Monday, April 28, 2014

Sabriel's bell set

The Abhorsen would be lost without her bells!  For those of you unfamiliar with the story, the bell set is meant to work as a sort of counter-necromancer's tools.   Each bell has its own name and function (which you can check out on this extra-nerdy wiki page.  Keeping the dead down, instead of raising them up.   Stopping the zombie apocalypse. ;)


Aren't they pretty?!  

My bells were all random ceramic bells bought from varied sources (Etsy, eBay, and even a random Kansas gas station).   They started out as shown below:

I used 3 different products to get them all nice and silvery:  (in order of application): Some model-car paint color (2 coats), Liquid Gold Leaf, and some spray-on clear varnish.

 DO NOT use your best, most favorite brush for this project!!! But get something that won't shed stray hairs every moment.  I think this brush was an acrylic brush from hobby lobby.

The first thing is to clean them of any dust, etc. and temporarily remove any clapper-like devices:

The biggest bell had that weird chain/washer situation because the handle was wood and therefore removable, but most had a bit of wire with a ceramic knocker/clapper.

Then paint them with the silver model-color inside and out, letting it dry between coats (I waited about a day usually):

After the model-color is dry, apply the 1 layer of silver-leaf paint (the bell here on the LEFT has silver leaf, the one on the right just has 2 coats of model-color).  I propped the edges up with that bamboo skewer to let the inside get some air and be able to dry completely.

If you ever need to clean silver-leaf out of your brush...nail polish remover and dish soap got most of it out.  But the bottle recommends Xylene.

At this stage they looked quite nice and shiny! But the silver-leaf needs some kind of protective coating in order to not get tarnished from your handling.

And they're done!
It doesn't show up well in this photo, but the clear-coat I used had sort of an antiquing effect on a few of the bells.  It would settle into the crevices and turn a darker gold color.

The best part is that I can ring all of the bells. C:  And they sound totally pretty.  Not quite as good as a real brass bell, but still pretty.

The next part here is to make the bell bandolier that holds all the bells!  I like the cover below the best for design, but I think I would turn them 'round so that you would open the flap and grab a bell by the clapper from the bottom edge of the bandolier instead of the top.

Stay tuned for more progress as I work on this long-term project!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Abhorsen: Beginnings, tests, and bead-armor

I started this costume a few months before I started the blog, but as it is a very large, long-term project, I will document its construction and process here as well.


    One of my favorite fantasy series is the Abhorsen trilogy, by Garth Nix.  I picked up the middle book, called Lirael, totally by chance.  I was a teenager in a library, and it had a beautiful cover. Also the first book was checked out, unbeknownst to me. ;)           

I love the world of these books and I still re-read this series from time to time.  While Lirael has a special place in my heart as the shy, bookish teenager who just wants to belong, the costume of the first book's heroine is much more striking....

I mean  Check out all that embroidery! And bells! and a sword! There are a few Sabriel cosplays out there already, but I want to do a more couture version and really bring out the ooooh SHINY factor.

I decided to go mostly with the design that these lovely book-cover artists (Leo and Diane Dillon) came up with--changing some small things.  My surcoat is going to have the same neckline, colors, trim, and basic shape, but the bell sleeves will end at the elbow instead of having the long trailing bits.   I'm basing the bottom half on a standard medieval tabard-- basically squared down from the hips, ending about knee-level, with a riding slit at the front right leg up to just under the hip.

Some surcoat embroidery tests on wool crepe scraps, with good ol' DMC silver and gold thread...

I decided I liked the silver keys by themselves better than with the gold 7-point stars (a feature of Lirael's character, those stars).  My fabric for the real thing is a lightweight wool crepe.

After a few tests and calculations, I decided to make the armor layer (described in the book as tiny-scaled, almost ceramic in nature) out of beads. Totally not practical as actual sword-stopping armor, but it looks pretty fabulous.  Perhaps think of it more like a ceremonial, formal-occasion version of Sabriel--not so much the out-in-the-field fighting the enemies version.

I considered using Tilapia fish leather (wild, I know!) as a more obviously scaly option.  It was somewhat expensive, but looked pretty and would have been slightly faster than couching rows of strung bugle beads, as I did decide to do (below, on the left).  The real decider was the awkward shape, size, and inflexibility of the leather, as well as its 1-way pattern.

So, what I am doing for the armor layer is couching these beautiful Ming Tree rainbow grey 1/4" bugle beads onto a layer of black medium-weight linen.  Hopefully lightweight enough to breathe at faire, but sturdy enough to hold the weight of all that glass.

It's been awhile since I started the beads, and I've got the collar and most of the right sleeve done.  Here are some in-progress pictures of the pieces on the loom ( a sturdy scroll-frame model meant for needlepoint).

The beads are only going where they'll be seen, of course-- the sleeves from about mid-bicep down to the wrist, and the neck pieces in front and back.  I'm making a whole armor-layer piece of linen, but these beaded pieces will be seamed onto the base armor-layer.   The armor layer stops about hip level, so there may be a bit of beading that has to go on where the riding slit starts at the hip, but I'll wait and see.

 The pattern pieces were drafted from my basic torso sloper made with help of the lovely textbook Patternmaking for Fashion Design. The armor layer muslin looked like this...

with the sash to stand in visually for the bell bandolier. I like the belt, so I may end up using it in the real thing depending on what kind of leather/faux leather I decide on for the bandolier and scabbard.

 I will add the nice swallowtail bits sticking out of the wrists and collar on the finished armor--probably white silk chiffon or something equally wispy.   Also it will close up the back and not the front ;)


More posts coming as I work on this project!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

1880s opera gown

The inspiration here came from making some great Steampunk dresses at work, and thinking "I've never made a Victorian dress for myself..."  so why not?  My self-imposed deadline is a symphony outing with the husband and his parents--the perfect opportunity for a time-traveling event.

    My sketch (inspired by some Godey Lady's Book prints):

The fabric, supplies, etc...

And some pictures of the muslin fitting! It was definitely cobbled together with random stash cotton fabrics.
    I'm going for a natural-form era silhouette, with some slightly earlier trim details and train.  There will be more room in the behind in the real thing, as well as that long train-layer on top to round out the behind and hips some more.


The bodice pattern started out as Truly Victorian #416 but is being vastly changed (it will lace up the back instead of buttoning down the front, the sleeves are going away, the peplum in back is going away...).  The skirt pattern is built off of a modern (but victorian inspired shape) pattern that my boss made.  Slightly more mermaid-y in the knee and hem than the usual scaled-down patterns we see in Patterns of Fashion, etc., although I did straighten out the lines slightly more for my dress to make it closer.

More pictures as work progresses!