I put on my robe and wizard hat

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Another new character, another epic kit project. This time it’s my partner’s new character, a wizard, and a proper spectacles-on-nose, fussy, bookish wizard at that; the only thing he’s missing is the badger-losing beard, as in our setting at least it’s remarkably hard for elves to grow proper facial hair.

This has actually been completed for a fortnight or so (so I could probably count it towards the Sewcialists’ #BlueFebruary …) but I only got good photos of the finished project today.

The Elf was clear from the get-go that he wanted a fancy coat rather than a robe, and he wanted it sleeveless so he had a full range of movement in his shoulders. (This is something that came up when I was making the White Devil costume, as well – obviously there are people who play completely non-combatant characters, but they are few, and if you aren’t one of them your costume has to be practical to fight in.)

He liked the idea of a sleeveless version of Simplicity 4923: I had made a test version of this before using an old pair of red velvety curtains from my grandmother’s house, and he loved the full-skirted design but was driven up the wall by the all-enveloping sleeves. He also wanted this one to be lined.

Fabric

We talked about fabric a lot. The main difficulty with S4923 is how much fabric it takes – seven yards, or between six and seven metres. I guessed that I could do it in six metres given that I wouldn’t be cutting the bulky (two-piece, curved) sleeves or the eight! cuff pieces. But six metres of anything adds up; then another six metres for lining, and as it turned out another six metres for underlining as all the fabrics the Elf liked for the shell were rather lighter than coat-weight.

When considering outer fabrics, I had a brainwave – I remembered this post from Sew Busy Lizzy about her Victoria blazer, which uses fabric from a second-hand sari as lining and contrast fabric. Lizzy mentions in that post how used/vintage saris are a fantastic way of getting what’s essentially a six-metre length of cloth for (often) a lot cheaper than six metres of nice fabric would cost you off the bolt. So we hied us to eBay, and snagged this beauty:

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It’s deep blue, similar to royal blue but more purple, with gold embroidery and beading along the long edge and on the end section that would be visible over the shoulder if worn as a proper sari. It came with a matching choli (cropped blouse) with the same embroidery around the sleeves. The choli is a gorgeous piece of work in its own right – it’s clearly handmade and has been hand-altered as well, with the side seams taken in twice and minor repairs done in variously coloured thread.

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Even though I’d bought the sari for this exact purpose, it was still kind of weird cutting into a perfectly functional piece of clothing. I ended up not needing to deconstruct the choli, which I’m weirdly thankful for; I’ve hacked up a few of my own handmade garments with gay abandon to get at the fabric, but doing it to someone else’s seemed a bit … wrong, I suppose, particularly as I’d be taking apart something beautifully made to be real clothes to turn it into an amateur-made costume.

Lining and underlining came from Fabricland. Fair warning: that is the website where the Nineties went to die, and I would really not recommend it if you’re a photosensitive epileptic or otherwise badly affected by flashing things. However. It’s not hard to navigate, they have a good range of fabrics including a vast quantity of cheap and cheerful stuff, and the people on the other end of the phone are courteous, helpful, and extremely speedy in dispatch.

Eventually we decided on this gorgeous jade/teal/greenish-blue poly taffeta for lining, and blue honeycomb parc (hard to describe, but you know it when you see it – odd plasticky/papery/fabricky stuff that you find used as cheap tablecloth or similar) for the underlining, as it’s sturdy, cuts and sews nicely, and doesn’t fray. Both are still available from the Fabricland Cheap Fabrics page. I failed to notice that both of them are extra-wide, and so now I have tons left over … ah well. More for me! The honeycomb parc especially is an extremely effective substitute for sew-in interfacing, although I would not like to comment on how well it’s likely to survive washing.

Even including postage (that much fabric is not light) I still ended up with 18m of fabric for something in the region of £35, which is pretty spectacular. Here it all is piled on my sewing table:

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Cutting and prep

It became clear as soon as I laid out the sari fabric on the dining room table, before I put the pattern pieces anywhere near it, that it was going to be trouble. Just getting it to lie with the edge in a straight line was a challenge. So rather than my usual method of pinning the pieces to the fabric and cutting around them, I weighted them down, drew round with chalk, then lifted the piece away and cut to the chalk outline.

I don’t have specific pattern weights. Other people have recommended tinned food, and when I’m sewing on my red table I have a pair of cheap but heavy-bottomed trophies I use (I was a pretty good archer in my wild youth and have the medal case to show for it … well, it’s in my parents’ loft, but it exists) but as I was in the living room, the easiest source of small, solid, heavy items was the bookshelf:

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Points to anyone who can identify all of them. (And what do points mean?)

The fabric is fine enough that it still moved even when I dragged the chalk across it, but I hate to think how much more it would have wiggled around if I’d tried to cut directly around the pattern pieces as I usually do. I do own a rotary cutter, but only an A2 cutting mat, and with pattern pieces this big I would have needed to move them around enough that the net amount of wiggle would probably have been as bad or worse.

In the event, the sari fabric cut well enough, even if the edges were raggedy in places, and the lining and underlining cut like an absolute dream. The sari pieces took longer than the other two fabrics put together, and not just because there were more of them.

For all the sari pieces, I cut a copy in the honeycomb parc, and went on to treat each sari/parc pair as a single layer throughout. For the lining, I cut the godet pieces exactly the same as the surface fabric, then modified the fronts and backs using an extremely haphazard, on-the-fly version of this tutorial for drafting a jacket lining. I laid out the front piece on the fabric, drew round it, laid out the front facing piece on it and drew in the inner edge of that, removed the facing piece, added a vague freehand attempt at seam allowance and cut. The front piece with the area of the facing piece subtracted gave me my front lining piece; then I did the same for the back piece and the neck facing.

This is not the best explanation (really, it isn’t, read the link if it makes no sense). Do not attempt to follow it! Drafting new pattern pieces is definitely the smarter way to go – doing it all on the fabric is space-inefficient and liable to be inaccurate if your fabric moves when you put pattern pieces on it or draw on it. However, it worked fine in this case and my lining fabric had enough give to accommodate the spots where the seamlines didn’t quite match up.

I experimented with basting the sari fabric and the honeycomb parc together before constructing the coat, as is generally recommended if you’re going to treat two layers as one. In the event, machine basting just didn’t work: if I had the sari fabric on the underside it got eaten by the feed dogs, and if it was on top it was light enough that just the pressure of the presser foot made it wriggle sideways, even pinned. I briefly contemplated the amount of time it would take to hand-baste it all, especially given the thickness of the honeycomb parc (it is tough to punch through with a hand needle …) and decided that life was too short.

Pins. Pins are your friends.

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Constructing the shell

S4923 has the wonderful virtue of looking much more complicated than it actually is. It’s a flouncy frock coat, surely it must be terribly difficult … but no: sew backs together at CB, sew fronts to each shoulder, sew side seams down to top of godet, put in godets, done. The only tricky bit is getting the godets to slot in properly, and even that’s not too hard. (This is discounting the sleeves – when I made the test version I found they went in very easily as set-in sleeves go, but YMMV.)

To construct the shell, for each seam I stacked up all the pieces – underlining/self/self/underlining – with the edges aligned, pinned them viciously and sewed through the lot. This way, with the self fabric entirely inside the sandwich and only the tough, papery underlining in contact with the machine, it sewed up quickly and without trouble.

Constructing the lining

I put the lining pieces together in the same way/order as the shell. For reasons I now don’t remember but which definitely made sense at the time, I opted to attach the facings to the shell and then put the actual lining in (it was possibly something to do with the loose edge of the facing pieces flapping around like anything.)

Rather than understitch or topstitch – either way would have resulted in getting embroidery and beads stuck in the machine – I tacked the main front to the facings by hand. I was out of matching thread by this point, so used yellow/gold, to go with the embroidery.

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Finishing

With the lining in, I was left with raw edges at the armholes and hem. I finished the armholes by hand, with what ended up being a mutant variety of whipstitch. It’s not overly pretty, but it’s not visible and it does the job.

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To the hem, I added a strip of trim of the same embroidery that runs down the front, cut from elsewhere in the sari. It’s not lined or underlined, just hangs loose (and floats nicely when the wearer moves.)

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I bound the raw edge with a long strip of honeycomb parc, which didn’t need turning under as it doesn’t fray, and which isn’t visible from the outside because of the wide band of trim hanging down over it. This has the side effect of making the hem relatively stiff, which helps the coat skirt keep its shape and bells out impressively when twirled in.

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The coat does up with four sets of size 10 metal hooks-and-eyes. I hand-sewed them on as the very last step. To try and keep them securely anchored and stop the pressure on them from pulling the facing away from the shell, they’re sewn through the underlining of the shell as well as both layers of the facing.

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The Hat

Every wizard needs a hat. Hat = wizard, wizard = hat. My suggestion of a proper hyowj pointy hat was vetoed, however, so instead what emerged was a little round hat with more of the embroidered trim around it. There are no construction photos of the hat because my camera battery died, and I was in a frenzy of creation and wasn’t about to stop sewing long enough for it to recharge. Here is a photo of the completed hat:

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The hat is the simplest of hats: oval + strip running all the way round the outside, same in underlining, same in lining, stick it all together until you get what looks like a sort of inside-out cloth barrel, turn it the right way out through the gap you cunningly remembered to leave in one lining seam (I actually did remember this time), handsew the gap shut ET VOILA.

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Sadly it did not go quite to plan. The sari fabric developed a bubble near the back seam I still don’t know how, which looks a bit untidy. It’s less noticeable when it’s being worn, when it just looks like another random wear wrinkle as opposed to the result of a construction error. If it still bugs me in a while, I might try stitching down the excess to see if it’ll lie flatter. Or I might just leave it.

The only other advice I can give about duplicating this model of hat is to check and double-check your seam allowances when a) cutting an oval based on the circumference of someone’s head and b) then attaching a long straight strip all the way around that curved edge. Mine kept wandering and I think it contributed to the odd bubbles on top.

Completed

And here it is on the Elf himself. With his spellbook:

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From the back:

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And a twirl for good measure!

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I’m really pleased with how this turned out – the pattern modifications worked fine, lining and underlining it was relatively straightforward, it fits him nicely, and it’s visually pretty spectacular. Now I just have to hope his character survives long enough to get some use out of it …

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About Craft (Alchemy)

I make things and make things up.
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6 Responses to I put on my robe and wizard hat

  1. Rhiannon says:

    Moronic bellowing!

  2. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of character death in RPGs because I only do tabletop. Adds a whole new terror!

    What a good idea to use a sari. It’s very effective!

  3. @Rhiannon, indeed.

    @Catherine – it’s a firmly held belief amongst LARPers that the amount of time and effort you put into a costume is directly proportional to the probability that character will die in their first session. This isn’t true in my experience, but it’s another reason why people tend to make costumes in bits that can later be mixed and matched for other characters.

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