Monday, November 28, 2011

Notes from ChicagoTARDIS 2011 Costuming Basics

Here are some of my notes from my Costuming Basics panel at ChicagoTARDIS.

Choosing Your Character

Decide which character you'd like to do, how much time and money it would take to create that costume, and if you can actually create the costume.  Personally, I love to see specific, unique costumes, like Rory with glasses and a magnifying glass from The Girl Who Waited.  Put time and effort into your research - learn the details of your costumes.  Details are what makes a costume go from, "oh, there's another Doctor", to "HOLY CRAP, I need a photo with the Tenth Doctor RIGHT NOW!"  The same goes for a unique costume.  You can do a basic Amy with skirt, sweater, and scarf, or you can make her kick-ass leather armor from The Girl Who Waited.  Keep in mind, it is absolutely fine for you to do a very basic costume, especially if you're new to cosplay.  However, if you want to enter a costume contest or even just stand out, then definitely try to do something that no one's done before, or no one's done well.

Doctor Who Costuming Resources

Look at hi-res screen captures.  Watch Doctor Who Confidential.  Watch any behind-the-scenes footage you can of anyone in any film making props and costumes.  Visit websites for photos, how-tos, props, etc.  Follow famous cosplayers like Ana Aesthetic, who often talk about their costumes.

You can find a great Weeping Angel costume how-to here.

Sewing Tips:

- Find patterns on Ebay, or on sale at Hobby Lobby and JoAnn Fabrics.  Never, ever, ever pay full price for a pattern!

- When buying a pattern, measure your hips, waist, chest, and shoulders (depending on what the pattern is for).  Look at the back of the pattern, and whichever size corresponds to your largest body part is the size that you should purchase.  It's much easier to reshape the rest of it by cutting the pattern down rather than trying to make it larger.
Keep in mind that pattern sizes are the same as formal wear - if you wear an 8 or 10 off the rack, you'll probably end up buying a pattern size of 14 or 16.

- For homemade patterns, I recommend using large gridded presentation easels from Office Depot or similar office supply store.  Your pattern will be much more accurate than if you just try to cut something out of newspaper.  These are also great if you need to modify a pattern to make it bigger, make the skirt longer or wider, etc.  Just tape them onto the existing pattern.

- Get a good pair of shears, and ONLY use them for cutting material.  Paper will dull the blade.

- Plan on making the first version out of cheap material - learn what works and what doesn't.

- New costumers should stay away from difficult fabrics like chiffon, velvet, and silks and satins.

- Advanced sewers should invest in a serger to make beautifully-finished seams.  A serger also makes working with chiffon and other thin materials much easier, as it will prevent the edges from unraveling.

- The seam ripper is your friend.  You will use it often.  You will throw it across the room.  Buy two.  You will also throw your costume across the room, swear at it, threaten to throw it out, etc.  You will probably have to take the entire thing apart at some point.  Do not despair - everyone does it at one point or another.  Or every costume, in my case. 

- You will probably have to make one piece of your costume over again.  Be prepared for this - if you think you're going to struggle with something, buy an extra yard of fabric if you can afford it.  This will save you time, as you won't have to try to figure out where you got the fabric from and which fabric it was exactly.  And, if you never use it, you can always repurpose it into something else.

- If you can afford a dressmaker's form, buy an adjustable one.  That way you can use it for you and a friend!  Check Ebay or JoAnn Fabrics.  Again, never pay full-price for a form.

- If you don't have the room or the funds for a form, you can make your own out of duct tape!  You can find a tutorial here.

- Sign up for any mailing list your local fabric store offers.  Chains like JoAnn Fabrics offer weekly 40% off coupons that are good for anything, and often have additional coupons for fabric, notions, etc.

- Take your time!  If you read my blog, you'll see that I mess up all the time because oftentimes I don't pay attention to simple things like which way the velvet lies ...

Selecting Fabrics

- Keep in mind that the color of the costume onscreen may not be the color of the costume off-screen.  This is because the DP might use a filter, the editor might color correct.  This means two things:  one - you can either make the costume reflect the on-screen version or the off-screen version; two - you don't need to worry about matching your fabric color exactly.

- Pick fabrics that look similar to the ones used in the costume, but are cheaper and easier to work with.

- Heavier fabrics = heavier and hotter costumes, so consider how hot (or how breezy) your costume would be if you decided to make it out of wool (or chiffon).

- Drape is important, so keep in mind that heavier fabrics don't drape well, and lighter fabrics will show off every curve.

- Look for fabric in every department, even upholstery.  You never know where you'll find the perfect pattern or weight.  Also look in upholstery for trim.

- Thrift stores are great for finding huge batches of fabric.  Look for curtains, tablecloths, and bedspreads.

- In Chicagoland, there is a fantastic store called Vogue.  There are two locations, one in Evanston and one in Chicago.  Each location consists of room upon room of fabric bolts.  I know other cities have a fabric district as well, so do an online search and see what you find.

There are also some great online fabric stores.  Make sure you order swatches, because color might be different from the photo, and it's hard to tell weight and texture from a photo. (This is the online site for the store in Chicago/Evanston, and the selection online is hit or miss.  I recommend visiting one of the stores if you can.)

Accuracy vs. Cost

Your costume can be accurate, or it can be cheap, but rarely can it be both!  Decide before you start if you're going to set a budget, or if you're just going to go all out there and screw the money (I usually have the latter approach).

However, keep in mind that there are lots of ways you can cheat and make a really good costume without spending tons of money.  All of the "buttons" on my Clockwork Droid costume are wood that I got from Hobby Lobby's wood aisle and are just painted gold.  If I'd purchased actual buttons, I'd have easily spent over $100.  And remember, you can always go back and remake parts of your costume later when you have more skills or more money.  Basically, I go cheap where I can so that I can spend the money where its needed.


- Visit the Replica Prop Forum to start learning how to use different techniques.  Look at things you won't even use for your own costume - often it will give you ideas anyway.

- When building props or non-fabric parts of your costume, wander the aisles at Home Depot or other hardware stores.  The jewelry sections of craft stores are great for decorations and wire.

- A great substitute for leather and metal is craft foam.  There are some great websites that teach you how to use craft foam, like this one.  You can shape it, paint it, carve it, you name it!  I've used it for my Queen Susan vanbrace.  I've seen some fantastic armor that looks like metal.

- Seriously - and I can't stress this enough - learn how to cheat.  Found items can be repurposed with a little paint and glue.  Plastic can be painted to look like metal.  Just please, please, please do not make a sword out of aluminum foil!

The Cosplay Community

- Join to see if someone else has already made your costume.  If so, you can get an idea on how to go about creating yours, or see how you can improve upon someone else's technique.

- As I said before, follow famous cosplayers on Twitter or Facebook.

- Pay attention to what other costumers are doing.  Ask questions.  Most people would love to share how they made their costume.

At the Convention

- Bring a quick-fix kit that consists of thread, needle, safety pins, double-sided tape, velcro, a hot glue gun - anything you might need to slap your costume back together.  Remember, even in films they're sometimes fixing costumes between each take, so don't be upset if things start falling off of your costume in the middle of the day.  Just run back to your hotel room and remember to do a better fix when you get home.

- Even if you have a basic costume, chances are someone is going to take a photo of you, so be prepared!  Practice a pose in your costume before you get into the halls - pick something your character does.

- Be confident!  Putting on a costume and walking around in public is scary, but remember - you're surrounded by people who are huge geeks and who love the same show that you do.  Cosplayers are icing on the convention cake.

- Connect with other cosplayers!

Next Year

- Learn from your mistakes.  If something didn't work before, why didn't it work?

- Recognize your strengths and weaknesses - build on your talents, and work on things you're having trouble with (it used to take me 8 hours to put in a zipper, I've got it down to about a half an hour now!)

- Think about what you liked best about your last costume and incorporate that into your new costume.  If you liked making props, then make a costume that requires a lot of props.  If you liked working with lots of fabric, then make a costume that contains yards of fabric!

- Challenge yourself.  It will make your costuming experience more rewarding, and it will make your costume more interesting.

- Branch out into other areas like masks, leather, or metalwork.  Even if you want to try, but you think you can't do it, try anyway.  Give yourself months to work on learning how to make molds or shape leather.  The worst that can happen is that you hate it and you find a different way to make that piece.

Good luck, and please feel free to let me know if you have any questions!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

ChicagoTARDIS Recap

Today was the last day of ChicagoTARDIS 2011, Chicagoland's annual Doctor Who convention, and I led my very first panel.  A call came out a few weeks ago for panelists, and I volunteered for the Costuming Basics panel.   It was very exciting to see my name listed in the program, along with two other presenters.  However, I was nervous that everyone would show up and have no real idea what to talk about, and I'm the kind of person who gets anxious if if there isn't A PLAN.  So, on Friday, I sat down and created a pretty good outline, just in case.  I doubted I would end up using it.

When we got to the convention, we lurked around for a while.  I scared quite a few kids just by staring at them, but most worked up the courage and bravely came over to give me a high five or have their picture taken with me.  One little guy saw me and literally took two steps backward.  I really could just stand around all day without moving too much, just freaking people out.  I love it when they think I'm a statue ...

My panel was at 11, and I'm so glad that I did create an outline, because only two of us showed up, and the other panelist didn't really seem to have a plan.  There were about twenty people in attendance, which isn't bad, considering that ChicagoTARDIS is such a small con, and we were opposite a big panel in the main programming ballroom.

I kind of took over the entire panel, going off of my notes and comments from the audience.  Everyone seemed pretty engaged, so I hope they learned at least a little something.  I absolutely want to do this again next year!  I had a lot of fun, and let's face it, I love telling people what to do.

After my panel, I put my Clockwork Droid mask back on and went to the Dealer's Room to get my book, Running Through Corridors, signed by Rob Shearman.  He and Toby Hadoke sat down a few years ago and started rewatching Doctor Who from the very beginning.  Matt and I have been reading it since we started watching the classic series, and it's fantastic.  Not only that, it's gotten us through some of the horrible reconstructions!

Rob loved my Clockwork Droid costume.  He said that I was so scary, and that he imagined that if I took off my mask, there would be nothing but a void ... we chatted for a bit (me through the mask).  He was so lovely, and he seemed very impressed by the entire costume.  He even drew a Dalek in my book!  Tony Lee, a fantastic graphic novelist and writer whom I follow on Twitter, was signing next to Rob.  He kept chuckling over my costume, and at one point took a picture, saying, "this is Rob signing for a Clockwork Droid!"  Rob kept saying that if I saw him later sans mask, I should say hi.  Because we weren't planning on sticking around for too much longer, I said, "I'll just take off my mask now", and lifted it off enough so he could see me.  He said something like, "oh, it is a real person, and it's rather nice, too."  He said I didn't look very evil.

That just made my day!  Later, after attending a panel called The Good, the Bad, and the Torchwood, hosted by David Vox Mullen of the DVM Podcasting Empire, Matt and I decide to walk around a bit more.  We went back to the Dealer's Room, where we both were a huge hit.  As we wandered towards the back, lo and behold, there was Rob, talking to some people.  He saw me and introduced me (by name!  He didn't even look at my badge, he remembered my name!) to the people he was with.  I grabbed Matt and motioned that he should introduce himself.    Rob then felt bad because he's autographed the book "To Nat", instead of Matt.  He offered to fix it, but we'd already put the book in the car, and it wasn't a big deal.  But he chatted with us for about a minute about Running Through Corridors.  He is really a great guy!
We lurked around a bit more before heading to one last panel.  We left the convention feeling pretty good.  Matt's Inspector Spacetime costume (from Community) was a hit, we both met Rob Shearman, I got to talk to some of my new Doctor Who friends, and my panel went really well.

Oh, and I just checked my Twitter feed, and Tony Lee tweeted a few hours ago that he heard there's an Inspector Spacetime cosplayer, and he needs a photo.  That's Matt!  He even retweeted a picture of him!  Even the actor who plays Inspector Spacetime retweeted a photo.  Matt is famous!