Sunday, January 4, 2015

Firefly Cosplay: Kaylee's Jumpsuit Tutorial

Kaywinnet Lee "Kaylee" Frye: engineer, fashion icon, and not a power in the verse that can stop her being cheerful :)

Kaylee has always been one of the characters I've felt most connected to. Her optimism and enthusiasm for life, despite having seen some of the worst of it, is inspiring. I love that she is consistently one of the smartest people on the ship, both emotionally and technically. She embraces the dichotomy of being a rough and tumble spaceship engineer and the prettiest fairy princess at the ball.

From a costuming perspective, I love her even more. One reason is that I have a similar body type, hair color and length, so I could cosplay her without wearing a wig. Another is that her style is so uniquely her: sweet, dirty, patched and still strong. There's a whole store sewn into her clothes, literally. And last but not least, she has one thing that very, very few female characters ever have: POCKETS!

As much as I love Kaylee's Pink Dress, it isn't nearly as interesting as her normal jumpsuit (and has no pockets! pockets are important!). I chose to try and replicate, as much as I was able, her Eavesdown Docks outfit, leaving out the blue jacket. I may make that some time in the future. What I really wanted to concentrate on was the jumpsuit.

Before going any further, I want to give a shout out to two blog posts that helped me immensely in my searches for screen caps and for helpful resources: and

On to the construction!

The Jumpsuit

I looked everywhere for a good jumpsuit to modify. I searched e-bay, I went to local mechanic shops looking for used coveralls for sale. I initially wanted a beat up, lived in, weather-beaten old jumpsuit to start with, but I was completely unable to find one within the time constraint (aka, being ready for Con in May). It's probably for the best I didn't, because while it would have looked good, it probably wouldn't have smelled very good (and all the washing in the world can't help some smells) and no one wants to be that person at Con! I ended up buying a brand new jumpsuit off amazon.

There are several options for a base Kaylee jumpsuit. There is even one company that brands one of it's jumpsuits as perfect for cosplaying her... but they aren't. Don't get me wrong, I love that this company is into it! But the sleeves are constructed all wrong, raglan style, and you won't be able to create the sleeveless look very easily. This is the jumpsuit I bought, and it worked very well: Five Rock Unlined Coverall in Spruce. I am a 5'10", moderately curvey woman, I bought the large, regular fit coverall and it fits quite well (ended up a little tight lengthwise after I modified the shoulders, but only a problem when I'm trying to shrug the shoulders on and off).

Here's the jumpsuit as it was when it arrived. It's actually a little darker than the photos make it appear:

I knew when I got this jumpsuit I would need to do some fairly extensive modification. First up, I cut off the sleeves and hemmed back the raw edges. I also picked off the chest pocket on the right hand side. The next step was to weatherize the fabric to make it look old and worn. I took the sleeves I had cut off, cut them into 2 inch wide strips and subjected them to a range of treatments. I tried several things, including RIT dye remover, which all did absolutely nothing - this jumpsuit is pretty tough. In the end, the strip I soaked in concentrated bleach was the only one that had any color change at all! So, I took the jumpsuit, got it wet in the laundry sink and splashed bleach all over it. I let it sit for about half an hour (Do your own tests before doing this! That's what the sleeves are for!), then washed it twice in the washing machine.

Jumpsuit after bleaching, with a control strip to show the original color

Next up, the patches! I found a very good heart patch at Jo-Ann's. The teddy bear and flower were much, much harder. I never did find a good match for the flower, and ended up going with a blue daisy patch from Jo-Ann's. Eventually, I may get around to crocheting a more screen-accurate version.
Kaylee's patches
close up on the blue flower
I bought the teddy bear patch on Etsy, there are multiple vendors who specialize in selling patch kits.

Here are my patches, laid out and hand sewn onto the jumpsuit:

Now - to make a mess!

I needed the jumpsuit to look like it had been worn daily in an engine room, but not smell like it (see above about not smelling up the Con ;). I pulled out several options, again testing them on my sleeve strip testers first. I considered but rejected using actual engine oils/coolants/etc, on the grounds of my husband shouting, 'NO! No, seriously no don't do that! Those are toxic and full of carcinogens!' So yeah, try and avoid anything toxic on your costumes, guys. It really isn't worth it. My awesome husband then produced a tube of food grade lubricant that we had to use on our deli slicer - it worked perfectly. I also used a tube of 'Rub and Buff' Ebony to create dark spots.

"Technical White Grease" = food lube. Odorless and non-toxic. Use it well.

After rubbing with grease, blacking and dirt

The next section is another reason Kaylee and I are secretly the same person, we both love doodling on our clothing! For this step, I followed the really great tutorial at, I highly recommend it. I used a sharpie, and drew it as if I was drawing a picture, since I have absolutely zero knowledge about chinese characters.

"Happy" and "Love"
"Flat" "Out" "Fortunately" - or so google translate tells me!
I searched it all together and got "Lucky Lucky Lucky", so maybe it is a good luck charm

The Shirt

I looked and looked and never found a shirt to match any of Kaylee's on screen shirts. She has quite a few! They are all colorful, feature flowers or butterflies or some abstract cheerful design, and generally are short sleeved or 3/4 sleeves (any long sleeves get pushed or rolled up to her elbows). I eventually found a shirt that I felt, even though it is not screen accurate, Kaylee totally would have worn. It is the same blue as her shirt in Serenity, with flowers and butterflies. I found it at a clearance outlet mall Talbot's store! Since making this costume, I've had thoughts about custom screen printing fabric in the pattern from Kaylee's cherry blossom shirt and sewing the shirt myself, but I'm not sure I have the energy/money for such an undertaking. Spoonflower is an awesome company that will create custom fabric for any pattern you upload, the problem would be getting a clear enough image of the pattern. - Update, someone had the same idea! Two people have made a version of her pink shirt, not the cherry blossom shirt, but you can now buy knit fabric in a pretty good replica! Way to go, folks!  Bigger flowers and Smaller flowers. I should get on it and make a cherry blossom print :)

The Accessories

I bought a replica of Kaylee's necklace on Etsy, from the same vendor who sold me the teddy bear patch, and her parasol from ThinkGeek. The blown glass pendant is lovely, but the leather thong it was on was too long for me and I wear it on a chain now (I actually wear it all the time, it's straight up a lovely piece of jewelry). The parasol looks nice, but was something of a disappointment - the construction is very cheap (which frankly IS screen accurate) and I can't quite open it all the way without worrying I'm about to break it (which is not acceptable).

Hair and Makeup

I decided to go for Kaylee's double buns, as it is seriously the cutest hairstyle ever.

To do this, separate your hair in two uneven sections with a side part. Make two messy ponytails. They need to be both higher and further forward than you think! Make them loose and full by backcombing, pulling at them, etc, you don't want this to be a tight schoolmarm sort of bun. Be sure to pull out plenty large sections for the bangs. Secure the buns with lots of hairpins and hairspray.
The best hairspray money can buy. I kid you not, this has saved so many cosplay 'dos for me! Okay, product placement over, I make no money off it nor am sponsored by it, it just works :)
Kaylee's makeup is subtle and natural, but she definitely wears it. Go with light foundation, lip gloss/chapstick and subtle eyliner and a light amount of gold or brown eyeshadow.

The whole kit and kaboodle:

I love this costume so much

This is seriously my favorite costume of all time. I've worn it for halloween, multiple cons, basically any time I can justify it! It is comfortable, cute and reasonably screen accurate :)

At Baycon 2014, where I met another Kaylee who gave me a chocolate covered strawberry! 
Kaylees are some of the nicest people :D 
(and yes, I was wearing tennis shoes, because I work that con and had to run everywhere!)