Subtitle: The dress I've hated forever
Sub-subtitle: Haha, jk, this is my hobby that I do for fun. Right?
Sub-sub-subtitle: There's a lot of swearing in this one. Sorry, y'all.
Friends, my love of Doctor Who is long and well-documented. Some years ago, I decided that I wanted to make a River Song costume. For non-fans, River Song a the kickass space-archaeologist who flirts with/helps out the Doc from time to time. And a smart, kickass flirt is right in my wheelhouse.
Enter, the All Saints Zeeda dress. An actual, real, non-costume fashion dress sold by All Saints.
Wait, stop. Actually, it didn't start with the Zeeda. Traditionally when I'm staring down the barrel of a costume like this, I always start with the hardest piece first. For me, I felt like that would be the boots. Can't make them. Have to buy them. Have to find them. The boots are also All Saints.
Enter ebay. It all started when I found a pair of the boots on ebay in my size. I put a maximum bid that I thought would surely get topped buuuuuuut it didn't. And suddenly I owned the boots. Which meant I had to start making the costume. I looked back to see when exactly I bought said boots: October 2013. That's when it all started.
First came the research. The Zeeda was made of lyocell fabric. Never heard of it? Yeah, no one has. It's pretty obscure. (This is the first fuck you of this dress.) But it's lightweight with a bit of a sheen and tricky to replicate. I eventually found some on ebay. It was white, obviously, so I'd have to dye it. I bought the fabric in April of 2014.
The next fuck you was the color. What color is this dress? Look at the photos, gang. Is it green? Is it grey? Is it brown? All Saints claims it's taupe. I started with a green base, mixed in some light brown, some golden tones. I don't know. In some light, I swear it's perfect. In other light, I can't believe how wrong the color is. Truly it could be a little grey-er, but it might get there with a little distressing. (I bought the dye in August of 2014, for anyone keeping track of the timeline.)
Oh, and while we're talking about dye, lets also talk about the zippers. This dress has four zippers of varying weird lengths, dyed to match the color of the dress. So I found some zippers that were approximately the right size on ebay--and cotton so they would take the dye nicely. Buuuuuut, the metal was also the wrong color. So after I dyed them, I also had to paint the teeth and pulls to be more antique-y.
Then it was time to start putting a pattern together. I found some very helpful blogs with good photos of the dress, but it was rough-going. For reference, your average dress is anywhere from like 6-10 pattern pieces. This one has over thirty. (The sketch below came much later in the process, but just to illustrate to you now how many damn pattern pieces we're working with here.) It's "deconstructed" according All Saints. Fuuuuuck you, deconstructed.
Anyway, I finished a pattern, made a mock-up aaaaand it was a mess.
I'm not proud to say that in that moment, I put the pattern in a folder, put the fabric in a box and left it....for literally years. The shame at the bottom of my sewing box.
But shame no longer. I pulled it back out recently, determined to finish what I had started so long ago.
I went back to my pattern. It actually wasn't that bad. I retraced it onto fresh tracing paper, resizing and labeling clearly. I found this amazing blog post:
without which, I'm not sure I could ever have finished. I looked through her pattern pieces and measurements. Mine were actually pretty close. I recut a few pieces. I did an illustration to figure out how things went together.
I made a new mock-up. And it was there. It was right.
I pulled the fabric from the bottom of the sewing box, took a deep breath, and started to cut out my pattern. (After I ironed out all the shame wrinkles, of course.)
And then it was smoooooth sailing, guys. Haha, just kidding, this dress is full of fuck-yous. Flat-felled seams, welt-zippers, about a million button holes...all the annoying persnickety things I learned in costume tech and almost never actually do in real life. (Okay, buttonholes aren't that annoying, but my dumb sewing machine has a tough time with them so they end up being much harder than they should be.) (Oh, how I long for the Bernina 1008 I learned to buttonhole on...sigh.)
Anyway, you're probably over there like "Enough about bholes; what's a flat felled seam, Wren?" And I'll tell you: it's basically like, after you've sewn your seam normally, you trim one side of the seam allowance down to 1/4", wrap the other side of the seam allowance around it, question why you enjoy doing this at all, top-stitch it, turn it over and top-stitch it again. Follow that? OF COURSE YOU DIDN'T because flat-felled seams are dumb. This is why I spent three years putting off making this dress.
In the weeks that followed my initial optimism (Yes, this ^ is what optimism looks like) from getting the pattern on track, I slowly put this beast of a dress together, cursing every single seam, until at long last, it was a dress. After years of shame, I had a dress.
But, of course, this isn't a post just about the dress. It's about a whole costume. And now that the dress was done, I was allowed to buy the next element. The belt. Well, belts.
The wide belt is another All Saints creation I'd have to rip off. I'd never actually done leatherwork before, but I was buoyed by defeating the dress and assumed I could handle it. I ordered some leather and got down to business.
First step was to cut all the pieces. I cut the wide belt 4" and the smaller gunbelt 2" Then I hit the internet looking for hardware and realized that the smaller belt was going to have to be 1.5" wide to fit the buckle I wanted. So I trimmed another half an inch off. By the way, trimming this leather was way harder than I'd expected so I ended up doing a lot of edge smoothing with my dremel. Is that the right way? Idk. My first leather project, everyone!
That blog that saved my ass in the dressmaking was also kind enough to link to an Etsy shop that had the right hardware for the wide belt so I ordered those too.
Now it was time to start punching holes. So many holes. I ordered a leather hole punch but when I tried to use it, I discovered that it was an actual nightmare to work with so I just used a regular drill to drill the holes in the leather. *Shrug emoji* (And then I returned the dumb leather punch.)
The dyeing was a piece of cake. I used a makeup powder puff to buff the dye into the leather and conditioned it with a little bit of olive oil to create a nice sheen. I had to use a q-tip (actually, a bunch of them) to get the dye into the holes, but it went quickly and looked great.
Attaching the hardware was tricky because the leather was a little too thick for them to screw in, so I had to use a dremel tool to sand down the back until the leather was thin enough for them to fit.
Then I slicked the edges and called it done!
The gun belt was a little trickier to dye because it has more variation. I also didn't take as many pictures of this one as it was going because it was more frustrating to work on than the wider belt and when I get frustrated with a thing, I stop taking pictures of it. Also, I messed up the first two holes and then I was really concerned it would be too short. But I'm actually really happy with the final product. (Phew)
I didn't want to start working on the holster piece until I had the blaster finished because I was worried that it wouldn't fit. So now it was finally time to order a blaster kit.
This was a weird bit because I had the pieces to build a blaster from scratch ages ago (The original is a modified (very modified) nerf gun.) but that proved to be a little beyond my skill set and I had to abandon it. Ugh.
Luckily, there's lots of nice people on the internet who 3D print kits for props so you can build them from not-scratch. I found a great one on Etsy from a seller called Filament to Fantasy.
It came in pieces that slot together. And they even included some decals for the side of the gun.
3D printing isn't perfectly smooth though, so I went in and smoothed the larger surfaces of the blaster with bondo and then sanded them down. I also tweaked the butt a little bit because the kit design was missing a bit of detailing. Again, this was just bondo, sanding, bondo, sanding.
Then I primed all the pieces, glued the gun together, and began painting in earnest.
While all the painting was happening (it's slow-going since you want to build up thin layers of paint and each layer has to dry before you can do the next one....) I started fiddling with some LEDs. I had the very bold idea of wiring LEDs to a switch on the gun but after I saw the way the kit went together, I scaled down this idea. And, let's be honest, wiring a switch was way harder than what I ended up doing....which is basically just sticking a watch battery to an LED.
I had to drill into the model so that I could place the LEDs but it actually came together much easier than I was hoping. In fact I had so much fun with this project that I may make model prop-making a new side-hobby. (Like I need another side hobby.)
Anyway, it turned out great and I'm very happy with it.
With the gun complete, I could build a pattern for the holster. I was kind of in the zone at this point so there's not a lot of pictures. This was the first piece of leatherwork I've done that required a bit of sewing. The leather, of course, was too thick for just regular sewing, so I drilled tiny holes along the edge and then ran the thread through them. It was a wing and a prayer kind of move but it turned out fine.
As a side note, most of the pieces of this gun belt are just glued together with leather cement--even the pieces that look like they snap in place. All those snaps are fake. I was for sure not about to go down the road of setting snaps in thick leather.
There was one more piece I needed to complete the gun belt: ammo pouches. River has a couple of little leather pouches on her gun belt. I was 100% sure this was beyond my leatherworking skills, so I turned to the internet. As I was googling to find detail images from the show, I found an Etsy shop selling a set of ammo pouches that were almost an exact match for the ones on the show.
They're vintage 1940s French army ammo pouches. And they were only like $15.
I had to dye them a little darker and I oiled them up to bring them back to life a bit. But they were perfect. I couldn't believe my luck!
Now it was time to try the whole thing on.
I'd love to say that was it, but there was one more piece I needed to sell it. The wig. I tried to order a cheapy one from Amazon, but oooh, girl, it looked bad! Good thing for free returns. Then I turned to one of my favorite beauty shops in LA--Nigel's. I went in with a photo and they hooked me up with a wig that was preeeeeetty close. I had to trim about two inches off the length and sprayed the color a little darker but I think it turned out pretty good.
Finally, all I had to do was put it all together and just in time for San Diego Comic Con!