It is no secret that costume sewing is my favorite thing ever. My kids and I start talking about Halloween costumes in June and I like to get started in August. But there’s this whole realm of costuming I’m sure you’ve heard of, that takes “costume” and turns it into something over and beyond your basic poster board and sweatpants DIY dress-up.
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Cosplay seems to have originated with the anime fan base, where people dressed up as their favorite anime characters, went to conventions that way and built community around this kind of costuming. Now Cosplay is defined more broadly as dressing up as a character from a book, movie, TV show or video game, or something inspired by any of those things. Often, cosplayers try to make a costume as historically accurately, or as “screen-accurately”, as possible.
Many of these costumes take hours on hours of work and are put on display at conventions! I don’t think I can fairly call myself a cosplayer, but it’s something I sooo wish I had time and money for (I almost titled this post, “If I were a Cosplayer”), and I sure do love to follow some cosplayers on the Internet! My absolute favorites to follow on Instagram are Hoppin’ Bobbin, who is currently finishing up an Edwardian inspired Ariel costume (using couture techniques, absolutely stunning!) and the husband/wife duo Michaelrburson and HobbitParty. These two have made James & Lilly Potter, Mary Poppins, Doctor Strange, and Luna Lovegood, among other characters. They also have a brand new podcast called Hold My Butterbeer (so clever).
The coolest thing about cosplay is that it’s brought a whole new generation of people into the art of sewing! Many, many cosplayers say they started sewing in order to make costumes for Comic Cons and other such events. Most of them just get started, learning as they go and improving with every costume. They even delve into pattern making skills, which is something most modern sewists are still afraid of! I find it so cool and impressive that so many are jumping into sewing with both feet and conquering difficult skills to make the costumes they want.
All that to say, if you want to start sewing cosplay, but you aren’t sure how or where to start, I have resources for you!
How to Get Started with Cosplay
Pick a Project
The best way to get started is to choose a project and jump in. Collect photos of the costume or start an inspiration board. Start looking for the right fabrics in the right colors. If you’re a beginner, accept that your first costumes won’t be perfect, but you’ll build skills along the way. On the other hand, be realistic. Maybe don’t start with the most elaborate costume on your wish list. Consider your budget in relation to the cost of materials and consider your free time in relation to how many hours a costume might take. We’re thinking about Halloween costumes right now and my daughter wants to be some manifestation of Eliza Doolittle from the Audrey Hepburn movie, My Fair Lady. At first she wanted this pink dress, but I know I don’t have the kind of spare time it would take to make that dress and I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend the money for the right fabric. It sure would stretch my skills, though, and I think that’s the appeal for many people who sew cosplay! This one, on the other hand, is totally doable! I already rounded up some patterns that can be adapted to work and I found a fabric for only $3.99 a yard!
Remember, always make a muslin before cutting into your good fabric!
Patterns for Cosplay
First, if you’re not ready to start drafting your own patterns, check out McCall’s Cosplay line of patterns. They’ve done in incredible job of keeping up with the times here! You can find patterns for full costumes, or for cloaks, hats, and other accessories. If you’re new to reading patterns, check out my series on how to read a sewing pattern. I’ve used tons of commercial costume patterns with good success, (see my daughter as Hermione Grainger below, made with Simplicity 8723) so just hop on the Simplicity or McCall’s sites and start browsing. If historical costumes are what you’re interested in (did you know there’s a Jane Austen convention every Summer???), a few pattern companies to try are Reconstructing HIstory and Patterns of Time (they also have a sister site, Cosplay Much, where you can buy the harder to make accessories. These are just a few, but a quick google search brings up plenty more. Like I mentioned above, shop for patterns with an open mind. I plan to use this one for Eliza’s jacket and this one for her skirt. These patterns do not have Eliza vibes in the photos as all, but the lines are just what I need. It helps to notice the line drawings, rather than just look at the photos on the envelopes.
There are SO MANY how-to books on Cosplay available. This one on armor and props gets great reviews. The Make: series is always a good bet, so this one on creating sci-fi armor, weapons and props is sure to be good too. There’s also The Cosplay Handbook and How to Forge Foam Weapons. I believe Hoppin’ Bobbin swears by this Couture Book for advanced techniques. I have that book on my wish list!
Helpful Cosplay Tools: Some necessary and some that would just be cool to have
Obviously a basic sewing machine is a must, but a serger is so helpful when sewing fabrics that fray, which many costume fabrics do. You can of course finish seams in other ways, but a serger will make your life easier!
Hobbit Party uses a 3D printer pretty often to create little accessories that are hard to find, but are essential to a character. I don’t own one, but I can see that if I were to cosplay often, it would save a lot of money in the long run. And it’s definitely better than paper mache’. Haha.
A Cricut is another thing on my wishlist! I’m thinking of spending my birthday and Christmas money on one because my girls and I keep thinking of ways to use it! For cosplay, a Cricut can create logos, appliques, all kinds of things.
In my current phase of life, I don’t make time to sew costumes for myself, but in the future, my husband pinky swore we could become Comic Con people and dress up as Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall, ha! We’ll see if he feels the same way in 20 years. For now, I’ll keep making fun costumes for my kids!