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Knitting with scales

‘Tis the season for me to obsess about costumes.  For most of the year my crafting obsessions are largely to do with gifts, or sometimes a new thing for home or everyday apparel.  But in June, just before my favorite (and sometimes only) gaming convention of the year, I think obsessively about what new technique-y thing I can learn to make my costume-idea-du-jour the most awesome.

Every year, I try to add a few new things to the costumes I wear to the June gaming convention.  This year, I have too many ideas left over from last year, plus new ideas. Last year’s innovations included prosthetic ears, wigs that I learned to style myself, and a new bustle and overskirt.  And the effect was awesome!

Also, I have since realized, that I’m not just a person who attends convention in costume, I am a cosplayer.  I didn’t realize until last year, that cosplayers weren’t some special people doing something different than me, it’s a thing I also do.  If you, like me, don’t know much about the word “cosplay”, it means that you like to dress up in costume just for fun (probably at appropriate venues, where other people are in costume, like a geek-culture convention of some sort), beyond something you would do for work (say, if you worked at a museum), beyond historical reenactment activities, and beyond halloween.  You just like to assemble and wear elaborate costumes (you can buy or make them).  And it doesn’t have to be a costume representing a specific character from a movie, graphic novel or book (another area in which I was confused).  So far, I dress up in costumes as a character of my own creation.  But down the road, I have a vaguely formed wish to make a costume to represent each of the Pathfinder Iconics in a victoriana-ish style, just to meld together some disparate geek passions of mine.

So I actually did accomplish a lot of new things on the costume front last year despite May having a nearly-walking baby to chase after, a husband finishing graduate school, a graduation, and getting the longest-lasting cold of my life.

One of last year’s ideas that I never capitalized on was the idea of knitting with scales.  The Crafty Mutt has some beautiful tutorials and patterns, and there are sellers on Etsy with finished projects for sale as well if you are intimidated by the idea of knitting with scales.  From what I could find though, The Crafty Mutt seems to be the only one out there designing patterns for knitting with scales.

I picked up Crafty Mutt’s “Knitted Scale Mail Gloves” and “Scale Choker” patterns, and got myself a big sack of various scales from TheRingLord.com.  Ready, set, knit!

Buying Scales: 

For the patterns I bought, the needed size was the “small” scales from TheRingLord.com (other places sell scales for scale-mail too, and their are some etched ones on Etsy, but this was the best place I could find good deals on bulk plain scales).  I got some polycarbonate plastic and some aluminum. They are all very lightweight individually, but since I was buying online, I couldn’t be sure, so I planned my project to be mostly comprised of black plastic scales.  I don’t think it will matter for the gloves so much, but I also have a notion to convert the design into knitted scale spats, and I think at that quantity, and because they would be worn vertically, the scaled material might be too heavy for the fabric and sag.

I also went mostly plastic because they are much cheaper:  bag of 1000 plastic was $0.01 per scale vs. aluminum which are about $0.03 per scale.

I figured that even if I hated knitting with scales, I could probably make some jewelry out of the metal ones, so I did get a variety of small packs to experiment with, as well as a sampler pack of different sized scales.

Knitting with Scales:

Not nearly as difficult as I feared.  I’ve never even knitted with beads before (although I always fancied that I would at some point).  The hole on the scales is pretty huge, so even though you stick your needle in the hole and pull the yarn through, it’s not too difficult.  I had some trouble getting the scales oriented the way I wanted on my swatch, but figured it out half-way through.  Crafty Mutt’s directions are really quite good, but it might be worth re-reading the section on scale orientation.  I noticed that in some of the other projects that people show on Ravelry, their scales are sticking out funny.  I had this problem too in my swatch, until I realized that I was not following the directions correctly.  Each scale should be curved inward towards the fabric when you put it on the needle, but the act of pulling the stitch through flips the end-point of the scale to the wrong direction (vertically up instead of down).  Before you knit the next stitch, you manually rotate the point downward and lock it in with the new stitch. When I did it this correct way, the scales hugged the fabric nicely, making the scales naturally lay in a nice smooth fashion.

 My tension on this project is also pretty loose and the non-scale fabric pretty squishy, so that may be a factor in them laying nicely too, but I think the biggest factor is how the legs of the stitch pull the scale down and inward when you get it right.

Before long, I was whipping through the rows pretty fast.  Since the fabric is just garter stitch, the yarn is worsted, and the scale-attachment is only for 6 stitches every other row, it really moves quite quickly.  Happy day!  I might get this part of the costume done before the convention!  Even if I only knit during commutes!

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Steampunkitude

So much craftiness has been going on. But there has been so little time to share it. Operation Steampunk was successful for the gaming convention.

steampunk costume

Steampunk style 1

My embellishments to the jacket I made last year really elevated it into cool territory. My harness gained lots of resin and glitter filled vials, chains, and oddities. I added a “Gibson girl” hairstyle, and topped it with a mini hat that I finshed sewing on the ride to the convention.

Smaller functional details were improved too. The old embroidered purse that I converted into a belt bag was improved greatly by some strap adjustments. The harness gained some new belt holes and resewing straps was much aided by a new leather sewing needle/awl tool.

However, despite these accomplishments, I was really devastated by having my sewing/embroidery machine break in early May. I haven’t had time to take it for repairs. So there are many planned pieces that have moved to next year’s list: embroidered underskirts, bustle/ruffle layer, embroidered lace fascinator, lacey sewn top.

One major new costume detail also arose at the convention –

steampunk costume

I bought a corset! Now I’ve got to make the top strap on my harness removable, because there’s way too much visual clutter when I wear the corset. Until next time, keep those needles stitching!

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Dye teasing

I just graduated today, and suddenly I can look forward to all manner of free time.  I’m delighted to be done, and very proud to have a Master’s degree… But I’m also eager to turn my focus to home, arts, and family. 

Our favorite annual gaming convention – and my costuming deadline – is just a few weeks off, so no time for a long post.  Here’s a brief tease of vat-dyeing adventure results:

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Seafoam green, plum blossom, and safari grey

The seafoam green came out nearly white (there’s an undyed hankie in there to show the similarity), the plum blossom came out crazy hot-pink on ths skirts (though more dusty rose on some canvas aprons not pictured), and the safari grey came out much warmer and more brownish than expected.  That’s the adventure part of dyeing!  You never know what will happen.  But these base colors are only the beginning.  There will be tie-dyeing, shibori, painting, resists, and more in the future for these garments. 

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And here’s an update on the jacket and harness rig that are a staple of my costume.  I’ve been refining both, improving them from what I wore last year.  Adding detail is especially important in steampunk looks.  Adding accessories to the belt/harness have pushed the inspiration into a “faerie hunter” theme, I like that it can be adventurous but not so rugged that frills and lace would be out of the question.  Not sure what might be done before the costume deadline, especially since my sewing/embroidery machine has had a breakdown and needs to go in for a repair and tune-up.

Until next time, keep those dye-baths bubbling and needles a-stitchin’…

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Preparing for a new (dye) adventure

School is nearly done.  Not just for the semester but indefinitely.  I am about to graduate and all I can think about is a summer of gardening, crafting and playing board games.  First up is a grand adventure to a gaming convention in my state.  Lots of people dress up in costumes, like any big geeky con, and this year’s theme is “Timetravel”.  It suits me well, because I really love steampunk and I think it will fit.

For last year’s early summer gaming convention, I started trying to cobble together a steampunk look,

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