Monday 2 June 2014

Making of a Cosplay Kaylee Shindig Dress from Firefly

Making of a Cosplay Kaylee Shindig Dress from Firefly

This is my version of the dress worn by Kaylee in the Firefly Episode Shindig. I made this for a Firefly event at the Ritz Cinema and wore it again at the London MCM  expo. Did  anyone see me at the Mascarade? It was an honour to compete against so many amazingly talented cosplayers.

Heres a reference picture for the dress. I love how happy she looks in this shot.

When I started this project I started looking up how other people had made this dress and didn't quite think I could pull it off the way they did it so I came up with another method. So heres how I did it in case you want to give it a try. It requires no patterns so should be a little easier for a beginner at dressmaking. This post is a little long so bear with me. I'm going to try to explain each step as I went along. This isn't an exact copy, her top is a shirt but I decided to replicate the look with a T shirt since I thought it may be easier.

What you will need: (these measurements are based on my own dress, I am size 16 and 5ft5 so if you happen to be much taller than me you may need a little more fabric to make this dress, also if you want the skirt to have more ruffles definitely get more fabric for that)

You will need a Crinoline, this is a underskirt which will give the skirt its shape. These may seem expensive but can be found fairly cheaply on ebay. Many people use them for wedding dresses and sell them after the wedding so are easy to find second hand. I recommend getting the Crinoline first so you can fit the skirt to it rather than realizing it doesn't fit afterwards.

A Short sleeved T-shirt which is much to big for you. It is very important it is several sizes too big because the cutting and sewing you will need to do will reduce the size a little. Plus there will be a chance later to add darts if its too big at the end.

A white skirt which again is much too big for you. It will need to be very large to fit over the Crinoline. I used a skirt I found in a charity shop which was far too big.
Alternatively you can make one or buy a skirt made to go over a Crinoline. My favourite place to get these is a lovely ebay shop called 00costumecreations00 they even have skirts which are elasticated in a way that you can pull the elastic in the band and bring it down to the size you need. I have a few of these skirts.

3 meters of white fabric (can be anything you can get since it will be hidden under the main skirt) I used an old net curtain
1 meter of pink satin

2 Meters of pink lace ribbon (for the collar and lace down the top)
3 meters of pink satin ribbon (for the trim on the bottom of the shirt and belt)
2 meters of white Brocade for the shirt (you may need more if you are quite tall)
Some white velcro
Between 10-15 white satin covered buttons (or get small self cover buttons and cover with scraps of the white brocade)
Dusky Pink embroidery thread (optional if you want to make tassels for the sleeves)

2 Rolls of white Voile (I had 25 meter rolls) You may only need one roll if you do not want to make the ruffled underskirt
1 roll of Pink voile
1 roll of dark Pink voile I used the colour 'Raspberry'
In your own skirt you can replace the Voile with another fabric of your choosing eg Satin but I found voile looks most like the show. After I finished the skirt I found that Voile frays quite a bit so if you do choose to use Voile rolls get some Fraycheck or fray stopping spray.

How to:

Step 1 check your skirt fits on your crinoline. Here I rested the crinoline on a large lamp so I could see it properly at eye level.
If your skirt is too big for the Crinoline this is the time you can adjust it. Simply find a seam in the side and pin it in until the skirt fits then sew where you pinned. You may also want to try on the whole set up now and get a friend to help pin the hems if the skirt is too long.
If like me your crinoline is not quite the right shape scroll down and read step 2 before pinning and hemming so you don't make it too small to fit the second underskirt.

Step 2 (Optional)
As you can see in the above picture my crinoline is a bell shape and not the triangular shape the original picture shows. I decided not to make the skirt as large as the original but still wanted to have the skirt a Triangular shape. By wrapping the white fabric around the crinoline and pinning it until it fitted to work out where to sew the fabric together.
After sewing the white fabric where I had pinned to make the main shape of the underskirt I attached the top of the underskirt to a very old belt I had to help me wear it but you can always use safety pins to attach this skirt to the top of your crinoline since you won't need to wear them separately.
To create the Triangular shape I added two layers of ruffles at the bottom the ruffles are made in the same way as the ruffles on the main skirt check the next step for details.

Step 3 Main skirt ruffles

This is the longest bit of the construction by far.  I worked on the ruffles for several evenings so be prepared to have somewhere to leave it while its a work in progress.

To make the ruffles start at the bottom of the skirt. In step 1 the skirt is hemmed to your height so when you make the very first set of ruffles be careful not to pin them too low so they touch the floor. The original dress has a decent amount of ground clearance so luckily the cosplay replica can do too. Thats very convenient for having to walk up stairs without tripping over your skirt or outside if the floor is wet.

If using voile fold your roll in half lengthways as you pin it, this will give each bit extra volume and make it look bigger for less work.
Then pin it on to your skirt starting from the bottom row. Pin a piece of the fabric, fold it over to make a pleat and pin it again. Try to keep each layer at a roughly even height but you do not have to be extremely exact with each one.
Once you have pinned the layer of fabric all the way around you need to sew the pleated fabric on to the skirt. You can either use a sewing machine or if you don't have one hand sew all the way around. Don't forget to ensure the fabric is secure on all of the pleats.
The last step for each layer is to remove all of the pins. (I hated this bit)

Now you have the hang of one layer you need to keep going all the way up the skirt. I used three layers of the Rasperry colour, four layers of the light pink colour and another four layers of white. 
When you are done add your fray stopping spray as instructed on the packet or alternatively you can do it inbetween each layer

Note: While I was using a large lamp to hold the skirt at eye level to pin the ruffles on. However when I got about half way up the skirt the stand of the lamp quite cleanly broke off. One hurried repair job later I found that hanging the crinoline over a tall chair or a thin laundry airer with the skirt on top of it held it up almost as well.

Top Instructions
Step 1
Get your T shirt and cut off the sleeves by ripping the seams carefully.
Now use the sleeve shapes as a template to cut out a piece of your netting. The netting should be at least two inches larger than the sleeve all the way around. This will help give it the puffed up effect.
This section is optional because you can leave it off if you wish but the sleeves may not stick out as effectively without it.

After cutting out your netting Pin the edges to your T shirt sleeves on the outside of the sleeve. To make the fabric fit correctly pleat the netting as you pin it along the curved section of the sleeve.

Step 2:
Now for the pink satin on top of the sleeve. As you did with the netting use the sleeve as a template. However this time the piece should be several inches wider than the sleeve all the way around with the exception of the bottom edge which needs to extend beyond the end of your sleeve template. On the original dress you can see that the sleeve goes down to a couple of inches above Kaylees elbow so measure the length of the sleeve to approximately this length on yourself.
Pin the bottom of the sleeve to the bottom of your pink Satin and then pin the rest of the fabric taking up the slack by pleating the satin around the top of the curved section of the sleeve. This will help the satin poof out as it does in the show.
Once you are happy with the satin on both sides ensuring the pleats are approximately even sew the satin and T shirt (and the netting if you used it) together all the way around the top curve close to the edge of the fabrics. Leave the bottom of the fabric unsewn for now.

Step 3
In this step we make the pleated section on the sleeves. I suspect on the original dress this is created with elastic (though if somebody knows how it is actually made I'd love to find out) but here I cheated a little and created the effect without elastic.

On your T shirt sleeve there will be a hem and since you cut the satin much longer than the sleeve it should be somewhere in the middle. Use the hem as a guide to pin pleats into the sleeve. I found that I did not need to make pleats all the way along just about half way around with the pleated section centered in the middle of the sleeve. The un-pleated area will end up at the area of the sleeve which is under your arm this way and not be visible on the finished dress.
After pinning the pleats on the sleeves and ensuring its approximately the same on both sleeves use invisible thread to secure it. I Sewed it on both sides of the hem on the T shirt sleeve using that as a guide to keep the lines straight.

Step 4:
The tassels on the sleeves are an optional touch. I have seen a few versions of this outfit online either without this feature or using a piece of lace in the right shade of dark dusky pink. Each version looks great so pick your favourite option. Either way make sure the bottom of each sleeve is hemmed to the same height.

To make this I used several lengths of dusky pink Embroidery thread. I sewed on a long thread with both sides hanging down from the bottom of the sleeve by about two inches. After evenly spacing threads all of the way around I knotted them together to form a similar pattern to Kaylees sleeve then evenly spacing the tassels around the sleeve.

The tassels were made separately with several more lengths of embroidery thread using the instructions on the following web page:
Except I used a small dab of glue on the knot to keep it secure. I was a little worried it would come undone while I wore the dress.

Step 5:
For the main section of shirt start by cutting out the shape of the pleated section on your T-Shirt. If you take a look at the original dress it will be the section inbetween the two dusky pink pieces of lace. I found it easiest to wear the T shirt and get a friend to draw the shape in pen copying the placement of the pink lace before cutting it out.
Use the section you just cut out as a template on the white brocade. Cut around it but be generous in the extra you leave around it and leave a very long section coming off the bottom if the T shirt piece as you can see in the picture above. Renember its easier to cut off excess then try to add more later. This long section will create the ruffles on the front of the T shirt.
Sew the Brocade piece to the T-shirt but only at the neckline and top of the shoulders do not sew down the sides.

For the back of the shirt take the remaining piece of your T shirt and cut around it on the white brocade again leaving a generous edge on each side.
This section should be basted together with a light running stitch. Match up the edges of the T shirt and the edges of the brocade it does not matter if the brocade looks to be loose against the T shirt fabric. This is to allow the T shirt fabric to stretch a little under the brocade which isn't as stretchy.
Do this for all edges apart from the bottom edge which should be folded over to create a hem.

Step 6:
Creating the pleats is another long step. I was not sure if there was an easy way to do this so I just went with this option. Heres a picture of the pleats after they were done.
Start the pleats about an inch below the bottom of the T shirts neckline. Pleat the fabric with small pleats from there all of the way down to approximately your waist. You don't need To pleat down further than that since it will be covered by the overskirt here.
Once you are finished pinning the pleats use either matching or invisible thread to sew them on to the T shirt.You will need to sew several lines down the T shirt to keep the pleats on the shirt.

Step 7:

Putting the top together
Once you have finished the pleats Pin the pleated section and the back section of the top together to check that after all of that alteration the T shirt still fits. If it does carry on with the top if it does not you can add another piece of brocade between the two fabrics to give you a little extra space, if you do so add the same amount on both sides so that the top ends up even. Alternatively if the top is still too big and you would like it to be smaller this is the time to add Darts in the back of the T shirt. Renember it still has to go over your head so don't make it too small.

When you have adjusted the top to fit you pin the pleated section and the back section of the top together while sandwiching the pink lace inbetween the layers. The lace needs to go as high as the sleeves down to just under your waist on the top.
Next pin the sleeves back on to the top. They should be the same way around as they were when you took them off of the top.
Sew it all back together but try on the top again to ensure you can still get your head through the neck hole of the T shirt. If this whole process has given you less room for your head do not sew up the shoulders all of the way. Instead add a small fastening of your choice to close the shoulder instead. I used a small piece of velcro on one shoulder

Step 8:
Finishing touches on the top.
Sew a piece of the pink ribbon down the center of the pleated section. I used invisible thread here so It wouldn't show up. Then once that is done sew your buttons from the neckline down to approximately your waist with even spacing inbetween each one.

The very last thing to add to the top is the collar. If you did not have to leave a part of the shoulder open simply sew your pink lace around the collar taking care not to make it too tight.
However if like me you had to add a fastening to your top sew the lace as far as you can around the back without preventing your shoulder opening from functioning. 
At this point I was going to add a little velcro to hold the collar down but since I was sewing the collar on the night before the event I ran out of time. So right now it is being held on each side by a safety pin. This is quite nice though because when I put the top on and do up the velcro that whole fastening is covered by the collar which I pin on afterwards. 

The Overskirt
This overskirt replicates the long bottom of the original shirt but is a separate piece. It is worn around the waist and hangs over the top of the layered skirt.

To make this piece cut a length of your brocade a several inches larger than your waist measurement and long enough to hang partially over the top most pleat of your layer skirt when fastened around your waist. .
Hem the short sides of the brocade and sew some more of your pink ribbon on the top and bottom edges all of the way along.
Finally Sew a piece of your velcro on each of the ends so that it can be fastened around your waist

The bow
The bow was made up out of the remnants of the pink Satin used to make the sleeves and sewn on to a hair clip I decided to do this so I did not have to worry about tying a bow just right on the day of the expo.
If you would rather a simple piece of pink ribbon can be tied into a long bow in your hair without needing to make a clip.

This is a hair clip I recommend for this purpose: Brooch pin and hair clip combo for crafts
Its basically a generously sized base with a hair clip and a brooch pin attached to the back. So when you are done using it as a hair clip the bow can also be a really cute bag accessory or anything you fancy really.
The bow is made out of a few tubes sewn together and turned inside out. (all measurements are approximate and are of the fabric size before it is folded and sewn.)
For the main top bow is made from a large tube 11 inches long by 6 inches wide. Folded over into a long tube and sewn together. Leave a gap in the middle of the tube to turn it inside out. This will be covered by the middle of the bow anyway.

The two tubes for the bottom sections are open at one end but the other end is sewn to have a slight curve in it.
Two tubes 14 inches long and Three inches wide
Two further tubes of 10 inches long and four inches wide

The final tube is about two inches by 6 inches. It is sewn along the edge into a tube but does not need sewing up at either end.

To construct the bow. Arrange the four angled tubes as shown in the picture above. With the two shorter angled tubes in the middle and the longer ones on the outside. Sew the open end of each one onto the middle of your larger tube.
Then wrap your shortest tube around the middle of the entire bow ensuring both ends are tucked into the back of the bow and sew it all together.
Lastly sew or glue your clip to the back of the bow.

On the day finishing touches:
Now you are finally ready to wear your dress out to a cosplay event (or anywhere you like really) There are a few finishing touches you can make to your outfit.
I recommend that under this whole outfit to wear a thin T shirt under the costume top so if you get sweaty you can wash the thin T shirt rather than having to wash your cosplay right away. It may also help to have a pair of leggings to wear under your crinoline. Depending on what type of crinoline you have the netting can get itchy against bare skin. So if you have one of those leggings neatly help to prevent this.

You may also want to get some nice white gloves to go with your outfit. They are not mandatory but I felt it completed the look. I'm wearing a simple set of fancy dress gloves in the photo above you can find those ones at this link.

In the show you can see that Kaylee wears no obvious make up and very little even in this scene. You could get away with wearing none at all but personally I preferred to wear a little mascara since her eyelashes are highlighted in this scene while they are not normally. She appears to be wearing just a hint of lip gloss which brings out the natural colour of her lips subtly.

The hair style with this dress is simple but rather distinctive.  You can pull your hair back into the half up half down ponytail she is wearing and top it off with a bow if you have enough length. If not consider a natural looking brown wig or just leave your own hair down with the bow hair clip in.

Luckily your shoes should not be visible under the large skirt so you can get away with wearing something comfortable for the day (what a relief huh? I hate heels) but a friend recommended I wear some large brown boots or a pair of sandals like Kaylee does in her normal outfit just as a cute little throwback to other episodes if they do happen to be seen when you are lifting the skirt to go up the stairs or tie your laces.

Lastly you may want to use a handbag because this outfit has no pockets. Kaylee in this scene is using a plain Pink rectangular handbag. Unfortunately I had forgotten to order one in time so I used the only Pink handbag I have but it played the part very well. So if you don't want to try and match your handbag to the show from experience looks like nobody will notice as long as it matches the dress a little.

Thank you
If you are still here thank you for reading hope this helps anyone who wants to make their own version of this beautiful dress.
If you have any questions please feel free to leave me a comment

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  1. Replies
    1. Thank you very much. :D I hope somebody will find this guide useful.


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