Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Making of Melinda May: Part 3 - The Leather Vest

At onset, the idea of making a vest is a simple one. I've made vests before with very little trouble. However, what I didn't take to account that I was working with leather, and leather has it's own little idiosyncrasies which can be very frustrating. There were other issues along the way (i.e. a broken sewing machine) so, I had to take a couple of short cuts here and there to make my deadline of finishing this costume for Fanime 2014.

So, my primary lesson is...START SEWING EARLIER THAN YOU EXPECT! I did start early, but a lot of time was eaten by setbacks  and a lot of handsewing leather I had to do for this outfit that I hadn't expected.


Before I even worked with the leather, I made several different mockups using muslin as my primary fabric. I just wanted to get the fit "correct". With leather, you don't have any "do overs", and once leather has been pierced with a needle or awl, the mark is permanent, so mistakes need to be minimal or non-existant.

I found a good blue leather hide at Tandy. It was big enough to just manage to create everything I needed for the vest. First, it was marking out the pattern pieces, using pencil and a light sharpy pen.



You can't really "pin" leather together, but I do use binder clips to hold things together. In making the four pockets for the vest, I used the binder clips to hold the leather into shape, then attach the lining into the bias tape, and then sew it all together. 


For the body of the vest, I attached the bias tape directly into the leather so I can sew the lining into the bias tape when I'm done.


In addition to making patch pockets for the vest, I had to make two double welted pockets for an inner pocket with zippers. This weight of leather was not very conducive to actually making welt pockets. I used some black denim for the inner pocket. 

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It didn't turn out as well as I had hopped, but it worked well enough. 

(As a side note: do you know that in order to "press seams" on leather, you use a mallet?" There was a lot of pounding out frustrating & aggression for this costume).

Unfortunately, I ran into an unforeseen problem while sewing. Our Industrial Sewing Machine (ISM) started having problems, the point of severe frustration and a lot of swearing on my part. Due to the weight of the leather, I couldn't use my regular sewing machine (I know, I tried). I managed to sew about 50% of the project before it became nearly unusable.  We took it to a nearby shop, and it took the shop a while to fix the industrial machine, which ate a bit of sewing time.

I was getting very anxious as the deadline to finish was creeping up on me! However, the shop found some major issues with it and were amazed I could even sew at all. (I was afraid it was all me!) Now, the ISM purrs like a kitten and I was able to get things sewed quickly.
While the ISM was in the shop, I finished making the lining on my regular sewing machine and I did lot of hand sewing the leather, which was slow-going. For example, I had to hand sew the belt loops into the outfit -- four layers of leather. It took nearly two hours to sew two belt loops because I had to stop & rest my hands from using the awl.


While hand-sewing was tedious and slow, it got me closer to finishing the outfit while I wanted for the shop to fix the ISM.

I realized too late that I had picked a leather that was much too heavy for the purpose I wanted. The color was correct, but the thickness was not. I should have skivved (i.e., thinned out the leather) or found another blue hide of the correct lighter weight). But, I worked with what I had. It was going to be a fairly durable garment piece.

Here's the vest at about 75% done. I realized that I didn't have quite enough leather to do the detail work around her shoulders, so I opted to just "turn" the armscye inwards. As mentioned in previous posts, I went for "good enough" instead of screen accuracy. (Plus, I think I might remake this outfit or do better on the black vest version of her costume)

(Partially complete outfit, sans belt loops, pocket closures, belt, and lining)

By the time the ISM got back to me, I only had to make the belt and top-sew the collar, which was about an hour's worth of work on the ISM.

Here's the finished outfit with the glasses (which I think added the extra touch for the Agent May outfit). I think it worked out really well, especially standing there with Nick Fury! 

There are a lot of little problems that I need to fix for the next iterations. For example, I should have used a thinner leather or have skivved the hide to make it easier to work with. Plus, I eventually found some screencaps of the back of her black leather vest, which would have made my life easier (as I had to guess how they did it). But that I'll incorporate into her next vest.

The End (for now....)

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Making of Melinda May: Part 2

In making the Melinda May outfit, I had the option of purchasing most of the outfit.

Now, assembling an outfit with commercially available items is often just as stressful as making the outfit itself. You can choose to have screen accuracy (and expensive) or good enough to pass (often the cheaper alternative. Some of it was easy, and some weren't.

The easiest piece were the Shield patches, which I found on Etsy from Idzerda Designs. They were delivered very quickly and I was happy with the quality. I did find them a bit "stiff" when sewing it onto the shirt, but I figure that with use, it should soften up a little bit.


For the shirt, I found a good black base layer shirt with a mock collar and long sleeves, but no thumb holes. For $15.00, it was a pretty good price from Sierra Trading Post, and it matched some of the texture of her shirt.

I added thumb holes to the the base layer by hand sewing some very long button holes into the shirt (using my embroidery hoop to help). I did try to do this on the sewing machine, but found it fiddly, so simply hand-sewed it.


I found the perfect boots (on sale) from Steve Madden, but unfortunately, I could only get them in brown. However, a quick trip to my local cobbler (and a little bit of $$), and they were dyed a nice black color. (Also they are very comfortable and useful for every day wear and other costumes, so the boots were worth the investment.)

Here are the boots that she wears. I think it's pretty close.

The pants were a bit tricky. I couldn't find fitted cargo pants for women that had full length legs, so I opted to purchase tactical pants from a military / police uniform store.  Unlike the show, actual tactical pants aren't very fitted and are made more for movement, but I decided to forgo complete screen accuracy for ease of purchase, plus they looked good-enough. I did have some problems with the tactical pants as they were one of the last purchases I made and there were some sizing issues necessitating the need for returns and re-ordering. (Also, tactical pants are excellent for re-using for a number of military cosplays, so another worthwhile investment!)

A search on Amazon for women's tactical pants will give you several different results.

Surprisingly, getting the glasses proved to be a bit tricky, especially as they were the last bit of the costume I wanted. I didn't want to spend too much on the glasses, but finding something within budget that fit my face proved tricky. So I just purchased some 'cheap' aviator mirror glasses that worked well enough. She doesn't wear them on screen all that often, and only the cosplay nazis might ding me on the screen accuracy. I was originally going to forgo purchasing them, but they really made the outfit when I put the whole thing together. (When you see the final costume image, you'll see....)

Next up! The making of the vest.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Making of Melinda May (Part 1)

The month of May is always pretty busy in terms of just events that are occurring, and the preparation to go to those events. And then add actual work load (the stuff that pays a salary and not the work required to do those FUN things) gets pretty hectic.

So, let me catch you up on some of the things I've been doing.

I decided a while ago to make a Melinda May costume from Agents of Shield. She has two iconic costumes, but they have the same basic items: leather vest (blue or black), a Eurojersey shirt with thumbholes (blue or black) and black pants.

Tyranny of Style interviewed the costume designer, Ann Foley, for Agents of Shield, which gave me a bit of insight on the design and colors.

I opted to make the blue leather vest outfit (top photo). There wasn't anything close enough that could be modified to make, so I was going to have to make her iconic vest myself.  Plus, it would give me a chance to work with leather. (I have never made a leather garment previously!)

The rest of the outfit was fairly "simple" in terms of costume, and could be available commercially. (I love not having to make everything for an outfit. So, what I needed to get were:

  • the Shield patches. According to the designer, the patches were printed onto the shirt.

  • the shirt with thumb holes

  • tactical pants (preferably fitted)

  • kick-ass boots

  • aviator glasses, as she does drive the Flying Bus.

Then it was a simple matter of just making the vest, right?

Onto Part 2!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Franklin Habit Lecture

I'm so behind on my blogging and trying to catch up with at least some of the photos I've taken.

Earlier in the year, some friends had posted that Franklin Habit was going to be teaching classes over at Verb for Keeping Warm. I was going to have my SpinU intensives during that time frame, but I definitely wanted to hear him speak; maybe attending a class with him, if it warranted.

Unfortunately, either the classes didn't interest me, were not really meant for me (i.e. photography for knitters), or were in direct conflict with my SpinU class. Luckily, VFKW also added a lecture with Franklin on the history of knitting called, "Impractical Magic".

At first, I didn't quite manage to get into the lecture (being put onto a waiting list much to my disappointment), but they had a cancellation and I got to go! However, it was about 1.5 hours right after my SpinU class, and it takes about 60 minutes from Purlescence to VFKW (plus I had to drop off my wheel back home!)

The drive up was a bit harried (and of course, I hit a bit of traffic on the way to VFKW). Luckily, I found a good parking spot and managed to arrive a few minutes before he started.

Despite the hiccups, I'm really glad that I went.

Franklin is an extremely funny and engaging speaker with a penchant for puns. Some of what he presented is present in his blog, The Panoptican, but with much much more detail and he brought his knitted samples. He also presented other bits and bobs from fiber crafting history (especially in the Victorian era where there were many booklets on various topics from knitting to macrame to metal working.) Everything was extremely informative and hysterically funny (as he presented them).

If you get a chance to hear him speak, I highly recommend it. He's an absolute treat to listen to and a sweetheart of a guy.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Blocked & Finished Objects Weekend

This past weekend, I managed to get two items blocked & finished for wearing! These projects were already very close to finishing so I just decided to push through to finishing and blocking

  • A skinny Clapotis scarf made from my handspun Cashmere & Silk from Abstract fibers in the colorway, Malificent.
  • The Color Affection shawl knit with MissBabs fingering weight yarn

It's always amazing what blocking can really do for a shawl.

The Clapotis was a nice knit and went pretty fast. I had to rip back a couple of times; once for a dropped stitch that wasn't supposed to be dropped and once because I missed a KTOG and YO in the same row.

Blocking Clapotis
Skinny Clapotis

Dropping all of the stitches was a bit tedious. However, it came out fabulously, and I can't wait to wear it.

Skinny Clapotis
Skinny Clapotis

I had been "almost" done with the Color Affection for nearly two months, only needing to finish the last two inches of the bottom most border (in blue). However, long rows in garter stitch are rather boring, so I procrastinated.

This weekend, I was procrastinating on doing something else, and got the bug to just finish this shawl. Of course, I ended up staying up until 2am to get 1.5 inches (3cm done) ; and then decided the next morning it was big enough and just bound it off.

A Wet & Unblocked Color Affection
Unblocked Color Affection

It took 3 of the large 24x24" squares to block it. Luckily, it was a warm day and it dried very fast. Although, a breeze did try to move it several times.

Blocking Color Affection
Blocking Color Affection

Afterwards, I wove in all the ends. Viola! Finished object.

Blocked & Finished Color Affection
Blocked & Finished Color Affection

It feels good to get projects done. Now, I just have to finish sewing for Fanime!