A LONG TIME AGO (ETC ETC ETC)...
In my mind, the greatest Star Wars costume…is Darth Vader (from Episodes IV-VI, take your pick). However, as I do not have thousands of dollars to spend making that costume, I went with the next best thing; Princess Leia’s Metal Bikini, as worn by the talented and lovely Carrie Fisher.
This is not the first time I have made this costume. A long time ago I made a sad, sorry version out of a clothes hanger and model magic. I followed a “tutorial” I found online that had about 6 quick steps, a great accompanying photo, and it sounded SO easy. It…it was…well…it was something from the dark side.
I really wanted to revisit the outfit one day and do it proper justice. So, after sculpting, casting, molding and painting other costumes in the past, I decided to take another swing at it.
I tried to take progress photos along the way, so I can show others the way I made the outfit. It is not the only way, it is not the best way, and there are steps and materials that can be changed. But hopefully it can be of some help to you. I recommend looking at how my Liara, Donnie Darko and Terminator costume pieces were constructed if you’re just starting out in sculpting and casting – and definitely do further research on how to make copy of your body!
1: I had a ton of latex (and wire) on my hands. 2: There were two bikinis used in the movie, one that was actual metal, and one that was rubber…so making a latex one seemed to be a safe bet. And 3: making one out of metal would be expensive (same goes with resin, which would need an expensive silicone mold). You could make one out of resin if you like! (Just replace the ultra cal mold with a silicone one, and sub in resin for latex)
(first pic by Pin-Up Perfection Photography)
Step 1: Supplies
- 407 Slush Latex
- Plasticine (or any oil based clay)
- Ultra Cal 30
- Sturdy non-stranded coated wire
- Cheesecloth (or burlap if you don't mind the mess)
- Sculpting Tools
- Old Cake Piping Bag and Small Icing Tip
- Silicone chalking
- Gold (Latex) Paint (you can mix in...)
- Red (or purple, or brown, or whatevercolouryoulike) silk(ish) fabric
- Brown (or purple, or dark red, etc etc etc) suede(ish) fabric
- Thick black elastic
- Fabric snaps
- Pair of old tall flat boots from your closet or Value Village
- Cheap gold (coloured) thin wire hoop earings
- Back of stud earrings
- Leather cord/thong
- Two hair clips(French barette)
- Silver Paint
- Copper paint
- Thin aluminum wire
- Dollar Store Round Shower Curtains
- Wire Snips (or some other means of cutting thick plastic)
- Hot glue gun and glue
- Variety of brushes, sponges
- Oven, parchment paper, cookie sheet
- Gloves, goggles, dust mask and 2 pairs of thick needle nose pliers
- Body Double and Head Double (see next step)
Depending on your hair, you may need to buy a braid or a wig.
Depending on your shyness, you may need to buy pasties and underwear. (Costume malfunctions can and do happen!)
Styling your Hair tutorial, by Tristanc2003
Instead of parting my hair into 3 sections, I did 2. I made a pony tail, attached my fake braid underneath it, wrapped the braid once around the based of the ponytail and then followed the rest of the tutorial.
Fake Leia Hair Braid, from PuppyCatMeow (Tressa)
She not only sends you free colour samples, but she can do custom colour blends for your braid! This is the one I got.
‘Strapless’ panty!, by Shibue Couture
Because you really, really should be wearing something underneath.
Sculpting, Casting and Molding forum, at TheEffectsLab
The people on this forum were a big help. For example, I was stuck on how to do all the fine lines on the hip plates. Their solution? Putting caulking in an old pastry bag and using a fine icing tip!
Gallery and Chain/Boot/Earring tutorials, from Kay-Dee.
Her site not only has a wonderful reference gallery of photos taken of the REAL costume, she has a tutorial on how to make chain links (and earrings, and how to do the boots, and fabric as well!). She made her chain links out of resin, after making a mold from tubing.
Make The Bikini – with Sculpey! By Angel Monkey Studios
Make The Bikini - with PVC Polystyrene! by ‘Kim’
Kristen Andrews aka Mirax – a *huge* inspiration.
And of course:
Leia’s Metal Bikini – Buy It!
Plan B: Buy one ;)
Step 2: Chain Construction
Unless you have a special hardware store that carries circular chain links, buy some plastic shower curtain rings at the dollar store to begin making this cheap chain!
The shower curtain rings are going to be a bit too big, so you will need to cut them. I snipped off the opening/closure of the ring with wire cutter snips (that I use for cutting wire for chainmaille rings). You could...use some heavy duty scissors or carefully use a hacksaw or maybe a band saw?
Preheat your oven to about 250. Cut up your other rings while waiting. Once the oven is heated, put one ring on parchment paper, on a cookie sheet, and pop it in the oven for around 4 minutes.
Carefully (use oven mitts/gloves!) take the ring out of the oven. Using two pairs of pliers, twist the ring so the open ends over lap. The plastic is hot, allow you to alter its shape - however it will spring back a bit, so that's why you're overlapping the two points. Hold it in place for a good 5 minutes. You may find that you need to put it back in the oven, reheat, and rebend.
(I admit, I forgot to take progress photos of how to make the chain, so I grab a shower curtain ring and took some quick photos. My 'real' rings have the opening a *lot* closer together.)
Once you've done that for all your chain pieces (remember, your openings will be *much* smaller), link them together. Seal the openings with a little bit of hot glue - EXCEPT for the top chain link, which will need to remain open to add to your collar.
Finally, spray paint your chain a silver-ish colour, paint some coppery coloured aged/rust spots, and twist thin aluminum wire around two spots on each link. I wrapped the wire around the hot glue joint, and then at another spot parallel to that. For the top chain link, I twisted the wire around the opening, and then slide it to the side when I attached it to the collar (and then put it back in place, to hide the opening).
If you want, you can sand down the chain links (before painting/attaching/bending) to remove the seams/made in ' ' stamp. Feel free to paint your chain/wire as you see fit!
Step 3: Body Double
I advise doing a duct-tape form. Or do the plaster of paris strip mold, but do the back, let it dry, take it off, then tackle the front.
You'll also need a copy of your head for the 'hair pieces' and the collar. Alternatively you can get a foam head and bulk it up with clay. You can read about how to do a head cast here or here.
Well before I started this costume, I wanted to make a dress form, which went disastrously wrong in so, so many ways…but at the end of the day I did end up with a cast of my body, so I kept it and used it sculpt the bikini pieces on.
What I used was
- Plaster of Paris Strips/Bandages (please, don't use just straight ol plaster of paris!)
- Two Part Quick Expanding Foam
- Piece of Pipe
To make a fitting Leia costume, you really do need a cast of your body. I can’t stress enough how you’ll need to research how to do this in a safe, safe way, because I’m sure I did it (almost) completely wrong.
My husband and I made a plaster of paris mold of my body, like we have done of my head previously; after being covered in vaseline, the back of my body was covered in 4 layers of plaster of paris strips, ample vaseline was added to the side edges to prevent the front half from sticking to it, then the front layers were added and both pieces were removed once dried
That's what ideally would happen. It took us three tries to get a body mold, because I kept almost passing out. Which is why YOU should research alternate methods. We ended up using fewer layers, and I had to eat and drink during the entire process so my cast got a bit of a pot belly.
Once the the two separate halves of the mold were removed from my body, they were cleaned and left to dry completely. They were then plastered together. I covered the inside with vaseline to act as a release agent for when we made a foam cast. The neck and arm holes were sealed up (though in hindsight, we should have sealed the bottom and poured the foam in through the neck)
We poured a two-part quick expanding foam into the mold. It. Was. Awful. Originally we wanted to pour the foam in through the neck, but we wanted a post going through the form (to attach to a stand). The foam expansion was so rapid and strong, and there were so few layers of plaster of paris, it pushed through the sealed neck seams, and seeped through the plaster of paris bandages. I tried to peel, cut and scrape off the plaster of paris, and in the end I had a half-plaster, half-foam monster torso. But at least I ended up with an armature for sculpting…yay?
I need to add that I did do small-scale tests! That worked! But I think a number of factors (ie. Pouring in foam from the bottom, everything was on a larger scale, fewer plaster layers were used since I kept half-fainting) contributed to the mucked-up “final” version.
Step 4: Sculpting the Bikini
If you can make a clay worm, you can do this! Small sections of clay worms make the initial bikini bra – then you just blend blend blend the worms together! Use sculpting tools to make lines and ridges.
While working on the top, I also did the front bottom panel. I used the same techniques, with the addition of silicone chalking. There are lots of fine lines on the bikini – too fine, I found, to roll out into small worms and blend them. So I ended up using caulking in an icing bag, thanks to the suggestions from theeffectslab.com
After making molds of these sculpts, I sculpted the other pieces. I sculpted the shoe piece after I had cut my boot top, but before covering it with fabric. I only sculpted one boot decoration and used the mold for both boots. In total, there were 13 pieces sculpted: the top, front plate, back plate, side hip piece, the snake arm bracelet, wrist bracelet, collar, two ‘bun’ hair pieces, braid hair piece , boot piece, earring and bead piece. 20 pieces would end up being cast.
[There's a picure of tiny sculpts of an earring piece and a ‘bead’ alongside a claw from a Donnie Darko costume. These were done when I was working on my Frank suit, so all these items got a silicone mold and were cast in resin. I casted over 6 earring and top ‘bead’ pieces (just in case something went wrong). The earrings themselves were made by cutting circular earrings in half, gluing an earring piece to one end, and the other to a earring fastener. You can make those pieces out of latex, but since I had it, I used resin.]
Step 5: Making Mold of Bikini
Surround your sculpt with a clay wall. Coat your sculpt with vaseline (or release agent of your choice). Cut up the cheesecloth into little squares. Add a little bit of water to a small amount of Ultra Cal 30 and mix, until you get a consistancy similar to river bed mud. Goopy. Cover cheesecloth squares in the mixture and lay on top of your sculpt. Once it's cured, you remove the mold, clean it, and if needed, put pieces back together by applying the ultra cal mix to the sides of pieces. he boot decoration, snake bracelet and collar all had several mold pieces. The pieces were ultra-cal-ed back together for the latex cast.
I go into more detail about ultra cal 30 molding here and here if you need it!
Step 6: Making Latex-and-Wire Cast of Bikini
You should add wire to the top and all the bottom pieces – at least! I also added wire to the wrist bracelet, and if it wasn’t so straining on my hands, I would have added wire to the hair bun pieces.
So once your wire is bent into shape, remove it and add coat of latex to the mold. I used “leftover” slush latex I had from previously projects. The latex is added layer by layer to ensure that it cures all the way through, adding latex every 10 minutes or so.
Halfway through, the wire is put on top of the initial latex layers, and more latex is added.
I added snaps to the top (and to the front and back panels) so I could remove the fabric sections for cleaning/swapping out colours. The snaps were plunked into the final layer of latex.
Repeat for the front, back and side bottom pieces, two boot covers, two hair bun clips (adding hair snaps to the back of those), two hair braid pieces (once removed from the mold, they were merged together with latex), the collar, the arm snake bracelet and the wrist bracelet. Ooph.
Step 7: Painting Latex Pieces
I decided to age the metal a bit - I believe that the bikini was not something special made specifically for Leia, but rather was worn by other slaves and stored in the Hutt's 'prisoner-wear' closet. It also wouldn't surprise me if it had gone through the rancor's digestive track a few times (ew). So while the fabric should be new, the metal...maybe not so much.
This theory is probably not canon, and there might be more of an elaborate added-on history about the slave outfits that I'm not aware of - but if George Lucas can make up stuff after-the-fact, so can I :)
Step 8: Fabric Boot Covering
I started out with an old pair of winter boots. I recommend getting a pair that you can slip into (like a cowboy or ugg boot). Since mine originally laced up, I sewed some elastic across the front opening, after covering them with fabric.
Cut the top of the boots to the correct height and angle. (I then covered a boot in aluminum foil and sculpted the boot piece). Leia's boot looked like it was made out of three sections - the heel, the toe, and the 'leg'. I took some practice fabric and basically draped the pieces I needed. I pinned everything in place, marked the shapes, cut and repined, before making the final pieces.
I also ended up lining my boots (since the insides were originally black) which was done using a similar process.
The final boot pieces were stitched or glued to the boot - there were some places I could not get to with my sewing machine or with a needle, so glue gun it was.
So, for comparison, there's a pic of an uncovered and covered boot - and a glimpse of the boot decoration! It attaches to the boot by stitching the decoration to the fabric, at a few spots along the top.
Step 9: Adding Fabric to Latex
Thick, rounded black elastic was used as the straps - it was small enough to fit through the beads and the holes I drilled in the latex, strong enough to hold everything up! I wasn't able to find any, but I would have preferred to use a rounded leather strip.
Here you can see the snaps added to the fabric and lower plates. The bottom fabrics were just two large rectangular pieces, given a rolled hem all the way around, and added to the front and back plates. Small strips of thick black elastic were added to the plates with snaps AND hot glue (just in case).