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Picking proper fabric: Fiber content (super sexy OOOOOO)

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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
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
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.

Tip sparkle rightA 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.

Fiber blends
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!

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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.

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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!

Until next time…

*banner photo credit http:[email protected]/15786685051

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Cosplay Starter Kit: Planning your costume (Part 2)

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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.

 

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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.

Aquaman
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.
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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.

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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’ll be using McCalls 7122 (view c) for the dress:

McCalls M7122

 

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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.

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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.SG Costume planning worksheets_2015

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.

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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.