Hey you! with the face, and the costume! You’re super awesome! Your costume is also awesome! You took bits of foam, fabric and a LOT of glue/thread and made something you ARE WEARING RIGHT NOW. *looks through the computer screens at all of you* Oh wait… not everyone wears their costumes all the time? *awkwardly sits at desk in my Goat*.
In my poll, a couple people said they were interested in me talking about how to take your costuming skills up a notch when it comes to judging. Canada has a really heavy emphasis on worksmanship when it comes to Masquerades, although these tips will help out anyone who wants to improve the quality of their cosplays.
Ready? Let’s go!
1 – Mock it up
If you’re working on sewing, make a muslin out of the cheapest fabric you can find that is close to the same weight and stretch of the stuff you’ll be using for the final costume. The weight of the fabric is less important but by god match the stretch of your muslin to the stretch of your final fabric.
Not sewing but making armor? Paper. I use flyers, or mistakes paper from the printer. Then, once I’m happy with the shape, i’ll use fun foam for a second round,.
Second round? YES. I know it can get super tedious to do stuff over and over, but two muslins is usually enough for sewing, although for armor I usually have to do 3+ because I’m not as familiar with making those crazy-butt shapes.
2 – Get Scrappy
Are you lookin’ at me? Are YOU lookin’ at me? Not that kinda scrappy, btw. But test shit on your scraps. Whether it’s a new painting technique you want to try, or a faster way to prime worbla, even something as basic as stitching on a different material. Test it out on a piece that isn’t going to be on the costume. Or, if it is, somewhere that won’t be really obvious in case it doesn’t work.
Also, as for stitching, that shit is important. The tension of stitches will change with fabric type and weight, and the stitch itself is important to change if you’re sewing stretch material. A straight running stitch will explode in a series of “riipopopopp” the moment you try to put on your spandex leggings.
3 – FIXIT!FIXIT!FIXIT! …
So, if you didn’t (hell, even if you did ) test out a technique that ended up not working on your cosplay, don’t ignore it. Buckled worbla, wrinkled seams and non-symmetrical symmetry is something that judges look at. Also, it can make your cosplay look like you don’t care about it. Which is 99.999% false. (with an uncertainty of 2%)
It’s frustrating and annoying and totally-grumpy-cat-face worthy to have to rip out stitches that took way too long to do, or to go back with spackle and burnt thumbs to fix wobbly worbla. But it’ll be worth it in the end.
Also, sometimes you need to chuck your piece across the room and start over.
4 – Bop it, Read it, Google it!
Let’s be real for a moment here: none of us are millionaires. Or, if you are, shut up, you aren’t exempt from this. A lot of our money goes into funding this crazy hobby, and we can’t justify buying expensive how-to books all the time. Some, I definitely recommend, like Kamui’s ebooks, but there’s other ways to research that won’t hurt your bank account.
Google is you friend. “How to make Puff sleeves”, “How to make senshi bows” and “How to make boning channels” are all searches that I used for Pluto. The internet is a wonderful tool that gives you access to other people’s experiments and knowledge. Go looking if you’re stuck or intimidated on a particular part of your costume. It doesn’t have to be exactly what you end up doing, but seeing how other people approached a similar problem lets you know what worked and what didn’t before you spend 3 hours trying to make a complex curve out of foam. Not that I did…
If you’re new to sewing, and aren’t sure what some of the terms mean, or even what the real term for that ‘forward forward, back, forward forward, back’ stitch is (triple stitch btw), then I strongly recommend going to your local thrift shop and checking out the books section. There will probably be a couple books on the basics of sewing. They can be old because let’s be honest, sewing is as old as clothes. Old Vogue, Simplicity or similar books will have the basics on how to sew, what things are called, and if you’re lucky, have information on fitting and altering patterns.
New books are great because they have more pictures, but sometimes they’re just a bunch of craft ideas for squares. Also check out your local library. I found some amaaaaazing books at my city’s on draping and couturier techniques that I want to try for my original designs.
5 – Use the right material for the right part your project
I wrote a post about different types of fabric a while ago… but I can’t stress how important this is. Choosing fabric is key. I’m not saying ‘go out and buy silk taffeta for ALL THE THINGS’ (though OMFG it irons so beautifully. See Pluto’s bows), because let’s be real: that shit costs an arm and a leg, and half the other leg.
Pictured L-R: My Kidney, Spleen, Leg and Arm.
Take a look at your costume, and try to find something that will work colour, weight and finish wise. And avoid costume/mirror satin like the devil.
Think this applies only to fabrics and sewing? HELL no. If you’re going to make a giant imposing costume that is a Lego man or something, totally use old cardboard boxes to support the detail layer. It’s light and cheap. But if you’re going to be making armor or a prop that has a lot of complex curves, cardboard is not your best friend.
Also, remember the hockey tape. DO NOT TAPE YOUR ARMOR TOGETHER. IT WILL NOT WORK (with hockey tape). also, shoddy worksmanship.
I remember, back stage in my first Masq, watching these guys putting together an impressive costume… with duct tape.
There are ways to make duct tape work, and I’d love to see someone make anything close to the prom dresses contest for a Masq, but using it to bind together fabric and your props… no-no.
6 – FINISH
HIM hems. Finish HEMS. And seams.
IF THE UNDERSIDE OF YOUR THING IS VISIBLE, LINE THE THING. IF YOU DO NOT LINE THE THING, MAKE DAMN SURE YOUR HEMS ARE NEAT.
I have to say the most common source of ‘aww but the rest was nice…’ that I’ve seen in Masquerades was hems that were not finished, wrinkled or uneven, or (sometimes and) stitched in a wavering line. Hems can be tricky, but if you take a bit of extra time to line them up, serge, or roll them a second time, they can make a huge difference in a costumer’s score.
Armor and Props
Let me tell you the story of Bubba*. (*name changed to be gender-neutral) Bubba made a very impressive costume from a distance. Fifty feet away on the con floor and WOW HOLY CRAP SOMEONE MADE [Character of Series Here]! and then you get25 feet away and you’re like: “oh, okay, some of the stuff’s a bit…”
Then ten feet away, and you can see the seams in the foam that are hastily filled in with caulking and not smoothed over, or uneven edges of the armor and you’re like “Well, it’s a good effort but if only Bubba had finished things off a bit more before they painted it. It’d look amazballs.”
And then Bubba gets upset that Bubba didn’t win anything and Bubba blames the judges.
Which ties into the next tip….
7 – Big and Flashy doesn’t mean good.
My high school art teacher used to quote something to us when we were stuck on concepts.
If you can’t make it good, make it big.
If you can’t make it big, paint it red.
-Calamity’s high school art teacher who was wonderful
There is nothing wrong with making stuff big and there is nothing wrong with making stuff flashy. There is nothing wrong with making stuff to meet the ’20 foot rule’ (it looks great 20 feet away, not so much close up).
I too, have fallen victim to the ‘too-big-too-flashy-NOT-GOOD’ problem.
But. If you want to go for awards, you have to make your costume as well made, and as cleanly made as you can.
Making a Skyrim costume that’s covered in dirt and grime? That’s totally cool, are your seams sewn neatly? what about the joins of foam edges on your helmet? Making something cleanly doesn’t mean making a bright white sheet of a costume, it means taking the time to look at your work and smooth out or redo parts that are uneven if they are supposed to match, or flopping if they are supposed to stand up. (hurhurhur)
Putting LEDs into something? Make sure your wires don’t show. And that the LEDs work. And the parts that move are supposed to move, and not fall off like limp… this analogy got away on me somehow.
8 – Prime and sand and prime and sand and….
SPEAKING OF ARMOR.
This is one step that I was guilty of for WCS and it was SUPER. OBVIOUS. If you are using worbla, or wonderflex, take the time to make the surface appropriate to your costume. If your armor is made of stone, the un-smoothed surface is probably perfect for you.
If it’s supposed to be metal, you’ve got a long cycle of ‘prime-sand-prime-sand-prime-sand-paint’ ahead of you.
9 – know when something needs structural support
Let me tell you about Bubba the Second. Bubba II (also gender neutral) had a pretty impressive costume. Super detailed, seams straight, details on, wig coiffed. Bubba had entered a big masquerade, with a lot of competition.
The bodice/corset that Bubba II had made… had no boning to hold the fabric flat. During the judging, Bubba II said that they had chosen not to include boning because they felt they didn’t need it. Because they were thin.
My friends, and hate-readers, boning in a corset is not what makes you skinnier. It’s what holds the fabric tight against you and keeps it from bunching up. Bubba II’s strapless bodice (made from shiny satin ;-;) was wrinkling and slipping around. It didn’t matter how bubba was or wasn’t, the fabric just wasn’t supported enough to stay in place.
Bubba II got an honourable mention, but remained in Artisan.
Fabric, armor and props all need support to match the original design. It might surprise you, but hips do not actually naturally do this:
If you take the extra hour to make panniers, your cstume will be more authentic.
By the way, if you are wearing something under your costume that is not seen or part of the costume, it is OKAY to buy corsets or puffy petticoats…..UNLESS YOU ARE A MASTER.
Because masters should be able to make it themselves by that level. Artisans….. I’d say if it’s just to help shape you closer to the art, whatevs.
10 – Take your time, do it right.
Noticed a theme so far?
Shown: Did not take the time. Did not do it right. Result: poor
If you rush your costume and cut corners, the Judges will notice. Because they’ve been there, and done that themselves. I’m not saying if you stay up late working, that you’ll be unsuccessful, but it’s important to know when you need to re-do something, or send extra time fixing and preparing a part of your costume.
BONUS – Experiment!
There is nothing more cool, than having a cosplayer talk about a new technique they tried on a costume, when they make it work.
You can totally make a costume out of dollar store stuff, and make it look beautiful. The key isn’t the money that goes into a costume, but the skill and the effort to make a costume look as good as it possibly can.
If you know of some really neat techniques, drop a link to them in the comments below!
I hope this helped, I tried to keep it as positive as I could. Please remember that everyone starts off somewhere, and novices and journeymen competitors are still learning basics and intermediate skills. Helping each other out with tutorials and how you built something is a wonderful way to make new friends, and learn more yourself.
Best of luck Crafting, and can’t wait to see all the pretties at the next con ❤