The Costume Counselor: Patterns as a Base

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. Continue reading

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The Costume Counselor: Armor 101

Armor is, without a doubt, one of the most intimidating things out there.  And I’m not just talking about when you’ve got a legion of stormtroopers marching towards you led by Darth Vader although okay yeah that’s a little scary if it’s unexpected.  No, I’m talking about the process of actually making armor for yourself.  We’re not going to go into the crazy world of vacuum forming or the kits that you can buy for stormtroopers.  Instead, we’ll look at the more affordable armor materials that are out there.

Let’s cover a couple of basics first.  All of these materials are going to require heat to shape them.  You can get a heat gun/embossing gun from almost any craft store but BE CAREFUL.  Things can get very hot very fast and you may burn yourself if you’re not cautious.  I speak from personal experience.   You’re also going to need to paint the crap out of whatever material you use.  Some of these will need multiple layers of gesso plus sanding in order to get a smooth surface.  (I will admit that this is something I haven’t quite yet mastered…)  I also cannot recommend enough getting some large sheets of paper to use for templates before you start messing with your chosen material.  You can probably find newspaper for free and recutting that a dozen times to get the shape right is infinitely preferable to doing so with a more expensive material.   Continue reading

The Costume Counselor: When Things Just Won’t Work

Sometimes, a project just doesn’t want to cooperate. It’s frustrating, it’s infuriating, it makes you want to rip your hair out and scream. We’ve all been there. Heck, I was just there on Sunday. I thought that Attempt #2 was finally going to be the thing that made the armor piece of my new Mara Jade costume work how I intended and then it just looked stupid. There went my hopes of finishing the bulk of the costume that weekend. It was one of those situations that just made me want to throw it all away and quit cosplay forever. If you’ve been in this hobby for more than year, you’ve probably faced those moments and if you have yet to… well, brace yourself. And you know what? It’s totally okay. You just need to find out what can help you move past your frustrations.  Over the years, I’ve figured out a few tricks.

Procrastinate Productively
This is a coping method that I have a PhD in. When one part of a costume won’t work, I often put it away and work on an easier part or just work on another costume entirely. Barriss Offee’s cape was driving me up the wall with figuring out how to pattern it so I shoved the fabric into a bag that was out of sight and made her bracer instead. When I went back to the cape a few days later, my brain was refreshed. (I was also starting to run out of time but that’s neither here nor there.) Continue reading

The Costume Counselor: Packing it all up

Congratulations! You’ve finished making your costume and you’re ready for a convention but now you’ve got another problem: how are you going to get it there? If you’re wearing only one costume to a convention or if your costumes are fairly simple and will fold up nicely, this won’t be an issue. Things get more challenging when you’re trying to pack six or seven costumes and some normal clothes into a suitcase that’s under the airline weight limit. (That’s step 1, by the way: Make sure that your costume line up for a convention is actually something you can fit into a suitcase and transport to a convention.)

Like almost every other cosplay thing, this is something where you want to start early. The ‘haphazardly throw everything in a suitcase five hours before your flight’ method may seem like a good idea but you are almost guaranteed to forget something. One of my friends is the Queen of this. I usually start making my packing list two weeks in advanced. Every single costume has every single component listed out and I even note which pieces are used for multiple costumes. I also write out everything else I’m bringing to the convention from normal clothes to make up to snacks. For Dragon Con, this usually results in a list that’s three to four pages long when I print it. Continue reading

The Costume Counselor: Wigs 101

Wigs are scary. Well, an actual wig isn’t all that scary. It’s just fake hair after all but if you’ve never worn or styled one before, the prospect of getting your first wig can be terrifying. For the first few years that I cosplayed, I felt the same way and only costumed as characters whose hair matched my own. After a friend finally shoved a wig on my head for a Scarlet Witch costume one year, I finally gave in and bought my very first one in 2011. (It was a medium length purple one for Psylocke.) I still have a tendency to try and mostly do characters whose hair matches mine but I no longer have that phobia. Instead, I now have a box filled with probably two dozen of them. Over the last five years, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks that just might come in handy for you if you’re new to this whole wig thing.

Always wear a wig cap
I resisted doing this at first and just French braided my hair but wig caps make everything so much easier. You just shove all your hair into one and it keeps everything contained. It’s also a lot easier to shift your hair around so you can avoid any visible lumps or bumps. They take some getting used to but wig caps are honestly a life saver and pretty darn cheap. (Your wig may even come with one!) If you forget a wig cap at a convention, run to the dealer room because you can probably find a wig vendor there who is selling them. Continue reading

The Costume Counselor: Shoes Shoes Shoes

When it comes to shoes for costumes, you will almost definitely have to pick from the following: completely accurate, comfortable, or cheap. Most of the time, you’ll only get two-out-of-three. Getting all of them happens rarely and should be treated as a Christmas miracle any time it does. As always, it is up to you which route you prefer to take and as always, I have my personal preference. (It’s comfort. I always go for comfort.)

IMG_2604But first… Hey you! Yes, you reading this. Do you have new shoes for a costume for an upcoming convention? Go put them on right now. I’ll wait. Look: I even have mine on! The most important thing to do for any pair of shoes you intend to wear for a costume is to make sure that they are broken in well in advance. The absolute last thing you want to do is get to the con with a pair of brand spanking new shoes and get blisters because they rub you the wrong way or find out that you can’t actually walk in them. Put those babies on now and wear them around the house or while running errands. Your feet will thank you in the long run.

Let’s get back to the process of picking those shoes… Continue reading

The Costume Counselor: Making vs Buying

Okay, so you’ve decided to make your costume and you’ve already done your breakdown… what now? Now you have to figure out whether or not you want to make each piece from scratch or if you want to buy something to use for it. We sort of touched on this last time but didn’t really go quite in depth enough.

The first thing do here is a cost-benefit analysis with effort as the currency. Is it worth the time, money, and effort to make something simple that you can buy on Amazon for $10 just so you can say you made all of it? Probably not. And, to be perfectly honest, if you buy something that’s more of a base piece, you’re probably going to save yourself money in the long run along with your very valuable time. Buy it and move on.

Sometimes, you’ll buy a pre-made base piece with the intention of modifying it. When looking at this option, again consider how much effort you’ll have to put into modifying it. There’s a big difference between merely ironing a design on to a t-shirt and hacking up a jacket so you can put it back together again. Continue reading

The Costume Counselor: Breaking it Down

After you pick a costume to work on, the next step is to figure out what exactly you’ll need to make or purchase. This is what I refer to as the break down process and it can either be a moment when you go “Oh, this won’t be so bad” or “This is way more complicated than I expected.” In some cases, the work may have already been done for you. The 501st in particular does a fantastic job of making sure they have incredibly thorough standards pages. They offer breakdowns of exactly what each costume will be comprised of along with pictures of the pieces. I found it to be incredibly helpful when I was working on my Revan. Unfortunately though, not every costume is going to have the benefit of 501st research.

The first step is to gather your reference pictures. Find as many of these as you can. If you’re working on a costume where you can see the front, the back, and the sides, be grateful for reference as this will take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. (Alternatively, you can be like me and base your costume off of a single image that doesn’t even show the entire costume. It’s my specialty.) I’m a fan of printing the pictures out if I’m going to continue to reference them while actually constructing the costume but I do know that a lot of people will maintain reference image folders on their tablets. Do what works for you.  Continue reading

The Costume Counselor: Sewing 101

Sewing is one of those weird things that, like cooking, you may have learned in some sort of home-ec class or from your parents or that you just randomly picked up because you decided you wanted to learn. If you didn’t learn how when you were younger, it can seem intimidating and look like an insurmountable mountain even though it’s not. Like any skill, it will take time and practice so don’t get discouraged if it’s a struggle early on.

If you’re brand new to sewing, you may think that you have to dive right into sewing garments with a machine. Don’t. Well, you can but I strongly recommend that you get comfortable with the basics of hand sewing first. Get acclimated to working with needle and thread by learning how to sew a button back on to a shirt or a cool patch on to your jacket. No matter how good you get with a machine, you’ll inevitably have to do at least some hand sewing for any given project so you might as well get comfortable with it now.  In fact, there are some costumers who only hand sew all of their work (and they have so much of my respect because wow.) Continue reading

The Costume Counselor: Commissioning vs Making

Once you’ve decided on a costume, your first big decision is always whether you want to make it yourself or whether you intend to commission it from someone else. For a lot of people, this isn’t a conscious decision but rather a subconscious one. Those of us who have been doing this for a while tend to fall on the side of either commissioning or creating and stick to it. If you’re relatively new to costuming or even if you’re a veteran looking at a trickier costume, it’s a question that you’ll have to consider carefully.

Essentially, it boils down to “Do you think you have the ability and time to make it?” or “Would you rather spend the money to have someone else make it for you?” Continue reading