Hello, Sexy! An Idris Costume Diary

This is not a project for people absolutely new to sewing. That said, if you've got a solid grounding in the fundamentals, this is a fantastic project for building on those fundamentals. You do not need to be an advanced seamstress to tackle this one. Furthermore, if you choose to use as-authentic-as-possible historical patterns, you'll be adding some very useful items to your wardrobe. Multitasking is good!

The Costume – What Is It?

actor img actor img
Note that the color balance in this picture is WAY off - the blue has been pushed to
high levels to bring up some other details. Don't use this as a color guide.
Click pix for larger versions

The script described Idris’ costume as a Victorian party dress that has seen better days, and, after a rather embarrassing false start where I was convinced that the bodice followed 17th century lines, that'’s the cue I followed.

Break down the costume into its component parts: bodice (bodice, sleeves, lace "dickey", other embellishments), skirt (skirt body, ruffles), foundation (corset, petticoat, bustle) and shoes.

The Palette – AKA Just What Color Is The Costume, Anyways?

This is a bit of a challenge. Studio lighting is very different from lighting anywhere else. And hotel-hallway lighting is different from sunlight. Colors can look very, very different under these different types of light. Anyone who has seen costumes at the Doctor Who experience and compared the mannequins to what they’'ve seen on the screen knows what I mean.

The story is a very moodily-lit episode. Lots of richly-colored light abounds. Take a look some screen grabs from the episode. Now, look at the photos above, which were PR/reference photos, taken under a fairly flat white light, against a plain backdrop. There'’s a lot of difference.

What'’s correct? Whatever you decide to be correct! Some cosplayers have snuck pantone chips into the Doctor Who exhibit and settled (some) color questions for (some) costumes to their satisfaction, that way. Some folks compare shots on a soundstage to exterior shots (if available) and decide what they like better -– which is generally how I do it.

One of the reasons I like Idris so much is that there is a lot of room for interpretation with the palette of the costume, and you can allow your own preferences to –- ahem –- color your decision.

A lot of cosplayers prefer to use a palette with a lot of blue to it because Idris is the TARDIS and the TARDIS is, well, blue. But there'’s a lot of green going on there, too -– look at the lace on her sleeves, and the base color of the bodice, for instance. In my case, I decided to go with a green-centric palette as I liked it better and, tbh, I found some amazing olive/blue two-tone taffeta at the fabric store which screamed Idris skirt! at me, and I built the rest of the costume around that.

Fabric selection
My fabric selections - although there were some changes after this was taken.

A Note On Foundation Garments.

"Oh cripes. Do I really have to bother with that corset palaver? And a bustle? Seriously??"

Yes, you do have to bother with that palaver. If you don’t have the correct foundation garments, your profile will look “off and, if you’re using historical patterns for the costume, they simply won'’t fit correctly over modern undergarments. Take a look at Idris’ profile in the pics, above. No-one'’s got natural posture that good, and no-one’'s bottom sticks out that much, so you'’re going to need reinforcements.

I tried to work around the bustle by building some seriously voluminous petticoats and I must have spent twice as much time gathering and attaching tulle than I did in building the bustle when I finally realized I’'d done the wrong thing.

To be honest, I can'’t remember the manufacturer of the bustle pattern loaned to me by a friend, but I see that Truly Victorian offers this bustle, which will give you the correct profile. Other Idris costumers have had success with just a “bustle pad and even a Tudor-style “bumroll. What will work for you depends on your body shape and your resources. After following the wrong path with the petticoats, I decided to make a proper Victorian bustle, as I could use it for other projects.

I chose a "“collapsible" type of “lobster tail bustle, which is surprisingly easy to sit down in – because of the "“collapsible" part, and it can be unlaced and rendered flat for easier storage. Bonus!

Click to embiggen

(Feel free, as I did, to follow an unofficial tradition among historical costumers and make your undies out of painfully non-period fabric. In fact, it was the sturdiest cotton my local discount fabric place had on offer, but the dreadful chartreuse gingham check helped sell me on it, because I'’m odd like that.)

Several online retailers sell “Kits for making bustles and corsets, which is an option you might want to consider.

If you'’ve never made a corset before, I suggest you try Laughing Moon’s pattern as the directions are excellent. I prefer the lines on Truly Victorian’s late-era corset pattern as it suits curvy gals very well, but the directions aren’t quite as exhaustive as LM’'s. Kits for both patterns can be found online.

Even with the bustle, you can'’t skip a petticoat, as the steel in the bustle will show through under your skirt. I skimped on a petticoat when in a rush for my Rebecca Fogg costume and you can clearly see my hoops showing through, even though that skirt was made of a heavyweight cotton and lined, too.

Warning! Take your measurements (or better yet, have someone take them for you) OVER YOUR FOUNDATION GARMENTS and use those measurements when sizing your patterns. Trust me, says the woman who forgot to do so and had to take four inches off her skirt'’s waistband. (Oops.)

Skirt and Petticoat

The skirt goes to just above the floor, in back, but ends halfway down the shin, in front – including the rows of ruffles, so adjust any pattern you use, accordingly.

I used Truly Victorian'’s petticoat pattern for both the petticoat and as a basis for the skirt that went over it. The pattern had to be cut shorter in front, as per the original costume, and allowance made for the attachment of the ruffles on the skirt. I also (obviously) ditched the ruffle at the bottom edge and the detachable train. My petticoat turned out a bit trial-and-error but, heck, no-one sees it when I'm out and about.

Petticoat on dressform

Petticoat over bustle. My mannequin was sliding down the stand when this photo was taken, sorry.

Skirt Ruffles

I'’m so very, very glad that this costume is supposed to look a bit down-at-heel, as I'’m dreadful at pleating. In this case, however, irregular pleating was totally acceptable!

skirt ruffle detail
Created trim, detail.

I created four rows of pleats, in all. Each row of ruffles took one yard of fabric, cut into 5" wide strips, making for about 350 inches of trim on each row. I pleated the fabric and then ran a line of stitching along the top, as only a madwoman would pleat directly on to the garment.

orange ruffle detail

The bottom tier was my fakery for the salmon petticoat (?) you see under Idris’ skirt. I just didn’'t want another damn layer in the costume, so I worked around it. I took cut strips of burned-orange silk, rolled them into a tube, wrapped an elastic band around one end of each tube, tied the tubes with string to a chopstick and then carefully lowered them into a black dyebath. The tubes were only dipped for about half of their length, as capillary action did the rest – and the rubber bands helped slow the dye’s creeping near the cut edge, so that the orange edges wouldn'’t get obliterated. Once dry, I sewed the strips into one continuous length and pleated. I frayed the edge very slightly and then treated it with Fray Check as that silk unraveled if you looked at it funny and I wanted the edges distressed, not completely ruined.

The next two rows were made from two-tone taffeta – one was electric-blue and black, the other was a navy blue and black. I really like two-tone taffeta for this sort of thing, as it gives a nice eye-catching effect for a low price. As per the orange trim, the bottom edge was left raw and deliberately frayed to show the color. Remember to cut the correct way so that when you fray the edge, the colored threads show, not the black. And if anybody would like 330 inches of 4" wide navy/black taffeta that I cut the wrong way, let me know…

I decided to make the top layer of pleated trim out of the same fabric as the body of the skirt in order to create some visual continuity as I thought that going from the olive green to a blue/black trim was visually jarring. This particular taffeta had a lot of “body" to it and it really resisted being pleated. I even put a length of it between my boxspring and my mattress in an attempt to get the pleats to stay! Unfortunately, you can'’t steam creases into polyester the way you can with cotton or wool, so I ended up pleating the fabric and then top-stitching across the pleats, once the trim was attached to the skirt, in order to hold it down. I tried a test without the top-stitching and it looked dreadful – the trim kept springing away from the body of the skirt. The bulk of the fabric was problematic, but nothing that couldn'’t be faced by the rolling foot on my sewing machine and a longer stitch length. As per the other rows of trim, the bottom edges was left raw and deliberately frayed.

skirt detail
Skirt detail. Click on pic for larger version.

skirt on dressform
Please forgive the visible mess. I live in a studio, so sewing space is limited, and I'd rather sew than clean... The bodice mockup was clearly still in progress when this picture was taken. :)

The Bodice

Don’'t make the mistakes I did and convince yourself this is a 18th century profile. This is a Victorian style bodice. Please, oh please, trust everyone who tells you that.

After barking up the wrong tree for two mockups, I settled on TV 490, without the sleeve options. Note: this pattern isn'’t cut for a bustle, but I created a workaround, as I suspect the original costumer did -– see that seam at the waist on the original? That would allow the backside of the corset to "“flip" up at the bustle without putting too much strain on the garment -– although that’s pure conjecture on my part. By the time I realized my goof (in using a pattern NOT cut for a bustle) it was too late to start over and I simply short-cut my way around it by letting the seams out in the back a little and stopping the steel in the back at the waist.

If you use this same pattern, pay careful attention to the directions when it comes to picking your size. TV's outwear patterns are not sized like contemporary ones.

The bodice closes with an invisible zipper in back, so you might have to adjust for that closure in your pattern of choice. I had to use a separating zipper, myself, as I’m a little too well-built to step into an item with a closed zipper in back -– I discovered that during the first mockup, alas. With a bit of care, though, even big chunky separating zippers can be pretty well hidden.

final mockup front final mockup side

(Since taking this picture, I decided to whack an entire inch off the width of the straps, at the neckline. It was a serious improvement.)

MAKE A MOCKUP OF YOUR BODICE. Be prepared (and have the muslin for) several mockups, in fact. And, if you’'re using a Truly Victorian pattern, put it on, have someone take a picture of you (don'’t take the photo yourself, as that'’ll pull things in odd directions) and visit the Does This Fit Right? forum at trulyvictorian.net. Heather – the designer of the pattern – is very generous with her advice regarding fittings and instructions, if you can provide her with useful pictures. She saved my bacon and it still took me three more mockups before I got a satisfactory result.

The fabric for the bodice is another challenge. All you can do is haunt fabric stores – and don’'t underestimate the surprises that can be found and indie fabric outlets, the places that sell overstock, and hope that you find something you like. Whatever was used in the original item is long gone, so don'’t kill yourself looking for an exact match. "“Perfect is the enemy of done", as many of my cosplaying friends like to say.

I decided to choose a fabric with a pattern I liked and dyed it.

bodice fabric before and after dye*

As of early 2014, this fabric is still available from various sellers. Use the search terms “Robert Allen, nouveau wave, pearl and you'’ll find it. JoAnn'’s sells it -– although it looks like they might be phasing it out -– and often does a half-off sale on upholstery fabrics. Heaven knows, I couldn'’t have afforded it, otherwise.

I dyed the bodice fabric and the lace in a very weak mixture of green iDye Poly – one-quarter teaspoon to 3 gallons of hot water. More about dyeing fabrics, especially artificial fibers, below. Dye your length of fabric and THEN cut it, as that will leave you with scraps on which to test paint and such as you proceed - and don't forget to pre-shrink your fabric before you dye it.

(Click for larger)

A progress picture, showing the cut-down straps. Much better!

For the trim, I found some wonderful blue/green/gold (no, I don't know how that works, either) polyester with an unfinished edge. I used it to outline the "dickey" and pleated it for the neckline. I know, I should have box-pleated it or gathered it, but it's very bouncy polyester and gathering simply didn't suit it.

Although they look green in these pictures, the bows are silk dupioni with green weft and blue warp threads. One of these days, I'll color-balance these pix...

The bodice isn'’t just a single color. There’s a shiny rust colored something going on at the waist, and ground-in “dirt and signs of distressing, throughout. Using a sponge, I daubed some Jacquard fabric paint on the bodice and on the sleeve cap (just for visual continuity).

The bodice, painted and with all trimmings attached.

For the bodice paint, I initially picked the Jacquard Lumiere color "Metallic Copper" which looked grand in the bottle but was FAR too red on the fabric. In the end, I used a mixture of Lumiere's "Metallic Bronze" with a little bit of "Sunset Gold" (also by Jacquard, but not part of the Lumiere line), mixed about 3:1, respectively and applied with a sponge. Much better! The moral of that little incident is to ALWAYS test your paint on a matching scrap, first.

Using a sponge let me control the amount of paint applied. I blotted it until it was almost dry, the better to apply small amounts of paint in layers (you can always add more, but it's tough to take it off!). Unfortunately, this brought the sewn edges and seams into sharp relief, as there's no way to get paint down into such crevices without really grinding the sponge, which I didn't want to do, obviously. Once the initial paint had dried, I took some of it, thinned it with water and, using a small paintbrush, 'filled' those areas in. It's not perfect, but they're much less noticeable than they were.

I also sponged a bit of the paint on to the sleeve cap - it really made the gold in the lace "pop" - and on the side of the bodice near the armhole, as per the screen original. Using some of the thinned paint from touching up the seams, I loaded a brush and "spattered" the bows (either do this before you attach them or, if you're a fool like I was, be sure to protect the rest of the bodice, unless you want it spattered, too!). I really should have gotten into the seams with some sienna pigment, but I didn't have the nerve!

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The Sleeve

assembled sleeve

Using this how-to, I drafted a sleeve to fit the armscye of the bodice. The undersleeve is a green rayon jersey – I found something with a nice faux weft-weaving effect, but it’s very subtle – and cut short of the wrist (see original photos). The lace (abused with a soldering iron) was top-stitched on to the jersey before I closed the seam sleeve. Then I stitched the sleeves on to the bodice, as per any regular garment. They look a little funky because I had to do some funky things to the armscye to get the bodice to fit but it falls under “good enough for me" and I’m okay with that.

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The Lace Thingummy

There’s a lace "dickey" (is that the right term?) on the front of the bodice and it's a deceptive little devil. The seams of it drove me bonkers until I realized it was laid on top of the bodice, not set into it as I originally thought. Not only that, but it's got a dart in it, which could possibly explain the placement of the trim on the original item (to hide the piecing).

lace overlay pattern

 

(Click through for larger image)

This is the pattern I ended up with, using the pattern of the bodice as a starting point (cut off a few inches below the neckline) I closed the waist darts and, after some faffing about, moved it to the "strap" of the lace. I also snuck a tuck in at the center front top and bottom, to get it to lie flat against the bodice, and then hid the tucks with the trimmings. If you're less curvy than I am, you might be able to get away with cutting a polygon to shape and following the neckline, but don't be surprised if you end up with wrinkles.

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Hip Scarf

In my opinion, it’s silk velvet. Nothing else has that luscious sheen and drape to it. My first go-to place for that is Silk Baron, as he’s willing to swatch anything he sells. Sure enough, he’s convinced me to go with some yardage in rainforest, which looks far darker on my screen that it actually is – which is why you should always allow yourself the time (and budget) to swatch such things whenever possible.

I had bought some "“triple velvet", which is pretty lush as polyester goes – it has a deeper and denser pile than its less-robust counterparts – but “"hunter green" turned out to be too dark when I got it home. Learn from my goof and carry swatches of your fabrics with you when you go out! Never rely on memory when you have alternatives.

Note: although it’s called "“silk velvet", only the base of the fabric is silk. The pile is rayon. Any e-bayer who tries to convince you that they are selling 100% silk velvet for less than $300/yard is either mistaken or lying. If you live near a super high-end fabric store, such as Thai Silks or Britex in the Bay Area, you can go there and see what 100% silk velvet looks like – and what it costs! (I thought they were going to charge me money for accidentally brushing against the bolt…)

After writing this, I created the scarf, somehow forgot to pack it for the convention (argh) and, upon my return to the house, I can't find it. ARGH!! So, um, pix of that will go up if/when I find it - or remake it.

Finishing Touches

If you have brown hair and don'’t mind the idea of doing dreadful things to it, then go nuts with some backcombing and Aquanet for that slightly-crazy look. I’m a brunette, but I don'’t want to torture my hair, so I used a wig. Fortunately,– I have a friend who is a professional wig artist and we barter with each other for services. And this is what we ended up with:

the wig

It didn't come out of the box like this. My friend did terrible things to it with a comb and hairspray but better it than my scalp!

This is a "three quarters" wig, which means I anchor it into my hair (it has combs sewn inside the wig-cap) behind my hairline. Since the piece matches the color of my roots, I can pull a few wisps out from under it and wrap them into the wig, which helps hide the join / fool a viewer's eye.

FWIW, the actress definitely wore a wig. No-one’s hair does that naturally, so sayeth my wig-pro friend.

If you're not a brunette, you're going to have to find a full wig and bully it into the ideal shape. I must admit, I think my wig is a *tad* aggressive but I think it'll relax a bit as I wear it / beat it up (taking it off can be a bit adventurous!).

I wore olive green tights, although my legs are largely invisible under the skirt, and I found these boots on ebay for $35, although I know a lot of Idris cosplayers really like the Steve Madden Troopa boot.

Before your costume’s first day out, practice wearing it and walking about in it. If you'’ve not regularly worn a corset and a bustle before, it’s going to feel a little weird. You can'’t bend over at the waist (remember: don your boots first, corset second), you can’'t slouch, and sitting down feels distinctly funky. It doesn'’t take too long to get used to, but you really don’'t want to be walking around the convention with a puzzled frown on your face as you get used the sensation of wearing spring-loaded undies…

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Pulling a Face

8th Doctor TVM console

The Payoff (at Gallifrey One, 2014)

(if you have better pictures, let me know!)

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Afterwords

If you think you’'re going to make a regular go of making Victorian clothing, it’'s worthwhile to consider investing in multi-meter spools of spiral and flat steel and cutting pieces to length as you work, instead of paying for pre-cut pieces. As I'’ve been making steel-reinforced undies for quite some time, I'’ve invested in spooled steel, a grommet press and sundry other tools and I don'’t regret it at all. The time saved is worth more than the money spent.

About Dyeing Fabric – My Quick-And-Dirty Guide

I moderate an online community for Doctor Who cosplayers (blatant plug!) and quite often, some optimist will inquire about the feasibility of dyeing some store-bought garment she’s found.

Oh dear.

The below is taken from a piece I wrote for that community, inspired by that very question.

If you want to do anything color-related to a piece of fabric, check out these FAQs at Dharma Trading, especially their introduction to tub dyeing. It's an excellent starting point for any neophyte.

I also strongly recommend visiting Jacquard's Dye pages

You'll find instructions and tips for each of their dyes as you go through the website. They also make some great fabric paints, btw.

Simply put, there are two factors to consider when dyeing fabric: the fibers involved, and the color (both what you've got at the start and what you want at the end).

Fibers

Different fibers require dyes of a different chemical composition. Is your fabric a plant fiber (eg. cotton, linen), a protein fiber (wool, silk) or an artificial fiber (polyester, nylon, acrylic)? Determining what your fabric is made of is essential.

As a rule, plant and animal fibers - when not mixed with an artificial fiber - are relatively easy to dye as long as you're not running afoul of the color wheel (more on that below). Artificial fibers are more difficult to dye, but sometimes, it can be done, depending on your starting point and what you want. Jacquard make a good dye for some artificial fibers, called iDye Poly. Again, check out the links, above, to learn more.

Colors
Is your fabric white? Rejoice, as you can probably dye it to your desired color.

Is your fabric a light color? Challenging, unless you're looking to bring it down to something darker. However, you can't just turn a yellow fabric into a red fabric by dunking it into a red dye bath. If you're lucky, it'll come out orange - because red and yellow make orange, obviously. If you're unlucky, it'll be a gunky orange, no matter what you started with - especially likely if you're attempting this on an artificial fiber. For some reason, they love turning gunky orange when everything goes wrong.

Is your fabric a dark color? Unless you want to make it darker still, you're probably out of luck. It is extremely difficult to make a dark garment lighter. More on that, below.

When all is said and done, you want your fabric to be black? Then that's probably possible, but you'll still need to pick the right dye(s) and conduct some tests.

Just always keep in mind that when you pour one color over another, that original color is still there. You can't make blue into yellow by pouring yellow dye onto it - but you could probably turn blue into green! Dharma has a handy color tutorial.

What about "color removers" and bleach? Some manufacturers offer a "color remover". As far as I know, these are only effective on natural fibers and not always effective at that - the fabric could still have a tint of the original color after processing. The stuff will NOT work on artificial fibers.

Bleach is an even dodgier option. It's take the color right out of cotton, alright, sometimes leaving a yellow tint behind, but the cotton will have a shorter useful life, because of the damage done by the chlorine. NEVER use chlorine bleach on artificial fibers or wool, as they will MELT and quite possibly give off toxic fumes, too.

I've read that you can bleach wool with hydrogen peroxide, but I've no experience with that, so I can't speak to it.

What dye should I use?
That really, really depends on your fiber and what you want to do with it. In my experience, I've had a lot of success with the Jacquard line. They offer a wide range of products for different fibers and in lots of colors. Their online instructions are extremely helpful, too.

I've used iDye Poly for polyester fabrics with a lot of success but the stuff SMELLS, so open lots of windows. Better yet, set up a camp stove and do it outside. I’'ve read a horror story from one user accidentally dyeing the paint on her kitchen wall adjacent to the stove. She was able to clean it up with a Magic Eraser, eventually, but yikes!

A noteworthy point about iDye Poly is that it's made to be complimentary with the manufacturer's range of dyes for natural fibers (simply called iDye). So, if you have a light-colored bit of poly/cotton that you wish to turn black you can, in theory, make a dye bath mixing regular iDye and iDye poly in a single pot and thus dye both fibers in your fabric. A netizen of my acquaintance speaks of her experience in doing this.

Rit, I consider the last resort. It offers a wide range of colors, but inconsistent results.

When all is said and done, you should do some research, starting at the URLs mentioned above, and determine what's best for your needs.

Have you considered paint?
I've resorted to this once or twice. It takes a lot of experimentation, but can produce some interesting results when dye - for whatever reason - isn't an option. Cotton takes up watercolors a treat. Jacquard does some eye-popping metallic and interference colors. You can put it on with a brush, a spray bottle (I've gotten some interesting effects with that), an airbrush, a sponge... You get the idea.

There's a tradeoff - heavy paint use will make a fabric stiff, some colors (such as a water-based color) will totally come out in the wash, so you're going to have to rely on Febreze and sunlight to keep the garment smelling sweet, etc, etc. But when no other option presents itself, it's something to consider. Definitely visit the Dharma Trading link, above, if you want to learn more about painting fabric.

Other quick tips
-- Always, ALWAYS, test swatches of your fabric in your dye bath, first. Don't just dunk your garment and hope for the best! If you're trying to dye a store-bought garment, either buy a second one to cut up into swatches, or go to a fabric store and look for a fabric with the same composition and close to the same color (it'll be a bit of an Easter egg hunt, sorry!) and cut that up.

-- Remember to pre-shrink your fabric before dyeing it. Muggins here skipped that step with her bodice fabric and ended up with a bodice 3/8" shorter than intended, because she'd cut her yardage so close. Yep, even polyester will shrink in boiling water. Oops!

-- Always use the correct vessels for your dye. Some metals will react badly with your dye and create very unpredictable results. A safe default is to buy an enameled stewpot at the local thrift store, as those won't react with anything. Keep your dye pots ONLY for dye. Don't use them for food. A plastic bucket can be used for certain projects but the challenge with that is keeping the water hot enough long enough for the dye to do its thing. I have a three-gallon enameled pot and I love it.

-- If you use your washing machine to dye something, remember to run an empty load with a portion of bleach after you're done, lest your next batch of laundry come out with an unexpected tint! How to dye in your washing machine - YouTube.

Compliments and questions - but especially the compliments - may be emailed to kafaraqgatri (.at.) skaro (.dot.) com

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