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?



Apr 282015

Laika’s ears have never worked when we arrived at a convention. So we’ve decided to redo her hat as a standalone item — complete with a soft circuit stitched in.

What’s a soft circuit, you ask? Basically, like a regular circuit, but with conductive thread in place of wires. Instead of pins, there’s pads, which I can stitch around with the conductive thread, to both hold the items in place and connect them. It’s actually pretty cool.

We bought an Adafruit Gemma, the smaller of their two wearable microcontroller platforms, and devised a circuit:

2015-04-02 17.59.07

Those aren’t sparks; that’s conductive thread catching the light from my flash

2015-04-02 17.59.23

You can see the circuits heading to the breadboard, where the servo leads are going to be soldered in

Unfortunately, the battery pack — a neat little job that holds two d-cell batteries — could provide enough voltage, but not nearly enough amps to power the Gemma and two servos. After doing some research, we purchased a rechargeable battery pack that could do plenty of amps — but not enough volts. So we also had to get a booster that would up-step the voltage to 5V, which would be enough for the servos. 

That got us almost all the way to where we wanted to go, but that’s when we discovered another problem: one of the two servos was misbehaving. Instead of going from 0 to 90 and back, it was rotating slightly backward, then rotating 180 degrees. Clearly that wasn’t going to work for the ears; however, we spent ages hunting down potential shorts, taking measurements with our multimeter, editing the servo library, and generally trying to figure out what was wrong before we finally figured it out: we needed a capacitor. The power draw from both servos together was just too much for the circuit.

But we finally got it working!

laika hat 2

Nov 072014

As you know by now, the three of us decided on a Red Riding Hood theme for our costumes this year. Looking at the pics, you can probably tell what my least favorite part of my outfit was: that damned belt.

The Belt and Armbands

It all started with a pattern. Specifically, Butterick B5371. Oh, the image promised good things:

Specifically, the belt on the top left and the bracers on the bottom left. A simple little waist-cincher and matching armguards. What could possibly go wrong?


Everything could go wrong.

That belt has the minimum amount of sewing possible. You’re meant to cut out the lining and outer fabric and fuse them with fusable webbing rather than stitch the edges. I can sew a straight line with a machine, but leaving the edges raw meant every wobble of my scissors showed. Plus, the fabric I picked didn’t like heat, so it was awful trying to get the webbing to stay.

You see the problem. :/

I picked a white lining, which I discovered was a mistake: the straps need lining to give them enough heft to close anything, but the lining totally shows, because unlike every other strap anywhere ever, instead of stitching the lining to the fabric right-sides together and inverting, you just fuse and pray.

The pictures you see above? Those are finished, according to the pattern. 100% complete. Yay belt. I couldn’t leave it like that. I did what I could, trimming the edges in ribbon and clipping some of the straps, but it still doesn’t look great.

Of course, that leads to the next problem: in a belt that wide, there is no tapering whatsoever. With my corset on, I have a pretty severe hourglass sillhouette. It just gapes badly.

Oh, and what’s with the straps being like 6 inches longer than the belt?! Blech. I had loose bits flopping about all day when I went to work.

Capes and Vests

The two capes, on the other hand, were MUCH nicer patterns from Fleece Fun. Funnily enough, the Woodsman is wearing their Red Riding Hood pattern, with a hook instead of ribbon; I wanted a floor-length cape, so I went for their Fast Hooded Cape.

These are the best cape patterns I’ve ever seen, and I keep coming back to them again and again. They’re free, they’re simple, and including printing and taping, you can knock out a cape in an afternoon. You do have to be a little careful when taping; you’ll need to trim the margins, though I like to only trim one side so I can overlap the other margin underneath the trimmed one when taping two pieces together. Otherwise, all is great.

The vest was McCalls 2447; I had Chaos help me with the math to upsize the pattern to fit him, making this now the vest that fits him the best. We meant to put buttonholes and shiny buttons on it, but the buttonholer is apparently made of witchcraft and dark sorcery, so we have to wait until the right moon phase to make the darn thing work 🙂



Kae did this all on his own while I was at work 😀 He went and got some sticks, spray-painting them gold, which instantly made me think of The Honest Woodsman, definite A+ from me. He then used styrofoam blocks to make the axe-heads. That’s when he ran into a little trouble: he had some trouble finding the remains of our scattered paint collection. He decided to use Rub n’ Buff on the heads, but it took him some time to find our black spray paint to go underneath. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because he mentioned this to Chaos, who reminded him that spray paint melts styrofoam. Instead, he grabbed duct tape to make a solid surface and then painted over it with the Rub n’ Buff. Works for me!


Chaos doesn’t like things touching his eyes, so he’s never worn stage makeup before. We were going to go for a minimal look, but after browsing minimalistic makeup tutorials with a Wolf theme, he declared that they all looked stupid. I convinced him to try the full-face getup, and it paid off 🙂

We used the following makeups:

  • Ben Nye cl-26 grey
  • Ben Nye cl-25 steel grey
  • Ben Nye cl-29 black
  • Wet n’ Wild a042 pagan angel lipstick
  • Wet n’ Wild 392a tunnel vision eye-shadow palette

I took a photo of his face without glasses and ran it through GIMP filters to make a basic outline of his face, which we planned out the look on. We were trying to emulate the look of a wolf’s fur pattern, which more or less worked; I’m definitely not a makeup expert, but it looked pretty good. Later we mused that furry ears or a tail would have completed the look.

And there you have it!

Nov 022014

I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn’t known before

Do not put your faith in a cape and a hood, they will not protect you the way that they should

Red proud

And take extra care with strangers, even flowers have their dangers


And though scary is exciting, nice is different than good

wolf crouch

Now I know, don’t be scared; Granny is right: just be prepared

Hope your Halloween and Day of the Dead were spook-tastic! Now let’s get hyped for Into the Woods Christmas!

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 🙂

May 152014

So since our hat block turned out to be a complete failure, I still needed a hat to mount the ears from the fosshape tutorial onto. Since I’ve made mini top hats before, I decided to adapt the process to make a full-sized top hat.

This is going to be pretty brief, so check out the gallery below:

It’s not the sturdiest hat in the world, but it’ll do!

hat pinnable

Apr 232014

This is just a quickie; I know I’ve been missing frequently over the past month, it’s been crazy trying to get everything ready in time for the Symposium! One of the things I needed was a lot more belt pouches, some in specific sizes and some more for looks.

For Isaac’s belt, I just wanted some pretty pouches, so Chaos went to the thrift store and got some purse. I got the idea from this tutorial and basically followed it:

For Laika’s belt, I needed specific-sized pouches to fit the electronics, so I made boxes out of fosshape; these basically followed my messenger bag tutorial, but sized for the electronics I needed to carry. Like so:

And there you have it: two ways to make belt pouches! Our pinnable today brought to you by Lady Val, our newest steampunk:


Mar 212014

Welcome! For once, I’m actually sure what I’m doing, and can share tips and tricks in a proper how to with you all. Been a while, hasn’t it? 🙂

For the Laika Leonne build, I decided to make a pair of custom lion-esque ears. This is a process I’ve used to great success in the past making cat ears; I first started doing this when I got tired of hard-edged ears that hurt people when I headbutted them, which I am prone to doing >.> You know that thing where housecats walk up and shove their head into your hand as a way to demand affection? It’s hard to mimic when your ears can poke someone’s eye out >.>  Ears made with this procedure will squish when they encounter resistance and bounce back into shape after.

Fosshape is a specialty fabric made by the people who make Wonderflex; I first came across it when I was working in my university’s costume shop for credit. We used it to make lightweight masks. Basically, it’s a fabric much like felt, but when exposed to heat, it hardens and becomes more rigid — not totally rigid, but it holds a shape. Typically it’s molded or stitched or what have you while soft, then firmed up with a steamer. Lacking a steamer, I discovered that the oven works just as well: it just needs to get above 212F, which it can easily do in a 350F oven.

I make my molds out of tinfoil, mostly because I have plenty lying around.


The good thing about tinfoil is it’s fine to put in the over but can still hold pins in place 🙂


It took about ten or fifteen minutes to get them nice and hard in the oven; they cool quickly, so you can tell if they still feel floppy when you pinch the edge of one. I did the ears one at a time, but you can do more than one at at time if you make multiple molds; I used to do whole trays of ears when I was planning to sell them at cons.

finished 2

finished 3

Don’t think I’d forget your pinnable!


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!