Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Phantom Menace: Black Invasion Gown


I fell in love with this costume from the time I first saw it in 1999.  I had always wanted to recreate it (made several unsuccessful attempts), and finally did so in 2012 for the 3-D Release of TPM.  This costume is never worn by Queen Amidala herself, but is seen on her decoy, Sabe'.


This costume build was a labor of love.  It's quite a challenge, but most definitely worth it when you see the final product.  I'm still tweaking things on it, but I was most pleased with the outcome.

The Overdress:  What to use, what to use….
I suppose the best place to start is with the most challenging part of the costume - the peaked overdress. At the time the movie came out there were not a lot of good photos of the costume, so my first few attempts were not terribly successful.  After the FIDM costume exhibit in 2005 and subsequently the fabulous book Dressing a Galaxy, better images were available of this costume showing more detail on the overdress.  Through my research, I discovered a lot of great resources on several sites (Padawan's Guide, The, Rebel Legion, SWFFAQ), including exhibit photos, various costumer builds, etc., which I was continually reviewing.

My first instinct was that this overdress was made of velvet.  Looking at all the photos, it just had that rich, deep look of velvet.  In many of the photos, the peaked detail was somewhat difficult to see. Depending on lighting, black velvet can be challenging to photograph as it seems to "absorb" the light.  (As an example, a lighting designer I worked with years ago wanted to wrap a set piece with black velvet to give the appearance I was suspended in space.)  So when I found a couple of posts on The site that pretty much confirmed it was velvet, needless to say I was relieved since I had already invested in several yards of black velvet.  (The link is below - the posts are on Page 2, starting at the top of the page.  This is a very interesting thread - dates back to 2004.  I visited this one frequently!)

So, with the fabric issue settled the next thing to tackle was how to make the peaks in the fabric.  Again, after researching these various sites, I found my answer.  What makes the peaks "pop up"? Elastic thread in the bobbin.  I experimented on some scrap fabric with 2 different brands of elastic thread.

I found Gutterman's elastic thread worked the best.  (Dritz had too much elastic in the thread, therefore pulled the peaks too tight.) The peaks were formed by first drawing a circle on the fabric.  I traced a circle (4" in diameter) with chalk (yep, regular old chalkboard chalk) onto the fabric.  Starting in the center of the circle, I sewed a spiral pattern outward to the chalk line.  Circles were spaced about 1/2" apart.

Fabric: 4 1/4 yards of 60" wide fabric.  I used a lighter weight velvet - lucked out and found it on the sale table.  (I probably could have used a wee bit more yardage, but when I went back later to buy more, it was all gone.  Of course.)
Thread: Gutterman's black elastic thread ( I used about 22 spools to complete the overdress.  I had to order most of it online as I cleared out our local Joann's several times!)  Important: hand wind the thread onto the bobbin.
Patience: A lot!

As I wrote previously, over the years I had made several unsuccessful attempts at this costume.  I would start work on it, but realize it just wasn't quite right, get frustrated and just put it away for a while.  I did, however, continue to collect all the materials, knowing that someday I would finish it.

One of the challenges was exactly how the overdress was constructed.  In looking at the photos, something occurred to me.  There were no photos that showed an actual "separate" sleeve from the rest of the overdress.  In this photo particularly, it appears that the back of the garment is one piece - no separate sleeve and skirt parts.  I could not find a photo that shows the arms lifted to reveal the bottom of the sleeve.  (If anyone finds one, please let me know!)

Anyway, I decided that I would try something different and construct it as more of a "caftan" (for lack of a better description) than an overdress with actual sleeves.  So it begins…

I cut my fabric into 3 sections: the top (57" in length) and the 2 lower R & L sections (48" in length).  I then cut the top section in half lengthwise to give me 2 sections that were each 28" wide.  These would be the R & L top/sleeve sections.

I then cut both top sections in half (for ease of sewing the peaks), which would then be rejoined at the shoulder seams.  Now the fun (sigh) part begins: drawing the circles and sewing the peaks.

I drew alternating rows of 6 and 5 circles (see below).  On the front at the shoulder, I started with 6 circles; the back I started with 5.  That way, when you rejoin the top pieces at the shoulder, the circles would again alternate 6 and 5.  The circles were 4" in diameter, and spaced about 1/2" apart.  With elastic thread in the bobbin, I started in the center and worked my way outward, sewing in a spiral pattern.

Once all the peaks were sewn, I rejoined each section at the shoulder seam.  Sew the lining to each section, but leave it open at the "waist" so they can be joined to the lower sections.

The lower sections were done in much the same way, with alternating rows of peaks.  (After the peaks were sewn, I did have to do some adjustments at the bottom to create "points".)

I then joined the upper and lower sections of each side (R & L).  To create the sleeve opening,  I measured 19" from the shoulder then sewed a side seam of about 12" in length.  (Note: I'm still tweaking this - I may make it shorter to open the side up more.)  I then attached the decorative beaded "tail" to the back (attached 1/2 of it to the garment - lower half hangs down the back).  Also stitched the front sections together at the waist.  

To create the actual "sleeve", I tacked the upper sections together at a point 16" from the shoulder and 6" in from the sleeve opening.  (I had to try it on to get the exact placement for me.)  To keep it from slipping off of the shoulder, I sewed 2 large snaps on each shoulder (1" on either side of the seam) of the overdress as well as the actual dress.

When the overdress is on with the rest of the costume, the drape of the garment gives the appearance of an actual sleeve opening.

Next: The Velvet Overskirt