Q) What’s one simple thing that can affect the look and quality of your entire costume?
A) Finishing? (Well, yes, but-)
A1) Makeup? (Technically, though-)
A2) Photoshop! (That’s a crutch!)
A3) LENSE FLARE (NOT EVEN. Use lenseflare and you are dead to me. DEAD!)
*ahem* Sorry about that.
While all the above answers (Aside from A3, you dirty heathens) are correct, today I’mma talk to you about Fabrics and how it’s not just the colour but also fabric type that can make or break your costume.
I’ll break it up into Weight, Finish, Stretch, Frayability and Material to try and help other beginners understand what’s best for their costume, and what’s best for their skill level.
Fabric tends to come in two widths: 115cm (45”) and 150 (60”). on the back of most patterns, you can find estimates for how much fabric you’ll need based on how wide the fabric is. There are some fabrics that don’t follow these specifications, but in general the width is listed on the bolt.
Patterns also list the types of fabric that the design will work best for, but I think we’ll talk patterns another day. (AND HOW AWESOME THEY ARE.)
*flexes* Aw yeah, feel the burn.
This one’s a little self-explanatory. How heavy is the fabric? How thick, is it warm? is it thin? If you’re doing an item like Connor’s Coat (#^%$#%) then you’re going to want to go for a heavier material. It is, after all, supposed to be rough-and ready, and choosing a summery thin cotton just wouldn’t look right.
On the other hand, if you choose a material that is TOO thick, like I did for this project, you’ll run into issues when you start hitting compound seams, My machine and needle simply couldn’t sew through more than 3 layers of this stuff. That meant that all around the hood detailing, I had to sew by hand.
You can see the fabrics on the left are light and floaty, there’s no stiffness that holds a shape. On the right is a medium weight fabric that looks and feels thicker. (hurrhurrhurr)
Weight should also be considered for when you plan to wear your costume. Connor was going to be a winter cosplay, for me. So added layers was a plus, living in Canada like I do. However, if I was planning to wear it in summer to Dragon*Con, I would definitely want to pick lighter fabrics so I don’t collapse from heat exhaustion or dehydration. Or, you know, get that Con-Funk smell. Yuck.
Okay this is a term that you may or may not be familiar with. Basically, it means how much light is reflected. So, shine, etc.
Take a look at how these two fabrics react to the ambient light of the fabric store. They’re made of the same fabric, just with different specularities.
Why is this an issue? Well for one thing, if you want photos taken, super shiny satin is going to mess with the light balance, either burning out sections of the picture by being too bright, or by just looking… cheap.
Here’s the dirty secret about shiny materials like
Satan satin: It shows EVERYTHING. Every pucker and wrinkle, and it slides like a mofo, so it’s even more prone to not aligning right.
If you insist on Sewing with it, here’s some tips.
Working with satin isn’t impossible, but it is hard because it’s so unforgiving. Not to mention, that unless you’re built like Nigri and Yaya, it’s gonna show that pizza you scarfed down in the Con’s food court. In general, if you insist on using
satan satin, go for one of the less shiny ones.
While other shiny materials like metallic spandex doesn’t have the same pucker issue… it will show every mistake, and every squishy part. If you are okay with that, rock it. If not, look for something with a sheen, but not a shine.
Do you like super heroes? I love super heroes. Super heroes wear super stretchy clothes which are seriously skin tight.
This is both a blessing and a curse for us non-superheroes.
And let’s be honest, Olympians are as close to superheroes as we can get.
Even if you’re not going to cosplay a catsuit/superhero, chances are you’ll be making something sometime with a fabric that stretches. It’s generally more comfortable to wear and lets you pull off slinky dresses and comfy pants without risking wardrobe malfunctions.
Things to check when you’re shopping for fabric:
Type of Stretch
In general, there’s two-way and four-way stretch. (no three-ways, get your mind out of the gutter, people). Two way stretches along one axis while four way stretches across two axes of the fabric. And you thought you’d never use geometry, hah!
Two-way is fine if you’re sewing a skirt, and only want the fabric to stretch one direction (around your hips/legs) while four-way is necessary for catsuits or anything that needs to stretch in more than one direction. Self-applied wedgies are not fun.
Amount of Stretch
How much does the fabric actually stretch? An easy way to tell is to take your measuring tape which is obviously always on you at all times, right? And then measure out 10cm of fabric. Stretch it as far as it will go without losing its ability to recoil, and then you now have your stretch ratio.
Okay. Ignore this if you’re working with something that doesn’t have a pattern, or something that has a omni-directional pattern, like polkadots. That doesn’t matter which way it points, it’s the same thing all way round.
HOWEVER. If I can direct you to the photo below… you’ll see that sometimes the pattern we cosplayers need is directional.
I was lucky to find vertical striped ponte- OH WAIT. The ponte (which is a 2 way stretch) was actually stripped horizontally.
(demon cat not included in most fabric purchases)
See those stripes going left to right? Well, since the fabric was 150cm, I was okay length wise to turn my patterns 90 degrees and get the vertical stripes rather than horizontal ones. But. Ponte is a 2 way stretch knit. That means it only stretches along one axis, and it only stretched along the stripes, not against them. This meant that there was no give around my waist, arms, back, legs etc. This ALSO meant that there was going to be some stretching/bagging around my knees and elbows unless I reinforced that motherfucker.
So I did. I interlined it with a non-stretch fabric (White cotton) that helps keep the ponte from stretching in ways I don’t want it to. I have to say this made it a really warm costume to wear, but it’s extremely comfortable and surprisingly breathable, since I used cotton and not a synthetic to line it.
So while there are ways around using stretch material when you’re not supposed to, the reverse isn’t very true. Or comfortable. Think of the wedgies, my friends.
Do you have a serger? If yes, Serge all your shit the moment you cut it out. Good? Good. Moving on.
If no… well. Some fabrics come apart like my resolve in a fabric store. I swear, you’ll set them down, turn around to get your thread and then when you turn back, they’re halfway gone, a mess of tangled threads.
You can work with fraying fabrics, and ifyou have a serger, you’re pretty much set. Serge and go on as per normal. If not, then you’ve got a couple choices:
- pinking shears (slows fray, but doesn’t stop it)
- zigzag stitch along the edges (poor man’s serge)
- Fraycheck (useful for spot application, not for full seams)
- Look on kijiji.com for a used serger.
- Pick a different fabric. Wovens tend to be the worst for this.
What’s the fabric made out of? I mentioned earlier that my Beej costume was comfy because of the cotton. Natural fabrics tend to be more comfortable to wear, although they do wrinkle a fair bit. If you’re okay with ironing a lot, and also paying a bit more, natural fabrics might be worth it. But sometimes it’s just not available to you, for financial reasons, or the colour/finish/pattern/stretch etc only comes in a synthetic or blend. That’s okay too, it just affects how the costume will feel. Content of fabric is always listed on the bolt, if not, ask. Chances are the sales person will know, and if they don’t, then it’s probably a weird mix of synthetic.
You can always guess by the price, too. (Silk)
Remember to always, always test the iron on a swatch before you put it on your costume. Synthetics melt before naturals scorch.
- Faux Fur
- Careful, since this is from an animal, some people are allergic. If you’re not sure, rub a bit on your inner forearm and wait to see if it gets itchy. If so, don’t use it!
- These come from animals, while most leather comes from farmstock that we eat (pigs, sheep, cows), if you’re vegan or especially concerned about the animal’s well being, you can find synthetic replacements.
I hope this helped fellow cosplayers! If you have any questions, drop me a line in the comments and I’ll see what I can do to answer them!