January 21, 2016

Steampunk: How to Make a Collapsible Victorian Skirt Bustle Cage

Don't freak out - just because it's called a cage doesn't mean it's some of kind of torture implement. Actually, a bustle cage is something that Sir Mix-a-Lot would probably appreciate, since its purpose was to create a kind of giant artificial derriere to emphasize the tiny waists that were all the rage for women during the Victorian Era.

You know how very complicated flower arrangements require a hunk of floral foam to support and shape them? Well, the idea here is the same - a contraption that sits under a skirt or dress to shape it into an exaggerated round hump just below the waist. Here are some ladies illustrating what I'm talking about:

(Image via Truly Victorian)

All of which is to say that we have started working on our steampunk getups for The Steampunk World's Fair!

My first project was a bustle cage to eventually drape a giant skirt over. And you too can make one!

Step 1: Find a hula hoop that you don't mind destroying. Exhibit A: several hoops from the dollar store:

Guess which one got the nod? That's right, the blue bent one that was irrecoverably non-circular.

Step 2: Cut the hula hoop into arcs of increasing size. If your hoop is like mine, hollow and made out of plastic, a hacksaw will easily do the trick.

The smallest piece I have is about 7 inches long, with each successive one being about 2 inches longer than the last. After cutting them, I bent each one every 2 inches or so (you can see the fold marks on the pieces), to help with the shaping process later.

Step 3:Sew a strip of fabric to the middle of each hoop piece. I just cut two long strips (each about 1.5 feet long) off of an old tshirt and sewed them very tightly around the first hoop arc by sandwiching the plastic between two pieces of fabric and sewing them into a channel around the plastic piece:

You can see from the picture how stretched the jersey is around the plastic. As much as possible, sew so that there is no slack in your fabric. You don't want the plastic piece to be able to wiggle around.

Step 4: Continue sewing your fabric strips tightly around each plastic piece. Leave about 2 inches of space between each:

Make sure to attach the pieces in increasing size order, and to face them in the same direction.

Step 5: Shape the plastic into semi-circles with wire. Run a length of wire through the smallest of the plastic tubes. Make sure the wire is strong enough to bend the plastic - anything below a 14-12 gauge should be fine:

Also, this is a good time to use this first wire to push a strip of fabric (long enough to tie around your waist) through this smallest tube. You can do this by bending the wire end into a small loop and then tying the fabric strip to a it before pushing it through. Eventually, you'll use this fabric piece to wear the bustle cage.

Step 6: Complete the semi-circle. Pull the wire through the hoop piece, bending the plastic into a U-shape. Use the wire to hold this shape by making a hook-and-loop closure:

Do this for each of the hoop pieces, and you'll end up with a contraption that looks like this when you dangle it in the air:

Step 7: Now, do the same sandwiched fabric thing running down the sides of the bent plastic pieces. This will both cover any jagged plastic edges, preventing them from rubbing your eventual skirt fabric, and will also give the right shape to the hoop cage:

If you want to, you can tape the hook-and-loop wire closures you made so that all potentially scrap-y places are covered. And that's it! you're done!

Here is a shot of the finished cage from the inside

Here is what it will look like tied to your natural waist with the fabric strip you slipped through the top tube:

Tie it on and then try to sit down - it's no problem because this contraption is collapsible!

And finally, here is what it will do to any skirt you put over it:

Don't you feel like you could go discipline some new housemaids and then have tiny tea sandwiches in the parlour while pouring over visiting cards?

January 10, 2016


As Ms42roads is back at it, I figured I'd post briefly. We made some fun collages out of old beat up books with some cool old etchings and art in them. Here are a couple:

January 8, 2016

Avoiding the Disposable Wedding Dress

You guys, I loved - LOVED - my wedding dress. It was a true work of art. It was a handmade, unusual, extraordinarily beautiful, flattering, and made me feel like I was floating around the entire day that I wore it. It looked like this:

(I'm the one in the middle, wearing white.)

But then, after one perfect, astonishing day, it was packed back up into its box - forever? When else would I be able to wear 20 pounds of beads and feathers? But, on the other hand, how could it just go unworn from that moment on, a one-use thing like a plastic fork? That seemed like a terrible choice, so I took my dress to a fantastic dressmaker and asked her to split into two parts: a top and a skirt. I don't have excessive call to go to fancy galas, but surely at least one or two would happen sometime.

And, lo, last April, we did get to go to an honest to goodness black tie event at the Barnes Foundation. I did the Sharon Stone thing and paired the drop-dead skirt with a simple tee:

Flattering, magical, floating perfection. Continued bell-of-the-ball effect. It was a wonderful night.

Now, if only I could ever fit back into that beautiful beaded top...

January 6, 2016

What Will Dinosaurs Destroy Next?

Are you into painstakingly and meticulously arranging tiny objects? Do you find yourself with a free day that you'd like to spend uncomfortably perched over a large flat surface? Do you want to herd small children into doing something that requires the kind of extreme patience and extreme dexterity that they most likely don't possess? Do you relish the feeling of being deeply frustrated for prolonged periods of time only to experience tiny "a-ha!' moments every now and again? Then you, my friend, are just the sort of person who should be putting together jigsaw puzzles.

Luckily, we are a family of such people, and we spend our New Year's assembling this amazing 3-D version of Neuschwanstein, a replica of a castle in Bavaria built by King Ludwig II:

You know what's even more awesome? We've seen the real thing! It's built on top of a hill and thus has ridiculously beautiful views. We really caught it on the perfect day too - look at that sky.

I will say that it is hilarious to see pictures of ourselves standing next to this thing we just spent hours putting together. It's got kind of a Charlie Kaufman feel to it.

Anyway, our jigsaw castle is just like the 3D puzzle of the U.S. Capitol that was attacked by dinosaurs, which means this baby might just be the next setting for a rollicking stop-motion adventure!Until then - nice, right?

January 4, 2016

Handmade Hanukkah

You know what's hard to make by hand? Good presents. Oh, sure, you can whip up any one of the hundreds of crafty present ideas out there and pass those out to wild acclaim or muted gratitude. But what about the kinds of presents that someone will use and appreciate and delight in? What if you aren't a master carpenter or knitter or metalworker? This is what I ask myself any time I decide to give someone something that I made. Will this person actually want this thing? Will they enjoy it in some real way, and not just indirectly through the knowledge that I created it?

This Hanukkah I thought about these questions in an even more challenging context. What kinds of useful, gratifying things can kids make for presents - things that require effort and planning, initial failure and then success? This is the first year that the kids didn't simply dash off drawings for each other and call it a day. Instead, I helped them work and make for real.

For her beloved American Girl dolls, her brother made her a beautiful, delicate oven-baked clay tea set. He worked from these instructions, picked out colors she would love, and handled all parts of shaping the clay himself. I helped with brainstorming and with the oven (I'm pretty skittish about burns). She does indeed love them and was recently bragging to a friend how her brother had made them for her.

To liven up for the rather drab hat he recently received after growing out of his fun rainbow one, his sister made a pompom - from the old hat. She diligently unpicked the wool, rolled it up, researched how to guides, and whipped up this awesome hat topper. He super loves it.

Oh, and I made him a set of animal hooks by cutting a bunch of plastic animals in half with an X-Acto knife (they're surprisingly easy to cut through!) and gluing them onto a board with E-6000 glue. After some stain and poly - voila! Pretty cute and reasonably useful.

What did you make for the holidays?