BattleStar Galactica - Making the Uniform from the 2005-2006 TV Show

Introduction

I like to sew, and I've made a few costumes in my time. Lately, I'd been feeling guilty about spending all my sewing-time on me, and not making anything for my husband. So, when he mentioned that he'd like to have a uniform from the new Battlestar Galactica to wear at a LARP that he's writing, of course I had to get wo work!

Please note, I only made the top-half of the uniform, as the color match is very close to Air Force Blue and, to save time, my hubby bought a pair of uniform pants from the local military surplus store.

Eyeballing the Pattern

My keen-eyed hubby pointed out that unlike, for example, the uniforms from the later seasons of Star Trek: TNG et al, the upper half of the uniform is constructed and worn like a shirt. It's tucked into the pants, not worn over them. Boiled down to basics, it's a fairly simple button-up shirt with and extended closure much like a chef's jacket, or some US Civil War officer's coats. Long, cuffed sleeves. Contrast details (looks like suede) on the shoulders. Single flap pocket. "Mandarin" collar and various patches and epaulets here and there.

Conclusion: I suggest starting with a shirt pattern, and adapting it from there. All of the "Big Three" patternmakers offer shirt patterns for men in a broad range of sizes.

In my case, I felt adventurous, so I used the men's clothing module for PatternMaker 7 to create a first draft, as my husband is a non-standard size. Use whatever approach you're comfortable with, as long as the garment isn't cut too loose. Uniforms fit close to the body - too loose a cut, and your military persona will look sloppy.

Note: if you decide to take the plunge with a PatternMaker macro, keep in mind that the instructions for assembling the patterns are rather scanty. I've found my copy of A Guide to Fashion Sewing to be very useful when trying to remember how best to attach a cuff placket and such-like. There are lots of useful general sewing tips books on the market. Pick one up and you won't regret it!

 

Altering the Pattern

Once you have a regular shirt pattern, some alteration to the pattern was necessary. Key points to keep in mind:

When creating that extended front panel, I cut two pieces for the left side and made the extension into a self-lined piece. This added weight to the shirt, and enabled me to avoid hemming a raw edge (if I'd left it as a single piece of fabric) which might have puckered the surface of the shirt, as I'm lousy at invisible hemming. ;) If you have the directions for this or a more-traditional chef's jacket, that will explain nicely how to do it neat-and-tidy like, but it's pretty easy to work your way through it - just don' forget to lay down your piping, first, before stitching your panels together and turning them right way out.

The Fabric

Given the shirt-like nature of the top, I used a medium-weight wool poly blend. If I have time to line it, I would use a light weight poly lining. Be wary of using anything heavier than a medium-weight fabric as it would add a lot of bulk at the waistline when it's tucked into the trousers, and that won't look nice at all.

Depending on your size, you'll need between two and a half and four yards of fabric for your shirt. Take a look at the back of your pattern (if you're using one) for guidelines - or use the 'yardage estimator' on PatternMaker. Failing those two options, measure out how much muslin you use to make your test garment. You are going to make a test garment, aren't you? Unless you're very confident - in which case, what are you doing here? - you should take the time to make a muslin.

Trimming and Suchlike

Detail of the collar for senior staff. Note the thin gold band on the piping.

I cranked up the brightness on this pic to pull up some detail and, rather to my surprise, learned that the trim on the left is rather redder than I had previously allowed.

As this pictures above illustrate, the piped trim on the command staff jacketis not a single color but is, in fact, a reddish-brown vinyl piping with a gold accent running parallel. If you can find very thin brown vinyl and are willing to take the time to cut it and turn it into piping (cut 1.5" wide, fold it over some string of the apt thickness and sew shut with a zipper foot - or use a piping foot if you have one, you lucky soul) then power to you. In my case, my zipper foot won't play well with vinyl, my rolling foot was too wide and I don't have a piping foot, so... I bought some regular ol' Wright's brand fabric piping, and some gold bias tape by same. I stitched the ribbon close to the inside edge of the piping.

I bought six yards and used about four - but I always over-buy on these things.If you're going the store-bought route, buy more piping than you believe you'll need, as the Wright's packages aren't one continuous piece. There will be a seam in the middle as one piece of bias is attached to the next. If you're lucky, you can work around that, but it can mean that you'll end up buying five yards of piping when you think you'll only need three. ;)

Note: the cuffs are a solid slip-on type - not the usual button closure that you expect with men's shirts. The exception to this is Edward J. Almos' costume, apparently because he was going through physical therapy for a broken arm during filming and needed more mobility/a wider sleeve. As I was a nimrod and following his costume when making my husband's, I slavishly imitated the sleeve closure. Oops! All that aggravation putting in cuff plackets for nothing! Oh well. I needed the practice. :)

The uniforms all feature a contrast on the shoulder. For senior officers, the contrast is darker than the uniform. For others, the contrast is lighter (also notice that the base color of the uniform is a little different - but if you default to Air Force blue, you won't be far off). So let's get on with it!

Shoulder Contrast

The contrast looks like it's suede on the original garment. If you want to use suede, too, you can buy 1ft2 patches at any well-equipped craft store - you'll probably need two or three of them to get sufficiently large pieces for your shirt. Alternatively, you can use "doe suede" or "moleskin" - two fabrics that have a sueded look to them. Fabric is cheaper, but won't have as much body as suede, so use your judgement and keep your budget in mind when deciding.

Looking closely, you can see that the side piece and the over-the-shoulder piece butt up quite closely. I'm sure that on the original garment that suede is mounted on the surface of the fabric. If you want to use suede, that approach might work for you - after all, suede doesn't fray...

For my part, I couldn't find suede in a shade I liked, so I went with a fabric equivalent. When cutting the shirt fabric, I also cut pieces the right size and shape for the contrast (using the shirt pattern as a guide) out of my doe suede, seam allowance and all. I then basted them on to the corresponding parts of the shirt and sleeve, inside the seam allowance. When the shirt was assembled, the contrast was stitched into place with it. A bit of careful top-stitching with a matching thread finished it off. It doesn't have the same look as the original garment, to be sure, but it holds up under the "ten foot rule".

Do a test fit on your subject at this point, and decide if you want to add shoulder pads. Most of the time, you will. Don't overdo it - homemade pads of 1/8" thickness should suffice, but use your judgment. You don't want the wearer to look like he's about to hit the gridiron.

The Pocket

This is a patch pocket with a center box pleat (I think that's what it's called), and it's easy to put together. I pretty much eyeballed this. Well, I measured the pocket in the picture and concluded that it was 1.5 times as long as it was wide, with the flap compromising about 20% of that length and a pleat of one-inch depth (on either side). Then I cut some pieces of paper to that scale and picked one that looked good on my husband's shirt. On his shirt, the final result was four inches wide by 5.75 inches long - allowing for the pleat and a half-inch seam allowance, this means I cut a piece of fabric six inches wide by 6.75 inches long. Don't forget to baste the pleat down before you turn the seam allowance to top-stitch it into place. It'll make your life a lot easier.

The placement is quite low on the breast of the jacket - you can see, above, that the top edge of the pocket is slightly higer the bottom edge of the shoulder contrast, and the bottom of the pocket is about about halfway between the bottom edge of the contrast and the elbow. It looks quite low when pinned on to the jacket, but looks just fine when worn. One of those optical illusion thingummies, I guess.

Tip: don't attach the pocket flap until you've bought your buttons and made the button hole in the flap, first. Putting a buttonhole in a fiddly flap once it's attached to the shirt can be quite awkward!

Uniform Patches and Buttons

There are a variety of patches and badges for the uniform.

Unless you have and embroidery-capable sewing machines that can take a .jpg or .bmp file and turn it into embroidery, there is the admittedly naughty workaround of looking for bootleg patches at your local SF con or online. There are lots of replicas - unlicensed, of course - of badges, pins and all that available through ebay. Caveat emptor!

A third option is to look for online graphics of the patches (If I find any, I'll post them here) and print them out on the "inkjet fabric" that you can get from the craft store. The stuff costs about $10 for 3 8.5" x 11" sheets, but it can be very handy for making small custom motifs - just ask the LJ Commandos (long story).

If you go the inkjet route, I recommend gluing the printout (once it's dried!) onto some heavier fabric (I use black twill) and finishing the edges with a buttonhole stitch. The finished piece will look very nice and only an up-close inspection will prove that it was printed, not embroidered.

Buttons - If you want to acquire the show-legal buttons, READ THIS SECTION THOROUGHLY.

This is one of those areas that can drive a perfectionist mad. But, as a good friend of mine keeps telling me, perfect is the enemy of done. Look for whatever you can use at your local sewing shop and make do with that.

I had a stroke of luck and a NBG costuming list directed me towards the manufacturer of the buttons used on the show. The below comes to me from "Admiral Gumby" of an NBG costuming list that my husband sourced:

Capitol Buttons Co Ltd
(416) 650-0323
2501 Steeles Avenue West
North York, ON M3J 2P1, Canada

The item number is 64/B4296 and comes in three sizes (24, 32 and 36 line) the 36 Line is the one used for the show. There are 4 styles: Brushed Antique Gold/Silver and Plain Antique Gold/Silver. The brushed ones are the correct type, gold for officers and silver for enlisted ranks.

The buttons are 7/8" wide, so a 1" buttonhole is just perfect. Get a buttonhole foot for your machine. Trust me. Or, if you want to be painstaking, hand sew them in place, which takes forever but I must concede that hand-made buttonholes are much nicer to look at.

Note: the buttonhole on the pocket flap is vertical. All other buttonholes on the garment are horizontal.

Belt

This was quite simple. We found a 1.5" "packing strap" at the military surplus store that had the perfect plastic-snap buckle on it, along with the black cloth (not nylon, that's thinner and shinier) webbing. It cost about $3 all told. You can also find the buckles in a variety of sizes at any hardware store, and sometimes those same stores will sell nylon and fabric webbing, too. If you cut your own webbing, finish the edges or it will fray like the devil. Zig-zag stitch, fray check, a carefully applied heat-source - use whatever preferred method, but don't leave the cut edge raw or you'll rapidly run out of belt!

This is All Very Nice, Johanna, But How Did Your Husband's Costume Turn Out?

Below is an initial picture

I have since put the button on the pocket, and moved the garment buttons up about 7/8" so that the collar is more level, but the camera ran out of juice!

Conclusions

I'm... okay with how this turned out. Next time - and there will be a next time - I will:

But, all in all, it could have been worse! It's a far cry from the made five hours before the event from $3 fabric and fusible interfacing Babylon 5 uniform I made back in 2001!

The Ugly

Costuming ain't cheap, although this one wasn't as bad as most.

Fabric for shirt - four yards of wool/poly blend: $24 (it was on sale)
Fabric for contrast - one yard of doe suede: $5
Piping - three packages of Wright's - $12
"Ribbon" - two packs of extra-wide gold bias tape - $10
Interfacing for cuffs and collar - $3
Patches - $10
Buttons - $86 ($36 for 3 dozen buttons, $50 for shipping - caveat emptor!)

Total (adusted for buttons used and a reasonable shipping cost) Approximately $93.

(Cutting and making the muslin took about four hours, all told. Cutting and assembling the shirt took closer to twelve - all that piping, and actually putting the cuffs on, etc)

There was also the PatternMaker Module for the shirt pattern, which was $30, but I consider that more of a long-term investment, rather than a one-time expense for this costume.

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