Friday, March 23, 2012

Kaylee's Shindig Dress

Character: Kaylee Frye
Costume: Party dress from "Shindig"
From: Firefly
Made: 2005

The short-lived television series Firefly remains one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and this is my absolute favorite costume from the entire show. It's from the episode "Shindig," where in order to meet with a business contact, Kaylee and Mal have to go to a fancy dress ball. To make up for being mean to Kaylee earlier in the episode, Mal buys her this dress, which she'd seen in a store window and loved. Now, Kaylee's no city girl, and her taste is-- questionable, to say the least. This dress is unbelievably pink, unbelievably fluffy, and I, like Kaylee, love it beyond all reason.

I'd been wanting to make the dress since I saw the series in fall 2004, but an email from my friend Kel convinced me to make it a bit earlier than I'd planned. She and some of our other costuming friends were planning a big Firefly group entry in the San Diego Comic-Con Masquerade to promote Serenity, the movie that was based on the Firefly TV series. Were my husband and I interested in joining them? You're gorram right we were! I tossed together a Mal costume for him, unfortunately sans his signature browncoat. That one's still on the to-do list.

 Of course, the dress ended up being yet another last-minute, no-sleep project, so I'm not as happy with some parts of it as I'd like to be, but I had so much fun being in the group and doing Masquerade that it didn't matter. You can see a video of our skit on YouTube here, and Carolyn, who was our "casual-clothes" Kaylee, has a page about our group's entry.

San Diego Comic-Con 2005, as part of the "Big Damn Heroes" Masquerade entry
(Thanks to Cathleen, Cordelia, Kathy, Kel, Kim, Hasufel, Eurobeat King, and Consplayers for the pics!)


Dragon*Con 2007
(Thanks to PinkRouge and Kay_Dee for the pics!)


Underpinnings: Hoopskirt and Petticoat

This dress very obviously uses a hoopskirt-- I've heard that the actual costume used one of the hoopskirts from "The King & I." I thought about making my own, but in the end opted to buy the biggest one I could find, which was a six-bone, 180" circumference hoopskirt from

Armed with my hoopskirt, I set about making the petticoat. The petticoat was going to serve as my muslin for the skirt, so I made it with the same number and width of ruffles as were on the actual skirt. I used plain white muslin; in retrospect, I should've gone with tulle or petticoat netting for the ruffles, because the muslin ruffles are *very* heavy and also get crushed under the weight of the actual skirt, so the petticoat doesn't do much puffing. But the hoops don't show through, and it was nice to have my skirt muslin be functional, so it serves its purpose.

At any rate, I decided to make a five-panel base-- four identical panels, with the back panel split in two so I'd have a center-back closure. Basically, I took the waist measurement, the hem measurement, and the skirt length, and fiddled around with the math until I found something that worked, which was a sort of trapezoid with a curved bottom. The top of the trapezoid was 7", the sides were 45", and the curved bottom was also 45". With nine ruffles total on the dress, each ruffle worked out to 7 1/2" with about 2" of overlap between ruffles. I only put the bottom 7 ruffles on the petticoat, though, to cut down on the amount of material in the waist.

The actual process of doing the ruffles was pretty easy, just time-consuming. I ripped 7 1/2" wide strips of my muslin, as long as I could make them, and then ran them through my machine with a ruffling foot. I just messed around with the degree of ruffling until I was satisfied. I didn't bother finishing any of the edges; I didn't have enough time, and it was just a petticoat, anyway. I used pretty tightly-woven muslin and haven't had any problems with unraveling. Then I marked lines on the petticoat base where I wanted the ruffles, and sewed them straight on. If I were to do it again, I'd sew them on upside-down, so when the petticoat is right-side up, the ruffles flip over and you don't see the raw sewn edges. A quick waistband finished the petticoat.

A corset is worn with the real costume (you can see it underneath her bodice in the episode), but I didn't have time to make one. I just wore a white camisole I had on hand. Below, you can see the evolution of my underpinnings, along with a picture of me in the full rig:

Since my skirt was going to be essentially identical to my petticoat, construction was pretty easy. I did make each panel a bit wider and longer, so it would fit comfortably over the petticoat, and you wouldn't see anything peeking out underneath. I made the base of the skirt out of white Southern Belle cotton from Jo-Ann, which is a nice, tightly-woven fabric. The ruffles were made from my trusty 10mm silk chiffon from Dharma Trading. The fabric isn't accurate; costume designer Shawna Trpcic has since confirmed that the ruffles are organza. (My ruffles are awfully floppy!) But I already had a bunch of 10 mm chiffon on hand, so thrift won the day! 

There are three colors of ruffles-- white, peach-ish, and pink. I calculated how much 54" chiffon I'd need for each color, and then dyed the peach and the pink in my kitchen sink. I used RIT Rose Pink for the pink ruffles, and a combination of Rose Pink and RIT Golden Yellow for the peach. To dry the fabric, I wrapped my shower curtain rod in plastic wrap and draped the fabric over it. Then I ironed the fabric, ripped it into 7 1/2" widths, and did a serged-rolled hem on the edge that was going to show. A quick trip through the ruffling foot, and they were ready to be stitched onto the base. Again, I wish I'd thought to sew them on upside-down so the raw edge wouldn't be as visible, but oh well, what's done is done. The lower eight ruffles went onto the skirt; the ninth ruffle, which was made of bodice fabric, would get sewn on with the bodice.


This is the part of the costume I'm least happy with, because it was the last thing I did, and consequently the most hurried. I'd really like to redo it sometime in the future. Butterick 4375 is a very ugly, pseudo-Renaissance, thankfully out-of-print Butterick pattern that worked perfectly for this dress, because it was a high-necked princess-seamed pattern. The fabric is an off-white polyester patterned fabric from Jo-Ann. I bought pre-ruffled pink trim, also from Jo-Ann, and inserted it in the front princess seams and at the neckline. For the sleeves, I just dyed some leftover silk charmeuse with RIT Rose Pink and gathered it evenly around the armhole, then added a band of pink patterned ribbon and put elastic through it to gather the sleeve around the arm. The same ribbon went down the front of the bodice and around the waist, camouflaging the seam where the bodice, the top ruffle, and the skirt were all sewn together. The whole dress closes up the back with an invisible zipper and two hooks and eyes, because the zipper wasn't long enough. Yeah. Not my finest hour.

The whole dress is a bit long, because I couldn't hem it while it was on me and my dress form is taller than I am. (Someday, I'll get around to figuring out exactly how much taller, and then hemming things will be much easier.) So I erred on the side of caution, and figured I'd just wear whatever heels worked best. That ended up being my 2 1/2" wedding sandals, which aren't the greatest for wearing around all day. Ouch.

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