Monday, August 18, 2014

Creating Sansa - A Cosplay Chronicle by Megan Marie Fox

Sansa Stark - Reference Image
For the past four years I have made a new costume to wear each year San Diego Comic-Con. My obsession with Game of Thrones hit a peak last year, and so I dressed as Catlyn Stark, as presented by Michelle Fairley in the series. The costume went over well, but a lot of the feed back I was receiving was that I looked a lot like Sansa. So this year I decided to go for it.

With Sansa’s extensive four-season wardrobe to browse through, I decided on a dress from season 3. There were several factors that informed my choice, one of which was that I have never done any embroidery. I knew teaching myself another skill was not in the cards for completing my project on time. Another factor was the fabric. The motifs used on the show are distinct and finding a good look-a-like will either cost you time, money, or both.

Spurred on by the annual 50% off remnant sale at Britex, I started scouring for a purple upholstery fabric with a reverse towards the end of April. I spent about two hours digging through the remnants to find something that would fit the look. The total sale was $63. I came home with two things I thought might work. First, I grabbed 4 ¾ yards purple upholstery fabric that had a barely visible pattern. The second purchase was a flowery brown and gold print that I mostly bought for its reverse. I bought 7 yards of it, came home and realized it wasn’t what I wanted. It looked too “Lannister”, yucky! (The Lannisters are yucky but Sansa's ok?! - Ed)

The purple fabric at top left ended up being my under-skirt.

Over the next two weeks (until I was paid again), I looked online. I checked every discount fabric store Google could feed me. There were several viable options, but buying fabric online felt a bit risky.

I opted to check another San Francisco gem – Discount Fabrics on Mission ave. This store had some fantastic candidates. There was a beautiful lavender with a large, silky flower motif, and several purples and browns to choose from as well. In the end I didn’t get the purple and olive green I was looking for, but I got damn close. I took my prize to the cutting table to find out there was only 5 & 3/4ths left on the bolt – and there was no more anywhere in the store. I considered my options and decided to go for it. And because I felt I needed a “just in case”, I bought 6 yards of the pretty shiny lavender fabric. These two items plus two packets of light green piping bumped the project up a good $89.

I used the "wrong side" for a more GoT look.
The costume designer uses very specific motifs for each character, and wanting to be true to her vision, I started to obsess a bit on jewelry. I found an almost perfect copy of Sansa’s dragonfly necklace on Etsy and wrapped the chain with dark mauve embroidery floss. Etsy also sold a suitable “vintage” substitute for Sansa’s Cabochon-type engagement ring in Lannister red and gold.

Sansa's dragonfly & Tyrion's engagement ring.
 Let me be honest here, after that I did bloody nothing towards making the costume for a month. I did add the occasional reference photo to my iphone, but otherwise I squandered my time. I was scared – the next step meant actually drafting a pattern.

I had watched as a friend  effortlessly took a sharpie to wrapping paper and made the shapes of a garment one year ago to draft my Catlyn. He didn’t even have to measure, it just worked. So cautiously, I took out my wrapping paper, I grabbed a pencil and I started  to draft my first pattern.


The first thing I wanted to tackle was something I saw as a rather large hurdle, the front of the dress. Sansa’s dresses almost always have a princess seam, however the dress I chose also had a triangular neckline and a wrap-like front. I attempted to sketch out what I thought this would look like until I was happy and out of wrapping paper. Grabbing whatever cloth I could find from my graveyard of scraps, I traced the pattern onto fabric and pinned it together. Voila! But it was more like Voil–huh? Everything fit together, but the dress was about twice as large as it needed to be. So got a good laugh at how I looked in the dress and then I set to work with alterations.

Not quite what I had in mind.
 ONE MONTH TO COMIC-CON – Experimentation & Anxiety

I was afraid of screwing up and cutting something I might not have a copy of, so I decided to set to the lazy man’s way of altering a pattern. I sewed all of the seams together and tried the dress on inside out. Starting from the back, I pinned where I thought a seam could come in to make the dress drape right. After pinning a piece on the right side until I was happy, I would measure and pin until the left side replicated it. Then I would sew over the line I had made in pins and test if it improved the fit. If the answer was yes – it stayed. No? It got the seam ripper and I started the process over again. I did this with every seam on the bodice until it was about 80% of where I wanted it.


THREE WEEKS TO COMIC-CON – Revisions & Slave Labor!

When I first drafted the pattern, there were five pieces per side. By the final revision there were four, Back, Side Back, Side Front, and Front. I cut any excess off of the seams leaving about ½ to ¾  of an inch as a seam allowance to each piece. Then my boyfriend graciously volunteered to seam rip the pieces apart while I ironed the fabric and evened the salvage ends.


I caught a virus that had me out of commission for nearly a week. I went to work each day and came home too exhausted to work on the project more than worrying about its completion. Four days into being sick, I’d had enough and started to engage in “crunch time” behavior.

ONE AND A HALF WEEKS TO COMIC-CON – Anxiety, Ironing & Pattern Cutting

I feel it is important to admit that this is the point I started to freak out, almost to the stage of cutting the pattern on the real fabric. I started to worry I had f***ed something up. I ran to Jo-Ann’s and purchased one of the many Game of Thrones inspired knock-off patterns. I unfolded the fragile tissue paper and was completely thrown off guard by what I saw. Each drafted piece of this new pattern was within the margins of what I had already drafted. My pattern even had some improvements in accuracy, so I put the pattern away, grumbling at having wasted $17.

After ironing everything, I traced my pattern pieces adding some width here or there as noted. Every piece had to be cut top to bottom, nothing could be placed upside down to save on fabric. This proved challenging especially with the length of the dress. One piece – the side back had to have about a foot added on the bottom due to a lack of space when cutting the pattern. Thankfully, it blended in on the finished dress near the final hem line.

Measure twice, cut once.


I sewed each piece to its neighbor with a small ¼ inch seam allowance. After this, I continued to check the fit, altering the dress the same way I altered the mock up. It was at this point I realized the arm’s eye was gaping around my bust and was too tall. I didn’t know where to start altering the pattern, so I asked for help. Thankfully, a friend on Facebook had a plan that worked; seam rip the last two to three inches of the arm’s eye and see what works from there. I was advised to keep pinning it until it looked right. Thank god this worked and I was able to modify the arm holes to my liking.


Taking a break from the stress inducing work of alteration, I needed to make Sansa’s under-skirt. I took visual cues from “viking dress patterns” on Pintrest boards to inform the shape of each piece. The purple fabric I purchased at Britex worked well in combination with the over-dress. I set to work cutting four large semi-circles. Making due with the small amount of fabric I had, I pinned small pleats in the front. The back of the skirt was almost completely flat, but with the front folded this way, when the dress swayed to reveal the under-skirt, at least there would be an illusion of excess material. I machine stitched, then hand tacked the hem to where it would nearly hit the ground when I was wearing my costume boots.

SIX DAYS TO COMIC-CON – Alterations & McGuyvering

At this point I had six days until the convention. The over-dress still needed its sleeves, the bust still needed alteration, piping needed to be hand sewn down the neckline to the feet and after all that the over-dress needed to be hemmed so I wouldn’t trip over it on the convention floor. Then, looking at a high definition screen-shot of the dress I saw the things I had thought this whole time were just metal clasps were actually beautiful wing-like or leaf details on a stabby looking pin and circle clasp. I had gone to such great lengths to replicate the details of the costume, I couldn’t stop at “good enough”. I hopped across the bay bridge to get to a store called Lacis that has unusual and rare findings to look for something more exact. Unfortunately, they had nothing in bronze, or gold or with wings. They did have a very helpful staff who were patient and helped me put together something that might work. I ended up with two felted end hat pins, two purse rings with holes in the top and four pretty shell leafs. This would have to do.

THREE DAYS TO COMIC-CON – Painting & Sleeves

I attached piping to the dress and painted all of the findings with gold spray paint. After about 3 coats of the stuff, I then attached the very fragile shells to the center ring with gold colored wire. To hold the dress together I would have to sew myself into the top & use safety pins for the rest. It was getting far too close to the wire to add any more sewing.

I pulled a near all-nighter, re-pinning the arm’s eye for the hundredth time and sewing together the sleeves with my machine. I then embarked on the labor heavy task of what I believe is called a “french seam”. I first ironed the raw edges of the newly sewn seam down, then folded them under in a way that hid any ugly machine stitches. After pinning and ironing again, I tirelessly hand sewed each sleeve on both sides of the center seam. I watched five episodes of Anthony Bourdain travel shows to stay awake, and I didn’t even finish before calling it quits around 4:30am.


I had to bring one of my unfinished sleeves to work in hopes of finishing it on my break. I didn’t get much of a chance to sew, however I did almost forget it at work. I went home and slept like a happy angel for four hours until it was back to work at 10pm. I eased in the first of the sleeves & called it a night.

ONE DAY TO COMIC-CON – Even More Sleeves, Final Touches & No Sleep

Thankfully, I had the day before SDCC off of work. Unfortunately I had appointments to make & a rental car to pick up. I constructed the “wing pins” that would decorate the dress with wire. They were indeed very fragile, but I secured them as best I could.

Next, I sewed the second sleeve to the dress. There was a small hole by the armpit, fixed it with some extra machine stitching and moved on.

The over-dress was still un-hemmed, so I did what I could with my allotted time and machine stitched it. It didn’t look great, but thankfully I had the perfect color of thread to hide my quick fix.

It was nearing on 4am, our “go” time to leave, so I gave up on finishing the piping so the raw edges didn’t show when the dress drifted open. It would have to wait, and honestly I was feeling pretty good about the dress for having been up all night.

When we got to our hotel, I checked on the dress. It had gotten a little poofy and rumpled in transit, so I was very thankful I had brought my iron with me to flatten everything out. I laid out my corset & my pj shorts for under the dress as well as everything I would need for hair & makeup on Friday morning.

SDCC FRIDAY – Sansa’s Debut

I woke up shaking,  I could hardly eat and my heart was racing. I was having a panic attack. I did my hair first. I needed it to stay for 16+ hours, so I liberally used Nexus “comb through” spraying, then brushing in & spraying again. I then bobby-pinned Sansa’s top twists to secure them & tied the two halves together with a three inch piece of leather string. Studying my reference picture, I made sure to note the shapes and colors of Sansa’s features. Sansa has natural rosy pink cheeks accented in a crescent moon shape. The eyes are very well blended, but are in natural light and dark brown shades. I added a small amount of mascara to the tops and closest bottom lashes. This was to bring out my eyes for any photographs and darken my blonde lashes. I emulated the straight angular look of Sophie Turner’s eyebrows with “auburn” eyebrow powder, only defining the brow hairs closest to my eyes. Last, I added a very small amount of contouring to the cheeks.

My hands were still shaking as I put on my shoes then under-shorts & corset. I somehow managed to sew myself into the gown and safety pin up the front. Pinning the “wings” proved rather difficult given the very fitted dress, but after another five minutes of positioning I was ready to go!

I headed down to the lobby and off to iHop to meet a couple of friends for breakfast. Still a nervous wreck I was put off guard when people asked to take a picture of me. After all the time I had spent on it, the costume was still so flawed to me. I got too close to the project and thought “it has to be perfect”. But here’s the thing, perfect is a lie.

Getting up to order at iHop, I broke one of my “wing” shells. It cracked, and I nearly cried. After all the work I did, I thought “crap, I just ruined it”. I was unwilling to give up. I took the broken shell, unwound the wire that was attaching it to the center decorative ring of the pin and rewound the wire over the entire shell. This quick fix worked well enough that it didn’t break again until I was hugging an Arya on the last day, in the last 10 min of the convention! Yes, I was VERY lucky. But let this serve as a reminder, never give up hope.

I could write five more pages on what awesome things befell me the rest of that Friday, but suffice to say Friday was the beginning of the best convention experience I have ever had. I had so much fun, I nixed my planned Sunday costume and went as Sansa again instead – I regret nothing!

So after all this time, money & effort, what is next?

Well, I plan on reprising Sansa at future conventions but there are a few things I need to deal with first.

I want to fix a few things that weren’t done right. I think the sleeve edges could be a little flatter. I would like to re-do the over-dress’ hem the right way & bring down the front corners that were too far from the ground; uneven with the rest of the dress’ seem. I also need to hide the raw piping that is on the inside of the over-dress as well as add hook & eye closures to replace safety pins on the over-dress and the under-skirt.

I am investigating 3D printing as a way to obtain a “screen-accurate” wing / seed-pod dress pins to replace my home made models. A 3D model is currently available online and I am looking into printing this and then making a “sand cast” to have it in  brass rather than just plastic.

If I get it in my head to try embroidery, there are several other “Sansas” I would love to wear, so maybe this costume is the first of many, we shall see!

A bit of fun -  a reward for reading this long, there was a wonderful photographer (Tyler Schirado, Turn the Right Corner) asked me to pose completely out of character, this is the result. I think I was copied, don’t you?

Thanks to...
Justin Rhodes, who tirelessly eased my nerves. 
Christine, who dealt with my mess consuming the living room.
Turn the Right Corner
To everyone I met in San Diego, I hope to see you all again next year!

Megan Marie Fox is a cosplayer living and working in San Francisco. She loves Game of Thrones more than is probably healthy. 

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