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26 September 2011 @ 11:25 pm
Romana I - Armageddon Factor - breakdown  
I've always wanted to do a Romana I outfit, so for Dragon*Con I decided on one of her less-seen outfits: her Armageddon Factor dress.

Dr Who DragonCon 2011 199

Full construction details are under the cut. If you've ever wondered how to Frankenstein storebought patterns into something that matches the screen, it's all here!

Before I get to the dress, I’ll just touch on the rest of the costume.

She’s wearing cream leather slouch boots with a high wooden heel. I already owned similar boots, though they lacked the wooden heel. This style was pretty big during the 80s, so you can probably find something similar on eBay.

She’s also wearing an about half-inch-wide gold bangle on her right wrist. It's a C-shaped bangle, the sort where you put it on by sliding your wrist through the open part of the C.

She’s also wearing an extremely fine gold chain necklace.

For the wig, I went to my local ethnic beauty supply store and got this wig in color F4/27. It was a little skimpy, so I also picked up a pack of matching curly weft hair and added that under the wig to give it volume. There are any number of wigs that would give similar look. The main thing is to have large, loose curls that start at about ear level and bangs that sweep to one side. In a style like this where the front hairline is pretty visible, the lace front will really help add realism.

I also made a Key to Time Tracer and a K-9 as props. I’m not going to go into those here, but will be posting the details eventually.

Apart from the props, the major part of the costume is the dress. When I picked this costume, I thought it would be simple. I've done a few handkerchief hem dresses before, and it's pretty much a matter of attaching a few squares onto a basic dress shape – pretty easy. Well, it turns out that this dress has a rather unique and complicated design. The end result is lovely, but it was certainly a lot more work than I was expecting! But by sharing the process here, I hope that it will take a lot of the work out of it for anyone else who is planning on constructing the costume.

Before I could begin to work on patterning it, I had to figure out how her dress was constructed. This involved studying reference photos and a lot of rewinding and rewatching key scenes over and over again.

First off, the fabric: The fabric is a cream-colored knit, probably polyester, in medium-heavy weight (heavier than a t-shirt knit). The dead giveaway to it being a knit fabric is the ruffly lettuce edge of the hem, which can only be achieved with a stretchy fabric.

Due to the construction of this dress and the way the various pieces are shaped, it eats fabric in incredible amounts. I bought 10 yards and used every bit. You will want wide fabric (54 to 60 inches) - 45 inch wide fabric will not be wide enough.

Now, the actual dress construction:
The body of the dress is constructed of six panels. It is fitted to the hip and flares out from there. The front has three pieces - a center front panel with a deep V neckline and two side front panels.

The back is also three panels - center back and two side backs. You will also see here that the center back is split into two by a mid-back zipper. This is the one detail that I left out of my construction. I'm sure it made it easier for the BBC to put the dress on and take it off without disturbing hair or makeup, but since the dress is made out of a stretchy knit fabric, you don't actually have to put in a zipper unless you want to.

Six-panel dress construction (aka, "princess seams") like this is fairly common, but there was one unusual point about this dress. Most princess seams curve after the bust and terminate in the sleeve hole area. In this dress, they keep going up and terminate at mid-shoulder. You can find patterns like this, but they are rarer.

The sleeves are also made of six panels each, with seams at the shoulder and underarm and the remaining four seams evenly spaced between these. The cap of the sleeve is very high and gathered. The sleeve fits closely to the elbow and then flares out.

Each panel of the sleeves and the skirt ends in a diamond shape, long at the center and shorter at the sides, which gives it that fullness and zig-zag shape to the hem. The longest part of the skirt hem is about a third of the way down from the knee to the ankle, with the shortest part being at about knee level. The longest part of the sleeve hem is at the wrist, and the shortest part is about a third of the way up from the wrist towards the elbow.

So, now that I knew how it was constructed, I needed a pattern. I was unable to find, and highly doubt that I WOULD be able to find, anything similar off the rack. But I knew the major things I was looking for in the pattern - a six-piece dress body with the princess seams terminating at the shoulder, and a sleeve with a high, gathered sleeve cap that was fitted to the elbow.

I never did find a pattern that had both of these things, so I ended up buying two patterns. Pattern A has the main dress body I'm looking for with the correct mid-shoulder princess seams. Pattern B gives me the fitted sleeve with the high shoulder cap. These are both vintage 1960s patterns. Dress construction elements tend to go in phases, so if you're looking for a construction element (like those weird princess seams) that you can't find in modern patterns, I highly suggest checking out vintage patterns on eBay, Etsy, or other resources.

I'll have to do a bit of Frankensteining to get the end result I need, but this gives me the important base pieces. Just make sure you have a lot of newspaper, packing paper, or scrap fabric to trace and alter your pattern pieces on to.

From pattern A, I pulled out my dress body pieces.

I don't need the flaps for the optional buttoned slit skirt of the original pattern, so I'll be cutting them along the dotted lines.

From pattern B, I pulled out my sleeve, but I also pulled out the pattern pieces that contain the sleeve hole. I'll need these for Frankensteining purposes.

Using a sleeve from one pattern on a dress body from another pattern is actually really simple. The only thing you have to remember is to transfer the sleeve hole. That's what I'm going to do first.

First, I trace my side-front pattern piece from pattern A - the piece I'm going to be using for my dress body.

Now I take my side-front pattern piece from pattern B and lay it over pattern A.

Trace the sleeve hole from pattern B onto pattern A.

Now just erase the old A sleeve hole and use this new sleeve hole instead!

Repeat this for the side back pieces. Now your sleeve from pattern B should fit into your dress perfectly. It's a simple as that!

At this point, I went ahead and did a quick mockup of my dress body with sleeves in cheap fabric for fitting purposes. I highly recommend this! You don't have to use knit fabric for mockup - in fact, I highly recommend NOT using a knit fabric for the mockup. Try on the mockup and make any adjustments necessary. (The major adjustment I found that I needed was to make the body of the dress more fitted, which was simple to do by just pinning the seams in more snugly. )

While you have the mockup on, you need to mark two points on it. On the body of the dress, mark hip level on all the pieces. On the sleeve of the dress, mark elbow level. These will be our guide marks for where to begin the flare out of the diamond shaping of the hem.

Remove your mockup and redraw your pattern pieces taking any alterations you made into account.

Now you can go ahead and add the skirt shaping. You've already marked line A (hip level). Now you need to measure B (the length from hip level to knee level) and C (the length from hip level to the longest point of the skirt -approximately 1/3 down from the knee to the ankle).

I did a lot of tests to determine exactly how full to make the diamonds to get the correct skirt fullness. I finally decided on a 20 degree angle from the hipline, though any angle between 20 and 30 degrees would probably give good results - you can just eyeball it if you don't have a protractor handy. A 45 degree angle is definitely too skimpy, though.
Lay out one of the dress panels. Lay a yardstick across the panel at line A (hip level). Now, starting at the edge of the pattern, draw a line the length of line B at a 20 degree angle down from line A. Next, at the center of the panel and starting at line A, draw a line straight down the length of line C.

Now draw lines that connect the ends of lines B and C.

Here’s the finished pattern piece. Note that I’ve given a slight curve to the fabric where line B joins the main pattern piece – this makes it a little easier and neater to sew than a distinct angle. You can keep your curves consistent by tracing along the edge of a bowl or other circular object.

Repeat this process with the other dress body pattern pieces.

Now to tackle the sleeves! The sleeve pattern is currently one piece, and we want to make it 6 pieces, which will take a few steps. Don’t forget to transfer any notches or other pattern markers on the original pattern as you proceed through these steps – you’ll need those for fitting the sleeve correctly into its hole.

First, make sure you have the elbow line clearly marked on your sleeve pattern. You don’t need any of the pattern below the elbow.

Then check to see what seam allowance if given in your pattern and mark that off on each side.

Draw a line across the pattern at the underarm and at the elbow.

Now measure across the pattern at these points, not including the seam allowance. In each place, divide this measurement by six and use that to divide the line into six sections.

Using these markers as guides, draw lines that divide the sleeve into six sections.

Cut the sleeve along the lines. You will now have six pattern pieces.

Add seam allowance to each edge of the pattern pieces except for those two edges that already have it.

Now all you have to do is add the diamond shape to the bottom of each pattern piece. This is done pretty much the same way as with the skirt pieces.

Line A marks elbow level. Line B is the length from elbow to 2/3 down from elbow-to-wrist. Line C is the length from elbow to wrist.

Draw Line B at approximately a 45 degree angle down from the elbow line. Line C is centered going straight down from the elbow line.

Draw the connecting lines.

And don’t forget to add a slight curve where B intersects with the main sleeve.

Repeat this for each piece of the sleeve.

You should now have a complete pattern! All you have to do is cut it out and assemble it. I highly recommend giving yourself a 2-inch or so extra allowance at the bottom hem when you cut the pieces out. If you're like me, things never line up quite perfectly and you need the extra wiggle room!

Because you are working with a knit, be sure to sew the seams with a stretchy stitch. If you have a serger, great! If not us a zig-zag stitch instead of a straight stitch. Practice on scrap fabric to get the tension right. Be careful not to stretch the fabric as you sew it.

Also, be sure to use a ball-pointed needle when sewing a knit! (When you look at the needles for sale, you should see packs labeled "ball point".) Ball-pointed needles have a slightly rounded tip that slides between the fibers. Sharp needles just stab right through the fibers. I thought I had a ball-point in and discovered later that it was a sharp, with the result that my seams are now edged with teeny-tiny holes. Learn from my mistakes!

To get the ruffled effect to the hem, you need to give it a lettuce edging. Set your machine to a wide, dense zigzag stitch (or use your serger if you have one). Run the very edge of the hem through the machine, stretching the fabric as you feed it through. (Don't fold the fabric over like you usually would to make a hem - just zigzag the edge.) The dense stitches will force the edge to stay stretched, making it ruffle up.

Finally, you will have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the neckline in all of this. That is because I left it until last. I deliberately chose a dress pattern that has a high, close-fitting neckline, and used this neckline the entire time I was constructing the dress. Once I finished assembling the dress and only had the final hemming left, I tried the dress on. I had drawn a line down the exact center front of the dress, and, while wearing the dress, I snipped along this line a little bit at a time until I determined that the neckline was low enough (I actually stopped about half an inch high, because it tends to lower a little more when you do the final hemming). Then I took the dress off and drew a line from the edge of the neckline at the shoulder to the end of the opening I had cut. Cutting along this new line gave me my final V neckline.

Sew this with the same ruffle stitch you used on the hem. Done!

Here are a few more shots of the finished costume. Thank you to the lovely photographers who shot and shared these pictures! (Clicking the photo will take you to the photographer's Flickr page.)

Parade 25

Romana and K-9

D*C Parading Whovians

DragonCon Parade 2011 144
Lyn1ucifer on September 27th, 2011 12:53 pm (UTC)
Excellent work, and you look absolutely fantastic!
penwiper337penwiper337 on September 27th, 2011 01:13 pm (UTC)