I haven’t been posting updates on my latest project to the Shindig Facebook Page because it is supposed to be a surprise gift from one of my friends (J) to his best friend (N). N knows something’s going on, because I had to take her measurements (and encase her in duct tape – read on). But no fittings part way through! No double checking with the client about details! No help interpreting the image! It is a really fun project, and since no one has seen it at any stage, I figured I’d blog about it’s creation!
The project: BATTLEGOWN!
The Inspiration: This photo below. Unknown source unfortunately! Very awesome artwork, if anyone knows who I should credit please tell me.
Step 1: Sketches. Many many sketches. Even though I have the image in front of me, it helps to sketch out the garment pieces. It’s an exercise. When I sketch what I see, I have to pay attention to every aspect of it. I have to think through where I will put the fasteners and what that shadow means in fabric. Is that pouffy skirt gathered? Is there a petticoat underneath? And so on…
Step 2: Measurements…and duct tape. This was my first attempt to use leather, other than a calfskin vest I made for the TV pilot “Turn”. I’ve never made armor or stretched leather, so I’m really excited to try it! I did a lot of research. I tried to find a book to help, but apparently there is no published instructional book (that I could find) on leather armor. The most helpful tutorial I found is from Ember Costumes. Thanks Ember!
What all the sources were telling me is that I’d need a custom form on which to stretch the chest piece. I got N to put on one of my t-shirts (an Outback Steakhouse t-shirt that was cathartic to destroy – those of you who know me will understand). I grabbed a roll of duct tape and rolled it around N. Then I cut a slit up the back through the duct tape and t-shirt. N was a very good sport, especially considering she didn’t know why I was doing this! I taped up the now-empty t-shirt in the back and stuffed it with poly-fill.
I used 4-inch wide strips of plaster fabric (bought on Amazon) to make the mold stronger. I did four layers of the plaster strips, letting each layer dry before adding the next. And voila! N’s torso mold is complete!
Step 3: Shopping! This can happen at various points in my process. Sometimes I like to buy the fabric right away and keep it in mind while I’m draping. Other times I have no idea how much I’ll need, so I have to wait until I make the pattern. In this case, I got excited and bought everything right away.
Step 4: Draping. I make my patterns on an adjustable dress form.
Step 5: Cutting and Sewing. The base dress was pretty straight forward. I decided it would look nice to have a lace-up front, so I put in about 100 eyelets.
The most challenging part was the blue fleur de lis appliqué. I had to make the appliqué myself. I made a template and traced it onto some Wonder Under. Wonder Under is a fabulous product that you can buy at Jo-Ann Fabrics. It is basically paper with little dots of glue on one side. I cut out the shape I needed and pressed it glue-face-down onto the satin.
Then I cut that out, peeled off the paper (the glue sticks to the fabric and not the paper), and pressed it onto the skirt. Finally, I ran a tight zig-zag stitch around each piece to prevent fraying.
I made up some 2-inch bias tape of the same fabric for the trim.
Step 6: Tabard. I bought some beautiful, but horrendously expensive upholstery fabric for the tabard. The colours and motifs were just so perfect that I couldn’t resist. Luckily, the fabric was so wide that I only had to buy a quarter yard, and I used a coupon (yay coupons!). I cut the fabric to width, added the neck hole, and joined the shoulder seams.
Then I finished all the edges off with some store-bought bias tape. Sometimes it just does the trick!
Step 7: Leather. Even though the first thing I did was make a mold for the armor, I got scared and didn’t want to cut the leather. When I finished the dress, I was forced to start the armor. Courage! I bought leather from the Online Fabric Store’s closeout leather section. I cut a 26 x 26 inch rectangle of leather, which was about the dimension of the mold. Then I filled a pot with hot tap water and soaked the leather.
I put my plaster mold into a plastic bag so the plaster wouldn’t get on the wet leather.
Using some clamps, I stretched and smoothed the leather on the mold.
Once it dried, I removed the clamps and put the leather back on the dress form.
I trimmed the leather to the correct shape. I used a rectangular piece for the back and a semi-circle for the neck strap. These lace up with more eyelets. Next it was time to paint the leather! I used acrylic leather paint. I first washed the chest piece with a mixture of water and a very small amount of paint, using a sponge. This makes the next layer stick to the leather better, and is not noticeable afterwards. The crest I designed was inspired by both the original artwork and the tabard fabric, and the icon is special to N.
Time to make the gorget! I made a pattern by cutting out a circle in paper, cutting out a neck hole, and cutting a radial line. Then I put this on the dress form and adjusted it until it sat right. Then I cut the pattern into three equal parts and added some “seam allowance” for the overlap.
I taped the pieces in place on the back, since you can’t really pin leather. Then I hand basted the back seams together with a whip stitch. If you attempt this, make sure you use a thimble, because hand-stitching leather can really tear up your fingers.
And for the final step, I added eyelets for the lacing.
And project complete!!! Here’s some more pictures. I’ll post pictures of N wearing it when I get them!