Sunday, 19 October 2014

Birmingham Half Marathon - countdown complete

Today's the day!! 13.1 miles around Birmingham City Centre. I'll be starting in exactly two hours. My charity page is active if anyone wishes to donate. Just click the link below. Any donations at all will be gratefully appreciated.

Gabby's Page @ Just Giving

UPDATE! 21/10: I've now just about recovered and can confirm that I completed the half marathon in a pretty respectable amateur's time of 2:25:20 - pretty much what I anticipated for my first attempt! Maybe next time I can do ever better.

The donations page is still running if anyone else wishes to give a small amount to my chosen charity. Many thanks to all those who have already donated and/or shared the link. xx

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Run Gabby Run (again)

It's bucket shaking time again!

Sorry it's been another quiet few weeks. I've been busy sewing another big costume project (NOT Gabrielle this time - watch this space!) and training for my upcoming half marathon. 13.1 miles around Birmingham city as part of the Great Birmingham Run. Once again I am fundraising for Alzheimers Research UK so if any of my readers wish to donate, do please click the link below.

All donations gratefully received, even if it is just a couple of quid. It all builds up and it'll be great to be able to beat June's total of £180.

Much love to you all. xxx

Monday, 22 September 2014

Gab's Abs, take 2

The downside of having a blog is that as well as tracking your successes you also track your disappointments. Looking back at my earlier entries when I started out in January, I made a lot of plans, including striving to do yoga every day, and a workout plan for building up my abs. Both of these have now fallen by the wayside (although I keep thinking I may try to get back into yoga) somewhere along the way.

But it's alright through as I have still met some admirable targets. I have knocked the stuffing out of the C25K, run 13.5K in the Great Midland Fun Run, and yesterday I broke the 10 mile mark in my preparation for the Birmingham Half Marathon. I've lost a ton of weight (I really should do a more recent photograph for comparison to that one I took a few months ago) and I feel better in myself both mentally and physically. All in all, this is nothing to be sniffed at, but I feel there is still more I could be doing.

At the photoshoot we did earlier this month, I couldn't help but notice the lack of muscle tone to my body. The weight loss was noticeable (go me!) but I had ended up looking both too narrow in the frame and too podgy at the same time, at least in comparison to Renee O'Connor. So the decision has been made to begin a strength training regime to tone up and get something approximating to Gabrielle's legendary abs - not to mention her arms, back and shoulders.

My trouble with this sort of thing is that I rarely know which exercises I should be doing, or indeed how to do them, or how many, or how often... or anything really.

Help came along in the form of Ares, God of War. Or to be specific, Andy, God of Fitness (who cosplays as Ares God of War).

Ares God of War, for all your personal training needs.

Andy is a pretty formidable human being, capable of deadlifting 195 kilos, so if ever I was looking for someone to help me improve my strength and muscle tone, he's the one for the job! He's also husband to my partner-in-cosplay Anna, who makes a beautiful Xena and features in our latest photo shoot, and the pair of them have an adorable son who cosplays Solan. So between the three of them they are quite the Xena family!

Anna is on a fitness kick too and recommended that I chat to Andy to get some advice, as he'd helped her out a great deal (yes, Xena is being trained by the God of War, let's take a moment to think about the beauty of this). So I consulted 'Ares' and within a few days he had devised a set of 5 exercises to start me out, complete with a 7-page instruction manual with photos, YouTube links, recommended apps, times, and other bits of info. I also have a spreadsheet to fill in.

So this morning I sweated, grunted, panted and flailed my way to the end of a 20 minute starter session of modified, easy exercises for people with no core strength.

Well this has been lovely. Can I stop now?

Some were easier than others. I can do squats with no effort at all. Leg lifts start off like a dream but I really start to feel it in my lower abs after a while (this is good, I am told). Push-ups are evil and should be banned.

The plan is to build up to 40 minutes by next week, then keep going and try to increase the number I can do in one minute. I fill in my little spreadsheet and then Ares changes the plan as I improve or throws a sword at me if I've been lazy. We shall see what happens after a few weeks...

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Horsing Around

Sorry it has been a little quiet here lately! I've had a lot on in terms of charity work and sewing my new BGSB, but I will try and play catchup as soon as I can. I still need to do a writeup of the XenaFest, and some other convention-related news that may be of interest.

The big news, however, is that I have done another shoot with 'Xena' and 'Argo', aka my friend Anna and a lovely pony called Yorkie. Yesterday was spent up the side of a hill in the rain in various different costumes while a slightly impatient pony wondered why these silly humans kept insisting that he stand still for so long when there was mud to be sniffed, hedges to be eaten, and a bag of apples that was being hidden behind his mum's back. Once again, my ever-suffering photographer, 'Joxer-of-all-Trades' has managed to work miracles and made us look vaguely human - except for Yorkie, obviously, who looks thoroughly equine.

Check out the gallery here!

A little candid on a mobile phone while we set up a shot...

Friday, 5 September 2014

Fifty Shades of Bile

My project for the summer has been, unsurprisingly, the Bilious Green Sports Bra of legend.

I must beg my readers' forgiveness that I have no been blogging about this as work has progressed. My apologies for my absence - I am sure you have all noticed and missed me terribly (yeah right). As I would hate to be clubbed to death by an angry mob of three, I shall explain my silence:

Firstly, due to a busy schedule of charity work and other obligations, the progress on the costume front has been slow and sporadic, meaning not much of anything significant was getting done. The majority of the work was completed in a rush at the last minute, leaving me with no free time to write about what I'd been doing.

Secondly, due to the sheer amount of hand sewing involved in the early stages of the construction, making this was actually, on the whole, really, REALLY boring.

Dearly departed, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of my enthusiasm for
this costume, which seems to have died along with all my fingernails.

Apologies out of the way, let's get down to it.

Gabrielle's BGSB - Bilious Green Sports Bra - is arguably the most iconic of her costumes. It's worth pointing out of course, for those of you who aren't costume nerds, that there are two variants of the BGSB:

Spot the difference! Submit your answers with a stamped addressed envelope.

The series 2 version (or BGSB mk 1), which features slightly longer sleeves and a criss-cross pattern over the top of the fabric, and the series 3/4 version (BGSB mk 2) worn from series 3 episode 3 onwards, which is sleeveless and has a leaf/vine themed embroidered pattern over it embellished with wooden beads.

As well as these more obvious differences, the BGSB mk 1 is also a richer, darker shade of bilious green, as well as being marginally longer and a little higher cut at the neckline than the BGSB mk 2.

“It’s very strange. With every story you tell me,this thing I'm wearing gets smaller. Is it enchanted?”

So the first thing to tackle was the materials. Like everything Gabrielle wears in the early seasons, it's all some type of linen. Believe you me, I should have taken out shares in linen when I started this project! But I wanted to get something close to the right textures. Fortunately, a close-up of the fabric revealed some lovely details in the material:

Here we can see the collar/front panel are a thicker, rougher weave, while the base has a slightly uneven look to it, like some threads are more prominent than others.

This shot also revealed that the criss-cross pattern appears to be constructed out of twine or wool, secured at the crossover points with thread the same colour as the fabric. It was a relief to finally know this as I had been agonising over how to achieve this effect for quite some time but it took a while to find photographs close enough to see how it was constructed.

I already had some yellowy-green linen in stock that I had purchased for something else, and had a large ball of twine already in supply having been bought for the wrap on my staff. This left me only with the collar material to find, and I stumbled across some hugely discounted heavy upholstery linen on eBay which had the right texture to it.

Colour was irrelevant at this stage, as I had made the decision some time back to stop looking to colour match the fabrics and dye everything myself (more on that later...)

Above: The main fabric.
Below: The collar fabric.

Pattern wise, I modified my old toille from the crossover set to make a mock-up: Shortened the sleeves slightly, took the hem up a tad, and sliced it down the front to lose the overlap. I spent an awkward few minutes drawing on myself in felt tip pen to try and work out the neckline, and then cut the toille accordingly. The collar I patterned by following the same line as the neckline of the main body, but adding a seam allowance on the inside so I could stitch it to an under-collar and get a nice crisp seam around the neck.

I cut the pattern pieces (the main body in the linen blend, and in a heavy cotton for lining, the collar in the heavy linen, and an under-collar and modesty panel in cotton) and then began the gruelling task of hand stitching the lines of jute twine onto the pieces.

I cannot....

... begin to describe....

... how unbelievably tedious...

... this process was.

For this reason alone I have tortured you with photos.

The next phase was far more fun - dyeing the bilious green sports bra the correct shade of bile to achieve optimum biliousness!!

Having battled with Dylon basic dyes for what seemed like an age in the never-ending saga of the crossover set - which to this day has never been quite the correct shade of mud for my liking - I decided to go pro and start dabbling in Rit.

Rit is a far more precise and professional dyeing system as it is designed to create custom colours by mixing small amounts of their dye products together. I'm not kidding when I say their range of potential colours is breath-taking. The pdf document I downloaded with the swatches and formulae featured 500 different colours.

I selected a few likely suspects from the catalogue, pasted them into a picture, and - bearing in mind of course that the fabrics already had a dull yellow/brown hue to them - asked my friends which ones they thought I should use.

Which shade of vomit would madam like on her blouse this evening?

Everyone voted for different ones, so I chose the combo that required the least colours, because £3.50 was going to make such a vast difference in the budget of this overall project. In all honesty though, the costume fades throughout the show so I had a little bit of freedom in that respect. I had been poring over images of the kit all day in all different types of light and my brain had pretty much melted out of my ears at this stage.

The process itself is more mind-boggling still. The formulae provided give the amount of liquid dye required to dye one ounce of fabric the desired colour. You must then multiply the amounts by the number of ounces of fabric. So far so simple, yes? Then, if you are using powder dye, which I was, you must then divide that amount by eight. Which means if you are dyeing a small amount of fabric, which I was, the dye required is such a tiny amount you have to dissolve a teaspoon of it in a precise quantity of water and then dish out a certain number of tablespoons of the solution to get the required fraction of dye. Oh, and the amount of water required for the dyeing process... well, that varies depending on how even you want the colour. And which document you look at. One says a quart, one says a cup. Oh, and it's all in imperial. Did I mention I'm British? We haven't used imperial since the war!

So far this oh-so-professional dyeing process had basically left me crying over a jar of murky green stuff as I yelled "I don't know how to math!!" at my computer. On the upside though, the solutions I had created in order to dye the collar with the necessary 1/8th of a teaspoon of powder were now sitting in my kitchen cupboard looking wonderfully bizarre.

And so, a merry afternoon was spent dunking bits of Gabrielle in a tub of water in various shades of pond scum...

One of the odd things I noticed about Rit is that the fabric soaks the dye up so well the water practically ends up clear by the time you're done!

So the collar came out perfect first time around, but the main body was a tad too verdant.

Not bilious enough. Needs more bile!

At this stage, however, my tiny brain had been exhausted by the mathematics involved, and as the fabric was already very green, I decided to wing it. I had bought some cocoa brown Rit powder for the skirt, so mixed up some of that with a smidge of the dark green, threw the top in and let it fester in the murky depths for a while before whipping it out when I felt it was vaguely the right shade.

Now I just had to leave it to dry so I could sew it together.

The things you see in a cosplayer's garden....

The construction was simple enough: First I attached the lining pieces to the outer pieces by sewing along the edges. Then I attached the top together at the shoulders, and the collar and under-collar together at the neckline. The collar piece then fitted nicely onto the top at the neck, and I could stitch around the edge without leaving visible stitching on the collar at the neck.

Another row of zigzag stitching secured the under-collar in place.

The only visible stitching on the collar is near the raw edge, so I ensured all the collar construction and attachment was hidden under the collar. This done, I could secure the side seams.

Placing the raw edges exactly was quite tricky, so I had to put the top on and pin the collar in place, as well as working out where the front panel needed to fold over to give just the right amount of gap, as Gabrielle does have a slight gap and a visible modesty panel at the front of this top.

Once this was pinned, I stitched it in place, following the raw edges as closely as possible. This was quite fiddly, mostly due to the twine embellishments. Trying to sew in a straight line, following an edge as closely as possible, is quite tricky for a generally quite clumsy person like myself, but when the machine keeps bumping up over the string and throwing itself off course, it's even harder! Nonetheless, with a little perseverance I got there eventually.

I did, however, realise that I had somehow ended up with one side further over than the other, meaning the body panel on one side was about an inch and a half wider than the other! I'm not entirely sure how that happened. Either I have no eye for measurements or I have an uneven bosom. Or possibly a combination of the two.

Suffice to say I unpicked and evened it out.

Next I had to sort out the front lacing. First I fitted the modesty panel - a fairly simple task.

I had already dyed a square of cotton, but it needed a bit of reinforcing to help it sit straight. So I used the same heavy cotton as I had for the lining, cut a square about the same height as the front edge of the top, and attached the green cotton onto it with lines of stitching about a half inch from the edge. This was then sewn onto one side of the top, again following the raw edge of the collar so the stitching was relatively hidden on the outside.

The other side can be secured with Velcro if necessary.

With this last bit of sewing now done, all I had to do was punch the holes in the front and add the lacing.

Punching the holes the correct width apart was a nightmare as the length of the front edge did not divide evenly whether I used metric or imperial, so I had to faff about with fractions and some of the holes ended up a bit unevenly spaced. However, it wasn't too dire and so can go relatively unnoticed.

I used a flat brown cotton lace for the fastening, although in some of the shots close up the lacing appears to be flat brown leather thonging. I didn't have any of that left, so cotton laces would have to do.

But the overall effect works.

Later on I shall replace the laces with leather. There are also other minor modifications which are required, most of which I had not noticed until I looked at the proper images. Mainly the fact that the front panel with the lacing needs to be shorted slightly in line with the main body. There shall also be the lengthy process of stitching over the points where the twine overlaps with embroidery thread. But in the meantime I had a shoot to get to!

'A Family Photo.' Picture by Joxer-of-all-Trades. Anna Nield as Xena. Yorkie as Argo.

For the full shoot by Joxer-of-all-Trades, click the link below:

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

To Conquer Yourself is to Know the Way

August has been a stressful time for me. It's also been a big gaping hole in the timeline of this blog so I am striving to fill the gap with a few retrospective entries.

In the September sections, you will notice I have attributed the lack of writing to my charity work, busy schedule and rushing to complete my costume projects. While this is all true, there is another big factor which has weighed in this month, which I feel may benefit some readers, including myself, if it were discussed.

I'm going to talk to you about my mental health.

Oh hello inner demons. Not you again!

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I had, as of January, come off my medication for bipolar depression and anxiety. Eight months on now and I am still completely medication free, and tackling my illness through a combination of exercise, social support, and what can only be described as a strong, ongoing awareness of my own mental state. August has been a bit of a toughie - lots of bad days, not a lot of energy, and an unusual amount of feeling lousy. But I had an epiphany this month whereupon I suddenly realised that I class myself as a recovered depressive - no longer a depressed person, but someone with a history of problems who has those problems well in hand most of the time.

So how did I get here?

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

Being very honest here, if someone had told me eighteen months ago that I would require neither medication nor counselling in order to get through my daily life, I would have thought the were crazier than me - and that's saying something.

Recovery is not something that happens overnight. You don't suddenly wake up one morning and just decide to get better, and then miraculously do so. Neither is there a miracle cure. The pills may take the edge off but all they can really do is prevent you from hiding in your room, crippled with fear and grief. By numbing the pain just enough they can propel the emotionless husk of your being into the real world for a few hours at a time in the hope that you might be able to do a day's work or buy your groceries or whatever it is you have to do, but that is all.

Don't get me wrong, I think medication has its place in the recovery process, but to medicate the emotion out of a human being and consider them "cured" is not the way to go.

When you're in that deep pit of despair, the light at the top feels like a mile away. To strive towards that as an end goal seems impossible, and you can exhaust yourself just at the mere thought of trying. I used to try to imagine myself as a spritely, energetic "well" person (whatever that even means) who could get out of bed when the alarm went off, get dressed without staring into the mirror in self-loathing for several minutes, eat a healthy breakfast before noon and then go out and work a productive day in a job that would give me money to be there, because I was that amazing as a human being that people actually wanted me around and would pay me to do stuff!

Useful? Me? REALLY? Oh shucks you guys...

I realise now that this was a far off fantasy, and dwelling on the distant dream was blinding me to what I could be achieving.

My goals on my road to recovery have been small. They started with trying to get dressed every day. Leave the house three times a week. Get up when I am awake, go to bed when I am tired. Eat something. It doesn't matter what. Just eat.

My physical fitness was the same (I tie the two in closely as I strongly believe the endorphins released during exercise have replaced the artificial chemicals being pumped into my brain by the medication). I started the C25K in January, and despite being a "running" programme, week 1 and 2 are mostly walking. In October I shall be running a half marathon, but back in January when I was out pounding the pavement for those early sessions, the beeps were 30 seconds apart that that was all I could run.

Start small. Aim for the achievable. And congratulate yourself when you achieve it, because it doesn't matter how small the thing is - YOU DID THE THING. And that's good.

You don't dig yourself out of the pit by climbing to the top in one go. Sometimes you need to just focus on getting yourself up off the floor first.


And let's make one thing clear - I am still not that spritely energetic "well" human being I saw in my fantasies. I still struggle to get going in the mornings. I still forget to eat breakfast, and so aim to just have a milkshake or a piece of fruit, because that is more achievable. I still have no job, or much of an idea what I want to do, or how I shall go about doing it. And I still have days where my emotions become too much and I just want to sit in my room and cry. But I try to remember the things I HAVE achieved, and the things I CAN do, because I've come a long way.

And strangely enough, those bad days are a pretty good reminder of that.

Bad Days and How To Cope With Them

Everybody has bad days. For most people, a "bad day" is often defined as a day when bad things occur. Big things or small things, it doesn't matter. Your emotional state is a response to these things happening. This is normal.

Sometimes, this emotional state occurs without any external cue whatsoever. I can't vouch for everyone, but I think this happens to most of us at some point. We all have those days where we wake up and we just feel lousy for no reason. We may try to ascribe it to something anatomical - maybe a minor illness, hormonal fluctuations, a bad night's sleep perhaps?

For people with depression, this is a regular if not constant state of mind. We feel upset, afraid, angry, useless, even suicidal for no discernible reason. But because we as human beings like to be able to assign reason, this feeling manifests itself as a very logical, rational response to a world which we see as harsh, cruel, unforgiving, pointless and full of misery. When this frame of mind is ongoing, merely existing is exhausting. There is no light at the end of the tunnel. The world is, and always will be, a terrible place. We cannot change it. We cannot beat it. Why would we want to live in it? How could we not feel this way in such a punishing universe? In the mind of the depressive, we aren't blinded to the beauty of the world by our illness - we are the ones with the vision. We've had the epiphany. The world is awful and we are the ones who know it. Everyone else is kidding themselves. It's hard to describe the joy I used to take in my own misery, but that's the best way I can put it into words. I was happy that I was so unhappy, because being unhappy meant I knew how the world worked.

I have not "lost it" - I'm the only one who knows what's going on around here!

Even now, this crushing feeling of worthlessness and despair still arises at times, often for no real reason. It brings with it all the accompanying problems - lack of energy, poor eating habits, restlessness and lethargy (these are a fantastic combination, you really should try it sometime) and a sense of utter hopelessness so acute it feels like clarity.

I can try and be rational about it when those moments strike, but it's one of the toughest challenges I face on the road to recovery. I can tell myself "this feeling is happening because the serotonin levels in my brain are dropping too quickly, and the neural receptors... blah-de-blah-de-blah..." but it is hard to dismiss thoughts that manifest themselves with such rationality and poignancy. But perhaps the most terrifying thing is the fear that this is a sign of a major relapse - a sign that what I thought was recovery was in fact just a prolonged cycle of hypo-mania and now I'm just cycling back into depression.

One of the hard things about being mentally ill for so long is that you forget what being "well" actually feels like, especially with something like bipolar where feeling "good" is actually a symptom, and you have to keep evaluating yourself and making sure you are experiencing the right kind of "good" and not the hyperactive, over-spending, physically exhausting, self-endangering kind of "good" that generally prompts doctors to start popping open the Valium and shunting you to the top of the waiting list for psych assessments.

But once you can shake that particular fear, the bad days do actually serve a purpose. They act as a gauge for how far I have come, and a reminder of how much of a different person I am now compared to eighteen months ago.

Okay, so I am not the chipper, happy soul I imagined I would be. I am not an indestructible pillar of emotional strength. I am not an uber-productive money-earning go-getting superhuman-type gal.

But I think it's safe to say I can now live with the person I am. And that's good.

Annie the Mighty. My role model in terms of self-acceptance. Now I need my own theme song...

Friday, 22 August 2014

A New Goal

Here's some exciting news!

Following the success of my Great Midlands Fun Run, I decided I needed a new fitness goal in my life. With this in mind, I have officially entered the Birmingham Half Marathon in just under 2 months time. Training begins tomorrow,

This is only a short step up from the 8.5 miles I did for the fun run, but still quite an achievement for me as I have only really been running since January when I started this whole project.

I ran the Fun Run in aid of Alzheimers Research UK, and the page for donations has just begun to close down. I am thrilled to announce that my final plug on Facebook yielded some more donations from very generous friends. This, combined with the cash donations from friends and neighbours which I finally banked and logged (with added Gift Aid) pushed the total up to £180 plus £42.50 in Gift Aid. I'm pretty thrilled with that, and will be setting up another donations page soon seeking sponsors for the Birmingham Half!

The half marathon itself is on October 19th, which sadly means I will miss the winter Comic Con. Nonetheless this will be a major achievement for me and I am looking forward to the challenge!

Battle on Xenites. xxx