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

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: 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: 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

The Costume Counselor: An Introduction and Picking a Character

Convention season is creeping up on us and maybe you want to venture into the great wild world of costuming… but you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’ve been dipping your toe in the costume world but aren’t sure how to take it further. I’ll be honest with you: cosplay can be an incredibly intimidating community to look at from the outside especially if you’ve walked around a convention like Dragon Con where some of the costumes there are literal works of art. The good news though is that anyone can cosplay! Yes, anyone. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is or what you look like or how much effort you want to put into the costume: you can join this world of elaborate dress up too.  Just think of me as your Cosplay Camp Counselor 😉

That’s me!

Let’s pause though because I’m sure that at least some of you are asking yourselves, “Okay so why should I listen to what this woman has to say?” My name is Bria and I’ve been going to conventions and cosplaying since 2008 and was sewing and making costumes for years before I even knew what a convention was. Since then, I dived head first into the cosplay world and have since made… a heck of a lot of costumes including 15+ in 2015 alone. I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years from buy-all-the-pieces to make-it-all-from-scratch to spandex superheroes to easing into the world of armor. I’ve learned a heck of a lot over those seven years and I’m hoping that I can help some of you and maybe save you from the more painful and hard learned lessons.

This series is going to cover essentially… whatever you want to know! I’ve got a list of topics that I’m planning to cover but I’m also happy to take questions from you! We’re going to start with the most basic of all basic characters: how do you pick a character to costume as? Continue reading