Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Foxy Pajamas

   I recently had the pleasure of seeing one of the most awe-inspiring stop-motion animation films ever made by one of my favorite contemporary directors. I was a little late in the game as it was released on Thanksgiving, but now that I’ve seen it I’m completely obsessed. The director is Wes Anderson and the film is Fantastic Mr. Fox.  If you have yet to see it, run out of your house immediately, if not sooner, hop on your motorcycle, preferably with a sidecar as to take a loved one, and get your tail to the theater. You will thank yourself, and me. Unless of course you already have seen it and did not appreciate it accordingly, in which case I say Bah! Read no further!

    First let me tell you that whoever conceived the costumes, if something made of clay can constitute a costume, is my new personal hero and that I simply must have every ensemble worn by Fox. Of course I can’t have them all, at least not yet. But I can start with one, and the pajama set seemed a fitting first project. A little simpler than that amazing double-breasted tan corduroy suit complete with a short sleeved shirt, tie and short pants.  Sigh. Foxes pajamas were gold and striped and piped with burgundy. Not only did we not have a stripe in these colors in the shop, but these colors also happen to be both my high school and university colors. As you can imagine, after seven years of staring at the same color combination one can become somewhat adverse to them. Thus I chose to select my fabrics based on the color pallet of the film in general, which I would definitely categorize as autumnal.
    As it happens, I’d been lusting after a particular fabric in this family for quite some time. I just didn’t know what to do with it. It is Japanese, of course, and is covered with hills, trees, rabbits, and tiny squirrels toting equally tiny acorns. Cute explosion! For the piping I chose a rich chocolate cotton sateen with an ever-so subtle sheen, and the buttons are a bronze-colored metal with acorns on them. Holy cuss are they cute.  I’d never actually made my own piping, and though it was surprisingly easy, it took a cussing long time. I imagine that had something to do with the fact that the pattern called for six yards of the stuff, although I only ended up needing about four.
    I’ve had my eye on Kwik Sew pattern 2388, and it turned out to be a very simple, straightforward pattern to follow. The only thing I did to change the pattern was shorten each arm and leg by 2 1/2”, but were I ever to make it again I’d shorten the legs another couple of inches and create a back neck facing because the method of attaching the collar was not to my liking. I would also cut off a couple of inches from the top of the pants because they ended up at my waist, which I suppose fits in with the old-fashioned appeal to pajamas.
    The first step was to cut bias strips which I only recommend doing if you have the use of a rotary cutter and mat. One of my first jobs in Los Angeles was a designer’s assistant, so I’ve hand-cut my fair share of bias. Let me tell you, I don’t recommend it in the least. 

Once there were enough bias strips cut for six yards of piping, it was time to sew the strips together. I must have tried this four times before I got the pieces to match. Luckily, the piping was pretty small so it didn’t really make a difference. When I had six yards sewn together it was time to make the piping, making 216” the longest seam I have sewn to date. I must admit that I rather enjoyed the relaxed monotony of sewing in a straight line for such a time.

Next comes the first step according to the directions, which is to apply all of this piping to the front center of the shirt, collar, pocket extension, and each of the arm and leg cuffs. As fun as it was to sew in a straight line forever and a day, I opted out of sewing on all the piping at one time. Instead I decided to leave each piece for when I came to that particular section. The first two pieces to be piped were the two shirt fronts and the little pocket, which sits on its left hand side. On the shirt front lies the only spot that piping is required to go around a curve. To manage this you simply clip the curve of the piping and, after stitching to the mark provided by the pattern, fold the piping in towards the seam allowance and stitch over its edge.

 The steps that follow in attaching the pocket to the pocket extension are also used in attaching the sleeve and leg cuffs; so pay close attention because I’m only going over this once. Once you’ve got the piping on the pocket extension you fold and press, wrong sides together, on the line provided by the pattern.  

Next unfold the pocket extension and stitch the side without piping to the top of the pocket with the right side of the extension facing the wrong side of the pocket. Wow, that sounds really confusing. Press the seam toward the extension.

Now turn the pocket over and refold where it was pressed. This should come over just enough to cover up the seam that was just made. Stitch in the ditch so that no seams are visible.

Lastly, simply turn the edges under ¼” and press to make a cute as cuss pocket. Then pin and stitch onto the left shirt front. After the pocket is attached, sew the shirt fronts to the shirt back at shoulder seams with right sides together.

The next part of this project is the dreaded collar, but, fortunately, the collar in this case is not so dreaded after all. In fact, as far as collars go this one is easy street, but even easy tasks have a beginning and attaching the piping is where to start. Unless of course you like to follow directions, in which case you would have already completed this step. Anyhow, here’s what it looks like.

Once the piping is attached, simply pin the two collar pieces right sides together and stitch leaving the bottom edge open.  Next, pin the collar into place matching notches and marks. Both ends of the collar should end up at the marks that were made to attach the piping to the shirt front, and in between the marks to match the shoulder seams pin only the under collar.

  Leaving the collar pinned to the shirt, the next step is to attach the facings. First, fold under the outside edge of each facing piece ¼” and stitch. Then pin the non-stitched edge, right sides together, to the shirt overlapping the collar at the shoulder seam marks. The edges of the facing pieces should be overlapping by ¼”.

Once your shirt looks like something out of a Hellraiser movie it’s time to stitch. Before sewing the facings onto the shirt, you must clip the seam allowance on the upper collar (the one that was left unpinned). Next, turn under the section of collar that was left unstitched towards the collar and stitch close to the edge. Now I mentioned earlier that were I to make these again I would be making a neck-facing piece. I’m sure at this point you can see why.

Remember when I explained how to attach the piping to the pocket. It’s time to follow those steps again for the sleeve cuff. After the sleeve is complete, it gets pinned and sewn onto the shirt matching marks and notches, and the sleeves and side seams are sewn together making the shirt a shirt. Hooray! In order to create the hem at the bottom, fold the facing pieces over to the right sides and stitch an inch from the bottom. Trim the excess facing piece and turn it all right side out. Then turn the raw edge under ¼” and stitch all the way around the bottom of the shirt.

    After hemming, topstitch the front and collar close to the piping and at the edge of the facing. This will secure the facing and make it look pretty. Lastly come the buttonholes and buttons. Check out these oh-so-amazing metal beauties. They’re a perfect fit.
Now for the pants! These PJ bottoms are just like any standard set with one exception: the built in fly. I know it sounds like it might be difficult, but it is so very easy that I’m going to try and condense this as much as possible for fear that it just may bore you to tears. Start off by stitching the two front pieces together at the crotch seam from the inside leg to the mark.

The two jagged pieces get turned under and stitched shut. The left front piece is folded under twice to create a double facing and the right front piece is folded under a mere ¼”.  The pictured example is the left front.

Next overlap the two fly facings matching notches. Fold under the raw edges and baste into place on the inside bottom edge of the fly. The picture below is without the basting, but my finger is pointing right where it should be.

Now topstitch the bottom edge of the fly opening through all of those layers, and there you have fly front pajama bottoms. The pattern calls for snaps to close the fly and a drawstring attached to elastic. I opted to skip the snaps and the drawstring. Instead I used elastic and stitched the top of the fly opening closed.

Of course the pants have to be constructed before the elastic can be put in, but I’m sure you get the idea. As with the pocket and the sleeve cuffs, follow the same steps in installing the leg cuffs. Sew up the inner-leg seam and add some elastic, and you’ve got a pair of adorable pajama bottoms to match that ridiculously cute shirt.

I do hope this project was a fitting tribute to such a gem of cinematic history. When someone can take a film technique that seems, purely at surface level, to be wholly out of date and successfully create it anew, that someone deserves to be awarded for his or her genius. Academy of Arts and Sciences, I implore you, give Mr. Anderson the Oscar, and invite me to the ceremony so that I might show the world just how foxy a pair of pajamas I have made.


Ivanhoe Books - Art And Design said...

This is exceedingly amazing. You look Fantastic Mr Daniel (if a little grumpy)! Superbe! Top marks! 10 out of 10!

Gregory said...

Nice job with the piping!

Sri said...

so handsome! and cute as cuss!