Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Making Your First Cosplay - Tips

I found that no matter who you are the first couple of costumes you make will be bad. There is just no avoiding it. I know one person who's first cosplay won a prize in a competition, but he had done a lot of LARP (live action role play) costumes before then, which meant that he still had the practice of making clothes and props.

So to help with people making their first costumes I thought I would provide what I learnt to help you avoid the same mistakes I did. But don't be too discouraged if you do make mistakes, because I found that I learnt a lot from the mistakes I made.

Also, don't be surprised you spend from £50 and up on your first costume. Even a simple looking costume might have a lot of components.

Things You Should Do...

These are all tips that I've picked up along the way and ones that I still do today to make sure my costume is as accurate and non-ammeter looking as possible.

Give yourself time! It can take over a couple of weeks worth of solid work to make a costume, so I suggest giving yourself over 2 weeks for constructing the costume, an extra week for finding materials and even longer if you need to make/order weapons and armour. So at least 1 month in advance from start of concept and material collection to making it. It's always helpful to get it done with a few days in advance so you can try it all together, practice poses and if you've done something wrong you can re-do it.

Friends of mine tried to make their costumes the day before the convention and that is not enough time to get a lot of sewing, glueing and painting done. Do it the night before will only end in you being a grumpy costumeless cosplayer the next day!

Print reference pictures: Simply googling the character you want to do, putting them in a word document and printing off is a massive help! You can use this reference sheet to list all the parts of the costume you'll need, make sure colours of fabric matches, work out poses for pictures, and if you find other cosplayers pictures what you do/don't want to do on your costume.

Pick the correct colours to match the costume: It might not seem that important at first but picking a fabric that matches the colour of the costume almost perfectly can make a huge difference to the costume!

Find a fabric type/texture to match the character: This is a similar point to picking the right colours, fabric texture can make a massive difference to how the costume will look in the end! The best example I can give is the EuroCosplay winner for 2013 was of an Edward Elric cosplay. Ok, not very impressive so why did it win the best costume in the whole of Europe? Well the girl who made it had done extensive research into the fabrics that were available in the time Full Metal Alchemist was set in. She hand sewed every piece of the costume using those fabrics, including the underwear! There were many other reasons why she one, but one of the most impressive was that she tried to make it as authentic as possible using the fabric types.

Get a pattern to match the outfit: It is so useful to use your reference pictures to find a pattern for an item of clothing that's the same as the one you're trying to make. I have scanned through pattern books for an hour before trying to find the right one and it makes the final piece look so much better. There will be times when you'll have to alter the pattern, but don't get too intimidated, I've found that as you're working on the costume you can see where it needs changing and how you can do it.
From TeaCup Erinyes who does really good tips on make-up for cosplay

Use make-up, but not just on the face: So not having make-up on might look ok at first but it'll make your character look very strange. A bit like you're just wearing a costume rather than like the character. The Ed cosplay I mentioned before might not look like much but she used a lot of make up to make herself look more masculine and it really worked to bring out the character. 

There was a famous incident where a UK cosplayer wanted to cosplay an anorexic character from Bleach and boasted about how he starved himself to get his rips to show for a cosplay. You should never do this! Not only did people thought he was crazy but it didn't work! Yeah his ribs showed, but in photos you couldn't see it. What would have worked better (and been a lot healthier) was if he'd used make-up to highlight his ribs, to make them appear as if they were showing. It would have been a lot more apparent in photographs too.

Hand sew the entire costume before you go anywhere near a sewing machine: When you sew something with a machine it is very, very difficult to go back and fix it. Make sure you hand sew everything and have tried your costume on. When you're happy use a machine to sew over the hand stitching and then spend the time to remove the hand sewn cotton. I also recommend hand sewing in a bright colour distinct from the fabric colour, but machine sew with a matching colour to make it easier to remove the hand stitching. This will result in the costume having smoother lines and it'll be less likely to fall apart (hand sewing can break very easily). If you don't have a machine it's not the end of the world, it'll just take longer to hand sew everything to that it won't fall apart on the day.

Work on poses for photographs: Using reference to your character it's good to practice 2-3 poses in the mirror before a convention. This way you can look super cool and make your costume really stand out and look like it's in character.

The Mistakes I've Made...

Not given myself time: I have, I admit, tried to make a costume or 2 costumes within a week after I bought all the fabric. The continuous sewing for several hours over several days straight resulted in a horrible migraine (it is the only time I have ever had a migraine) and I had to spend half a day recovering. I managed to get the costumes done in time (just) but it was not a good idea to leave it so late.

Shiny fabric: So when I made my first cosplay by myself I went out to a market in Birmingham with some friends and because I was a student bought a lot of cheap fabric for my costumes. The problem was not that it was cheap, a lot of the cheap fabric I've bought in the past has been great! What I didn't realise is that one of them (which was the main colour for a dress) was slightly shiny. This resulted in all photos that used flash, made the dress look really creased and shiny. Needless to say it looked bad. If you have a character that has a shiny outfit (i.e the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio) I strongly recommend sequins. They show up a lot better in person and on camera.
Shiny fabric being shiny and looking bad
Used a pattern that didn't match: I cannot draw patterns or just magically come up with a costume from the top of my head. I realised pretty early on that it's important to take pictures of the main part of the costume to a fabric store that sells patterns and find one that matches the dress shape. But what happened with this one was that I got a pattern that wasn't the summer dress style that this costume needed. This meant I had to alter the patter a lot. A little probably would have been ok but I had no experience at this point and it resulted in the final dress not fitting me very well and looking very awkward.

No make-up/hair styling/wig: Needless to say we Westerners often do not look like the characters we're trying to cosplay. So going at a character without putting on make-up or the right hair to look like said character, or even just to make the skin look more natural, ends up in really bad photos. Although I have little experience in make-up I've learnt at least the basics which makes the costume look so much better. 

This is probably the best image of this costume - needless to say it's bad. You can tell it doesn't quite fit me. But it was one of the first costumes I'd made and I learnt a lot from making it.

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