Sunday, December 31, 2017

Princess Leia's Bespin Costume--If Star Wars Took Place Around 1800...


For Costume College 2016, Jen Thompson had a fabulous idea--historical versions of Star Wars costumes. I wanted to participate, and was thinking of what to do, when on the way to the Jane Austen Evening (perfect!), the idea of Leia's bespin costume as Regency popped into my head. After all, if you look at it, it practically is 1790s with its overdress, and, well, overdress. Definitely workable, and daydreaming made the trip so much better.

My idea for this dress was to make a dress that would fit into the Regency period, yet be recognizable as Leia's costume as well. To do this, I made a typical c. 1800 round gown, with a sleeveless overdress based on period overdresses. Dresses with paisley borders--made from shawls or in imitation of shawls--were popular, and I decided to imitate that look by embroidering just the hem of the overdress instead of continuing it up the whole back of the dress. The back of the overdress is pleated--like many original dresses, and as a nod to the collar of the movie costume. I considered putting a collar on the back of the overdress, which was seen on originals, but I decided I liked the pleated look too much to cover it.

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In addition to wearing this to Costume College, I wore it to tea at the Huntington before the 2017 Jane Austen Evening. Once again, I was so lucky to have pictures taken by my friend, Llyra Lee. I couldn't have made the dress without help from my friend Maggie who made a beautiful version of the dress, and helped with my embroidery design.

Construction information for the dress can be found here, including some details from my visit to the Fashion Museum in Bath earlier in the year. My journal for the dress is here, and details most of my thoughts as I made it. The silk taffeta is from Fabric Mart, the voile from Farmhouse Fabrics, and the linen lining is from Burnley and Trowbridge.


The pleated back of the dress is one width of fabric, neck to hem. It's pleated to fit the linen lining. The bun and braids is a hairpiece. To make it, I took two long pieces of braiding hair, braided the center, leaving the ends loose, looped the braids, attached them to each other, and made a bun from the loose hair. I then covered the bun with an invisible hairnet which I sewed over it to keep everything into place. From there, I just pinned it on.

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My shawl is made of three yards of voile from Dharma Trading. I used a Rebel Alliance stencil from CeeCeesSpecialties on Etsy for the pattern, which I painted with gold Lumiere Fabric paint and DecoArt SoSoft Fine Glitter. I traced the design on and then put it in an embroidery hoop to stabilize it as I painted it.

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The pendant I wore with the dress--a silhouette of Han and Leia--was made by CrystallineFairy on Etsy. The Rebel Alliance pin that can be seen in the pictures from the Huntington (I forgot to bring it to Costume College) is from the 1997 rerelease. I bought it on eBay.

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With the novel reading heroines of the Regency in mind, I decided I needed a book as a prop. I bought a small book from VersLibris on Etsy and added a title plate for Dagobah Abbey using double sided tape.

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The garters are based on a pair in the Victoria and Albert Museum. They say Je T'aime and Je Sais (I love you, I know). They're silk, interlined with cotton flannel, embroidered with Au Ver Au Soie embroidery thread, and trimmed with China silk ribbon from Silky Way.

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My reticule is based on early 19th century inked bags. I browsed through memorial art until I found a design that I could reasonably imitate with my drawing skills, and dedicated it to the memory of Alderaan.

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The embroidery is done with wool from my local embroidery store. It's all done in back stitch.

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And worn with two different groups--our Star Wars historical group at Costume College, and our Regency group at the Huntington--I think it fits in nicely with both!

Regency Leia Bodice and Pleated Open Robe--Some Construction

My Regency Leia dress was the first dress I made after I was lucky enough to study some late 1790s/early 1800s dresses in person at the Fashion Museum in Bath. I used a few of those techniques on this dress. A little ironic considering the fantasy origin of the dress, but, being me, I did want to make it as accurate as possible--even if the embroidery pattern may have been a bit strange to early 19th century eyes!

The completed dress can be seen here.

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The dress is made of silk taffeta with a linen lining.

The first step was to baste the center back neckline lining to the silk. Then, the two layers were turned under and hemmed.

Many of the extant dresses we looked at had a row of large stitches on the back neckline. We wondered about the purpose. When I made this dress, it became obvious--it was much easier to neatly hem the curve of the neckline without the fabrics shifting when it was basted. And since it doesn't show, there's no reason to take the basting out.

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After the center back is done, the seam allowances on the silk fronts are folded under, and sewn to the back. The seams are sewn where the pins are. Although in the past I've sewn lapped seams very close to the fold, many of the dresses we studied had seams sewn a little ways in from the fold, which gave the seams a defined look.

After the silk is sewn, the lining is inserted. The seam allowances were folded under and whipstitched in.

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Once the lining is done, the edges of the bodice are hemmed. The hem starts at the side back, around the strap, down the neckline, the center front flap, the bottom edge of the bodice, and continues until the other shoulder strap.

The silk doesn't extend all the way over the center front flaps--only to where it's going to be covered by the center front gathered panels.

Although a bodice of this shape could easily be hemmed without hemming the center back first, doing it this way would work very well for a more square shaped back, where there's no slope between the center back and the back straps.

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The center front gathered panels are just rectangular strips that are hemmed at the top and bottom for drawstrings with a curve cut out for the armscye. The seam allowance at the side seam is turned over and topstitched to the bodice. The top of the panel is sewn to the shoulder strap where it's pinned.

The sleeves are then set normally. The skirt is a slightly gored tube that opens at center front. I cartridge pleated it and sewed it to the bottom edge of the bodice, being careful to not catch the drawstring. The front panel is slightly gathered with most of the gathers being concentrated in back.

Most dresses I've seen from this time have the center back of the skirt mounted about an inch or so above the back waist and sewn right side to right side, which makes it stand out a bit, but I chose not to do this on this dress because I wanted a flatter line under my overdress.

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The overdress is cotton voile lined with linen. I completed the bodice except for the top hem and securing the voile layer on the shoulder straps.


The back is one rectangular panel from neck to hem. It's really quite simple--the panel is pinned at the center front and sides, and then pleated until everything is pleated and it looks nice. I have an inverted box pleat at the center back with all the other pleats facing it.

All the pleats are sewn down and trimmed. The center back neckline was finished with a strip of fabric that was turned to the inside and hemmed. The front neckline was turned under and hemmed. The sleeves were finished with strips of voile on the bias and hemmed.

The center front is pinned shut--and worn with a Rebel Alliance pin, of course :)