The Making of Lady Vader

Lady Darth Vader Cosplay SDCC 2013

I knew the minute I saw this anime Lady Vader art that I wanted to cosplay the costume. However, when I started to show my friends, I got a few concerned “Wow, that’s ambitious!” comments. I mean, could I actually pull it off? Would I look ridiculous in all that armor? My head was full of questions about how comfortable I would be, whether or not I could even make everything in time, and if I would even look right as this character. Even after a week or two into the project, I was still pretty hesitant about revealing the cosplay out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to execute. It wasn’t really until I was about 50% done that I “announced” my cosplay and only then did I finally realize that there was no turning back. I have to admit that the 5 weeks or so that I spent making the costume was pretty stressful, tiring, and there were numerous times where I kept asking myself “What the heck am I making?”. But in the end, I had so much fun and am really proud of myself for learning a few new things along the way. So with that, I wanted to share a brief tutorial and the progress pics I took along my journey of making Lady Vader!

The first thing I made was the 2 piece suit, which was made entirely of a 4-way stretch matte stretch PVC fabric (buy here). The stretch came in handy since the back of the top and back of the leggings were not quilted and the fabric was also just the right thickness that I could quilt it without being super bulky. To quilt all the front pieces (front of top, arms, and front of leggings), I drew chalk lines on the stretch PVC (about 3/4″ apart) and sewed the 3 layers together – the stretch PVC, batting, and a thin layer of stretch mesh spandex on the inside.

Darth vader cosplay suit quilting

Once I made the basic front and back of the top, I added a mock neck and sleeves. As for the leggings, I only quilted these about halfway down since I knew I would be wearing tall boots or shin guards.

The leggings and the full suit!

darth vader body suit quilting

I made the decision early on to eliminate Vader’s outer cape. I really liked the way the inner cape looked feminine and kind of like a dress so I was very specific in draping it a certain way. I even bought my first dress form just for this! I still can’t believe after years of sewing I am just now buying a dress form!

Before and after of the draped inner cape. 

darth vader cape

I knew the armor was going to be the most challenging part of the project and I was right. To make the armor, I decided to go with Worbla, which is a thermoplastic very similar to Wonderflex.  However, I had never used Worbla before so it was definitely a learning experience. There are a few things I might have done differently if I did it over again, but overall, I was happy with the results. For most of the armor, I used two pieces of Worbla with a piece of craft foam in between. I found this template online, enlarged it on a copy machine and used it as a basis for the chest armor.

darth vader chest armor tutorial worbla

Once I had everything fitted to my body, I made the two shoulder pauldrons and cut the two “tear drop” shapes out of the front. To fill in these two tear drop shapes, you could either use putty or do what I did, which was use bondo (aka auto filler).

worbla darth vader armor

The decision to use bondo (aka body filler) on top of the Worbla was due to a couple of things – I wanted the armor to be really smooth to the point where it looked like plastic and I didn’t want any imperfections in the shape. Perhaps a ton of gesso primer could have done that, but I didn’t want to take the risk so I decided to do it the hard way and bondo’d everything! I used Evercoat Rage Premium auto filler, which I thought was fairly easy to use although this was my first time using bondo so I could be wrong. :P

bondo worbla armor

The entire 3-4 day process of bondo, sanding, bondo, sanding during a heat wave was pretty tiring and it took a while to get used to the materials. I had to bondo each piece maybe 5-6 times to fill in all those nasty little air bubbles and getting those “tear drop” shapes on the front chest piece was challenging, but I was really happy with the results.

bondo worbla darth vader armor

After a few layers of wood glue as primer, it was finally time to paint! Since I was already using car repair materials, I appropriately ended up using auto body paint for the armor. Considering the 3-4 days it took to bondo and prime everything, painting was the fun and “easy” part. I highly recommend using Frog Tape for any of your masking needs – it is way more reliable than the blue tape, especially if you are painting your house!

Masked, painted grey, masked again, painted black.

IMG_3480

Trying on the armor!

darth vader shoulder chest armor pauldrons

Once all the armor was assembled using sticky back velcro, I just had to take care of a few smaller pieces like the belt. I knew hooking up LED lights for Vader’s belt boxes was a going to be interesting since conceptually I thought I could do it, but in reality I wasn’t sure. I had never soldered anything or made a real circuit, but being the physics nerd that I am, I was pretty excited to see if I could do it. After a quick discussion with the guy at Fry’s, doing some online research, and doing some pen/paper calculations, I was ready to build my first circuit. And Hallelujah! It worked! At that point, I soldered everything together in the two Worbla boxes and taped all the wires down with electrical tape. Since I was running out of time, I had to purchase the chest box so unfortunately that part did not light up. :(

IMG_3450 Finally it was time to actually start trying everything on… To be honest, I only lasted about 15 minutes wearing the entire cosplay in the house so if it weren’t for the great AC in the convention hall, I would have been screwed! This is definitely more of a fall/winter cosplay!

IMG_3482

Well, that covers everything for the most part! Definitely let me know what you think of the materials or if you have recommendations. Would love to hear your thoughts!



35 thoughts on “The Making of Lady Vader

    • Yeah! Wearing it in my house, I was SO sweaty so I think I would have died without the AC. Plus we were lucky to stay at the Marriott, so thanks god we had minimal travel time!

  1. That’s amazing! Great write up! My boyfriend and I are planning to start experimenting with Worbla & bondo soon but have no idea what we want to make. We just know we want to make something using new material we haven’t used before.

  2. DAMN! like god damn, I guess it would be too soon ask if you would merry me lol. that is a great costume. Me and my brother are currently building a steam punk vader outfit at this moment, he’s stitching and im supervising.

  3. Really awesome work. I’ve seen a Vader leather body suit where the owner had a netting on the back to get some ventilation and covered it with his cape.

  4. Amazing work. Tackling electronic parts are not an easy task. Im about to do some experiments with worbla also. Great work!!!

  5. This is really, really brilliant – not just the idea but also the execution. Personally, though, I would have used real leather to make it more breathable (aka, reduce the sweat factor); but then again that’s also a cost factor.

    One thing I’m wondering about, though, is the usage of the term “cosplay” in this article.
    “Cosplay” is when you wear the costume and pretend to be a certain character.
    You cannot “wear a cosplay”, you can only “wear a costume” and then “do cosplay”.
    But that’s probably just the antiqued view of an old costumer like me ;-)

    • I considered real leather, but didn’t want to go with that option for fear of looking to bulky. I’m fairly slim so I still wanted the costume to look slim and fitting as well and I didn’t think leather would have that effect. Plus it’s not as flexible and I didn’t want to feel too stiff especially in tight fitting leather. But thanks for the feedback!

      I think the term “cosplay” has become more mainstream now and although initially “cosplay” was used in more of a verb sense, I’ve found that people also use it as a noun now. For eg, “finish my cosplay”, “working on my cosplay”, etc. I definitely see where you’re coming from and I just think the use of the term has evolved a bit.

  6. Hi! You are a Terrific Costumer! You made the iconic Darth Vader all you! Wish I had more time to Cosplay the Costumes I make, but I’m just too tired after I finish sewing the goods for clients. I live and work in L.A. Where are you? Would love to Electro Swing with you at a Hollywood Dance Club! Your Designer, Tuck!

Leave a Reply