Costume: Jedi, sorta


I made two Jedi costumes before Christmas-time, as Christmas presents for my cousin’s kids.  I also made a couple of books of secrets that also serve as journals for the older children.  I thought it was a nice division, between silly costume stuff and serious secret stuff.  It should have been a nice division, right?

img_2763Turns out, one of the kids that got a book, wanted a Jedi knight costume too.

So, I spent today with my patterns out, and some white fabric, making another Jedi tunic in a size XXS, and working up another djellaba-style cloak to go with it, both out of fairly simple cotton fabric.  Easy.

The Jedi Tunic is part of the costume pattern set that comes with Simplicity 5840.  They don’t call it A Jedi tunic, but from the way that the characters stand, and the accessories (shoulder armor, cloaks), it’s kind of clear that they’re supposed to be Jedi without violating trademarks and copyrights.

This is not a particularly difficult pattern to make. The ‘front’ is two panels, the back is one panel, each sleeve is one piece.  And then there’s a band around the neck and front and back that is two slips of fabric sewn into one long strip, and then double-folded.  None of the sewing is anything more complicated than straight-seam sewing.  Even the hemming is not difficult with a sewing machine.


The belt is five pieces, including a strip of interfacing.   I added some decorative stitching to the front panel of the belt.

The cloak pattern with Simplicity 5840 is fabric-heavy, though.  Takes seven to eight yards to assemble properly. That’s a lot of fabric to ask a kid to haul around for playtime.  And it winds up being expensive, too.  So I made some adjustments.

The first adjustment I made was to switch from a European cloak pattern to a more-Middle Eastern pattern which in some forms is called a djellaba.  My grandfather came back from a business trip to Saudi in the 1950s or early 1960s wearing a djellaba, which I now own — a bit of ancestor work every time I put it on.

The djellaba is either a very wide piece of fabric with both ends folded into the center, and sewn along one edge; or folding the fabric end to end, cutting a hole in the middle for the neck and head, slicing down the middle of one side to create the open front, and sewing the selvages shut except for wrist holes.  Which is what I did here — it uses less fabric, it’s less weighty and elaborate than a full-circle European cloak with sleeves, and it’s probably more useful for playtime for kids.

Jedi robes


one of my Christmas presents to my cousins this year is a pair of Jedi robe costumes for their male children, who are either my nephews or my first cousins once-removed. I think it’s the latter.

An outline of the kid

This was more difficult to achieve than it sounds. My first task was to create an outline of the kid in question. This was relatively easy, of course. In my family all you have to do is suggest that you’re doing an art project, and kids will help. So, I had two sheets of large poster board paper with me, and one of the kids loaned me a marker, and I traced his outline. He’ll not be the same size next year, but that’s life. This sort of thing happens, and it would be less convenient, of course, if he didn’t change size year to year.

Then it was a matter of taping the two sheets of paper correctly so that I had a rough idea of how high he was from the shoulder to the knee.  And from that outline, I managed to modify a pattern that I had for a Jedi robe sized for a teenager or an adult male.  A boy appears to be about two sizes smaller than an adult XS size, which various websites suggest is about right.  So we’re on track there.

clear fluff from the pins before sewing the seam

The second part of the work was making new pattern pieces out of freezer paper. I used freezer paper, rather than patterner’s paper (which has a lovely grid of dots that you can use to help mark your place and keep your pattern properly sized) because patterner’s paper is expensive, and I don’t know how long I want to keep a boys’ size 8-10 Jedi tunic pattern around; other people might want one, and having the pattern handy just makes it easier for someone to convince you to do it again.

It’s kind of like the Saturn V rocket — Someone decided that project was too expensive, so most of the tools, dies, templates and even plans should wind up in the scrap heap to be melted down.

Voila! No more Saturn V rockets, because who wants do do all that engineering math again at double the expense?

I’ll probably keep the templates, though. It’s too useful not to. In any case, I didn’t take pictures of the cutting room floor. When you’re cutting fabric, one hand is involved in holding or maneuvering scissors, another hand is holding the fabric, and a third hand is holding the fabric tight, and a fourth hand is holding the pattern still. How I do this alone is beyond me, but I manage. It’s helpful to conjure the spirit of a good tailor during this part, even if they complain constantly about your bad cutting technique and your inadequate pinning job.

Then comes the sewing itself.  Each and every piece of fabric must be ironed and pressed, and then pressed again along finished seams, in order to have a really beautiful garment at the end.  I was sloppy with my ironing, though.


Ironing with a small travel iron, when what you want is a professional grade steam iron with a dedicated board and a hose to bring in fresh water, is difficult.  I managed OK.

A Jedi tunic is, ideally, seven seams — seven seams for seven liberal arts, seven planets in the original system of the Jedi Order (I made that up), seven virtues, seven truths, seven warnings. (that two).

The front left side and the front right side are both attached to the back, each by one seam.  Each sleeve is attached by one seam to the shoulders.  Each sleeve and garment-side is a single seam running from wrist to waist or knee (depending on garment length).  Then there’s a strip of banding or bias tape attached from the front left side in a ribbon around the neck to the front right side.  Those are the seven seams.  Of course, there is also some hemming (which sort of counts, and sort of doesn’t), running along the back to the side-seam; around each wrist; and across the front left and the front right.  You could make up an entire spiritual mythology around the hemming of Jedi tunic garment; some nerd (me, maybe) already has, probably.

Then a belt.  The belts consist of heavy interfacing between two layers of fabric, and two long ties to wind around the waist.  The interfacing and the two layers of fabric get a quilting, of sorts, to give them some interest and additional detail.  Neither was particularly hard, although judging the roundness of the two boys from the flat pattern provided by one of them, was harder.

Two tunics finished.

And then the cloak.  Turns out that I mis-judged the amount of brown fabric I needed, by about 4 yards. Couldn’t find the bolt of fabric in the store; couldn’t find the slip telling me the inventory number so they could look it up again.

No matter.  Instead of Jedi half-circle or three-quarter cloaks, I made djellabas.  The djellaba is a Arabian garment, consisting of a long rectangle of fabric folded most of the way to the middle from the ends.  Some holes are cut at the neck; I attached the Jedi-style hood to this opening, even though the Djellaba doesn’t normally have a hood.  Hem the hood, hem the inside edges of the fabric and the tail.  I might add some trim along the edges, neaten it up a bit and add some visual interest to the costume.  But basically, it’s a Jedi robe outfit suitable for running around on Suburbia, the backyard planet (as opposed to the Forest Moon, or the Ice Planet, or the Urban Planet or the Swamp Planet…) I’m sure they’ll find plenty of those worlds….

As a kid, I was always taken in by the potential of costumes to transform who we are and how we think of ourselves. When I played Horatio in Hamlet, I wanted to keep my costume after the performance.  The props master said I had to ask the costumer, and the costumer said no.  In retrospect, it was made of the same cheap materials as this costume — but it made me into a student from Wittemberg.

But if we let kids play in plastic Stormtrooper armor, it’s hard to remember to take it off.  Jedi are supposed to be smart, to be agile, to be fearless, yes. But they’re also supposed to be compassionate and caring, committed to justice and the dignity of all beings.

Maybe this too complicated a spell, but it’s my hope that these costumes will help raise my young cousins’ sights to the ideals beyond Star Wars, and think about what it really means to be a man of honor in a less-civilized age.



Suppose it’s the case that you’re going to a dress-up party tonight for Halloween season, and you’re playing a pirate.

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But you don’t have a hat.  And it’s becoming an issue that you don’t have a hat to go with the rest of your costume.  You need a hat.
How do you solve that problem?

Well, you could go to a Halloween Spirit store, and buy one.  But the chances are pretty good that whatever hat you find isn’t going to be as good as the rest of your costume.  You have a shirt that was professionally made, and a pirate coat-thing you made yourself, and a pair of pants, and a pair of boots, that are all wonderfully pirate-like… But you don’t have a hat, and any sort of hat you buy elsewhere is going to be cruddy or crummy or expensive.  What do you do?

You look through your collection of spells sewing patterns.  You find the hat pattern that’s part of Butterick 3072.  And you make one in a few hours.

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Bend the wire cleverly hidden in the brim…

It’s not a particularly difficult pattern. I did mess up a little bit on the inside, of course; the red lining is supposed to be attached in a slightly different order than I actually did it, and the result is a lining that isn’t quite as clean or clever as I’d like. But this is not a durable, heavy-duty hat for the rain — it’s a costume piece. And like any costume piece, it’s a relatively simple pattern that can be modified and adapted — a wider brim, a stiffer interior hat-band, a pointier crown… none of these things are impossible to add or modify from the original pattern.

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Tricorne hat!

There’s some debate about which coat to wear it with. I think it’s a better match for the “poet’s coat” I finished up recently that goes with this bag that I had to repair; my girlfriend thinks its a better match for the Scarlet Doublet.

No matter.  I can build a hat.  And if I can sew a hat, there’s a pretty good chance that I can sew anything at all.

There is, if you will, an underlying logic.  Further up in this post, I crossed out the word ‘spell’ because I think there’s a relevance here.  The average pattern in a pattern package that you buy from the fabric store is a set of guidelines; there are recommended fabrics, trim, and  materials — but those are essentially guidelines.  Those patterns have a grammar, if you will, of language to help you understand what it is that you’re doing. There’s an underlying order and methodology; alter the methodology, and you alter the results; stick with the methodology, and you’ll get exactly what the pattern-maker intended for you to get.  But each time you go through this process — each time you make a hat or a coat or a cheese or a tool chest or a book or a bookshelf — you’ll discover that you have a new set of tools for solving problems and building and creating things: food, clothing, furniture, even houses.   This touches on what I said to Will Richardson — that a school’s purpose is to teach measurement, in part so that the questions of what to make, and how to make it, become easier and simpler as we grow older. 

That teaching, that knowledge of how, is never undone.  It stays with us forever, this side of dementia or death.  The underlying thought processes remain eternal, and grow deeper with each project completed.  Even if the first hat is slightly too small… you know how to make it again.

Making a bag — Using Your Brains


I’m making a bag. It’s part of a larger costume, consisting of coat, pants, shirt, winnegas (leg wraps) and maybe a hood or coif.  I haven’t decided about the hood; it’s a complicated thing to get right and still look friendly.  And part of my goal is for the outfit to be brown or woodsy but friendly.

Making a bag doesn’t have to be a complicated thing.  This one is parts of three fat quarters of cotton fabric — two black and one green.  And it could have been three bits of black fabric, but I didn’t have enough left.  And then it’s the remnants and leavings of a yard or so of brown wool that I used as trim on the coat you can see in the video.

The design is simple. Easy.  The knowledge comes from figuring out the assembly of the bag — the lining, the strap, the outer shell — ahead of time, and then cutting your fabric to match that design.  I learned how to do this by assembling about a half-dozen bags and another half-dozen belt pouches and generally ramping-up my skills as a sewing hobbyist. And I got by today.  I even finished the bag a few minutes after making the video — because the making of the video helped me solve the problem I was encountering.  Huh, how about that?

Chances are, your school or library’s MakerSpace has or will eventually have a sewing machine.  And some widower will drop off his wife’s quilting supplies someday.  But the chances are, you don’t know how to use your sewing machine, and you don’t have the knowledge of patterns and assembly techniques to be able to put that sewing machine to good use.

It takes habits of thought, and habits of consciousness.  The materials and tools, in other words, by themselves do nothing.

What will it take before your MakerSpace or Design Lab has the technical wherewithal to use all the tools and materials it has to really make things that people want to use?  How will you get from making models, to making useful objects?

Sewing: Tudor Doublet

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Sewing Muslins I’ve had the pieces for this project cut out for months. It’s a Simplicity pattern for a Tudor-style doublet or pour point.  I finally got a chance to be at home today, and assemble the muslin pieces into a completed garment.  No lining, no trim, no fancy bits — just the basic outline of the garment.

I don’t like it. More

LittleBits as Planning Tools

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LittleBits as planners

A Stark Future Ahead?

There are these wonderful new (if expensive!) toys called LittleBits. They’re kind of like Legos, but for electronics geeks instead of would-be architects.

And today, inspired by the photo of the guy in MAKE magazine who built a pyro arm, and by my own efforts at making a costume gauntlet, the students in my Monday MakerLab class decided that they wanted to try building their own gauntlets. They pretty much agreed that they couldn’t build a fully-functional pyro-glove in time for Halloween (phew! for me), but the idea of light-up gauntlets was pretty thrilling in and of itself.

None of us are electronics geeks, which is unfortunate.  However, we do have some LittleBits, which we got on sale through an educational discount last year.  So we modeled what it is that we want to do.

Here it is — a battery pack mounted in or around the bicep of the armor-glove/gauntlet thing that we’ll build.  Some wires headed down the arm to a pressure-operated button at the wrist or even better in the palm (so the lights flash when you make a fist).  And a series of LEDs that light up when the pressure switch is active.  If I can work some EL wire in there, that’s perhaps always on or flashing, with shades of TRON or various anime — well.  I don’t think it will be so bad.

Armor-Glove prototype: Trying the glove on

Me, trying on the too-small gauntlet I built…

It doesn’t SEEM very complicated.  It does seem like a very good project to start out a bunch of aspiring builders who take their inspiration from comic books very seriously.    It will involve some soldering, I’m sure; but it will also involve some pretty serious thinking about electronics on the part of some fourth and fifth graders.  And it will not likely look anything like the clean white-and-colorful bits in the LittleBits boxes when they’re done building it.

But I think about how utterly beyond me this would have been six months to a year ago… I would have looked at the drawers and drawers of electronic parts I had, and wondered how, on earth, I could possibly figure out how to build this thing I was expected to build.  Now thanks to Josh, and Frank, and LittleBits, I can see what it is that I’m trying to build: a power pack wired to a pressure-switch wired to a system of LED lights, looping back to the powerpack.

Without having the LittleBits, I would have struggled to understand that much.  All those demos with a battery pack and a lamp and a couple of wires, every couple of years at a Science Fair, wouldn’t have helped me.  Even the EL wire that I bought last year for the Design Lab wouldn’t have helped.  But this collection of components, combined with this collection of kids, combined with this particular desire — build elements of Halloween costumes in four weeks — this I get.  And this I think I can do:  it’s a low-enough bar that it can be achieved, and give our kids a much needed success, and a much-needed success for the program.  But more than that, it’s a beginner project, much like my beginner projects for my sewing and knitting efforts.  It’s a great way to learn how electronics work, and how they’re made.  It has just a little bit of danger, too, with the soldering (eventually).

These things are achievable, believable, controllable and desirable — A, B, C, D.  And more’s to the point, this is exactly why a bunch of electronics geeks invented LittleBits — to help bring a whole new crew of tinkerers into the kind of experimentation that makes their work possible and relevant.  This is why these toys exist.

And today, I got to see them put to that use.  I was very excited.