Blanche’s Extreme Makeover

Published March 7, 2015 by Kristie

This is Blanche.

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Blanche at home in her case.

I got her in October of 2007 after I’d given up all hope of receiving Antiguo’s Telecaster, a guitar he’d said many times would be mine once he was gone.  I didn’t want it because I desperately needed an electric guitar; I wanted it because it was his and he loved it. And I didn’t really need another electric guitar, as I already had my Epiphone, Ruby, but it seemed important at the time that I get a Tele, even if I couldn’t have his Tele.  As it turns out, I’ve since sold Ruby, because the Tele is much more playable than Ruby was; lighter, too; those semihollows are heavy and like to dig a trough in your shoulder.  And since I mostly play acoustic, one electric guitar is more than enough for me.

I picked up Blanche on eBay, which marks the first (and probably last) time I’ll buy a used instrument from eBay.  It arrived filthy, and the “custom paint job” was half-assed at best.  And the best part?  The places he’d nicked the paint job, he covered it up with black Sharpie marker, slopping it on the maple neck for good measure.  When the seller objected to my “neutral” eBay feedback with positive commentary about the sound of the instrument, I pointed out all these things to him, and he piped down.

Black Sharpie marker.  I mean, honestly.

Because as you can see, this guitar is Sherwood metallic green, a car paint color, which I know because I ordered the paint touch-up marker in that color myself to fix the nicks properly.  I cleaned the crud that had collected in the frets, wondering how a 2007 Tele could look like it’d been buried in someone’s garage for 40 years in October of the year it was made.  I cleaned the black marker off the neck, and I replaced the yellowed pickguard with something a little more flashy, a little more me.  Long live celluloid!

But I was always disappointed in the color, which had looked more blue than green on the computer when I bought it (and that’s what I wanted, having admired a deep blue-green paint job on my friend Beth’s Strat), and the paint job was pretty streaky.  And then there was a minor incident a few years later involving a candle too close to the hanging instrument (before I made my cabinet for them) that bubbled the paint in one spot.  So I decided the next time I had a G.A.S. attack, instead of buying a new guitar, I’d get this one painted instead.

G.A.S. comes and goes, but I haven’t had the guitar painted, because the kind of cool paint job I’d be interested in would probably run me more than I paid for the guitar in the first place.  However, I recently did upgrade its appearance through the magic of vinyl.

The (very affordable) decal I picked out was going to clash with the original paint job, so I decided to paint up the back and sides with some gold spray paint I had in the shed.  Is that optimal?  No, but as no one sees the back of the guitar anyway, I didn’t really think it mattered.  I just didn’t want it to clash where the decal met the paint job. And considering that the original paint job was half-assed anyway, I figured if mine were merely quarter-assed, I’d be ahead of the game.

I started by taping off the neck plate.  (Actually, I started taking the neck plate off.  I’d gotten one screw out, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know what the neck plate was doing, so a few minutes of googling later, I realized it did in fact have an important job, and I put that screw right back in, before I removed the whole neck from the guitar.)

 

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The edges of the neck plate and the holes where the strings go through were hard to tape, so I picked up some masking film for those.  You just paint on a few coats, letting it dry in between, and you’re good to go.  When you’re done painting, you just peel it off.
Liquid masking film

Once I’d taped what I could and plastic-wrapped the entire neck, I did a wee bit of sanding on the back and sides to take the shine off and help the paint hold.  A person interested in really doing it right would’ve primed the thing as well.  I confess, I was not that person in this particular instance; however, if the paint job on the back doesn’t hold up over time, as I suspect it won’t based on its performance thus far, I’ll do that next time.

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That’s the edge where the paint bubbled from the candle.

I set it up on the hot tub, out of the wind, which was no easy task, considering the wind we’ve been having around here lately.

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It started going on well, but got overly heavy in spots, and drippy.  So I had to drag it back into the house once it dried and do a bit more sanding.

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The brand-new can of paint I started using after having issues with the partial can I started with began spitting drops of pigment in a decidedly non-aerosol manner.  Everything I did to fix it and paint over it just created a new layer of the problem, so eventually I decided it was as good as it was going to get, and I gave up, because, once again, no one is going to see the back of the guitar.

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That was the easy part, though I didn’t know it at the time.  Despite all the commentary on the website where I bought the decal about how simple a process it was to install it, it wasn’t nearly so.  There were no directions either, just a few YouTube videos linked on their site.  So I watched them all once when I ordered it, and again right before I got out the Exacto knife.

First you have to take all the hardware, knobs, and pickguard off.

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I started to take off the lower pickup as well, but there was one screw under the bridge, and since they were already set and I didn’t want to screw it up, I left it alone.

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Right beneath the screw you can vestiges of the infamous black marker touch-up.

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I didn’t remember this empty cavity being in there. This is where I will hide the diamonds from my jewel heist if I ever have one.

First you do a generous tracing of the guitar, face down, on the back of the decal.

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Then you make sure the top is clean, and lay the decal on top.  Fortunately for you, dear reader, I didn’t take pictures of every step of the process thereafter, which was torturous, putzy, slow, and maddening.  I cut slits slowly, in stages, to get the electronics through, and then pulled off the backing in parts and smoothed it out, sometimes using a hair dryer to warm it up and get it to stretch more.

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And finally, I put on a new sparkly gold pickguard, with gold screws to match, to match the new decal. Et voila!

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Much better, no?

 

Dress Success

Published March 4, 2015 by Kristie

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It started as a dream and an envelope full of flimsy brown tissue paper I would never do anything with on my own, for I am notorious for being possessed of far more optimism than I am skill, generally speaking. I’d been shopping for Renaissance Festival garb on Etsy and ran across this pattern for sale (and it was plus size, too! That never happens.) I imagined that perhaps some day I’d be able, against all dire odds, sew it myself, or better yet (and more likely) get my mom to sew it for me, because you know, all moms with jobs and lives of their own STILL want to be doing custom sewing projects for their 40-something children who never managed to learn to sew.

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Not that I didn’t try. I did. I really did, but it never took. Not when my mom showed me. Not when I took Home Ec in 10th grade. Not when I bought a Singer from Target and tried again and again to teach myself to sew, but only managed to make an endless number of thread rat’s nests dyed blue from the streak I cussed while doing it. Not when I attempted to make a toga–a toga! an item of clothing that technically probably doesn’t require any sewing at all!–for Latin Day at school when I taught at St. Michael’s. (For that last project, my officemates and I gathered to create costumes at Michelle’s house, because she was the only one with a sewing machine. My efforts on that day led me to announce to all present, “This looks like a drunk monkey sewed it with his own three hands!”)

So yeah. Sewing. We have not been dear friends these many years, which always seemed a damned shame to me. It made no sense to me that someone so into clothes was so wholly unable to sew. Which was further frustrating because when you’re an abundant-sized woman, your retail clothing options are limited to begin with, and what’s on offer is often short on style and long on both price and ugly. Sewing your own clothing is a reasonable solution, but only if you can sew. And after so many decades I’d begun to think I just couldn’t do it.

However, at the same time, I’m stubborn and believe that if any person can learn to do something, then I can learn to do it. I hate not being able to do things. So I googled “sewing lessons in Tucson, AZ” and came across Ida Jane’s Atelier, less than 10 minutes from my house, and I took it as a sign. I signed up for lessons immediately, and have been going ever since.

My awesome and patient teacher, Jenny, suggested we start with skirts as the easiest possible option to learn to sew. Because what is a skirt, but a tube of fabric? And yet for a tube of fabric, it can be surprisingly putzy. Sewing is putzy in general, and I learned quickly that very little sewing time is spent actually putting stitches into fabric, especially when you’re creating and custom-fitting your own patterns, and you’re a noob who is still traumatized from your attempt to make stirrup pants in 10th grade (hey!  It was 1987!  Don’t judge me!) Here:  I have created a pie chart of how sewing time is actually spent:

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But with steady guidance, I managed to turn out 5 skirts in 3 different patterns in fairly short order (for a noob). With drawstrings and facings and bias tape waistbands and zippers and darts–the works!

High on this perceived success, and ready for a new project, I remembered the aforementioned pattern with the LOTR-type costume dresses, and I brought it in to Jenny to see if she thought it was feasible for me to do it at this point.  She said, “Why not?”

From start to finish, the project took about 3 months.  Maybe more; it kind of got blurry there in the middle.  And because I’m learning, and because it’s just a darn good idea, we do muslins of all the new projects first, which is a rough draft out of cheap, plain fabric that allows you to practice new techniques and fix fit problems ahead of time, before you attempt them on irreplaceable $20/yard fabric.  I heartily endorse this practice, as it takes a ton of pressure off, and by the time you’re ready to sew for real, you’ve done everything once already and it goes so much more easily.

As I was nearing the finish line on the dress, I kind of marveled at my sheer chutzpah in attempting it as a novice, because I was in way over my head.  Nonetheless, I made it, I wore it, and am feeling pretty damn accomplished (and in need of a break–my next project is going to be easier.)

So without further ado, the unveiling of what I call my “Eowyn dress” (and I whipped up a little matching purse, too, because I can do that now! And I made the floral crown, too.)

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And in action:

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And a little more action, in which I get to squeeze acrobat butt to help him up the stairs in stilts:
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