Intro to Costuming 101:
The Basics For Non-Sewers
By Candace Zahnzinger
Last month we covered that I am a geek, and the rules I like to play by. Most of which I apply not just in a convention setting but to life in general. This month I want to delve into a subject that pushes my comfort level a bit: Costuming. I, like many of you, took Home Economics. You know back when it still existed, so I learned the basics of sewing. I went to school for art, so I know the basics of design. I am also PAINFULLY cheap, so hundreds of dollars on a set-worthy piece of costuming… well that’s just not going to happen. Just ask my husband, I hate spending money on needed items for myself, let alone on frivolous items for myself.
For this month I’m going to give you my thoughts on costuming. Apply them as you see fit and hopefully you can put a little of it to use.
Costuming can be a personal subject, as it depends on your skill level and comfort with different materials, tools and overall design sense. Money is a factor here as well. My personal guideline is if you see something so perfect you can’t imagine not having it in your costume, buy it, if possible. That one piece can help take your ideas in a whole new direction. If said piece really is perfect, you may not be able to recreate it to your satisfaction.
Not all of us are skilled fabricators or seamstresses, nor do we want to be. I’m okay with that and you should be too. I have a job, hobbies, and family. I’m not planning on learning how to make latex molds, or build a jet pack from scratch, that just isn’t where I want to invest my time. However, if you want something special or truly unique you may have to make at least some of it yourself… or get very good at customization. If you happen to be one of those blessed with this skill set, please share some tips and tricks in the comments section below to help all the would be fabricators out there.
I don’t know how to sew. You might be saying. As I said before I know the basics of sewing. I can thread a needle or replace a button. If I’m feeling extra daring, I might even break out a sewing machine. I would however still classify myself among the non-sewing populace. I never really needed to know more than the basics because my mother is a seamstress. What I do know, is how to use hem tape, and fray-lock, and ragged edges to my advantage. Worst case I also know how to beg for a quick sewing lesson. If you don’t have access to a sewing savant, or your pride keeps you from begging, the other options are your best bet. Hem tape isn’t going to give you perfect edges or last as long as actual stitches. It can however, get you through while you learn to sew, or keep you afloat while you decide to go a different way. Might I suggest leather or one of the various forms of mail? Of course once you try sewing leather, you’ll probably want go back to cloth almost immediately.
If you are going with a well-known character, do your homework and expect critics. I wish I could say that everyone is there for the same reason to have fun and share their love of whatever the topic may be. I can’t, we all know that to be a half truth. Some people will nit-pick details. Some may not even realize they are doing it. I’ve been to events where people complained about your costume if you didn’t spin the wool yourself. How the dyes used aren’t historically accurate. (I wish I could say this was an exaggeration… it’s not) Yeah, because I’m going to spin and dye my own wool… I don’t think so. The only logical course of action is to take the “advice” of these people, thank them for their well-meaning words of wisdom and politely toss it. If you are happy with what you created, than why care if you bought the cape from the lovely couple at booth three or hand wove the threads into cloth, before aging it in a nearby stream. Accuracy police exist in every facet of life, you can’t change them, can’t get away from them (short of some sort of bubble… although they would probably tell you the material you used for the bubble was less than optimum.) So ignore them and go about enjoying your event.
Anyone who has ever gone to an event knows anything can/will happen. Just when you think everything is perfect, a button can come loose, a seam will tear, or a wing will wiggle free. Your best friend in this case is an emergency repair kit. A small sewing kit and some duct tape can save the day. In a matter of moments you can sew a button back on, use a safety pin to hold a seam closed, or duct tape that stubborn pixie wing back on. Will it be perfect, maybe not, but you and your costume will at least make it out onto the floor this way. Look at your costume ahead of time and figure out where your weak points may be. Reinforce if you can, in the hopes to avoid last minute fixes, but if the worst case happens at least you will have a backup plan ready to go. A few minutes in the restroom and a minute with your rescue kit and you’ll be back enjoying the festivities in no time. After all what’s the point of all this, if not getting you out there having fun.
Please keep in mind that all these tips are for those looking to just have fun and enjoy faires, conventions, etc. Costume Competitions at these events usually have set rules and you should follow those carefully to make sure you aren’t disqualified by judges.
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