Princess Leia - Senatorial Dress Pattern
Princess Leia's senatorial gown is made with two layers: the dress itself, and a lining that is made of the same material. Basically, you make the same dress twice and then you sew them together, one inside of the other, with all of the seam allowances hidden between the layers. The key to making the dress pattern correctly is to design it without shoulder or arm seams. It is basically a very long piece of fabric that is draped over the shoulders, with a hole cut out for the head and the sides sewn closed. It's a T shape, with a fold on the top. The hood is an interesting shape as well. It isn't closed in the center... it's just a long rectangle of fabric, sewn to the collar of the dress on the ends and left open in between!
It's always best to track down the fabric you will need before you begin working on a new costume. That way, you're not stuck waiting for a delivery if you end up having to order it online, and you'll know the qualities and dimensions of the fabric you'll be working with before you begin. I tried to find an appropriate fabric locally, but I didn't have any luck. I had heard that JoAnne Fabric sold something called Jet Set which would work well, but my local store didn't have any. So, after requesting samples from a variety of fabric stores online, I found what I thought was the best fabric for this project. It was Optical White Polyester Interlock, which I purchased from HancockFabrics.com. I purchased 8 yards of the fabric, which was 60 inches wide. The width is important, since it needs to reach from fingertip to fingertip while your arms are outstretched! I also had the yard that I had purchased as a sample, which I cannot remember if I used or not. The fabric is machine wash and dry, so I prewashed and dried it before starting to figure out the pattern. Always wash and dry your fabric before cutting and sewing it! If you sew a costume first and then wash it, you risk ruining all of your work. If the fabric were to shrink even the slightest bit in the wash, it could end up too small, or the fabric might pucker badly. It's better to always be safe and wash the fabric before you begin to work with it.
I always keep a tub of cheap fabric on hand for making 'muslin' mockups, so I started by finding the widest piece of fabric in my stash, which turned out to be 58 inches wide, and blue. I folded it in half and cut a small hole at the center for the neck of my dress form, along with a short cut for the keyhole opening at the back of the neck. I then draped the whole thing over my dress form, trimmed the front and back to be slightly longer than floor length, and then I set to work pinning and trimming the fabric until it had the right look. It took a while, and I had to keep trying the dress on to make sure the arms looked right, but in the end I had a roughly finished dress that looked quite a bit like the reference pictures of Princess Leia that I had scattered around my sewing room. Once I had the overall design figured out, I traced all of the pin lines onto the fabric with a green Sharpie, and then I removed the pins and spread the pattern out on the floor. It took a while longer to get all of the lines balanced out (using a black Sharpie this time so I would know which lines were new), but in the end I had a pattern that I could use for my dress and lining. I put the pins back in and checked it one more time to make sure the fit was good, and then I got up the nerve to cut the pattern apart. This is what my pattern looked like once I had it all trimmed neatly:
Now that I had a pattern to use, I needed to transfer it to my white fabric so that I could make the dress and lining. I began by folding a piece of the white fabric twice, like this:
Then, I placed my blue pattern fabric over the white, lining it up with the folded edges. I pinned them together, and then cut out the white fabric. Repeat the process with a second piece of the same white fabric. This will be the lining of the dress,so it should be the same size and shape.
This is how the white fabric looked once it had been cut out. Please keep in mind that these are the measurements that worked for me. I'm 5'7" and weighed 135 lbs when I made the pattern. If you're a very different height or weight, you might need to make some adjustments in your own version of the pattern!
The neck hole needs to be quite small. Since the collar will be close up against your neck, you will need enough dress fabric there in the seam allowance for the collar to attach to. I cut the neck hole slightly too large on my dress, so it was challenging to sew on the collar. I really wished I had more fabric to work with in that seam! Remember, there will be a large keyhole opening at the back of the neck, so even if the neck hole itself is small, there will be plenty of room for getting your head through.
I probably should have figured out the pattern for the hood and collar while I was working on the pattern for the dress, but I found myself procrastinating on that part until after the dress was sewn. To figure out the dimensions of the hood, I went back to the dress form and used another piece of the blue muslin fabric as a mockup. It took a few adjustments, but eventually I had a hood that seemed to have the same drape and length as the one in the reference images. At that point I marked the pin lines, took the hood off the dress, and spread it out on the carpet to cleanup the lines. Here's how it looked while I was experimenting:
And here's the final results!
I made the front of the hood longer than the back so that it would drape naturally over my head without looking too tight. I don't expect to wear the hood up veryoften, but when I do I want it to look like Leia's did in the movie! Making the shape of the hood irregular also gives it a bit more coverage as it lays down my back. Instead of hanging like a draped rope, it is forced to cover more area becauseof the shorter side. You have to keep the shape in mind when the hood is attached to the collar. The longer side goes to the front!
The pattern for the high collar was a real challenge for me. I'm not very good at figuring out collars when I have a pattern to work from, so trying to make one from scratch was pretty intimidating. It took quite a bit of trial and error before Ifinally worked out a good pattern. The final result is pictured below. I took the photo on a 1-inch grid, so this time you get to do the math!