Unless you’re naturally gifted with drafting your own patterns, utilizing existing ones will be the easiest way to actually construct a costume from scratch. Odds are, you won’t find a pattern that works completely and perfectly for whatever you’re making especially if you’re trying to be screen accurate. There is, however, a certain art to flipping through pattern books in search of an illusive base. First things first, you should ask yourself how willing you are to be inaccurate. You should also be realistic about your ability to alter patterns. And then get yourself to the fabric store.
For whatever piece you’re trying to make, look for the most basic shape you can. For dresses, you’ll want to look at where the waistline is and the general shape of the dress especially when it comes to skirt flare. Let’s use the Winter Celchu costume I made as an example. (The white dress to the left.) I used a “Princess” dress pattern as the base for the skirt and bodice and a Game of Thrones pattern for the sleeves. This obviously required some slight alterations to the top of the sleeve pattern so it would fit the dress arm holes. The neckline was something that I had to draft myself and uhhh hope for the best. This will be a situation where I suggest that you do as I say and not as I do because the smart thing would have been to first do a mock up of the bodice in muslin or another cheap fabric to make sure it worked. Actually, if you’re working with really expensive fabric or if you’re having to color outside the lines, doing a mock up first may save you a lot of tears and stress. It lets you work out the kinks before working with your actual materials. Also, I cannot recommend the cliched “measure twice, cut once” saying enough because it is so, so true.
Obviously, the fewer alterations you have to make to a pattern, the better. This is also something that you’ll become more comfortable with over time. Don’t be afraid to mess up and to have to try again. Patterns, if you’re smart with when you buy them, only cost a few bucks so if you have to get one or two, it’s not a huge deal. (Again… never buy patterns at full cost unless you’re in a true bind. Jo Ann Fabrics will cycle through all the brands over the course of a few weeks and you can get them for cheap.) If you need to add something to the pattern, carefully tape them to something lightweight like unprinted newspaper and draw the new shape on there. Again, this is something that will give you plenty of chances to try something out and redo it if it doesn’t quite work.
In a brief moment of housekeeping, the Costume Counselor will be shifting to every other week. I’m still more than happy to hear column subject requests so feel free to email, comment, or tweet me!