Last modified:
Saturday, September 28, 2002 2:28 PM

09/28/02- This guy wasn't envisioned as article material, being a sadly flaccid customizing effort suitable only for the "Remarks/I Sez" section. I wanted a figure which looked like a ruler to go with the "Generic Fantasy Warrior" and make it seem like there was some kind of kingdom or sumpin'. The head was unaltered from the way it came from the store, except for the hair and the eyeballs. The costuming wasn't much either; a spare chestplate from the Generic Fantasy Warrior and the store-bought Qui Gon Jin robe to cover the rest of the figure. Since then I've slowly added a few more things-- nothing really exciting --but gradually it's become more of a bonafide figure. Most recently, I replaced the brown Qui Gon Jin robe with a homemade dark green one. So that partially justified turning this into an article. I don't do very many projects which require tailoring; in fact, this is probably the first time I've turned on the sewing machine in years. I figured that was somewhat noteworthy. Because of this, I must point out that this isn't an authoritative article on sewing... it's my rediscovery of something that I've tried before, without any great revelations or progress in the interim. The happy idiot can be satisfied with relearning stuff he's forgotten.

Using store-bought stuff as placeholders lets you develop the general look quickly and replace them with your own versions at a leisurely pace. It's not quite as satisfying as making your own, and leaves you open to questions about the pedigree of the figure. Maybe it's a snobbish modeler thing, but with real kitbashing, you don't want the origin of parts to be too apparent ("Hey, isn't that a Tamiya sprocket on that Denebian Jones Crusher?" or more appropriately, "Isn't that a Sideshow Toy sword?" Yes it is.). Still, it's a balance of pride and expedience and sometimes the path of least resistance is the most practical way to go.

The robe is an attractive costuming option in the primitive genre. Even though you can do quite a few things with skimpy metal/leather/fur costuming, variety keeps it interesting by providing contrast. (If we didn't wear clothes, naked breasts probably wouldn't be nearly as exciting.) As far as I'm concerned you can't ever have too many robes, but it's not practical to spend bucks on the low-Q Star Wars figures just to get multiples. With a little material, thread and time, I can put one together more quickly and cheaply than it would take for me to find a store-bought one. Copying an article of clothing usually forces you to change the material and color, so the result looks unique (especially if you throw in bad tailoring). In fact, one of the first things you need to do is select the material. Naturally, the material is very important since that conveys the impression of scale weight and determines how the finished garment drapes. I searched for a material which looked heavy, but wasn't too stiff. I happened to have a yard of woolish looking stuff in a dark green from a long time ago, originally thinking that it would be useful for some kind of WWII German thing (Oddly, it doesn't photograph as green). It doesn't fray, so that removed one major hassle from the construction.

Robes are one of the easier sewing projects, a notch above the basic potato sack tunic. The forgiving, non-critical fit is ideal for an inept seamster like me. A prerequisite for starting a tailoring project is having some kind of plan-- they're called "patterns" by Those In The Know. Fortunately, every store-bought outfit you own is potentially a pattern, holding the secret of the exact size and shape of all the pieces that were used to make it. Imagine that! They also provide assembly clues, so that you can make a stab at reverse-engineering it. That can be a little confusing though, so often you have to use common sense and educated guesses to help fill in the gaps. This is one undertaking where it's useful, maybe necessary, to look a few steps ahead and test fit, so that you end up with seamlines that match. I say that, but feel it's really just dumb luck when things actually work out. If you screw up, you can usually rip seams and try again.

Thanks to the loose, uncritical fit of the QGJ robe, it didn't need to be fully disassembled to derive a workable pattern. Things like the hood and sleeves came easily by tracing the general shape and eyeballing the inaccessible edge where the parts are sewn together. You can get the pattern for the sewn-together sleeve by assuming that the part you can trace is mirrored in symmetry on the pattern. The main cloak body pieces (4 total-- 2 back, 2 side) weren't quite as pain-free. Elastic strips are sewn into these pieces to force them to fold and drape; these needed to be snipped in order to get a flat traceable pattern. With the elastic snipped, it's surprising how much material is used in the cape! In fact, the pieces were so large that I couldn't trace them on an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper, and had to use an artist's pad.

Once you have the pattern of the basic shapes, you transfer them to the fabric using the sewing version of carbon (chalk) paper and what's called a "pounce wheel"-- a small pizza cutter with spikes. Here, it's important to pay attention and make sure you're transferring the parts in consideration of the right/left symmetry-- if you don't flip the pattern over to the flipped symmetry piece, you'll end up with parts that assemble with the right and wrong sides facing outward: For some materials, that definitely won't work. It's a moronic mistake, but I've made it before.

An experienced tailor would pay attention to the selvage; the weave direction of the fabric. Fabrics usually have more stretch in one direction than the other, so it may be important to lay out the pattern according to that. Also, if the weave pattern is directional and highly visible, you'd want to consider that when you tranfer the pattern to fabric or the finished garment will look... well, shitty. I said "experienced tailor", which I ain't: That subtlety didn't occur to me until after I'd finished. In this case it didn't matter much since robes are loose fitting and the material I used has a kind of wooly texture. Stripes would have been an entirely different matter.

When cutting out the shapes, it's a good idea to leave a border for hems-- fortunately, I didn't forget that. Having a little excess will allow you to correct inaccuracies in the pattern, since it's easier to correct a piece that's too long than it is to redo a piece that's too short.

For assembly, analyzing the original garment gives you your best clues. Although the order of assembly for many of the pieces isn't too important, the final assembly of these parts is.

  • The Hood: The two halves were sewn together (wrong side out) and the frontal hem of the joined pieces was sewn down. (I sewed a wire into this hem to allow the opening to be shaped.)

  • The Back Pieces: These were sewn together along the center (wrong side out). On the inside, the hem was folded flat and sewn down in two parallel lines. It looks similar to the reinforced seam along the sides of jeans, and I assume that makes the sections join flat instead of puckering at the hidden seam.

  • The Front Pieces/Shoulders: This is probably the only place where the order of assembly is kinda important. Here, the front pieces are attached to the back piece at the short section along the shoulders. You stop at the armhole.

  • The Sleeves/Armholes: This is the trickiest part, and requires the most precise sewing. The easiest way to do this is to fold the sleeve in half and align the center with the shoulder seam. You're sewing this inside out, so align the parts with that in mind. Then, starting from this center point, put some Fabri-Tac glue along the edges, squishing the parts together. You only need to do the edges; it's not for structural strength and you don't want the glue to go very deeply onto the face of the fabric where it might be visible. From the center, work your way down to the ends of the sleeve's armhole opening. Ideally, the sleeve's armhole length will end somewhere in the vicinity of the pattern's cut in both the front and back pieces. If it's reasonably close, it's probably good enough since you can correct that with sewing and trim the excess. With the pieces tacked in place, you can now sew the sleeve to the front and back pieces without a lot of grief. It's a tight fit under the sewing machine's presser foot, so make sure that the material feeds through smoothly and that there aren't any creases on the underside that you're sewing down. If you do that, you'll need to rip the seam and try again.

  • The Sleeves/Lengthwise: This is a semi-critical sewing job, but it's easy to handle. The first thing to do is fold the pieces together to see how everything matches up. Ideally, the two ends of the sleeve's armholes are positioned so that the sleeve can be sewn up along its length without skewing. If not, having excess hem material would be useful for making the pattern correction. With the armhole's bottom set, you can measure up the sleeves to make sure that they're the same length, then put your cuff opening hems in. When you sew the sleeve together (inside out), you want to make sure that the hemmed opening at the cuff joins neatly, and that sewing up the sleeve results in the armhole/front & back pieces all coming together in the same place. Optimistically, you can do this all in one long seam: starting at the cuff opening, sew along the sleeve to the point where the sleeve joins the body, making the turn and continuing downward, joining the rest of the front & back pieces.

  • The Hood/Attaching: The hood is attached like the sleeves. The main thing is to make sure the centerpoint matches the centerpoint at the back of the robe. You can use glue to make the sewing job easier.

  • The Frontal Hems: The frontal hems are next. The bottom part is straight forward, but things get a little more confusing and messy as you approach the collar and hood. You generally can get away with doing a funkier job here than you could with say, a German tunic-- the hood hides a lot of the confusion. The main thing is to make it look as clean as you can.

  • The Bottom Hem: This gets sewn last since it ensures that the bottom edge is uniform and unbroken. By that time, you can test fit the figure to make sure the length is where you want it. Optionally, you can fit the hem with wire to induce controllable folds instead of relying on elastic as Hasbro does. This does make the robe stiffer, more static, and less "playable" though. Fact is, you've gotta use something: This robe uses a lot of fabric and if it isn't forced to fold inward on itself, it'll look like a tent.

  • Finishing Steps: These steps help give the robe some shape. As mentioned above, the bottom hem needs something. The waist and sleeves also benefit from the use of elastic, either glued or sewn in. Finally, the hood needs to be tamed. Minimally, the hood's back needs to be tacked down to the robe's back, roughly a half inch down. Otherwise, it will make the whole thing look like a bowling pin. Hasbro also sewed a small section of the front openings to the sleeve. If you've wired the hood's hem, this isn't really necessary since you can form the way the opening drapes.

Surprisingly, the whole thing goes pretty quickly: About three hours, from creating the pattern to the last stitch, including time spent figuring out how to wind a bobbin and work the sewing machine, smoke breaks, and serving the cat masters. If you were making a bunch at once, you'd probably realize greater time savings. (But that would be kinda boring, wouldn't it?)