Cosplay: Operation Go Jedi is Nearly Go!

Sometimes I honestly wonder if the flux capacitor was actually invented decades ago, as the pace at which some hours/days/weeks/months pass occasionally makes me feel like I'm in the midst of a series of Lorenz transformations and am observing day-to-day events more in hindsight than the present. Though this has been at least partially awesome, as the rush has effectively eaten up a large chunk of the latency period between conventions, the inverse will soon bear down something unmerciful. Anticipation as the countdown nears zero will assuredly elongate the time in the interim, but, as of today, there are a mere 20 days remaining until Gen Con 2012! <>

As you can imagine, the proximity of the convention has translated into just about every spare minute being devoted to work on the costume. It stands at about 90% completion and the majority of the very difficult undertakings have been (thankfully) completed. With just a small minority outstanding, I wanted to deliver as comprehensive a procedural as possible for those pieces that are finished.
I am close to gettin' my Jedi on
When we last left Operation Go Jedi the lekku had been painted and we discussed the finer points of trying to turn yourself blue. Almost all efforts made since then have been on the various articles of Aayla's archetypal outfit, with the exception of adding a mottled pattern to the lekku. The speckles were just a matter of blending the cosmic blue and white Ben Nye Magicolor liquid paints to lighten the base blue a tad and dabbing this hybrid color on with the end of a rounded sponge. The sponge is fairly key, as it makes the spots look organic, an effect I simply couldn't get with a brush.

As mentioned in an earlier post, Aayla's standard garb appears simple (aside from the lekku) but is actually a fairly decent challenge in terms of construction. Though it's taken up much of the past 4-5 months you could probably pull it off in 2-3 if you had the exact quantities of the required materials and/or kept to a brisk schedule.

One sleeve means more efficient lightsaber use?
The Undershirt: The majority of Ms. Secura's midriff-baring top is an asymmetrical piece that features one long sleeve and a pseudo-reptilian print. To make this, I purchased a dark brown long-sleeved t-shirt off of Amazon, turned it inside-out and removed one sleeve (the right one if you're adhering to canon) by pulling apart the existing seams. Removing the seams is time-consuming (I recommend a good, sharp pair of small scissors and an equally good movie/tv show to play in the background) but ensures that you're left with a mostly clean, even hem and the maximum possible material to work with. I tried on the shirt still inside-out and marked where I wanted the top to fall with a highlighter, then used that mark as the basis for an even cut line and cropped the shirt along that selfsame line. Hopefully helpful hint: Make sure you do all fittings while wearing the undergarments you intend to use during your cosplay. There are few things more tooth-grindingly frustrating than believing you're done with a piece only to put it on and realize it doesn't fit because you made your cuts while wearing a different bra.

After making all the necessary cuts, I tidied the hems by simply rolling them back a tiny bit and tacking them in place with hot glue. You could easily do the same with a sewing machine if you're handy with one (which, as you can guess, I am not but we'll get to that later). This step isn't entirely necessary, particularly if you were careful while taking out the seams. I'm just pseudo-fanatical.

Glossy paper acts as a great barrier to keep the paint from seeping through
Finally, I turned the shirt rightside-out and began the time-consuming process of creating the reptilian pattern. Said texture is pretty subtle in the movies and acts largely as a contrast agent for the leather half vest that rests atop the fabric. Using some fabric paint (Scribbles fabric paint in 'butterscotch') and an old brush that spent the first half of its career painting Necromunda minis, I carefully drew in the desired pattern. Since the fabric is supposed to have been the skin of some fantastical beast, I did the entire piece freehand to maintain a deliberate measure of spontaneity and give the illusion of a naturally-occurring pattern. Not going to lie; the painting took a very long time (the better part of two weeks) but turned out fairly well.

The Leggings:  These were the easiest part of the costume, as they're simply a set of dark brown yoga pants/leggings that I had on hand from another costume. Just about any pair of dark brown heavy leggings or light yoga pants will serve this purpose, as Aayla's pants have no ornamentation or distinct pattern on them.

The Belt and 'Mudflaps': Like any good Jedi or spacefaring individual in a galaxy far, far away, Aayla never goes anywhere without her utility belt. The belt itself was picked up on clearance in the men's section of Macy's, but any dark brown leather belt will serve. While the belt doesn't necessarily have to be functional (the elastics in your leggings/yoga pants are designed to work without outside help), it's a good idea to select a heavier belt if you're going to put any significant weight on it, like the weight of a lightsaber hilt for instance.
The 'mud flaps' and the type of sponge used to put spots on the lekku
I removed the buckle that originally came with the belt, then added self-adhering Velcro strips to the interior so it would attach to itself and present a clean line. (you can get the strips at most craft stores) Each 'mudflap' is a simple rectangle of leather trimmed into the downward arrow shape, then adorned with contrasting leather cut into corresponding arrow shapes. The leather used here came from a craft store, as most craft stores will carry small amounts of lightweight leather. Hopefully helpful hint: Trigonometry and geometry are your friends here. Seriously. You will have to make a LOT of cuts so try to adhere rigorously to whatever measurement method you prefer. I made heavy use of a silicon quilting mat, a rotary quilting blade, and a T-square.

I hot glued these pieces together then affixed the front-facing flap to the belt permanently. The rear-facing flap slides along the belt only because I built a small storage pocket into it and wanted to be able to access such while walking the floor. Whether you decide to make the flaps moveable is up to you.

Rolled edge vs. unfinished edges on the headpiece
The Headpiece: The headpiece, lekku wraps, and half vest were all cut from a set of lightweight upholstery leather that I ordered off of Amazon. Upholstery leather is reasonably inexpensive, high quality, light enough to still allow for the use of a normal needle and thread, and comes in sheets large enough for the purposes of this costume. The last item on that little list is the most important, as it is difficult to procure leather in dimensions larger than a piece of paper. Four 'sheets' of the leather linked above was sufficient for this costume, but you may need as few as three or as many as five depending on your individual build.

After taking measurements of my lekku and determining where I wanted the headpiece to lay, I cut three strips of leather, tacked back the lower edges on each with hot glue, then glued the strips together to make the base of the headpiece. You can use a sewing machine or another adhesive agent (like rubber cement) to accomplish this, but hot glue works just fine. I used more self-adhering Velcro strips on both the headpiece and the lekku themselves to keep the former in place.

You can tackle the side portions of the headpiece in one of two ways: make the sides one long piece that wraps around the back of your head or separately hanging pieces for each ear cone. Hopefully helpful hint: Make an honest appraisal of how well the lekku (and the base of the headpiece) fit on your head before deciding which route to take with the sides of the headpiece. Do these fit snuggly or will they require some extra support? If the former is true, you can choose either route for the sides of the headpiece. If some additional support is needed, I'd recommend making the sides as a single component that wraps around. Why? The extra material can be used to hide a chinstrap.
As I have a Merida-esque quantity of hair, the lekku are very secure on their own and I merely measured where I wanted the sides to fall, then cut leather to that measure. Once you have your sides cut and ready, you may want to permanently affix your ear cones to them. I also added small threads of lightweight floral wire to the interior of the side pieces so I could sculpt the latter to frame my face.

High stakes, but totally worth it
The Lekku Wraps: Remember how I mentioned that it's often the parts of construction that seem like they'll be the simplest that almost always end up being the most stressful? This continues to hold true. I'd originally imagined cutting a few strips of leather and wrapping them around the lekku like I would the ribbon on a birthday present. When I actually sat down to plan out the wrappings, I quickly discovered that this would not at all be the case. Aayla's wrappings follow a very clear and distinct pattern, a pattern that I needed to reconcile against the natural boundries of where the leather strips wanted to lay.

There are several reasons why costumers and cosplayers tend to shy away from using real leather in their work; the fact that the material seems to have a mind of its own and is given to 'misbehavior' is foremost amongst these. To combat this, do several practice runs with your strips and note where the leather 'wants' to lay (it'll sit flat against the lekku with no bubbles or creases). Once you've determined this you can begin to carefully glue the strips to the lekku along those preset lines. I used rubber cement for this purpose, as my lekku are made of latex and it's always a good idea to use like-compounds whenever possible. Hopefully helpful hint: Set aside a few hours for this and take your time. Regardless of which adhesive agent you use, any mistakes will assuredly result in stripping the paint off your lekku (or stretching/tearing if your lekku are fabric). There's literally no room for error on these so do whatever you have to in order to be in the right frame of mind for this kind of work.
Whew! Finished!
The Vest: The vest is really the only thing that remains incomplete at this point. The components have been readied, but need to be put together. In order to obtain the basic asymmetric shape of the vest, I procured a sewing pattern that mimicked the same desired form (Butterick 3385 'Missus Summer Top'). Most such patterns are very inexpensive and are easily found on Ebay or Etsy. I first cut the pattern into some cheap fabric, then made all necessary modifications to said fabric in order to accommodate my measurements. I then used the modified fabric as the pattern to the upholstery leather described earlier to size. Doing this allowed me to test out fits and sizes beyond the scope of the original Butterick template without ruining any leather. You'll be left with a front panel, a back panel, and a belt-like strip that will run along the base of your bustline.

I tacked the front and back panels together with hot glue and now need to sew them. You could probably get away with either gluing or sewing but I'm going to be wearing the costume for the better part of 12 hours and want the vest to both fit well and be entirely secure. The thing is…I'm not really a very good seamstress (I'm not terrible, just not particularly good). Despite having sartorial talent run strong on both sides of my family I, sadly, did not inherit those genes. Every costume I've made to date has been wrought from a combination of tactical adhesive use and the simplest possible stitches.

However, I can say the following for a certainty:
  • That this trick does work and there's no real structural or cosmetic difference if you plan things   thoroughly. 
  • You can teach yourself an enormous amount about sewing simply by employing the curious kid method: deconstructing old garments and seeing how they were put together.
  • Practice and a willingness to push yourself will result in quick dividends. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself with a project just because of how it may need to be constructed.
Just a few stitches and I'm home free
So take heart costuming neophytes and sewing-noobs! You don't need to be a masterful tailor to pull off a good costume!

While all this is true, I will be sewing the vest together by hand, largely because the vest will require a dart in order to fit properly.

 What's a dart and how on Earth will it make the vest fit?

A dart is sewing-speak for a seam made along a fold in order to create a rounded or conical shape in fabric. It's literally pinching the fabric into the desired shape, then sewing the edges of the pinched piece together. You need to do this for pretty much any surface area of your body that isn't flat including…ahm…certain curves that will be supported by the vest.

Once this bit of sewing is done the costume will be complete and the countdown till Gen Con will be on in force!

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