General InformationSuit Construction
- According to his personal website, Peter Mayhew is 7‘3” tall.
- According to an interview with Stuart Freeborn in Star Wars Insider Issue #70 (pages 40 through 44), the Chewie costume included 4 inch (10.16cm) lifts and the mask's forehead added another 4 inches (10.16cm) in height, making Chewbacca roughly 8 feet tall.
- I have trooped the “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” exhibit three times and have examined the suit on all three occasions. The layer of hair does not appear to be very thick, and the under suit that it is knitted into appears to be the same color as the hair. This is readily apparent in the gray sections of the hair suit; you can see brown underneath the hair.
- According to the Chewbacca Behind the Scenes entry on the Official Site's Databank, "Numerous versions of the suit were made to handle the wear and tear of film making.
- At DragonCon 2007, Peter Mayhew told me that the original suits opened up along the back and that baby powder was sprinkled inside the suit to clean it by absorbing sweat.
- According to the Behind the Scenes page at Wookiee Net, two suits were made for the Trilogy. One was made for A New Hope and was maintained and repaired for that film and The Empire Strikes Back. An entirely new suit was made for Return of the Jedi.
- According to a TheForce.Net Interview with Peter Mayhew, Mayhew used his stunt double for the first and only time in Return of the Jedi when the skiff he is on gets hit and tilts violently. It is likely that a stunt suit was created for this purpose.
- According to the Behind the Scenes page at Wookiee Net, there was an under suit that had foam padding on the shoulders. Several set photos from Return of the Jedi confirm this.
The Hair, Original Trilogy
- Most of Chewie's hair is a medium to light brown color with dark gray sections at the knees, thighs, shoulders and upper chest, and on the back of his head.
- The dark gray hair goes all the way across his back, but only covers the shoulders on the front.
- The dark hair on his knees only covers the outside half of his legs, not the insides.
- According to the Chewbacca Behind the Scenes entry on the Official Site's Databank, the suit was "made of knitted mohair and yak hair."
- According to an interview with Fred Fehrmann of National Fiber Technology, the original suit "was hand tied, meaning someone took tiny lace fibers and hand-threaded them into thousands of holes."
- According to an interview with Fred Fehrmann of National Fiber Technology, "the original Chewbacca from Lucas' first ‘Star Wars’ film was not made by National Fiber."
The Hair, Revenge of the Sith
- Fred Fehrmann at National Fiber Technology said that they had supplied hair for Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the Chewbacca costume made for Disney Star Wars Weekends. According to Mr. Fehrmann, the correct color for Chewie is Medium Brown and the hair is 10" to 12" (25.4cm to 30.5cm) in length. However, the Medium Brown appears to be too red.
- According to an interview with Fred Fehrmann of National Fiber Technology, for Revenge of the Sith his company provided Lucasfilm with 6 different types of Wookiee hair at an average of 70 to 80 square feet (6.5m2 to 7.4m2) of hair fabric to make each suit. They supplied a total of 1,000 square feet (92.9m2) of Wookiee hair. It took them 5 months to make all of that hair.
- At DragonCon 2003, Peter Mayhew, having just returned from filming Episode 3, explained that they had made 4 suits for him in Revenge of the Sith.
- According to Bob Kohn, the correct NFTech loom code for the Revenge of the Sith hair is AJ 2872 Brown, 15" sliver Chewbacca for the brown and AJ 2873 Grey 15", sliver Chewbacca for the grey.
Materials & Construction
Traditional faux fur that you can buy at a fabric store is not made in lengths longer than 3⅝” (9.2cm), which is far too short for a Wookiee. National Fiber Technology in Massachusetts is the only company on the planet that makes a long hair fabric fur. They supplied the hair for the Wookiees in Revenge of the Sith, as well as the Chewie suit used at Disney Star Wars Weekends. The hair is excellent but very expensive. Costs can vary anywhere from $2500 to $3500 depending on how much you need.
- Bob Kohn's National Fiber Technology Hair/Fur Tutorial covers everything from patterning, to costs, to the correct loom numbers, and more.
- About.Com's How to Cut & Sew Fake Fur is also a good guide
Patterning Your Suit
Bob Kohn used a body suit pattern, similar to the ones used by Stormtroopers. Plan out your patterns on the suit, then cut the suit based on patterns and fur colors. Bob’s pattern used something like 40-50 pieces to sew back together when finished. Remember to add seam allowance.
Fabric furs have a certain direction that they must hang or lay. This is the fabric’s "nap." The idea is that the hair will all hang down when the finished costume is worn. You will not simply be able to place your pattern pieces wherever there is room; the pattern pieces must have the correct orientation with respect to the nap. This will increase the amount of hair you will need, so plan for this in your patterns and don’t forget about it when you cut.
- Keep the suit as snug as possible while still being easy to get in and out of. Chewie is thinly built and the hair will add bulk.
- Pay special attention to the neck. Make sure most of the neck opening (about ⅔) is on the front.
- Be sure that you have extra hair for your gloves, feet, and especially your mask.
- National Fiber Hair is a 60" wide fabric.
- NFTech hair is a direction or nap that must be respected when drafting your pattern and cutting your fabric; all hair needs to hang down on the finished suit.
- When determining where the seam between the grey and brown areas will occur, remember that the hair will hang 8” - 10” down from that seam. However, seams that run vertically will not have this problem.
Ordering the Hair
Most Wookiees choose "medium brown" and "dark grey" and end up with colors that are too red and too light. Bob Kohn made his suit using National Fiber hair and has obtained the correct colors to use. For brown, you want to order AJ 2872 Brown, 15" sliver Chewbacca, for the grey you want AJ 2873 Grey, 15" sliver Chewbacca. Bob Kohn estimates that you will need approximately 17 square feet of the grey hair, and 27 square feet of the brown hair. Bob says you will also want to get 1 pound of loose hair of each color for use on your mask.
It’s important to remember that the above numbers are just a loose figure; you need to pattern your suit before you order your hair and order based on that.
Sewing the Suit
Also be sure to check out Bob Kohn’s tutorial
There is no need to trim fur for seam allowance for sewing the suit. When cutting the fabric you want to avoid cutting off large strands of hair, so comb back the fur before you cut it from the bolt and make small cuts. As noted earlier, it is critical that you cut your hair fabric with the correct direction or "nap" in mind; the hair should all hang down on the finished suit.
Bob Kohn learned the hard way that you should NOT use a serger with NFTech fabrics. The heat created by the serger needles melts and breaks down some of the chemicals in the hair; which then attach themselves to the needles and form razor sharp debris that shreds the base fabric. Instead, use a traditional sewing machine and use a wide zigzag stitch. Bob and his wife spent a year repairing the suit after the fact.
Grooming the Suit
Bob Kohn says that the National Fiber Hair is beautiful right off of the bolt, and almost no grooming is required to achieve the distinctive wavy Chewie look. He recommends doing nothing but rolling the suit up and storing it a bag after every troop and cleaning. After 1-2 troops, you will start to see the distinctive wavy look that are you looking for.
Cleaning the Suit
The mesh fabric will absorb sweat and begin to stink if not cleaned. The key to keeping the suit clean is to allow the suit to air out immediately after every event, not 12 hours later. Consider hanging it in your car like your dry cleaning or build a collapsible coat rack in your bin. Febreeze is also very helpful. However, these techniques have their limits, and eventually you will need to wash it by hand.
Use a large tub (like a bath tub) and use either NFTech’s hair soap or a mild baby’s shampoo. Bring the water to a light sudsy bubble, then lay the suit in the water, gently agitating it using only your hands; no tools should be used. When the color of the water changes, remove the suit with both hands, bearing in mind that it will be quite heavy due to all the water it has absorbed. Replace the water and soap, and put the suit back in and continue to wash it gently with your hands. Repeat this process until the water no longer changes color. The color is the combined grime of sweat, rain, Febreeze, hair spray, and who knows what else coming off of the hair.
Once the suit is clean you will need to rinse the soap. Fill the tub with water as before but do not add any shampoo or detergent. Put the suit and gently agitate it with your hands. Empty the tub and repeat this process until there is no more soap left in the suit.
To dry, gently lay the suit down on a bunch of towels and pat dry the suit with another towel. Do not be aggressive; this is not your dog that are drying. Flip the suit and repeat, replacing towels as you go. Once the suit has been sufficiently hand-dried and it is no longer heavy with the weight of all that water, hang the suit and allow it to air dry. It’s important to towel dry first; hanging the heavy, water-logged suit could damage it. Bob Kohn uses a clothesline on a sunny/light breezy day. If you live in a humid or wet climate, consider using a large fan. Avoid blow drying as you could damage the suit.
Synthetic Hair Extensions
The most popular method is to use synthetic “Kanekalon” hair extensions which can be purchased inexpensively from beauty supply shops. This method is far less expensive than using hair from National Fiber, but the trade off is that it is extremely time consuming and labor intensive.
Building the Mesh Suit
The hair is tied into a suit made of a mesh fabric. It is not that different from building a giant wig. For all of my Wookiee suits I have purchased the mesh at army surplus stores. It is a medium mesh that is camouflaged and comes in unmarked plastic bags and sells for $8 - $10 per bag. I think I needed two or three bags for the full suit.
The mesh fabric can also be purchased at Collins Cottage. The great thing about the aquatic mesh is that it won’t mold or mildew from moisture, making maintenance and cleaning much easier. Many fabric stores also carry a mesh fabric but it is very weak and easily torn. Make sure you buy it in a dark color; you don’t want neon green mesh visible through your suit!
The original Chewie costume was a one-piece suit that opened in the back. However, most fan costumers opt to build a shirt and a pair of pants, as it is easier to get in and out of.
Duck’s tutorial offers some excellent design tips and drawings on the creation of the mesh suit. Many others have also offered advice on the design of the mesh suit, so here is a list of tips.
- ⅔ of your neck sits directly over your chest in the front, while only ⅓ sits over the back behind the shoulders. For this reason, avoid centering your neck hole between the front and back pieces or you’ll end up with exposed skin on your back as the hole shifts backwards.
- Also make the back of the neck hole fairly straight, and keep the neck hole fairly tight, as the mesh does stretch.
- The bottom of the shirt should overlap the pants down to about the crotch and middle of the buttocks in order to facilitate sitting and bending.
- The mesh suit should fit fairly snug in order to keep with Chewie’s lanky and thin build. The hair will add bulk.
- The hair adds a lot of weight, so use suspenders to hold the pants up.
Here are Duck’s excellent drawings. Click to enlarge.
TO DO: Scan and add my patterns.
Once you have finished sewing your mesh suit, you will want to mark off where the gray areas will be. Because of the length of the hair, your gray areas will start 8" - 10" down from where you start tying in gray hair. This means your horizontal marks need to be offset to compensate for this. Your vertical marks do not.
Getting Your Hair
The hair to use is Kanekalon synthetic hair, specifically Kanekalon Jumbo Braids. You want the regular Kanekalon Jumbo braids, as these have a matte or "Yaky" finish to them. Avoid hair marked "Silky" as these have a shiny finish. These can be found in beauty supply shops in almost any city. They typically sell for $2.00 to $3.00 per bag in the U.S. The hair comes in a folded braid that, when unfolded, is 48" long.
Kanekalon is a particular material that is sold under many different brands. There are also cheaper types of hair sold at most beauty supply stores. Avoid this hair as it may not match from brand to brand, while the Kanekalon stuff will be the same regardless of who’s logo is on the bag. Kanekalon is also heat resistant, which is important as you blow dry the hair to prepare it.
For the brown sections of the suit you will need to mix colors #6 and #27 in a 30/70 mix. #8 can also be used for highlights. For the grey sections of the suit, you’ll want to do a 30/70 mix of colors #44 and #4. #44 has become increasingly difficult to find, so some have used M51 instead. There are also a variety of other colors listed as gray mixes, so you might try them out.
Here is a table of suppliers, their prices, and which colors and textures they carry.
|Supplier||Price||Color #4||Color #6||Color #8||Color #27||Color #44||Color #M51 or Color #51||Matte/Silky|
|Doctored Locks||$2.55||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes (M51)||Both|
|BNG Hair||$2.99||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes (51)||Both|
|Buy Hair||£ 2.64||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Both|
So how many bags do you need? None of us seem to take detailed notes and just stop counting, but generally most estimates are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 - 60 for the brown areas and maybe another 20 of the gray areas.
Prepping the Hair
Before you tie the hair into your mesh suit you will need to do a few things to prepare it first.
You will need to blow dry your hair. When first removed from the package the Kanekalon hair is frizzy and poofy. Chris Blackstock’s technique is to remove the hair from the card backing but leave the rubber bands in place. Place the hair on the floor and use one of your feet to hold the end of the hair in place. Grab the other end with your hand and pull it tight. Use a blow dryer to go up and down the length of the hair until it is smooth. Make sure you flip it around so you can blow dry the end of the hair that your foot was covering. After that you can remove the rubber band and cut the hair to size.
As noted earlier you will need to mix colors. To do this effectively you will need a hackle, a common wig-makers tool that looks like a brush made of nails. Once you have mixed the hair you will want to store the hair in hair drawing cards for future use. This helps keep them from getting tangled and messy, and helps reduce waste.
You can purchase a hackle for about $70 from Mane Depot and Wig & Hairpiece Supply or any place that sells wig making supplies. Hair drawing cards are also available for about $40 at Mane Depot and $50 at Wig Maker's World. Both HairWeftingTape and Amazing Hair Store sell hair drawing cards for $30 each.
However, both items are easy to make yourself, and several Wookiee costumers have explained how to do it. Check out Limey’s excellent hackle construction tutorial or Ryan’s tutorial/build diary, which also covers how to build hair drawing cards.
Finally, this excellent Discovery Channel video shows how to use a hackle and drawing cards.
The hair comes in a 48" length that is folded in half. Generally, you will be using 24" strands of hair when you tie hair into the suit. You tie the hair at the midpoint of each strand, so one 24" long hair becomes two 12" strands. For the wrists and forearms, 28" hair should be used. In the upper thighs and crotch, use 18" strands.
As noted earlier, use a 30/70 mix of #27 and #6 for the brown sections with some #8 for highlights, and a mix of #4 and #44 (or #51) for the gray sections. To achieve a 30/70 mix, mix one bag of the first color (#6 for the brown areas, #44 for the grey areas) with two bags of the second color (#27 for the brown areas, #4 for the grey areas).
Using Hot Glue to attach the hair
Alexander from Germany opted to use hot glue to attach his Wookiee hair to a cotton suit. Years ago when I was first researching my own Wookiee suit I attempted to use this method and found several disadvantages:
- It tends to be slower, because you have to wait for the glue to cool.
- The glue adds a lot of weight.
- Glue is messy; you end up with a lot of "glue strings."
- I also found it very hard to get a high density of hair, which I imagine would be a problem on the arms, shoulders, and knees.
However, one cannot argue with Alexander’s results, so it’s an option you might consider.
Latch-Hooking the hair
Once your mesh suit and hair are are ready to go, you can begin the process of latch-hooking hair into the suit. This is a time-consuming and tedious process, and you can expect to spend 100 or more hours on this part of the costume. However, once you have the basic technique mastered, hooking hair into the suit is not especially difficult, and many costumers simply pass the time by watching a movie while they work
As for the technique itself, there are several ways to go about it. The most common way is to buy an actual latch-hook used in rug making and build the suit as you would a shag carpet. There are a number of excellent videos demonstrating the basic technique. Here is one of the better ones:
On my first suit, I opted to use a pair of hemostats, which are locking medical tweezers with a curved nose. However, by the time I made my second suit I had learned how to use the latch-hook properly and found it to be much faster and easier.
- It’s best to use more knots with fewer strands per knot than the opposite, especially areas like the arms, shoulders, and knees.
- On average you should use 7-9 strands of hair per knot, with the knots spaced about ¼" to ½" apart.
- The knots should be arranged in overlapping rows so that the knots on a given row cover the space between the knots on the row below it.
- For the pants, start at the ankle and work your way to the hips or waist. For the shirt, start at the waist and work your way to the armpits, then start the arms at the wrist and work your way to the shoulders, then work the entire hairline to the neck.
- The spacing of your knots should be lower on areas that will bend and move, like the arms, knees, and shoulders. These areas will show bald spots more easily. Areas like the torso will be more forgiving.
- Consider tying hair into your seams in order to cover them and reinforce them.
- As previously mentioned you should use 24" strands of hair for most of the suit. Since you tie the knot in the middle of the strands each 24” strand will become two 12" strands.
- On the forearms, wrists, and hands, use 28" strands.
- On the crotch and upper thighs, 18" strands will suffice.
Grooming and Trimming the Suit
Once you try your suit on for the first time you will notice how bushy it is. This is because there is way too much hair. This is a much better problem to have than not enough hair.
The first thing you need to do is put the suit on and have someone vigorously brush the entire suit with a good hair brush. This will remove any loose hair and remove any tangles. Be careful not to brush too hard, or else you could rip the mesh suit or tear out knots entirely.
Once that is done, it is time to trim the suit with a pair of thinning sheers and your trusty hair brush. Thinning sheers are scissors with teeth in them. When the blades come together, some hair is cut and some is not. They can be purchased at beauty supply shops for $30 or so. Not all thinning sheers are the same. Some will cut more hair than others. Be sure to test yours first before you start on your costume.
To trim, start from the top and work your way down, holding the sheers at an angle. Use a hair brush to remove the clippings. Doing it over a large tarp will help with cleanup.
Once again, Duck has provided us with some excellent instructions on this stage of the costume. First, be sure to check out his illustration below and the Trimming Notes that go along with it.
There is also a lot of good info in his Wookiee Tutorial. Finally, Duck has a quick YouTube video on Wookiee trimming you should watch:
Cleaning the Suit
Wefts are hair extensions that come pre-sewn to a strip of cloth. Steve Bornhoeft used human hair wefts to build his suit.