Sometimes you just need an embroidered patch. A lot of the time the internet will provide, and other times, you just gotta take matters into your own hands.
I enjoy embroidery, but not enough to do it with any frequency. And I’d love an embroidery machine, but with 5 sewing machines already, and table space for only 3 at a time, adding an embroidery machine to the mix, plus that learning curve and the price tag, makes the probability of an embroidery machine low. So we gotta take it back old school.
I do not consider myself someone who does a lot of needlework. I don’t embroider on a daily, weekly, or even yearly basis. In fact, the last time I embroidered anything was close to 7 years ago when I just HAD have a Venture Industries patch, before they started making Venture Industry patches.
Vaguely related side note, have y’all been watching Otaku Teacher? I feel as though I also have YD in respect to crafting. I only do what I yearn to do, and let me tell you, there are very few crafts I enjoy so much I want to do them all the time.
Random story: So I’m really into Dragon Ball Z right now. Anyone that follows my social media channels knows this painfully obvious, so this tutorial will feature the BADMAN patch that will find it’s way on something pink sometime in the future.
Because my anime boyfriend wears it. And Vegeta is leader of my anime boyfriend reverse harem.
Making a Patch with Hand Embroidery and a Sewing Machine
Fabric for embroidery/patch
Embroidery floss and needles
Tear or wash away stabilizer
Sewing Machine and thread
Heat ‘N Bond paper
Fray Check (optional but recommended)
1- Prep your fabric
I used just a cotton broadcloth for this, but you can always use something sturdier. I transferred my pattern to some lightweight interfacing and ironed the interfacing to the back of the fabric piece I plan on embroidering. Don’t forget to reverse the image so it doesn’t end up backward!
2- Embroider it!
Throw that thing in a hoop, grab your embroidery floss and go to town. I did mine while watching episodes of, you guessed it, Dragon Ball Z. For those über curious it was the end of the Frieza saga and the Garlic Jr mini-saga (featuring the Spice Boys).
Ok, I know it feels really firm already, but when it comes to machine embroidery, the firmer the better. I used tear away stabilizer. For this piece I had a pretty complex outline, and wasn’t really confident about seeing the line through the bottom so I ironed on the stabilizer on the top of my embroidery. If it’s a simple shape that I don’t need to follow an outline (like a square) you can iron the stabilizer on the back and use a chalk outline on the front or just wing it.
I’ve done plenty of fake patches more recently utilizing iron-on transfers, and the process I use to make it look more like a patch is the same. If you want to do a fake patch using iron-on t-shirt transfers, start with this step. But iron the stabilizer on the back of the fabric first before applying your t-shirt transfer since heat can make your transfer lift if you aren’t careful.
4- Hoop it
Pop that bad boy in a hoop, but with the hoop ridge up instead of down (the opposite of how you’d hoop it for normal embroidery). Make sure your hoop is large enough to hold you piece, but small enough to fit through the arm shaft of your sewing machine. Then put it under your machine foot. You might need to take the foot off of your shaft, put in your hoop, then put the foot back on.
5- Bind the edge
We’ll use a zig zag stitch to do this. On an area that will be cut away test the stitch. The stitch width is up to you (I used a 2.7, but you can make it as wide or narrow as you like) and a stitch length of .5, or as close as you get the zig zag together to give it the satin look. I used normal thread, but you can use embroidery thread if you like. If you use an embroidery thread make sure to use an embroidery needle.
Once you like your zig-zag satin stitch, sew around your patch.
6- Making it iron on
Take it out of the machine, and carefully remove the tear away stabilizer. It should come off really simply due to the zig zag perforations. Then cut it down a bit (but not all the all the way). Now to add iron-on stuff!
I use Heat ‘N Bond which is a double sided iron-on adhesive. It’s used a lot in appliqué. I cut it to match the size of the fabric and line up my fabric with the Heat ‘N Bond. One side of the Heat ‘N Bond is plastic-y, and the other has paper on it. You want to put the plasticy side facing towards the back of your embroidery. That plasticy side adhere’s to the back of your embroidery like half of double sided tape. Leave the paper on the back for now. Using a press cloth iron the fabric to the piece of Heat ‘N Bond. Let it cool.
7-Finishing your patch
To be safe, I put fray check around the perimeter of the zig zag to make sure it doesn’t unravel. Let it dry. Once the Fray Check has dried, cut out the shape as close as you can get to the zig-zag border without cutting through it.
Lookit that! You just made a patch! Now you can attach it by pulling off the paper back and ironing it where you want it. I add a security stitch around it after I iron it on just to make sure it stays put.
Straight up, everyone: Sequin dresses are a bitch to make. My biggest piece of advice: Don’t do it! Oh, you’re going to do it anyway? Basically this is going to be like a sex talk: If you’re going to do it, at least have the knowledge to do it safely and so you know what to expect.
Working with sequins in general are a total pain, but GLAMOUR!! Now, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I can be blindly confident about taking on projects, it happens all the time. I tend to over-research to the point of WebMD psychosis levels.
The costume was full of unknowns to me, so it’s my own fear that’s kept me from starting the focal piece of the whole costume: the gold sequin dress. But I was also excited, because I never made a sequin dress before. I was smart and took pictures along the way, so you lovely readers can benefit from my pain and suffering.
Without further ado: Working with sequins.
At the end of the article, I’ll post some of the pages I looked at when researching that are much more positive about working with sequins, with headlines along the lines of Add a little sparkle to your wardrobe.
1- Sequin fabric is EXPENSIVE
So make you have enough in the event of mistakes, but not so much you break the bank. It also makes it daunting to cut into. Not to mention the added fear of sequins falling off. That’s right, you are paying big money for the most fickle fabric known to man (might be an exaggeration). The way sequins are attached to fabric is they are stitched to the background in rows.
Makes sense, right? Except a loose thread can make you lose a whole line of sequins. WHAT? This will come into play later.
2- Make sure your pattern is simple
Check and check! I mentioned in a previous post I’m using McCalls 7122. It’s really a simple dress, 4 seams total. No zipper.
Why does a simple pattern matter? Because you have to do a lot of prep of the fabric before you sew, so adding in darts or zippers or fancy collars, or even princess seams is a lot of work! I think the nice way the articles put it is “Let the fabric be the focal point.” Most sequin fabric is on a mesh or stretch backing anyway, so you can get away with less shaping.
3- Prepping Sequin fabric takes FOREVER!
I read an article that said, “A sequin dress will take 3 times longer to make than normal, so plan accordingly.” I went “Ok, this dress would normally take me about an hour. 1 x 3 = 3 hours, but I’ll add in a few more hours to be safe, I should be able to get it done in an evening.”
WRONG! So wrong. So very wrong. Just to prep the fabric took me about a week of evenings. If I judge by the anime I was watching when I removed the sequins, it took me close to 13 hours to prep the fabric. 13 HOURS. And that was just to get the fabric ready to sew, then once the dress is assembled, you have to hand sew sequins back on. From here on out I will be keeping track of approximate time spent on this dress so you can estimate your own.
Side note: I watched Red Garden. That anime is beautiful, and I might have to re-watch it because it’s so pretty and I hardly saw any of it because I was staring at sequins the whole time. It’s like Pretty Little Liars (well, the only episodes of seen of it, which is like 2) but with monsters.
4a- Make a mock up
I used stretch mesh for my mock-up since it matched the fabric the sequins were sewn on, and there’s no pictures because that thing was almost fetish worthy in its sheerness. But I learned a lot about my pattern, and took it in a lot. Time spent: 45 Minutes
4b – Treat your lining like a second mock-up and sew it first.
Oh, and ALWAYS PUT IN A LINING. I called my lining my old lady night-gown because it was made of nude tricot. I used tricot because it has a similar stretch profile as the sequin fabric, and it was silky so it would feel nice against my skin but also not snag on the sequins. I made even more alterations to this lining for fit because I wasn’t getting distracted by my bellybutton like with the mesh one. Time spent: 45 Minutes
But why is the mock-up important? I realized after all my fittings that the weight of the sequins, and the fabric being a little stretchy made everything hang longer than anticipated, plus I forgot to transfer some of my pattern changes (whoops!). So, I had to go back and remove more sequins everywhere I needed to take it in or shorten it. Just add more time to the sequin clock Time spent: 2 hours
5- Sequins have a Nap
That means, sequins hang a specific way and shine a specific way. Find out which direction your sequins hang and lay everything out going one direction. I know it can feel like you’re wasting fabric, but you know what really wastes fabric? Having to re-cut a piece because the sequins are “hanging” vertically. Also, some sequins are one color on one side, and a different color on the other, so a piece cut in an opposite direction will really stand out.
Things to know when cutting out the fabric: Pinning is definitely not something you want to mess with, and cutting on a fold is not recommended. Layout and trace your pattern pieces onto the fabric from the back. I used red tailor’s chalk, then remove the pattern piece and cut along the line.
Also, don’t use your good scissors. I used my gift wrap scissors because those sequins will knick and dull your good scissors so fast! Time Spent: 1 hr
6 – Get ready to live in a disco ball
You may see the storm of sequins rolling in just from cutting your fabric, but you are not ready for the tidal wave of sparkles that are about to drown you. I joked with my husband I was like a sparkly Family Circus cartoon, trailing sequins in a path around the house. I also littered the city of Memphis with them, the work conference room, my car, etc. It’s basically giant glitter.
Before you sew, you need to take all the sequins out of the seam allowances. This allows for several things:
• Reduce the risk of sewing machine needle breakage
• Reduces seam bulk
• Not having sequins sticking straight out and jabbing everything if you sew through them.
If you have, like me, kept your sequin fabric folded in the box it shipped in, the sequins will most likely not lay flat at all. I suggest letting gravity help you and hang the fabric vertically for a few hours (I left mine overnight) before trimming the sequins off.
And you’ll want to trim off the sequins. If you use your seam ripper to take them off, most likely you will weaken the already crazy fragile stitching that holds the whole line of sequins together, so grab some small hand scissors that you don’t care about, and start clipping off the sequins.
I found clipping here gave the best and quickest results:
I would also err on the side of removing too many sequins than not enough because sequins move around while you sew and have a life of their own, and a broken needle is how we loose an eye.
Did I mentioned this took forever? This is going to take forever. And I asked around for tips on making it go faster, and found out there isn’t any. Your hands will hurt. Mine were swollen and I broke a blood vessel near my knuckle where the scissors rested.
Also, if I were to do it again, I would only clean up the seams and neck hole, and not the hem. Due to sequin fabric weight, the hem is going to hang much lower than you anticipate, so sew it together first, then remove the sequins at the hem and bottom of sleeves if applicable once you know the proper length. Time Spent: 13 hours
7- Sewing up the dress is going to seem like a reward from the heavens! But it’s not!
However, the dress should go together quickly, because it’s a simple sewing pattern. I stitched it together and lined it in less than an hour. Also, wear your trusty safety glasses. The chances of you breaking a needle or sequin pieces fling through the air is high. I used a zipper foot so I could get as close as possible to the sequins without having a full foot trying to feed through over the bulk.
I used a stretch stitch on my old battle horse of a Janome because a straight stitch kept puckering and I wanted to maintain as much stretch as possible. The downside? There is no unpicking at that point. The thread is hard to see and the stitches are really small.
I also fray checked each seam, because I’ll be damned if even 1 row of sequins comes loose! I also installed the lining kind of like a bagged jacket. I attached it at the neck and the ends of the sleeves, but hanging free at the bottom.
DO NOT IRON. It can melt the sequins, degrade their color, or melt your backing fabric. I found the seams didn’t really need it, and you can hand tack them later. If you feel it needs to lie flatter, steam and use a clapper.
Because of stretch in the dress and lining, and because the sequins are so heavy, I stay-stitched my trusty friend; clear elastic, around the neck (no stretching!). This gives it the stability to not get all wonky with weight and stretch. Instead, it will give it the stability to hold up that dress you’ve been working on for a week.
If you’re like me, now you’ll try it on and go “I feel like Zsa Zsa! I’m so glamorous! Maybe those past 13 hours have been worth it!” And for a few moments it does feel like it’s all worth it.
Time Spent sewing: 1 hour Time spent gawking at sparkles: at least 1/2 hour.
Just when you thought you were done with sequin removal, it begins again. Once you get everything the length you want it and pinned (if you haven’t already), trim off all the hem sequins and hand hem the bottom. Because it’s all mesh, it’ll look flawless from the outside! Time Spent: 4 hours
9- Hand sewing sequins: the project that never ends
I hope you saved leftover fabric, because you’ll need it. Now is when you can take advantage of the sequins being attached by one thread and remove a bunch of whole sequins. You may have noticed when you tried your dress on that you can see all the backing fabric at your seams. Now you are going to painstakingly attach sequins over all the bare spots. I also used this opportunity to tack my seams the direction I wanted them, which keeps the seams as flat as possible. Time Spent: 8 hours (damn those long sleeves)
But guess what, now you’re done! Only about 30 1/2 hours and 3 sewing needles later.
And that is how you make a sequin dress. I suggest buying one from some sweat shop where 5 year olds are clipping sequins off instead of making one. Just kidding! (mostly)
Oh, but you do feel so glam in it. I probably would not make a sequin dress like this again, but I do feel more prepared to take on sequin projects in the very, very, very distant future.
If you have any sequin questions or tips, you know what to do: leave a comment!
Picking the right fabric can make or break a costume. And I don’t mean screen correct, but I mean quality, weave, texture, pattern, shine. You don’t have to spend a fortune on getting the most accurate fabric possible, but understanding what kinda of fabrics are best to use can take your costume game to a whole new level.
I’m not going to give you a crash course on textiles or how they are sewn. Getting into the specifics of burn tests and fiber content percentages isn’t something you need to know going into your costume planning. Instead I’ll go over a few important points for you to keep in mind, and a few examples of what fabric’s I’d choose for different costumes. Originally this was just going to be one post, but I get really excited about textiles and can ramble (such a nerd about this stuff). So this post is about fiber content, the next one will be about different weaves.
When I first started sewing fiber content was something I never, ever thought about. I never looked at the end of bolts because it didn’t really matter. And when I’m sewing stuff for normal wear, I don’t think about it a whole lot. I’m not a real snooty sewer who is silk charmeuse obsessed, I sew with what I like. But with costumes I’m really anal about what fiber contents I use.
Natural fibers are my favorite! Mostly because it breathes. If you’ve ever been stuck in a walkway at Dragon*Con you’ll understand the importance of being in a costume that doesn’t retain every drop of sweat.
Cotton: From the humble cotton plant, this is the best fiber ever, in my opinion, It sews well, it presses well, and It also dyes really well. You can also find all kinds of different weaves and weights. But keep in mind, not all cotton is created equal. Some are thick and lovely, while others can wrinkle badly or too lightweight. Price range $-$$$
Wool: Sheered from our cute and cuddly animal friends! From Sheep to alpacas, this bad boy also breathes and dyes well. Downsides include dry-cleaning… and it’s wool which is known for being a bit on the warm side. $$-$$$$
Linen: Are you looking for the best fabric to make your Avatar: The Last Airbender cosplay out of? Use linen. Linen is a plant based fiber from flax. It has a lovely rustic texture, is easily washable, dyeable, and sews well. Downsides include wrinkling, but that kind of adds to the charm, I think. $$-$$$
Silk:Taken from the cute little silk worm’s cocoons.I’m gonna be straight up honest with you on this one, I hardly ever use real silk for cosplay costumes. I think it’s really price prohibitive and can be a pain to work with. It’ll show water drops if your iron leaks, you may or may not have to dry clean it, it can be really slippery depending on the weave, but it’s also really lovely. You can dye and paint silk in amazing ways and get absolutely beautiful color. It feels amazing, and there’s so many different weaves and textures to choose from. It’s also an investment $$$-$$$$
Other natural fibers I don’t use much but are available include Bamboo, soy, hemp. They are basically better cotton and hemp is like a stronger variation of linen. $$-$$$$
Leather: I think we are familiar with leather. It can be luxurious, slightly stretchy (and I mean slightly), easily manipulated, you can dye it, stain it, paint it. But buying leather is a different process since you are buying hides of animal skin, and it’s measured by the square inch. It’s also pricey, and you may or may not have a desire to use animal hides for personal reasons. $$$-$$$$ More information about leather hide measuring and purchasing can be found here.
The middle child, Rayon: I’m having a stupid love affair with Rayon right now. But it’s not technically a natural fiber since it’s man made, but it’s not a synthetic material because it’s made from plant cellulose. It can be stiffer or flowy. It feels wonderful, it can breathe, and it doesn’t have to be stupid expensive. Other terms you may see include viscose, modal and lyocell. $-$$$
Synthetics are great because they are less expensive than natural fibers. And there is basically 2 kinds: Polyester and Nylon The downside is, they aren’t as versatile when it comes to the ability to take dye and they don’t breathe like a natural fiber does. Well, except for one big caveat: super fancy sports manufactured fabrics. Think Under Armour shirts. Those guys are polyester and sometimes nylon mixed but science has made them wickable and breathable. When I need spandex, I look here first. If I can find the color I need with a moisture management spandex I will. And it will make all the difference in the world.
Not all synthetics are stretchy like spandex, but they can be much cheaper than their natural alternatives. But there is a downside, if you aren’t careful you can melt it if ironing it too high, and sometimes it’s hard to get a good press.
And my favorite synthetic: Faux leather/pleather. It’s still pricey, but is no where near as pricey as real leather. It doesn’t have the same texture or share the same richness as real leather, but you can buy it by the bolt, and they make some really nice ones these days.
A note on dying synthetics: They make dye for polyester. There is one called iDye by Jacquard (it will say “for Polyester”) and Rit just came out with a new formulation called Dyemore which I wanted to try, but nowhere local carries it right now. I recently tried iDye and, straight up, those colors are rich and intense (not what I was looking for at the time) and mixing colors can be a bit of a challenge, especially with their “mess free bags” which dissolve when water touches them. Not ideal for measuring it out 1 teaspoon at a time.
Nylon CAN take dye really well (and normally does) or it can be stupid stubborn and won’t take any. It’s a bit of a crap shoot.
This is what happens when a natural fiber and a synthetic fiber fall in love. Who cares if their love isn’t natural? So they run away together and have a fabric baby that is part natural fiber/part synthetic. Like if a human and a robot had a baby and it was born Robocop. They are kinda freaks, but can also be REALLY AWESOME!
Like stretch denim. Something most people have fallen in love with. It’s denim (cotton) with a little spandex to keep it stretchy. So it fits all your curves, is flexible to move in, and can allow you to take your jeans off on the 3rd wear without having to unbutton them.
Or blend poplin: 65% Polyester/ 35% cotton. Semi breathable, crisp, irons well, resists fading, and resists wrinkles! Its no wonder it’s used for uniforms.
When not making magical happy things that defy normal laws of fabric physics, they create cheap alternatives of more expensive types of fabric. For example: You know you need a wool texture for a coat, but wool is $20 a yard, a wool/poly blend can cost half that! But you are reducing the breathability a bit, so it might actually make you sweat more than normal wool would.
So you’re ready to shop but aren’t sure where to find the fiber content? If you’re in a fabric store, check the end of the bolt. It’s mandated by law to have the fiber content listed. Online fabric stores will have it listed in the product description.
What’s your experience with fiber content? Is it something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about? Are there fiber types you like to use? I’d love to hear about your experiences!
Last time I talked a bit about narrowing your costume selection down, and this time I’m going to go into the nitty gritty of planning out the costume. You can do this for all of your costumes first, and then narrow down or you can do it after. If you’re new to making costumes, you might want to do this step first because it will help you figure out all the bits and pieces for each costume and you can evaluate your time, skills, and costs early. This isn’t my first rodeo, so I have a pretty good grasp of what skills I have etc so I’m comfortable estimating that on the front end.
I’m a visual person, so I’ve created some worksheets, you can get these for free (Yes! Free!) These are pretty great because you can 3-hole punch ’em, put them in a binder and keep them for future reference if needed.
Now for the meat and potatoes of today’s post: here’s how I plan out my costumes and use the planning sheets. My examples are digital so they are easier to read, but I do a lot of sketching by hand too.
I’m bookin’ it to squeeze in my Aquaman costume by HeroesCon (a mere 3 weeks away) between some swimsuit commissions and a wedding dress, so planning is crucial!
Page 1: Reference Shots
First things first, Grab all the reference pictures you can find. The internet is full of great shots (normally) but you also might need to go straight to the source material and/or sketch stuff out. I usually do both. I was lucky enough to have the artist sketch out the costume details for me (thanks, twitter!). I also grabbed different Aquaman shots for color, shapes, and specifics.
Page 2: Costume sketches
The next bits aren’t too far off of industry fashion line sewing:
I start drawing out all the bits and pieces. ALL OF THEM. Don’t skimp on this stage. The drawings don’t need to be works of art, but need to be clear enough so you know what you’re doing. Draw the front, the back, accessories, shoes. Get it all out there. Not only will this help you figure out everything you need, a lot of time it helps you get your mind around how things need to be constructed, or process you might need to learn.
Page 3: Costume Materials — Fabric
This is a sewing blog of sorts, and I personally hate refashioning, but if you are buying and/or altering ready to wear, you can go looking for pieces that fit what you’re looking for right now. But you might want to stay tuned to this part because it could help you find the pieces you need a little easier.
If you are not comfortable drafting your own pattern, now is the time to look for appropriate ones. You have your sketch, and all patterns have technical sketches! This is probably the coolest thing I nerd out about with patterns. It’s so easy to get distracted (or lured in) by how cool the picture looks on the envelope, but we are looking at the black and white line drawing. This shows us the bones of the pattern. I like to do this whether I use a pattern or draft my own because it also helps me estimate the yardage I’ll need of specific fabrics.
I chose this pattern because it doesn’t have a lot of sewn in shaping like darts, and I like the raglan sleeve because it’s less easing I’ll have to do inserting the sleeve, which with sequin fabric that’s pretty pricey and not the easiest thing to work with, seems like a plus. I’ll be making some changes though, I need to raise and lengthen the neckline to make it boat shaped neckline, and take in and shorten the bottom of the skirt as well.
The leggings I’ll be self drafting because it goes over shoes, but this McCalls pattern also has a legging patten I can use if I want. Yippie! I’ll be drafting the cape because it can’t be that hard, right? (This is how I get myself in trouble.)
I then went online and grabbed some swatches, but you can glue or pin on actual fabric swatches here as well. You can order these online or check with your local fabric store, they might give them to you for free!
Now that the blueprint has been set, I can work out the costs and keep track of the fabric I need to buy. I know from the pattern envelope I need at least 2 yards of fabric, so I’m rounding up to 3 Just in case. I’m just a round up/play it on the safe side kinda gal.
I’ve never worked with sequins to this capacity before so I want to make sure I have enough in the event of mistakes, and apparently you need extra sequins so I know I’ll be covered. The sequin fabric is somewhat stretchy, based on a power mesh backing so I’ll need a lining as well. I also learned from the internet that you should always line sequin dress because they can be scratchy. I also am utilizing some spandex from my stash for the legging and the cape that’s left over from bridesmaids dresses. I also know I’m using gold stretch pleather for the belt, so I put that down here as well.
Once my fabric is picked out, I can put down where to buy it (really important incase you need to order more) and the cost. Finally, I try to think of all the notions I’ll need; zippers thread, elastic, etc and put that down. I can now add up all the costs and get an estimate for how much money I’ll be spending on fabric. Yay and boo, all at the same time.
Page 4: Costume Materials — Props and Accessories
The last page! Or maybe pages, depending on your costume. I use the same process as page 3. I drew out my Trident design in illustrator so I’d have quick reference (I have it actual size elsewhere), a quick side view of the earring, and a list of the other accessories since they are pretty well laid out on the sketch. You might need to do a bit of thinking here to try and wrestle out how exactly you plan on making all your prop pieces so you accurately choose your materials.
I crammed all mine on page because there isn’t a lot of detailed pieces, but you might want several pages with deeply outlined materials and budget costs for each accessory piece.
I listed and sketched out the accessories I’ll need to the side and just added all the costs together. You can see I tried to list every darn thing I could think of that I’d need to make everything. You can put wig costs, shoe costs, plus base materials here.
Then add up your costs from page 3 and page 4. Maybe scream, maybe cry, maybe get really excited because it will cost less than you think. Whatever your reaction, you’re ready to start making!
Next time I’ll be talking a bit about different kinds of fabrics for those unsure about what fabrics to choose.
*While writing this post I found a phone app called Cosplanner which you can track all your costuming planning the same way digitally. It’s pretty cool! But I like having the sheets to reference because they are bigger and I can take notes and draw on them. But I’m an old fuddy duddy that’s stuck in my analog ways.
It’s love at first sight. You see it, you need it, you want to make and be inside that wonderful outfit. You love the character, you love everything about their costume and you’re ready to to get elbow deep in fabric, silicone, latex, Worbla whatever to make sure this beautiful vision you see becomes a reality. You stare at photos online, dreaming of what it would be like to put on those wings and show your love to the world.
It’s so easy to get excited and get lost in the process that things don’t turn out quite as you planned. Maybe the fabric isn’t right or it doesn’t fit how you wanted. You are convinced evenly distributed spray paint is a thing of myth. You’ve cried more times over something going wrong, and you have 2 days before you leave for the con, and you just cut two left sleeves out of your last bit of fabric. Or your clear coat won’t dry, or accidentally bleach half of your perfectly dyed fabric cleaning the washing machine…
I get it. I mean, I reeeallllyyy get it! Through trial and error, and working in a deadline focused industry, I’ve learned over the years how to properly plan a large project, and no project is larger than a cosplay (not true, but it feels that way).
Planning a costume is the most fun! I plan more costumes than I could manage to possibly make. It’s a process full of possibilities and excitement! And if you’re anything like me, you love finding out everything you can about the character, costumes, materials needed and reverse engineering how something might go together. But I’m no fool, It can also be really daunting if you’ve never done it before. Here at Seams Geeky we try to take as much confusion out of the process as possible. That means lots and lots of research and planning, including calendars and budget sheets.
Ok, first things first. You bought your con tickets and hotel a year in advance, and now you just need to figure out what to wear!
Figuring out what costume(s) you want to make
Dig through your files (or pinterest boards), meditate, search your soul and determine what costume or costumes you want to make. Gather them all! Then start sorting through all of them and narrow it down.
First: Evaluate skill level.
This isn’t the end-all-be-all but you need to start with what you are comfortable with. Making a costume is great because you learn SO much each time you make something. What skills do you already posses? What skills are you confident in? What fabrics are you comfortable using?
Next: What skills do you want to learn?
Want to work with Worbla but never had before? Great! Never made a petticoat and want to learn? Fantastic! The best part of running into battle (and I consider every costume a battle) is it’s a trial by fire.
But you have to have time to learn. You’re probably not going to get it right the first time, so onto part 3:
What is your time line? Do you have a whole year to make one costume? Do you have 2 months? Do you feel confident that you can learn what you need to in time, or will you be slapping it together at the end?
Now this one is optional: Think about your body image.
It’s a tough subject to talk about, especially with cosplay, so I want to be clear that I’m not saying throw out costumes because you’re worried you don’t have the same proportions. Screw that nonsense, wear what you want! What I’m saying is: If you think you need to lose 20 pounds before you can wear the cosplay, you should lose the 20 pounds (or be well on the way to losing it) before starting construction.
I try to emphasize this with any custom garment I make:
A body can change a lot, by building muscle, by losing fat, so once you start making your costume, try to stay the same weight. The last thing you want is to have to take in 2 inches because now it doesn’t fit right. That’s a lot of last minute stress you don’t need.
I was talking to a client the other night about a costume, and she mentioned she wanted to lose some weight and I had to let her know that her costume would take about 2 months to make, so come July, she has to stop losing weight and stay the same size, otherwise she’ll risk the costume not fitting.
And finally, what is your most favorite that you HAVE to make right now? Because it’d be nice if the world was all puppies and rainbows and we did everything by the books, but sometimes passion completely wins out!
*Drum roll please*
My 2015 Cosplay list I put together the end of last year with a focus of getting several complete for DragonCon. Here’s why I chose each one per my narrowing parameters:
I’ve done a decent amount of comic cosplays in the past, and I was trying to diversify a bit this year. I originally wanted to do 1 Comic Character, 1 anime character, and 1 Video Game character. Cover my trifecta of geekiness. Somehow, though It ended up being very anime heavy. I don’t mind this, because anime is my FAVORITE, and it’s how the cards of fate fell.
Why is that? I NEED TO MAKE IT. The second I saw Glenn Close walk on screen in the uniform, I knew it was destiny. That’s a #5. But I also know I can accomplish it. There’s going to be some pattern drafting, a little bit of molding and casting (enough to learn from, but not too much to feel overwhelmed. And if need be, I can do some last minute foam pieces), and I have a friend who’s going to style the wig. DONE!
Meryl and Milly:
I’m REALLY excited about this because I get to cosplay with my bestie! The outfits are mostly sewn, so that’s in my wheelhouse. Plus, we are totally Meryl and Milly. It’s going to be great. I do have some apprehensions with the guns, but if the big stun gun doesn’t get made, it won’t kill the costume and there’s some derringer Air Softs out there in a crunch.
Kuranosuke from Princess Jellyfish:
If you haven’t caught on by now: Princess Jellyfish Forever (PJF). Also, I want that dress, and it’ll be fun to make without being too stressful. And I love Kuranosuke. I also think it’s funny to be girl dressing as a boy dressing like a girl…
I had two optionals, but they needed to get set aside for another day. But then this came along:
That’s a combination of all things I love, genderbend, Aquaman, and a dream casting of Charlize Theron AS Aquaman. Plus, Jordan Gibson dress me the full body costume for costume reference because he’s awesome. I’ll also get to play with Worbla, which has been on my list a long time.
So I had to say goddbye to Kuranosuke. For now.
Coming up in part 2: getting into the nitty gritty of costume specifics, plus a freebie for everyone!
What are your cosplay plans for the year? Do you have any apprenstions? I’d love to see what you plan on working on!
When you first start sewing, the whole world of clothing… changes.
Shopping for clothes isn’t as fun anymore. Because you look at
something and go “Pshhh! I could make that.” And you could! It might
take some research and skill, but you could make that, and it would
fit better, you’d love it more, and it won’t cost as much!
(Side note: Most of those are lies. Sewing for yourself can get<
expensive quickly. Yes, you can save money, but only if you compare
yourself to designer or high end clothes. I stopped thinking about
sewing as saving money a long time ago, instead I think about it as
“I’d rather pay more for something that fits.” And sometimes I
don’t love it more. Sometimes I wear it once then donate it.)
Thoughts of a wardrobe or cute clothes in cat prints and chevrons
float across your mind’s eye. “YES! THIS IS EVERYTHING!” So you go to
the fabric store, and browse for the perfect fabric (which I guarantee
isn’t there). You might not find the perfect fabric for what you
wanted, but Novelty prints are 30% off, and that X-Wing print is
calling your name! You HAVE to buy it! You NEEEEEED IT! More than you
needed anything in the entire world (please picture 23 year old Laurel
at the fabric store stopping herself from a toddler size meltdown over
Star Wars fabric before realizing “I’m an adult, I can buy whatever I
want.”) Oh, and this star fabric will make a perfect skirt, and I
think I need dress pants for work…. and Simplicity patters are 5 for $10.
Before you know it, you’ve spent $250 on a bunch of fabric, notions, thread, and patterns. You get home, and are SUPER excited about everything you’re going to make RIGHT NOW! You’ve seen Project Runway, you know that a ballgown can be made in 8 hours,
and you’re just making a few dresses and skirts, you’ll get all this
done tonight if you don’t sleep!
Then your best friend calls and asks if you want to go out to
dinner, so you leave the bag untouched on your floor for another day.
You forget about it. Maybe you even add a few more.
Then one day while playing video games you go, “Huh. Didn’t I buy some
Star Wars fabric?” You realize you’ve accumulated this huge
backlog of projects, some of which you don’t even want to make
anymore. Did you really buy “Peace and Love” flannel? *face palm*
Stashes are the most wonderful thing in the world to accumulate, then the worst thing to have.
Well not the worst, but it can get a bit daunting, and most of it
isn’t needed. (Well, that’s not true either… I’m a bit of a stash
addict, still in denial) there are certain things you want to have on
hand at all times. If I had a Sewing and Crafting fairy when I first
started, the first thing she’d say is “Don’t buy something unless you
have a project for it.” But that’s no fun.
When I go to fabric shopping now, I bring a list of what I’m looking for, the
yardage I need, notions, what to get if on sale, etc. I also find I am
more likely to plan projects now because space is limited, and I’m
more focused on what I make and do.
Cosplay tip: If you have several projects planned out for sometime in the future, keep a list of fabrics and notions you need on hand at all times because when you want blue pleather Murphy’s Law says you won’t be able just the right one. You never know when you might find just what you need.
So without any more rambling on and on…here is what I stash away for a rainy day:
Basically try to keep on hand any notion you will completely forget to buy
varying sizes and colors and types
Buttons A lot of time I buy buttons specifically for projects but I also capitalize of good deals, like those bags of assorted shirt buttons and throw them all in my button bucket.
Various other closures
sew on, snaps, hook and eyes, grommets
I usually but 1 inch wide in white and black. You can dye
white velcro really easily to match projects. See more about dying
here. You can cut it thinner if you want. I personally like this snag
free the best.
I like to have a variety of zippers in various colors, lengths, and types. Invisible being my favorite, but both kinds are handy, and I always opt for longer vs shorter because shortening zippers is easy
Various kinds, fusible, sew-in, black, white, woven, non-woven) and recently I’ve started using fusible interfacing on a roll for small area like neck bands, button plackets, or inserting zippers. You can get bias cut (sometimes called wigan) or on-grain straight cut
I buy this by the bolt, but just having a few yards on hand can be a life saver
Sewing machine needles
In various sizes and for various tasks (stretch, microtex heavyweight, twin, topstitching, etc.)
I always keep white, black, and light grey. I like to buy these in big spools so I have lots on hand)
Fabric basics in basic colors
White cotton jersey, spandex, lining fabric, broadcloth and voile or batiste, a few satins, denim and twills to name a few. Whatever you sew with the most, have some basic colors on hand
Fun miscellaneous trims
Stretch lace, normal lace, bias binding, piping, rick rack, ribbon, etc for when your project just needs a little something special
You may have figured by now I do I decent amount of dying, so I have a large tupperware stored away with different dyes in a variety of colors
Any materials needed for niche items (optional)
For example, I love sewing corsets so I like to keep steel boning, grommet, coutil, and laces on hand so I don’t have to wait for an order to come in. Some items are hard to get, or you get a better price for buying in a larger quantity so it’s nice to have a little stockpile for last minute projects.
I never feel guilty about having a bunch of this stuff stocked away. The fun prints and stuff? Those are things I try to buy on an “as-need” (and as I mentioned above, sometimes you NEEEEED things for no rational reason) basis.
How big is your stash? Do you find it valuable? What kind of things do
you stash away?
Sometimes you’re working on a sewing project (in this case, a Captain America jacket) and you can’t find the perfect fabric in the color you need. I went through this before with my original Captain America costume, and after doing my due diligence of searching, I resorted to dying my own fabric.
Now, dying fabric is one of those things where I always think “Piece of cake! I’ll just dye it” until I get into it and realize “Wow, this is a time suck.” And with my picky nature, always get wrapped up in that whole “But the color isn’t PERFECT! I must dye it again!” You may know the pitfalls already; uneven dying, dye freckles, bleeding color to name a few.
A note about fabrics you can dye:
Always know what’s in your fabric! Different textiles have different dyes (or dying processes). Natural based textiles dye the best (linen, cotton, silk, rayon, hemp, etc), but you can also dye most Nylons with great success. Today I’m going to show you how how to dye cotton fabric.
Not all cottons are created equal, and keep in mind, the base color will affect the final color. I opt for white for the purest tones, but not all white are the same. For the most vibrant dye colors, you need to start with an untreated cotton specially for dying. But not all fabrics are easy to find this way. I am using a cotton knit pique fabric because the texture most closely matches Captain America’s fabric from the Avengers. But I couldn’t find a dye-ready version, so I went with white and hoped for the best. Most fabrics you buy that are white are treated with whitening agents that could affect the final color, so it might not be as bright as you’d expect.
Dying fabric at home is a bit of bad science. You can’t always predict the outcomes. I tend to opt for a lighter color and re-dye darker since it’s much harder to get darker dye lighter. I’ve re-dyed fabric several times over until I get a shade I’m happy with.
Note: They make a special dye for Polyester fabrics, but I have yet to try it.
Now on to the tutorial:
I am tub dying. This can be done in a washing machine, but we have a front load HE washer, and I haven’t had the best results with it.
Gather all your materials together:
• Your fabric (pre-washed, please. This removes as many added chemicals, pre-treaters, and grease that might affect the dying process. Plus, it’ll help keep shrinkage down)
• Dye (For this blue, I am using a mix of Royal Blue and Cerulean Blue.)
• Soda Ash (this is a fixative for the dye)
• Urea (helps the dye to dissolve completely and reduce freckling on the final fabric. It also can help achieve a more saturated color.)
• glass measuring cup
• dry-measuring cups and spoons
• Plastic spoons
• large pot for heating water
• a thermometer (optional)
• Rubber gloves (go with tall dish gloves to minimize hand stain)
• a trusty bucket*
• a plastic basin/tub
*Everyone should have a trusty bucket. I, sadly, could not find mine, so I used a clean trashcan.
First, weigh out your fabric on a household scale. Notate how heavy the fabric is so you know how much dye and water to use. My fabric was 14 oz, so I am going to round up and say it’s 1 pound of fabric.
Next, a little fabric foreplay. Fill up your bucket with hot water and submerge your fabric in it. Fabric should soak in hot water for 20-30 minutes (just enough time to gather all the materials you need).This opens up the fibers to get it ready to accept for the dye. I placed this outside in the sun along with my empty dying tub.
Rit dye sidetone: If using Rit dyes, I find they work better with consistent almost boiling heat.
In your glass measuring cup, measure out 1 cup of hot water and mix in 1 Tablespoon of Urea (always makes me giggle). Once that’s dissolved, add in the appropriate amount of dye for your weight. There are charts with specific amounts of dye to use for different colors, but for this, it’s fine to use the approximation method which is 1 Tablespoon of dye for 1 lb pound of fabric. I used 2 tsp Royal and 1 tsp Cerulean to make up 1 tablespoon. For a darker color, you can use more dye. Stir this up until all the dye is dissolved in the measuring cup, then move it outside with your fabric and dye tub.
Fill up your large pot with 3 gallons of water and start warming it up. The best temperature for dying is 105 degrees F so we’ll want the water around 120 degrees to account for cool down when we move it from the heat. Next, add 3 cups (yup!) of salt to your water heating up on the stove. I use the cheapest table salt I can find at the store. You want to make sure it dissolves completely in the water.
Now, measure out 1/3 cup of Soda Ash. You can dissolve this in 1 cup of water now, but since I only have 1 glass measuring cup, I just take the soda ash out as is.
Take all your remaining supplies outside, put on those lovely gloves and dedicate the next hour to dying your fabric.
First, pour your salt water into your dying tub.
Then adding your concentrated dye. I swish the measuring cup around to get as much dye as possible into the water. Then stir until it a consistent color. You can check the temperature now and make sure it’s still above 100 degrees but below 120. It should feel about the same temperature of a hot tub.
Now that I have an empty measuring Cup, I add in my soda ash, and pour some of the water my fabric has been sitting in, and stir it around to dissolve. You’ll need this later.
No turning back now, add in all your fabric! You can use solid yardage, but I’ve found I get a better, more consistent dye, when I cut out all the fabric ahead of time. Because I have pre-washed the fabric, I know it won’t shrink anymore. But either way, when you add the fabric, make sure all of it is separated and isn’t sticking together.
For the next 20 minutes you are a human washing machine. Stir that fabric and keep it moving. You want to agitate the fabric and try to keep dye from getting trapped and sitting in the crevasses of the fabric. Unless you want a mottled look to your fabric… then let it sit and stew. I like to use my hands, but you can use a large spoon, stick, whatever. If you want it darker, you can leave it for longer, but most of the time I find maximum color saturation happens in around 20-30 minutes. If you want a darker color, you’ll have to dye again, with either a darker color or a higher dye concentration.
After 20 minutes, add the soda ash solution. Do not just dump this in! you want to add it slowly, bit by bit offer the next 15 minutes. Slosh all your fabric over to one side of the tub, and add a little to the dye bath being as careful as possible not to pour directly on the fabric (this will add dark splotches), then slosh around, add a little soda ash… over and over until all has been incorporated. Continuing stirring until the 15 minutes are up.
Whew! The hard part is over. Now, pull out all the fabric and place is your trusty bucket. Take it to a sink and rinse until the water is clear, or throw it in your washing machine and put it through a few rinse cycles. I then like to do a full wash cycle on delicate with soap to get out as much extra dye as possible. Once your fabric is dry, take a look at the color. You now have beautifully dyed fabric!
Now, getting rid of the dye water: Do not just pour this out on your lawn, it will kill anything growing. Ask me how I know. Find a safe place to dispose of your water. Remember there is salt and chemicals in it.