Construction site: Diary of a mad costume maker

Dressew Supply; Image by Google Plus+
Dressew Supply; Image by Google Plus+

Tips for finding references and picking fabric

By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor

Vancouver sees its fair share of conventions—especially of the nerdy variety. With Fan Expo kicking off the convention season at the beginning of April, many a busy geek are finding time in their schedule to recreate the look of their favourite character. That’s right people, I’m talking costumes.

As a self-taught costumer I figured I’d log my own efforts as well as share some of the little-known tips that I have come to find out over the years.

So beginning at the very beginning, let’s talk references. One of the biggest questions you need to answer to start off with is what character you want to go as. For first timers I suggest going a little basic. You don’t want to overextend yourself with anything too complicated that will take way too long to finish. I find the best option is to pick an animal character, such as Red XIII from Final Fantasy VII or a Pokémon that you can do a human version of. That way you’re not obligated to stick to a specific reference. My other suggestion is to avoid anything with fabrication unless you have previous experience. Fabrication of armour or large props takes a lot of time, as well as a lot of trial and error. So either be aware of that and start extremely early, or have a more experienced friend help you out and show you the ropes.

Actually finding references can be both easy and difficult. I find that video game characters will usually have full sheets of concept art online. These will show you the front and back of them, and usually give close-ups of any important details. Cartoon and comic book characters can be a bit more difficult, but I suggest going to Tumblr. Searching your character’s name, as well as “reference” or “costume” will allow you to find reference sources other people have already collected, making your job a lot easier.

This year I’ve decided to make a Yuna costume from Final Fantasy X. It’s a bit more complex than I would suggest for the average beginner, so I’m going to skip over the more specific details such as the making of the staff, jewelry, and certain fabric patterns in order to give more general advice.

So now you have your goal and some references, what happens next? Well nothing can get underway without a trip to the fabric store. When choosing a fabric, don’t just go for the cheapest one you can find. Try and think about when you’ll be wearing this costume and which fabrics are easy to work with. The biggest trap I see beginners fall into is using muslin for the main fabric in their costume. Muslin is what people use to line other garments or to create a mock up before making the actual piece. Muslin is transparent, thin, and difficult to work with—but it’s the cheapest fabric you can find. Try and avoid it. Instead, consider some sort of jersey. Jersey is comfortable, it breathes, it’s relatively inexpensive, and it won’t unravel if you don’t hem it. If you don’t sew often, avoid the trappings of silk and satin. They may look pretty, but they’re extremely hard to work with. Polyester is another one you should make friends with. It has a bad reputation but it holds its shape well if you’re making anything with pleats, and it’s one of the best canvases for fabric paint because it doesn’t produce a lot of lint, and it doesn’t soak up all the colour. Don’t do pure polyester though, that would be uncomfortable. Go for a blend.

If your fabric is difficult to find, say like a faux fur, you might want to familiarize yourself with Dressew Supply on West Hastings Street. Pretty much every costume maker I know, both professional and amateur, goes to this store for materials.

Since the convention I’m prepping for is in April, I’m going to assume that the weather might be a bit on the nippy side, but that I could also be dealing with a lot of sun. So for the top I chose a cotton because it’s good in both hot and cold weather, as well as being extremely comfortable. For the skirt I chose a polyester blend, because I’ll be doing a silk-screening process (a way of painting using a stencil) a little later.

Though costume making can be tiring, frustrating, and difficult, always keep in mind why you’re doing it—paying homage to the things that make your everyday, boring life just a little more fun. See you next week for tips on patterns and sewing!