As you might recall from my first Closet Cosplay Challenge, I like to try and put together thrifty costumes, using things I already have on hand or that I can get cheaply and easily. I had been wanting to make a Starfleet uniform for the longest time, and finally got the chance when I found this perfect shirt at a thrift shop!
Starfleet is a great route to go if you don’t want to worry about your hairstyle, or crazy makeup; the cosplay can be as extensive or exotic as you want it to be. For example, I would love to give myself Trill spots or Vulcan ears sometime soon, but for now I decided to make do being a plain ole’ human.
To be perfectly honest, I thought this project would be far easier than it proved to be. The shirt I bought to upcycle was huge on me; it hung down nearly to my knees and could have fit me and Mirror Universe Sam comfortably. I thought this would make it easier to alter, but having such an excess of fabric meant my usual techniques would not look right. I thought it would be a simple matter of taking in the sides and sleeves, and wrapping one side in front of the other to get that slit effect. I misjudged how the shirt’s original seams would look when one side of the shirt was pulled significantly further across the body than the other to create a wrap effect (the hem was incredibly uneven and crooked), as well as how difficult adjusting the sleeves would ultimately be. This was also my first time using my dress form.
It was a great learning process, and I hope it can help some of you work out your own cosplay project kinks!
I began by removing all the buttons, the collar, and the cuffs. I undid the hems where the buttons had been attached, figuring the extra inch or so of fabric would help offset trying to wrap the front of the dress around me but it turned out to make no difference- I ultimately resewed those hems anyway! I then detached the sleeves when a few pinning experiments showed too much fabric had to be taken in to just pinch and sew a new seam within the existing one (my usual short-cut for such alterations). I took the de-sleeved torso piece and pinned it to my dress form making adjustments until I was able to achieve the silhouette I needed- I also left my (adjustable) dress form several inches too large, to create some built-in ease for additional alterations, in case I went too far chopping away fabric.
From there, I moved on to the sleeves. These where the hardest part for me, as I’ve never reattached an entire sleeve. I watched a lot of YouTube videos about pattern assembly before I started cutting (Professor Pincushion’s channel is fantastic!) but still had a lot of trouble at the underarms, where the sleeves meet the side seam of the dress torso. Additionally, the sleeves originally had cuffs and there was an awkward cut in the sleeve where the cuff buttons had been; I had to sew those gaps up, which left an odd seam right at the cuff of the sleeve. I later used this seam’s length as a guide for placing the rank ribbons, because I am really lazy about measuring. (It’s a problem.)
Next was the collar. In the Original Series, the uniforms have black collars, which are sort of offset and tend to be looser for the women’s uniforms. I originally planned to just using some bias tape to re-hem the collar, but wanted to challenge myself by trying to mimic the chunky collar the show had.
I wanted to use some sort of velvet looking collar, since that appears to be what the show used, but was unable to find any. I did find a satin blanket binding, however, and it was the perfect size. I did not want to create seams at the collar from sewing it on, as the original uniforms are smooth and seamless, as shown above.
I also remembered some old hem tape I had in my sewing basket, and used that to hem the shirts original fabric and attach the new hemming; I placed the blanket binding behind the collar to give it that layered appearance. I ran into trouble at the sharper angles of the collar; I thought I would be able to use a single piece of the binding around the whole collar, but ended up having to cut it into segments, which created a few unsightly seams. I hid those seams with smaller patches I made from extra binding, just to try and keep it looking clean. The patches are mostly only visible in certain lighting or very close up.
I had originally planned to insert a zipper in the back of the dress, but the original back seams lay so nicely and smoothly (unlike the front seams, from the wrapping effect) I could not bring myself to chop it up. Instead I decided to go with the essentially built-in access point: the front wrap-over.
I used two rows of sew-on Velcro; a thick strip for the inner most section where the shirt overlaps, and thinner one to help keep the shape. I only sewed the Velcro sides that would be against my body directly; the Velcro strips on the top flap I attached with a no-sew hem tape, so that the seams from attaching the Velcro would not show on the front. This means I need to be a little cautious removing the dress so I don’t accidentally peel some of the taped Velcro off- I reinforced the ends with hot glue to try and keep them from pulling up, though. The dress pulls on easily, so I Velcro it flat to ensure the fabric doesn’t bunch or Velcro crookedly.
The sleeve rankings were next- I could have left them bare and been an ensign, but I figured I put so much work into this piece I deserve to be at least a lieutenant! Joann’s fabric had this perfect ribbon for the sleeve, and it was easy material to sew. However, I wish I had attached the ribbon when I was working on the sleeves originally. The cuff was too narrow to use my sewing machine (I have skinny wrists, OK?) so I had to do it by hand, which was difficult in such a narrow space.
My favorite part of cosplay is the insignia! I hand embroidered it myself, though you could easily print a paper copy or create an iron on appliqué if you do not know how to embroider. It took me about three hours to complete it. I then cut it out, and realized I had completely misplanned how I was going to attach it (I wanted to make a patch, but could not figure out how to make a backing for it that would lay smoothly on the uniform when attached). I ended up sewing a zigzag stitch around the border to help keep it from fraying, and cut out a small border of fabric around the embroidery. I hot glued the back and folded the border of fabric against the back to help stabilize the whole shebang. Then I hot glued Velcro to the patch and the dress (in case I want to try making a new insignia patch in the future!)
From there it was a simple matter of trying the dress on a few times and making further adjustments! I had to bring the sleeves a little more, but thankfully I was able to make those adjustments with the sleeves still attached. One of the most difficult things about this project, besides my poor planning and the seam placement, was that the fabric frayed very easily once cut. I bought a pair of pinking shears specifically for this project, which sort of offset my thriftiness.
This cosplay cost me approximately $25.00- the dress itself was thrifted for $9, and the greatest expenses were the Velcro and binding for the collar (neither of which I had originally intended to use). It me took about 20 hours to make from start to finish, and I’m quite proud of it! I learned a lot taking the original shirt apart and reassembling it as something new. I also learned the importance of better planning—theories and visualized ideas don’t always work out how you think, so it’s good to have several options in mind and do as many test runs as you can afford to use material on!
I paired the final product with a pair of black leggings and black boots (both of which you might recognize from my Wednesday Addams cosplay!), but if I wanted to be more accurate I’d be wearing black, sheer tights and knee-high, black heeled boots. Plus my skirt would be several inches shorter, because the 60’s.
There you have it! A fun upcycling cosplay project you can try out yourself; if you can find a long sleeved shirt that isn’t a button-up it would probably be far less stressful because it won’t have the troublesome seams already in it. If you have some skill with patterns or draping, you could even use a thrifted tablecloth or bedding as your launching point! I chose to go for this shirt instead of a tablecloth myself because the fabric color and feel was so perfect- the original costumes were velour, and this synthetic blend has a similarly fuzzy feeling to it. I had also underestimated how much easier it would be to drastically alter the shirt rather than just start from scratch.
I hope you enjoyed this edition of my Closet Cosplay! I am already looking forward to the next one… Who should I become next?!