Cosplay - Operation Little Sister, Part 2: Dye Harder


GrrlGotGame lost her mind this year and decided to build a Little Sister costume over a three-week period. (Catch up with Part 1.) This week, we wrap-up the project with another trip to the dye vat, rip up the pinafore, hate on some lace, suffer a slight allergic reaction during makeup tests and complete the eternal search for just the right buttons.

Marking the pattern for the collar

If at first you don't succeed, dye, dye again

Annnnnd we're back. When we last left our heroine, she was building muscle tone by stirring a ridiculously heavy when wet Alice in Wonderland costume in a vat of dye. Or rather, I was, as my arms reminded me for almost two weeks afterward. (Note to self: Hit the gym before dyeing anything else.) As I mentioned in the first article, the dress I'm using as a base is polyester, which doesn't take dye very well. This was no exception. I did succeed in changing the color slightly, but it came out a little odd. So I decided to dunk it again, briefly, in navy blue dye. (Yeah, in retrospect, I don't get it, either. I'm sure it made sense at the time.)

We have exposed pipes in our unfinished basement that occasionally double as a clothes racks. I hung the once-again drippy dress up over the dye bucket and assessed the final color: light grey. Is it my dream color? No, not even close. But my sore arms are telling me to live with it. Besides, I'm about one round of dyeing away from becoming addicted to Advil.

No frills

With the dress quietly dripping in the basement, it's time to turn my attention to the pinafore. In true Alice fashion, the pinafore is quite elaborate (and, thankfully, cotton), with a huge frilly trim up the sides and a long wrap-around sash that could be used for tug-of-war. My first goal is to de-frill it. You will need:

  • Seam ripper
  • Patience

To remove the frill:

  1. Using a seam ripper (NOT scissors), gently break a few stitches in the middle of the garment.
  2. Use your thumb to separate the trim from the pinafore. There may be a second layer of stitches if it's a particularly nice garment.
  3. Choose a direction and begin breaking the stitches, one-by-one, with your seam ripper.
  4. Every few stitches insert your thumb and gently – very gently – tug the material apart. The next stitches should begin to loosen, or may come undone completely as you pull. Resist the temptation to rip it– you'll end up destroying the garment.
  5. When you reach the end, there is likely to be a row (or two) or horizontal stitches. Use the same rip/tug approach at the top to loosen and remove the stitches.
  6. Once the frill is completely separated, review the garment for loose threads (these are your broken stitches). They should come out with a gentle tug. If they don't, flip the garment over. You may have to break the stitch.

Next, it's time to remove the shoulder straps from the pinafore. Be extremely careful – with my garment, the shoulder straps were attached to the wrap-around sash at one place. Do not cut the sash. You will need:

  • Seam ripper
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape or stick
  • Washable blue pen or pencil

Here's how to do it:

  1. If your shoulder straps are attached to the sash, remove it with your seam ripper. (Odds are it will be sewn on.) NOTE: If it is not sewn on, use a measuring stick and washable ink pencil/pen to create a cut line running along the edge of the sash. You will have to sew this section back up after you cut.
  2. Clean off extraneous threads.
  3. You will have to cut the top sash off. Measure to ensure you have an even cut. After you cut, stitch the opening closed. (I hand stitched this part, but you could use a sewing machine.)
  4. Review your sash for any extra material (mine had a small square attached). It is up to you whether or not you wish to remove these.

How much you cut off the bottom depends on you and your height. You want the pinafore to be fairly close to the waist – it should not look like an apron. But first, you will need to create a cut line.

  1. Using a measuring stick or tape, measure up from the bottom and mark your cut point with a washable blue pen or pencil. Always measure from the bottom of the garment – this will ensure an even line.
  2. Repeat the measurement – starting from the bottom – approximately every inch. (1/2 inch if you are new to this). Again, mark the point. Note that the horizontal line you are creating will not appear perfectly straight – your pinafore has a subtle curve built into it.
  3. Continue until you have marked the entire garment.
  4. Beginning from your dots, measure ½ inch down (toward the end of the pinafore) and make a new mark. Repeat for all dots.
  5. Cut along the second (closest to the bottom) line you created.
  6. Fold the bottom edge of your pinafore up so the blue lines meet. You are creating a ¼ inch seam. (Be sure you fold it inside, so it doesn't show outside.)
  7. Iron your fold. You may have to refold as you go.
  8. Pin it.
  9. Sew the seam using a sewing machine, or hand stitch if you don't have one.

Set your pinafore aside – we'll come back to it later. Now, it's time to make a collar.


I'm detecting a pattern

Checking the collar against the dress You don't have to be a professional to make a pattern – you just have to have patience and a steady hand. For this pattern, you will need:

  • The collar pieces you removed from the dress early on (at least one, preferably both)
  • Paper, preferably white or butcher paper (I used a Sunday color newspaper ad - never use newsprint, it will rub off on your garment!)
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Pins
  • Surface you can pin into – I picked up a portable cardboard pattern cutting board

To create your pattern:

  1. Lay out your board on a completely flat surface.
  2. Place the paper on top of the board.
  3. Flatten the collar pieces on top of the paper.
  4. Pin the collar down – use as many pins as it takes, your collar should not move.
  5. Using your pencil, trace the border of your collar.
  6. Measure 1/4-inch out from the inside curve of the collar and mark it. You will need to measure multiple places to get this correct.  Do not add the measurement anywhere else – just the part that will touch the dress.
  7. Remove the pins and collar.
  8. Cut out the pattern.
  9. Place the pattern on top of the corresponding collar piece; it should match.
  10. Make a small cut in three places equidistant from each other in your extra pattern area.
  11. Fit the collar pattern onto the dress and fold the additional pattern section down; this will show whether it will fit in the dress.

Once you have a pattern that works, it's time to cut the collar pieces out:

  • Place your material flat on the pattern board, bottom side facing up (e.g., the side that won't be showing when you wear it).
  • Smooth it out but don't stretch it. If there are significant lumps, consider ironing it.
  • Place your collar patterns on the material. Try to position your patterns for the best coverage, with the least wasted material.
  • Pin the pattern to the material.
  • Using a washable blue pen or pencil, trace the pattern onto your material.
  • Carefully cut out your collar pieces.

Set these aside for now, but not too far – it's time to put everything together.


All together now!

You can sew items onto your costume in whatever order you see fit. I opted to start with the pinafore, as it would be the most time consuming. So we will start there. You will need the now-dry dress and finished pinafore plus:

  • Pins
  • Sewing machine or hand-stitch materials
  • Measurement tape
  • Someone to help

Grab your friend, it's time to play BioShock Barbie:

  1. I put on my dress and hold the pinafore up to get a rough idea of where I want it to be. I asked Gamewatcher to help measure the distance from the top of the dress (where the collar ends) as a guide.
  2. To determine where it should land horizontally, lay the dress out flat and measure seam-to-seam (left to right). The pinafore should be dead center.
  3. I placed the pinafore on top of the dress ("eyeballing it") to see roughly how much distance I needed on each side. I then measured the distance on each side, came up with an even number (the pinafore was slightly off, it turned out) and divided in half. Note that you need to do this twice – at the very top and at the waist, just above the sash line. For example: Say I place the pinafore down on the dress, and measure 3 inches between the pinafore and the seam on the left, and 5 inches on the right. I now know I need a total of 8 inches of dress showing. That means I should measure 4 inches from the left seam and 4 inches from the right seam, and position the pinafore where those two meet. (You may have to scoot it up and down a bit to get it right.) Repeat at the bottom until it's centered.
  4. After it's centered (make sure your dress is still smooth!), pin the pinafore down. Be generous with the pins. They should run vertically (pointing from collar to hem) along a line – you will be sewing along this line soon.
  5. Once it's completely pinned, try the dress on again. Be sure you pull it shut in the back to get the full effect. Take a look in the mirror or ask a friend if it looks correct.
  6. Happy with the pinning? Time to sew! I recommend a sewing machine for this part, but again, you can hand stitch if necessary. I opted for a darker thread and a fancy stitch to give my dress a slight design. This is not part of the official canonical Little Sister look, it was just my creative interpretation.
  7. Sew along the right and left vertical (collar to hem) seams of your pinafore, and along the top horizontal (sleeve to sleeve) opening. You don't have to sew along the sash line – in fact, I recommend NOT doing it.
  8. When you are done sewing, remove your pins and don the garment on again, pull the back closed and check yourself in the mirror. Personally, I rushed a bit in the sewing and ended up slightly askew. While Gamewatcher thought it wasn't too noticeable, it was uncomfortable and not quite right – so I ended up ripping out all of the stitches and trying again.

Next, the collar, also known in this household as nem-ee-sees.


Lace... why did it have to be lace

Cutting the collar Let me say up front, I hate, hate, hate sewing collars. When I was building costumes, I would volunteer to do the pants (which most tailors despise) if it meant I didn't have to do a collar. And the only thing I hate more than collars... is lace. I went back and forth between the lace department and the cotton remainders bin for 20 minutes when choosing a collar material. Deep down inside, I knew it was going to be lace. But dammit, I put up a good fight with my subconscious. But here I am, with two lace collar pieces and a dress missing a collar. It's time to egg up or shut up.

Full disclosure: I did originally cut the collar the correct way, with the extra material to attach it to the dress. When I went to sew in the collar, I realized what a nightmare it was going to be using the lace. I briefly considered attaching the lace to something solid (e.g., a strip of material) and then sewing that to the dress, but in the end, I went rogue and just cut the extra off. I do not recommend doing this unless you really know what you're doing.

I'm not saying I know what I'm doing, but I did all right. Long story short, here's how I did it. Again, I don't recommend removing that extra material unless you are confident in sewing. Your mileage may vary, may the force be with you, always. Oh, and you will need your dress, collar pieces plus:

  • Needle and thread (opt for something close to your collar color)
  • Pins
  • Safety pin

To attach your collar:

  1. Use a safety pin to close the back of your garment.
  2. Arrange the dress so your collar arcs the way it will when worn.
  3. Position your collar against the dress. If you are using the extra material, it goes on the inside of the dress; the collar should fold down outside the dress. If you have removed the extra material, your collar should lay directly on the outside of the dress.
  4. Pin the collar to the dress.
  5. Hand stitch the collar (never use a sewing machine on lace!).
  6. Periodically stop to check that the collar is still falling correctly against the dress. To do this, use your hand to simulate a shoulder. The collar should neatly fall on either side.
  7. Remove the pins and try on your dress.

Last but not least, buttons!


Getting buttoned up

Checking the button fit I had previously bought a set of buttons that looked sufficiently steampunk and creepy for the dress. The thing was, they didn't work for me anymore. While I used BioShock artwork as my original inspiration, my point of view changed over time. I found myself thinking about how I thought the Little Sisters saw the world in their version of "reality." I decided a Little Sister would want to be more frou-frou, and the buttons I originally purchased were anything but. So it was back to the button store. Fortunately, they were having a sale!

After a rather long and slightly tedious search (I found what I thought would be "my buttons" several times, only to discover there weren't enough), I landed on THE STYLE. A gorgeous button made in Spain (who knew?) with a marcasite-like finish and an elaborate labyrinth style. I fell in love. I held up one of the original Alice buttons I had brought along for sizing and discovered they were perfect: almost exactly the same width, height and depth. And they had the 12 buttons in both sizes I required – exactly what I needed.

My design called for buttons down the front (even though the pinafore is sewn on, it's meant to appear to be buttoned on). This required a bit of measuring to ensure they were in a straight line up and down, three on either side. I started at the bottom (above the sash) and used that as a measurement reference horizontally (sleeve to sleeve). Vertically, I simply broke the remaining distance up into roughly thirds, and attached the buttons.

On the back, I used the existing threads from the original buttons as a guide to sew on the new buttons. I have to admit, the buttons were the turning point for me – it finally says BioShock!


Finishing touches

The edge of my hem is extremely rough from the cutting and ripping (yes, I broke my own rule), not to mention wear and tear on the dress. So I'm hand-stitching a hem using a "whip" stitch. This entails pushing the needle halfway through the fabric and then wrapping the thread once around before completing the pull. It takes time and patience, but done right, it will prevent fraying. It took me several evenings to complete this but should prevent improve the durability of the dress.

Makeup has always been a nice-to-have for this project, and this is already long – so I'll keep it short for the three of you still reading. I went to Display & Costume in Seattle, which has a huge selection of makeup, costumes, materials and almost everything else a cosplayer could possibly need year-round. We flagged down a very helpful gentleman who walked me through various makeup tests and helped me find some options that didn't make me instantly break out. (Sensitive skin!) You can hear some of our travails and get some great tips on the podcast version of this story in Busy Gamer Podcast 45 and an extended version we'll post this weekend.

In the end, I went with water-activated powder (blue and white) that can be mixed into a slightly paler version of my skin. I also picked up a wine-colored pencil for detail work.


Checking the button placement before sewing them on Designers, use the Entertainment Earth accessories wall!

And finally, it's time for the props and accessories. I picked up a nifty Big Daddy plush doll (like the Little Sisters carry) from Entertainment Earth earlier this summer. It's still available, and it's only $20. Getcha one! As for the hair... well, I think I'll probably go the easy route and try to find a bow I can just pin in my hair. The makeup dude actually asked me if what I planned to do about a syringe. I bought a gerbil feeder at a garage sale earlier this year with the intention of turning it into a syringe, but I think I may just call it a day. We'll see.

Anyway, it's basically done - and now you know how to make your own, if you're so inclined! Hope to see you at PAX!



I have not played either Bioshock game, but isn't this something you could use rather than make one out of the gerbil feeder?


Great finish! But you aren't done HAVE To have the is unacceptable to leave out the best part of the costume. I know how busy you are so I did the research for you. IT was so hard..I had to Google "Little Sister Syringe"...but I suffered through it, because you have to have it... LOL

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This page contains a single entry by GrrlGotGame published on August 19, 2010 10:03 AM.

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