Update: Cutting Out Fabric #ThePeggyCarterProject

wpid-0316152218.jpgJust a quick update re: my progress on The Peggy Carter Project. After one unsuccessful attempt at cutting out my design in cotton muslin, the second attempt went much more smoothly. This time, I knew to cut out the little notches, and properly cut along the fold – so that my earlier panic about the fabric not encircling my ample waist proved to be a result of my learning curve, and not of the pattern being screwy.

wpid-0321151431.jpgThe next step is stay-stitching the tops and bottoms of each panel. Which will require finding the instruction book for my sewing machine, since in the couple weeks since I did my mini-project I’ve forgotten how to make the needle go backwards.

I’m also waiting for the lightweight interfacing to arrive, since my local sewing shop doesn’t appear to stock the right weight.

I also ordered some ribbon for my hat.

And started a Pinterest board for this project.

Boeing, Boring: Boeing Boeing at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre, Jamestown, NY

Oh, reviewing pen, it’s been a while. Mostly because I haven’t been able to sit for the length of an entire play for a while, but also because the only play I’ve seen since Cabaret in NYC was a local production of Spamalot. But tonight, I dug my reviewing pen out and headed to Jamestown, NY to see the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown’s presentation of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing.

I’m almost sure I’ve seen this play before, but I’m not sure where – London, Edinburgh, New York, Buffalo – and other than broad strokes (a playboy trying to keep three flight-attendant-fiances in his orbit) I didn’t remember much about the plot. It falls into the strange realm of what I think of as “French living-room plays.” Like Art and Carnage. Which is weird, because neither of those are farces, and they’re both by the same playwright.

Boeing Boeing is a farce, though. It’s a farce set in the 1960s, at the dawn of newer, faster plane technology. One expects the play to have a certain “snap,” so to speak. Noel Coward with more ennui. Then one looks up the play’s running time. Two and a half hours.

Um.

There’s a line in Boeing Boeing that goes, “No panic, no problem.” But this is exactly the problem. While the actresses playing the fiances – Amanda Melquist (Gloria), Carla Kayes (Gabriella) and particularly Holly L.J. Weston (Gretchen, the passionate German) – inject their scene with dimension and energy, both male leads (Vince Liuzzo as the playboy Bernard and his older brother Carl Luizzo as Robert) seem far too comfortable, too lackadaisical. Occasionally, their back-and-forth rises to a fever pitch, but for the most part it’s the women who set the pacing for each scene – which would be fine, if not for the fact that Bernard is the protagonist. There’s a hint of this early on, when Betsy Trusel’s Berthe brings character-acted comic relief as Bernard’s frustrated domestic servant. Slick and charming, Bernard only becomes “real” in contrast to his demanding cook and cooing (but surprisingly steely) fiances. Other than occasional fluster when two of the women might interact, in which cases each Liuzzo takes their character from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, the characters contribute to the show’s biggest problem: pacing.

Often times, I watch plays and wish the writer’s words had been given more room to breathe. In this production, I spent more time wishing someone would deliver CPR to the script. Weston had a lock on the urgency of her character’s lines, and Kayes hit all the right beats with her domineering and frustrated Italian, but more often than not, Luizzo, Luizz and Trusel seemed to linger over lines that would have benefited from a dash of Basil Fawlty.

Costumes and set, both credited to large teams in the program, were spot-on for this naturalistic play. In a moment that took me by complete surprise, Berthe actually lights a real cigarette on stage. (Some history: while I was reviewing in Edinburgh with The British Theatre Guide, laws were passed to ban smoking from the stage – even herbal cigarettes. Thinking back, I don’t recall a single time when I saw a real cigarette being smoked on stage But Berthe’s ciggy was definitely made of real tobacco.)

I wish the production left a more positive impression on me, but its by-the-book approach to a classic text paired with timing that never quite worked up to the pacing necessary to really give me a good chuckle. While much of the audience seemed entertained, laughing on cue, when the interval finally arrived I had to take the state of my back into account, and leave the second half of the show unwatched. I simply didn’t receive enough meaty enjoyment from act one to make the literal pain in my lower back worth staying for act two.

Note: Tickets were purchased for this performance.

 

Malawi Needs Medicine Bottles

Early on in dealing with the back injury that laid me low last year, I realized there were going to be a good number of prescription medication bottles floating around my apartment. I couldn’t stand the idea of throwing them all away. Thinking of the sad state of American medical care, I thought, “There’s got to be some kind of art project in this.”

I thought my chance had come last Halloween, when my friend and I did a joint costume at a science-themed Halloween party. She was “old medicine” (Victorian dress and a bottle of “snake oil,” a.k.a. whisky) and I was “new medicine” (a fluorescent orange t-shirt with a billion empty prescription bottles hot-glued on) and the whole thing was pretty hilarious.

wpid-screenshot_2015-03-11-19-09-19.pngAfter the party, though, I still couldn’t bring myself to throw away all those little orange bottles. So I threw them in a storage container and figured, sooner or later I’d find the reason I was hanging onto them.

That reason turned up in my Facebook feed the other day. A friend posted a plea from a group called The Malawi Project, asking that people clean and donate their old medicine bottles to help provide safe and clean medication storage to the people of Malawi.

wpid-0314151851.jpgEarlier tonight, I started cleaning my old medicine bottles. It took two and a half hours, but  I boiled, scraped and cleaned each bottle  (the remnants of glue were particularly annoying). It wasn’t fast, but after a while I got into a rhythm, and at the end I had a full box of medicine bottles that I’m going to post out to the Malawi project this week.

wpid-0314152131.jpgI know a lot of people who take regular medication, and while it’s a little time consuming, this is such a great way to help others and keep plastic out of landfills. Set up your laptop, start up a show you enjoy, and presto – a few hours later, you’ll have done something to help others in a really concrete way. And if you do, leave a note below – and help spread the word!

Mini Sewing Project #1: Draft Blocker

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While it’d be awesome to be able to sew this flawlessly and right out of the gate, I’m trying to be realistic.

 

In my quest to create an Agent Carter costume, I knew I’d have to undertake a few smaller projects along the way.

I just finished my first one: a draft blocker for my front door!

Skills acquired:
– Pinning fabric along a seam
– Sewing in a straight line
– Re-threading the needle
– Using a seam-ripper
– Changing a broken needle (yup! Broke one on my first trip out!)

Lessons learned:
– Oh my god this is going to take so much patience.
– No, really. SO MUCH PATIENCE.

wpid-0301151455.jpgSince I didn’t start off thinking I was going to make anything useful, I kind of just folded over one of the fabric remnants I’d bought last weekend and started sewing. It fast became obvious that I had to actually pin the edges of the fabric together if I wanted to have something that didn’t taper into a point at the far end.

Enter the seamripper. It took a little googling to figure out the most effective way of using it, but once I had that down, easy-peasy.

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Next, the tedious part: pinning along the entire outside of the folded fabric so it wouldn’t slip and become uneven as I sewed. That took about ten minutes. I played videos on Hulu while I worked on that.

wpid-0301151526.jpgOnce that was finished, it only took a couple of minutes to sew the seam, then flip what now looked like a sock flag inside out – so the hem would be on the inside. Not bad!

wpid-0301151534.jpgFinally, I stuffed it full of actual socks, those with holes and some that I’d lost the mate to, until it was long enough to fit (almost) all the way across my door. Since I didn’t feel like getting back up to grab a needle and thread and finish sewing by hand, I just tied off the very end, which I think is kind of cute anyways. And – ta-da!

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My suit fabric is meant to arrive tomorrow, so I’m hoping to share a few photos of my supplies later this week. I also have a second length of fabric and one more door that could use a draft blocker, so I might try and do that later this week-  though I’ve used up all my dead socks, so we’ll see how it goes.

For now, I’m feeling pretty accomplished. So accomplished, in fact, that I’m going to go eat a bagel pizza. Nom!

FOMO, Writing & Creativity

FOMO, in case you haven’t heard the term, stands for “Fear Of Missing Out,” and I think it’s something every artist – every person, really – feels from time to time.

Back when I used to buy each year’s edition of the Writer’s Market, I would pore over its pages for hours on end, highlighting the magazines and publishers that sounded like good matches – thinking wild thoughts about how I could submit to each of those opportunities, but never finding the time to act on what I had selected. And meanwhile, the things I did write seemed impossible to match to a market.

wpid-img_20150110_011616.jpgThe internet has only intensified this problem. Along with constant updates of word counts and projects and successes from other writers (and I’m happy for them, don’t get me wrong) there’s a constant deluge of opportunity  – and without having pinned down a calendar of those opportunities that lets me plan ahead, it can be tricky to take full advantage of all the opportunities on offer.

Playwriting opportunities, calls for work with low pay but fascinating concepts – there’s almost never enough time between finding an opportunity and writing down (let alone revising) my work into something I can send out, which isn’t helped by the fact that I see most opportunities just days before their deadlines. And when I do end up with a workable idea, I’m just as likely to save it and self-publish (like with Short Frictions, purchase link to the right), which is a terrible habit that I need to break. At the very least, I should be sending those pieces out to online (and print, though it seems there are fewer of those every day) venues in the hopes of making sales before collecting pieces and publishing them. (For example, after sitting on Blutnacht for over a decade, I saw an opportunity it would have been perfect for…but it doesn’t accept reprints, so that’s that.)

wpid-img_20150222_092153.jpgPart of the problem is my attention span – which is, I’ll admit, woefully flighty at times. Part of my excitement over The Peggy Carter Project is that it’s going to stretch out over time, with enough small pieces, that I can flit from makeup to hair to sewing to shoes to lipstick to other details as I please, constantly working towards a cohesive, finished product.

wpid-img_20150110_181302.jpgBut part of the problem is that I have a hard time anchoring myself in one piece for as long as it takes to complete, these days. There’s so much I want to do. And recently my creative outlets have been non-verbal just as much as they have been about the written word.

I can stand in my kitchen and throw paint on a canvas for an hour or two and have a finished result that I can hang up to decorate the walls of my house. I can spend half an hour gelling and pinning up curls then laze around the house waiting for them to dry, then wet my hair down again and tackle the problem spots (which I’m still maintaining revolve around my hair being shorter than is ideal).

wpid-0217151935.jpgI’ve even started to resurrect my old interest in creating complicated, nuanced cocktails…even though these days I barely ever drink them.

I’m not complaining about any of this – not by a long shot. But it is a re-adjustment, to go from being creative with my words at home, at night, and feeling like a total zombie in my previous day job, to having a fulfilling day job with exciting projects that engages my creativity and then coming home at the end of the day and feeling like I’ve gotten a lot of words out, had some fun, and can explore other avenues of artistry. (Again – this is NOT a complaint – I know how lucky I am to have a job that doesn’t leave me feeling sick with dread every Sunday night, with colleagues who are engaged with what we’re doing, where I’m able to be a creative writer for a living every day).

wpid-0217152332.jpgAll that said, I have a writing project right now – a sitcom about expat Americans in Scotland – that is in desperate need of a rewrite and a second draft. So at some point this week I want to print that out, and that way when I’m practicing my pin curls next weekend I can double-task and go through a full rewrite on that. (Though it wouldn’t hurt to be working on a computer that ran at faster than a crawl to make that happen, quite honestly, since Final Draft isn’t available for Chromebook and I’ve yet to find a comparable program.

Anyways – more updates on pin curls and makeup tutorials coming soon – probably later this week – but I wanted to take a minute to pause and talk about the other kinds of creative work I’m up to just now.

How do you balance your creative outlets? If you’re a writer, do you maintain interests in other art and craft forms? If your “home” medium is more visual or tactile, do you explore other ways of expressing yourself? And for those of you lucky enough to be working on passion projects for your day job, do you get all your creative juices flowing at work or are there things you save just for yourself? Looking forward to answers in the comments.

The Peggy Carter Project Continues

So. I wrote this morning (though this blog is scheduled to go up on Saturday) about preparing a costume for Halloween-slash-maybe-ComicCon-slash-maybe-other-cons as Agent Peggy Carter, SSR. Thus far, I’ve ordered a hat, a pattern and some dynamite shoes.

Now for the more ephemeral steps: hair, makeup and…learning how to sew.

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Hair: According to the interwebs, pin curls seem the way to go, and while my hair is currently a bit shorter than it would need to be (no more cuts till October, other than teeny trims!) I’ve decided it’s better to get a jump on things and just give it a lot of practice. This tutorial was the first that came up, and while I remember trying to do pin curls for a night out in Edinburgh seven or eight years ago, I also remember that being a disaster. I’m pretty sure this will also be a disaster, but it’s my first night. Cut me some slack.

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“You’re wearing my brand.”

 

Makeup: As I looked for makeup tutorials, I learned that the actual lipstick used on the show is available from a boutique in LA. Since I have a friend in LA who’s willing to stop by and pick the lipstick up for me and ship it out here, that seems sorted. Eye makeup will come along in time.

The sewing machine of Doom.

The sewing machine of Doom.

Sewing: OK, fine, I admit it. I’m actually typing this just so I can avoid going to try and figure out how to use the sewing machine a friend so generously gifted me earlier this year. My new mantra being, “What would Peggy do?”, however, I know I have to dive in and get the job done. So far, I’ve watched a tutorial about what kinds of supplies I’ll need to buy – I actually have some of them, but it seems like a trip to Joanne Fabrics is probably in order to pick up the rest. And I feel like I should have some idea of how the sewing machine will work before I head to Joanne’s, just in case it turns out that I need to get a dumbed-down version of a sewing machine for myself.

The Suit: I got a lovely email from the eBay seller I bought my suit pattern off of earlier today, saying she’d put it in the mail and I should get it early next week. Meanwhile, the same friend who bequeathed me her sewing machine has some ideas about what kinds of fabric might work.

Still no ideas for the blouse.

Well, there’s no more putting it off. Time to go read the sewing machine instructions and have a play around with some scraps of fabric around the house.

As soon as I top off my beer and start playing Captain America.

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Somehow, I think Agent Carter would approve.

Edit: The pin curls were not a disaster! My hair is definitely too short, and I need to figure out how to make them curl properly on one side of my head so I don’t get a great spronging curl sticking out at a 90-degree angle to my scalp on the right, and the part definitely needs work…but the left side actually looked pretty good! So I’ll just keep practicing and at some point may even wear them out in public! I used bobby pins instead of the duck clips the tutorial I linked to recommended, because I’m not going to go out and spend MORE money just yet, but as I get better at it if it turns out that it’s something I want to do more of, I may go out and spring for the duck clips after all. Also, I used a really nice argan oil/shea butter soft hair “moisturizer,” and it worked well, so hopefully that kept my hair a bit healthier than the grocery store gel they were recommending in the tutorial. Though a friend whose mom grew up in the 40s said they used to use beer to set the curls, too. May have to give that a shot just to see what the difference is like.

Other edit: The sewing machine is not as scary as it looked; I couldn’t find the box of transparent bobbins my friend gave me, so today I have to go out in the cold and search the car to see if I left them out there.

Agent Carter & Aspirations of Craftiness

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Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Agent of Awesome.

Are you watching Marvel’s Agent Carter? If yes, awesome, we can still be friends.

If no…well, okay, we can still be friends, but I highly, HIGHLY recommend you get yourself over to your online video purveyor of choice (it’s on HuluPlus and Amazon Prime, go now, this blog will still be here when you get back) and start watching this show about a woman who’s kicking ass, taking names, and saving the world one dude at a time.

Because Agent Carter (the show) – and Agent Carter (the character) – are both awesome.

The show has an 8-episode run this spring, with the finale airing this coming Tuesday (like I said, get on it), and while watching the penultimate episode, I made a decision.

I’m going to make myself an Agent Carter costume for Halloween.

For those of you who haven’t done Halloween with me in the past, here’s the thing – for about 18 years straight, I was either a witch or a vampire or a witchy vampire or something similar to one or both of those. Only in the last couple years have I started doing “costumes,” and they’re generally the kind where it’s October 25th and I suddenly realize I have plans, and run to the closet and start rooting around for something I can wear.

“Rachel,” I hear you saying, “Calm down. It’s only February.”

Well, perfection takes time, and the sheer awesomeness that is Agent Peggy Carter deserves NOTHING LESS THAN PERFECTION. I am not going to half-ass this costume. I am going to whole-ass it. And I have a fair amount of ass with which to do so.

First up: Iconic Peggy Carter red fedora. 

Fucking. Iconic.

Fucking. Iconic.

First step was locating the red fedora. Because red fucking fedora. I posted a link to Amazon on my Facebook page, and (in a thread that’s currently 80 comments deep and still growing) asked for advice as to which of the many available choices most closely matched Agent Peggy Carter’s. I was thrilled when one of my friends – apparently he takes his costuming pretty seriously – was able to find a hat that was as near as anything we could find to something that a) ought to fit my gigantic head (HOLD THE COMMENTS ON THAT ONE, PEANUT GALLERY!) and b) was the right kind of fedora. Apparently there are multiple kinds of fedoras and this was the one that had the most-matching of brims:

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Pretty goddamn fucking iconic.

Hat. May need some doctoring vis a vis the band to get the colors right, but otherwise, check. It’s an XXL, so it may fit my giant head. Also? It was the last one the seller had in stock. 

Click. Buy. Done.

Now, panic set in, because step two is a little tougher.

Step two: The perfect 1940s skirtsuit.

Two issues, here.

Issue one:
I get really, irrationally T’d off when I read those “looks like” fashion/decor pieces that say, “Hey, this $50 Ikea lamp is *just like* this $600 Restoration Hardware lamp!” and you look and it’s like, no, the Ikea lamp is an Ikea lamp and the Restoration Hardware lamp has visibly better construction, higher quality materials, and the details of craftsmanship that make it cost an extra five hundred and fifty bucks. (Is it worth the extra cost? Probably not, from all points of view that make fiscally responsible sense. From a design standpoint? You are not getting the same thing.)

Given this, I do not want some knock-off cheap “vintage” suit that is sort-of-but-not-really-the-same as the awesomeness that is Peggy Carter’s blue skirt suit. (You saw the awesomeness of that skirt suit in the above pic, right? Because go back and look. It’s freaking awesome.) I want a suit that is as close as I can possibly freaking get to that awesome suit without spending a fortune.

After a bit of reading, I learned that the best option was, therefore, an actual vintage skirt suit from the 1940s, preferably sourced from some kind of thrift or vintage store. Which brings us to…

Issue #2:
As mentioned above, I have got a fair amount of ass with which to whole-ass the execution of this costume. And while I fully intend on continuing my healthy eating streak, so may have slightly less ass by the time we get to the end of October, I know damn well I’m not going to be fitting into any 1940s-era clothing any time soon. Modcloth and other vintagey stores just weren’t cutting it – the lapels weren’t right, the material didn’t look right…

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That’s right. Ebay, baby.

…and then I hit on ebay. Now. Compare this silhouette to the suit in the first photo.

Per-fect.

(Okay. As near to perfect as I’m going to find. And the pattern itself is for plus sizes. SCORE.)

There’s just one hitch.

This is going to require sewing. The last time I did an honest-to-goodness sewing project, I was about ten years old, and it was a puppet or something. You know: cut out the felt, sew around the edges, presto, done.

Luckily, while wandering the internet in an insomnia-induced haze earlier this morning (what, you think I have time to write blogs like this on a regular day?) I found this site, which says it shows you how to sew in step-by-step videos that start off with like, 20 videos about how to get the right equipment and how to cut a thing before you even get to the point of oh hey here’s some fabric and a thing you can make.

I keep telling myself, I have eight months. That’s like, one or two videos a day, with time for practice projects. I have eight months. I can learn how to sew a thing in eight months. Eight whole months!

If I repeat this enough times, I may actually start to believe it.

Added bonus: my mom just emailed me in reply to a note I sent her last night and said she will help me, so if I run into real problems, help is only a 2-hour drive away.

So. Suit. Sort-of sorted. I’ll have to figure out how to pick a fabric, but um, I’m going to bask in the achievement of having found the suit pattern for a day or two first. And please don’t ask me about my blouse plans yet, ‘cuz I haven’t got any. (If you have ideas, though, feel free to share…)

All of which brings us to…

Part, the Third: Heels In Which To Kick Ass.

Now we have a real issue. Thanks to last year’s back injury, I will not be wearing any stunning 2-3″ heels any time in the near future, including eight months from now. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

BUT.

A month or so ago, when I was having a really rotten day, a friend of mine (bless her ever-loving heart) sent me a gift certificate for Zappo’s. And in an hour-long trawl across the interwebs this morning at 4am, I discovered…

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Close-e-bloody-nuff.

…these absolute stunners.

They’re not as high or as strappy as Peggy’s fantastic pumps, but you know what? Contrary to my earlier rant on delusional “this is actually that” cost-saving measures, I will compromise on aesthetics if it means not setting myself back into screaming (literally screaming) agony by re-aggravating my back injury. And these really, really aren’t that far off.

So there you have it. Obviously, this is going to be a hell of a trick to pull off. Obviously, I am nervous as f*ck about whether I’ll be able to do it at all. But I keep reminding myself: I have eight months till Halloween, I have a mother who made all her own clothes when she was younger, and even if this ends up being a complete disaster, well…

Fucking. Iconic.

Gratuitous iconic hat pic.

…I’ll still have the shoes and the hat.