Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Hospice Weeks

Strange things have been happening lately. I'm busy at the office. I'm busy at home. And somewhere between working, running errands, shuttling back and forth from the rink, cooking, cleaning, and running a home and raising a kid, I got the flu.

Stitch had come down with some mysterious illness for a few days, wherein he ran a high fever and lay lethargic on the sofa. He drank orange juice and slept, and I just blissfully assumed my immune system would function as it always had. He pulled out of that one, came down with something new a few days later which only lasted a day, but by then I was starting to feel awful. I hadn't had a fever in years, I'd forgotten what it felt like. Death. It felt like death, just to clarify that.

I'm starting to feel better. In fact, today is the first day in two weeks in which I've felt "normal." I still have a cough, but it sounds worse than it is. I'm off all the decongestants, so my head is clearer. The prospect of Spring Show rehearsals starting doesn't scare me as much.

That's right. Spring Show. Rehearsals start in a few weeks. I spent two weekends in the lobby during Saturday Classes, measuring and recruiting kids while hopped up on Tylenol and phenyleparine. Parents were ambivalent. After the costuming disaster of Winter Show, some were understandably nervous. I glossed things over as best I could, trying to look as normal as possible.

Stitch, with no immediate competitions on the horizon, is in both the group number for his level and the "specialty group" number. He's rolling his eyes, stating the rehearsal schedule will be too much, but if I know my Stitch, once he's in the thick of things, he'll be fine with it and asking for more.

He passed Freestyle Three the week I was starting to shake and feel numb. He gave me the paper and I was pleased. Change foot spin, still his weakest element, but Class Passing. I've mentioned to Coach many times, "Please. Back Spin. Please." In my two weeks of incoherence, I doubted I made much sense among the parents rushing to pass things.

This past weekend was his first run at Freestyle Four. Again, I'm expecting to be here for awhile. I'm glad to be here awhile for many reasons. He can sit at Freestyle four for a solid year if needs be. This Saturday the coaches introduced the new dance step sequence, which includes a variation on a three turn which left him flummoxed. And his foot was pestering him.

The weekend prior, the one where I was laying on the sofa, feverish, achey and cranky because I couldn't breathe, Stitch reported that his foot hurt. I asked him why. He said he had jumped off some infernal piece of playground equipment and his foot had hurt ever since. He said it hurt in the arch, and it really hurt when he was skating on it. I told him that it would be fine, since I was letting the week be light on the skating anyway, as he was between class sessions. "Just put ice on it. Or something," I think I said, before I retired to take another nap.

But Saturday, his hops were all off, his spirals were non-existent, and he looked like he was in pain. I pulled him over during the break, and asked if it was his hurting foot, and he said yes. "It's killing me," he clarified. So, I asked Coach what I should do, seeing as how she might have some knowledge of Sports Medicine which I do not. She instructed me to try taping it, but to see a foot doctor if it continued much longer. This horrified me, so I went up into the stands, took some more ibuprofin for my two week long headache and prayed for the best.

Tuesday morning we set off for lessons, and he said his foot felt fine. I watched him skate and he looked normal, not in pain. Coach nabbed him and they had a great little lesson which included Loop jumps and some new warmup step which we have dubbed "MoHops."

So, my Flu seems to be gone, leaving only a waning cough behind. If you hear me at the rink, it sounds bad but I feel great. Stitch's foot seems to have healed itself, but I'm keeping an eye on it. "No more jumping from the slide platforms," I told him. "No more tearing up your body at the playground," Coach Snape told him.

After weeks of antagonism, the two of them seem to have hit it off. Stitch gave him a cookie once after lessons, and Coach Snape seeks him out for mini-lectures about not tormenting me and taking care of himself. It's actually kinda cute, and it makes me happy.

Coach is starting a Spin Class, which Stitch will do. That Back Spin will be fully conquered.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Crystal Blue Persuasion

It's common knowledge that you can't do Figure Skating without Sparkle. The more elaborate, unique, blinged out thing you're wearing, the better. Freestyle dresses have been turned away by Coach because they were not sparkly enough.

But Sparkle isn't cheap. Go online shopping for a figure skating dress, and you'll fast learn that the more crystal a dress has, the price goes up exponentially. A common practice in the Skating Universe is to buy a prefab dress and stone it yourself.

In the not-so-distant past, you could Crystal just about anything using The Device Which Shall Not Be Named. I have only found a few people willing to admit that they owned The Device Which Shall Not Be Named, because ownership of said Device seems to carry a cultural imperative that you create a denim jacket with a unicorn motif.

Nowadays, we use Flatback Crystal and some form of Glue.

Where do you get Crystal? Does it have to be Swarovski? How much do you need to buy, and what color? And most importantly, how do you stick it on the dress?

As it so happens, I've been in the thick of a few projects that are heavy on the Crystal, in addition to stoning a few dresses for my fellow skating parents. So, let's talk about the Crystal Mysteries.

Swarovski, as I've stated before, is quite possibly the most commonly known crystal around. Swarovski used to limit itself to crystal knicknacks, stemware and commercial jewelry, but then it discovered that hoardes of amatuer jewelers like myself were buying up old costume jewelry and prying out the stones to create our own things. (The old style round stones in sew-on metal settings were terrible.) So, Swarovski, smart company that it is, moved in to accommodate us, and now there is a vast array of beads and gems under the Swarovski Elements line.

Firstly, Swarovski Crystal is not a true crystal like quartz or tourmaline or amethyst. It's just leaded glass with a high refractive index, finely cut like a traditional gemstone. But when you facet leaded glass, the results are stunning.

You can buy Swarovski Elements any number of internet vendors, or even a local bead store. Bead stores, however, are more likely to carry bicone and cube shapes, and not the flatbacks needed for costuming. I've found the most unique shapes and cuts on Artbeads, and when I need common cuts and colors I just go to Fire Mountain. Keep your eyes open, always be shopping, always price compare.

Crystal Colors
What color you choose is dictated by the garment. When I'm making Jewelry, I steer clear of A/B (rainbow) Coatings as I find they look chintzy. But for Costuming, they look pretty good. I'd say the most common crystal I see is an A/B Coated one, but don't limit yourself. Swarovski offers an incredible array of colors, coatings, and foilbacked stones. Look around. Spend a little money to experiment. See what others are doing. Collaborate.

Crystal Sizes
Coming from Jewelry, I'm used to measuring my stones in millimeters, but apparently costume design uses some kind of arbitrary numbering system. I found this image, with the various stones and their size numbers next to a US Penny, which clears things up.

I've never gone larger than 5mm. In the right color, a 5mm can pop with just as much drama as a larger stone, and they are cheap.

What truly staggers me is that the only shape of Crystal I see out there is round. Did you know Swarovski makes a wide variety of shapes and facets in the Flatback Style? Doubtless, once you drop below a certain size, no one will know if it's a snowflake shape or a round shape from forty feet away, but all the same, I would imagine it would be fun to have a different crystal style than everyone else. Check out Artbeads' Swarovski Resource Page for colors, wire diagrams, shapes, sizes and a glossary of terms!

Snowflakes in a Rivoli Cut, 5mm AB Coat
About Hotfix
I've never used Hotfix, mostly because I'm too cheap to buy a seperate implement for the express purpose of gluing crystal, but also because I fear burning my projects. I'm not alone in my fear. If you have experience with Hotfix, please speak up!

Gluing them on.
Most people, I've found, use some incredibly toxic and annoying substance called E6000. I personally cannot stand this stuff. It's impossible to work with because the tubes are so much larger than the stones themselves, and you end up squirting way too much adhesive on everything. Or if you try squirting a set amount of E6000 into a dish and try using a toothpick or some other tiny pokey thing to poke the adhesive onto the place you want to glue, you drag tendrils of adhesive all over the garment. And you can kiss that dish goodbye, because E6000 is instantaneously permanent as all hell. Then you have E6000 all over your fingers for at least three days, from trying to wipe away the tendrils. I find E6000 to be the most unforgiving substance in the universe, and since I make tons of mistakes, I use something different.

I use Rosco Crystal Gel. Even Rosco found this surprising. Take a tablespoon of Crystal Gel, put it in a sandwich bag. Nip off the end and voila! Piping bag. Pipe a small dab of the Gel onto the spot you want a crystal. You can even let it sit for awhile, because unlike E6000, Crystal Gel does not start to set instantaneously. You have about five minutes.

I use tweezers to drop stones onto the Gel, and then I give them a little tap on the head to squish them into the Gel. If a little seeps up onto the side of the stone, don't fret. It dries completely clear. If you accidentally smudge the gel, you can wipe it away quickly with a wet washcloth, as the Gel is water soluble. (Unlike the Evil E6000.) Wash your implements before the Gel dries.

In a half hour, the Gel should be dry enough that you can pick up the garment. In 24 hours, the Gel will have cured completely.

I have used Crystal Gel successfully for the past year to adhere crystal to knits, spandex, fleece, stretch velvet and canvas. Because Crystal Gel offers a degree of flexibility, it doesn't seem to mind when the fabric underneath it stretches.

I have also never used Gemtack. If you have some Gemtack experience, speak up!

Do not use Hot Glue. Hot Glue is simply plastic that melts at a low temperature, and if it sticks to anything then you've found the exception to the rule. I got over Hot Glue in the early Nineties, you should, too.

Crystal will fall off. No matter what you use, you will have a failure rate. Even my prized Cherri Chau Crystal Barrette, advertised as being the only crystalled jewelry that would never lose a stone, has a few bare spots. Buy 10% additional stones to cover for failures. Check the garment before and after wearing to see if you've lost anyone. Have a moment of silence for the MIA and Presumed Dead stones, and replace as needed.

Consider Crystal on a Garment as you would Icing on a Cake. The right amount tastes wonderful, but too much or too little is ruinous. Fifty well placed stones can do so much more than a hundred just thrown scattershot at a dress. Make a drawing, lay out the stones before you commit with glue, sleep on it and collaborate with your fellow seamstresses.

Have fun. Don't be afraid to mess up. My beading Stash is replete with failed projects. Without failing, how will you learn what works?