Her Princess Leia costume is inspired by the classic 1970s-era movie poster illustration. Tori Dickson

Cosplay is, contrary to what the name implies, quite a lot of work, but it's also—as everyone I've ever talked to about it who does it insists emphatically—quite a lot of fun.

Case in point: Torrey Stenmark, a local cosplayer who's won awards for her costuming. She's been a Seattleite since moving here more than a dozen years ago from Colorado to pursue a graduate degree in organic chemistry at the University of Washington. She inserted herself into the local geek community after attending her first con, Norwescon in 2007, which challenged her sewing capabilities (she'd previously done costuming with the medieval reenactment group Society for Creative Anachronism), while simultaneously introducing her to a wellspring of welcoming, like-minded people. "One of the things I love about cosplay and costuming is that so much of it is very friendly and supportive," she explained.

Amid working as an associate faculty in the Department of Chemistry at Shoreline Community College (where she's been for nine years), and putting in hours at GeekGirlCon starting in 2013 (first as a volunteer, then a staffer), Stenmark has continued ramping up her game with each character. She is even a member of two different Lucasfilm-approved Star Wars costuming groups: the Rebel Legion (Alpha Base) and Jet City Saber Guild.

Her Star Wars costumes are a particular delight (she has four), so I decided to feature my two favorites: Princess Leia Organa and Padmé Amidala Naberrie—daughter and mother. Both costumes feature components that took some work, though the latter was a 50- to 60-hour project.

Stenmark's interpretation of Princess Leia is inspired by the classic 1970s-era movie poster illustration for Star Wars, where Luke Skywalker is holding his lightsaber over his head and Leia is kneeling next to him with a blaster. "It's a combination of her two costumes in Star Wars. The belt and the hairstyle look like her classic senatorial white dress, while the dress itself looks more like her ceremonial throne room gown."

She hand-built the blaster and belt from scratch: "The hilt and trigger were scavenged from a toy Star Wars gun, the barrel and all its pieces are PVC pipes and fittings from the plumbing aisle at the hardware store, and I added a few custom plastic pieces to match the reference illustration. I painted and weathered it myself and then added the orange tip back in from the toy. The belt is leather with brass plates. I cut and dyed the leather; cut, filed, and polished the brass plates and disks; and then riveted them all together."


She hand dyed the silk for this Padmé Amidala costume. Tori Dickson

Stenmark built and styled the wigs for both Leia and Padmé. The latter is more of a structural headdress, its six headbands sculpted from paper clay, painted, and inset with freshwater pearls. Bobby pins and hair spray (Aqua Net works best) are also key structural components. Both wigs are stored on Styrofoam wig heads. "I like to joke that I have the severed heads of the Skywalker women in my costume storage."

She also took home four awards for her re-creation of Padmé's look in a scene from Attack of the Clones (where she and Anakin have their first kiss at her family's lakeside retreat on her home planet), including Best in Class, Master Division at Norwescon in 2012, and Best Dye Job, Master Class at the World Science Fiction Convention in 2015. "There's an art book of costumes from the Star Wars movies called Dressing a Galaxy," she explained. "It has beautiful photos and descriptions of the costumes, mostly from the prequel movies. My gown matches the written description of the original costume in every detail. I'm quite proud of that."

The gown is rainbow silk that goes from purple to pink to orange and finally yellow, with each section of color individually hand-dyed. The dyeing process itself took an afternoon, about three hours, but: "I spent a good month and a half thinking about the dyes, testing the colors, testing the process, and trying to work through the methodology in my head... I often find that when I am procrastinating on one specific part of a project, it's because I need more time to think about it and solve problems. So while it took a few hours to dye the dress, it took a little under two months to be ready to dye it."

Stenmark is currently working on a new character: Galadriel, the royal elf from The Lord of the Rings. Watch her progress and see more of her cosplay on Instagram @tereshkovacostuming.