Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Sweet Stink of Progress

So warm. So cinnamony. So ...

Oh, wait. That's just the king cake.

... so sparkley!


My birthday was last week and I scheduled vacay time for Thursday and Friday to sit at home and work on the most dreaded part of the costume: the mechanics of the tail.

On Wednesday I walked into work and was greeted by my coworkers with a potluck baked potato/nacho buffet, a Sucré birthday king cake, and Mardi Gras birthday balloons. Damn, I love these guys and gals. I was definitely feeling the birthday love.


Pre- and post-deflation arrangement on the wall behind my desk.



It was a lovely, gluttonous day with a light workload and an unexpected flaming gift from the universe.


You know you're getting old when your
birthday candles shut down an entire downtown city block.

An underground transformer caught fire around 4:30 in front of the hotel across the street from our office. A few minutes later the power went out and our building was evacuated.

Oh, hello early start to my b-day vacay weekend!

I arrived home Wednesday afternoon to a mailbox full of birthday cards from my besties, a long, hot bath, and a fresh bottle of decent chianti.

By the time you hit 31, you know how to throw yourself a party.

---------------

I awoke bright and early Thursday morning with my favorite project pants at the ready for some heavy-duty tail construction. But the weather had other plans.

It stormed. All. Day. Long.

So I took the opportunity to run some final-ish costume errands, including three hours perusing the makeup section of Walgreen's. After touching every eyeshadow shade on the isle and sampling most of the lipsticks, I landed the sweetest checkout lady who dug though her private stash for coupons that ended up saving me nearly $20. What a woman.

And that was it for Thursday. After nine straight hours of costume piece procurement during a storm that was bent on upstaging Noah's flood, I was in no shape to start constructing anything.

---------------

Come Friday morning, I was determined to make a tail happen come hell or actual high water. But the weather cooperated for the most part and my porch/living room was transformed into a two-room construction madhouse. Miter boxing on the welcome mat? Don't mind if I do!

I began by getting things back to where they started: cutting the new tail mount shape (since I decided that I hated the old one).

Saw, saw. Sand, sand.


Success.

Muuuuuuch sexier.

And this time I did a far better job of lining up the holes and making the pieces symetrical.

Now it was time to move on to the part I'd been dreading ever since I first started sketching ideas for this thing. I had to commit to a plan for the tail mechanics. I decided to go with the hinge epiphany. It would allow for the greatest range of movement with the fewest holes drilled through the front and back tail mounts.


Dowels aligned, stop braces set, and drill holes marked.

Lining up the dowels and drilling the holes.

Only this didn't really go according to plan. The hinges were too weak and too wide. The stop braces kept getting in the way and wouldn't let the dowels swing as well as I thought they would. The tiny brass screws kept breaking and didn't line up with the holes I'd just drilled that I thought were so meticulously measured and marked. The whole thing was just a mess. Before I came to my senses, I even tried wiring the whole thing together before admitting that it was a really bad idea with too many potential fail points.


Wire FAIL.



It was only noon and for the first time I was starting to question if I was going to be able to pull this whole tail thing off. I'd just spent four hours trying to make the hinges work to no avail. I wanted to throw all the hardware off the balcony and pull the bottle of Jack out of the cabinet for a long brunch on the sofa with Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me reruns.

Instead, I reverted to my original pivot pin idea.

I couldn't believe how easily it all came together after that.


Four pivot points with one pin as an anchor reinforcement for the top dowel.

Simple screws instead of stop braces.
Oversized nuts as spacers to keep the dowels from wiggling around too much
in the gap between the front and back tail mounts.

All the hardware sandwiched between the front and back tail mount boards.

And Swizzlebent heard the voices of a thousand angels sing!


It was like graduation night. The hardest part of this whole costume was finally behind me. And it worked. It worked! I almost didn't know what to do next. So I had a bloody mary while I thought it over.

The next logical step was the harness. After all, I couldn't give the tail mechanics a real test run until I could finally mount the whole rig to my back. I set about hours of cutting and stitching and melting nylon straps.


Sizing up the main straps for up my back and around my belly.


Lining up and punching holes for the mounting bolts.

This is another one of those times when I should have taken a lot more photos of the process, but again I wasn't exactly sure of how I was going to assemble the thing, so I got a little too wrapped up in the construction of it to stop for well-timed photos. I'll have to add more photos of the completed harness in next weekend's post.

But for now, here's the completed backpack gizmo:


Back side.

Front side.
Hi, Snoopie.
With the backpack complete, I was finally able to try on my tail. I stood in front of the mirror wearing my tail for the first time and almost wanted to cry.

But not because I was happy. Because I gouged my Achilles on one of the dowels while walking from the living room to the full-length mirror in my bedroom.

Now that I knew exactly where the tail was going to mount onto my back, I could tell that the dowels were far too long and that there was no way I was going to be able to take normal-sized strides without racking my heels on them with every step. I was going to have to trim them to about knee length. Unfortunately, I'm only 5'4", so that doesn't leave much dowel.

Saw, saw. Sand, sand.

Ahhh, no more bloody ankles.

With the mechanics figured out and successfully assembled and the harness a working reality, it was all over but the sewing.

Finally it was time to get back to the pretty, sparkly, colorful fun part.

I started with the felt that would protect the feather support mesh from the pivot pins.



Felt <3 Snoopie fur 4-eva.

Gold feather support mesh and protective felt. Folded to trim for symmetry.

Support mesh and felt. Looks even to me.
Gotta round off those pointy bottom corners, though.

Lining it all up... Looks like I'll have to trim another
two inches more off of the left and right bottom dowels.

Cutting out and melting the edges of the decorative fabric that will hide the ugly brown felt.

All seven layers pinned together and ready for the sewing machine.
Before stitching it all together, I trimmed the bottom middle of the support mesh
so that it's even with the hinge and so the left and right sides hang longer than the center.

One thick fabric family. All seven layers equal about 1/8" thick.


With the fabric feather support complete, I had to figure out how to get it attached to the tail mount. I was nervous again. Seven layers of fabric is a lot to have to cut five very precise holes through. But then I took a step back and tripped over the lighter that was still on the floor from the harness assembly, and it dawned on me: I wouldn't cut the holes. I would melt them!



That little red-handled gizmo is The Styro Wonder Hot Knife Cutter Plus. As the name suggests, it's meant for cutting craft styrofoam. At $30, they're about the cheapest electric foam cutter you can buy, and I've had mine for seven years or so. It was the perfect gadget for making five perfectly placed, fray-proof holes through seven layers of synthetic fabric. Until I got stupid and impatient and broke the wire rod by pushing too hard, too fast, through the fabric on the last hole. Alas, I have another on order from Amazon which should arrive next week. I bought this guy at Hobby Lobby back in the day, but they've become a lot harder to find seven years later.


Assembled!


Now I had to do something about that ugly bare wood.

It's like Magic Eye.

This'll be the view from the back when the tail is up.

And that felt like more then enough progress for one day. I was exhausted, my knees were destroyed, and I had forgotten to eat anything all day. But the part I'd been afraid of for months was over and I could finally get on to the final, fun stuff.

Before I shut it down for the night, though, I just couldn't resist. I had to get a sneak peek of where the tail was headed with some of the short 12" feathers.


Feelin' pea-cockey.

And then I wanted to cry again, but this time because I was happy.

This was the moment that it became real.
This costume is really happening.
And it's going to be as awesome as I imagined.

Just 26 short days to showtime, and the season's first parade is this Saturday.
Oh, happy day!




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