Friday, December 21, 2012

"Through Your Eyes at Christmas Eve" by Abney Park: An Album Review

Given it's that twinkly-light, holly-edged time of year, I figured I'd do a little Christmas-y review.  Pour yourself a little rum toddy, and settle in.

my cd of Abney Park's Christmas album, "Through Your Eyes on Christmas Eve", has arrived in the post, well, that's just handy! 
(If you want to make your own decisions, it can be purchased here.)  I had listened to their sampler (found at the link above) and decided to order the album.

So I extracted the CD from it's beautiful package (Abney Park does know how to make lovely album covers!), and listened to it for the first time.  Twice, in fact. 
Unfortunately, I have to confess I'm a little underwhelmed by this album.  (Please don't hit or boo me!)  I have thoroughly enjoyed much of Abney Park over the years, and truly love a lot of their songs.  However, they don't really add anything to any of the Christmas songs they covered, to make them theirs.  Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Jordan will remain the definitive version of "Baby It's Cold Outside" for me - Captain Robert's only addition to the song is the highly entertaining addition of the word "Rum" at a key moment - very funny, but not enough to save the song.  

On the good side, Abney Park does pull off some lovely and very different instrumentals in their pieces (with the exception of Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, where the second half is marred by an annoying DJ-disc-spinning element).  However, their singers lack good clear voices for Christmas songs - they either come across as too monotone (sorry Captain) or too rough (particularly in the case of his female singer).

If, however, you can get your hands on one song, The title song, "Through Your Eyes on Christmas Eve", is an excellent piece, and an original, which suggests to me that Abney Park is far better off writing their own songs, where they clearly know their strengths and talents, versus doing covers.  The only cover they pull off decently is Winter Wonderland, where they add interesting instrumental elements, and Robert's low voice seems to blend better.

So on the whole, this album wasn't exactly a glowing success, but neverless I am happy to add it to my collection (the album art alone makes it a lovely addition to my shelf), and, by buying it, to have done my part to support a band whom I generally wholeheartedly enjoy.  

Maybe they should just steer clear of the treacherous skies of Christmas.

Cheers all!  

The Steam Wench

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Best Intentions ... and a Photographic Interlude!

Well.  Here it is, months after my last post, despite my clear intention to post more frequently!

Alas, running the local steampunk group, planning an active summer of events,  on top of working full-time, has left me virtually no time to sew and work on crafty projects, let alone write about it!  Then there was my fabulous vacation to London in early October, and attendance at Steamcon IV, at the end of October.

And now I've gone and decided, with one month to prep, to not only once again have our group promotional table at Imaginarius Fantasticus, the local fantasy-genre-themed Christmas craft fair, but to actually be a vendor as well!

Did I mention that was with one month to prep?

So ... I'm stressed, and busy, and still have no time to post!

However, I have several things, at least, that I shall be posting about over after this weekend is over and done with ... so, as a brief interlude, I leave you with some select photos from our summer steampunk events.
Our invitation to Brass in the Grass, our July Picnic
Photos from our picnic in Queen's Park, The Royal City, New Westminster, BC (August):

Thank you all!  More posts will come!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bustle Pad Creation

Hello all.  So, further to the bustle post previously, this is the promised post on making a small bustle pad.  My goal was a small, lightweight bustle pad, producing a small pouf.

My materials were some scrap black lining fabric, interfacing, some poly stuffing sheeting, and some black crinoline-weight netting I had lying around.

I started by measuring the distance across the top of my tuckus, where I wanted the pad to sit.  Based on this, I drew out the following pattern on paper, and cut it out of two pieces of the black lining, with seam allowance added.
Out of the same patter, without seam allowance, I cut a piece of the lining and a piece of the poly padding (which I'd bought for my tea cozy).  I pinned the interfacing on the lining, to provide a stiffened back, and placed the batting on top of that, to give a bit of body to the pad's structure.
Left - cut out pieces of fabric, interfacing & batting    Right - interfacing pinned to lining.
Left - batting pinned on top of interfacing.       Right - both now sewn onto fabric base.

The next step was to sew the other piece of fabric on and then flip it inside out and hand stitch closed, to produce the pad base.  I also sewed a line across the top, to leave a convenient point for the pad to bend forward.
Once that was done, I cut out three widths of netting, double the width I wanted the net pouf, and at least 3 times the length of the pad's maximum width.  I used the full width I had, since it was more than 3 times as long as the base.  Here they are, faintly showing up on my floor, cut out.  
Next step was to double over the pieces lengthwise, and run a gathering stitch along the side with both edges, to create a tube.
Once gathering stitching was done, I gathered all three tubes of netting.
Left - before I gathered the tubes of netting.   R - after gathering the netting to fit the base.

I attached the gathered tubes one at a time, starting with the widest one, at the bottom, and then adding the middle width, and then the narrowest at the top.

The end result still wasn't quite poufy enough, and I had lots of netting kicking around, so I used more netting to stuff into the large and medium tubes, to create more pouf.  (There wasn't room to tuck more into the narrowest tube, which was already pretty puffy on it's own.)
I decided to use a hook-and-eye system to attach the bustle to any particular skirt - so I have large hooks on the back of the bustlepad, and will attach matching large flat eyes to any skirt I want to use the bustlepad with.

This was a very simple, very easy bustlepad, which produces a prodigious amount of pouf for its light weight.  Contrary to what I've heard, the crinoline as done here (tubes and stuffed with more crinoline net) seems pretty resilient.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blue and Gold Hell

Hello, good folks.  My apologies for another long delay in posting.

Running a local steampunk group, and the pesky nuisance of having to work for a living, does seem to get in my way of sewing, making, and writing.  I will strive to amend this.  Let's call it ... my New Summer's Resolution.

Today's post is about my brilliant idea to make a cute short bustle out of an alluring leftover scrap of blue and gold fabric that was given to me by a friend (who had used it to make blinds).

This is the piece of fabric ... this is all there was.  So, pretty as it is, I was immediately constrained by size ... there was no purchasing more.
As I mentioned, I thought I'd make a cute mini-bustle.  A sort of stripey poof for my hiney.  Ah, perhaps you're seeing how this may end.

I tackled this with my usual tendency (lacking a pattern) to simply pin it on my model, play around with it, and see how it looked. (After trimming it down to a nice rectangle of fabric, which meant just removing a triangle off the side.

With a lot of draping and pinning and pleating, and having found a technique for pleating up the sides (which I will link here if I can find it again!), these were my various looks:
I decided to go with the last, more poofy form, largely because it seemed the best one to trim out.  For all of these, I pleated at the waistband to distribute the fabric evenly
Different views of the pleating on sides and back

I used a pieces of narrow twill tape to "bustle" the back of the skirt (i.e., to ruck the fabric up), attaching it at centre back waist and at three spots down the centre back (shown below).
I pleated the sides, bringing the fabric upwards for each pleat.
It took a while of fiddling to get the side and back pleating exactly right. 
I had some gold braid lying around from previous sewing projects, and some awesome steampunk buttons from a local store called Button Button.  I found both blue, and a deep blue & gold fringe at Dressew.  I also bought some blueish-gold ruffle fabric to use (either for this or a future project, and I played with the small triangular scrap I had cut off at the beginning.   I pinned everything on first to make my final design choice.
And these are playing with a ruffled fishtail back skirt (which I didn't do)
I opted for the shortest, pouffiest shape, decided not to use the triangular scrap, and selected the blue & gold heavy looped fringe, with the gold braid over top, and the tasselled decoration with the gold button.

These are the final effects of back and side pleating, below.
Once the back pleats were pinned as I wanted, I sewed across the back to reinforce the waist area and anchor the pleats.

To anchor the side pleats, I sewed through all the layers.  

The side pleating caused the edge to fan out, so I had to turn under the edge to straighten it. (left - pleated and fanned naturally; right - with edge folded under to create a straight line.)

However, this created an exception quantity of fabric, and I tried my best to trim all the excess fabric to reduce the volume (seven pleats, and then folded over ... insane).
Well, I tried my best.  I broke a needle attempting this, and never managed to get through the thickest part.  Seven pleats of this fabric, and then folding over, was simply too thick to sew through. (Really?  You'd think I'd have seen that coming.)
Above is the snapped needle, with the point jammed in the machine.  And the fragment once I pried it loose with pliers.

I used grosgrain ribbon as a waistband (double thickness to enclose the bustle's edge), with snap closure.  This will allow me to wear it under a corset or heavy belt with ease.
To help make it pouf out if I so chose, I made a removable bustle pad out of crinoline netting, (the making of which I shall post next).

So.  Here are side views of the penultimate product (missing the button & decorated tassel trim on the sides.  The bustle pad is underneath it for these shots.
 And here is the final rear view of the bustle.
And here are shots of it, at it's one and only wearing debut at Norwescon 35.  The first two are the most flattering angles of the piece.
However, I'm far less happy with how it looked from the back.  It seems ... odd.  
There were also serious logistical issues with it ... it packed badly, and the carefully crafted and pressed shaping in the centre back, and the side pleats, got pretty destroyed even in a bag of soft garments, and what didn't get smooshed in the luggage got smooshed by sitting on it.  

The side pleats kept trying to droop the other way (how odd, gravity works).  You can sort of see this happening in the photo above left.  And finally, the side edges & hem kept curling in on itself, hiding the lovely trim.  Local sewing friends have suggesting hand-stitching in millinery or thin wrapped wire along the hem, to help with shaping.

Does anyone have thoughts?  Suggestions?  

I'm trying to figure out whether to keep it as it is (after trying reinforcing the hem with wire, and after tacking down some of the pleating in the back), or whether to take it apart, and if there is a salvageable quantity of fabric, reuse this lovely small piece of striped fabric in something else entirely - or even work on one of my earlier permutations (I do still have the triangular scrap).