Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world

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Or, at least a regional 3rd at the Crown Championships of Cosplay. For Marie Antoinette, I actually ended up making about four different pairs of shoes on the way to the final product that I used at the competition. I had never made a full pair of shoes before until last summer, only shoe covers, etc. My dream had been to make “real” shoes, with wooden heels and all that, but there comes a point where you have to focus your priorities and while shoes were important, finishing out the actual gown to the highest standard took precedence. BUT, I still wanted Cinderella shoes for this.

The first pair was a complete trial-and-error situation. I patterned them from scratch, using heavy felt for my pattern to mimic the structure of the final shoe. It was weird, there are so many tucks and curves in shoemaking that you don’t realize are important until you make them yourself. The first version got thrown out pretty quickly, the second version is what came to DragonCon with me. These were pretty basic, with a vinyl sole, felt lining, and silver lame outer. The pointed toe was a little more compicated to get right than I expected, and involved lots of re-cutting of the pattern to get the point to fall in the exact spot it needed too. These were embellished with gold sequins and tamboured stars.

One of the things I loved about these is that they were comfortable. My last competition costume involved 6″ heels (a necessity in order to be true to Guillermo’s vision of Lucille Sharpe), and nerve damage happened (also something far too many competitive costumers are familiar with), so making comfortable footwear was a priority.  But, the embellishments never pleased me all that much – I didn’t really plan out my design and hastily did it in the eleventh hour before con. I knew that these were going to be completely remade for the Crown Championships.

I pretty much went through the same process the second time around making these shoes, but I referred to my friend Casey’s blog post on making her own shoes for her Anne Boleyn costume (my friends also like to costume themselves as dead queens). I used her approach, since the interiors of her shoes were a lot cleaner than the ones I had previously made and that was one of the big things I wanted to improve upon. I made a whole pair, again, that I did not use (I guess theoretically I’ve amassed myself a great collection of shiny house shoes), because I struggled again with getting the pointed toe right. Lots of nipping and tucking for days – trying to fit shoe patterns on your own fit is weird – and I finally settled on something I was happy with. The final new product was simple but well-made. The interior sole actually looks like a real shoe sole which makes me happy. I pad stitched so that there would be a little bit of grip in there. I completed all of the hand embroidering and beading before I sewed the shoes together. All of the stars, like the ones on my dress, are tamboured by hand. No store bought appliques.

The design was a lot more intricate this time around. They’re incredibly tacky, to be sure, but that is what a 1930s star-themed faux-rococo costume is supposed to be. I love them. My happy moment was when someone backstage at the Crown Championships told me I had Cinderella shoes. Yes!

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But hey they look like actual shoes

I completely forgot to mention my shoes during my five minute pre-judging, and while I’m sure they were seen, I was really disappointed that I didn’t have time to talk about them and have them seen close up. I spent so much time on these, and as with the rest of the costume, whenever you spend so much time hand embroidering something, there is a piece of your soul left in it. But I did make sure I kicked up my skirts to show my ankles on stage during the main show. I enjoy living scandalously.

 

 

1938 Marie Antoinette’s Grande Panniers

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Now that C2E2 is done and done, I’m going to try and share more of what I’ve been doing on Marie Antoinette over the last few months.

One of the first big things I did after DragonCon was a complete remake of the grande panniers. Two reasons. 1) I needed them to be able to break down easily for air travel and 2) I wanted a cleaner, more polished finished product, and for competition, it was important to me that these were self-patterned and more attractive.

There are no commercial patterns available for grande panniers of this size. Norma Shearer’s were over 6 feet wide. Since I am almost half a foot taller than she was, I scaled them up to 7 feet wide. Version 1.0 was a heavy modification of Simplicity 3635, but because they had to be scaled so much, they lacked some structural integrity. Also, the fabric I used was too lightweight. I used plain old cotton muslin, which should have been a “duh” moment from the beginning, but you live and you learn. I also used commercial bias tape, which, again, did not get the job done. It was too narrow and too weak. These panniers drooped a fair bit both during the costume build. (for a costume like Antoinette, 85% of the costume is built on to the panniers on a dress form – i.e. lots of arm cramps. Arm cramps for 15 months…) They were also incredibly difficult to transport and basically could not be broken down. The bias tape was too narrow to easily slide the steel boning in and out quickly, and I also had made them so that the boning was sewn down inside of the casing. Don’t do that. Just don’t.

 

Version 1.0
Self-patterning v2.0 allowed me to completely engineer them from scratch, troubleshooting ALL the issues from v1.0.
It’s virtually like engineering a tent. You don’t want the tent to droop in corners or collapse in on itself.
The pattern for v2.0 is completely different, with a totally different approach to seam lines to reduce bias pull and balance issues. I added additional channels for steel boning, all made from 43 yards of 100% handmade bias tape. I also added additional internal ties – 52 of them to be exact – to the interior of the hoops to form the kidney shape. And I used stiffer, stronger fabric. Since this is a 1930s movie costume and already derailed from any kind of historical accuracy, 18th century accuracy was not a huge concern for me, so I used cotton-poly broadcloth. I chose it because it had virtually no stretch, not even on the bias. I used it to make my bias tape as well. I liked it so much for bias tape, I made an additional 30 yards of bias tape just to have around and use for future projects. (like a bustle…!)
Technology in cosplay isn’t and shouldn’t be just about wires and programming. 18th century court fashion defied gravity. It’s more than just popping some hoops through some boning channels. To create a distinctive, wide, flat, kidney shape, distances have to be measured, seam lines and bias stretch have to be accounted for.  So much math went into these, which was a challenge and accomplishment for me since I am not a math-y person. (I didn’t even ask my husband, who actually IS a mathematician, for help!)
The last thing that I wanted out of my new panniers was that I wanted them to be fancy and pretty. v1.0 had been functional but plain. I wanted these to resemble the paper doll illustration of her undergarments I found in my search for reference materials. I handmade 15 pale pink rosettes, added lace, and added a wide bottom pleated ruffle for additional poof because this dress could always handle more poof.

 

My new panniers held up to living on my dress form as I worked through several months of upgrades. I removed all of the trims and swags from the gown, remade them, added 1000 beads and 20,000 rhinestones, and sewed them all back on to the dress. All of these changes added a ton of additional weight, but it took the weight really well. They were heavy, yes, but there was very little droop over a long period of time.
For travel, they break down in about an hour, and it takes about 45 minutes to put them back together. It’s a small price to pay to be able to make this a fully transportable costume.
So there you are. The one issue that did arise, that was somewhat unexpected, was hoop burn. Super weird. Because the hoops are flat in the front, walking caused a lot of friction between frame and my legs, and so got hoop burn in six places all down my legs. Attractive. I should have worn a narrow petticoat underneath the hoops, and I would definitely do so if I were to ever wear this again to a convention.

Belle Cosplay // Live Action Beauty and the Beast

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This costume is actually several months old and I’ve worn it several times at this point, but since I’m catching up on updating this blog I am only just now getting around to sharing it.

I’ve been wanting to make a Belle costume ever since I fell down the cosplay rabbit hole, so when the promos for live-action film came out in early spring 2017 and I saw the costumes by Jacqueline Durran, I knew immediately that this was the version of Belle I would be making. I love the traditional cartoon version of her costume as well and one day hope to make it, but the live action version had such beautiful colors and I have a soft spot for beautifully printed fabrics. (it should come as no surprise to anyone that I also own a collection of vintage dirndls)  I wasn’t so concerned with everything being exactly screen accurate, since the film hadn’t actually come out yet at that point. I would imagine by now you can probably find more accurate prints on Spoonflower these days, but considering I found everything for under $30 at a local fabric remnants store, I’m happy with what I have.

The dress is comprised of the overskirt and bodice, both made from blue linen, a petticoat, a red stomacher, a chemise, and a corset. The petticoat is constructed a bit oddly, in keeping with the source material. The top part is made from the same dark blue chintz that I used on the front of the bodice, and is fitted from the waist through to the hips, where the skirt is made from gathered white cotton. The bottom of the skirt has a wide band of grey and white seersucker.

I made the blue part from only four yards of linen, so I had to be really strategic in how I constructed everything so as to maximize the small amount of fabric I had to work with. The skirt is drop-waisted in order to reveal the chintz fabric on the upper part of the petticoat. There is white hand stitching around the waist. Since I didn’t have enough fabric for a wide turned up hem, I had to piece the underside of the skirt hem with grey and white striped seersucker that I had leftover from the petticoat. This has turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the costume, even though it is unseen.

The bodice is also constructed a little oddly. Historical costumers need to throw their ideals out of the window for this one.  It features a front part made of darker blue chintz and closes at the shoulders and the left side with lacing, which is basically red and white baker’s twine. I did hand bind the eyelets, a small but important detail. Underneath is pinned a red chintz stomacher, strategically asymmetrical.

While Emma Watson was vocal about refusing to wear a corset, I did opt to wear a corset, though I didn’t want to do with a rigid 18th century stay. Instead, I wore my trusty old Victorian corset that is lightly boned. The chemise isn’t screen accurate, since the sleeves aren’t gathered, but I had it leftover from my Outlander costume and it has worked fine with this costume.

The pockets at made from canvas and cotton ticking. I had seen a couple of other costumers who opted to handpaint the stripes onto their pockets, so that’s what I ended up doing for the blue striped pocket. (I can’t remember who it was now, but credits to them for their ingenuity) I decided to use ticking for the red one, since I liked the contrast of different stripes.

For a $30 costume that only took a week to build, it’s become my go-to costume and probably my most-worn of 2017.

(Just a side note, I am not accepting commissions from new clients at this time and I don’t sell my patterns)

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Vanessa Ives / Penny Dreadful Cosplay

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A couple of photos of my new Vanessa Ives inspired costume from Penny Dreadful. (inspired, because I wore this to a historical themed event and not a cosplay event, so I didn’t want to wear a black wig) I have already made her black walking suit, but have been really wanting to make one of her more elaborate lace shirtwaist blouses. I hadn’t planned on making this particular one, but on a whim I ordered some lace, dug up some black glass beads that I had leftover from my Lucille Sharpe costume, and set about patterning and sewing it up. I will be honest, I wasn’t sure if I could manage constructing such a detailed costume piece in such a short amount of time. The blouse involved some weird patterning. I made a simple darted blouse, then patterned out the silk chiffon cutout. The black part is made from black lace flatlined with black cotton. The sleeve also has a shorter lace overlay.

Placing the lace was the hardest part, since it required a lot of trimming, layering, and manipulation to achieve the look of Vanessa’s blouse in the show. I also used antique lace on the neck collar and the sleeve cuffs. The blouse is adorned in black glass beads, though I ran out of time so I would like to add more in the future. I made a wide black velveteen belt to go with it.

I wore the blouse with my 9-gored walking skirt, though I would love to replace it with a black taffeta skirt in the future. My 9-gore skirt has proven to be one of my most versatile costume pieces, and I have worn it with about five different costume variants at this point! One day I still want to do a tutorial on how to make it.

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DC Bombshells Wonder Woman Cosplay (Pattern Review for Simplicity 8196)

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I usually make most of my patterns because I don’t have the patience to follow commercial patterns. Usually they don’t fit true to size and need a lot of modifications to work, so it’s faster for me to work from scratch or only use bits and pieces of a pattern. However, in preparation for teaching a panel on Sewing for Cosplay 101, which was targeted at complete beginners, I wanted to try out one of the more popular commercial costume patterns on the market so that I could use it as an example during my panel. A couple of years previously I had seen someone do an adorable variant of Wonder Woman that turned out to be Ant Lucia’s DC Bombshell Wonder Woman, and since then I’ve known that if I did a comic book character, that would most likely be my top one. While I am not a big fan of comic books, I do really enjoy the 1960s and 1970s tv shows inspired by the comic books (especially Batman and Wonder Woman). Wonder Woman is just such a great character, and this year seemed like a perfect year to cosplay a feminist icon.

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I used Simplicity’s 8196 pattern, which is an official DC licensed pattern, so it is pretty true to the source artwork. All my materials were purchased at JoAnn’s, so everything needed was readily available. I spent around $55 on sewing supplies, $75 total including my boots and wig, but I did have a few supplies at home already like craft foam, worbla, hooks and eyes, interfacing, and lining materials. I followed the pattern pretty faithfully, but I did make a few minor changes here and there, mainly for fit and ease of wearing. I was really impressed at how clear and concise the instructions were. Everything was written out in a way that I feel even a beginner could understand, especially if they took their time and referred to YouTube to break down some of the trickier techniques. Another thing I really, really appreciated was THIS PATTERN FIT TRUE TO SIZE. I followed the finished garment measurements when choosing my size, and erred on the smaller side since I wanted the costume to be very fitted. Now, normally, I ALWAYS make a mockup when making costumes. Always. If you are a beginner, don’t skip this step. BUT… I was in a hurry and skipped that part. To be honest, I am used to patterns being too big (i.e. a 26″ waist ends up being more like 30″) and so when I cut and pinned everything, I figured that I could just trim it to fit my body. I didn’t end up needing to do that, because the fit was pretty much spot on. The only thing I did have an issue with was length (the shorts were a little too low waisted and the shirt was too short, so I had to make adjustments on those), but I have a long torso so that was to be expected.

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The shirt went together fairly easily. I did find it odd that the shirt was only lined up to the bust line. It was much easier to simple line the entire thing rather than deal with collar facing (which I HATE, it’s so fussy and no matter what I do I always end up with a lumpy outline that shows through). I made a little change to the sleeve cuff, since I wanted a split cuff. It’s hard to tell in the artwork, but it kind of looks like there could be a split cuff. Either way, that was my personal preference.  I also lined the sleeve, because again, it was just easier to add in the cuff that way and also gave the gathered top of the sleeve a little more body. The collar of the shirt was easy, no problems there.

The shirt does has a front opening zipper that might be a little bit tricky for a beginner to put in, but the instructions are easy to follow.

I did have to add an extension to the bottom of the shirt. It was just way too short on me as it was, so after adding the extension the bottom ended up looking a little funky. It doesn’t matter, though, because it’s covered by the top of the shorts and belt.

I will be honest in that I have never used the satin stitch feature on my machine to make an applique or embroidered design. The need has simply never come up before in any of my costumes. But of course, her shirt has the “W” logo embroidered on the front. I was probably more nervous about that than anything else in the costume. While the pattern appears to have you satin stitch the design right onto the bodice, I did not want to risk this. I felt it would be easier and safer to make a separate applique and then hand stitch it on. Now, for my trial run, I was trying to avoid spending more money at the craft store, so I tried only using plain interfacing instead of an adhesive stabilizer. Bad idea. The satin stitch looked messy and curled up around the edges. So I ended up grabbing this Stick-N-Washaway stabilizer at JoAnn’s. It was very easy to use, and ended up being a lifesaver. Not only did it work like a dream keeping the fabric stable and keeping those satin stitches clean, I could also easily trace the design from the pattern (the sheets are conveniently printer sized so you can also print your design if you are more hi-tech than I am).  After creating my applique, I was able to place it on the shirt exactly where I wanted it to sit, and then hand stitched it in place before putting the lining in the shirt.

The shorts went together easily. I had actually sized down on these, so they fit very snugly which was what I was going for. The instructions for installing the invisible zipper were easy to follow and were actually better than the instructions on the actual zipper package. I hate putting in zippers and don’t use them often in my costumes, so I still didn’t love how it turned out, but it looks fine.

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Now, I did end up taking out the inside facing on the top of the shorts (after I “finished” them and took a photo) and replaced it with a normal waistband with a hook and eye closure. I just wasn’t comfortable with where they were sitting, they sat too low on the waist to be historically accurate for a 1950s silhouette. Also, knowing that I would be spending much of my time in this costume sitting down and leaning over a table in a panel at a convention,  I needed to be able to tuck my shirt in so that things didn’t move around too much. Adding in the waistband made a huuuge difference. I was able to sit for nearly two hours without anything coming untucked. 😉

I used your basic iron-on white star appliques from JoAnn’s on the shorts. Despite using the correct heat setting to affix them, after a few try-ons during the construction of the costume, they started to peel off. I ended up hand-sewing them down, which I know I should have done from the get-go. But again, I was short on time.

The belt was made from the 4″ wide elastic made by Simplicity, which I found in the trims and ribbons section at JoAnns. Following the instructions, I stitched it down on the ends and added hooks and eyes. I used black vinyl to make the loop for my lasso to add some texture, and now wish I had used vinyl for the whole belt since I feel like it looks more robust and “superhero-ish” than the wide elastic. While the wide elastic does give you a nice nipped in waist, I feel that a heavier vinyl or leather can also do that so I plan to remake the belt with vinyl before I wear this costume again.

My belt buckle was made using the little pattern including. It was easy to trace the design onto 1/4″ craft foam with a pencil. I then glued the two pieces together and spray painted them, dry brushing black acrylic into the grooves of the design for depth. Instead of gluing the buckle onto my belt as the instructions on the pattern indicated, I just added two brooch pin backings to the back of the buckle with E6000. Again, as I was in a rush, I didn’t seal my paint job so the paint worn off on the edges after just a couple of hours of wear.

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The bracers were not my best work and are going to definitely be remade. They were made using thin craft foam as a the base, covered in black worbla. I free-hand carved a starburst design and then affixed some star cutouts to give them some additional texture. I used back worbla for the trim as well. I hate how they turned out, mostly because the paint job ended up being a disaster. Since I waited until the last minute to paint them (we had three days of rain leading up to the con), I ended up having to paint them at the first moment that it wasn’t raining and I think it was still too humid out. My paint wouldn’t set, and even at the con I had them sitting in front of the air conditioner vent in the hotel room trying to get the paint to set (they finally ended up setting completely on by the day I had to wear them). Trying to transport bracers with sticky paint is not fun, and they ended up with quite a bit of battle damage. Because of that, I also was not able to properly distress them and fill in the grooves of the starburst design, so they just ended up looked a bit of a mess. You win some, you lose some. 😉

The boots are still a work in progress. Rather than using the boot cover pattern than comes included with the pattern, I wanted to just find a boot and modify it myself. I preferred a more cowboy style western boot for this costume, since it seems more historically accurate for a 1950s bombshell aesthetic than the fold-over boot in the artwork. A western boot also really ties in well with the lasso and the western style shirt design. I lucked out and found a perfect, medium-heeled plain western boot, and painted them over with red Angelus leather paint. (though make sure to wipe your vinyl down with acetone nail polish remover before you use this paint, it will help it to not peel or chip). I forgot to order white Angelus paint, so I will be adding the white details down the road. So instead of the white trim on the foldover and the strip, I am going to just add white to the top of the boot and then do stars on the sides of the boots.

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Hopefully if you have read this far, some of this will be helpful for those of you who are making this costume as well. Please feel free to comment if you have any questions about how I did anything!

Geillis Duncan’s Gathering Dress from Outlander

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geillis1aredGeillis Duncan’s white dress from Outlander has been on my to-do list for such a long time, but for some reason kept getting pushed to the side in favor of loftier projects throughout the past year. I’ve already made Claire and Jamie Fraser costumes, but Geillis is such a fun character and I’ve always loved the weird factor that she brings to the story.  It should be noted that I am not a strict historical costumer. I enjoy historical fashion and as an academic, I respect the educational work of historical reenactors, but as a cosplayer (or whatever term floats your boat), I prefer to recreate costumes as I see them on screen. I know a lot of Outlander costumers have chosen to make “historically accurate” versions of the show’s costumes, but screen accuracy and respect for the costume designs by Terry Dresbach are personally more important to me.

I had been hoping to find some more screen accurate fabrics, but after I found some pure natural colored linen at a discount fabric store for only $3, I decided now was the time. The arisaid (or plaid, depending on who you are talking to) and chemise were made from fabrics that I inherited from my grandmother. I had wanted to incorporate those fabrics into a costume, so despite not being perfectly accurate, they are meaningful to me at least. Between finding such a great deal on the linen and repurposing my grandmother’s fabrics, I only spent around $30 on this costume including all the notions and the brooch.

geillis2aredThis costume wasn’t particularly difficult to make. I already owned all of the appropriate 18th century undergarments (stays, bum roll, and several petticoats), except for a sheer chemise. I honestly am not crazy with how it turned out and will probably make some adjustments to it in the future. The fabric, while pretty (and again, part of my grandmother’s stash), was a sheer synthetic that wanted to just shred itself at the hands of my sewing machine needle. I did French seams, which helped tame things, but because the fabric was so slippery, it was fussy and ended up taking a lot more time than I had intended.

I created a separate bodice and skirt. For the bodice, I already had a hand drafted base pattern that I’ve used for Tudor era clothing. The shape is so similar, I just modified it to fit my 18th century stays and to include the extra seams on the front sides that are visible in the reference photos. The bodice is fully lined with hand sewn armholes. There is no boning in the bodice, since I have a solid set of stays.

Geillis’ dress laces up the back, and I used the “cheat” method of installing metal eyelets and just hand covering them with embroidery thread (not a time saving cheat by any stretch of the imagination, fyi, just a non-historical cheat). I did this because again, this is a cosplay and not a historical recreation. I intend for this costume to get a lot of wear to cons, renfaires, and photoshoots, so it was important to make everything so that it will be resilient and can endure everything from multiple washings to hikes through the woods. 😉

The skirt is nothing special, just three larges rectangles that I knife pleated into a waistband. I didn’t have tons of fabric to work with so it isn’t as voluminous as I normally would have liked, but with the bum roll and three petticoats it ended up looking like it had more volume than it did. Again, everything has French seams except for the back seam which I flat felled.

The arisaid is just a large piece of textured sheer white fabric (also from my grandmother’s stash) cut like a men’s great kilt. Geillis’ arisaid appears to be finished all around with a gold rolled hem. I had not time nor inclination to do this by hand, so I tried to do this with my serger and ended up failing miserably. Again, old synthetic fabric. It just shredded when the needle it hit and no matter how much I fiddled with the settings on my machine, the rolled hem just ended up looking like messy loops. It just wasn’t working and my photoshoot was in two days, so I just said screw this and pinked the edges. I actually love the look of pinked edges, so it worked out fine. Geillis’ arisaid has no real pleating or draping action going on (she appears to wear it like a toga with a twist halfway through), it just looks like it is gathered at the top (so I basically cartridge pleated one end) into the lover’s eye brooch at the shoulder on the front and just folded flat on the back.

geillis6redaThe lover’s eye brooch was interesting to make. I may do a tutorial eventually if I can will myself to make another one. Not particularly difficult, it was just a bit fussy and involved inadvertently breathing in more hot glue fumes that I should have. (mainly because glueing the pearls took about 5 times longer than I expected) The eye is taken from a portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie (not sure if it’s the exact same one they used in the show, but it looks pretty darn close), and while I wish I could say that I meticulously painted the whole thing by hand, it’s a printed image. But for what it’s worth, I actually think it looks pretty good considering. The frame is made from stacked worbla and handpainted, and covered in pearls of two different sizes. All of the materials I used to make the brooch were leftover from other projects, so again, no additional cost!

The belt is just a cheap-o belt from Walmart. Geillis’ belt buckle is rhinestone encrusted, so the night before we did the photoshoot I popped on few rhinestones to bling it out more, but her belt also has some crescent shaped rhinestones (which I did not have on hand) so I will be adding those on later.

I took my time on this costume (I started it in October and finished it in December, but I completed three other costumes and attended several costuming events during that time period), but am glad to finally had added it to my repertoire. It’s been long overdue!

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Victorian Hufflepuff Cosplay

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This past weekend I was finally able to debut my new Victorian Hufflepuff costume. This costume was heavily inspired by a black walking suit worn by Eva Green in Penny Dreadful. While my original plan was to make the suit for my Victorian Hufflepuff Professor, I can and will be able to also use this suit for Vanessa Ives, Missy from Doctor Who, and even Mary Poppins. It would seem that costume designers really like the black Victorian walking suit. 😉

Below is my brief recap of the process. I doubt there is much to be learned from it other than my self-deprecation as a costumer, but perhaps breaking things down can help other people who are planning to make a similar type of costume.

The Coat

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When I originally started this project, I was thinking that I could make it pretty quickly and that it wouldn’t be a bit deal. I wanted to keep it simple since I was coming off of the madness of making my Lucille Sharpe costume. It didn’t really turn out to be simple, unfortunately. In all honestly, this coat might actually have been one of the hardest things I have EVER patterned. (yes, this made patterning Thranduil’s coat seem easy peasy) The front part was easy enough, but the back part involved princess seams from shoulder to hem, and in the middle the notches for the deep pleats. Deep pleats that need to fall, not squarely, but in a perfect A-line shape. And that must line up perfectly when hemmed.

I think I had nightmares about this.

But it all worked out. After a full month of agonizing, working, agonizing, working to frustration, leaving it for a few days, and then repeating all over again.

 

Ironically, I think I was a little overly enthusiastic in my pleating, because they ended up being a little too dramatically poofy. After frantically panicking and nearly throwing the whole thing out the window, I decided to try sewing each pleat down about four inches. Duh. Crisis easily averted. But I’m still irritated that I screwed them up.

Other things I should have done differently: more interfacing. I tried to go about this project using everything I know about proper menswear tailoring (thanks to my nerd husband who has made period menswear). But despite interlining everything in canvas and interfacing the front inset and collar, I think I could have used more. The collar really doesn’t have the stiffness that I was seeking, so yeah, next time I’d do that differently. I feel like this coat is one of those things that I probably overthought. I probably could have done half as much work and it might have looked better, but overthinking is one of my shortfallings as a costumer.

The Skirt

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The skirt is my late Victorian 9-gored skirt. Eventually, once I find enough of the right fabric, I am going to try to do a tutorial on how to make your own. It wasn’t particularly difficult, but there  was a ton of hand-hemming involved. I kept the hem nice and wide. I know that these skirts are often found totally lined, which makes a lot of sense, but quality lining is oftentimes more expensive than the fashion fabric itself. I saved the expensive lining for the coat instead and did French seams throughout to keep everything nice and tidy.

The Blouse

 

The blouse is self-patterned from muslin that I happened to have in my stash, and is loosely based off of one that I found while googling shirtwaists for some inspiration. It had a similar “V” design down the front in thin rick-rack. I had been throwing around different ideas on how to embellish the blouse, and the usual Victorian lace just didn’t seem right for a Hufflepuff professor. I feel like the Hufflepuff aesthetic is a little quirkier (I mean, we are the house that Tonks and Newt Scamander came out of) and for that reason rick-rack seemed spot-on. I went with medium-sized rick-rack (which is probably not historically accurate but…wizards) and went to town. The buttons are also not historically sound, but I had a whole lot of them leftover from another project so that’s what I used.

I meant to interline the puffed sleeves with some tulle to give them additional structure, but ran out of time (due to aforementioned coat), so that will be a future project.

This was my first time making a Victorian blouse like this, so I know it isn’t perfect and there are quite a few things I will do differently next time. But I don’t think it was too bad for a first.

Overall, I’m pleased with how the entire costume turned out, and while it wasn’t really on my “to-do list” for the upcoming year, I think I’ll probably wear it a fair bit. On to the next project!

 

Con Survival for Cosplayers: Small Con Expectations

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Recently in my Con Survival for Cosplayers series I wrote about preparing for your first large con (i.e. DragonCon, Comic Con, MegaCon, etc), so today I am going to share a little bit about what to expect with your first small con. Thanks again to my friend Janice for the idea and for contributing some awesome suggestions for this topic!

Since I was a 2-year DragonCon veteran before ever attending any other cons, all I knew of conventions involved large crowds, 24/7 events, high-stakes cosplay, and not sleeping for 4 days. As I found a home among like-minds within the nerd/costuming community, I knew I wanted to branch out and try other conventions. The problem was that the bar that had been set in my mind for what a convention should be was somewhat unrealistic  in the grander scheme of things. Most conventions are not like DragonCon, not even other large conventions.

But smaller does not necessarily equate to less amazing. Quite the opposite. It’s just different! So, my large con-going friends, let’s take a moment to form some healthy expectations ahead of your first small con experience. (Note: these are simply things based on my own, limited experiences. By all means you do you, but here are some ideas that might help ease your transition.)

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Me at a small but awesome Star Trek convention. No trouble scoring the best seat in the house here.

  • Align with your fandoms.

This is actually easier said than done. I love most sci-fi fantasy genres (Trek, Potter, Tolkien, Firefly, Who, etc), but most of the small local cons in my state are comic or anime cons (as opposed to sci-fi or general multi-fandom) and the cosplay scene is heavily targeted towards comic and anime cosplayers, with a lot of the attendees being more college aged and younger. After doing some investigating, we finally found a small con within a couple hours drive that we felt really meshed with our interests. It was very much worth a little drive, and it was a great opportunity to meet people that I could bond with over similar interests. It’s now a staple in our yearly con calendar. I feel like taking the time to really research the con first was one of the main reasons our transition from a large con to first-timers at a small con went smoothly.

Smaller cons will vary in size depending on where they are, how heavily promoted they are, and even the genre they are targeting. For some of us coming from a large convention experience (with 80,000 or more people), a con of 1000 people is going to feel more like a family gathering, but remember that out of the thousands of cons that take place each year, most are probably between 1000-10,000 attendees. Go with that expectation, and the transition from the large con scenery will not be so abrupt.

Prepare for human interaction.

I know this sounds obvious, but at a large con, it’s easy to slip through crowds without really talking to anyone – especially for introverts or the socially awkward. It’s a bit harder to go unnoticed at a small con, especially if you are costuming at any point during the weekend. Small cons will challenge you to step outside your box, but at the end of the day they can be great opportunities for networking and future collaborations.

Super awkward about meeting and talking to people? That’s where attending discussion panels and cosplaying can help. Consider participating in the costume contest, even if it’s your first! I got into competing because I discovered it was a great excuse to hang out with a bunch of people that share my passion for costuming. Don’t let the “contest” part intimidate you, these events usually are pretty relaxed and there is a lot of camaraderie amongst the contestants. It’s not about winning, it’s about sharing your hard work and meeting other people who like the same things you do.

Since many smaller cons are traditionally 9-5 type cons, you often won’t find as much party atmosphere during the daytime (especially if the con is taking place within a convention center), but there are often offsite (or onsite if the con is at a hotel) parties after hours that you can check out if you wish.

Human interaction and community are part of what makes a small convention special. Convene!

  • Go to panels. Support your fandoms.

On that vein,  I know for a lot of us who cosplay and are used to attending large conventions, panels and activities can end up taking a backseat to our costume lineup. (In my sphere, our motto is usually, jokingly, “Panels? What panels?”) Large conventions tend to involve a lot of standing around cosplaying and socializing in crowds, but small cons are better for focused activities like panels, special events, and gaming. But in my experience, panels at small conventions are well worth attending. They may not be full of famous actors and celebrity cosplayers, but small panels can be a great “round-table” information gathering opportunity. Through quality discussion, you can come away refreshed with new ideas and knowledge. I personally prefer these smaller convention panels to ones at large conventions because they are more relaxed and intimate.

Also, enjoy little or no lines! Those of us who are used to large conventions know that it is normal to wait anywhere from 1 1/2-3 hours onwards for panels. At a small convention, you may still want to lineup a few minutes before the more popular panels (particularly if you know it is a small conference room that might fill up to capacitiy – just go with your instincts and gauge the crowd at that particular con), but a few minutes is nothing if you are used to waiting several hours. A lot of panels don’t fill out rooms, so you can go from panel to panel with ease. I would, however, suggest trying to be as considerate as possible if you need to enter or exit a panel midway (i.e. if there are only a few people in the room and your exit is noticable, I might quietly mouthe to the panelist “thank you!” or give them a smile/nod of appreciation for their time as you slip out of the room).

Cosplay, but don’t stress it. And bring the obscure stuff.

At smaller conventions, I find that cosplay, while still ever-present, is not always as “big”. You can expect to see plenty of people in cosplay, but perhaps not as many as you might see at a larger con like DragonCon or NYCC. That is absolutely not to say you shouldn’t go big! (like seriously, someone’s gotta bring it – again, do what works for you) But, for me personally, at a new convention where I don’t already know people and want to explore the culture and panels, I like to lay low a little bit. I may  bring out the big armored cosplay for the costume contest or a special event, but maybe not for the whole weekend. I would liken it to travelling abroad to a new city. When I travel to a new country, I like to lay low and explore the culture and vibe of a place, but still occasionally hit the big touristy destinations.

I feel that sometimes people at large cons get a little desensitized to amazing costumes, and the more obscure costumes (especially crossovers, genderbends, obscure fandoms, etc) can get a little lost in the crowd. Small conventions are a great place to try out some of those more obscure or less-flashy costumes that may get overlooked at larger conventions. At the end of the day, wear what makes you feel happy and have fun with it!

  • Enjoy the vendor halls.

At larger cons, the vendor halls can be overly crowded and often full of vendors selling the same old mass-produced items. Many of the large cons have exorbitant vendor fees and can be difficult for small, up-and-coming artists and craftspeople to snag a table. Those are the people that really drive me towards vendor halls in the first place, though. I’ve found that often smaller cons, while usually fewer vendors, tend to be more accessible to local artists and craftspeople, and so you may find some really special, unique items offered that you very likely wouldn’t see at a big con.

These are just a few suggestions to help you prepare for your first small con experience. At the end of the day, your attitude going in is what will make all the difference. Keep an open mind, go with it, and have fun!

Easy Drawstring Bag Tutorial

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I am so excited to share my first little cosplay sewing tutorial with you! Carrying a handbag or backpack with your cosplay is, for most of us, a necessary evil. Conventions usually involve long days, and with that comes the need for water, snacks, badges, and makeup/costume touch-ups, among other things. Even if you are lucky enough to score a room in a host hotel, you still need to carry your badge, phone, ID, and other essentials. A simple drawstring bag is a discreet way to stow those essentials away without detracting from the look of your costume. You can make one to match your costume using leftover fabric, a simple black one, or even out of a cute nerdy print fabric. This tutorial is for a small bag (about 8×10 inches), but you can customize the size to suit your needs. I made mine big enough to hold a bottle of water, but you could make a littler one that is just big enough for your phone/badge/ID.

There are more advanced ways to go about making these, but this is intended to be a beginner level tutorial. I’ve tried to simplify things so that someone with almost no sewing experience could do this. No patterns needed!

  • *1/4 yard fashion fabric (this will be the exterior visible part of your bag, I chose my Hogwarts house colors – Hufflepuff pride!)
  • *1/4 yard lining fabric
  • 56″ inches of silky cording (you can buy packages of this in the jewelry section, or in the trims-by-the-yard at most craft stores)
  • Thread to match fabric
  • Fabric marking pencil
  • Seam Ripper
  • Safety pin
  • Pins
  • Fray Check

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Estimated crafting time: 2 hrs // Skill Level: Beginner/Novice

*Note on fabrics: 1/4 yard is just a reference, but to be honest I’ve always made these with just the scraps I have laying around my studio! Also, for the lining, I recommend a heavyweight, slick lining fabric like taffeta. JoAnn’s sells a one that I love – I can’t remember the name but it’s usually about $9.99 a yard in their Special Occasion fabrics section.

To start, take your fashion fabric (if it is wrinkly, make sure it is ironed flat first!) and lay it flat on your cutting board. You will need 2 rectangles. Measure out your rectangle with your marking pencil (or you can eyeball it, easy to do if you have a rotary cutting board). You can make it any size you like, really, just remember that all of your pieces must be the same size. My pieces were 9″ x 11″ , and when finished my bag was about 8″ x 10″. Cut  two rectangles of this fabric.
Repeat this process for your lining fabric. You can use one of the first rectangles you cut as your “pattern”, if you like.

You should end up with four rectangles: two of your fashion fabric and two of your lining fabric.

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Now comes the sewing bit. Take your two pieces of fashion fabric. Pin them together as pictured below, leaving the top part of the rectangle open. Then take your lining fabric. Pin them together as pictured, leaving the top part open as well as a 3″ inch opening on the lower side of the bag. It doesn’t have to be in an exact spot, just as long as you leave an opening. It may not make sense now, but once you sew everything together, this will be your only way to turn the bag right side out! Sew your pinned parts.

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Once you’ve sewn these parts together, you will have two “pockets”, and your lining (the black one on my project) will have an opening.

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Snip the bottom corners on both your lining and your fashion fabric. This will ensure that the corners of your bag look sharp and tidy when all is said and done.

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Now press the sewn edges of both “pockets” as shown. Again, this is to ensure your seams are all crisp and sharp when the project is completed.

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Next, take your lining pocket and turn it right side out. Your fashion fabric should still be inside out. Take the top opening of your lining pocket and the the top opening of your fashion fabric pocket and pin these together as pictured. The raw edges of both the lining and the fashion fabric should both be visible.

 

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Sew this together.  It should look like this.

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Turn your bag right side out. Straighten everything out. Go ahead and iron all of the seams flat, poking out the corners so they are nice and sharp.

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Return to that little part of the lining we left open, and hand stitch the opening closed. You can do this however neatly you like, since no one will see it. The main thing is that you want to make sure it is closed up tightly – you don’t want your lipstick or your ID slipping through that opening and getting lost between the lining!

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Next up, you are going mark both sides of your bag, at least 1″ inch from the top opening (you could go wider, it depends on how big of a ruffle you want at the top), as pictured. I just used tailor’s chalk for clarity and because my fabric was light-colored, but you can mark this with pins, too. Next, mark another line about 3/4″ (don’t go any narrower than this, you will have a lot of cord to thread through here!) of an inch below this line, as pictured. Sew along these lines around the entire perimeter of your bag. You now have two parallel lines. This is going to be the channel for your drawstring cord.

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Now, carefully make two tiny snips each between your parallel lines by the seam line. Repeat on the other side of bag. You should have four snips. You can either finish these raw cuts but making a little buttonhole stitch by hand with embroidery thread, or if you are in a hurry (as I usually am), you can just dab some Fray Check on the raw cuts. (be careful with Fray Check if your fabric is thin – I accidentally used too much and it ended up seeping through the lining and staining my fashion fabric! woops!)

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Now, take your first piece of cording, cord #1. You are going to thread this through the channel you made. I find it is easiest if I attach a safety pin to the end of the cord to help guide it through the channel. Bring cord #1 allll the way around, back to the notch next to where you started. Pull it out, and bring your two ends together and knot them. You can dab some fray check or melt your knot together with a hot tip to keep the knot from coming undone.

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Starting on the OTHER side of the bag, repeat this. You will end up with loops on each side of your bag. You should be able to securely pull them open and closed with ease.

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There you have it, you now have a handy little bag to match your cosplay! It is easy to adorn with lace, beads, or anything else you like to customize it and match to your cosplay. Be creative and make it yours! Since I need a cute little bag to go with a Victorian Hufflepuff costume I am making, I decided to embellish mine by handstitching some lace and beads on.

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Thanks so much for reading this, I hope some of you found this helpful. If you found it useful, please feel free to let me know and share this link with your friends!

 

Con Survival for Cosplayers: Large Con Expectations

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This week’s topic is not solely related to cosplay, but it ties in. This was an interesting topic that a friend of mine suggested I cover here (thanks, Janice!). It’s a topic that would have helped me the first time I ventured outside of my “home convention”. When you are preparing to attend a new convention for the first time, it’s hard not to have expectations based on what you know. But those expectations can often lead to disappointment if you are not prepared.

For many people, your first con experience is a small local con. 2000 people, perhaps. Maybe not even that many people. For a lot of these people, the idea of attending a large con like DragonCon or Comic Con sounds like a daunting foreign affair. You have heard things, but nothing can really prepare you for the reality.

On the flip side, for some of us, the aforementioned large conventions are our first convention experience.

So what can you expect when you decide to start branching out of your “first convention safety net”?  I’m going to split this topic into two posts, and today we’ll be looking at what to expect when attending your first large convention. If you love crowds and are high-energy, this may not be helpful, because lot of this is focused on self-care. I feel like that is the biggest stumbling block that kills people’s enjoyment of large cons, so hopefully some of these tips will help.

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  • Plan Ahead, Stay on Site, and Prepare for Crowds

I live only 20 minutes from the host hotels at DragonCon. I also book my room a full year ahead and stay downtown for 5 nights every year. With a large convention, remember that you will be dealing with large crowds. Besides the obvious reasons to book a room at the host(s), like avoiding traffic and parking, a lot of us need a place of retreat. Your room is your retreat. Your escape from the crowds.

If you are planning to cosplay, this is also really important. Take it from someone who has done it all, staying on site will completely change your con experience. You won’t need to worry about stowing costume parts in your car (and hoping it doesn’t get broken into…), trying to make costume adjustments in public restrooms, and you are free to change costumes as many times a day as you like. You can go with the moment rather than rigidly stick to a schedule.

Also, your room is your temporary kitchen. Eating out adds up and can also tend to make you feel gross after a while (and is almost impossible if you have dietary restrictions), so  bring plenty of healthy snacks and little meals you can prepare using hot water. If you know you will have a mini-fridge in your room, use that and plan accordingly.

  • Don’t try to do it all.

I really can’t repeat this enough. Remember that your con experience is yours and only yours. Yes, you paid $50-$100 upwards for a full weekend pass plus hotel rooms and costumes, so you want to get your money’s worth. But lines for panels and parties are often long, sometimes hours. Also remember that the larger the convention center, the more time you will spend on your feet.

This will sound redundant to seasoned con-goers, but for newbies, this is important. Look at your schedule and choose 2-3 things each day that you absolutely must not miss (that includes panels, parties and other events, too). These are your priority events. Try to balance and spread things out over your weekend. My very first DragonCon was overwhelming because I had to do it all. I did not cosplay my first time, either, so literally all I did was run from panel to panel to panel. It was fun, but I was also completely shattered by 6pm in the evening of the first day. The next year, I pared down my schedule and despite changing costumes twice a day and staying off-site, the entire weekend flowed much better and in many ways felt fuller and more gratifying.

  • You do you.

This kind of goes back to the part about your con experience being yours and only yours. I love seeing my friends and acquaintances, but at the end of the day, don’t depend on them. That’s not to sound callous, because we love our friends dearly and obviously want to spend time with them (especially the ones who live out of town and we only see at cons), but the con environment is so crazy and everyone is struggling with balancing seeing all the people and doing all the things. Accept that larger cons are a time when it’s okay to fly solo at times. Enjoy running into friends, socializing in the moment, and spur-of-the-moment gatherings/meetups, but try to just go with the flow and don’t get your feelings hurt if things don’t work out the way you planned with your friends. I know so many of us have been in that situation, and it helps a lot to shift your mindset and understand that it’s not personal. If you find yourself solo, take the moment and enjoy the experience of just being there. Go get a fancy coffee and people watch. Stroll through the Walk of Fame/Celebrity signings area (and if you’re brave, go chat with one who doesn’t have anyone at their table). Go to the artist’s alley and really take the time to appreciate the artists’ work. Go to that obscure panel that you know your friends wouldn’t get into. Do things that you don’t have time to do when you’re hanging out with friends.

  • Plan for self-care.

Continuing in that vein, self-care is super important. Like, make-or-break your con important. I have severe social anxiety, but despite the crowds at large conventions, I usually do okay (in some ways, I do better with large conventions than small conventions). Part of this is because I factor “introvert time” into my day. (again, I cannot stress enough: not overscheduling and having a hotel room onsite or nearby is very, very important if this is an issue for you) Even if you don’t have a room to retreat to, find a place to sit and have “time-out” before you feel overwhelmed. That way, when that overwhelmed feeling hits you, you know exactly where to go. This is a good thing to scope out early on at the convention before it gets too crowded, like Friday morning. A lot of large convention centers have quiet seating areas tucked away, sometimes on upper levels. I read recently that C2E2 created a “quiet room” solely for this reason, and perhaps other cons will start following suit. DragonCon is a little trickier, since pretty much any and all seating within the host hotels is removed during the cons (one year they had a cos-pitality suite on the Marriott 10th floor that was also kind of a “quiet zone”, but sadly they only did that for one year). However, you usually can go to any of the upper levels within the host hotels and find a quiet corner to sit on the floor or just hang by the balcony for some quiet time.

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Even the Valar need coffee breaks sometimes

It goes without saying that your self-care time is also a time to take your costume pieces off and rest your body as well as your mind. Cosplay is physically taxing, you need to take breaks. I don’t care if the only place to sit is a visible seat in the middle of a convention center, you need to respect what your body/mind is telling you and take a break. If you are only halfway in costume and someone asks for a photo, it is okay to politely decline (often it’s helpful to say something like “I’m taking a break at the moment, but I will be in the ____ place in about half an hour, so look for me there!” More often than not, most people are very understanding and will actually remember and find you for a photo later on!)

  • Be in the moment

A lot of people could save themselves disappointment and social anxiety meltdowns by simply approaching the convention with realistic expectations, and appreciating just being in the moment. This is part of the con experience. Don’t put too many expectations on the convention. At the end of the day, it’s just a convention, and it’s up to you to make the most of it. This isn’t to say you should have low expectations. Rather, simplify your expectations.

I hope I haven’t made large conventions sound like big, scary, lonely things. They are anything but. Large cons are an entity unto themselves. It’s like nerd Christmas. You will meet amazing people, you will be inspired, and you will never forget it. But I do firmly believe that it’s important to go into them with realistic expectations.

Stay tuned, next week I will be sharing what to expect with small cons!