Timmy’s Gandalf costume is almost finished!

The barely-visible under-tunic and the partly-quilted vest type thingy (technical term) are done. Here’s how it all went down:

I added a layer of the cloak fabric under the white linen (same as the one I used for his pants) to give the quilted parts a bit more texture. Quilting may seem like a boring and tedious process, but when you’re working on such a small scale and have the right tools, it’s fast, easy and almost fun!

In this case, the right tools are a ruler and a water-soluble marker. Just draw on the quilting lines, sew over them, and you’ll have something that looks kind of like this:

Then just add water!

It’s magic! Impress your friends with your skill at sewing a lot of parallel lines!

After finishing this piece, I could kind of see why someone might decide to use quilted fabric as a light armor. It was much stiffer than I thought it would be.

Next came the under-tunic. I’ll admit I took a shortcut with this one, and only added one set of sleeves to it, where the original had two – a full length sleeve, and a 3/4 or elbow length sleeve over it. I decided that since the full sleeve was already so short (due to Timmy’s proportions), adding another, even shorter sleeve to it would just be silly.

The lacing at the neck did take some work though. It’s one of the few parts of this piece that’s visible in the full, original outfit, so it had to look good. I decided it was worth the effort to make hand-sewn eyelets, instead of trying to do it on the machine, or just sticking some grommets in there.

Time for a fitting, before attaching the sleeves.

It looks a big baggy now, but that’s what fittings are for, after all.

New and Improved, 60% less baggy, now with sleeves!

Here are the two newly-finished layers, together at last!

Coming up next, a photo-shoot in (a close approximation of) Fangorn Forest!


I know this blog is generally about sewing, but sometimes a costume requires the right prop to make it look really finished.  I don’t have a props department to do my bidding, so usually I’ll take a stab at making the prop myself.

Gandalf Timmy needed a monkey-sized version of Gandalf’s staff to complete his ensemble. Since I lack the necessary Elvish wood-carving skills, I decided to make it out of Sculpey instead. My first few attempts involved trying to make each of the three sides of the top of the staff separately, and these failed miserably. I hoped that adding a wire framework would make the piece more structurally sound, despite the delicate, almost lace-like design, but the wire I was using was too thick to maneuver into the correct shape at the scale I was working on. In a last, desperate attempt, I took a lump of Sculpey and formed it into the basic two-triangular-pyramids shape of the top of the staff. To approximate the design of the original, I poked holes in it where the openings should be.

Not quite as delicate and ethereal as the original, but far less likely to fall apart in my hands when I attach it to the main part of the staff.

I may have over-cooked the Sculpey, because it turned sort of a dark brown color when it was done. You can see the design has been refined a little since the first photo.

Here’s the top of the staff after it had been painted.

Looks much more like a staff now, instead of a mutant asparagus.

Here’s the 3/4 length shot. You’ll notice a weird little loop at the very bottom of the photo. I added this to the wire structural support inside the staff so it could eventually be attached to Timmy’s hand, by a method that has yet to be figured out. I’m getting there…

I got my Timmy the Monkey clone in the mail yesterday! Thanks,  ThinkGeek!

As soon as he arrived, I immediately put him to work trying on the parts of his costume that I’ve finished so far.

Any self-respecting wizard knows that when you’re running, riding or flying around Middle Earth, saving hobbits, defeating evil and generally kicking ass, it’s important to wear a comfy pair of pants under your robes. Yes, I know they’re covered by the rest of the costume and no one ever sees them in the movies, but pants are still important, damnit!

Now we move from the least visible piece of the ensemble to the most visible. Here is Timmy in his majestic, though still quite cozy cloak. Nice big photo here, you can try to make out the line of embroidery down the front.


Up next, the quilted vest-like thing that goes under the cloak, and over the pants. Stay tuned for more photos.

The cloak embroidery is done, and I will definitely post pictures once I figure out a good way to take good photos of small, very detailed hard-to-see things. After hemming the entire thing by hand (my sewing machine didn’t seem to like this fabric, and it was easier to make it look neat this way anyway)  I remembered that I should probably put a hood on this thing… Also fairly easy to do, and also done by hand.

I don’t normally do this much hand-sewing on a project. Sure, it’s definitely historically accurate, but it just takes too long. It’s also a detail that very few people will notice while I’m (or someone else is) wearing a costume, so I feel like it isn’t really worth that time investment.

The next and final step for the cloak will be to attach the clasps that will hold it shut. I happen to have some nice pewter ones left over from another project that I can use. Ok, so they’re not an exact replica of the original clasp used in the movie, but I think this is as close as I’ll be able to get in scale and general appearance considering the fact that I don’t have a metal shop that will make this kind of stuff for me.

I think my next piece of the puzzle will be Gandalf’s staff. Based on my research so far, the plan is to make it out of Sculpey, so I can get the details of the top bit right. My wood-carving skills are not that epic. Right now I’m sorting out what needs to happen to it so Timmy can actually hold the staff in his little monkey hand.

Last week I saw this post on the ThinkGeek blog and signed up to join Timmy’s Volunteer Costuming Corps. And then I forgot about it for a couple of days, because it was my first weekend off in a while. Imagine my surprise and excitement when I heard back from them yesterday, confirming my proposed submission of a Gandalf the White costume for Timmy!

So this is my fun little side project for the time being.

I got started right away, making myself a little diagram of the measurements, because a sketch with numbers in it is easier for the sewing part of my brain to interpret than just a list of numbers. The next step was pulling out the Lord of the Rings special features disks that have sections on costuming (Ngila Dickson is my hero) and going to the most reliable online LoTR costuming resource I know of, http://www.alleycatscratch.com

At this point I decided that I am enough of a crazy person to attempt the actual number of layers that actually make up the original version of the costume. That’s a lot of layers to fit on a monkey.  As of today my production list consists of the following:

  • Pants – basic wide leg drawstring pants – white linen (yes, I know what you’re going to say, and the answer is, “Have you ever tried to fit culottes on an unfamiliar monkey? I didn’t think so”.
  • Under-tunic – double sleeves, with a long quilted fabric under-sleeve, split embroidered cuff, and a shorter bell sleeve over that. Keyhole neck, laces closed with grommets. Bottom is split for riding – silver brocade/jacquard
  • Over-tunic – So, I guess it’s technically a vest, since it doesn’t have sleeves. The top part is a fabric quilted in a floral pattern with gold thread. The yoke is quilted in diamond pattern with narrow gold trim around it. Bottom section is skirts in a plainer gray fabric, knee-length, also split for riding.
  • Cloak w/hood – cream-colored wool fabric, embroidered with vine motif  on the vertical edges, fancy clasp.

Accessories – woven belt, staff, beard

Here follows an account of my progress so far:

Yesterday I found some leftover white linen and made a pair on monkey-sized pants. I experimented with hand-sewing, since I wasn’t sure if something so small would fit well into my machine. It seems like it didn’t really take that long, and I’m fairly pleased with the effect. Maybe it just seems like it didn’t take long because I was watching Fellowship of the Ring though…

Today I made the first of several fabric store runs, and had a more successful hunt than I expected. Found a fabric I really like for the cloak, and one for the gold-quilted section of the over-tunic. There’s even a sort of floral pattern on it in gold thread already. I like the part where I don’t have to hand-quilt anything in gold. Anyway, it’s about as close as I’m going to get to the screen-accurate version without custom-ordering something.

wool fabric
The wool fabric for the cloak
gold on white fabric
The gold-“quilted” fabric for the over-tunic/vest
At this point I took a break and re-watched the costuming special features sections. It was then that I realized the over-tunic didn’t have sleeves attached, and that both sleeves were actually attached to one garment. I guess it makes sense, if you think of the over-tunic as more of a quilted armor piece…
Once I was done mentally processing this epiphany, I moved on to the important work of figuring out how to do the vine embroidery on the cloak. My shiny new sewing machine has a couple of decorative stitches, so I decided to try combining them into something with a sort of Elvish feel, instead of spending days slaving away at trying to replicate a scaled-down version of the original design stitch for stitch.
Here’s what I have so far (keep in mind the photo is of embroidery in white thread on cream-colored fabric and it was taken with my phone):
Embroidery Sample
That’s all for now. More on my search for the right weight of silver brocade and the right texture of yarn for a fake beard later.

I have a sneaking suspicion that my next big project will be another Victorian piece, either an overskirt or this. I’ve been referring to it as my Victorian Bond villian outfit, since the plan right now is to make it in a red fabric, and wear it over a black skirt. No word yet on whether I’ll be carrying a cat to complete the ensemble.

Right now, however, I’m working on making some stock pieces for the Storied Threads booth at CTRF. One partlet down, one more, a handful of pirate sashes and surcotes to go. One of the sashes has a really cool steampunk octopus embroidery design on it. I’ll be approximately 0% surprised if this one doesn’t last past the first weekend.

I spent half of yesterday hanging out at Winter Island in Salem (again) helping out at the photoshoot with some awesome people. You can see some of the photos at the Storied Threads blog here, and I’m proud to say I made the vests in the second and fifth photos. At some point I might even get around to writing a post about them.

In the meantime, you should all go take a look at the peacock dress project. Cathy Hay is raising money for Haiti, and will be making a reproduction of a beautiful and ridiculously complicated dress. How much of the dress and it accouterments she will make depends on how much money is raised. This is a really fantastic project combining extreme costuming, and raising money for a good cause.

The bustle skirt version 1.0 is finished, but it all happened so fast I never got around to taking any photos of the process. Yes, it was that fast. So now I’m waiting until I get the chance to take some proper photos of the entire outfit, and all of the separate components. It will happen one of these days, I promise.

After this weekend, I’ll be working on some more cool stuff for Storied Threads, so it looks like I have a few days between major projects. The explosion of fabric that is my living room can’t take another big project at the moment, so instead I started a rather small one.

Yes, in addition to making Victorian clothes, it looks like I’m taking up Victorian hobbies too. This is the start of my first cross-stitch project, from the Zombie Cross-Stitch book I got for Christmas.

Almost one word done!

I could tell you what the whole design says, or keep up the suspense as it’s revealed word by word. Hmm…

I have a theory that someone out there is trying to bring back all of the old domestic arts by combining them with whatever is popular at the time. I am the proud owner of a zombie cross-stitch and a zombie cupcakes book. It is much less likely that I would own a book on either of these very specific topics if the possibility of eating spicy brains was not involved. Those cupcakes were pretty tasty though…

If anyone finds a book on zombie basket-weaving or zombie candle-making, please let me know. I just might be interested.

%d bloggers like this: