Princess Leia - Dress Assembly
I know that I didn’t get the ‘R2 Pose’ quite right in this picture, but I chose it for this page because it illustrates an important piece of the dress design: the slits on the side! When the dress is sewn, you only sew the front and back together as far as the knees. The seam below that it is left open, and this is one of the key places where the dress is sewn to the lining.
Unfortunately I lost most of the dress construction pictures I took due to a digital camera glitch (aka user error), so I’ll have to explain some parts of the construction process without offering any pictures to illustrate what I’m talking about. Sorry! To assemble the dress, you begin by sewing the sides together. Unfold the dress so that it looks like a T, and pin the sides from the opening at the wrists down to the knees. Finish the seams, and press them open. I used my serger; it makes a really nice finished edge!
Repeat the process with the second piece of fabric, so you have two identical dresses. One version will be the outer layer of the dress, and the other will become the dress lining. Sew the two dresses to identical proportions; no size adjustment is necessary. Yes, they look quite big at this point... but have you noticed how baggy Leia’s dress was around her torso? They’re supposed to be that way! I highly recommend sewing a line of stay stitching around the neckline of both the dress and the lining at this point. I found as I worked on my dress (and tried it on multiple times) that the fabric started to unravel and stretch a bit around the neckline. I immediately sewed a line of stay stitching around each neckline at that point, but I could have avoided the problem if I had put in the stitches from the start. A simple row of stitches around each curve can make a big difference!
When the seams for both dresses are finished, turn one of them inside out. If you have a dress form (which I highly recommend), place one dress on the form. If you don’t have a dress form, then find a handy human to wear it for you! If you wear the dress yourself, you will need someone to help you with the pinning. Put this dress on the form as you would any dress, with the seam allowances touching the skin. Next, put the second copy of the dress over the top. This one should be inside out, so the seam allowances are facing you. The “seam side” of each dress is facing out, and the “good side” of each dress is facing the other dress. (I hope that makes sense. Good sides together!)
Next comes the mindboggling part. The two dresses have to be sewn together at the sleeves, the side slits, and the keyhole opening. The trick to this is sewing it so that all of the seam allowances are hidden on the inside when you’re all finished and you turn the dress right side out. It didn’t seem to matter where I started, so I began with the sleeves. With the dress still hanging on my dress form, I pinned the two dresses (dress and lining) together at the ends of the sleeves. I carefully pulled the dresses off the dress form, and sewed the sleeves together. At this point all of the seams are currently visible… but when you turn the dress right sides out, the seams will all be hidden inside.
My next task was the keyhole opening at the back of the neck. The first time I stood behind a costumer with a Leia dress on, I noticed the length of the keyhole opening in the back of her dress and I thought, “It’s a shame that hole is so big. It looks distracting and unprofessional to have such a large area of her back showing.” And then later on I saw a picture of the back of Carrie’s dress, and sure enough there really is a big keyhole opening! The keyhole on Leia’s dress goes down to her mid-back, about the same height as her armpits. The fan dress I saw had been 100% accurate. I cut the slit on the back of my dress to 13 cm. It isn’t as large an opening as Leia’s, but it’s large enough to get my head through when I don’t have the buns on. (I put them on after I’m dressed.) I pinned the two layers of the dress together around the keyhole, making sure that everything lined up well, and then I sewed the two layers of fabric together with a basting stitch. It took me a couple tries to get this seam right, since I wasn’t sure of how to sew the end of the keyhole, but once I had it figured out I sewed the two layers together properly and then sewed a line of reinforcement stitching near the bottom of the keyhole, just to be safe. I couldn’t use the serger for this part, so it was all sewn with my standard sewing machine. When I turned the dress back to right side out at the end, the fabric at the base of the keyhole puckered a little bit… but a light touch with the iron solved that problem. I doubt that I did this part correctly, but I’ve never sewn a keyhole opening before so I had to make things up as I went along!
The next step was to sew together the slits on the sides of the dress. With the dress positioned on the dress form, I made sure that the dress and lining were lined up correctly, and then I pinned the two layers together. I sewed them down to the bottom of the dress, and that was it.
At that point I could turn the whole dress back right side out. There are still openings at the neck and the bottom that you can use for turning the dress. (I can’t remember which opening I used anymore, but it’s a pretty simple job in spite of the acres of fabric that you’re working with at this point!) Once I had the dress turned so that all of the seams were hidden inside, all of the seams were carefully pressed, and then it was time to work on the collar and the hood. (Sorry these sketches have been so wobbly… I have a cat in my lap and he’s making things difficult, but the purr is strong in this one and I can’t make him leave!)
Oh, look... We’re on an easy part now, so I have photos again! I started by tacking the dress and lining together around the neckline. I could have done this with the sewing machine, but I already had the darned thing on the dress form, so I just hand-sewed a quick line around the neck. This kept the two layers lined up correctly while I was working.
The hood is sewn on at the same time as the collar. This makes a LOT of fabric to work within that seam, but it does work and looks pretty cool when you’re done.
Before the hood can be sewn onto the dress, the hems need to be finished. Leia’s hood was rolled and hand sewn, so that’s what I did, too. Turn the edge twice, press it, and then sew a blind stitch to hold the hem in place. You will need to repeat this process on both sides of the hood.
Next, you will need to gather the ends of the hood. Sew two lines of wide stitches across each cut end of the hood. Then gently pull on the threads to gather the ends into a section that will be narrow enough to fit from the center of the shoulders to the back keyhole.
The hood will look like this when you’ve gathered both sides. Notice that the top of this hood has a lot more curve to it than the bottom edge. The side with the longer curve is the front of the hood.
Next, you will need to pin the hood onto the back of the dress neckline. The front edge of the hood should come to the middle of the shoulder. The back edge should be even with the keyhole opening. Try to distribute all of the gathers evenly between those two points, and use a lot of pins to keep everything in place.
Oops... Lost the pictures again. (Can I blame the camera?) Once the hood is pinned in place, the collar is pinned over it. The ends of the collar should match up with the keyhole opening in the back. Like I mentioned before, there is now a LOT of fabric pinned together in the seam at the back of the neck. There is the lining, the dress, the gathers of the hood, and one side of the collar. I hand sewed it all together first, while it was still on the dress form so that I knew everything would stay in place. Then I pulled it off the form and sewed everything together with my sewing machine. From there I made sure it all looked right, and then I finally serged the seam. It was a lot of steps, but it insured that nothing went awry while I was working. After that, it was a simple task to sew the back edges of the collar closed and then hand sew the final piece around the neck.
If you don’t know how to install a collar, I recommend checking a book or a set of pattern instructions so you can see how it looks before you begin this part of your dress. I'm honestly not going to be much of a help, because I'm not really sure of how to explain it better, sorry!
The final step was to add hook and eye closures to the top and the bottom of the collar, and that part is done!
The finished dress was baggy and lifeless, and I found that it didn’t stay bloused over my belt the way that Leia’s does in the movie. The weight of the dress just pulled everything straight, so I decided to add an elastic waistband to the dress. The movie stills show that there were sections of elastic shirring around the waistline of Leia’s dress, but since you can’t see it, I prefer to use elastic. Initially I was going to sew a casing to the inside of the dress, but then I had a duh moment and remembered that I already had two layers of fabric to work with. There was no need to add the extra bulk of another layer. So, I put on the dress and pinned a piece of white 1” non-roll elastic around my waist. I put the leather belt on over that and made sure that the elastic was directly under the belt so it wouldn’t be visible. I then stood in front of the mirror and adjusted the fabric blousing until I got what I thought was the correct look. At that point I removed the leather belt and carefully inserted a line of pins above and below the elastic. These lines would mark the casing area. I took the dress off again, and then sewed a line of stitches along each row of pins. I had to cut a small hole in the back of the dress lining to install the elastic, and then I hand sewed it closed again once the elastic was in place.
At that point, all that was left was to hem the bottom of the dress. You should always let a dress relax overnight before hemming it, so put it back on the dress form and left it alone for a while. The film-used Leia costume had a standard blind stitch hem on the bottom, so the next day I folded both layers together at the bottom of the dress and stitched the bottom hem by hand. I ironed the dress one final time to set all of the seams, and that was it! All done!