GrrlGotGame lost her mind this year and decided to build a Little Sister costume in a three-week period. This week, we look at the overall project, sketching, purchasing supplies, seam ripping, dye testing and the final dyeing of the dress.
Conventions and cosplay have a rich tradition. Namely, girls put on highly suggestive outfits and walk around while geek guys tell themselves they could totally tap that... if I didn't have a D&D game in five minutes.
To date, the only costume I've worn to PAX has been the official geek grrl uniform: jeans, babydoll and my limited edition original Xbox launch backpack (thank you, Scott Pickle, wherever you are!). After seeing the volume of cosplay go up over the years, I've decide it's time to step up my game... and get out of bed a little earlier than I normally would on PAX days. Originally, my plan was to go low-bandwidth with a Vault 106 jumpsuit. But after spending some quality time in Rapture, I've decided there's only one way to go...
I'm going to be a Little Sister.
For the uninitiated, the Little Sisters are a group of tykes from the BioShock series who run around in dresses and pinafores, bows in their hair and long tetanus-y needles in their hands to suck Adam out of anyone they get their grubby little hands on. So you know, cute!
I have a costuming background, but it's been decades since I put it to regular use. While I know how to build costumes from scratch, I lack a few things I had back in the day, like time. And manual dexterity. And a sewing machine. (I'm planning to resolve that last one once I have a place to set it up!) That doesn't mean I can't get creative for conventions or Halloween. With creative purchases, some hand-sewing techniques and a lot of planning, I can still put something together that rocks... and that people recognize.
This won't be like watching Martha Stewart. If I can do it, you can, too.
Tools of the cosplay trade
The first step in creating any costume is deciding what it's going to look like. You can simply find a good image online and print it out or design your own take on the costume. My costume is a bit of a hybrid. I decided early on to use an existing costume - a Disney-fied Alice in Wonderland does the trick - but with major modifications. I found a costume online that fit my design needs, printed out a photo and attached it to my sketch book next to a Little Sister image. Using the two as reference points, I sketched out my Little Sister costume.
- Alice in Wonderland dress/apron from Buy Alice in Wonderland Costumes
- Big Daddy doll (available at Entertainment Earth)
- Shoes (comfortable but Mary Jane-ish)
- Hair piece
...and to update the dress:
- Large buttons (preferably steampunk)
- Lace or other material for a new collar
- Rit dye (always use Rit. Period.)
- Dye tub - I'm using a large storage tub (I don't like to use my washer)
- Dye stir stick (check your local crafts store, such as Michael's)
- Sturdy, long rubber gloves
- Bleach (for cleaning, possibly distressing)
- Rough brush or scrubbie for distressing
- Basic sewing materials:
- Seam ripper
- Dedicated sewing scissors (Fiskers are best!)
- Pins (thin pinhead)
- Seamstress chalk/chalk holder
- Sewing Machine
Most materials can be purchased either at a crafts store or your local fabric store. Place your online order now and then shop around for everything else. The dye tub will make a convenient repository for everything else... until you start dyeing in it, of course.
We're gonna rip, rip, rip it apart
Today, I void the warranty on my dress, so to speak. Before I start removing pieces, I try it on. It still fits fine, although it's longer than I'd like. I'll be removing several inches from the bottom, including an eyelet trim, before I dye it. This will reduce the material I have to dye, leaving more color for the rest of the dress. As a bonus, less material means it will weigh less when I have to stir it in the hot dye water for an hour. (Hit the gym now - you're going to need that upper-body strength!)
Before I dye the dress, I need to do a test run. It has to be the exact same material as the dress. In this case, that means pulling off part of the dress itself. The collar was the perfect candidate: I'm going to replace it with a lace version, so it's coming off sooner or later anyway. Plus if I remove it intact, I can use the existing collar as a starting point for my new collar pattern - a time saver! I also want to remove the eyelet lining along the bottom of the dress.
To remove the collar:
- Use your seam ripper to gently prod apart the collar and the dress ("dig in the ditch"). Be careful not to shred the material. Start toward the middle for the least resistance.
- A stitch will start to pop up (or appear in between) as you prod the ditch.
- Break the stitch with your seam ripper.
- Continue with an adjacent stitch, prodding gently and breaking the stitch.
- After a few stitches, you should be able to insert a finger in between the collar and dress. VERY gently pull on either side - this should stretch the stitches and make it easier to break multiples.
- Continue until you reach the end. While it's tempting to rip and/or cut the fabric, continue focusing on just the stitches.
When you are done, you will have two collar pieces, intact, that can be used to create a collar pattern. They also provide instant test strips for your first dye session. And you WILL want to do a test run before you dye the dress.
As I mentioned earlier, it also helps to chop off anything you don't need before you dye. For me, that means losing some material at the bottom of the dress. Put on the dress and hand your tailor's chalk to a friend and ask them to help you make two deep, thick chalk marks at your desired length. It's important to do this while wearing the dress - you can't judge the length of the dress on a hangar.
Use measuring tape to determine the length from the edge of the dress to your desired new length. Start from the hem, where the eyelet attaches to the dress. If you want to have a flat, even hem, you will have some work ahead of you. Using a measuring stick, measure every inch (or so) from the hem point and use your chalk to create a line. Yes, you have to start from the bottom - you can't just draw a straight line around the dress.
Me? I'm taking the slightly lazy way out. I began by seam ripping a significant portion of the eyelet, then hand ripped it. I was tired and ended up ripping more than I bargained for in a vaguely triangular shape. I actually liked the results and will be cutting - yes, with scissors - additional similar shapes around the end. While the Little Sisters usually have a hem, I'm taking the approach of someone who's been around Rapture for a while and has a dress that's a bit raggedy. Call it artistic license!
To dye for
Well, there's no avoiding it anymore - it's time to dye. I need to do a test before I dye the entire thing, and I've gotten about as far as I can without dyeing the dress. As I've mentioned previously, I need to do a dye test to see what I can expect, color-wise, before moving on. The dress I chose is 100 percent polyester, which is wrong on many levels... it's isn't the best material for dye jobs, and it doesn't breathe so you will get sweaty in it. I have already come up with a secondary plan to hand "distress" the dress if I can't get a new color to take. I just don't want to have to do it.
Shortly before I start, I realize that the tub I bought for the dress-dyeing project is long and deep. Perfect for a huge bunch of material, but overkill for the 12 inches of material I need to dunk today. Fortunately, I have an empty kitty litter container available. I put the kettle on to boil, rinse out the bucket and start collecting my materials.
For the dye test, I need:
- A dye tub (bucket or plastic container)
- Rit dye (I chose Wine)
- An apron
- A sturdy stir stick (available in craft stores - get one that's at least 1/2-inch wide)
- Long, sturdy gloves
- Very hot water
- Plastic garbage bag
- A place to dump out the water
It's critical you have time to clean up immediately... unless you like a purple basin. Read through the dye directions completely before you begin.
NOTE: Rit does include directions for dyeing in a washing machine. I just prefer not to do it that way because I don't want to risk any residual dye tinting our everyday clothes.
Before you crack the dye, make sure you have a plan.
Things to consider:
- Where you're planning to dye your dress. I prefer outside, assuming it's warm. Things to consider:
- You have to use hot water, so choose somewhere you can reasonably carry a LOT of hot water in a short time.
- Rit dye will dye EVERYTHING. So your palatial terrazzo floor? Probably not your best choice.
- You need a place to dump the dye water. The closer it is, the less chance you have of creating a dye trail.
- Did I mention that Rit dye will dye EVERYTHING? Put on your heavy duty, long gloves before you dive into the dye. It works fast. An apron is a good idea, too. And don't risk any clothes or shoes you care about.
- It takes a while. It takes about an hour to dye, plus another ½ or hour so to clean up. Plan accordingly.
- You're going to be bored. An hour is a loooong time to stare at - and stir - material. Bring a radio, bring a friend or bring something you can watch (TV, iPad, iPod, whatever). Just don't bring a book - you're hands will be busy.
- You need somewhere to rinse it out. Identify a sink that you can rinse your dress in when you're done. Make sure it's empty and that your path is clear. And rinse it well, or the dye will come off on YOU when you wear it!
- You'll need somewhere to dry it... and it probably shouldn't be your dryer.
- I put my test strip in and within 10 minutes it had stained the inside of my dryer. I managed to remove the stain with bleach. My dryer is now propped open to air out. I'm going to have to throw a test towel in there later to make sure it doesn't dissolve the next item I put in there. Learn from my mistake.
- It will drip. 'Nuff said. I'm using the tub I dyed the dress in, now clean and empty, as a basin for the dress to hang dry over.
It sounds incredibly complicated, but by thinking these issues through now, you greatly reduce the things that could go wrong when you actually do the work. Rit will teach you to dye, so I'll let them take it away (read the directions). My only addenda: To do a dye test, just put about six inches of hot water and enough dye to color the water in your tub and continue as directed. This will give you an idea of what to expect from your final dye job.