Friday, February 12, 2016

Just for Fun: How to Dance Like a Regency Zombie

It's Friday, and I have been working so much that I'm pretty sure I'm turning into an actual zombie (or at least the corporate kind).

For anyone else who's ready for a break, I wanted to share this video (made by my amazing friend, who filmed, directed, and edited) from after hours at last weekend's Regency ball.

In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mr. Darcy says that any zombie could probably shuffle through a dance. Just what does he mean?

a diagram of the "shoelaces" figure in Sir Roger De Coverly, a popular dance from the period (that appears in A Christmas Carol)
Regency dancing often involved dancing through patterns within a set of couples using energetic steps. Some fellow Regency dance enthusiasts and I decided the reconstruct a particular dance* that we felt would be most fitting to zombies...

(*as you may have noticed, this is not an exact reconstruction of a period dance. It was instead choreographed by our excellent ringleader wearing white.)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: A Review

After the recent Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ball at Arisia (my favorite local SF/F convention), a hellish couple of weeks, and the upcoming Regency ball this evening, a friend and I took a break last night to go see the new Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was disappointed to see it mostly getting panned in I'm offering my alternative (spoiler-free!) opinion on the topic.
If you're unfamiliar with the movie, I recommend this first trailer to get a feel for the tone:

To use a favorite word: it's wackadoodle. And that was utterly perfect. (I should also perhaps offer the disclaimer that I greatly enjoyed Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and my favorite book is Pride and Prejudice, so I am the exact target audience for this.)

the Bennett sisters in a promotional image for EW
The movie opens with a prologue scene explaining Netherfield's lack of tenant (until Bingley lets it) and introducing the zombie problem currently facing the British countryside, and offers a brief history of the current zombie apocalypse told through paper scenes reminiscent of 19th century toy paper theaters. It was these nods to the real Regency period that made me feel like the film team "got it," enabling the departures from period accuracy (such as the use of leather on a few zombie-fighting ensembles) to become deliberate bits of world-building and silliness.

a toy theater from the Bruce Museum
And there was quite a bit of silliness! I have to admit I haven't read Grahame-Smith's mashup novel the film was adapted from, so I can't speak to its faithfulness, but I felt the script did a solid job turning several iconic scenes from Austen's original work on their head without losing the heart of it. For example, Jane's illness at Netherfield is doubly tense because the flu is still potentially deadly (the technology of PPZ's Regency era is not upgraded from the real world--except perhaps in weaponry, but I can't speak to that), but also there's a chance it's not the flu, and Jane will emerge undead. PPZ's Elizabeth Bennet is still sharp-witted and exasperated by her family, but also much more physical, as she is a trained zombie warrior. Thus, several of Lizzy's most famous verbal battles (such as Darcy's first proposal and Lady Catherine's visit) are zombified by keeping the dialogue quite faithful but including physical sparring as well. As an Austen aficionado (to steal a phrase from Austenland) and an action comedy fan, I very much enjoyed this combination.

Lizzy tending to a weapon in her bedchamber, via Screenrelish
 I was also pleasantly surprised by the costumes. With the glaring exception of Lizzy's first ballgown, which looked like a rather tacky prom dress (and I'm convinced was only included so that they could use that scene for promotional stills and posters), the overall look was pretty good, with lovely printed cottons, fluffy chemisettes, bonnets and spencers or pelisses worn outdoors, and gloves at the ball. A particularly notable part was that all of the women were clearly wearing stays (in addition to several getting dressed scenes, where they were visible) as their silhouettes and the fit of their dresses looked believably Regency. Also, the girls fought dressed like that! There were several flashes that revealed the dresses were slit partially up a leg for easy access to thigh-holstered weapons and movement for kicking, but I liked that as a modification of their clothes to accommodate a zombified world without suddenly putting everyone in pants. I dance, climb fences, and run amok in Regency dresses frequently. It can be done! So that really pleased me. I'm assuming the designers also chose to replace the girls' petticoats with weird ruffled hotpants in the dressing scenes (you get some petticoat flashes during the fights) for the same thread--so the audience could see their fabulous thigh holsters--but they were my one really jarring complaint on the costume front. Because the underpinnings and cut of the clothes were so acceptable, it made the little zombified details (Darcy's long leather coat, Lizzy's leather-collared, paneled pelisse, some of the chemically-bright colors) feel like fun touches on a historical palette, rather than cringe-inducing weirdness. It helped that the designers also made sure such zombiefied touches appeared in scenes with actual zombie fighting, while more Austen-esque scenes, like balls, were more traditional.

Stays! (and weird hotpants, but oh well.)
Jane taking on a zombie in full Regency dress (via EW)

Lydia's pink pelisse is utterly cute, and the detail on Lizzy's sleeve (which is hard to see in this EW image) was really lovely
The plot also moved along at a quick pace, which served well to mask some of the really big plot issues, but resulted in the loss of some content from the original Austen (although in a 2-ish hour movie that's to be expected). Overall, I appreciated that the writers tried to have some sort of zombie-related plot (rather than just having there be zombies), but that plot was a little weak in the being well-plotted department. This didn't really bother me, as the film spent most of its time doing better, more Austen-y things, and the zombie plot bits were so short I didn't have time to care. The one other weak point was that some of the not-Austen language was jarringly modern. I can't even fault the screenwriters for this, as there's no reason to assume phrases like "zombie apocalypse" wouldn't have existed in an alternate zombie-infested Regency England, but for some reason hearing that sort of thing pop up stuck out to me. Is that reasonable for a movie that is literally setting Pride and Prejudice during the zombie apocalypse? Probably not.

zombies! (via Collider)
PPZ was silly fun, while managing to put together some truly awesome scenes that had me applauding and laughing along with the rest of the theater. It was really fun to see scenes I've read so many times given new "stage directions," so to speak, and I appreciated how much the film felt like it was made with genuine affection for the inspiration material--both the nods to the Regency period, and the nods to action movie tropes (slow motion fighting!). I will definitely be adding this to the list of movies I watch while I might even inspire me to finish that bonnet I started two years ago.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fashion from the 23rd Century: A Tutorial

Sometimes, I need easy, cheap, and washable projects that I can wear without fear to go on adventures.

You might even say, to boldly go...

the crew, shot by Alison--thank you!!

I say, Captain!
Despite being surrounded by a bevvy of "Next Generation" lovers, I am particularly fond of Star Trek: The Original Series--it manages to be totally period and progressive at the same time, and the plotlines are utterly wackadoodle in the best ways. Not the mention the outfits! They're so very 1960s in that particular "space age" way.

from "The Man Trap", via LJ
A couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to go to work as a Starfleet officer for Halloween, so I started looking for a way to whip up an easy and inexpensive uniform. I used an XXL men's long-sleeve t-shirt as the base, and with a little experimentation was able to turn it into a decent version of the iconic "spiral"-seemed dresses the female officers wear on the show.

my first attempt
This was the perfect low-key costume--throw on a dress, add 1960s hair, makeup, and black boots and it's done!

As our favorite local convention rolled around that winter, some friends and I thought it would be fun to go out to the night events as a little Starfleet crew. Having noted all the things I wanted to fix from my Halloween attempt, I ordered another columbia blue long-sleeved shirt and the three of us made new and improved uniforms together. A year later, our crew has I decided to promote myself to command and make another uniform.

A couple of thoughts on ST:TOS uniforms first.

LT Uhura at the control panel
Dr. Noel about to use science
The uniform went through several iterations in both style and color, but the most iconic version is the one that features a flap-front skirt, three seams in a "spiral" across the front of the dress, no waist seam, and an asymmetrical collar.

a breakdown of the uniform by season, via
The uniforms are also velour, so they're actually pretty thick and have a lot of body to them. I based my plans on these high-quality images of Uhura's original costume from the 1701st forum:

While my dress doesn't have that heavy drape, it does mimic the original seams without requiring all the weirdly-shaped pieces the licensed pattern uses.

If you've got an evening to kill, a buddy, and a men's long-sleeved tee, you can make a pretty fab and comfy original series uniform.

careful, these have been known to multiply...
For this mission, you will need:

1 men's long-sleeved t-shirt a couple of sizes too large (I prefer XXL) in columbia blue, goldenrod yellow, or bright red
1 black tee-shirt, either new or old (for the neck)
thread to match your shirt
an insignia patch (mine are from 8BitSpock on Etsy)
gold ric-rac (rank dependent)
sewing supplies (fabric scissors, pins, sewing machine)
(optional: if you want that smooth-torso-defined-waist-high-boob look, you'll need to wear the right foundation: a long-line bullet bra. If you plan to do so, I highly recommend fitting your dress over this!)

First, iron your shirt and turn it inside out.

Start by cutting out the neckline: locate center front, and then go a little bit to the right of that (this will be the left when it's actually on your body). This will be your lowest point. Cut out the neckline, sticking about to the seamline from the original shirt, and then create a "v" shape at your located point.

Next is the front flap: run down from the low point to the hem of the shirt. Mark that. Try the shirt on, and mark where the top of your hip is. This will be the location of your overlap. Cut up from the hem in a straight line to the top of your hip, and then over to the left a couple of inches.

Finish the right edge of your cut, then pinch the fabric above the flap until the newly finished edge overlaps with the other side (eliminating the opening). Pin closed.

Keep pinning up the front of the shirt, creating a tuck from the hem slit to the neckline.

Sew along the tuck to create a seam, leaving the bottom flap open (how much us up to you--mine is all the way open, but most of my friends' uniforms are sewn closed at least part of the way down).

seam #1 on the "right" side
Next create the two spiral seams with a buddy: put on the inside-out shirt, and have your friend create a tuck running along your right side from neck to armpit. This doesn't need to use much fabric. (I took pictures flat to get a better view, but trust me this is much easier to do on the wearer!)

Next, repeat this process to create the long diagonal seam the runs from the neck point to the hem. As your friend pins, have them pull out fabric from under your bust to make a more defined waist--but remember, you're only creating a seam on one side, so however you pull in the fabric it needs to keep everything symmetrical. (this sounds impossible, but it does work!)

Now it's time to dart the back! The original has princess seams and a second flap, so we're going to do something similar. Have your friend create two tucks from the neck to the waist, taking out as much as you need to to create a smooth, fitted back. Extend one dart all the way to the hem as a tuck, and leave the other at the waist.

Finally, make it fit: Have your friend pin all the excess material out, from wrists to waist, tapering out towards the hem (the "skirt" should stay full). Depending on how much material you have, this can create some pretty crazy wings.

Carefully take this off (use help!), and sew each side from wrist to the end of the dart and trim off the excess. My sewing machine has a nice stitch for finishing stretchy fabric, so I used that. If you don't have that option, just leave a little more of a seam allowance attached.

Make adjustments: if you want your dress shorter, fold up and hem. If you haven't sewn your flap-front all the way closed, finish the edge of the inside piece and tack in place so it doesn't flop. Hem your sleeve edges.

Finally, attach the collar: cut a wide strip from your black t-shirt (I used an old theater shirt), and sew into a continuous piece. Attach it to the raw edge of your neckline.

Fold over and finish using your method of choice. Don't forget, this won't show evenly all the way around! There should be more visible black at the low point, and the collar should stand away from the dress slightly.

Make yourself part of the crew: sew your insignia at the neckline point at the straight vertical seam, and sew gold ric-rac to your sleeves based on the rank you've assigned yourself. (If you need help, here's a handy chart!)

via fuckyeahstartrektos

And that's it! You're done! Adding winged eyeliner, beehive-d hair, sheer black tights, and black boots will finish you off.

Just remember to set phasers to stun.

red shirt down!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

HSM 2016 #1: Procrastination

I am the queen of procrastination. If you've been reading for a while, you may have noted mentions of sewing all-nighters, last-minute car-finishing, and general shenanigans in the "being done on time" this challenge seemed perfect!

I decided to approach it as a double-whammy: when I made this 1890s ballgown the first time last January, I ended up rushing to have it wearable for the ball. In fact, I described it as the "murphy's law" of sewing plans! So even though I wore it to a ball, it wasn't actually completed--no hem, massive fit issues in the bodice, and no closures (a feature I am rather notorious for, unfortunately). So instead of storing it with my costumes, back into the UFO (unfinished object) pile it went...where it sat for a full year until this January, when with another ball approaching I needed to finish the job.

And I did!

this is the haughty expression of TRIUMPH
The Facts:
The Challenge: Procrastination
Material: many yards of royal blue poly velvet (dress), linen (lining)
Pattern: self-drafted but based on TV416 which I had recently fit (bodice), LM101 (skirt) altered to fit smoothly over the hips without darts
Year: 1890-1895
Notions: thread, rabbit fur trim, hook and eye tape
How historically accurate is it? Using Leimomi's litmus test of whether it would be recognizable in its own time, I'll say 70%. Obviously poly velvet isn't period (although silk velvet for ballgowns is), but fur trim is accurate, as are the general silhouette (hooray two petticoats!) and construction techniques. Plus, I wore it to a ball and danced in it--a very period accurate activity--and it moved comfortably through dances from the period, which I think is a pretty good litmus test as well.
Hours to complete: Oi vey. probably 4-6 hours to add closures, alter the bodice, and hem. Can't remember how long the original project took.
First worn: Fully completed, first worn to the Ball at the Winter Palace on January 9th.
Total cost: I believe approximately $50, although $10-20 of that was on rabbit fur trim, and most of that hasn't hit the dress yet. So in its current state, about $35.

with my white (faux)fur cape, an old but very useful item from 2011

on the balcony overlooking the ballroom

telling secrets and causing trouble!

a jolly party
Hooray for finishing UFOs!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Moving Forward to Go Backward: On to 2016 and the 18th Century!

Now is the time when I would typically write a "year in review" post, but with grad school and my crazy life I didn't actually make many projects this year. I'm ok with that, though--because when I did sew, I was able to update/improve some outfits I really love, get outside of my comfort zone, and make some really ridiculous projects--some of which I haven't even managed to blog yet!

I was also lucky to do my first photo shoot (as the photographer), get some good practice in with my petzval plates, put my 1940s Graphlex mod through its paces, and take some portraits I'm really proud of.

So as I start to plan for 2016, I'm feeling grateful for skill-expanding craft lessons, wonderful adventures, and fabulous friends.

Salem in the snow during our record-breaking winter

a deserted corner of a very cool speakeasy in Las Vegas

the town square of Tartu, Estonia, shot through a life-sized National Geographic frame as part of a national tourism project  
sunset on the National Mall, from a trip to DC in April

being silly, because we are great at that!
playing roulette at our Casino Royale party
in Star Trek (original series) uniforms
And I've got quite a year to look forward to!

In particular, my fabulous friends and I are heading off to France this spring to attend an 18th century ball at the Palace of Versailles. I'm immensely excited, but also feeling nervous about sewing a new period with such high stakes. So with a few exceptions as things come up, I'll be spending the next five months making a robe a la francaise from the inside out, starting with a chemise and stays! (Don't worry--I'll still sneak in your regularly scheduled programming of tartan history, event photos, and other research.)

I've started a Pinterest board for the project, which includes inspiration for clothing and accessories. Naturally, some of my favorites are plaid...

silk plaid robe a la francaise, 1760-90 (Met)
c.1765 (LACMA)

 c.1765 (Whitaker)
c.1752 (Mussee Mode)
...but my francaise will be a lovely dusky purple silk taffeta. Mostly because I got a really great deal on fabric, but also a little bit because no matter how much historical clothing research I do, there will still always be a part of me that is totally in love with the Sofia Coppola's candy-colored Marie Antoinette movie.

Actually, after reading Caroline Weber's biography Queen of Fashion, and watching this movie, I attempted a robe a la francaise in high school. I used the very costumey Simplicty pattern, and it was a huge mess...but I've never lost my appreciation for how incredibly elegant they are. So with several years of sewing under my belt, a lot more research, and some helpful friends, I'm heading back to the 18th century.

purple robe a la francaise, c.1775, Colonial Williamsburg (via)

And to help keep myself on task (and take advantage of a wealth of knowledge), I'm also jumping into the Historical Sew Monthly for 2016. I probably won't have something complete for every challenge, but I think it will help me stay motivated. So here's to a new year!