Yet More Topiary Animal Process

I went to Joann’s for some brown burlap, only to discover that there IS an online coupon for a single item, as well as a current total-order coupon in my wallet (those usually expire and I finally throw them away a couple months out of date), AND apparently the one fabric Joann’s carries for cheaper than Hancock’s is burlap. On top of all that, the girl who wound up cutting my fabric and ringing me up and making sure I got the maximum coupon benefit was knowledgeable and exactly the kind of clerk you hope for in a fabric store.

So I’m driving out to the location starting to feel pretty good about having to start over on Owl, or at least as good as can be felt. I look over at the animals as I pull up, hoping to see a glimpse of a white bag . . . and there is Owl, fully dressed. I never pulled his wrapping off when I packed up the last time I was there. To be fair, I had 7 large trash bags, it was dark, and so was owl. So here’s me, the biggest, but happiest spaz in the world.

On the plus side of this whole extra trip, Angel and Pooh got second fittings, which they might not have done, given the tight deadline. I haven’t finished the angel’s head yet, but I tested what I’ve got and had a chance to see the burlap art I decorated her dress with. Here is a burlap interpretation of a Sacred Heart.

Up the side of her dress:

I need to move the heart at the top; while working on the pieces separately, it wasn’t readily apparent where the overlap was.

These appliques are winding up getting made out of the loosest weave burlap, so they crumble as I put them on, and I noticed on Tigger, they were already starting to shred their way off. Stitching them on more securely would take forever as well as warp the fabric. So now all the appliques will be covered with ground-in school glue:


Topiary Animals Continued

The next step in the topiary process had to be digging up more fabric. After calling around, I located one store that had enough different colors so I could make it in one stop. An old blog entry I found while searching stated that Cutting Corners had many colors of burlap, but this is no longer the case. One location of Hancock Fabrics was worth the long trip out to the edges of the burbs. I think it’s not a current item, but their low burlap turnover has allowed them to retain some selection through the discontinuations.

Hancock Fabrics always has terrible signage; you can be looking almost right at it and not spot it while driving. Instead, it’s generally a good idea to look for the Big Lots sign. On the off chance there’s not one of those next to the Hancock’s, you can locate it with a Hobby Lobby or a Tuesday Morning sign.

I had really wanted Chris Robin to have blue pants, but it was not to be. There is no blue burlap to be had in the Dallas Metroplex. I considered khaki while looking at the burlap shelf, but while the shade was different, I figured it would be too close to what I was using for his skin tone that he would probably wind up looking like a horrible, pantsless little boy. The strategically-placed water spigot that keeps the plant alive wouldn’t have helped the situation. So brown pants it is.

This location of Hancock’s still carried these awesome scissors, though I had thought they didn’t anymore, so I stocked up. These are great lightweight fabric scissors that when I worked at a Hancock’s, we’d use to help our good scissors survive the fleece-cutting season–and they’d still be going strong at the end of it. Plus, they’re so cheap (at most places, between $1.50 to $2, and sometimes as low as $.75 on sale) that I use them like disposable scissors and don’t worry about people (i.e. me) using them to cut wire or some such thing as that.

Contrast that with those awful $9.99 sets-of-3 they’ve been pushing like they’re new for the past 2 (or 3?) years. To be fair, I haven’t used them, so I don’t know if the scissors themselves are awful, but Hancock’s tendency to force their employees to push stupid promo crap just keeps screwing over any good workers who are trying to develop real relationships with their customers–and while I rarely make it out to a Hancock’s anymore, it’s like getting in a time machine to see the piles of scissor sets clogging the cutting tables.


Because of the success of my method for pinning Rabbit on location and my desire not to have to undo and then redo as with Tigger, I prepped all the remaining 7 animals before heading out for the next fitting.

Eyore has a gimp leg (back left), and one extra-strong one (front left). I guess he does all his kicking with his right foot; I’ll just leave the story at that. Maybe he needs his tires rotated.

I draped the animals and pinned the heck out of them:

I’ll cheat and skip ahead to fitting #2. Rest assured there was much sewing and gnashing of pins between the previous picture and this one:

I marked him for some more velcro, where his eyes will go, and where to start his mane. The little pin-stars on his feet in the first photo became this:

I apparently left without a full shot of Rabbit, so here is a picture of his feet to tide you over:

I had originally pictured the overall-strap style of attaching chest to back only for Rabbit, but it’s winding up being the thing for pretty much every animal except Eyore and Tigger (pictured in the background). Also pictured, the everlastingly patient D., the real-life version of the Ryan Gosling Hey Girl Seamstress meme, and who probably does have a full body pic of Rabbit on his phone.

I put together a Roo ear from scraps, figuring that sewing in advance was just going to be a waste of time, like his mom’s hands were.

Second fitting:

She totally needs to shave her pits; there’s stuff growing in there, woman!


Piglet 1st fitting. Several people stopped to take pictures with him.

Second fitting:

I started Pooh, but it got too dark to continue. Got to mark his legs and diaper, though, which got filled with mud. Oh, Pooh!

I did get to see this, though:

The cool thing about fitting plant-folks instead of people, who would be mad about this sort of treatment:

On the other hand, I usually wouldn’t need to stand on a ladder to reach peoples’ heads; even a basketball player would stoop so I could get to his head if I were draping him for a balaclava or something for some reason.

Fitting 1.5:

I did his ears in the same manner as Roo’s. Also went home with a lot more mud in his diaper again; he poured water off his hands and down his legs the whole time I was fitting him.

Christopher Robin so far:

This is what his shirt looks like–nothing like normal-people shirts:

(Also, every time I look at that “cute and nerdy” bag, I start doing a double-parody on Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” song, which is my alarm clock, so it gets stuck in my head easily.)

Here is the angel (unrelated to the whole Winnie the Pooh story, but still a plant that doesn’t need to freeze to death in the winter):

Her arms proved to be waaaay easier than I first thought.

Now for the tragedy (yes, I am aware of what “tragedy” means in the classical sense, and I don’t really believe that Owl’s story rivals that of Oedipus or Antigone . . . well, maybe . . . )

Pretty much all of Owl is awkward and the formulas necessary to determine the pattern pieces by math would probably come from levels of calculus beyond what I managed to take in school, so there was a lot of pinning. And a lot of fabric. Look at that beautiful owl.

I discovered last night that the bag of Owl parts is missing. I can think of two parking lots that he might have been left in, and I asked around, checked dumpsters. I worked on the rest of the gang today in hopes that someone would go, “Oh look, a trashbag full of cut up burlap with pins in it–this must be important! Let me find the owner!” but it was apparently not to be. So back to the fabric store for yet more (locally-priced and no current coupons, alas!) burlap–fortunately brown is a readily available color–then back out to Fort Worth for a FIRST FITTING, gaaaahhahahahaahh.


Math and Cutting for the Topiaries

I sat down this morning to finish planning all the pattern pieces for the remaining 7 topiaries, then rolled out my paper and started drafting.

Between wrestling cats for the use of the rulers, maneuvering around the harp, and crouching on the floor for several hours straight, I decided to go ahead and sling one of my new 4’x8′ sheets of MDF onto a table base and spread out on a table in my cat-free studio.

There are a lot of things that need moving around and reorganizing, and I was postponing putting up the table until I got that done–that, and because it’s freaking heavy–but having a workspace this big is fabulous.

Several hours later and I’m down in the atrium again:

Okay, so the best-laid plans of mice and men. A lot of pieces had to be modified to fit the yardage available; Pooh’s shirt got longer, and he’s now wearing 3/4-length sleeves, instead of the cap-sleeved midi he usually wears. It’s his winter shirt.

I ran out of belly and inner-ears for Eyore, but they’ll be pink, and I think I can locate that locally. Christopher Robin has skin and hair, but no clothes. I had intended to make his shirt red without looking up a picture; it’s not, and I ran out of red anyway. I could have sworn I’d ordered some blue for his pants, but discovered upon looking at the pile of unrolled burlap that there is no pant-blue. So about 3 yards short. Not bad for guessing yardage to cover topiary animals before even determining the pattern pieces.

Luckily, burlap doesn’t have a nap and it’s wiggly enough that if you don’t cut it straight, no one will be able to tell–all the pieces just barely fit. I wound up with a tiny pile of scraps (many of them so small they’re only in the scrap pile just because there’s nothing else to use to solve emergencies) and an even tinier pile of trash:

The Wonderful Thing about Tiggers is This is the Only One

For this entire project, the Tigger Circular Reasoning Song kept getting stuck in my head on continuous repeat.

The remaining scraps of orange fabric with which to update Tigger:

Cats freaking love burlap.

Secret Cat had a hard time containing himself, spending the entire evening alternately sitting a few feet off and staring longingly when I was too close or sneaking up to sit on it when I turned my back or when there was a protective cat barrier between us.

Tigger’s torso, tail to neck:

The black square on the left is going to be tucked into his tail and not very visible, but will help make sure nothing is exposed to frost. The Goddess of Adequate Yardage helps those who help themselves.


(Again with the black patch to cover the difference between his neck and his arms.)

The entire remaining orange fabric:

Lots of stripes!:

I switched my sewing machine to the Princess, though I haven’t had time to pull her apart and clean/oil her. She wasn’t doing the problem things she was doing the last time I used her, so maybe she’s had time to think about what she’s done.

I’d had to switch because I needed a certain zipper foot that I only have in her size (low shank; the big, slow-witted brute I’ve been using takes high shank) for another project, and decided to just switch back over.



Clothes for Plants

The Project:

Fitted, semi-decorative burlap covers for 9 topiary animals for Cook’s Children’s Hospital


The geometry involved in coming up with the shapes involved in this project is crazy. While there are some near-circles and so forth, every single thing here is an irregular shape. I’ve got formulas for circle areas and circumferences, for right triangle sides, and for rectangles, but what is the formula for Pooh’s ear?



How many pins does it take to cross the breadth of an angel? Even the angel looks a little embarrassed about being so complicated.


The most time-consuming part of this project is figuring out the shapes and closures then drawing up pattern pieces.

This was my first optimistic planning option. Pooh is not going to look like either of these. Well, maybe Pooh will–I haven’t gotten that far–but on Tigger, the head involves 5 separate pieces and the velcro is not nice and neat up the center back. The more I planned and started drawing, the more I would realize more and more pieces that cannot be sewn together; these animals will not move their arms or wiggle their ears to squeeze into their clothes.

If cats knew math, they would be more helpful when drawing up pattern pieces.

I found a great local source for every shade of burlap you could want, 60″ wide; they could have renamed “apricot” as “Pooh colored” . . . on second thought . . .

But it turned out burlap was one of the things they can only sell as 50-yard bolts, which would have amounted to about a thousand spare yards of burlap by the time I was done using everything I could possibly need AND made myself matching burlap suits to wear while assembling each finished animal.

I found two sites online that, between them, carried a good enough selection, about half of which was 60″ and half was 48″. I managed to meet both of their free-shipping-minimums, though I had to order a few yards of lining fabrics and some samples to do it on one of them.

The client had requested me to start on Tigger first. I decided to make rabbit at the same time to help me determine how much yellow would be left over from Rabbit to share with Tigger. Once I finished Rabbit’s pattern pieces and went to cut out the yellow and orange fabrics, I noticed this:

I also noticed this:

Thanks to the Atrium, I could spread out both fabrics and switch Tigger snout pieces back and forth while I debated:

Then I returned to the location to test.

Okay, so it’s my first topiary animal. Tigger’s left leg has a large wire at his foot that is not very plant-covered, but is not forgiving at all, size-wise. His head is a really weird un-circle, and I overestimated the length it would take to cover his snout liberally. A lot of people passing by really liked him, though, and several asked if I was “making it Tigger,” and their wording implied that they weren’t previously aware that it WAS Tigger.

He has slightly defined hands, and I thought I’d be so cute and put in a drawstring to give him little mitten hands.

Burlap, however, does not slide against itself easily. What it does do easily is come unraveled. Drawstring hands are going to shorten the lives of these covers by about 99%.


On to Rabbit:

I had made his stuff a lot broader, with every intention of doing most of the planning with pins on location, so that actually worked out pretty well.

Notice the XOXOXOXO fence in the background. I didn’t either, until D. pointed it out. It was interesting how many people didn’t even realize any of the characters were from Winnie the Pooh. One girl even said, “Oh, are you going to do Pooh? He’s my favorite.” “Yes, that’s him next to Tigger.” “Ohhhh!”

A lot of the the kiddie-inspired accents around the grounds were subtle, some more than I even thought they were. It was nice that someone put a lot of thought into adding background whimsy all over the place to appeal to the subconsciousnesses of people who have a lot of other things on their minds.


Two non-math-related things I learned from this fitting:

1. I have GOT to locate the rest of my pins that I keep misplacing.

2. I need to bring a stepladder next time.

Making Neimans Plastic

The Project:

4 curtains with casings at the top and bottom, all of them 10ish feet high by 10 to 20 feet long


While we set up the Christmas display, we’ll be keeping the windows covered with plastic. I glued the sides down and kept them weighted with a drill as I was working. One of my cohorts came by to claim the drill and replaced my weight with a different drill. I think it’s the second one that’s pictured below:

Sitting on a box and sewing on plastic!:

That is a lot of plastic:

But it folds up small:

Photos of plastic in action coming soon!


What Size is Alejandro?

The project:

4 Egyptian-style men’s skirts made from terrycloth; costumes for the entourage of a Lady Gaga impersonator


Having only tried the skimpy little men’s skirt on a plastic dress form that is not going to have to walk in it, I felt it necessary to test it on a live model. At my age, I am realizing, it starts getting harder to dig up a guy with a 30-34″ waist on a moment’s notice without having to think really hard.

Luckily, one of my cohorts who does a lot of the non-sewing end of various productions was working downtown and could drop by to try on the prototype.

The catch to this project was this: we had no idea who the guys were, just that they would be bodybuilders. Our best guess was that they would be shaped approximately like Launchpad McQuack, with shoulders out to here and no waist to speak of. We guessed 30″-34″ish. As the prototype was a little tight on Carlos, I figured I’d make the next three several inches bigger, then bring my sewing machines and be prepared to take them in.

When I arrived on location, I wandered in the basement for a bit before finding the crew, and came across this door:

Seriously, guys? Really?

The small outfit works great on The Littlest Bodybuilder. I thought that would be a great name for a musical; I kept thinking of “The Littlest Christmas Tree” from 1st grade when I did NOT get to play a Christmas tree. He wasn’t actually little; just the only one shaped much like the Launchpad McQuacks that had danced in our heads.

The next two weren’t great fits, and one of them was just a little too small, but they weren’t bad. I figured some pins would probably make it work. Then the fourth guy shows up. He’s not the littlest bodybuilder.

I was able to stick the costume on him for the dress rehearsal thanks to my ingenious multi-size elastic button loops, but as you can see from the picture below, that wasn’t going to work for the show. I didn’t have any extra whole towels, and there wouldn’t have been enough fabric between the decorative end thingies anyway. (Yes, that’s the technical term.)

The shirts and white boxer shorts are for the dress rehearsal. Can you spot the costumes that don’t fit?

Good! I knew you could!

I had brought the scrap terrycloth more as padding for transporting my sewing machines than anything else. Once I collected all the costumes–except, ironically enough, for the prototype, which fit perfectly–I set up my sewing machines.

I added a cornucopia-shaped panel, as well as multiple buttons so that it wouldn’t have to be exact. This plan hadn’t occurred to me before the event, because I thought it would be too pieced-together looking. Once I saw the scale of the event and the dim lighting, it seemed it would be fine; and once I’d done one, it actually didn’t show up much even close-up and in good light.

Some makeup stains or something had gotten on one skirt, so I went ahead and zigzag stitched some tiny scraps on top of the marks because it blended in so well.

I had used contrasting-colored velcro anywhere that it was definitely not going to show, thinking it would be nice to have very-visible closures while I was working so close to strangers’ junk.

The inside of the front panel, all done in beige:

Turns out, that wasn’t necessary; there is no room in these costumes to be looking at stuff. Let’s leave it at that.

So I get everyone dressed, and since it’s going to be awhile, I leave off pinning til later. I’m sitting around waiting, start realizing I’m getting hungry. Then realize that everyone else had gone to lunch while I was sewing; I had been so uncertain about how long it would take to fix and how long we had until the Lady Gaga number that I had done the repairs right away.

I wandered into the service hallway, hoping they hadn’t thrown everything away. Some used-looking food seemed promising:

No sign of lunch, but there was quite a bit of continental breakfast left.

Oranges, melons, mixed-filling danishes, grapefruit juice, coffee! Muffins, too, but I’m often wary of muffins. Don’t know why; always have been.


Head back the way I came . . . the door I’d left through had locked behind me. All the other doors went straight to the event. I finally walked out through the middle of the food-staff people having a meeting in a kitcheny-looking area, trying to look like I belonged there and knew where I was going.

I straightened out everyone’s flaps and got the sides pinned in in place.

Lady Gaga kept everyone entertained while we waited.

Me and Gaga:

There were a lot of great shots, but the lighting was pretty much impossible. Here, you can see the two matching bags in the reflection. They’re hanging out not in their shopping bag costumes, but I still like calling them bags, as they aren’t girls who are likely to get called that very much:

The entourage asked them, “Wait, which one of you is the blonde? . . . You could have reintroduced yourselves as different people and we wouldn’t have known.” The one on the left was then renamed Veronica. I think.

Standing in the lobby, waiting for the musical cue:

Here is the bathtub, designed by Carlos (a different one than the previously pictured), and the hand towels I had previously narrowed. When given the task, I had thought it sounded unnecessarily specific, but whatever. It becomes clear now why they needed to be no wider than 14″.

A close-up of Carlos’s solution for permanent bubbles:

Lady Gaga alternately lay in the bathtub and stood up to dance while her entourage carried her to the stage. Carlos made it sturdy and ultra-light.

My phone camera literally could not handle the awesomeness. Below, you can see a man in the center right attempting to shield himself from the glare of fabulous. My camera simply cut Lady Gaga out of the picture and left a blank spot where she had been to stave off implosion.

So much better than the dress rehearsal:

The bags came out to dance for the finale.

After the show, Lady Gaga came up with the idea of mingling with the crowd.

Encouraging Sally’s people to show their teeth:

Doing a Harpo Marx impression (what? wrong generation?):

I think someone said this was the president, but I don’t want to repeat that without either verification or a wishy-washy “I think” to remove responsibility for faulty information.




To see the rest of the pictures I didn’t include in this post and also didn’t delete for being too blurry or too poorly lit, go here.

Loft-size curtains

I actually worked on this project last month, but have just come up for air after a flood of work with tight deadlines and can finally post about it.

The Project:

One curtain 40 feet long by 12 feet high. Casing at the bottom for a chain; stiff strip along the top to support grommets to attach it to hooks that will go into a track. The fabric is a knit much like suraline (which is very similar to the kind of fabric used in many cheerleading costumes; a thick but relatively lightweight jersey–that is to say, a small amount of stretch, but not a lot).


Also, this is a divider curtain that will be visible on both sides. I didn’t particularly want to self-line it as that would make it extremely thick and heavy, as well as make it take up quite a bit of space at the end of the track when it wasn’t in use.

There’s a legend that when a pope wanted to know if the artist Giotto would be capable enough for a job, Giotto sent him a perfect circle drawn freehand. Panel curtains are kind of like that. They look really simple, and anyone who’s not paying attention will think that being a simple geometric shape makes them easy. They are not. And the bigger they are, the more space there is to wiggle out of line.

So when I discovered my building’s atrium I was overjoyed for the space to lay out enormous curtains flat and have a greater chance of getting perfectly squared corners.

I got the 8 panels cut out, then used the scraps to test ways to hide the seams. My first plan, french seams, was outrageously bulky and caused a lot of puckering. Plan 2 was that seam style wherein one edge is sewn parallel to the other, but closer in, and the longer edge is folded over the short one. This was not only hard to line up on such wiggly fabric, but was also still too bulky. My last option before having to resort to lining it was to find a lightweight fabric with the exact same shade of burgundy.

The chain stores did not have the right shade in the cotton quilting solids, and I was about to test out a not-exactly matching shiny fabric intended to for lining clothes, that would not be invisible, but I that I hoped would at least be close enough to be inoffensive, when I found some misprinted flags in a last chance bin at one of the stores in the warehouse district. The stripes weren’t straight, it wasn’t dyed, but painted on top of crappy white fabric, and the paint wasn’t even, but for 3/8 inch seam facings, I was able to find enough of it to be salvageable.

Once I had all the long seams sewn, back to the atrium to pin the top and bottom. Everyone who passed by thought it was a giant red runway carpet and wanted to know what event I was setting up for.

When I had cut the 8 panels, I left several inches of wiggle room, but this time it all had to be cut perfectly straight. I’ve got a pretty good eye from just over 2 years cutting fabric at Hancock Fabrics. I lined the sides up with the seams of the hardwood floor, cut the top, then measured from that to pin the bottom hem.

The thing about sewing things this large where you can’t see either end of what you’re working on is doing the setup right and then trusting yourself. In the middle of sewing it, the straight edges may start to seem a little crooked. Modifying that while sewing can look right while it’s in the machine, but come out crooked. With something this big, do not eyeball it while it’s wadded up on your sewing table; the most important thing is trusting your cuts and trusting your pins.

Sooo, deliver the sewn item to the client; we get the grommets pounded in, the S-hooks squeezed shut into the grommets and the track runners, get the curtain hung, and it is about an inch too long. I kinda suspected this would happen, but wasn’t sure how much the puffiness of the fabric would counterbalance the weight. Too long is always better than too short anyway.

At this length, I’m able to set up my sewing machine and run the curtain through while still hung.