Things I never could have predicted.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am the person who helped Tronguy  (Jay Maynard) build his suit. Jay is an old, dear friend who asked me to help him with his suit so he could potentially win a costume contest at Penguicon (he did win, btw.) .  Of course he did much more than that, and the thing exploded into a media frenzy, making him a permanent part of internet history and culture.

Even during the hard parts (and there were several weeks at the beginning that were very,very difficult- I defy anyone to handle them with more grace than he did. You’d fail- the amount of horrible venom that was directed at him for no real reason at all was not to be believed.), he has always maintained a sense of humor about himself, and the suit. He even attended the Bravo A List awards wearing it (I know, I was with him at the event.)

I think it’s because of that that people still ask him to do appearances and interviews and now, apparently commercials.  Way to go, Jay.  I had NO IDEA it would turn into this, but this is wonderful.  😀

Tardis Corset Technical Notes Part 2: The second version.

With a proof of concept, if not much more, in hand, I set about making a second version.  Nikki suggested printing the panels on paper and using the paper.  My printer was out of ink at the time (I have a fancy printer and the ink costs a mint.), so I borrowed a printer, and set about doing that.  What eventually appeared was a sandwich:

clear plastic

frosted plastic


clear plastic

This took a fair bit of time in photoshop, since I had to make the panels look exactly correct. So an hour or so per panel to make sure it all looked the way it was supposed to.  But I was having printing problems- the panels weren’t printing at the right size and it wasn’t my printer.  Concerns about ink usage arose. After several attempts I finally managed to get all the printed panels in my hands and make the sandwiches.

While this looked okay- certainly better than the previous attempt, it had a flaw- it was very hard to make the sandwich stay together.  I spent a lot of time gluing and gluing.  The glue has to go SOMEWHERE and there was nowhere to put it on the panel that it was well hidden.  I had lots of problems with the panels coming apart. I kept gluing them back together.  But I was rapidly running out of TIME.  I shipped the panels overnight to Philadelphia.  They were supposed to be there by noon the next day.  Nikki would then have one full day to get it all together.  This was the second round of panels:

In the mad rush I cut the door opening to the sign on the stomacher backwards. Oops.

The USPS lost the package.

They misrouted it and it didn’t arrive until a day later.  Then Nikki had the same problems I did with panel separation.  She’d had a really, really awful week (for various reasons) and in the end just couldn’t build the corset in time for Defcon.  We then were focused on a new deadline- Wicked Faire on August 13.

So we were getting there, but we weren’t quite there yet.

Tardis Corset: Of Sonic Screwdrivers and Doors

Nikki forwarded a question on to me asking if it would be technically possible to build a sonic screwdriver capable of opening the door on the corset.

This led me to ask what a sonic screwdriver WAS.

Once I got that explanation out of the way (and Nikki stopped laughing), I told her I’d post the answer here:


Yes, but there’s no real good reason to want to.

From a *technical* standpoint what you’re really looking to do is basically apply the same principles as a garage door opener, or the push button electronic lock on your car door.  You basically turn the sonic screwdriver into the remote control for the door.  It’s a pain in the ass, but technically doable.

However in this particular case it’s an awful lot of work (and added expense) to the garment for no really good reason.  if you’re using it on yourself, it’s really just almost silly when you could just, you know, open the door. 

If you give the controller to someone else it makes all kinds of sense from a fetish corset standpoint.  But it would really require the doors be placed far more strategically- which they’re simply not on this garment.

It’s just not worth the hassle or expense to do it for this particular design, but yeah it’s *technically* possible.



Tardis Corset Technical Notes 1: How I got here.

Before I forget all this, I’m writing it down.

As I’ve said previously, Nikki is a friend of mine. We had been speaking on Skype one night as she told me about her idea to make a tardis corset.  She had a client (Nicole) who had a credit with her and  Nikki wanted to get her in a tardis corset in time for Defcon.  While she had already built the pieces for the corset itself (since you know, that’s her actual job and all), she was stuck on how to turn it into a tardis (jokes about it being bigger on the inside notwithstanding.) and time was rapidly running out.

There’s two things you need to know about me:

1. I don’t sew.  In fact the only reason I own a sewing machine (I do own one, I have no idea how it works- it may as well be a nuclear reactor) is so my tailor/costume designer/all around saver of the day Jay Reeder from Knightly Endeavors doesn’t have to drag one to my house to do alterations from three hours away. So sewing issues are completely baffling to me.

2. Sorry for the heresy, gang, but I’ve never watched Dr. Who. Not ever. Not once. I have nothing negative whatsoever to say about it- it’s just not the direction my geekery goes in.  So understand that all this knowledge that others have about the show, and the tardis and all manner of other Whovian mystery is… well a mystery to me. The closest I get to Dr. Who generally is playing Rotersand: Exterminate Annihilate Destroy during a DJ set.

But Nikki was really worried about figuring this problem out. She knew what she *wanted* to do, but didn’t know how to get from point A to point B on it.  Not her skillset, as it were.

Luckily, it’s my skillset, so I offered to help out. What the hell, I like puzzles.

Understand that design is a process. That’s hard for goal oriented people.

No one is more goal oriented than me.  I am very much on the J of that J/P divide.  But design– a process that largely takes place in your head, not in the outside world, is very much a thing of process and perception.  It’s a journey. The project completion is the goal.

It is frustrating for people on the outside who only care about the goal to see or care about the process. But the process exists whether you like it or not.  It has to- or you get really shitty design.  It is VERY rare for an idea to pounce out of someone’s head fully formed like Athena from Zeus, and when people cling to the first idea they have, they usually wind up with really lousy results overall.

So, I first told her I would help. I have experience with this sort of geekery- as previously mentioned I’m the lunatic who helped Jay Maynard build his Tron suit (and I promise I had NO IDEA it would become as famous as it did- I did it to help Jay, who is also an old friend, win a costume contest at Penguicon. I didn’t set out to help create an internet meme, and no one was more shocked than me when it happened.)

Nikki sent me a ton of photos and information about the this particular tardis(I didn’t realize there were different models.) and explained exactly what she was trying to do.  She also mailed me her original drafted pattern, that I copied onto bond paper on my lightbox. She explained to me that ultimately she also wanted the tardis to light up.  This meant the panels could not be fully opaque (otherwise, what’s the point?)  they had to be translucent in the places you wanted lighting- in this case, the windows. I saw clearly that two windows on each side were frosted, and the others were  not frosted but darker. The tardis itself being made of wood, ostensibly, is opaque and the police box sign needed to light up as well.  Nikki indicated that the front panel needed a little door where the “free for use of the public” sign was- that she wanted to paint some sort of swirly thing behind the door.  Later on I learned she also wanted the door to trigger a sound mechanism.  It was all a bit complex. Technically doable, but not all of it was going to get done in the time frame we had.

At first, my idea was to get custom plastic pieces cut at Canal Plastics. The night before I was going to do down there I realized I was an idiot- I didn’t need to go to Canal Plastics, all I really needed to do was go to Target.

Yes, Target.

Because what I really was after was vinyl, since it was flexible and very thin.  You know where you can get plain and frosted (for the frosted windows) vinyl sheets easily?  Target.

All I needed was a couple of shower curtain liners.

So I grabbed those, brought them home and set about cutting out colorforms, basically. Rerun was trying to be helpful.


Nikki’s original pattern was designed to draft the corset itself, and was rough on the details of the tardis parts(since that’s not what she was building).  So I made the window outlines clearer on my copies. You can see her original copy on the right.


Originally, I thought of painting behind the clear vinyl(so as to keep it safe if people touched it), and attaching the frosted bits to the back. So I used photoshop to create a painting guide.

This was a good idea in my head- it didn’t work out in practice.  Since the plastic isn’t porous, the paint wouldn’t dry, and it was really messy. There was no way to make the letters look good.  It was just a complete disaster.  But I did manage to get the basic idea going. Two windows were frosted, the others were not. I had glued the frosted vinyl to the back of the clear vinyl after it was painted.

Failures teach us things about how to proceed.

The first attempt:

So that was how I got to the very first prototype.  Understand that the panels that exist now were the third go round at solving the problem.

It’s about the process- how you get from an idea to a finished product.




So hey, about that Tardis Corset.

If you’re a Dr. Who fan, you’ve likely seen it by now- the Tardis Corset Nikki Cohen of Mayfaire Moon is in the middle of building. Nikki is a friend of mine.  She is a professional corset maker, and very good at what she does.  What she isn’t, is an engineer of wacky technical matters.  But she knows someone who does that sort of thing.


I seem to have a history of doing this(I’m also the same person who helped Jay Maynard build his Tron suit) but… I’m the one who made the panels. I’ve seen some comments not understanding a few things.  I’d like to clear those up, for the record.

1. The corset is nowhere near finished. The photo that’s now gone all around the internet was the shot of the practice placement of the stomach panels. It’s not nearly a finished product.  It’s barely even a partially finished product.  Please for the love of small fuzzy creatures stop judging it as if it were finished product. The photo in question is here:

Calm the hell down, people.

See the pins at the top of the panels? They were there to temporarily hold them in place.  It’s just a process shot, okay?

2. There are six panels in total, not just the two. Here, look, I’ll show you:

3. The reason they’re plastic and not an integral part of the corset body itself is they will be lit with EL wire. The corset body itself is silk and therefore, quite opaque and cannot be lit in the same way. Hence, the acetate.

4. The little door is clear because there will be something behind it. I had offered to paint it white as a temporary move, but Nikki declined.  It will be rigged with a little sound mechanism that will play whatever it is that’s supposed to play when you open the door. (I have personally never seen a single episode of Dr. Who.), and some kind of image on the inside of the door.

5.  These panels were the second round of prototype panels(you can see the first set at my flickr account).  Since my building them, I’ve figured out a way to solve the last remaining problem- the windowframes, which are too inexact for my taste.  However, the solution takes more time than we had to build *this particular* physical corset. It will be solved in the next one.  We know the windowframes are not perfect- really, I promise, no one knows better than we do.  However we were on a very tight time frame with this particular garment.  It will be fixed in version 3.0.  Look, it took 10 Tardises (Tardises? Tardii?) to get to this model. It’s only taking me three to perfect it. Give me a break, here. 🙂

I think it’s awesome that so many people like Nikki’s idea(and for the record it’s entirely her idea– Im just helping her engineer it.)  She’s a wonderful corset maker, and a lovely person.  I’m amazed(and so is she!) that this single image has traveled so far. But like a game of telephon(tardis phone box? I don’t know, run with it.), it’s sort of gotten distorted in the process. It’s a work in progress.  We will perfect it.

We promise.

There’s TV, and then there’s reality.

There is no such thing as reality TV, despite what network executives would have you believe. We already have mediums for reality- they’re called documentary film making and journalism (assuming that the individuals involved are actually trying to closely portray events as they happen, not as they create them.)

Design television is neither of these things. It’s entertainment (if you can call it that) that is there to push products for advertisers. It’s not much different than when you were a kid and a cartoon came out based on a toy. (not a toy based on a cartoon.) But once again I will say clearly that a lot of what happens in these shows is they claim they’re all about “giving people ideas.” Maybe, but apparently you have to specify *good* ideas, cause they’re sure not doing it. But beyond that, it gives people (potential clients, even) unrealistic expectations of what they’re going to get.

Let’s back this train up, and give some simple bullet points that will hopefully clear some of this up. I’m sure I could come up with more than five of these, but goodness knows I have a ton of work to do today as it is. All of these are really in the realm of residential design, because that’s what design television tends to be about, and that’s what their audience is concerned with. Please add this to the list of reasons I limit my residential design projects, if you can find room on the paper.

1. Designers are just like decorators.

No. Really, I wish that I could just leave it at “no.” but apparently I can’t because of how many times I’ve seen people confuse the two. The differences between designers and decorators could overflow the empty space at the Grand Canyon. Just because you can decorate your room doesn’t make you a designer. The list of things wrong with this misconception are so incredibly endless, I just assign them all random numbers, because there are just *that many* to list.

2. Design is a weekend project.

No. Constructing a shed from a kit is a weekend project. Replacing your doorknobs is a weekend project. Putting together some flat-packed furniture is a weekend project. And maybe, painting your room is a weekend project if you know what you’re doing and you plan it well. Designing a room and implementing that design is not a weekend project. (I blame DIY shows for this. I loved Hometime too, but even they admit that they liberally take advantage of the magic of video editing.)

When someone redoes a room in 48 hours it’s not design. It’s a game show. There’s a difference, people. Learn it.

3. Oh, I could do that for (insert so much less money and so much less time here).

This particular one is also the bane of anyone who makes anything by hand, too. My answer from when I was an artist full time was “Really? Do you think you can get me six of them by Friday? Because I’m low on stock.” When applied to design, it’s *usually* applied to decorating being confused for design. But when it isn’t, I like to start asking questions about building codes. People shut up pretty quickly after that. Like I said yesterday- this is a technical job.

4. But they did it for $2000 on TV!

Sure. They did it for 2k on tv. 2k in materials costs. The designer, in case you hadn’t noticed, isn’t being paid out of that fund(I know, shock- they need to be paid). Neither, I might add are the actual professionals that they have around in order to provide (much) needed expertise for things like carpentry and construction. And even *with* that, how much of it is a) simply decorating and b) travels into the realm of “design as handicraft project.”(and often so very, very badly.) If we use a simple formula for residential design based on a straight budgetary percentage (not 30% over net, which I know is standard in residential, but I don’t do it because I think it rooks the client) that 2k for materials is part of a $7000 design job. And when you look at the results, it’s often a LOUSY $7000 design job, too. That’s not to disparage the designers on TV, either. It’s just because it’s not reality, it’s a game show. It’s a tv show and not a real project.

5. Those design competition shows… (actually, it doesn’t really matter what comes after the fourth word.)

What design competition tv shows do show you, is who was willing to jump through the hoops of the producers to get on the show. That’s more or less it. All it tells *ME* is that they were willing to run the (almost sure) risk of being wildly manipulated on camera and in post-production. I was courted very heavily by one of these shows in 2006 and in the end, I made it very clear that I was *not* going to be herded into a role typecast for me- that I was a design professional, not an actor, and not a circus clown. I didn’t wind up on the show (almost certainly because I put my foot down really hard on that one), and let me tell you how grateful I am to have dodged that particular bullet, knowing what a trainwreck played out on screen when the series finally aired.

One thing that TV isn’t lying about though is that sleep deprivation becomes a way of life. That much is true, but that’s about it.

It’s not about you.

I’m entirely open about the fact that residential design is not my idea of a good time. I don’t think I’ve ever made that a secret and I can’t imagine why I’d start now. I’ve done a lot of it though, and I still continue to do it despite the fact that it often makes me want to take a cheese grater to my eyeballs.

But this isn’t a post about my lack of enchantment with residential work. It’s a post (in what is I promise, an endless series, because I will never run out of reasons) of why I hate “design television”.

Almost all of the programs about design on television aren’t really about design, but that’s a topic for another day (see I told you I will never run out). But the vast bulk are about people’s houses, rather than about well… anywhere else. Now the reason for this is simple- the people watching these shows aren’t designers (unless they’re playing a drinking game.) They’re homeowners. Sometimes they’re do-it-yourselfers, or decorating junkies or design wannabes. There’s no reason for them to be interested in anything outisde the sphere of the home. And the advertisers (remember, that really is what generates what you’re seeing) are selling products *not* to the trade, but to homeowners at your average retail or big-box hardware store. As I said a while ago, most design is not a handicraft project, but you’d never know that by watching “design” tv.

But aside from that, one of the misconceptions that the average person could take away from watching these kinds of programs is that residential design is about the designer. Years ago, when I could still stomach watching programs like Trading Spaces (I promise, I can’t anymore. I just start screaming incoherently at the screen after a while) the buzz was always about which designer would be assigned to what space. The rooms that they decorated (cause seriously, let’s call this what it is, here) were WAY more about them (the designers) than the homeowners. Like all “reality” television though, it doesn’t wind up portraying the industry it shows in any kind of positive light.

Let’s make this perfectly clear. Residential design is NOT about the designer. Period . The end. Full stop. Do not pass go, do not collect 30% over net. Residential design is about the client. Because at the end of the day, and the end of the project, sure the designer’s name is on it, but we don’t have to LIVE in it. We get to walk away and move on to the next project. But the client is stuck with the results. And it damned well better be what it is *they* want and need, rather than some kind of ridiculous ego stroke for the person who drew up the plans.

My job is to give the clients what they want on time, on budget, and with enough good taste and sense to prevent them from sailing over the edge and doing something dangerous or stupid. What my job isn’t is to give them what *I* want. Because I have my own house for that. I don’t need to borrow someone else’s. Half the time I couldn’t tell you what I want in my own house anyway, besides cats that will clean up after themselves (it hasn’t happened yet) and a dishwasher (which hasn’t happened yet either.)

The other danger when residential design becomes designer rather than client driven is that all your projects tend to look alike. And sure, if left to your own devices as a designer, everyone develops a signature style. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just that residential work is a lousy place to express it, unless your clients like living in a space that looks like the last ten you designed. But when you allow the work to be client driven you can design anything. Any style, on any given day. All you have to do is remember that you (the designer) don’t have to live in it- your clients do. But it gives you a wider range of things you know you’re capable of, rather than retreating to the same looks all the time. You never have to design the same look twice, which in the end is better for the designer anyway in terms of experience and a varied portfolio. But it’s also better for your clients who are going to have to live with the results, too.

What’s the difference? (I swear this isn’t a rant about HGTV.)

I’ve now started and deleted this post twice, because I keep meaning to talk about two different approaches in design, and it keeps turning into a rant about HGTV. Now, if I *start* ranting about that (and I will. Oh, I will.), I won’t stop until I’m about a dozen paragraphs down. My keyboard will have turned into molten slag, and I still won’t have talked about what I actually wanted to in the first place. Trust me- I have enough HGTV rant material to write an almost limitless number of posts. I suppose it’s good to know I won’t run out of material any time soon.

Anyway, refocusing on what I *DID* want to talk about, whilst muttering about HGTV under my breath…

This is about (generally) what television does, and does not teach you about design.

Okay, let’s start with this lamp:

Dog Collar Lamp

First of all, this is a lamp with a design flaw, but I’ll get to that in a minute. This lamp, once you take care of the minor flaw, will work just fine. You can make one your very own self, with a stop at any pet supply, and a stop to your local big box hardware store. Assuming you have a drill, that’s pretty much all you need here. If anyone really needs to desperately know how to make this lamp, let me know, but otherwise I will assume that how it’s made is reasonably self-evident. The flaw in the lamp as it appears in this picture btw, is that the light bulb (standard 60-watt A lamp) will melt the bowl because of the heat it generates. This gets solved by using a compact fluorescent bulb which won’t do that.

This is an example of an adaptive (re)design(or re-use, but I didn’t really reuse anything here). That is to say, I took a whole bunch of components that may or may not be normally used for making a lamp, and I created one. I adapted the original components and created something new. Like when someone takes one of those huge wire spools and makes it into a coffee table.

It’s sort of like a combination of design and an episode of McGuyver. “All you have is a bubble gum wrapper, a drinking straw, and a paper clip. You have to build a catapult that can breach the Great Wall of China. In an hour.”

Avoiding the rant that I swear, could fly forth from my fingers at any old moment now, this is largely the kind of thing you learn from watching design shows on television. First of all, like I said, it’s a combination of McGuyver and design- it’s already television. But secondly because it often tends to be a way to use junk that people either already have or can easily obtain, and utilize it inexpensively. There’s nothing wrong with that on its face. It’s just not really how the *industry* tends to work, and the problem I have is that shows like those which use real, actual designers (on occasion) never get to show what we do *most* of the time. Because *most* of the time, design isn’t a handicraft project. Sorry folks, but it isn’t.

To show the difference, let’s look at this chair:

A boingy inspiration.

The image on the left is a chair(well, obviously.) The image on the right is what inspired the design of the chair. If you don’t recognize it, it’s a Hippity-Hop toy. They were popular in the 70’s. But the chair isn’t made OUT OF a Hippity-Hop. It’s just inspired by one. It’s not like a toy has been carved up to make a chair (first of all, you couldn’t do that, as the toys were filled with air anyway.)

This is an abstractive design. The Hippity Hop has been abstracted. Sure, you can see how you hop(ha!) from point a to point b here. But there’s no question that the chair is not made out of a toy, any more than the toy is made out of a chair. And THIS is what they don’t teach you on television. But it is the *vast*, VAST bulk of what design really is. I think this is why clients who have watched WAY too much “design” programming on tv make actual designers crazy. Because sure, once in a while you turn a spool into a coffee table, or a few dog collars and a bowl into a lamp. But that’s not really how we do our jobs, and I think that misunderstanding causes both confusion and resentment on both sides of the client/designer line.