Sunday, November 30, 2014

Costuming for Beginners

If you were at the costuming panel at Chicago TARDIS on Sunday, you'll remember that just about the only thing I could shoe-horn in was, "go to my blog!"  I'm reposting my Costuming Basics information from my 2011 Chicago TARDIS panel with a few updates.  Enjoy.

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 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 as well as you'd like to see it.

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!  *I don't support Hobby Lobby anymore.  If you can find somewhere else to shop, please do so.

- 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.

- Pattern companies like Simplicity or McCall's make patterns that fit a particular size, but no one is the exact dimensions of each size.  For instance, a women's size 14 will be a 36" bust, a 28" waist, and a 38" hip.  You'll probably end up matching the measurements for at least 2 different sizes, so you'll have to alter patterns so that they fit you correctly.  Make sure you always buy the biggest size - it's easiest to make something smaller - and then draw new cutting lines.

- If you want to make your own patterns, I recommend making your own master template.  This will help you make patterns that fit you exactly.  You can find kits to make your own templates here.  For homemade patterns or major alterations, I recommend purchasing pattern paper, a large cutting mat, and transparent plastic ruler or styling curve.  I put off purchasing these for years because they can be pricey, but now I can't believe I waited for so long.  I use these tools with every single project.

- If you want to try out altering/patterning before spending money on pattern-making tools, you can also buy a large gridded presentation easel from Office Depot or similar office supply store.

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

- Use the correct sewing machine needles for the fabric you're using.  Check the needle package to see if it's for lightweight or heavy weight fabrics.  If you use the wrong needle, you could end up breaking or even shattering it (which I've done when I accidentally put the wrong one in).  If a needle breaks, you could end up damaging your fabric, your machine, or yourself.  

- Plan on making the first version out of cheap material - learn what works and what doesn't.  Old bed sheets work great as a stand-in for cotton.  Sheer curtains from the thrift store work for chiffon.

- New costumers should stay away from difficult fabrics like chiffon, velvet, and silks and satins until you're more comfortable working with material.

- 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.  Make sure you have enough time before the con in case that happens.

- Start a fabric book for every project.  Cut a swatch from each fabric, glue it onto the page, and write down the store where you purchased it, the item name, color, and SKU.  That way, if you want to remake part of it in the future, you have all of the information you need to buy new fabric.

- 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.

- If you want to learn how to do something new, search YouTube.  There are thousands upon thousands of tutorials for making all kinds of things!

- 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 from time to time because I don't pay attention to simple things like which way the velvet lies ... Everyone does it, so just be careful and make sure it doesn't happen too often.

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.

- For the beginner, 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).  For instance, my Clockwork Droid costume is made out of stretch velvet.  If it was made out of wool, I'd sweat to death in about five minutes.  (Also, I'm extremely sensitive to wool, which is another thing to keep in mind when making your costume.)

- 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 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 it's 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.  My husband made all of his Eomer armor out of it.

- Seriously - and I can't stress this enough - learn how to cheat.  Found items can be repurposed with a little paint and glue.  Plastic and wood can be painted to look like metal.  Just please, please, please do not make a sword out of aluminum foil!  As you get more comfortable making props, you'll be able to start making them more and more accurate, and out of more expensive or difficult materials.

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.

- Google your costume to see what resources are out there.  I used the tutorial on the Lissie Rose website to learn how to do pleated ruffles. 

- 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

- Pockets are super important!  If you can sew a pocket into your costume, please do so.  I have a pocket on the inside of my Clockwork Droid costume in which to store my phone, keys, and business cards.  If your costume is a dress or something where you can't sew a pocket in, get creative.  I make a little bag for each of my dresses out of the same material using a drawstring bag pattern.  It blends right in, and if anyone even notices it, it looks like it belongs to the costume.  I've known people to hide compartments in their armor or weapons in which to store their belongings as well.

- 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!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Elsa's Snow Queen Dress - Frozen

A few months ago, my niece E asked me to make her Elsa's gown from Frozen for Halloween.  I agreed, because I wanted to give the dress a shot, and so I started looking for fabric.  I also was asked to make an Anna costume for my younger niece, K.  By the end of September, I was making two more Elsas and another Anna for some of my friends' kids!

I used the Simplicity pattern 1233 as a basis, but I made several modifications of my own.  I also had to make a larger size for my biggest Elsa, because the pattern I had only went up to an 8, and she was a 10.

For the bodice, I used the Turquoise Confetti Dot, the skirt was Turquoise Tissue Lame (only use this if you're a masochist!), and the yoke and sleeves were a light blue organza (all from JoAnn's).  For the cape, I originally purchased two yards of fabric off of eBay, but when I got an additional two orders, that fabric was sold out, so I ended up getting a different fabric.  They both are organza with silver snowflakes, and are super hard to work with, due to all of the glue holding the snowflakes on ...

I used the Simplicity pattern as a guide, but made a lot of adjustments.  First, I made the neckline a bit more heart-shaped, and the bottom of the bodice deeper.  I also cut a lot out of the skirt, as it was VERY full.  The cape needed no adjustment.

I cut out the bodice and attached the lining, which was just a turquoise lining fabric.  The bodice fabric was difficult to work with due to the glue (which is just annoying - make sure you clean off your needle frequently to prevent pulling, puckering, and thread breaking).  I then put the yoke together and serged the seams.  I then simply laid the bodice on top of the yoke and sewed it on.

See, originally, I was going to attach the cape using velcro.  I actually got as far as the first dress to do this (I was making them assembly-line style), but it turned out to not be as great as I thought it would be.  The idea was to make it detachable so that I could leave the back of the cape in one piece, and the girls wouldn't have to contort to get into it.

That didn't work so well, so I did end up ripping the yoke and sleeves out of the other two and then inserting the cape, prior to reattaching the yoke and sleeves.  I'll go into that a bit more later.

The skirt was a NIGHTMARE.  I used the tissue lame as a lining because I'd purchased the fabric before cutting the fullness down.  It shredded if you so much as looked at it.  Even when serged with a roll, it just shredded apart.  It also puckered and pulled like crazy, even with the thinnest needle I could find.  I ended up using a lot of seam stop glue.

I sewed the skirt to the bodice in the same way that I did the yoke.

I ended up with the following (see photo).  To neaten it all up, I then turned the yoke and top of the skirt over and sewed it to the bodice.  It's not the best technique, but it worked.

I inserted a zipper and then added trim, which I didn't get the name of, but purchased at JoAnn's.  I first turned the serged top of the yoke under and sewed it down, then hand-stitched the trim to it.  It was really easy to do the trim - it was very forgiving to the needle, and it went pretty quickly.

The very last thing to do was to attach the cape to the back.  I didn't want to go the velcro route again, so I attached two hooks and eyes, which are pretty hard to see.  I have one on each side of the zipper, and so the cape just hooks onto the back there and has a nice flow.

And here's the finished product!  This is the dress I made for my friend's daughter, and was the largest dress.  The bottom photo is the two larger dresses.  I'll have to get my niece's (the smallest, and with a different cape fabric) back after Halloween and attach the cape properly.  To get in and out of the dress is a bit of a trick, but I don't think anyone's had a problem yet.

Stay tuned - the next entry will be the Anna costume construction!  ETA:  You can view Anna's dress construction here.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wizard World Chicago Comic Con

You may recall that for last year's DragonCon, my husband Matt made Eomer's costume.

This year, we can't make it to DragonCon because we're going to the UK for two weeks at the end of September and have no extra time off.  We've been pretty bummed about missing our favorite con, especially after last year's epic Tolkien track programming, including Evening at Bree and 80's Dance Party.

While making his armor last year, Matt ran out of time to make the helmet.  In June, he started casually working on it, thinking he'd have it done in time for DragonCon 2015.

Then we found out that Karl Urban (the actor who portrayed Eomer, for you non-Ringers) was going to be a guest at DragonCon this year, and we went from being bummed to throwing things and cursing.

Before I go on, I should explain something about Matt.  We've now gone to almost a dozen cons together, and he has never shown any interest in meeting celebrities (although, he seems to run into them an awful lot in elevators).  He's barely interested in celebrity panels, and usually just tags along to keep me company.  But Karl Urban is a different story because of the costume.

And THEN, Karl Urban was announced as a guest at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con.  I immediately purchased tickets and a photo op for Saturday.  Matt immediately dropped everything and began working on his helmet during every spare moment - from the second we were done with dinner until past midnight.  It was worth it - check out these photos on his Tumblr! 

We knew we didn't want to be at the con all day because we wouldn't have a hotel room to decompress in, and both of our costumes are quite hot.  We arrived around 11:30, and before we'd even had a chance to register, we were bombarded with photo requests.  That's how it went for the rest of the day, mostly accompanied by shouts of, "Horse Lord!"  He was even approached by a few women who were fangirling over his gorgeous face.  Costume.  Whatever.

Even the guys from Tandy Leather thought he did a fantastic job!

Our photo op was scheduled for 3:15, and we could queue up at 2:45.  Several people waiting in line came over to get photos with Matt (they weren't too interested in me, and one girl even asked me to take the photo!)  I've never done a photo op before, so I don't know if they're always so rushed, but we were essentially herded like cattle through the photo op area, spending less than 20 seconds with Karl.  However, as we entered, Karl said, "awesome costume!"  As we left, he told Matt that the costume was phenomenal.

We also both went a bit nuts today after hearing from a friend that he'd mentioned Matt's costume to her during her autograph signing (not knowing that she knew us).  It seems that he really was impressed!  Does it get any better than that?

Our photo was snapped by so many people, like this one (courtesy of Max/Gandalf on Flickr (  Let us know if you see any floating around out there in the Interwebs, as we have very few photos of us together.

We had a great time, and left around 4:30.  We're both still completely exhausted - my whole body hurts from wearing ballet slippers for seven hours, and Matt's totally worn out from wearing that helmet (which is quite heavy!) and not being able to sit down.

Even though we can't go to DragonCon, we had a blast Ringing it up at Wizard World!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Well, I'm Still Boycotting Hobby Lobby

I'm still pretty upset over the SCOTUS ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby.  I'm not going to get all political here - the main thing is that I'm still boycotting Hobby Lobby, and this time, it's a total boycott.

I've been boycotting them for the past year, although I've had to go no more than a dozen times to get things there that I can't get anywhere else.  I absolutely hate when that happens, but I always use a 40% off coupon (not that it makes THAT much difference, as I'm still giving them my money).  However, it's a far cry from the kind of money I used to spend there.  Between fabric, thread, jewelry materials, and candy-making supplies, I used to probably spend about $1000 per year at Hobby Lobby.  Since deciding to boycott them, I've spent less than $100.

Now, they're not going to get even that.

Michael's has coupons.  So does Joann Fabrics.  In fact, I rarely purchase anything at full-price.

Are other stores further away?  Yep.  Will it cost more to order the hard-to-find things I need online instead of at Hobby Lobby?  Yep.  But I'm so infuriated by this entire situation that I'm just totally done with them.

I suggest that you are, too.

If you're still not convinced, here's a great article that debunks the most common arguments as to why Hobby Lobby isn't as evil as they seem.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Crafter's Apron

I've added two new items to my Etsy store - Buttons and Shears crafter's aprons.  It's available with or without a ruffle.  Both styles have a deep pocket on the front left and a pocket for shears on the right hip.

Buttons and Shears with Ruffles

Buttons and Shears

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Casual Costumer on Etsy!

I've opened a new shop on Etsy where I'll be selling various items, but mostly a variety of aprons.  Right now I've opened with matching mother/daughter apron sets, but will be adding more items over the next few weeks.  Check it out! 

Here are some of the items currently on sale:

Apples and Pears

Tiny Flowers

Spring Flowers

Spring Has Sprung


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Projects for Nieces and Nephew

As I mentioned before, I'm taking a break from costuming.  There are a lot of other projects that I'm working on, though, and I've been at the sewing machine for a good portion of 2014!  Below are the projects that I made for my nieces and nephew.

Dresses for A and E:

I made these dresses using Butterick 4718.  The green one is a size 6, the pink is a size 5.  I used cotton fabric from JoAnn's.  I made the shoulder straps per the pattern on the green dress, but then altered them slightly on the pink dress to be straight.

Dress for K:

This is a dress that I made for K, who is 18 months old.  I used McCall's 6541.  I think I put the button holes a bit too high.  Also, I have so much trouble making button holes!  I can do it perfectly four or five times on test fabric, and then when I do it on the actual fabric, it goes crooked, or the foot stops moving.  It's so aggravating.

Another Dress for A:

What can I say - I spoil her!  She loves my dresses, though, and because her mother always shows gratitude, I like making things for her.   This one was made with McCall's 6061.  The yellow trim goes all the way around the dress.

Apron for P:

Last, but not least, I had to make something for P since I'd made dresses for his two sisters.  I decided to make him a Bears apron so that he could help his dad grill this summer.  The pattern is my own, based off of several adult patterns.  I put a double pocket on the front, since kids LOVE to carry things around in pockets!