instead
} //The loop function will loop infinitely on its own

void doSweep(int delayVal) {
    //sweep one way
    for (pos = 0; pos < 180; pos += 1) {
        delay(delayval); //this controls the speed of sweeping
    //then sweep back
    for (pos = 180; pos >= 1; pos -= 1) {

This allows the potentiometer to control the speed of the sweeping servo, rather than the angle. The servo will waggle back and forth, though it can be stopped by turning the potentiometer all the way to one side. You’ll want to fine-tune the magic numbers in the above sketch to your potentiometer and servo; we found that our potentiometer doesn’t actually send the full range of potential inputs reliably, so we set our threshold for turning it off to be much lower than the top potential input. We also fine-tuned the speed of the servo using the map parameters; too fast and we’d break the motor, but too slow and it’d look wrong.

Now that we had the electronics working, it was time to build the actual moving piece: Laika Leonne’s tail.

We’ll be devising a cover for the tail so it doesn’t look so naked, and we’re considering lengthening it by adding some bare wire and maybe a weight on the end so it sways right, but that’s all fine-tuning and will have to wait until we get back from our vacation and have time to finish the build. This is all due at the end of April, and we still have to hook up the ears, so we’ll need to work fast, but I feel confident we can do it. The end is in sight!

Feb 172014

In case you guys hadn’t noticed, January was REALLY COLD. So I finally caved and agreed to make the coat I’d had materials for since last October: a winter-thick black duster for Bob that could double as a Harry Dresden costume.

First Thread

Breaking out the trusty machine again~!

The outer layer is canvas, with a fleece lining I added to the pattern. Fleece, my assistant informs me, is incredibly difficult to cut. I reminded him that that’s why I asked him to do the cutting while I was at work 🙂 The pattern we used is the more elaborate view, labeled “Australian Drover’s Coat”.

Pocket pinned in place

Pocket pinned in place

  Fun fact: Did you know you have to thread a sewing machine with the presser foot in the up position? Thinking back, my instructors always had the foot up when they threaded the machine, but I don’t remember being told why. Turns out, the tension disk will not open to admit thread with the foot down. That’s what’s been causing my jamming problems on the last few builds. Well, that and I keep having trouble winding bobbins with the thread taunt enough. They keep coming out loose. I think it’s a lot more persnickety than I want it to be.

The finished pocket on the coat

The pattern felt really straightforward and familiar after doing so many coats and tops in recent years for men. It had me attach the pockets to the front first, which was kind of strange, but pretty straightforward as they’re purely exterior pockets. Then I had to stitch the back pieces together.. and hit my first snag. I was told to attach the fantail to the back “matching notches, squares, and circles”. Except the back had several sets of squares, notches, and circles. Where the heck does the fantail go? What IS a fantail? The pattern didn’t say. If you ever find yourself in this position, folks, the best thing to do is google for other patterns. Sometimes their preview images will show you what you’re doing in more detail, helping you understand what’s going on. In this case, I used Folkwear #137, which I plan to purchase should I ever need to make another one of these coats, as it has better instructions and includes the leg straps that Kae suggested I add after I’d already picked out a pattern 🙂

This is where a fantail goes, by the way.

This is where a fantail goes, by the way.

Once I had the fantail attached to the right spot, I continued on, attaching the front bits. Here, it says to do the collar and front facing; however, because I was adding lining, I skipped over that to do the sleeves. Then I stitched the back, front, and sleeves together in the fleece, leaving it inverted so the nice sides of the seams were facing down, towards Kae’s body. Finally, I inserted the fleece into the canvas and hemmed the sleeves, anchoring that in place. The collar was a bit difficult to add in after the sleeves, but I managed, centering it with difficulty. It was around this time that my arms began to seriously ache from hauling this heavy coat around, pinning and stitching, but I persevered, as it was Sunday and my time was running short. After another round of fittings, I decided to finish the last details over the next few days, particularly since the university would be closed due to snow so Kae didn’t have to go anywhere until Thursday. The stupid buttonholes took forever, though. I kind of hate using the buttonholer because when the machine inevitably jams, it’s nearly impossible to pick out all the thread. I got enough buttons stitched on that he could button the front closed and took a week off, coming back to finish up the last few details later.

Finished coat, front

Finished coat, front

Finished coat, back

Finished coat, back

Oh, so there’s this thing out there on the internet, I guess it’s called Pintrest? You may have heard of it >.> Anyway, since we’ve been getting a little traffic from Pintrest lately, I thought I’d throw out something for you all to pin:

Duster Pin

Dec 152013

Greetings, loyal followers! Today, I have a confession to make: I have NO IDEA what I’m doing and it’s awesome!

I decided to make a wig from scratch. I knew I wanted a whole head of tubular crin, also known as “Cyberlox”; what I didn’t know was, um, anything about wig making. At all. Fun!

Most of the actual steps toward making a wig of hair would be utterly useless when making one of tubular crin, but all the crin tutorials I could find involved making ponytails or falls rather than rooting it to a head shape. However, yarn wigs are popular and relatively similar. With that in mind, I set out to find some crin, a wig head, and a wig cap.

Note: This is entirely the wrong kind of wig cap.

hair net 1
hair net 2

I decided to use it anyway, because what the heck, if it works it works, right? Wrong. Stitching the crin to the cap didn’t seem to be holding so well:

hair net bad idea 1

Then I browsed some more yarn wig tutorials and discovered I already had an alternative: a bit of pantyhose. I cut the foot off, stretched it over the head, and began stitching:

Note that, yet again, I had NO IDEA what I was doing. None whatsoever. Eventually, stitching became increasingly tedious, so I decided to experiment with hot glue. It works well enough, but you have to remember to wiggle the cap a little to loosen it from the styrofoam as the glue dries, lest the wig be glued to the head.  However, hot glue is HOT, and crin isn’t solid; this WILL burn your fingers if you’re clumsy like me.

As I kept working, I realized I probably should have started with the bottom layers and put in the highlights last. Whoops. So I started methodically adding the darker strands:

At some point I realized that if I put the glue on the crin first, let it cool halfway, then pressed it to the stocking, it would both hurt my fingers less and be less likely to adhere to the styrofoam head. I still ended up running my fingers underneath after every few strands to make sure it loosened.

Then, when all was said and done…

It didn’t go on my head! The darned thing just won’t fit on my head, it keeps popping off.

So I don’t think I like this stocking method. I think I’m going to see if I can glue the stocking onto a beanie  for shape. Anyone got a better idea?

Oct 062013

I have achieved the previously unthinkable: I have purchased a corset that is too LARGE for me.

I know, right?!

A replacement is on its way, may or may not arrive before the convention though. In the meantime, the colors are perfect and I’m very pleased with how well the corset matches the skirt, so I’m holding out hope for the outfit 🙂 In the meantime, this post is sponsored by Rap Is A Man’s Soul:

Nah, just kidding. It’s actually sponsored by Chicago The Musical:

Okay, I know, I know, you just want the pictures right? Well, without further ado:

I did take a few photos with my real corset underneath, in case that helped. It didn’t, much; this corset shows too much of the white underneath.


I’m tired of corset shenanigans, but at least the dip is gone.


I’d braided my hair from boredom, and now I felt like Alice, so a curtsy it is.


Unfortunately, the lack of modesty panel makes the back look bizarre.

What do you think? Chic, no?


Sep 152013

Just as the proper foundations can make or break a building’s structural integrity, so can the proper foundation garments enhance or destroy a given costume. Since I have the shaping garments left over from my wedding, I decided to throw together a little photoshoot to show off what my first outfit looks like plain, then over foundation garments.

The outfit, by itself, to remind you:


The corset. Head removed because I was making the WORST face.


The skirt, with nothing underneath but the usual underwear

The skirt, with nothing underneath but the usual underwear.

The skirt, with nothing underneath but the usual underwear

I had the corset for my wedding custom-made by Mentionables Corsets; they do mail-order as well, but if you happen to live in the Cleveland area, I strongly suggest setting up fittings and so forth. Diana had some great ideas for how to make a corset that flatters my shape better, and the final product was great 🙂


From the front. That little tie there helps stop it from gaping open due to my massive cleavage


The back, laced up pretty

The petticoat, on the other hand, was standard David’s Bridal issue, though we did alter it a little to fit my hips better.

Corset and petticoat. In proper undergarment style, the petticoat goes OVER the corset, as opposed to steampunk style, which often has the corset as the topmost layer.

Corset and petticoat. In proper undergarment style, the petticoat goes OVER the corset, as opposed to steampunk style, which often has the corset as the topmost layer.

I decided that since the fashion corsets don’t have proper boning, it’d be alright to wear them as an outer garment over the inner, properly boned corset, thus providing the shaping and support of a several-hundred-dollar custom-made corset with the bright colors of a $40 over-shell appropriate for steampunk. Thus, I put the Nettie costume back on over the top of the undergarments you see me modelling above. I don’t like this petticoat for her, but it was handy and it shows the difference quite nicely.


Upper portion, showing the corset layering. You can’t see it too much, but check the waistline and the curvature. It was also much easier to get the thing on, as it’s a bit small for me.


The lower portion, showing the way the skirt poofs and folds nicer with some shaping underneath

And there you have it! Stay tuned for next week as I’m currently working on more accessories for Nettie’s two outfits.
Sep 082013

Sorry for the delay; I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, but now I’m back in the saddle and raring to get going on costume pieces 🙂

Except for one small problem… Something seems to have gone horribly wrong with the top I was making. I had a suspicion before the machine broke that judging by the size of the pieces, the finished garment was going to be far too small; furthermore, the pieces weren’t lining up properly, with lining and outer and interfacing all being different sizes, and to top it all off, the last few steps I had done before the machine broke were apparently done incorrectly.

jumble of parts 2

The final state of my top

I could fix this, I knew; it would take hours, most of which would be unpicking what I did before, and then I’d probably still have a garment that didn’t fit right and probably would be stitched badly since I had no idea what the instructions were trying to say for this step. Then I realized: this wasn’t fun anymore. Why should I spend several weekends making a piece when I can spend $30 instead if I wasn’t having fun making it? So screw that. I ordered myself a fashion corset-top and moved on to the skirt, which looks much more understandable. I’m not saying Simplicity 2851 is a bad pattern, per se, just that the bodice on that piece was confusing the shit out of me.

So! On to the skirt! I’m getting good at skirts I think 🙂 The basic skirt was simple enough to put together, the same as the other skirts I’ve made. The bottom was meant to be finished with a ruffle but I hate ruffles so, in the spirit of “let’s make things easy on Yami”, I decided to purchase lace instead. It’d look just as classy and not make me want to rip my hair out 🙂 Plus it matches the new top better, since it doesn’t have ruffled armholes.

At first all went well, but then I tried it on for size and… whooops.

oversized skirt

A little big…

Turns out the cutting instructions had a gather line but the sewing directions never mentioned gathering the fabric. What’s a girl to do? Make pleats, of course.

skirt with pleats

With pleats

Much better. Add some ribbon and lace and voila:



skirt bow




I’m not sure what happened when anchoring those ribbons. I’d lay the skirt out flat, measure the ribbon, stitch it in place, then trim, but somehow they’re way too loose. Another evening’s work will fix that I suppose.

I also noticed I’m not very good with waistbands. The pattern wanted me to do something complicated with ribbon, but I ran out of ribbon; it also wanted a zipper, but I bought the wrong color zipper and decided I didn’t need it after all. If anyone knows any simple ways to finish off a waist to stop it from rolling over itself, I’d appreciate the tip.

Coming soon: the finished outfit 🙂

Aug 182013

The word “Magic” has many meanings.

The first meaning that comes to my mind, as a sometimes-pagan, is the ritual/spiritual meaning, the meaning my brain wants to call “real magic”. This meaning is all about power: Old Magic, or new Magic, or Majick; all about imposing your will on the world. In a sense, it’s about taking the desires and dreams in your head and making them manifest upon reality, making the impossible possible, kicking reason to the curb and piercing the heavens with the sheer might of your willpower. Mad science, the kind found in comic books, can be a kind of magic in this sense: the vehicle is different, the trappings are altered, but the end result is the same.

The second meaning is stage magic, prestidigitation. This meaning has little to do with manifesting your will on the world and instead has to do with deceit, trickery, cunning — or, alternately, showmanship, skill, performance, depending how you want to spin it. It’s conceptually the opposite: taking something real and boring and mundane and making it, in the minds of the audience, a thing of dreams and faerie tales and mysticism.

In Laika, I wanted to embody the duality of the concept of magic. Laika is a creature of science, a constructed being, and as such, cannot enforce her will on the world in even the somewhat common way of creating offspring. But she can do stage magic, can be an assistant and help create the illusion of true magic via nothing but slight of hand. The mere fact of her presence whispers that there is something more in the world than just parlor tricks, that real power can be had, and that lends credence to her illusions, making people want to believe them.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, Laika is Isaac’s greatest creation and his right-hand assistant. She’s dressed in a fetish style because he created her to his tastes; a tophat and tails to represent the prestidigitation, a corset and fishnets to signal that she’s eye-candy, the assistant, not the real thing. To Isaac she isn’t. But she has the potential to be so much more than he makes of her…

Sketch of Laika costume

Oh yeah, did I mention she’s a lion robot?