Biophilia Dress Detail How-To.


Biophilia Dress Detail How-To.

How to recreate the appliqués used on Björk’s dress as seen on the cover of Biophilia.

I’m a big fan of Björk’s and was looking forward to Biophilia‘s release as soon as I heard about it. I was along for the ride at every step of the release of the award-winning Biophilia app and still occasionally compose Crystalline crystals for my friends. So when I saw the album cover, I was blown away by the look of what she was wearing. It seemed so intricate and possessed a quality that was both futuristic and organic. I knew I had to figure out how to recreate it.

After doing some research, I learned that Björk’s dress, along with other outfits worn during her world tour, were designed by Iris Van Herpen, with this particular piece coming from her Synesthesia collection – really amazing stuff; definitely worth a look through all her work.

Synesthesia dress detail

Detail screencap from Iris Van Herpen’s Synesthesia collection.

So after referencing more photos and taking a closer look, I realized the detailing used on the dress was not that complicated at all. I decided to challenge myself and make a Halloween costume inspired by Björk’s look. Here’s how I recreated the individual appliqués used by Iris Van Herpen.

What you’ll need:

  • faux leather vinyl (or actual leather if you prefer)
  • sheet mylar or drafting mylar – This may be difficult to find. I got mine at the Artist & Craftsman Supply in San Diego, though you may have to try places that have a good selection of gift wrap, especially if you want gold.
  • strong spray adhesive – I used Elmer’s Extra Strong Spray Adhesive (which according to the Elmer’s website is apparently a different product from their “Extra Strength Spray Adhesive”). You’ll want to use an adhesive that says it can create a “permanent bond” between materials.
  • a fine-tipped Sharpie
  • scotch tape
  • x-acto or utility knife

Creating the Appliqué Pieces

The first step is determining how large you want the resulting appliqué to end up. Each piece ends up being roughly an inverted triangle with its base being a little less than twice its height. Once you know your target size, you can calculate the size of the vinyl/mylar sheet you need to create.

Simplified drawing of finished appliqué.

Take the target height of your triangle appliqué, and that will be the height of the sheet you need to make. The length will need to be 5 times that. Cut out your vinyl or leather to the desired size.

Relative size of panel to finished appliqué.

Next, is binding the mylar sheets to your vinyl. You’ll want to cut your mylar larger than your vinyl sheets because it has to go all the way to the edge. If you cut them exact to size, it’ll be very difficult to line them up perfectly when working with the spray adhesive.

Take the time to properly prepare your workspace for using your spray adhesive. The stuff will get everywhere and leave a residue on nearby surfaces that is very difficult to clean up. If you’re wondering if you should bother covering something, cover it. Seriously. And if you are planning on doing a number of these, have plenty of extra covering around. One to two applications of the spray adhesive may render your original work surface unusable, unless you let it dry completely.

Follow the directions for your spray adhesive to create that “permanent bond.” The cutting and twisting of the sheets later may result in the vinyl and mylar separating if you don’t take the time to bond them properly. You may want to spray only one vinyl sheet at a time. The Elmer’s spray adhesive I used only had 15 second window, which, if exceeded, resulted in a bond that didn’t quite hold up. Glue all your sheets together and take care to affix them well to each other through and through. Leave your sheets to cure according to the instructions described by your adhesive.

Once dried, trim the excess mylar along the edges of each panel.

Now, you have to cut slits into your mylar/vinyl panels. Mylar side up, measure and draw a line down the middle of each panel with a fine-tipped sharpie. Amongst all the details, fine marks on the mylar will hardly be visible, and can be removed with rubbing alcohol if you so desire. Also, mark where your slits will end, this will typically be at least twice the width of your panel. You may have to experiment to get the exact length perfected, as the thickness and flexibility of your panel can affect how the appliqués fall.

Then, mark and draw lines along the length of your panel 1/4 inch apart and cut along each line with your utility or x-acto knife. The bond with the mylar should mitigate any stretch that your leather/vinyl may have, making cutting easier.

Prepared appliqué panels.

Manipulating the Appliqués for Sewing

You need to manipulate each panel to make it easier to sew on. This involves twisting each strip on the panel so they are oriented properly.

Twist each strip individually and secure with scotch/transparent tape. Flipping ends in and upward will create the finished shape and orientation.

Take a panel and place it mylar side up. Take an individual strip created by the slits on the panel and twist it toward you twice so that the mylar side is facing up again toward the center of the strip. Repeat this process with each strip, making sure to line up the center mark you made on the mylar to keep each strip centered. Depending on the size of your panel, you may want to do strips in groups and use your scotch/transparent tape to hold them in place so the strips don’t come undone. Just make sure you are leaving enough space between your tape for you to sew.

Once you’ve completed the twisting and taping process, you should be able to take either end of the panel and turn it upward to get a sense of what the finished product will look like.

Attaching the Appliqué to a Garment

Simply sew down the center line of each panel to make the initial attachment. At this point, you’ll want to remove your scotch/transparent tape. Next, just flip the ends of each panel up and sew into position.

If you are going to do a series of panels down a garment, it is easier to start from the bottom up, since it would be more difficult to sew the ends of a panel in place if the appliqué above it is in the way.

Finished appliqués of various sizes along the back of a jacket I created.

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