Thursday, November 26, 2015

Clara Oswald - Robot of Sherwood

When the Doctor Who episode Robot of Sherwood aired last year, we immediately knew that we had to make the Clara and Robin Hood costumes.

Matt got to work on his Robin Hood, though I made the tunic and trousers.  He's posted his build over on his website, so check it out.

Clara was a tough project to get started because it involved processes that I'd never done before, processes that involved pretty much one shot, or they'd be ruined.

Bodice and Skirt:

For the bodice I modified Simplicity 3809 so that the neck had a different shape. I used Simplicity 4940 (my favorite pattern) for the skirt, and modified it so that it had a seam in the front.

You can see in the photo of the original costume that the bottom of the skirt is see-through.  This effect is achieved by using the devore (fiber etching) technique.  Devore means "devour", and it burns away plant fibers like cotton.  When using this technique with velvet, you must use silk-backed velvet, which means that when you apply the chemical, only the silk is left, which makes it look like chiffon.

Back in the spring, I ordered some swatches of Moroccan red silk-backed velvet from and a 4oz bottle of the fiber etch chemical from Dharma Trading Company. I tried it out on a small swatch, and it looked great, so I ordered 9 yards.  Those 9 yards then sat in my sewing room all year.  I was so scared to touch it, because I knew that I literally had one shot at this, as you cannot reprocess the chemical.  (Please note that the skirt and sleeves ended up using about 44 ounces of the fiber etch.)

I finally decided in October to get started.  I've worked with a lot of velvet before - crushed, stretch, regular.  I've never had a huge problem with it.  The silk-backed velvet was a bitch.  Even though I cut out each piece individually, the patterns wouldn't pin onto the fabric correctly, which meant that each piece was a distorted version of what it was supposed to be (and don't worry, I only tested this out on small pieces of the bodice).  I ended up using temporary adhesive spray to literally glue the patterns onto the back of the velvet.  That worked REALLY great!

I then used Wonder Tape to tape the edges of the seams together, which was WONDERful (har har).  Seriously, this stuff is amazing.  Go out and buy it now, even if you're not working with velvet.

Anyway, I assembled the bodice and skirt, and then I also made a lining out of the Casa Collection RB Matte Satin - Scarlet, which I found at Jo Ann's.  I had no idea how I was going to attach the bodice to the skirt, but I knew I had to do all of the devore before I attached the bodice, so I put it off.  I also used the devore technique on the sleeves.

Devore Technique

I'll do another blog post with more detail about the devore, but here's a quick overview.  Note:  Always wear a respirator during every step that involves the chemical.  It's nasty stuff.  I also wore the respirator while scratching off the pile, as you'll end up breathing it in if you don't.  It's essentially dust at that point, and it's also nasty.  Also, PLEASE test a LARGE piece of cloth on each step before you do this.  Trust me.  I did it with a small piece because I didn't want to waste fabric or fiber etch, and it turned out that my dryer dries unevenly.  The small piece turned out great, but the large panels were unevenly heated, and I tried reheating them, and I ended up burning holes in the fabric.  I had to throw out FOUR of the six panels.  I had to buy four more yards of fabric, and another 32 ounces of fiber etch.  It was not pretty.  There were tantrums.  But hey, I'm a flipping EXPERT at this now (although, if I ever decide to do it again, I think I'd rather just take out a couple hundred-dollar bills from the cash machine and light them in the fireplace).

1.  Wash the velvet in HOT water using Synthrapol, which I got at Dharma Trading, and then tumble dry.  I know this seems scary, but I did a test before I tossed all nine yards in, and it actually works great and removed all of the wrinkles that had set in.

2. SOAK the parts of the velvet that you want to remove with the fiber etch.  I used a small paintbrush to really jam all of the fiber etch in.  If you think it's soaked enough, soak it some more. Matt had made me a pattern, which I traced onto the fabric using a fabric marker that washes off with water.  When you look at the wrong side of the fabric, you should see that the chemical is completely soaked through.

3.  Let dry.  I hung my panels up on the indoor clothesline.

4.  Toss in a hot dryer for 10-20 minutes (check on it VERY often if you're not sure how hot your dryer is).  When the chemical has been activated, it turns black and is very brittle.  If it has heated unevenly, DO NOT put it back in the dryer!  DO NOT attempt to iron, like the directions say.  This is a MISTAKE.  Instead, turn your hair dryer on high and move it back and forth over the unprocessed parts.  You will see them turn black right before your eyes.

5.  Scratch off all of the blackened chemical. I used the edge of a credit card.  Beware: lots and lots of pile ends up in your house.  It's everywhere right now.  It's like glitter.

6.  Wash under cold running water with liquid soap to remove any remaining chemical, then let dry.  I used gloves during this process as well as the respirator.

The following photo is what happens when you over-process.  Don't over-process.  Learn from my mistakes!  Even if you have a small hole, when you wash it, it will just shred.

So I ruined four of the six skirt panels this way because I'd already sewn the skirt together (to know where to put the design).  I remade the four panels separately.  However, because velvet is A BITCH, when I sewed them together, they were all wrong.  The hem, which has a lovely scalloped design, is uneven all the way around (and in one spot, there's no scallop because it all got hemmed away).  I think the only way I can fix it is to cut out the scallops from new pieces of velvet and sew it to the existing skirt, but I don't have time before Chicago TARDIS.  I'll fix it at some point before we do our photo shoot next spring/summer.

More Details

In addition to the devore, the skirt and sleeves required further details, including flowers and vines painted on.  My husband was kind enough to do this part for me, as he's an artist and I'm a terrible painter.  He did a beautiful job!  Everything was painted prior to stitching it all together.


Over Sleeves

The over sleeves are a modification of the pattern I drafted for Eowyn's jacket in 2013.  Luckily, the seams match up the same way Eowyn's does, but the shoulder is shaped differently.  I also had to modify the bottom of the sleeves, as Eowyn's sleeves are much longer and squared off.  The exterior is velvet, but the interior is silver.  For the interior, I used a silvery organza fabric that I found at Vogue Fabrics in Evanston.  I apologize, as I don't have the name of the fabric anymore.  It was too sheer and you could see the red velvet underneath, so I attached a black lining to the silver and it made a nice effect.  From L-R below, original fabric, fabric over lining, and lining.

The sleeves also have a lovely silver lace fringe.  I purchased some lace from Etsy, but it had these long dangly bits.  I cut them off and attached the lace to the sleeve.



Final Steps

After all the skirt panels were done, I attached them to each other.  For the bodice, I attached the under sleeve to the lining and the over sleeve to the velvet.  I attached the bodice neck to the lining neck, and stitched them together at the two fronts.  The bodice seemed pretty flimsy, so I made 1/4" channels in the seams and inserted zip ties as boning to give it some shape and support.  Zip ties are great if you don't need a ton of support, like you would for a strapless dress.  Unlike plastic boning, they're already straight and super cheap.

After I turned the fabric to the right side, I ran a quick line at the bottom to keep the two together.  I left a few inches of the front of the skirt open for the eyelets, and then attached the bodice to the skirt.
I also made the cuffs for the sleeves.  The last thing I did with both pieces was add eyelets and laces.  This was surprisingly easy, as Matt had made an awl, which I pushed though the fabric (instead of cutting a small hole), then pulled the eyelet through.

I added trim around the neck.  I used a silver trim from Jo Ann's, which was similar to the trim I used for Elsa, just slightly wider.
The final step was adding 3mm crystal rhinestones that I found at I attached them using E6000.  Again, wear your respirator for this step, as E6000 is nasty and will make you feel pretty sick if you're using it for more than about five minutes.  It apparently also has really awful side effects if you're using it on a regular basis.

Clara wears a lovely headpiece that's made by Topshop.  They don't have them anymore, so I made my own by first making a mold, then cold casting in resin.  I then braided several lengths of silver chain and attached them to the larger piece.  My first version was a bit too large, so Matt sculpted me a new one.  He added the detail into the sculpt.  The earrings are feather charms that I found at Michael's.  She also wears several rings from Topshop, but I simply pulled them from my own jewelry.  I may eventually try to find something better, but right now, I don't care.

Clara wears peep-toe booties, and the originals are something like $300.  I found the following shoes at Charlotte Russe for significantly less.

The final step was ordering an 8-foot-long belt from  I also bought a cord and tassle from Jo Ann's in case the belt didn't get here in time (it took almost a week for them to ship it, and the shipping was 3-5 business days).  Those I just glued together, so they don't look fabulous, but they'll work if need be.  I also purchased red tights from Amazon, as I could only find maroon tights in the stores.

And here are the completed costumes!

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