Cosplay: The Steamdress from Alice: Madness Returns
I have friends that are amazing cosplayers. I was fortunate enough to share a room with a few of them at PAX Prime last year and it gave me insights into cosplay I’d never had.
I got to watch one of them hole up in our room while everyone else was out partying so she could finish her costume. I also got to see her swollen thumbs from applying hundreds of studs to her jacket.
I was the “seeing eye person” for a friend who was wearing a full face mask AND heels and needed someone to make sure she didn’t fall. If you’ve never been to the Washington State Convention Center let me tell you—there are a LOT of stairs there.
I also spent some time as a pack horse. Most costumes don’t have a lot of storage options.
I watched my friends spend the day unable to sit, pee, or eat and having every single conversation interrupted by people wanting to compliment them or take pictures, and I said, “Oh my god, I want to do that.”
There is obviously something very wrong with me.
The gorgeous character design is one of the reasons I love Alice: Madness Returns so much. All of Alice’s dresses are fantastic, but the Steamdress is my favorite. Sure, it’s the most detailed dress in the game but I figured that wouldn’t be a problem for me. So what if the most complicated thing I’d ever made was a pair of men’s pajama pants (that fly was a bitch to figure out)? This couldn’t be that much harder.
Or so I thought.
The easy part was buying stuff. The boots, wig, gloves, tights, and corset were the result of a rather gleeful online shopping extravaganza. I considered making the corset myself but decided against it because I didn’t have very much time to complete the costume. It’s possible that deciding to buy it was the only good decision I made during this entire process.
The first challenge I faced was that I had no idea how to make a pattern. I considered mixing and matching pieces from different patterns but I couldn’t find what I needed. I finally turned to a more experienced friend and she graciously agreed to help me. (She told me later that when she actually saw the costume she had a minor panic attack.)
I absolutely could not have made this costume without her. Not only did she know how to make a pattern, she also knew how to pleat.
In case you were wondering, pleating is a complete nightmare. First, you mark your fabric.
See those lines? Every single one of them marked where a fold needed to be. Every single fold had to be pressed into place and then set with a mixture of vinegar and water. Then I had to sew along the edge of each and every one of those goddamn lines.
That picture shows half of one panel. The dress has five skirt panels and three for the bodice and sleeves.
It took days.
Still, once the pleats were finished I thought it would be smooth sailing. I pinned the pattern into place, cut the fabric, sewed it together… and watched as it unfurled like an accordion.
I had forgotten that the entire point of pleats is that they unfold.
I stared at the shapeless sack of black pleats that represented entire days of my life and thought, “Shit.”
I had to make a fitted dress out of pleated material, a task which I was fairly certain was impossible. My forays into pajama pant construction hadn’t prepared me for this. Still, I had already told people on the internet that I was making this dress and God knows I didn’t want to disappoint people on the internet.
I have my pride, after all.
I picked myself up, took the entire damn thing apart, and started over. (Well, not with making the pleats, because fuck that. If I’d had to start over with pleat construction I’d have junked the whole thing and eaten some ice cream instead. All the ice cream. All of it.)
I began sewing pleats closed. I started with an inch at the top of each pleat and an inch at the bottom just to keep the fabric stable. Then I sewed the bodice of the dress back together, put it on, and started marking.
And sewing. And marking. And sewing.
There is a very faint chalk mark on the picture above- I still had to close the pleat from the top of the stitches to that line. That’s how the fitting went; an inch, maybe two, at a time. Not just on the front of the dress, either—I had to make sure that the pleats on the skirt and on the back of the dress stayed closed under the corset, which meant the stitches had to end exactly where the corset ended.
It was a bitch.
I am not exaggerating when I say that it took me at least forty hours to get the dress loosely fitted, but at the end of those forty hours I had a skirt and bodice that mostly fit. I thought I’d finished the hard part. Now I just had to place the sleeves, slap on some trim, and I was done.
The sleeves didn’t fit.
The pattern we’d made didn’t account for pleats. When I tried to put the sleeves in I discovered that not only did they not fit the arm holes, but that if I forced them into place I would not be able to lift my arms. My upper arms would be basically glued to my sides.
There might have been some headdesking at this point. There may have even been tears.
I had no more pleated fabric and I sure as hell wasn’t making any. I couldn’t make new sleeves and even if I had it didn’t fix the problem of the too-big arm holes in the bodice that I’d already spent tens of hours fitting.
So I cheated.
See the area that I helpfully outlined in white? That’s not supposed to be there. I basically took a scrap of fabric, sewed some lines across it to make it look like it belonged there, and stuck it in the dress.
It was at this point that I realized I’m a motherfucking sewing savant.
Then came the zipper. I was unprepared for the zipper. Pajama pants, after all, don’t have zippers.
I am not going to tell you how many times I took that motherfucker out and sewed it back in, but it was five times.
I had, after a month of constant sewing, a black dress with a zipper. It hadn’t even been hemmed yet.
So I hemmed it. Then I started slapping on the trim, which I had originally intended to make myself. It would have meant several hours of pleating. There was no fucking way that was happening.
At this point it really was all downhill, which was good because I only had six days before I was supposed to wear it to Geek Girl Con and I still had accessories to make.
I finished the dress eight hours before my flight for Seattle took off, and I cried when it was finally done.
I would do it again in a heartbeat.
EDITED TO ADD: This picture, by request. 🙂