This costume was an unusual choice for me because I didn't know the character very well. I'd never played Knights of the Old Republic, and her appearance in Star Wars Tales was very brief and confusing. But, Scott wanted to make a Nihilus costume, and it seemed like Visas would be the best match for a female character to go with his Nihilius, so I got to work! I chose the comic version of her costume because I like the wide sleeves and the color of the dress.
When I made the inner dress, I used a polyester fabric that I found at JoAnns in the 'prom dress' section of the store. It was the PERFECT color for what I needed, but I wish I would have kept looking for another option. The color looks great, but the fabric is so stiff that it never hangs right, and it's quite difficult to put the dress on and take it off because it has no give when I'm trying to get it over my shoulders. My next version of the dress will be made with a softer and more flowing fabric!
This is the pattern that I used for the inner dress, and the adjustments I made to the pattern:
Redesign the sleeves to be wide at the wrists.
Make the dress floor length.
Take some of the fullness out of the skirt.
Notice where I jotted down my size on the bag. It's always a good idea to write down notes about sizes or fitting issues while you're working with a pattern. I often write down notes such as, 'add an inch to the torso length' or things like that. It will help you remember to make the changes or use the correct size the next time you get that pattern out. Otherwise, it all tends to slip your mind after a while! Some of my patterns are well decorated with notes or ideas for variations.
This is the muslin that I used to redesign the sleeves. I started with the pattern that came with the dress, and then made it bell out toward the wrists. Since my fabric is so stiff, I also added more width at the sleeve cap so that I'd be able to move my arms when I'm wearing it. If I had used a fabric with more stretch, I wouldn't have added that extra material at the top. Notice that the muslin sleeves are shorter than the pattern sleeves. Visas likes to show off her gloves!
Once the dress was sewn, it was time to start on the sleeve decorations. I had painted the veil pattern first, since that had the best reference image. Then, I used that pattern as the basis for the sleeve design. I started out by sketching the design with a fabric pencil so that I could make everything match up well and make sure that the design looked balanced. I chose a 1.5 inch width for the pattern, but once it was finished I thought it looks juuuuust a little bit too big. I'm considering dropping it down to 1.25 inches for the next version of my dress and veil.
I used Lumiere by Jacquard paint in metallic gold, which is a flexible fabric paint that you heat set with an iron. There are a lot of different brands of fabric paint, so anyone should be able to find something appropriate in their area. I advise testing the paint on a scrap of fabric before using it on a new dress. It's better to get a liquid paint that can be painted on with a brush, rather than anything that comes in a squeeze bottle. Those heavily thickened paints tend to sit on top of the fabric and it's difficult to control the width of the globby lines as you're squeezing out the paint, so they don't look professional. Liquid paints, on the other hand, will soak into the fabric's fibers and become a permanent integrated design.
While you're painting, be careful not to smear the paint. Watch where you rest your hand, and if any paint gets on the tabletop, make sure that you don't set the fabric on top of that spot until after you've cleaned it. There's nothing more frustrating than getting a smudge of gold paint where it doesn't belong!
When I started on my overdress, I decided to use a piece of leather-look vinyl that I already had on hand. It had been purchased for a project that fell by the wayside, and I was glad to finally have a use for it. The vinyl had come from Stretch House and was a good quality, heavyweight material. Since I didn't want to risk wasting any of the vinyl (I wasn't even sure if I would have enough of it), I used a heavy material to make a 'muslin' mockup of the dress first.
This is the dress pattern I used, and the modifications that were made to the pattern:
Lengthen the dress to nearly floor length.
Change the neckline to a mock turtleneck.
Enlarge the cap sleeves.
Reduce the fullness of the skirt.
Leave one front seam open to the hip.
I also cut a triangular shape off each side of the open seam. Without that cut, the dress opening tended to fall closed and you couldn't see the red dress underneath. With the adjustment to make it gradually wider toward the bottom, the inner dress will be visible in the opening.
Long after I had finished my dress, I came across this pattern. I think it would have been a much easier starting pattern to work with!
Once I had the muslin looking as close to the reference images as I could make it, I took it apart and used the pieces as my new pattern. It took a bit of finessing to fit all of the pattern pieces on the vinyl, but I did manage to do so. There was no room for re-do's, though... it took up nearly every inch! I really wish I had more material at the neckline because that area ended up being very troublesome. I cut out each piece of the pattern and then took them outside to lay in the sun for a while. Since the fabric had been stored for well over a year, it had quite a few fold line creases. The sun quickly warmed the black vinyl, and I was able to smooth out every line. Taking it back into the house gave it a chance to cool again, and it remained flat and smooth.
The next step was to get started on the pinwheel stencil. In the beginning, Visas Marr costumers had a hard time with the gray design on Visas' overdress. It didn't help that there are multiple different artist interpretations out there. Someone did eventually figure out the pattern, though, and they were gracious enough to share their discovery with the rest of us:
I started my stencil project by enlarging the pinwheel pattern to the size I wanted. The pinwheels in the reference pictures are fairly close to the size of Visas' palm, so I sized the pattern to fit a similar relationship to my own palm, a bit smaller than a CD. Starting with the central pinwheel (the brightest one in the reference pictures), I copied that one circle. Then, opening a new file in photoshop, I pasted the circle into the file. I then pasted a second copy of the cirlce in a new layer, making this one less opaque so I could see through it. I lined the two circles up as accurately as possible and then merged them. A copy was made of the double circle, and then I pasted that in several more times, making each pasted circle transparent so that I could match them to the previous circles visible underneath. The size of the pattern grew quickly since I was soon pasting entire lines and then several lines at a time into the file. Before long I had a square that was about 18"x18" in size. In order to save ink I created a negative so that the pinwheels became black and the background turned white. I then printed it on multiple sheets of paper and taped them together, making sure to line everything up as perfectly as I could. When that was finished, I taped the pattern onto a sheet of styrene and used carbon paper to trace the pattern onto the plastic. I do still have a copy of the pattern image, if anyone needs it. Just send me an email!
Once the pattern was transferred, I used carving bits on my dremel to cut out the lines. It took some experimenting on scrap styrene to find out which bits created lines in the size and look that I wanted. As anyone who has ever used a dremel can vouch, the thing can sometimes jump when you least expect it. Normally that is a problem... but this time I WANTED a rough edge, so I held the dremel loosely and let it snag and jump about as I cut the lines. I had to leave connections between the various pieces of the styrene, but I kept the bridges small and randomly placed so that they became part of the design itself. The process of cutting so many lines began to weaken the styrene, so I covered each area with blue painter's tape as I worked. If I didn't, little pieces of the stencil tended to vibrate and flex until they broke off. If you use this technique you MUST wear safety goggles, as the dremel will throw pieces of hot styrene all over the place. (If you're smarter than me, you'll wear more than just a top and shorts while you work, also. Chunks of molten styrene landing on bare arms and legs burns just a wee bit.)
Note: This stencil was made over 10 years ago. These days everyone has access to laser cutters and Cricut machines so I imagine few would bother with making a stencil like this anymore.... but it really was a fun project!
Here's the back of the completed stencil. You can see the blue tape still on the other side. I left the tape on the stencil until I was ready to start painting, and then put it back on again afterwards to keep the stencil in good shape for future projects.
To paint the dress, I set each piece of vinyl under the pinwheel stencil. Everything else was covered with a protective layer of newspaper, and then I sprayed a very light coating of Presidio Gray SEM vinyl paint over the stencil, making sure to hold the can a foot over the stencil so it would create a light coating with fuzzy edges. SEM paint is designed for painting vinyl car seats, so you know it's durable stuff! When the first coat dried, I moved the stencil down, lined up the top of the stencil pattern with the bottom of the painted edge on my fabric, and then painted the next section. Each piece of fabric took about 4 moves of the stencil before they were covered completely with the pinwheel pattern. In this picture you can see one section of the dress being painted. I used the piece of wood to keep any overspray from getting under the paper, since that edge kept lifting each time a breeze blew through the workshop. I appreciated the breeze, but didn't want any extra gray spots on my dress!
It was challenging to give each section exactly the same amount of paint, so some of sections came out a bit more heavily painted than others. I also felt that the finished pattern was brighter than it should be. In the game renders it looks far more subtle.
I gave the whole thing a very light overspray coating of black vinyl paint, holding the can about two feet over the fabric and keeping it constantly moving. It served two purposes... not only did it tone down the intensity of the pinwheel patterns, it also toned down the shiny midnight-black quality of the vinyl itself and made it look more like leather.
Here's the finished dress. I made the collar a bit too wide and there are some gathers around the base of the invisible zipper in the back, but other than that it wasn't bad for my first attempt at sewing heavy pleather. Now that I know what I'm doing, I'd like to make another one and see if I can fix the too-wide collar and make all of the seams lay flat a bit better. I'm always looking for another challenge!
See.... Collar's too wide! Need to fix that....
I was able to exactly match the color of the veil and the see-through mesh that covers my eyes by using the "dyed to match" fabric selection that is offered at JoAnne Fabric. It's in the area where they sell fabric for prom dresses and things like that. The downside is that they don't have a stretch fabric in that area... and every problem I had in the making of my veil came from having to use the stiff, poorly draping fabric that I chose. I desperately want to make a new veil with a softer, more flowing fabric! I started out by determining the shape and size of the part that covers my eyes. I figured that would be the key piece, and everything else should be designed to work around that. So, I used a piece of paper to sketch out the design and took pictures until I had it refined to what I thought looked right.
I settled on a thickness of 1.5 inches, though I will most likely drop that down to 1.25 inches on my next attempt. Once I had the curve of the veil worked out, my next job was to sketch the design. This is one piece of Visas’ outfit that has a very definite pattern, so I did my best to replicate it on the paper. I creased the paper in half and drew the pattern on one side, and then folded the paper over and traced a mirror image of the pattern onto the other side, so it matches well.
The design was inked with Sharpie so that it was easy to see through layers of fabric, and then I prepared that piece of my veil. The mesh fabric was too thin to hide my eyes even when doubled, so I used a piece of black iron-on interfacing behind them. The glue of the interfacing held all three layers together and provided a dark backing that I could see through, but nobody else could see in. I set the fabric over my design sketch and taped it to the paper, and then set to work painting on the design with the same Lumiere paint that I used on my sleeves. It took three coats because the first coat really soaked into the mesh fabric, but in the end it looked really good. The paint also helped to hold the three layers of fabric together.
I carefully cut the bottom edge of the fabric off, right at the edge of the paint line, and then I sewed it onto the piece of red fabric that would be covering my forehead.
I had been struggling at the same time with the pattern for the rest of the veil, but I wasn’t having much luck. It’s difficult to figure out sizes and angles when something is draped on your own head. Finally I had a “duh” moment and got out a self-portrait I’d sculpted in clay while I was in college. It worked well as a stunt-double while I figured out the pattern for the back of the veil. It didn’t take us very long to start joking that Mother Mary was looking over the project for me.
This is the shape I settled on for the back of the veil:
Of course, once I transferred the muslin pattern to the stiff red fabric, it stuck out like big floppy wings on the sides of my head. It took three darts, two pieces of pipe cleaner wire, some naughty words, and lots of seam ripping before I finally got it to conform to the shape that I needed. I’m not sure I truly won that battle, though... I think we might have to call it a draw.
I finished the veil by painting the same design around the bottom edge, and I installed a stretch fabric “cap” inside. It’s shaped like a baseball cap minus the bill, and is sewn to the forehead seam of the veil. It keeps the veil from sliding around when I turn my head, and holds the veil tight against my face. That piece was made entirely by trial and error... I just played with it until I got it right.
To weigh the veil down and keep it from flopping about when I walk or when the wind blows, I hid a length of weighted cord inside the bottom seam. The cord is made for weighing down curtains, and can be found in the curtain supply area of many fabric/crafts shops. It has small pieces of lead attached inside the cord, which can be cut to whatever length you need.
I can see through the veil fairly well, though it is a bit more difficult in dark rooms, and it’s very difficult to read anything. When I was working on the veil, it was hard for me to see how the seams looked even when I was leaning close to a mirror. Everything appears to blur together just enough to take away the details. When I wore my Visas in a parade recently, I could see the floats and dancers who were a block away from me, but I couldn't read the big signs that they were carrying.
The accessories for a Visas costume are pretty basic. You’ll need:
A pair of black riding boots. They can have a zipper on the inner leg, but they shouldn’t have laces or excessively high heels. I got mine at Target. They’re the Merona brand, and they’re very comfortable!
A pair of black elbow length gloves. Leather is best, since it flexes and breathes better than vinyl. The gloves should be matte black, not glossy. Four silver lines go around the wrists and forearms, spaced evenly. I used metallic silver paint that was marketed for leather, but I’m finding that it’s starting to flake off the stripe on my wrist. Every time I slide my hands into the gloves, that part of the glove gets stretched a little bit, and the paint separates. It’s not bad, but it is noticeable enough that I’ll have to do something about it before too long.
A red wraparound belt. The belt should be made from a soft fabric that drapes well. The closure where the two ends of the belt meet should be hidden as well as possible, and can be tucked under the place where the belt crosses over itself on the right hip. I used snaps on mine, and they work well.
Makeup. Whether you’re going for the red-lips look or the veiny turned-to-the-darkside look, you’ll need the right makeup to get the effect that you’re looking for!
This was my first test of the nearly complete costume. The bit of red visible under my veil was a piece of my experimental cap to hold the veil in place. It was cut short once I was finished experimenting.
That lightsaber? It's a piece of turned wooden dowel from Lowes, carved into shape, decorated with Sculpey details, sanded repeatedly, and painted with several coats of silver paint.