Kylo Ren – The story of this cosplay costume.

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I regard myself as incredibly lucky to teach sewing classes. I not only get to meet lots of interesting people but I also share part of a sewing adventure with them. There are so many different reasons to learn to sew, I love the variety of reasons people come to my classes.

Sometimes someone comes along with a completely unexpected and different project. In this post I’m going to share the story of one of my customers Chris and his rather amazing project that he kindly agreed to let me share.

My part in his story started when he was looking for somewhere he could use an overlocker. I replied to his email with some suggestions including coming along to one of my bring your own project sessions and overlocking away for the whole session if he wanted!

He did decide to come and join a session when he hit another query with his make. I knew he was making a costume from Star Wars but until he arrived at class I had no idea to what great level of work he was involving in the costume. He bought along a pair of fully pleated sleeves made in a woven twill fabric which zipped under the arm. He had draft the pattern himself and now had to create a woollen panel to insert between the sleeve and the bodice.

Over the following weeks he drafted patterns for the remaining layers of the costumes and we all watched as this amazing cosplay costume evolved. He agreed to let me write this post so I asked him the following questions for the purpose of writing this:

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1.Tell us a little bit about you and your sewing history:

I am a 52 year old chap who until this project had never used a sewing machine. Both of my parents are of the generation if you needed it, you made it.  I got my sewing machine for £5 off eBay.

2. What made you decide to make this costume?

I have always had a love for Star Wars since it came out in 1977, I was only 13 then. As my Children are now older I felt it was time to have a go… join one of the star wars groups, go to events, meet like-minded people and to also raise some money for charity.

3. Did you know what you were taking on when you started?

Yes I thought I did – it’s just a cape, long sleeved top, gloves, hood, and a helmet… easy! How wrong can I be!!

4.Tell us about the approval process and governing body.

The big problem with the character I chose (Kylo Ren) was that the film had not even been released when I started. Information was scant, so were photos etc. Luckily for me I found a group on Facebook all with a love/interest in this character. This is where I learnt/realised what I had taken on.  You see like the film there are two sides to the cosplay groups …Good (Rebel Legion), Bad (501st) these are the two main organisations (though there are others) but these guys strive for film accuracy to keep the linage true. This can make costume making very difficult, especially where fabrics are concerned.  Once a costume has been made you have to get it ‘Approved’ this consists of a number of specific photographs being taken and submitted for approval. Approval generally covers a number levels, these are set out in the CRL (Costume Reference Library – there is one of these set out for each character) the top level being as film accurate as possible to the basic level which is still a high standard.

The 501st approval requirements are. The Sith Lord Detachment (Sith Lord was a title conferred upon individuals who followed the Sith tradition. Sith Lords drew upon the dark side of the Force, using it to gain power) defines additional, optional levels of costuming excellence. Items listed under “Level two certification” are recommended features that will greatly improve the quality of the costume. These items are not required for 501st membership, but are highly recommended. Items listed under “Level three certification” are some of the highest level accuracy features for those who strive to be screen accurate.

5. How many pieces are in the costume?

There are several parts to this particular costume, as stated in the CRL.

The helmet, cape, cowl and hood, outer robe, mid coat, under tunic, neck seal, trousers, gloves, boots, belt buckle and light sabre.

6: Tell us about each piece of the costume, what it has entailed to make it and how you approached it.

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Helmet – is painted in dark gunmetal grey or gloss black it is asymmetrical and has 5 chrome/silver ridges contouring the eye opening that transition into various ridges on the cheek areas. The wearer’s eyes and face are blacked out with sheer material or a dark lens which is matte and reflects minimal light. An amateur prop builder made me the helmet. It needed a little finishing, sanding and painting which I did.

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Cape, Cowl, Hood & Outer Robe – These are bits you really see. Made from black basket weave, monk’s cloth or similarly textured fabric. It is worn on top of the outer robe. The hood has to be large enough to accommodate the helmet. The cowl gathers around the neck and shoulders and tapers into a cape at the back.

There are no patterns for these parts. I researched sketches on Facebook and pre-film exhibitions to understand the shape I needed to create. It’s not a simple scarf shape though needs to be worn and look like a scarf. The Fabric I used is best described as a basket weave and was specially commissioned by another cosplayer which was made overseas and is 100% film accurate. Once it was made I had to paint the fabric with a silver paint to give it a sheen.

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Mid Coat – This coat has a military style with a stand collar and is worn beneath the outer robe. This layer is probably only seen when you walk, other than the collar. Getting the fabric was really difficult. The films costumes are made in the US and a lot of the fabric they used we can’t get in the UK.  I got this layer very wrong the first time due to a misunderstanding used in someones description of the fabric. I now have a lot of spare black jersey fabric (nice fabric but not for this project). Again there are no patterns for this garment so I used a Simplicity Priests Pattern – hello scissors, paper, sticky tape and a very knowledgeable, seamstress.

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Under Tunic – Mainly not seen apart from the sleeves. This was the first part I made and to be honest a baptism by fire. The sleeves and tunic are pleated – horizontally pleated. The sleeves are separate to the tunic body. These are fitted to a tee shirt, what a nightmare! I had to draw up a sleeve pattern from scratch then sort out how they fit to a tee shirt.  The tee shirt had to be cut and a woollen section added to the shoulder area. (I sought help at his stage and very big thanks to Julia). The fabric is a medium weight cotton, it took a lot of searching out (lots of sample photos sent off to UK and America for approval before buying) eventually I got a screen accurate fabric called Hopsack that I had to import from an industrial upholstery supplier in US. I had to make a pleating jig in order to help make so many pleats, but they had to vary in size so more than one jig had to be made. All these stripes are pleats, each pleat is formed and sewn in place. I used 5.5 metres of fabric for the mid tunic alone.  I used 10 metres in total for the tunic and sleeves. It makes it pretty heavy to wear as well! I had to pipe the seams and put zips in down the length of the sleeves, because the sleeves needed to be form fitting. The piping by the way was made from the same fabric not from a ‘close enough’ black piping…… Oh why did I take this on!

Neck Seal – This is leather (I understand leather a bit more than fabric) this was a challenge to pleat leather on the round as well as work out the base collar shape so this sits flat under my top.

Trousers – These were easy – Primark! Well sort of easy they had to be coated black close fitting with no cargo pockets. I just had to shop around a lot!

Gloves – Easy I purchased these from a chap in Florida, they were custom made to fit me and are screen accurate. I know my limitations!

Boots – These were made in Ecuador, again custom made by a chap who makes film accurate Star Wars footwear. Made for me as I have massive feet, I would make a better Wookie.

Belt  – Now then this bit of leather work I did make. Its two layers of 3mm thick black belting leather hand stitched with about 1000 stitches. Yes my hands bled but it looks nice!

Buckle – Welcome… new technology, a friend of mine at the time had a 3D printer.  I am a draughtsman so I drew the design using photos as reference and worked out the size from knowing the belt depth….. We printed one or two out.

Light sabre – this is a ‘toy’ from the Disney Store, a few hours taking it apart replacing leds and altering the blades to look more like the film. Yes you can buy the film version for £££ but this works just a well I think.

6. Anything else you would like to add.

The final goal for me was to get my costume ‘Approved’- top level would be icing on my cake. But to get approved at all and go out on ‘Troops’ raising some money for charity while having a great time has to worthwhile. Cosplay isn’t playing, its simply acting a role like any film or stage actor it’s just on a different stage. Roles played by some very very skilled and talented folks.

I have to say what I have done may not be 100% perfect but on the whole I have done it, I have given it my best and I am proud of it. Sewing I am going to call it ‘sewing’ as ‘dressmaking’ is so misleading is a great skill. I have met some fantastic ladies along this journey. Ladies who have supported, laughed and encouraged me along the way. I would like to say- come on guys give it a go it’s a skill, like any other and to be honest pattern making, grainlines, bias cutting and don’t get me started on zips! are a heck of a skill set.

I can now confirm that I have been Approved I have a personal reference number that is solely mine  TK20161.

I need to add on personal note without Julia’s help and guidance this would never have happened. The classes are so relaxed and as a Man who was apprehensive I felt so at ease thank you all……..

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Julia Claridge

I was about 6 or 7 years old when I had my first go on a sewing machine, it was an old hand crank machine that my mum used with her patients, she was an occupational therapist. I still vividly remember watching with amazement as the tiny perfectly formed stitches were created as I turned the handle. I Grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when buying clothes was less affordable and dressmaking was an answer to updating your wardrobe more regularly. My own mother was a talented dressmaker who made most of my clothes and my sisters clothes as well as a many for herself. I soon got involved with making my clothes, I loved the whole experience of picking out fabrics, trims and a pattern to create a new outfit, then going home to make a new garment or outfit. When it came to leaving school I visited a careers advisor who asked what I wanted to do next. My answer was ..Sew! Read more...

1 Comment

  1. Chris Smith on July 8, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    Hi Julia for taking the time to rite this. Its been a great road to travel and I intend to keep travelling it too. I hope that hopefully some may read this and be inspired to have a go. I am no tailor I have been in building industry all my working career. But I had a go so come folks take the plung its so much fun.

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