Medieval Evil Queen was one of two costumes we were really excited about debuting at ECCC this year, and, like many people, we were pretty deflated when all of our cons for the year got cancelled. However, we were lucky enough to get to do a full photoshoot with the amazing Girl With the Blue Hair Photography before lockdown started!
In addition to sharing some of her gorgeous photos, we also wanted to dive into how we blended traditional, historical costuming with modern techniques and 3D printing to bring our creation to life in ways we would never have expected just a few years ago!
Intro to 3D Fabric Printing
The basic idea of “3D Fabric Printing” is to add three dimensional designs or objects to fabric to use in costuming. Using a mesh fabric like toile, you print a few layers of your design, tape down the mesh over top of it, then keep printing. The mesh is thin and sparse enough that the layers of filament bond together with the fabric enmeshed in the print. It may sound scary and daunting, but trust us, as long as you’re patient, it’s not as hard as it sounds!
The only real requirement is that your printer has the ability to pause and resume (which just about every printer has now), and if you’re really lucky, your slicer software will have the ability to programmatically pause at a certain height. Our Raise 3D N2 has this feature, so it was a simple configuration change to have it pause at 0.4 mm (at a layer height of 0.1mm so basically 4 layers before the pause). The one trick is that you want to put the fabric down and then resume as quickly as possible. The reason is that the cooler the layer gets before you resume, the higher chance that they will not stick together well enough and your top and bottom may peel off the fabric after its done.
Trial and Error
We had been wanting to try our hand at 3D printing on fabric for quite some time, but hadn’t found a project we felt would be a good use case. Then Heather came up with her Medieval Evil Queen design idea. Based almost entirely on historical medieval garments, she laid out the overall design for her version of the Evil Queen from Snow White. Part of the initial design had a lot of intricate embroidery on the dress.
As we do with many of our projects, we talk it out and go over designs and ideas and decide if we’re splitting up the work and if so, who is doing what. Heather took on the patterning and sewing of the costume, and Will took on the 3D modeling for the brooch, crown, and girdle weights. Then we discussed the intricate embroidery on the dress and realized it could potentially be a great place to try out the 3D printed fabric! Heather drew up the design, Will modeled it, and away we went!
This is a great photo that shows the first layers already laid down, the mesh taped down, and the top layers mid-print so you can really see all of the various layers and pieces and how they go together. Unfortunately, this was a failure! While the design and printing all worked fine, what we quickly learned is that, depending on the use of the fabric, size and spacing of parts is critical. While this piece did have some flexibility and movement to it, the closeness of the pieces and how they nest into each other as the pattern repeats, it didn’t allow enough movement for this design to go around the bottom of the dress and allow it to flow or drape correctly. It acted more like a skirt hoop (which is an actually really good intentional use of something like this) than worked for our design. So we went back to the drawing board.
Printing the Final Medallions
Here is the first test print of our revised design. Instead of having a strip that went all around the bottom of the dress, we decided that spaced out medallions would work and drape much better while also giving us the opportunity to fill in the dress with various sizes of the medallions. The new design still incorporated all of the things from Heather’s original design – the center clover, the round beads, and knotwork, but the knotwork morphed into a standalone flower motif.
Our test print was a success both from a printing perspective and from a drape and movement test, so we were ready to move on to printing our final details! Because we wanted these to look like shiny gold embroidery, we went with Silk Gold PLA filament. We also went with a finer, dark navy mesh. Although we knew we’d be trimming off the majority of the mesh, we knew we’d also be leaving enough for attaching these to the dress so wanted mesh that would be as invisible as possible against the purple velvet.
The larger medallions would only fit one at a time on the print bed, but as we moved up the dress to the smaller sizes we were able to start combining multiples onto a single piece of fabric. There are 3 rings of 12 medallions in 3 sizes circling the dress, capped off by a double row of 24 clovers!
Attaching the Prints
Once we had all of the prints done, it was time to attach them to the dress. All of the mesh was trimmed close to the outside edge of the print and then all of the medallions were pinned down so we could ensure placement, alignment, and spacing was where we wanted it. Heather also put it on to test the drape and movement.
We wanted to ensure the medallions would stay put but also not restrict movement of the fabric, so each medallion was hand sewn down with a few stitches on the inside of each point of the flower and then a bead was sewn down in the center of each clover. This ensured every piece was very secure but wouldn’t make the fabric too stiff. The final step was to trim off the rest of the excess mesh.
While we could definitely have embroidered all of these medallions on the dress, 3D printing, like most use cases, allowed us to create the design we wanted with a fraction of the effort and labor. That is the beauty of utilizing modern tools in our costume and prop making. And lastly, while unfinished 3D prints are typically a big no-no, we intentionally left these unfinished because we didn’t want to ruin the shine of the Silk filament and because, while the print lines while almost imperceptible at a glance, they actually help with the illusion that these are embroidered, not printed parts.
Medieval Evil Queen Complete
Here are some of our favorite photos from our shoot with Girl With the Blue Hair Photography. We hope you enjoy the photos of the costume and that we may have inspired you to try 3D printing on fabric yourself. We’d love to see your 3D printed fabric creations!
We also wanted to give a special thanks and shout out to Sophy Wong and Shorey Designs, both of whom have shared their techniques and answered questions for us. Please check them both out and give them a follow!