Sunday, February 24, 2019

Amidala’s Peacock Dress from Star Wars Episode III

My company is going to have a costume contest for Star Wars day and I’ve been blabla at everyone for years about how I costume for a hobby but nobody’s seen me do anything.  After all, I’m not wearing historical garb to work. I decided I needed to do something geek-worthy. I was hoping I could pick something that could be at least partly re-used for another event on the same timeline and maybe even get a 3rd use at a con.

Goal: Make a recognizable Star Wars costume

                --Need to be able to drive in it & work in it

                --no handheld props

Deadline: Wear it on May 6, 2019

Budget: Lets see where it goes but it would be great to stay under $100.

Addl considerations: Use as much owned material as possible.  Track time spent.

Week 1:

Research ~6 hours

+ Movie watching all weekend

I haven’t seen the older Star Wars films in years so step 1 was to Google for Star Wars costumes & step 2 was to watch the entire series to get into the mood & also see how the costumes I favored worked in motion.  That warranted a trip to the library to get all the episodes at once, as well as all the picture books I could. I really like Renaissance inspired shapes & I’m already familiar with the patterning & have functional support garments so I picked out 2 of Amidala’s court dresses that had Ren shapes & her velvet security detail uniform as an easy backup option.

1st choice was a gold moire’ gown with blue velvet coat that has a very interesting collar.  I already have a similar outfit in my SCA wardrobe in the right colors & fabrics so this seemed like an easy recycle.

 2nd choice was the peacock dress because I have yardage of the right color shot blue taffeta and I love the hair.  It also looked like something I could re-use easily.

3rd choice the copper velvet security uniform because it looks easy & would be something I could get a decent amount of re-use out of with minimal time invested.  
I couldn’t find either dress in the films.  Uh-Oh.  More Googling.  Dress 1 never made it into the film, and dress 2’s scene got cut despite it was in all the pre-release publicity, even to the point that Simplicity released a pattern. I found 2 websites with excellent information including the design notes and the only photos I was able to locate of dress details. I have enough info now to do a decent copy, so I’m going to go for #2. It’s a blessing and a curse to find photos of swatches because you find out all the detail the photo & long camera shots didn’t give you. Also, the design notes tell me that the photos pixeled out some important fabric details. This is going to be more work than I originally hoped for because there is SMOCKING.  I picked up a smocking machine at an estate sale last year & this will be a chance to try it.  Also, except for the designer’s basic description, we don’t know what the dress looks like, because it’s always under a coat. The Simplicity pattern doesn’t follow the designer’s description (I was able to see the line drawings & layout in someone’s Amazon ad, $60 ouch) so the pattern can be disregarded. I’m starting from scratch.

Week 2: Create materials list, sourcing, map out the project

2/17-20 Made & fine tuned a list of all the things I think I’ll need based on design details & past experience.  ** Making the BOM & decide on dress design 4+ hr
2/21 PM Unearthed all the owned things from my studio so I know what’s on the shopping list.  The 2 most important items I don’t have are patterned velvet for the coat, and the wig.

** Finding all the owned stuff ~2 hr
2/22 Shopping day (woo-hoo!) A somewhat local wig shop (McMinnville) had a reasonable wig on their website so I made a trek there to see what it really looked like. Excellent find & clearance priced.

The clearance fabrics section of the local JoAnn yielded an interesting patterned velvet, not swirly like the original but random enough for a copy and it’s linen-cotton so I should be able to dye it to the right colors. 

I found a cotton sweater at goodwill that mimics the texture of the snood.  Another dye project.  I’ll also need to dye the canvas I’m using for the coat edging.

I had black leather to use for the headpiece but it was pretty stiff so I got some synthetic at JoAnn which might work better, just in case.

Lucky accident at the dollar store, the Easter baskets they were unpacking have a remarkable resemblance to the pattern of the top of the headpiece.  Bought a few of those.

Also bought pin backs for the brooch and an assortment of cheap kids’ pony beads that included some browns.  I have beads but I didn’t have quite what I thought would work. It would be easy enough to paint over what I have to save $ but for 5 bucks I don’t need to mess with painting.  
**Shopping 9 hr (This went well & I’m feeling lucky!  I have everything I need in the first round. That NEVER happens.)

NOTE: Photos of the actual film dress are not mine, they were printed out from other blogs and may be copyrighted by Lucasfilms.  To see better versions, more info, and citations go to these sites:


I Have A Plan (not necessary to execute in this order)

Dye Velvet & Other Textiles

Make Brooch
I decided to reproduce the brooch using Sculpey clay, since I had packs in blue, black & bronze.  I needed to buy the pin back. I considered baking loops into the back & sewing on, but some photos of the coat show it without the brooch.  I should be able to cut the design into the clay using carving tools & a printout of the brooch design.  From photos of the outfit I estimate it’s about 1.5 inches across.  I’ve printed out photos in multiple sizes so I can cut them out & see what looks best. Other methods to reproduce would be to cast in plaster, carve out of soap or wood, paint pretty much anything, or 3-D print it.

Make Headpiece

I’m planning to make a frame from heavy floral wire & cover it with buckram, then glue the black materials to it.  The baskets I got will need to be cut up & painted to a bronzy-metallic.  I should be able to sew them on top of the black headpiece & glue the blue beads on.

Make Snood

I didn’t find any good closeups of this.  It appears to be a beaded bag, probably made from a beaded scarf with quite a bit of texture.  I liked the look of lightweight boucle’ knits but only found them in synthetics, which don’t dye well. I got a reasonably similar texture in a knitted cotton sweater.  If there is excess time I can add beads later but that is a time-consuming detail that I’m not concerned about.

Add Beads & Snood to Wig

I have gold springs to mimic the metallic beads & brown pony beads. Should be able to pull the curls through the beads with a fine crochet hook, or wrap the tips of the hair in foil & thread them on like a shoelace. Past experience with beads in my own hair says I might need to glue them to hold in place.

Make Hooped Underdress
I have multiple sets of hoops but taffeta is lightweight & likely to show hoop lines unless I wear layers of petticoats. The original dress is Fortuny-pleated and has very crisp vertical lines.  I’m not pleating the skirt so any understructure will show.  The original design called for a quilted, hooped petticoat & there are online photos showing it’s Empire-style.  I’m electing to make a new one that works with the fabric since I don’t have one that type. The quilting will give the dress some real support without sagging between the hoops. I have a garage sale comforter that I tore apart, and it seems to be all cotton. I’ll put the color to the inside (it’s pink) and do the face surface in white cotton. That will make it re-usable for other historical costumes.

Make Dress

The big trick here is the smocking. Yoked turtleneck, Empire waist, A-line skirt, bishop sleeves, long Victorian cuffs with dangly bead trim, double row of beads top of collar. If it was cotton it could be Gunne Sax. The design notes say yoke is smocked, front is smooth. Photos show smocked cuffs, Fortuny pleat sleeves. You can’t see the sleeves above the elbow. You can’t tell from the photos that the neck is smocked because the pixel-expansion makes it soft, but once you know what you’re looking for the indicators are there. No idea what shape the yoke is BUT there don’t appear to be any seams above the coat closure…I think the designer visualized the dress as a blend of a period gown plus chemise.  That’s close enough to the shapes of Simplicity 8735 that I can use it as a starting point. I’m going to put a zip in the back & line the bodice & cuffs so I can support the smocking & also to protect the fabric & give it some weight. 

Make Coat

Once the velvet is dyed this is a couple lined layers with made edge piping (there was a swatch, heavy grain like canvas, unclear what color because it appears blue in some photos, gold in others, and mostly disappears in the distance shots). There are beaded tassels on the points, not sure yet how I’ll handle that but I have small black tassels & could also do them in yarn or possibly beads, or leave them off entirely.  The lining swatch for the original is copper taffeta.  I have plenty of black suit lining so I’m using that.  The real coat has all the edges decorated with couched cording.  I’m not even going to try & duplicate that.  It’s a year’s worth of handwork.  If I had an embroidery machine, maybe, but you can’t see it at all in the distance shots.  A lot of work just for the HD camera in case of a single close-up.  My biggest concern is there might not be enough velvet.  I got all there was, so I’ll have to pattern to fit the fabric.

Shoes?? Stockings??

The design notes call for brown court shoes (unseamed pumps) 1.5” heel & knee-high nylons, so it’s apparent they never expected the feet to really show.  I have a pair of brown buckle shoes & a pair of dyeables pumps that could be made brown.  Also a pair of satin beaded ones in a bright peachy color that are the perfect shoe but wrong color, possibly dyeable. 


Dye Tests

The fabric content of the velvet is SUPPOSED to be linen & cotton but I never trust bolt labels on clearance stuff. Dye test looks like I can get the look I want.  The backing needs to pick up some blue color & the pile needs to be dark coppery brown.  I painted dry dye powder teal & peacock onto the back of a scrap saturated with dissolved soda ash, let it sit a couple hours & washed it out, then dried it.  Once it was dry I soaked it in soda ash again, sprinkled some brown on the velvet side, let it sit for a few minutes & washed it out.  The pile is more resistant to coloring but it did pick up some color in the short time there was dye on it.  I think by laying the fabric out flat dye side down & doing it in 2 stages I can minimize bleeding between the colors. I’ve never dyed big pieces without a ceramic bathtub and a spray to rinse with, but my new house has fiberglass baths that I don’t want stained.  My great idea is to put plastic all over the garage floor & flat dye 3.5 yards on the floor.  I don’t want to soak it so that the pile takes the blue dye so I’ll paint on the colors with a brush or sponge and trust gravity to keep it from wicking up too much.  An interesting experiment at least.
Fiber Reactive Dyes

Velvet Dye Test Back

Velvet Dye Test Front

Getting Started Again (At Last?)

Does it seem like I'm always worrying over not getting started and not getting done? Really, this time I've been on hiatus entirely too long (Years not weeks)!  My SCA friends would say I've been "having life" for a bit.  I lost my dad, sold my house, moved to the 'burbs and have been trying to recapture the creative person vibe that doesn't seem to manifest in a family neighborhood the way it does in the inner city. Settling in has taken too long, my studio space is mostly unused because the light desperately needs augmentation and I'm not in the mood to do any upgrades to this new house. I've lost too many friends in the last few years as we all age & life catches up to us. Making fancy clothes seems like such a trivial way to spend precious time when you've watched someone struggle with chemo, or held their grieving child. But we all need art to feed our souls & this is my art. My soul has been left hungry too long.

It’s been a few years since I made anything, so I’m going try & blog properly for the couple folks who asked me to & any others who might be curious about the process.  I HOPE that will be enough motivation to make me actually finish the project.  Here goes…

Why Cosplay?

When I started this blog, I had the idea that it would track my work on historical costuming documenting how I learned & applied what I learned to create useful and sometimes splendid garb. I thought it would be helpful to those folks who were always asking me at events how to do things. There are hundreds of professional caliber blogs out there now that provide every level of instruction & detail, and I don't feel compelled to compete with those, so I'm not entirely sure what I should be blogging instead. My thoughts? In a Facebook-driven world it seems redundant but I'll start there.

I learned in school that there are two kinds of garments: clothing and costumes. Clothing is what people really wore/wear and costumes are something else entirely. Any distinctions are increasingly less obvious, and the concept of living and playing in non-mainstream clothing has itself become mainstream. I'm going to try & restructure this blog to have HA things and Cosplay things on separate branches and make it more intuitive for my handful of followers to navigate. I'm still learning how blog tools work & I don't want to delete the old posts & just start over, so please indulge me while I meander through making it happen.
In 1982 I started gathering data for what would become my grad paper, a timeline of how Hollywood influenced the ready-to-wear industry.  Before mass-media, fashion was the jurisdiction of wealth & royalty. Silhouette changes trickled down slowly from the courts of Europe & Asia to people in cities and eventually the countryside. Money could buy cloth and notions, but until sewing machines became a household item nice garments were still custom handwork.  Mass media brought fashion into the average person’s life and with that access came the desire to dress.  Women scanned the social columns of major newspapers to discover clues about fashionable wedding gowns and trendsetting accessories. Printed sources like Godey’s and the Sears catalog, and later movies and TV, gave average people a look at what others were wearing, and what was cutting edge.  People find status in dressing like their heroes, whether they be socialites, politicians, movie stars or fantasy characters.  Movie studios realized this early on & built partnerships with clothing designers & manufacturers, providing their stars as models to sell clothes.  Some of the most successful ready-to-wear garments have been driven by that public hunger.  Reproductions of Scarlett’s GWTW wedding dress, the leather jackets of Jon BonJovi and Michael Jackson, kids’ Underoos sporting images of ninja turtles are but a few examples of wildly successful media-driven fashion. For many people, their first exposure to historical or imaginative dress came from a movie.  
In 1982, if you wanted to copy a garment in a Renaissance painting your main resource was the public library. If you were lucky enough to travel to or live in a city with a museum, you might get to see your source painting close-up, or if you were very lucky you might get to see an extant garment similar to what you were working on.  If your primary source was a movie costume, you had similar limits.  You could watch the movie, IF it were playing in your local theater. You might see it on TV if it wasn't a new release. Traveling exhibits & private collections, the occasional press still, these were the gold standard to beg access to if you wanted to make something recognizable. Theater departments all over the world re-created the wheel [farthingale] with every production of Shakespeare.  Information sharing was difficult and primarily confined to academics.

In 1982, you probably had to create your own pattern, so a costumer needed to know how. This required a working knowledge of geometry, draping, textiles & anatomy.

In 1982, building accurate reproductions required substantial personal research. If you didn’t work in theater, you might not ever meet anyone who could tell you much about it.

In 1982, the fabrics you had access to were limited to what your local fabric store carried or what you brought home if you traveled.  You might strive for authenticity but it was a stretch goal. The creation of lycra/spandex and other petrochemical textiles completely changed how garments fit and how they were manufactured. Qiana anyone?

In 1982, fewer people were sewing at home, and home-ec programs were downtrending as women graduated high school & went right into the workforce, unlike any generation before them. Complex garments require complex tailoring skills, which were being lost because they were no longer needed to create the modern easy-care wardrobe.

In 1982, costume props/wigs/theatrical appliances weren’t something you could purchase from your local department store. Wig and model makers were highly skilled professionals.
In 1982, playing dress-ups was for children, theater, Carnivale and Halloween.

About 1999 I interviewed for a novel position—A major retailer wanted to see if selling costumes to the general public was a money opportunity. They had tested a few pop-up costume stores in major cities with positive results the previous Halloween, and were going to open seasonal Halloween shops across the US.  Costuming as a mass market retail industry had begun. The popularity of video gaming has contributed to erasing the line between how children play & how adults play. Manifesting copies of your heroes’ Erte’-esque costumes has become a competitive (and arguably necessary) art form.

--The internet has made a wider range of materials accessible and affordable.

--The internet has made information about garments more accessible.

--The internet has brought people together with similar interests & given them forums for sharing ideas and a display venue to share their work despite physical distances & language barriers, all while sitting in their own homes.

--Online gaming fuels a need to bring virtual characters into the real world to give them dimension.

--Pop culture trends have always included a fashion aspect. The widespread incorporation of art movements like steampunk into everyday dress underlines how fashion is a tool that can cross boundaries like nothing else.
--Learning history by dressing it & doing it aids in comprehension. Reenactment also preserves skills we are losing as we become a computer-driven society.

--Taken together, these elements have supported the rise in convention culture (“Cons”).

-- As a culture, we work long hours & we no longer dress for dinner, for church, for nights out. Dress codes aren’t part of most lives. Most of us live in a world without glamour, and the only fantasy we’re likely to see materialize is a good parking spot. We need a break. Dressing up gives us a break from the ordinary.  It lets us temporarily see ourselves as something more than exhausted worker bees shuttling the kids between activities while picking up takeout meals. Dressing up lets us be superheroes.

-- The sustainability movement of recent years has brought renewed interest in sewing and recycling old garments. When you aren’t dependent on the current retail trend you can wear anything.  Why not wear what you want? Bonus points if it looks like you stole it from Mad Max.

--Kids love to dress up. Want to bond with your kids?  Play with them.

--Costuming is a multidimensional art. People should share their art.  Now they can.
Welcome to Cosplay