3-5. Research Before you Start

Every project begins with research – even if you aren’t making all your costume or costume pieces. Research helps you understand the full scope of work that needs to be done, as well as prevent potential risks.

Tutorials

TLDR; Find tutorials online to see techniques and materials that cosplayers have used before for costumes like yours. 

If you are making your costume, the first thing you can do is look for tutorials to see how other people have made the costume or pieces that are similar to your costume. Tutorials will cover a variety of techniques and materials.

There is a never ending supply of tutorials, but here are my go-to’s on Tumblr:

  • Cosplay-Tutorial tag on Tumblr – all content tagged as a cosplay tutorial
  • Cosplay Tutorial (Tumblr) (Full Site) – a library of cosplay tutorials collected over the years
  • Learning to Sew – a blog run by two cosplayers who answer specific questions and more
  • You Can Cosplay 21 – tips, tutorials, and positive messages to help people cosplay

Patterns

TLDR; Patterns can be made by draping or by following tutorials. Commercial pre-made patterns are available for traditional, historical, and popular costumes.

Some people swear by commercial sewing patterns. Some people swear by “draping,” or creating the pattern by draping fabric on a dress form. Some people follow instructions to draft patterns on paper based on measurements. Many use a combination of all 3.

Commercial sewing patterns can be found online or in your local fabric store (e.g. Jo-Anns). Major brands to look out for include: Simplicity, BurdaMcCall, and Butterick.

Most will have a combination of:

  • Halloween favorites (e.g. pirates, clowns, fairies, gypsy, vampires)
  • Licensed costumes (e.g. Elsa and Anna from Frozen)
  • Historical pieces (e.g. Victorian, Georgian, 1950’s)
  • “Knock-off” patterns based on popular movies or tv-shows (e.g. Lord of the RingsGame of Thrones, Pirates of the Carribbean).

Don’t be afraid to look in the non-costume section – you might just find the shirt, dress, skirt, pants, or coat you need.

If draping, you may need to research tutorials for how to drape a particular shape. Otherwise, draping IS research – you are researching how to make the pieces for your costume. Make sure to allow extra time for draping and consider doing your initial draping in cheap materials, such as muslin.

There are also tutorials online that can walk you through how to create your own pattern pieces based on measurements. Examples include: circle skirts or corsets.

Two of my favorite are:

Materials

TLDR; Research types, amounts, cost, and safe-handling steps for materials that you might need. 

Oftentimes, there is no one-right material for the job. Research tutorials to see what other people have used for similar costumes. Some of the important materials you might run into:

  • Fabric
  • Thermoplastics like Worbla or Wonderflex
  • Foam (EVA, Craft)
  • Sealer, filler, Gesso
  • Silicone, rubber, plaster, resin

Research how much these materials will cost you, the amount of the material you will need, and what safety materials are necessary for handling the material safely (e.g. face masks, goggles, rubber/latex gloves).

Make-Up

TLDR; Look up tutorials for new make-up techniques – make sure the tutorial is safe for use on human skin and see a doctor for contacts. 

Make-up will be in contact with your skin for a prolonged period of time. Only materials that are approved for use on human skin should be used in cosplay. Research what materials are safe to use and how to apply them.

Note: Some countries, like the USA, require a full prescription from an eye doctor to purchase cosmetic contact lenses. Even if the vendor doesn’t require a prescription, you should see an eye doctor anyway to make sure that it is safe for you to wear contacts.

When looking up make-up tutorials, reference several to see if they are using the same technique. Sometimes tutorials will feature unsafe methods or materials – getting a second opinion is critical.

Tutorials are a great way to learn how to achieve particular looks with make-up, especially if you are looking to do special effects.

The Money

TLDR; Find where you will get your materials. Look for prices, sales, and coupons. 

Before setting a budget, doing some research into the cost of your materials. This can done by visiting your local fabric/craft stores and by browsing online. You want to have a sense of how much the materials cost when not on sale, since that is the price you might end up needed to pay.

Make sure to research lower-costing equivalent materials in case the first pick materials aren’t available or are outside your budget.

If going to a store for raw materials, check to see if there are coupons and regular sales. For example, Jo-Ann’s weekly flyers with coupons, a coupon-app, an email mailing list for coupons, as well as regular sales. You can ask staff in the store when sales will be happening as well.

You can also scout local stores for found items, like shoes, gloves, earrings and shirts. Look to see where you can get the lowest prices and make a note of these locations.

When buying materials online, look at several different stores to compare prices as well as the cost of shipping.

Commissions and Online Pre-Made Items

TLDR; Read reviews for online vendors and ask to see a portfolio before commissioning an item. 

For commissions and online pre-made items, you can’t review the item in person before you purchase. The best that you can do is research the vendor and read reviews about others who have bought those items before.

For pre-made items:

  • Does the vendor have many reviews? (i.e. people buy from this person a lot)
  • Does the vendor have a good review score?
  • Does a particular item have a good score? Good reviews?
  • For contacts: does the vendor require a prescription? (i.e. If not, then that can sometimes be an indicator that the vendor is selling knock-off lenses)

For commissions:

  • Ask the person for an online portfolio of their work
  • Ask friends (online or in-person) if they have commissioned from that person before

These are just some of the things that you need to research before getting started on your cosplay project.

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