I’m a bit of a geek.
By which I mean I am a fully-fledged, card-carrying, Star Trek watching geek. Ask me anything about Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Doctor Who, and I’ve probably got the right answer for you. Not to mention the degrees in dead languages that add just the right amount of nerd to my geek. I could say more, but you’re probably getting a pretty clear idea of where I stand on the scale of cool. Which I happen to measure using the Leonard Nimoy System of Coolness:
And I say this with pride. I used to be embarrassed by my geek inclinations, but the older I get, the less I care. I used to be obsessed and worried over what people thought of me, and it made me miserable. It was very nearly crippling, and social situations beyond my inner circle of friends were an agonizing form of torture. Now, half way into my 30s, I am starting to enjoy the liberation that goes with learning not to worry so much over what people think. People are going to always have an opinion about things that are in no way any of their business, so why should I be in the closet about seeing The Avengers three times in the theater just because some people might think I’m a little weird? Whatever. This is me, take it or leave it.
Which is why I am actually going to post about my current summer sewing projects: costumes.
Every year, there’s a little get together in Atlanta called Dragon*Con. About 40,000 people gather over Labor Day weekend, dressed as Batman and the Doctor and Princess Leia, as zombies and X-Men and a host of anime and gaming characters I can’t even begin to identify. It’s 3 days of intense geekery, with panels of writers, actors, comic book artists, parties where everyone is dressed as their favorite Harry Potter character, and events like Doctor Who episode previews and costume contests. Everyone has their geek flags out, waving them high, and it’s perfectly acceptable and a-okay, and really, it’s pretty much geek heaven.
Last year was my first year attending, and I was literally blown away by the costuming. Google Dragon*Con costumes some time. Mind. Blowing. People put huge amounts of time and patience and creativity into making these gloriously creative costumes. I was bullied into wearing a hastily thrown together costume by my Dragon*Con partner, and felt completely inadequate next to the other costumers. This year I don’t plan on suffering from costume envy, not now that I am armed with a sewing machine and the unlimited resources of the internet.
One of my costumes will be a Star Trek skant, the dress worn by Uhura and Nurse Chapel in the original Star Trek series of the late 1960s. If you have any familiarity at all with the original series, you are aware of how mini the mini-dresses worn by Uhura and Nurse Chapel were. If you aren’t, well, they’re pretty short.
I found a pattern online based on the original pattern used in the show. I decided to do a mock up first, since I am still a novice at sewing and have no idea how this dress will fit. Also, the pattern is a little wonky all around, nothing at all like the traditional patterns sold by Butterick and McCall’s. It’s two massive, sheets of thick paper like so:
The front panels of the dress are one sheet, the back panels are on the other. You can’t see through them like the store bought patterns, and I wasn’t so hot on cutting them out since I plan to reuse the pattern at least twice for myself (first for a mock up, then for the real deal), and then probably a second time for a friend. Cutting out the pieces didn’t seem efficient for my purposes, as I plan to get my money’s worth out of this pattern. In addition, during my research on this pattern (Did you know that Stark Trek has its own website and forums for costume making? I didn’t. I should have, but I didn’t.), I learned that the sizing is weird. Not surprising. since it’s based on the original costumer’s design from 40 years ago when a size 12 was something entirely different than the size 12 of today.
However, an unopened roll of wax paper in the pantry plus a black Sharpie equals instant pattern panels with no damage to my original. (Note: You have to clean off the tip of the sharpie occasionally to keep the ink flowing. The wax coats the marker tip.)
Then it was onto cutting out the mock up. My inheritance from my grandmother was a bunch of vintage patterns and a bag of fabric. A bag of 30 year old fabric.
It was a both a pleasantly nostalgic and horrifying trip down memory lane. It still smelled like my grandmother’s house, sold 15 years ago now, and there were pieces of fabric in there I recognized from curtains and clothing I saw in that same house throughout my childhood. It took me back and made me smile in fond remembrance of spending summers at my grandmother’s, mucking about in the closet, fascinated by the patterns and color schemes of her 70s synthetic fabric wardrobe. But here’s the horrifying part: the bag was about 50% polyester. Not the slinky, smooth, better-living-through-chemistry polyester of today, but the hard, scratchy, catches-on-fire-in-the-dryer polyester I associate with the home sewn dress pants of older and long dead female relatives with giant plastic glasses and hairspray shellacked hair. Just touching it is traumatizing. You can almost feel the malicious joy the mad scientists took in making synthetic fabrics that would outlast civilization.
However, I did find polyester in 3 shades of light blue, one a pretty dead on match for the blue used in Spock and McCoy’s costumes in the series. And probably pretty authentic, fabric wise. I decided that would do for a mock up, and you know, should the mock up fit me properly, I would then have an almost authentic dress on my hands, sewn from vintage polyester that I will never, ever put in the dryer or wear near open flame.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately depending on your stance on fire safety, it didn’t work out for a two reasons. The first is that I didn’t have enough of the blue polyester to make the full dress; one panel had to be cut from one of the other pieces of blue polyester.
The other issue was that the sizing is really is wonky, just as my research has indicated. When I tried it on, the arms didn’t fit, and I had added about an inch to each arm before I cut. The armpits and shoulders didn’t sit right either, nor did the entire dress close in the back. Once I realized the mock up was too small, I didn’t bother hemming anything, though I did pin the panels closed in the back.
That being said, it was surprisingly easy to sew together once I figured out that I had to make the straight lines of one piece fit the curve of its matching piece, and just to treat it like a puzzle, matching the pieces together as I went. My sewing instructor was impressed that I had managed to do what I did on my own. I have to say I’m impressed, too. I just sat down one Saturday, put all the panels together, and started to sew. My skills are definitely improving, and I can’t wait to see how the real dress comes out.