Sometime early last year, one of my friends told me I should make the famous Kaylee dress from the Shindig episode of Firefly. I don’t go to conventions or costume parties, so I had nowhere to wear it to should I make it. I laughed it off, until the same friend said we should go to Emerald City Comic Con together. We chatted about what costumes we should make, who we should go as, and how to coordinate our costumes. Eventually, I told her I’d make the Kaylee dress, but she’d have to make Inara’s dress from the same episode. She agreed, and set to work planning her dress, whereas I started freaking out about having to make something without a pattern.
I admit, despite all the things I have created, I don’t consider myself to be very creative. I’m a software engineer, and I know how I to follow directions to completion. I think the only creative thing I’ve done is pick fabric for projects. Okay, maybe the Seahawks hoodie I made was a little outside my comfort-zone, but for the most part, everything I’ve made followed some sort of pattern.
Making this dress took a massive amount of research. Since it’s so popular, it’s been made before by other cosplayers, and I read a couple blogs about their experiences. I discussed the design of the costume with my other sewing friends and Firefly fan friends alike, to get their perspective on what they thought. In the end, I managed to pull something together that looked remotely like the dress from the show.
This is mostly a two piece costume, so I made it accordingly. The bodice has a princess seam front, and the pink ruffle trim is sewn into the princess seams. Then there’s a sheer overlay, but only rouched along the front of the bodice. The high neckline is trimmed with the pink ruffle trim again. Then there’s the peplum on the bodice that hides the waist of the skirt, making it look like a one piece dress. And then there’s the skirt. The iconic fluffy pink skirt. There’s eight tiers of ruffles: two white, three peach, and three pink, over a fairly basic ballgown silhouette skirt. It seemed easy enough, but the part I figured would be the most difficult was the bodice.
First, I started by Frankensteining my patterns together. I have a fairly large-size hoard of patterns already, so I went through my patterns looking for ones that happened to have the same lines as the bodice of the costume. I found a dress pattern (McCall’s 6887) that worked for what I needed. I adjusted the neckline a bit to make it closer to the original design, and only used the bodice portion of the pattern. Then I found another pattern with a peplum that I could use (Simplicity 1460), although, I probably could have figured that one out on my own. And lastly, found a pattern with some puffy sleeves I was able to adapt (New Look 6599). I omitted the fringe detail on my dress because knowing me, I wouldn’t be able to stop fidgeting with them, and it would drive me nuts to feel the fringe on my arms, like feeling a random hair on your arm that you can’t find. Plus, reading about all the trials other cosplayers went through to create the original fringe, I didn’t want to deal with that stress.
I made a muslin with my altered pattern(s), and was happy with the fit and feel, so I committed to making a wearable mock-up from some black fabric so I could make sure I was nailing my techniques. I used a black organza for the sheer overlay and sleeves, and probably should have gone with a chiffon, since the organza was too stiff, but it worked well for the sleeves. The mock-up turned out perfect, and I can wear this with a pair of jeans, if I want.
I had a little bit of a hiatus after making the mock-up and being able to start the costume because of other commitments (which I’ll write about later). Eventually, I got around to buying what I needed for the costume, well most things. Do you know how many shades of pink JoAnns has which aren’t the bubblegum pink that I needed? A lot. I had to go to three shops for everything I needed, and even made concessions when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to find the perfect fabrics for everything.
I used a bunch of bridal fabrics for the costume: floral brocade for the bodice, with a light-weight sparkly organza for the overlay; pink satin for the sleeves; the pink sequin trim was a deviation from the original, but I liked it, so I went with it; pink ruffle trim; white taffeta for the skirt; and of course, the white, peach, and pink chiffon. Everything I bought was polyester, because I wasn’t going to spend too much on a costume I’d only wear once (or twice, who knows).
So the bodice ended up exactly as I imagined it would be, so I’m glad that I made the mock-up. I wish I could have gotten the rouching on the front of the bodice a little smaller, but I’m okay with it.
The skirt actually turned out to be more challenging. Many years ago, I was planning to make my wedding dress (no, didn’t actually do that), so I had bought a bunch of related patterns, and one of them is this out-of-print pattern for a petticoat. Either I misread the pattern or the pattern was wrong when it told me how much fabric to buy. I’m feeling it’s more of the latter because of other issues I found with the pattern, unless I was not reading the pattern correctly at all.
Oh, during the Super Bowl weekend, quite a few stores were having sales in the area, including the sewing shops, surprisingly. I stopped in a sewing shop to pick up a ruffling foot to make all these billions of ruffled tiers. They were giving 12% (for the 12th man) off everything in the store, including sergers, which were already on their regular sale price. I managed to convince my husband that this would be the best buy we’d get for the serger, and he acquiesced to letting me get a Baby Lock Imagine. Air threading. Wow. I’ve never been afraid of rethreading that machine, and it’s worked perfectly every single time. I love this machine.
Anyway, having the serger has helped so much with the ruffles. I did a rolled hem on all the edges of the chiffon ruffles, and a narrow overlock between each strip of chiffon. I made each tier about 7″ wide, and had just about enough fabric for each tier (almost ran out for the pink) at 1/2 yard. After I had the strips long enough, I ran each through the ruffler before getting them ready for the skirt.
For fun, I pinned each to the skirt as I went along to see the skirt build up. It was pretty neat to see the progression as I went. When I was all done making ruffles, I had to figure out where to attach each ruffle. I tried on the skirt and pinned the first tier to the place where I wanted it to be and then calculated each position afterwards. Assuming that the bottom of the last tier would be along the edge of the skirt after it was hemmed, I took the divided the space between the top and bottom tiers by 7, and that became my spacing between tiers.
I used a water-soluble fabric pen to mark out where to sew each tier. Each tier was sewn upside down, so that if the top of the ruffle was ever exposed, the edge would be hidden by the seam. Pretty smart. I mis-measured a couple of the tiers, so I had to add some more fabric. Fortunately, I had just enough (especially of the pink) to finish the whole skirt.
I planned to put the tiers of tulle on the inside of the skirt as the pattern instructed, but after trying to figure out where to pin the first tier of tulle, I decided it wasn’t worth the time, especially since I had a whole crinoline (leftover from my wedding) that I was using to give the skirt some body. Plus, the skirt is pretty heavy, so I don’t think a few layers of tulle was going to give it enough body to be worth the effort.
The rest of the skirt construction was weird. The waistband is a rather wide piece jersey, and instead of attaching the zipper between the layer of skirt and lining, the pattern instructed that the skirt and lining be treated as one piece and the zipper was sewn over the lining and the waistband. I really wasn’t cool with this, but the only way I could see handling it better is to shorten the waistband and sew the zipper in like a normal skirt with a lining and put a hook n’ eye on the waistband. So weird. Guess there’s a reason this pattern is out-of-print.
Anyway, once that was all done, I hemmed it up, and I just straight stitched the hem instead of blind hemming it. It’s okay to be lazy when no one’s going to see the hem.
So, I’ve finally made something that I didn’t have a full pattern to begin with, and I didn’t freak out too much. It was actually pretty fun to dissect the elements of the costume and figure out how to build it up.
My friend and I already have plans for next year’s costume, so expect a post about that in a year.
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