Friday, 5 September 2014

Fifty Shades of Bile

My project for the summer has been, unsurprisingly, the Bilious Green Sports Bra of legend.

I must beg my readers' forgiveness that I have no been blogging about this as work has progressed. My apologies for my absence - I am sure you have all noticed and missed me terribly (yeah right). As I would hate to be clubbed to death by an angry mob of three, I shall explain my silence:

Firstly, due to a busy schedule of charity work and other obligations, the progress on the costume front has been slow and sporadic, meaning not much of anything significant was getting done. The majority of the work was completed in a rush at the last minute, leaving me with no free time to write about what I'd been doing.

Secondly, due to the sheer amount of hand sewing involved in the early stages of the construction, making this was actually, on the whole, really, REALLY boring.

Dearly departed, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of my enthusiasm for
this costume, which seems to have died along with all my fingernails.

Apologies out of the way, let's get down to it.

Gabrielle's BGSB - Bilious Green Sports Bra - is arguably the most iconic of her costumes. It's worth pointing out of course, for those of you who aren't costume nerds, that there are two variants of the BGSB:

Spot the difference! Submit your answers with a stamped addressed envelope.

The series 2 version (or BGSB mk 1), which features slightly longer sleeves and a criss-cross pattern over the top of the fabric, and the series 3/4 version (BGSB mk 2) worn from series 3 episode 3 onwards, which is sleeveless and has a leaf/vine themed embroidered pattern over it embellished with wooden beads.

As well as these more obvious differences, the BGSB mk 1 is also a richer, darker shade of bilious green, as well as being marginally longer and a little higher cut at the neckline than the BGSB mk 2.

“It’s very strange. With every story you tell me,this thing I'm wearing gets smaller. Is it enchanted?”

So the first thing to tackle was the materials. Like everything Gabrielle wears in the early seasons, it's all some type of linen. Believe you me, I should have taken out shares in linen when I started this project! But I wanted to get something close to the right textures. Fortunately, a close-up of the fabric revealed some lovely details in the material:

Here we can see the collar/front panel are a thicker, rougher weave, while the base has a slightly uneven look to it, like some threads are more prominent than others.

This shot also revealed that the criss-cross pattern appears to be constructed out of twine or wool, secured at the crossover points with thread the same colour as the fabric. It was a relief to finally know this as I had been agonising over how to achieve this effect for quite some time but it took a while to find photographs close enough to see how it was constructed.

I already had some yellowy-green linen in stock that I had purchased for something else, and had a large ball of twine already in supply having been bought for the wrap on my staff. This left me only with the collar material to find, and I stumbled across some hugely discounted heavy upholstery linen on eBay which had the right texture to it.

Colour was irrelevant at this stage, as I had made the decision some time back to stop looking to colour match the fabrics and dye everything myself (more on that later...)

Above: The main fabric.
Below: The collar fabric.

Pattern wise, I modified my old toille from the crossover set to make a mock-up: Shortened the sleeves slightly, took the hem up a tad, and sliced it down the front to lose the overlap. I spent an awkward few minutes drawing on myself in felt tip pen to try and work out the neckline, and then cut the toille accordingly. The collar I patterned by following the same line as the neckline of the main body, but adding a seam allowance on the inside so I could stitch it to an under-collar and get a nice crisp seam around the neck.

I cut the pattern pieces (the main body in the linen blend, and in a heavy cotton for lining, the collar in the heavy linen, and an under-collar and modesty panel in cotton) and then began the gruelling task of hand stitching the lines of jute twine onto the pieces.

I cannot....

... begin to describe....

... how unbelievably tedious...

... this process was.

For this reason alone I have tortured you with photos.

The next phase was far more fun - dyeing the bilious green sports bra the correct shade of bile to achieve optimum biliousness!!

Having battled with Dylon basic dyes for what seemed like an age in the never-ending saga of the crossover set - which to this day has never been quite the correct shade of mud for my liking - I decided to go pro and start dabbling in Rit.

Rit is a far more precise and professional dyeing system as it is designed to create custom colours by mixing small amounts of their dye products together. I'm not kidding when I say their range of potential colours is breath-taking. The pdf document I downloaded with the swatches and formulae featured 500 different colours.

I selected a few likely suspects from the catalogue, pasted them into a picture, and - bearing in mind of course that the fabrics already had a dull yellow/brown hue to them - asked my friends which ones they thought I should use.

Which shade of vomit would madam like on her blouse this evening?

Everyone voted for different ones, so I chose the combo that required the least colours, because £3.50 was going to make such a vast difference in the budget of this overall project. In all honesty though, the costume fades throughout the show so I had a little bit of freedom in that respect. I had been poring over images of the kit all day in all different types of light and my brain had pretty much melted out of my ears at this stage.

The process itself is more mind-boggling still. The formulae provided give the amount of liquid dye required to dye one ounce of fabric the desired colour. You must then multiply the amounts by the number of ounces of fabric. So far so simple, yes? Then, if you are using powder dye, which I was, you must then divide that amount by eight. Which means if you are dyeing a small amount of fabric, which I was, the dye required is such a tiny amount you have to dissolve a teaspoon of it in a precise quantity of water and then dish out a certain number of tablespoons of the solution to get the required fraction of dye. Oh, and the amount of water required for the dyeing process... well, that varies depending on how even you want the colour. And which document you look at. One says a quart, one says a cup. Oh, and it's all in imperial. Did I mention I'm British? We haven't used imperial since the war!

So far this oh-so-professional dyeing process had basically left me crying over a jar of murky green stuff as I yelled "I don't know how to math!!" at my computer. On the upside though, the solutions I had created in order to dye the collar with the necessary 1/8th of a teaspoon of powder were now sitting in my kitchen cupboard looking wonderfully bizarre.

And so, a merry afternoon was spent dunking bits of Gabrielle in a tub of water in various shades of pond scum...

One of the odd things I noticed about Rit is that the fabric soaks the dye up so well the water practically ends up clear by the time you're done!

So the collar came out perfect first time around, but the main body was a tad too verdant.

Not bilious enough. Needs more bile!

At this stage, however, my tiny brain had been exhausted by the mathematics involved, and as the fabric was already very green, I decided to wing it. I had bought some cocoa brown Rit powder for the skirt, so mixed up some of that with a smidge of the dark green, threw the top in and let it fester in the murky depths for a while before whipping it out when I felt it was vaguely the right shade.

Now I just had to leave it to dry so I could sew it together.

The things you see in a cosplayer's garden....

The construction was simple enough: First I attached the lining pieces to the outer pieces by sewing along the edges. Then I attached the top together at the shoulders, and the collar and under-collar together at the neckline. The collar piece then fitted nicely onto the top at the neck, and I could stitch around the edge without leaving visible stitching on the collar at the neck.

Another row of zigzag stitching secured the under-collar in place.

The only visible stitching on the collar is near the raw edge, so I ensured all the collar construction and attachment was hidden under the collar. This done, I could secure the side seams.

Placing the raw edges exactly was quite tricky, so I had to put the top on and pin the collar in place, as well as working out where the front panel needed to fold over to give just the right amount of gap, as Gabrielle does have a slight gap and a visible modesty panel at the front of this top.

Once this was pinned, I stitched it in place, following the raw edges as closely as possible. This was quite fiddly, mostly due to the twine embellishments. Trying to sew in a straight line, following an edge as closely as possible, is quite tricky for a generally quite clumsy person like myself, but when the machine keeps bumping up over the string and throwing itself off course, it's even harder! Nonetheless, with a little perseverance I got there eventually.

I did, however, realise that I had somehow ended up with one side further over than the other, meaning the body panel on one side was about an inch and a half wider than the other! I'm not entirely sure how that happened. Either I have no eye for measurements or I have an uneven bosom. Or possibly a combination of the two.

Suffice to say I unpicked and evened it out.

Next I had to sort out the front lacing. First I fitted the modesty panel - a fairly simple task.

I had already dyed a square of cotton, but it needed a bit of reinforcing to help it sit straight. So I used the same heavy cotton as I had for the lining, cut a square about the same height as the front edge of the top, and attached the green cotton onto it with lines of stitching about a half inch from the edge. This was then sewn onto one side of the top, again following the raw edge of the collar so the stitching was relatively hidden on the outside.

The other side can be secured with Velcro if necessary.

With this last bit of sewing now done, all I had to do was punch the holes in the front and add the lacing.

Punching the holes the correct width apart was a nightmare as the length of the front edge did not divide evenly whether I used metric or imperial, so I had to faff about with fractions and some of the holes ended up a bit unevenly spaced. However, it wasn't too dire and so can go relatively unnoticed.

I used a flat brown cotton lace for the fastening, although in some of the shots close up the lacing appears to be flat brown leather thonging. I didn't have any of that left, so cotton laces would have to do.

But the overall effect works.

Later on I shall replace the laces with leather. There are also other minor modifications which are required, most of which I had not noticed until I looked at the proper images. Mainly the fact that the front panel with the lacing needs to be shorted slightly in line with the main body. There shall also be the lengthy process of stitching over the points where the twine overlaps with embroidery thread. But in the meantime I had a shoot to get to!

'A Family Photo.' Picture by Joxer-of-all-Trades. Anna Nield as Xena. Yorkie as Argo.

For the full shoot by Joxer-of-all-Trades, click the link below:

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