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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dreaming Up a Dragon Scale Tunic

When I set about constructing a Dragon Scale Tunic in similar style to the one worn by Khaleesi in season I of the Game of Thrones Series I knew it was not going to be an easy task. Now that I have finished constructing one I will admit that it was a very time consuming process. It was a fun one but it did take a while to dry so if you are thinking about constructing your own the instructions below should help you out but do keep in mind a few days in a dry place is definitely going to be needed before this is ready to be worn.

I really wanted to do this piece justice. The original is magnificent and I asked myself a million times I was going to be able to replicate it. In the end the only way I could think of was to take strips of suede cloth and cut the zigzag on the ends and sew it to a base layer. It seemed rather exhausting to me but I just could not find a fabric, print or otherwise, that seemed to work so I did just that.

Materials list:
-> base fabric used was comprised of both a light colored tan knit and a basic cotton. I would recommend using both and you will want 1 yard of the knit (give or take a little), and 
-> 2.5+ yards of suede cloth fabric. 
-> thread
-> scissors
-> wide band elastic-2"+ wide, 1 1/2-3/4 yards (*wide elastic that is 2"-2.5" in width is fine. If you have both I would recommend going with the wider elastic for under the bodice and the wide back strap. Slimmer -> elastic  can be used around the waist. 
-> sewing needle
-> a whole bunch of paints, I really like the Martha Stewart metallics but go with what you've got. 
-> paint brushes (painting this tunic once sewn becomes a messy project so you will also want a messy space to work, gloves and old clothes. Plan on hanging or laying this out for a day or two to dry out before using. 

Costume pattern pieces:
You are going to want two identical panels of solid cotton for the right and left side of the tunic, I will refer to these as the side bodice panels. These panels will extend from the back shoulder area around the front and down the front sides of the tunic. You also have a front bodice panel. You have two side panels. Your last piece is going to be the back horizontal panel. The scale overlay is additional and goes over every piece listed above except the strip that goes across the back. 

Cut out a front panel piece for yourself out of knit fabric and add an additional 5-6" at the top before you cut the fabric. There will be a nice shape constructed of this piece but due to the dragon scale overlay added first, this can be a bit of an oversized rectangular piece, about 12" x 22" or something similar. 

You then want to cut out a piece for the side front panel. This piece will be rectangular and will start from the bottom hem in front where it will meet the center front panel and then goes up to the shoulder and then around the back half way down your back. You can guess and cut this piece big but keep in mind you want to add a 1/2" seam allowance for around the inside shoulder area and you want to assume that the top of the shoulders will extend outward about 3.5-4" from your shoulders. That means you want to cut a rectangular piece that is as wide as your shoulder extends outward + 1/2" seam allowance for the neck seam + 3.5-4" additional for the shoulder extension outward. Again, cutting big and trimming it down as you work is going to be very helpful when constructing this costume. 

Once you have the shape of one side then you will flip it over and lay it out over the other piece of fabric and cut the other panel. This base gets nipped at a lot once the scales are on it so there is no need to perfect at this point with the base.

Then you want to cut out two side panels an put them aside. 

Now that you have all of your base panels cut except the back center piece you will want to take the suede cloth fabric and cut strips and snip out some scales.  I cut the strips about 4" wide so I could have sharp dragon scale points to one end and the other end would be up enough so it could be tucked in under the layer of scales directly above.

This is what you want your scale strips to look like. Cut out a lot of these strips, each one being as long or slightly longer than each base piece added. Cover all of your pieces with the scale layers, working from the bottom up and when you add another layer sew it so that to sewing stitches are showing. I had about a 1/2" between layers, in some cases perhaps slightly more. The ideal scale for this type of tunic is going to be with a zigzag pattern to the scales of half an inch apart, go with moderately tight cuts. Around the sides of the tunic I went with larger scales however the tighter the scales the better it looked overall. 

Attach the scale panels to the base everywhere. You also want to continue the scales about 4" past where you are going to fold over the bodice. You will cut the area and sew it down on the underside once it has been painted but for now assume a few additional inches for now. Around the top shoulder blades going out on each side add a very narrow scale strip. Not only will this mark for you where the shoulder blades should rest on your shoulders but similar to the images. Take the center bodice panel and cut yourself a piece that is slightly more narrow around the waist than the top. Slim out one side and then fold at the center and trim the other side to ensure the sides are equal. The layers with the scales are going to be rather slippery and difficult to sew together. 

Despite my best efforts the center bodice and side front panel were sewn together a little off, the layers slipped a bit and in the end it became curved and slightly off center around the lower front. I just went with it and didn't fuss to much but just a warning there, slowly sew these vertical seams and when sewing and trimming to get a tighter fit be sure not to do this and it should work out a bit better. In the end if you want to even out the bodice so it looks like there are no vertical seams then you will want to take some of the extra scale pieces and tuck them in under the scales and glue or sew them in. I did not do this however this would be the best way to make the front appear seamless. Sew the additional scales in by hand or glue them with fabric glue. 

After you get the shape to the center bodice then you want to sew it to the front side panels. Attach at the front bottom hem and work your way up. Sew until you reach 1/2" upward of where you want the bodice to come up to. Do not worry too much about this area. It does become a bit more workable as you work on it. I just say this because I did have a difficult time at first and then just went with it. Using the knit fabric for the center bodice helped me alter the slant of the center front a bit and manipulate the scales so they fall well. 

Add the side panels to the front side panels and add the back center panel to the left side. The right side will eventually get a hole cut and/ or an eyelet added and lacing to close up the back on the right side. You will want at least one hole cut on the upper and lower corners of the elastic back tab in back on the right hand side. If you do not want holes for lacing then I would suggest velcro to hold the back in place in which case you will want it facing on the backside of the elastic back tab and in the inside of the right side of the back of the tunic.

On the inside seams trim any excess. Fit it to your body and see how it works. If there are any areas that need to be tightened up do so now except the extra few inches you left at the top of the bodice. This next part is optional but I lied it. Take your wide elastic and make a casing out of extra fabric. Attach it at the upper side on a slightly downward slant and bring it around the front and sew it to the other side in the same way. Take a tape measure and measure from the back side area of one side of your waist all the way around to the opposite side. Cut a piece of elastic and make a casing for the elastic. Attach the elastic around the inside of the piece, starting at the back side-about 3" in from where the back panel begins. Sew the elastic in around the inside of the lower waist. Take your thread and sewing needle and hand sew the casing to the tunic in various areas so that the elastic will pull the lower waist closer to you while it is being worn. By adding both of these elastic panels you get a bit of lift to the upper bodice and a decent amount of shape to your torso. 

Take a strip of elastic that is about 6" or so and use a bit of the suede cloth fabric and make a fabric casing. Sew the casing on the back left side to the back-side. Sew a vertical stitch to hold the elastic in place inside the casing but leave it open on the right side.

Now it's time to paint this thing. Take the paints and dyes you plan to use and gloves, a messy place to work, and set up a place to hang and dry it for a while. If you go with a black or dark color for the outer fabric then you can skip darker paints and instead just lighten the ends of the scales. This is what I will be doing as a test when I make the next one. I would also recommend bringing a bunch of extra scale remnants with you when you go to paint the piece because painting a few extra scale pieces that you can use throughout the costume if needed when finishing it up will come in handy. You may want these to make the bodice seams seamless or for adding a few pieces to extend the torso if needed. By adding the elastic to the waist so that it hugs your body brings the tunic up a bit so plan on it being a little longer and you can easily snip out scaling as desired later on once painted. 

With this first one I used a tan suede cloth and dropped it in a few darker colored dye buckets like brown and purple just to get some initial worn out looking hues to it. This took days to dry but in the end it did tone it up nicely. Then I treated it to a series of different pigments, and I spread color throughout. So I would pull out the emerald green and paint some in different areas as I imagine a dragons varying coloring would be. If your base scale fabric is black then leave it black around the narrow dragon scale marking the shoulder areas. If not then add black paint. I added black paint. Then I would mix in some gold, lift those scales up and get color underneath. Add some silver in, some burnt sienna, mix in some gold with a bit of sparkle blue. Just mix it all in. Anywhere there were sewing stitching marks, and you are bound to have a few, just paint over them. 

If you do a decent job the first time you may find you do not need to go back and treat it again. I treated mine a series of times, allowing the fabric dyes to soak in and dry and then adding the various paints. 

Once your piece is entirely dry then you want to tilt the bodice into a slightly slanted position and hand sew the inside down. Fold over and hand sew the inside neckline going up to the shoulders. If you care to you can continue to fold over and hand sew to get the edges a bit more tame but I just left mine a bit ragged. Cut small holes or add eyelets and lacing in the back to pull the back a bit tight and lace it up.

Happy Crafting!

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if you couldn't just add the fabric scales to an already-constructed garment? Have you tried this? The item is BEAUTIFUL!