The Making of Supergirl
I’ve been working on a new costume for a while now, and it’s been a bit of an adventure. Most of the costume work that I do is in metal. I like metal. I know metal. I know how it flows, and stretches, and drapes, and folds. That is to say, I know how it doesn’t do any of those things without some serious encouragement from my hammer.
Until relatively recently, fabric was something I only worked with as an afterthought, an accessory to my metalwork. Unfortunately, once I started going down that rabbit hole, more projects started springing up like… well, rabbits. This latest one demanded I learn a whole collection of new skills. I thought I should share my adventure and maybe save others some time and let them avoid my pitfalls. The goal was to make this:
Not the whole thing, just the costume. I’ve never worked with spandex before, nor do I have much experience tailoring for the female form. Men’s clothes are much easier. Male bodies are treated, by fashion, as hangers. Men are the hook that a painting is hung on, while women are the canvas onto which art is applied. The lengthy dissection of the origins, impact, and implications of those differences belongs in a different post. For now, all I will say is that it is way harder to make ladies’ clothing. Fortunately, I had some excellent advice from a pro. Diana at Diana Rose Custom Apparel, pointed me in the right direction and set me up with some practice material and a reliable, but simple pattern. Thanks Diana! The pattern was Kwik Sew 3502, a figure skating outfit. It was easy to modify to have a squarer neckline, and had pretty solid instructions for tailoring to fit. In the image below, I used the form of pattern A, with a modified version of the neckline from C.
I’d never used a serger before in any meaningful sense. But I have access to one at my local makerspace, so I thought this was a good excuse to get familiar with it. If you’ve never played with one, they’re basically witchcraft. The one I was using was fidgety as hell to get the tensions on all the threads right, but once they were, it worked like a dream. Nice, clean, strong, stretchable seams with basically no effort.
After some minor alterations to the pattern, I picked up some textured stretch knit fabric and tried it for real.
With all my fretting, it turned out that the bodysuit was going to be the easy part. The real challenge would be the crest. Most costumes that I’ve seen use fabric appliqué or a print to add the iconic “S” to supersuits. The costume in the TV show, though, seems to use a solid, rubbery thing. I wanted to replicate that as closely as I could.
I decided to use Dragon Skin 10 tinted with Slic Pig. Dragon skin is a two part ooze that is reliably easy to mix, casts very well, and is pretty durable. I picked up the sampler pack of Slic Pig colors and that was more than enough dye for my needs and allowed me to mix the exact color that I needed. For the mold, I again had some fortunate access to awesome tools. My local makerspace has a CNC router. I designed the logo in Draftsight, a CAD program that’s available for free, and had the router do the heavy lifting of cutting out my mold.
The first attempt had a bit of a rookie mistake. I forgot to mirror the design in the mold, so the casting came out backwards.
Round two of the mold was more successful, but I couldn’t keep the layers cleanly separated when casting.
For my third attempt, I made the red and yellow layers as two separate molds, and then fused them together afterwards.
To fuse the two layers, I just used a thin coat of untinted Dragon Skin. It bonded them extremely cleanly and they behave as a single piece. Attaching the crest to the chest was a whole other battle. I experimented with a dozen adhesives. Very little sticks to the crest, though. I ended up using more dragon skin. To get a good grip, I had to prime the fabric with the rubber by carefully painting it on. The liquid rubber would wick through the fabric, so I had to be very careful and patient to get a clean layer without going outside the lines. This was terrifying. Had I been planning ahead, I’d have done this first. Instead, a single mistake would have ruined a nearly finished costume and I’d have to dismantle the whole thing and start again.
Fortunately, paranoia led to enough caution to win the day. The rubber set well, and within the lines and I could use another thin layer of Dragon Skin to fuse the crest to the fabric. They are now one. They stretch and move together and I don’t think I could pull them apart if I wanted to. The belt I made from vegetable tanned leather based on a paper pattern. I painted it gold with acrylic paint and glued the skirt (a simple miniskirt pattern with a couple of added pleats at the front) to the belt with contact cement. The cape is, well, a cape. It’s sewn into the front of the neckline with a couple of pleats gathering up some of the bulk. An important note if you’re making it this way, do not sew the cape down at the back or it becomes almost impossible to put the suit on.
I am thrilled as hell about how the whole thing turned out. To my overwhelming delight, so is the owner, who was kind enough to let me share some pictures of her wearing it.