Round Peg In a Square Hole-crafts

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Starfleet Uniforms, the Easy Way!


As this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first airing of the original Star Trek series, there has been a renewed interest in costumes from the series. I’ve been hauling out the old ones, and am finally getting around to making some that I’ve had on my mind for years.

Of course, the quintessential, recognizable-at-50-yards Star Trek costume is the mini-skirted Starfleet uniform. However, you don’t often see this well-done, as it is made in several gazillion non-standard pieces and, to my knowledge, no one is currently selling a paper pattern (though the Starfleet Technical Manual has drawings of what the pieces look like). Those who know me know that I have a very accurate (for being made when I was 13 years old) Medical uniform, made of actual, period polyester double-knit. (I was once stopped at a con when I was wearing it, by someone who demanded to know WHERE I had gotten that fabric and I said “1973”. She was crushed, as this was in the late 80s.) The reason it was so accurate (besides the fact that I’m pretty anal-retentive) is that someone I knew knew someone who knew someone who….whose father had worked on the show and had managed to smuggle one of the patterns off the set. I was able to make my costume, but didn’t have the foresight to make a copy of the pattern, unfortunately, before returning it. Consequently, I hadn’t made a regular Starfleet woman’s uniform since then, despite the availability of the Technical Manual.

Anyway, we decided that we needed to make uniforms for our WorldCon Masquerade entry, and so I was face-to-face with the need to finally draft these patterns, and figured I had two options: take apart the one I had, make a pattern, then re-assemble it, or draft the patterns as shown in the Tech Manual. In the interests of avoiding the inevitable, I spent a good deal of time “doing research”: i.e., watching DVDs of the old series episodes. (This was how I determined that the Tech Manual is WRONG on MANY things, but that’s another article.) I just was not looking forward to drafting that pattern in three very different sizes.

And then, brilliance dawned, if I do say so myself. It finally occurred to me that the easiest way to do this was to make a sheath dress out of some cheap knit fabric (basically, a knit muslin), fit it to the person in question, then simply DRAW the lines where the seams should go with a Sharpie. Then, it would be simple to dismantle the dress and cut along the marked lines, and voila! Pattern pieces! I could either mark which seams needed seam allowance added, or cut new pieces with them included.

And it worked like a champ! I was able to fit three women with very different body types, put the seams, the necklines, the hemlines all in the right places with a flick of the Sharpie and we were golden. Don’t know if I could have done it without having made the one from the original pattern, or if I hadn’t had it there for reference, but I can give you the info to do it yourself.

First, make a sheath dress from some stretchy knit fabric (preferably light-colored, as it is easier to see the marks) and fit it to the body in question without any darting or additional seaming (and that includes set-in sleeves; you’re basically making a T-tunic, with no underarm gussets). Next, mark the neckline and seamlines as shown in figures 1 and 2, including how high up you want the pleat to open, and LABEL YOUR PIECES. Then disassemble the pieces of the dress, and cut along the marked lines. You will be left with a total of 8 pieces, AF-DF for the front, AB-DB for the back.

Lay out the pattern pieces on a single layer of the fabric, right side up, making sure to cut the pieces in the right orientation, i.e., the side with the markings up, and (if you are using the traditional velour) all headed the same way. Now, comes the tricky bit. To make the pleat, you will have to cut piece BF next to piece AF, all as one piece (see figure 3). You must then cut a separate piece BF. Do the same for pieces AB and BB.

The only tricky bit on the assembly is sewing BF to the hybrid AF-BF piece, so that the seam line lies where you originally put the line between AF and BF. (An easy way to do this is to lay BF on the hybrid piece, both face-up, and mark where the edge of BF comes to on the hybrid piece. Then, move over two seam allowances to the left, mark that line, and lay BF face-down with the edge of the fabric along this new line. But there are many other ways to do it; do what works for you.) Sew this seam to the point where you want it to open for the pleat. Then sew CF to BF without catching the hybrid piece into that seam. Finally, sew DF to CF.

Repeat all that for the back pieces, building the back pleat in the same way, then assembling the rest of the back. Sew the back and the front together along the sides and the tops and bottoms of the sleeves. (Note: the originals had invisible zippers under the left arm, but the new generation of velour is stretchy enough that you really don’t need it; you can just pull it on over your head. But you can put one in, if you want to go for authenticity, or your fabric doesn’t stretch that much.)

Next, cut the ribbing for the neckline. There are several options here, as there was little consistency in the original series. You can a) cut the ribbing so it lies flat to the body; b)make the ribbing decrease to nothing at the back point and miter it at the front point; c)make it stand out from the body in the front and lay flat in the back. All of these are defendable from screenshots.

Measure the distance between the front point and the back point in both directions (they should be different lengths). For a), cut two pieces of ribbing which slant from 5” at the front to 3” at the back, one for each of the neckline measurements. Fold each in half the long way and cut the ends as in figure 4. Open them back out and sew the front edges together and the back edges together, pivoting at the point; clip the point. Refold the ribbing the long way with the seams inside (either open out the seam or serge them and lay them to opposite sides of the seam) and pin to neck opening, stretching the ribbing to fit the neckline.

For b), cut two pieces of ribbing which slant from 5” at the front to 1” at the back, one for each of the neckline measurements. Fold as for a), but only cut the front as in figure 4. Open out and sew the back as a straight seam and the front as for a); attach as for a).

For c), cut one piece of ribbing the length of the two neck measurements minus 1”, making it 3” at one end, 5” at a point one neck measurement (minus ½”) from the end, then down to 3” at the other end. Fold in half the short way, then again the long way, and cut only the back edges as in figure 4. Unfold; seam the back and attach as for a).

For all necklines, serge or overcast the seam.

Hem sleeves to be longer than ¾, shorter than full-length; call it 7/8. Hem it to be really short; that’s how they wore it in the show. (Or longer, if your modesty trumps your need to be “authentic”.) Hand hems don’t show on the velour, and there didn’t seem to be any machine hems visible on the show.

The insignia are available online (we got ours from an ebay store) as is the rank braid, or you can sometimes get the insignia at science fiction convention dealers’ rooms. Black knee-high, non-glossy leather (or leather-look) boots can be low or high heeled, zippered or pull-on; again, all those options can be documented in the original series. Buy or make trunks to match the uniform or in black, to match the tights. And make sure you wear hair and make-up from the 60’s; it is really jarring if you don’t. (And there are some classic styles that won’t remind you of childhood horrors or bad drug trips that work just fine.)

Have fun!

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