Construction Site: Diary of a mad costume maker

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Tips for patterning and sewing

By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor

Continuing from where I left off last week, we have our goal, our references and our fabric—what do we do now? Well, the key to any successful costume-making adventure is actually constructing it. We’re headed back to basics here, people: sewing!

I got some comments last week concerning my use of the term “costume making” as opposed to “cosplay,” which for those of you who don’t know, is short for “costume play.” To clear everything up, I consider myself a cosplayer, someone who makes and wears costumes. But I also recognize that there’s a weird dynamic going on where people who enjoy making and wearing costumes of characters from American and European fandom desire to distinguish themselves from fans of anime and manga (Asian cartoons and graphic novels). As someone who dips into both pools when it comes to the fandom I enjoy and the characters I dress up as, I find this desire for distinction a little arbitrary—but in the name of being inclusive, and to promote better understanding for people new to the scene, I decided to go with a more generalized term.

Now that that’s settled, let’s move on!

Constructing costumes can be a bit tricky, mostly because you probably won’t have any pattern to follow. Artists and designers tend to enjoy making their works original, so that means it’s very unlikely you’ll find a perfectly matching pattern coming out of Simplicityor New Look. The key word here is adaptability. What you can do is find something that looks relatively similar and then just change what needs to be different either by frankensteining (not a technical term) more than one pattern together, or free handing the changes. The method I use the most is simply draping the fabric.

Draping the fabric basically refers to laying the fabric over a Judy (a sewing dummy with adjustable measurements), and seeing what you can do with it to make it work. It’s basically a form of free handing, and does take some experience to get good at. If you’re new to all of this, then I suggest making a mock-up out of a cheaper fabric before you make your final version. That way you can work out all your kinks beforehand.

But almighty costume making goddess, what if we don’t have a Judy?

Simple solutions are often the best. Though I use a Judy often, they can be problematic because they have a hard surface, and sometimes the measurements of your body aren’t always possible. Here’s where that adaptability comes in again. If you’re working on a costume that’s extremely form-fitting, yet not made of spandex or any other stretch material, I suggest making a duct tape replica of your torso. I know it sounds odd, but a lot of people do it to save money and time.

Personally I used a tutorial available on to create my “Duct Tape Dress Form.” I adapted it of course, because I didn’t see the point in wasting a shirt. Basically what you do is you cover your upper body in cellophane, and then apply duct tape on top of that, mummifying yourself. Once finished, cut a straight line up the tape. Do so along the side, under the armpit area, as this will most likely be where you’ll be able to adjust seams on your garments as well. Peel off the duct tape case as one piece—the cellophane should have prevented it from sticking to your skin—and then just tape the cut mark back up and start stuffing it full of newspaper and batting. Once done, tape off the arm holes and the neck hole and you have a perfect replica (more or less) of your body to work with.

If you’re really having issues check out Pinterest or for free patterns, or contact a pattern drafter, and ask for a quote on how much it would cost to get a complete sewing pattern for the costume you want to make.