Wednesday, August 26, 2015

It's a Pixie Evolution!

I know I've been promising for some time to have pixies, elves and gnomes finished for this fall.  Don't fear.  We've got four pixies ready to go, a few more at various stages, and possibly some of the older experimental ones.  Should have some listed by September along with the tutorial.  But, before I get them finished up I thought I'd share some comparisons of all the things we've changed since we made our first pixies over the years.  Though I'm finally working up an actual pattern/tutorial for these that includes all the revised pattern pieces at the correct size with tips and solutions we discovered for various problems we faced, I wanted to take this time to go through our experience for those who would rather alter Ghillie's Poppet pattern/tutorial to make their own.  Hopefully some useful information can be gleamed from all this.  I'd love to hear any opinions on them, too.

We tried to make them as close to the CoS movie version as possible, at first.  However, we wanted to go with the books description over anything else.  If you've read my previous posted on pixies (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, more, and more) you can see the learning process at work.  Though her tutorial and pattern are wonderful, no pattern piece in Ghillie's original pattern, nor even instructions, were safe from our tweaking.  Every part was adjusted or completely changed for some reason or another.  I won't even go into the wing experiments we went through again, which in her book "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" Rowling decided they don't even have (This explains why they are removable.).  She, or should I say Newt describes:

"The pixie is...Electric blue in colour, up to eight inches in height and very mischievous...Although wingless, it can fly and has been known to seize unwary humans by the ears and deposit them at the top of tall trees and buildings..."

So, our versions have been a mashup of the different sources into an ever morphing creature as we learn new skills.  In the beginning, we experimented most with was the fabric choice. We've tried a few different fabrics but really prefer the Alova Suede Cloth, which can be difficult to find in the right colors, especially in the wrong season.  There are similar faux suedes, velours and other fabrics, but again, to make the two tone version, it is tough to find a good combo.  Steer clear of anything woven that can fray!  As an inexpensive choice I'd say Polar Fleece (Georgie and Lewdvig in the center of the above pic) was okay, and it comes in all sorts of colors.  Only problem with it is that it tends to stretch out and loses the sculpted details.  We've also tried some vinyl fabric on the house elves, but don't recommend it at a small size.  The suede cloth is easy to work with and doesn't rip or fray too easily and is thin enough to work well for tiny parts.  We had our best luck finding it in the fall.  The main portion of the body is a bright almost royal blue while the tummy and ears are a lighter shade of blue or dark lavender leaning toward the violet side.

As you can see above, we've also tried different face and eye treatments.  We tried some eyelids on a couple (Lewdvig and Marvin above) and even a nose from the gnomes.  The doll eyes have varied in size, too.  At the moment, we are preferring the solid black over the blue irises which tends to make them look a little spaced out.

The size was something we were back and forth on.  We shrank the original poppet pattern down, guessing at the size and proportions in the movies, but it was too large based on the description in the Rowling's books, which is "up to eight inches".  The originals we made ended up about 11-12" tall from antenna tip to toe.  As our skills improved, we were able to work with smaller parts.  But, when resizing the pattern, we couldn't just shrink it.  The seam allowances also shrinks and isn't wide enough to be adequate.  We had to widen each seam at the smaller size.  The tiny 7" size on the far right was WAY too frustrating.  The legs and arms get skinnier and harder to turn, so you loose the fingers and toes and wind up with clubs for hands and feet.  We didn't even want to try the covered antennae.  We used wire covered in metallic blue fabric paint, instead.  After various attempts, we settled on an 8-9.5" range.

The joints have always given us grief at the smaller size.  It was hard to find affordable shank buttons and in a size that fit in the arm without showing a bulge.  We tried a few different solutions that each had good and bad effects.  We even tried removing the buttons all together as in the 1st pixie on the left, but I don't think this is practical if the dolls will be played with much or posed frequently.  Next, we tried just sewing the arms and legs into the body seams like the gnomes.  This is easier and sturdier, but eliminates the ability to pose them, which we liked.  Then, we got the idea to try small snap on doll eyes as joints with washers.  This works good, but is more costly and still a wee bulky...not to mention hard to find around here in tiny sizes.  We reluctantly went back to shank buttons, but have now found a way of making common inexpensive flat buttons work by changing the way we put them in.

Here are two later phase pixie side by side.  For the new and improved pixies we found a way to make the antennae slightly narrower and finally added the tail nub in back.  We overlooked the tail in the first ones due to the lack of good reference photos of the back of the pixie.  We've also arched the back, widened the ears and head, and cleaned up the toes.  Not pictured, we also came up with a wired ear that can be posed that you may notice on a couple when I post them on Etsy.  We plan to use this new wired ear feature in some house elves.

This is where we are at this point.  There are so many other things we've learned.  I'd say we've come a long way since the beginning.  With all the changes, I'd decided it is probably kinda confusing to just keep sending people to Ghillie's Poppet pattern with a long list of changes to make.  So, as I've mentioned, I have spent a good deal of time lately working on an indepth tutorial, which is coming together pretty well.  Hope to have it up with the pixies this fall.  Thank you for the patience.  And, big THANK YOU to all who have left comments and contacted me about these.  As much as we have enjoyed making them and having them around our house, it is nice to know others appreciate them, too.  The daughter has even told me she thinks these new ones are way cuter and more like the movies.  She even likes them more than the licensed ones we've seen for sale with the creepy grins.  I think I have to agree that grin is creepy!  But, I don't know if ours is in the same league.  It was sweet of her to say that, though.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lockhart's DADA Pop Quiz and Pixie Hunt

This post is a continuation of the projects we attempted for the 2nd Annual Harry Potter themed birthday party we held back in November.  To keep student busy while we prepared the House Cup Award Ceremony and End of Term Feast, we sent them to the DADA classroom where they took a 54 question Gilderoy Lockhart pop quiz and helped return escape pixies to their cage.

Pop Quiz
The quiz was, of course, essay questions all about the professor with all facts taken from the books, movies and even the Pottermore website.  It was pretty tough coming up with 54 questions about this supporting character.  I printed the 3 page quiz on longer legal-size paper, which I planned to stain like parchment with watercolor as pictured.  We expected students to fail miserably in answering most of the obscure questions, but we were surprised by their knowledge of everything Lockhart.  Two student just about had full marks and there were many humorously clever answers that we read aloud.  Students all got a signed glossy photo for their effort.

- Would you like a copy of the quiz?  Find a PDF here.  And, you can find the answer key here.
- Or, why not try taking the playbuzz version to see how well can you do?

We wanted to give the DADA classroom some elements specific to 2nd year.  So we came up with the following simple projects:

Framed Pictures
In the Chamber of Secrets movie, Lockhart's office was littered with framed pictures and paintings of himself, so I scoured the internet to print as many pics of Lockhart that I could find.  I trimmed the printouts and covered all the framed photos we had in our house gathering them into our DADA room.  (We must look like obsessed fans of the actor, Kevin Branagh.  Hahaha)  I tried my darnedest to find a decent pic of the large oil painting of him painting himself, but alas, I did not succeed on that one.

Signed Photos and Simple Peacock Quill 
The desk in the classroom was littered with some of the professor's things.  Some of the images I found of Lockhart were actually signed already.  So, I printed up some of these in 5x7 glossies to pass out to students.  ( you may notice the one on the right is actually signed as Branagh.  Oops.  Hehe) And, of course we had to have a peacock quill to sign them with.  We made one at the last minute by floral taping a tail feather to a pen with the barrel removed.  Then, I wrapped the stem with green string.

Textbook Covers
I didn't managed to find many decent pics online to use as book covers for the 1st and 2nd year textbooks used in the Harry Potter movies.  I did find a few lower resolution ones, even a couple from the obnoxiously long list required by Lockhart.  Some needed a little photoshopping to clean them up, but they looked convincing enough wrapped around random books.  I made one complete set off of the textbooks reworking the tiny thumbnail images on Pottermore to fill in the missing covers I couldn't find.

  • Magical Theory
  • Standard Book of Spells - Grade 1 and 2
  • History of Magic
  • The Dark Forces
  • Magical Drafts and Potions
  • A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration
  • 1000 Magical Herbs and Fungi
  • (We already had "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them")

I only managed to find three of Lockhart's books.  I'm amazed at the attention to detail on these books used in the movie.  They are:
  • Guide to Household Pests
  • Break with a Banshee
  • Year with the Yetti

So, the Pottermore images had to due to complete the Lockhart set, as well.

Pixie Hunt
We've sewn quite a few pixies in the past.  And, now my mom is making smaller ones to infest our house.  We decided to make another game with them.  We created a cover for our pixie cage like the red one in the movie (Sorry, not pictured).  Then when we lifted off the cover, the cage was wide open and empty.  We asked the students to perform a quick hunt to round them up in the class room.  House points were award to those who found them.  (You may have notice Harry hanging out in the back of this photo.  Daughter made me my very own Potter Pal Puppet for Christmas!  She's getting so crafty on her own.  Best present ever!  )

With the quiz, framed pictures, signed photos and book covers, there was a great deal of printing in this portion of our party decoration.  But, we lucked out when our local friendly printer, Minuteman Press (who were super friendly and helpful), was having a special on color copies for half price!  Perfect timing!  Yay!  It ended up costing well under the $20 I had budgeted for all the book covers and photos.  I was even able to print some more candy boxes and labels (not pictured).  I tried a couple new versions that I made changes to.  Also, worked on some designs for wizard cards, but they are far from usable, yet.  Maybe this year.

After classes we tallied the house points and met in the Great Hall for the Awards Ceremony.  The daughter says the Lockhart Quiz and the Degnoming were her favorite things.    The winners of the house cup, Slytherin (boo, I think they cheated.), received boxes of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans and a bottle of Butter Beer.  Some high scoring students also got gobstones marble sets in their house colors.  I still have a few random things left to share like our birthday cake.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Hogwart's Birthday Party 2nd year - Aragog's Cobweb Maze

This past November's 2nd annual Hogwart's Party had many more games this year.  After opening ceremonies and the de-gnoming detention, it began to get dark outside.  It was a perfect time to encouraged students to wander around the Forbidden Forest at night, right?  Here are some details of one of the scarier after dark events, Aragog's Cobweb Maze!

The weather forecasted rain for pretty much all of Saturday, so we knew we'd have to do any outdoor activities on Friday (even through the dark of night).  When student came back inside from the degnoming, we drew attention to the line of spiders heading from our main bathroom out through the Great Hall window.

We hinted that following the spiders out to the forbidden forest they might see what was up.  The line of spiders actually started appearing from the bathroom shower drain meandering all the way out through the great hall passed the fireplace to the window.

(Our party being just after Halloween, we found tiny plastic spiders for the floor and the perfect vinyl window clings for the shower wall and mirrors for up to 80% off in the clearance bins around town. Yay!)

With about 25 acres of land out here growing wild, we had the perfect location between a couple of small hills for our Forbidden Forest.  And, there were just enough trees to hang the giant cobweb maze that would outdo our measly porch from years ago.  (The kids had requested this cobweb maze.  I may have mentioned the one I made back in my youth a few times.  We had transformed our closed in porch into a cobweb maze for Halloween where Trick-or-Treaters had to wind their way through the webs under the glow of an eerie green porch light to get to the front door for treats.)  So, I found a few bags of artificial webbing and some plastic/rubber spiders here and there, and we had our maze.  But, this time we used both white and black webs.  The white webs were pretty easy to spot in the dark and kept the students on the path, however closer toward Aragog some black webs were mixed in that are nearly impossible to see..and easy to walk into.  (Hehehe)  The webs also got lower and harder to pass by.

At the end of our maze was Aragog (or, as we say, one of his smaller relative) protecting what the students were supposed to retrieve. We would award house points for retrieving three rare acid green glow-in-the-dark spiders (not pictured) from Aragog's web for Professor Snape as potion ingredients.


For scale, here Aragog is on our Jeep at about 4-5ft across from toe to toe.  That is pretty small for a full grown Acromantula, who is supposed to be the size of a small elephant. But, we had our limits.  This size was creepy enough for the kids. :)

As I've mentioned before, we were on a strict low budget.  This event, including spiders and webs cost us no more than $10 total.  We used mostly stuff we already had.  Aragog is made of masking tape, wire hanger, paper towel tubes, cardboard, plastic bags, newspaper and is wrapped in two rolls of black duct tape.  His eyes were made from plastic bottle caps.  I hot glues tacks into them and just stabbed them into the head.  We had two sizes of paper towel tube and even used the wider tube leftover from one of the duct tape rolls to create the removable joints.  Yes, you read that right.  He comes apart for storage.  Each leg/arm, eyes, his fangs and even his trash bag bum are all removable.  His legs, being all wire wrapped in paper and plastic bags covered in tape, are easily posed, too.  We planned to use him again for the six year when Aragog is supposed to pass on.  Since his legs are bendable, we can put him on his back with the legs all crunched up.  And the fangs may be used in a future challenge.  But, I'm afraid the kids want him to hang around each year...alive.   :(

Also, in the distance near the entrance to the cobweb maze, students could see the lit up headlights of our cardboard flying car stuck in a tree.  The holes in front were for flashlight headlights.  My mom and my daughter helped make the car out of a cardboard box with paper plate tires painted with acrylic paints.  I think I had more fun running around the house with the car over my head.  Vroom...vroom... (Yes, that did happen!)  Due to it's puny size, this tree in our yard has now become known as the "Wimpy Willow".  :(

That's all for this project.  I hope to share some more things soon!