Using Fabrics in Cosplay – An Introduction

People wear clothes every day without really thinking about the effort that went into making it. But as soon as you start browsing stores trying to find clothing that matches a character you would like to cosplay as, and realizing that you’ll never find exactly what you need, that’s where you’ll start getting into working fabrics. And gain so much respect for seamstresses. In this article I will introduce how to use fabrics in cosplay.

The Importance of Knowing How to Sew

Yes, I know. It sounds like I’m indoctrinating you into becoming a 50s housewife. The truth is, as a cosplayer, the most important skill you can have, is knowing how to work a sewing machine. Almost everything you can think of when it comes to cosplay costumes has to be attached in some way, most likely with some kind of fabric or material. And if you don’t know how to do that, you might find it quite frustrating.

When I did one of my first costumes (Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite) I had no idea how to work with a needle and thread, let alone how to choose and work with patters. It seemed like rocket science to me. It didn’t help that we decided to do this costume three weeks before Rage (which is like Comic Con, but smaller). We barely slept in those three weeks as is, there was no time to learn how to sew.

I ran through store after store, hoping to find a skirt that matches, but of course, who would stock a style from 1920? Eventually I had to recruit a family member and beg them to help me. Luckily, they did, otherwise I would have been stuck.

The point here, is that you can’t rely on other people for help when it comes to intricate costumes. The more you can do by yourself, the easier your life is going to be. I can’t teach you to be a professional in sewing, believe me, I am far from it myself. But I can tell you about some of the basics and maybe help you get into. I will also share where I get my inspirations from and where you can properly learn everything you need to know.

Choosing The Right Materials

This is a very difficult task when you don’t know much about fabrics. But the type of material you buy, can really make or break a costume.

My best advice here is to do thorough research on the type of item you are trying to make. If it was a real outfit from a movie or series, search for the costume designer for that specific movie, and see if you can find anything on the clothing that they made. That could give you a very good idea of what to do.

If your costume is fictional, do research on the type of clothing that it is based off. If I can use my BioShock skirt as an example here, it is based of a 20s style plaid skirt. So I did research, got a pattern that was pretty close, modified it a bit and got a material really close to what they used in the 20s. Because I didn’t know too much, the lady at the fabric store was more than happy to help and to answer questions that I had.

That is also very important. Never be afraid to ask questions. There is always someone who knows more than you. Ask them. If you don’t ask questions, you’ll never grow.

As a cosplayer, you might use all kinds of different materials. You might need to use fur, or satin, or even leather depending on a project. If you don’t know how to use that particular type of material, don’t worry, you don’t need to know everything. But as you start, watch tutorials, find courses and learn as you go. That’s the best part.

Getting The Right Pattern

Patterns are where it gets difficult. You can have all the right materials and all the right tools, but you’ll sit with a piece of cloth and no idea what to do with it.

Luckily, we live in the age of technology and you can find just about anything online. If you can’t find and print something, you can buy it somewhere online.

If you want to be a little more old school, there are still a lot of fabric shops who stock decades and decades of patterns. You can definitely find something you need, and if not, you can use your imagination to modify it to your needs.

Matching The Colors

This doesn’t sound very important, but if you do competitions it becomes a problem. Sometimes it’s hard to find materials in the exact color that you need. There are times that you can compromise, and find something that’s good enough. But there are times, where they just don’t have anything close to what you need.

Don’t let this become a problem. There are always ways of engineering things to make it work. You can use dyes and fabric paints and all sorts of techniques to alter the color of materials. Don’t always settle for something that can maybe work. Make it work.

Making Materials Look Weathered

This is a particularly fun part of making costumes. Imagine you are making a WW2 army outfit. Do you think it would look realistic if the whole thing was washed and neatly ironed?

To tell a story with your costume you must make it believable. Weathering an outfit is a very important part of the process.

To sum it up, you can use paints to make it look muddy and dirty, you can cut parts out to make it look old and torn. I’ve even seen people use cheese graters to make the fabric look wild and thoroughly worn out. You can do anything with your costume.

The level of weathering obviously depends on the story you are telling, and is completely up to you. You can go all out zombie apocalypse style, or none at all. It is, after all, your story, and you should tell it the way you want to.

To Sum Things Up

I plan on going into a lot more detail with all the topics I discussed here. But before a person can build a house, there must be a foundation first. This was just an introduction about all the different aspects of working with fabric. Later, we’ll play around, and I will show you all kinds of fun stuff. So, watch this space!

If you have any questions, or anything to add that you think should be in this article, please feel free to spam me with comments. Any help or stories are completely welcome.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Mel

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