Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Classic Princess Leia gown

Last week I decided to make a new classic Leia gown, in costuming circles it's also known as the ANH senatorial gown. I had actually thrown away my old one, it was simply too worn and way too big for me. I had used cheap polyester interlock for the old dress, and it had gotten a lot of runs and was quite dirty as well. I had bought new for the dress many years ago, but since it's no costume that I wear very often I had never felt really inspired to redo it, but when it was time for helping Musikhjälpen I felt that Classic Leia would be the best costume, not the least because I was going to be the only rebel.

Anyway I'm not going to make a full tutorial, because if you want to make the gown I really recommend Pam's complete tutorial. I'm going to point out a couple of things that I've done though and my solutions to a couple of tricky issues.

First thing though when looking for reference photos of this gown. For most people it seems as if Leia is wearing the same dress throughout A New Hope and at the end of Empire Strikes Back, in fact there are actually three dresses, the difference comes mainly in the size of the sleeves and the fabric used. The original ANH dresses have disappeared, so it's the one from ESB that has been used for promo shots and has been part of different exhibitions. According to the Star Wars Costumes book the original was made in crepe de chine, while the ESB gown is a bit heavier than the ANH one.

Now as for fabric choice. Most costumes chose to make the gown out of a polyester knit fabric. In my case I've chosen thin polyester interlock from Stoff och Stil. In my first attempt I selflined the whole gown, but that made it too heavy. For my new version I still used the same fabric, since I had it in my stash and I'm not going to use it for anything else, but I decided to just use one layer to give the gown a lighter and more airy feel.

This is the basic shape of the gown, a simple T-tunic. I'm quite short so I have no problem fitting the arms on the width of the fabric, and just fold it double. For those of you that are tall, or can't find fabric that's wide enough you can put a seam at the waist, since that's going to be hidden by the belt. Even if you are short enough many costumers add an elastic at the waist, the original had some kind of smocking at the side, to keep the gown in the right position.

With the basic gown cut out and sewn together I felt that it was too seethrough for me to be comfortable in it. Carrie Fisher only used duck tape instead of a bra, according to George Lucas there was no underwear in space, but I have a bit more to support and want to be able to wear a good bra. The thing I did was to add a floating halflining. It's simply the same fabric, folded in half, but it only reaches just below my butt, and I didn't cut any sleeves. It's attached to the gown only at the neckline. I can wear underwear without having to worry about the visibility, but it doesn't affect the look or the drape of the gown.

The most tricky part of the gown is the collar. It needs to be a standup collar. For my first gown I simply took a rectangle of fabric, folded it in half and attached it at the neck. It worked but I always felt that it was too flimsy and soft. This fabric that I'm using can't stand heat, something I've discovered when I happened to burn a big hole in my first gown when I was going to press it, so using a fusible interfacing was not an option. To be honest I've never felt happy with fusible interfacing anyway. For the new collar I decided to make it more shaped and to use some kind of support that I could attach by sewing it on.

First thing was to create a pattern for the collar. I simply put a piece of tracing paper around the neckhole and drew the outline.

From that outline I drew a wider shape, that I wanted. This only served as a guideline though. This first shape was too angled didn't look good. I didn't take any photos of my mock ups, but in the end I cut out a piece of heavy canvas, left over from my 18th century stays, with no seam allowance. That was going to be the interfacing. Using that canvas as a new pattern I cut out two pieces of interlock, with seam allowance, and had these three pieces.
The interlock pieces are a bit longer than necessary, since they are going to overlap at the back so I can add invisible snaps to them.

I sewed the interlock pieces together at the top, then I inserted the canvas between them and made sure to catch it with a row of top stitching.

At this point I had attached the hood to the neckline of the gown, and now I sewed the collar on over the hood. The hood is a trapezoid shape, and has a rolled hem that I sewed by hand. A good thing with the handstitching is that it's possible to take tread a hairpin through it, and that way you can invisibly attach the hood to your hair, which is great when you have a bad hair day and the buns refuse to behave.

The hood was gathered by hand before being attached.
On this photo of the gown inside out you can see that I left the raw edge visible on the inside of the neckhole. It's not my most beautiful work, but the fabric doesn't ravel, and since I was having a fever when I did this I didn't have the energy to make it look good on the inside.

These final two pics shows the complete gown.

The lining is visible when it's backlit, but not when I'm wearig it under normal light. The sleeves and the gown is hemmed with a double hem on the machine.

Some more practical advice
Don't make the gown too wide or too long, that was a mistake I made with my first gown. Even if it blouses a bit, it shouldn't do it too much. Since I have quite a big difference in width between my wasit and my bust and hips I simply made the gown just a bit bigger than my biggest measurement, the hips, and that is enough to make it blouse at the waist. As for the length it just reaches down to my feet.

As mentioned previously you can use an elastic or gathers at the waist to give it more shape.

Don't forget to add a slit that goes just above the knee. I did and had to rip it up on this gown.

The hood should cover the belt in the back, so be long enough to reach your butt.

If you have fair skin, the most invisible underwear is actually to wear something that is bright red! The white and red blends together and is more invisible than nude or white underwear.

Costume info

Costume: Classic Princess Leia gown
Fabric: 5 m thin white polyester interlock
Notions: white sewing thread, a scrap of cotton canvas, two clear plastic snaps for closure
Accuracy: There are more exact replicas out there of this gown, but anyone who sees this will recognize it as Princess Leia, I'd say 80%. The inaccuracy mostly comes down to the choice of fabric.
Hours to make: 10, most of that was the hemming of the hood and the collar.
Cost: $23 (the fabric cost $4/m)

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