In my last semester of college, I took a costume craft lab class. This was one of the most fun and satisfying classes I’ve ever signed up for. We learned the fundamentals of designing, sewing, dying, constructing, assembling and storing all kinds of costumes. Our final assignment was to select a fabric and follow a pattern to sew a pair of pajama pants. I had already been doing simple projects on my mom’s Singer for a while, and I needed a Halloween costume, so I asked my co-professors if I could do something a little more ambitious.
They agreed to let me tackle a jumpsuit. I loved the Ender Series by Orson Scott Card and I had been waiting about a decade for the movie to finally get into production. It was, at long last, due to premiere on the big screen, right after Halloween. I knew it would be the perfect time to cosplay one of my favorite characters.
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I had already been researching this costume as a Halloween candidate. One of the challenges I’d run into was the insignia patches that indicate which army a student belongs to. Throughout his career at Battle School, Ender is part of three armies: Salamander, Rat and Dragon. As a kid, I kept salamanders as pets, so I knew that was the army I wanted to be in.
I read a blog by a really greatcostume designerabout her technique for creating the patches. She used a laser cutter to burn the designs into leather. I didn’t have access to a laser cutter, but I had a lot of leather, an inkjet printer, and a wood burner.
I printed out the designs I would need for the name tag and army patch, to scale.
Digging through my leather bucket, I found a good piece of about 6 oz unworked cowhide
I cut the shapes needed for the patches and beveled the edges.
Traditional leatherwork involves softening the hide with water, then hammering metal tools into it to form impressions, which are accentuated by stains and dyes. I wanted deeper relief over a pretty wide area, so I used a test patch to experiment with woodburning and carving tools.
I ended up using a mixture of techniques. First, I had to trace the designs onto softened leather.
For the name tag, I cut all the way through the leather using a craft knife and a leather hole punch.
I painted it the right color grey.
Then backed it with white tagboard and some clasps that were later sewn onto the chest.
The Salamander Army patch was a little more involved. I cut the majority of the material away to make the insignia, using my friend’s set of tools he had for carving linoleum blanks in a printmaking class. If I’d been more comfortable with carving that level of detail, it might have come out really well just using that material. As it was, I used the wood burner to smooth the bottom of the indentation and make the edges sharper.
I used traditional tools and hammered the border in. I had to hit it much harder than you normally would to get it as deep as I wanted.
The inlay got a coat of black acrylic, then green was carefully brushed onto the top.
I had never sewn directly from a pattern but, but between the two amazing women teaching the course, and the instructions in the pattern, I knew I could get the results I wanted. I started by ordering a pattern for a basic jumpsuit. It was pretty groovy, so I assumed some modifications to the massive collar and bell bottoms would be needed. Since then I found out McCalls has a pattern (3252) that is more of a military-style to start with.
I poured over behind-the-scenes photos of the Battle School uniforms. I decided that there were two materials. The main body was a lighter grey and the shoulders and other accents were a darker, slightly shinier fabric.
With this in mind, I picked the closest matching colors I could, trying to compensate for lighting on set. The light grey turned out to have a little stretch to it, which would make it fit easier and hang more naturally while wearinon-stretchattaching stretch to non stretch can be problematic. The main body fabric that I chose turned out to be a little lighter than what they used on the film, but I decided the wieght and quality of the fabric would be more important than the color.
Because it was a bit more complicated than pajamas, I had to take my supplies home for a weekend and get some work done. Unfortunately, my mom’s only good scissors were left-handed, so using them was pretty uncomfortable.
Most of the body was just a matter of sticking to the pattern.
The shoulders, collar, and sleeves required a little bit of custom patterning.
With the pieces all cut out, I sewed interface onto them to give them more substance and make them easier to attach.
Before I sewed them onto the body, the patches had to be integrated into the shoulders. I used a thin black leather for a backing.
Once the backings were attached to the shoulder pieces, I hand stitched through the patches and backing, hiding the thread in the border of the design.
The whole assembly was top stitched down onto the jumpsuit.
The collar and forearm pieces went on last. There were other details that I didn’t get pictures of, like the belt pieces attached to the waist with snap buttons, or the velcro cuffs.
It all came together great. I got a pretty good grade on it, but more importantly, it was the perfect Halloween costume.
And obviously, I wore it to go see the movie I’d been waiting for since I was 15.
Thanks for reading! Remember, the enemy gate is down.