Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stuff Day - November Movies

Thursday is Stuff day.  Sometimes I'll review a movie.  Sometimes it'll be a book, or maybe a cool tool.  Sometimes I'll just tell you about something neat I've heard of but haven't had a chance to play with yet.  It's the stuff I'm excited about right now!

The Movies I'm Anticipating for November:

There are tons of great blockbusters coming out this month.  I'm gonna order these by release date because otherwise I'd face some really hard decisions!

Ender's Game

This is going to be a controversial movie that I'll let you form your own opinion on.  The costuming looks great, though, if a little bog standard for military SF movies.  Costume Design is by Christine Bieselin Clark, who co-designed the new Tron movie and assisted in lots of great stuff like 300, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Watchmen.  Comes out on the first.

Thor: The Dark World

I'm betting that the costumes in this movie are going to be more of the same as the first Thor, but at least Natalie Portman will get some nice new Asgard duds.  Costume Design is by Wendy Partridge, who did Underworld, Hellboy, and Blade II.  Comes out on the 8th.

The Book Thief

This is based on a great book about WWII Germany and a girl who steals books because she loves them.  Costumes look to be nice representations of the 1940's.  Costume Design is by Anna B. Sheppard, who did Captain America, Shanghai Knights, and Band of Brothers.  Comes out on the 15th.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This is the movie I CAN'T WAIT FOR!!!  I love the Hunger Games books, and even though the movies aren't as commentative about consumer culture as I'd like they're still pretty great.  I'm in love with the costumes already, from Katniss' wedding dress to her black mockingjay formal and the awesome wetsuits.  Costume Design is by Trish Summerville, who did The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo.  Comes out on the 21st.


I'm not so sure about this movie.  I've been a fan of the original fairy tale since I was a child, so I have high expectations.  There's also not costume design persay, but still some stuff that you'll be seeing at cons, perhaps even on me :P  Comes out on the 27th.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween 2013 Part 1

Got back pictures of Thing 1 in her Twilight Sparkle princess costume:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Coming to Kansas City!

I've got some great news: I've been asked to be a guest at a convention in Kansas City!  SNOWFLAKE 15 has asked me to be their Cosplay guest!  This is a one-day Sunday convention on February 2, 2014 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel at the Truman Sports Complex.  Go to their website or Facebook for more info:

Note: I probably won't stay around town long, I have plans not long after that, so if you want to see me coming to the con is your best bet!  I hope to see all my Kansas City friends there!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday Progress Update: October 28

I don't have a lot to show you this week.  I worked really hard and finished a Twilight Sparkle princess dress for Thing 1, and a Dinosaur costume for my as-yet-un-nicknamed nephew, but I don't have pictures of them in them yet.  Hopefully I can post those Thursday or Friday.  I did accomplish one more thing this week, though.  I made bumper pillows for my dog, Maxwell's bed.  It's getting colder, and we wanted to make his crate more den-like.  He seems to be pleased with them!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How to get the most out of a Costume Contest

This article isn't "How to Win", it's "How to have fun". Yes, winning can be really fun, but it's also a very ephemerial, uncontrollable thing. It requires you to judge yourself, your costume, and your skit/presentation very objectively and figure out how to best present them in the contest you're working with. I'll teach you how to do that here. However, winning also requires a bit of the unknown. In order to craft your entry to WIN you'd have to critique not only your own entry, but everyone else's entry. This is risky, because you never know who will enter against you, and how well-framed their entries will be. So we're going to talk about you, and what you can do and control, to get the most out of your costume contest experience. And hey, if having a good time brings prizes along, who are we to complain?

In order to get the most out of a costume contest you need to do some research. How much you do depends on you, how well you want to do, and what kind of a reaction you want.

The first research should be into you and your costumes. What kind of costumes do you like to wear? What kind of contests do you like to enter? What is your reason for entering the contest in the first place? Think about these objectively. If you are a handsewing nut and want to show off your neat craftsmanship, you're creating a totally different contest approach than someone who mostly buys or thrift-stores costumes but loves to get the crowd roaring. Think deeply about what you do, why you do it, and why you want to enter the contest (remember, "I wanna win" isn't an option).

Then do some research into your contest venue. At the minimum ask someone on the forums, in email, or in person what the contest is like. There are tons of different contest formats, and none of them are welcoming to all kinds of costumes. You've got to figure out what kind of contest you are entering, and figure out if it works well with your contest approach. For example, Costume Con Masquerades concentrate a lot on costume craft and skill. There's even an additional workmanship component for those people who REALLY like to show off their costuming skills. However, because of their concentration on craft, people who thrift-store or commission costumes for really great skits aren't going to be as welcome. Conversely, DragonCon's main masquerade is all about the skits. If you aren't entertaining they don't care how well made your costume was. These two contests are really extreme cases, most contests will fall in the middle, but it will help you to figure out how close to your purpose the contest's purpose is. Other than talking to someone who saw the contest, another way to figure out clues as to the contest's bent is to look at pictures of last year's winners. Even better if you can find videos of the contest, either for sale or on You tube. This will show you how the contest winners looked, and whether their presentations were mostly skit or mostly show of a costume. Here are some common contest formats, and their strengths and weaknesses:

- Skits: concentrates on funny or entertaining preformances. Costumes are usually secondary, and audience reaction can play a large part.

- Workmanship: concentrates on costume craft. Having a costume made by yourself is important. Acting and preformance can play a part, but it is much smaller than Skits.

- Runway Walk: usually close to workmanship. Concentrates less on acting and preformance than workmanship, in general, although being in character can still play a part. Audience reaction can play a larger part than workmanship.

- Crowd Pleasers: usually characterized by having no judges, and relying on audience applause to decide the winners. These are really a chancy endeavor, because they rely on having loud friends in the audience, and usually in having the least amount of clothes on a pretty girl. Common in bars around Halloween time.

Right along with what kind of format the contest will have is finding out about the judges. There are a vast number of people who could be judging your contest, and as judges they have a major impact on the results of the contest. So try to find out who is judging the contest you're entering.

- Celebrities: are usually guests of the con. They'll usually concentrate on impressive. Most often celebrities are impressed by people that do what they do. If the guests are actors, they'll like neat skits. If the guests are authors, not so dazzled. However, most celebrities can be dazzled by having an impressive-sounding introduction ((this costume was made by hand over 50 hours of work)) because most of them don't really know what that MEANS, but it sounds good. Watch out, though, there are a few rare celebrities who have been trained as costumers, hairdressers, or are related/married to them, so they won't fall for that stuff.

- Costumers: usually judge costumes on costume merit. May have a tendency to put less stock in preformances if they themselves are not preformers. Some feel costumes are more of an even split, so they'll look at both. Some can tend to judge like fans/celebrities as well as look at costume merit, but there will be more of an emphasis on the clothes no matter what.

- Fans: judge a lot like celebrities. They'll score based on how impressed they are, if they laughed, or if the crowd gave a good time, but you have the advantage that they'll be more likely than celebrities to get inside jokes and be impressed with clever plots.

- Audience: usually judge by applause. That means the louder your friends, the better reaction you get. Also, when the audience is given the judging power they often feel they have the right to judge the contestants negatively, and will often be rowdy and boo people onstage. They also cheer for what they know and like, so if you have an obscure costume, or a common costume from an obscure show/genre, you may get a totally different reaction from what you expected.

As an aside to finding out about the judges, see if you can find out their names. Some contests don't like to give them out, but some don't care. I'm not suggesting you attempt to bribe the judges, because that will get you thrown out of most contests faster than you know, but knowing the judges means you can tailor your costume presentation to them and their skills/desires. For example, if you get the name of a specific guest actor, google them. Find out what they've acted in, what kind of costumes they've worn, and if they've ever worked as a costumer/lighting tech/designer. See if that anime artist is married to a professional wigmaker. If the person is a costumer or fan, try to find their website. Look at the stuff they've done. See if they do things in the same genre as you, or if they know a lot about a specific topic. For example, I have a lot of corsetry information on my website. If you know I'll be judging a contest and see that you might want to prepare a little extra information on how you made the corset of your costume, because I guarantee I'll be asking about it. Don't let it discourage you, though, if you don't think your corset is very good. Judges know that everyone had to start somewhere, and remember their first projects, so usually they won't discount you for not being as good as them.

Duplicating a judge's costume, however, is a tricky thing. If a judge has also made the costume you are entering it is slippery. On one hand they will be very enthusiastic, because they are obviously fans of the costume as well. On the other hand, though, they will have researched the costume themselves, and will know more if there are details that are 'off' than they would with a costume from a genre they don't know. But, they will also know what you did right, and showing off how you duplicated small details will get you kudos from someone who knows exactly how hard they are because they've done them. So, I'm not telling you not to enter a costume a judge has done, just think about it a little bit first. Also, be ready just in case you walk into judging and see the judge wearing the same outfit as you. Daunting, but don't worry, they are a judge so you're not competing against them.

Next, as you're doing your judge and contest research, be sure to read the contest rules. I've seen great costumes get pushed from award status because they didn't comply with a strange contest rule about "always enter from the left". It's important to read, and know, the rules of every contest you plan to enter. Some things to note:

- Costumes: What kinds of costumes are allowed? Also, what kind of costumes are prefered?
For example, it's understood that a Star Wars costume contest is Star Wars costumes only. Even if there's no rule against Star Trek costumes, fans and judges will probably be confused by your costume entry and score you lower, either because they're insulted by your entry or because they just don't know enough about it compared to the costumes that fit the genre. I see this very often at DragonCon, where there are about 20 different costume contests over the 4 days. Quite often you will see the same person, in the same costume, entering a lot of them. As a judge, I can tell you that entering your costume in lots of contests doesn't increase your chances of winning. Your comic book character doesn't belong in the Klingon contest, even if they don't specifically ban it in the rules.

- Effects: Will there be sound allowed? How about lights? Can you use a microphone?
This is important if you're planning a skit. For example, if no light effects are mentioned you should ask before planning on having a blackout. Light-up costumes won't be visible under full stage lights, but would be better if the lights can be dimmed for part of the skit, and will be barely noticeable on a stage with regular hotel lighting. If you plan on having speaking in your skit, either use a microphone or pre-record your speaking over your music. Speaking from stage NEVER works, and will leave the people at the back of the room bored with your skit because they can't hear it. Bored people can, at best, not clap at your skit, giving a good skit a ho-hum reaction, and at worst they can boo, make denegrating comments, and be a nuisance. So do yourself a favor, pre-record all your audio. While you're recording your audio, try to find out what the masque will be using to play it. It's a bad day for you if you show up with a casette tape and all they can play is CDs. Even if they are using CDs, find out if they should be MP3 format, or audio formatted. Some MP3 disks won't play on audio players. In general, if the cheapest $10 CD player will play your CD, anything will, so it might be worth it to invest in a cheapo.

- Stage: What size is the stage? Where are the entrances and exits? Will there be a runway? What is the stage made out of? Where will the judges sit?
All of these are important to plan out a skit. Your skit can't use a runway if there won't be one. You can try to cram 30 people into a 10x4' stage, but it won't be pretty. Having the only entry and exit through the audience makes it hard to plan for a suprise character entrance. Finding out what the stage is made of helps to plan what you can do on it. For example, a stage made of risers in a hotel isn't going to be very good for 20 people doing Stomp because you might fall through. A real stage, though, has its own problems. It can be very deep and large, and seem to swallow a single person entry. Find out where the judges will sit, if possible, so that you can make sure they see your costume. Also, pay attention to what level the judges will be on, and pay attention to the parts of your costume that are on that level. If the judges are in the balcony the top of your head should be styled and neat. If they're sitting on the same level as you pay attention to your makeup and upper torso. If they're sitting at knee level make sure your shoes match your costume. And if they're sitting below foot level (common for judges sitting in the audience of a stage) find out what your costume looks like from below and make sure you're not flashing your undergarments (or lack thereof).

Now that your research is done, go back to your original work. Why do you want to enter this contest? Is it because you want to make the audience laugh, show off your painstaking workmanship, or do a tribute to your favorite character? Now you have to tailor your presentation to your purpose. First, sit down with a piece of paper and write down your purpose in BIG LETTERS on the top. Then list off everything your presenation has to complete that purpose. Here are some general thoughts for each category:

Audience appreciation: Funny or clever punchlines, neat plots, coreography, and cultural references always get a good reaction.

Costume workmanship: Write this like you would write a making-of-the-costume website. Put down what patterns you used, what kinds of fabrics and supplies, and how you went about things. Note if you had any help from anyone, and what parts they helped with.

Character tribute: Put down why you like the character, what's so great about them, and how you plan to look, and act like them.

Now you can use your purpose sheet to tailor your presentation so that the judges see what you want them to see. Here are my general recommendations for how to do that with each category:

Audience appreciation: Practice. Practice a lot. Practice with an audience. If your purpose is to please the general audience and not just the Naruto fans present, try to practice with an audience that doesn't know what Naruto is. See if you can find someone who's not a close friend and practice in front of them. If possible, do it in a place with approximately the same lighting, and tape out the stage size on the floor to make sure you're positioned right, and sit them where the judges would sit. Then give them a big sign, foam hand, or bell, something noticeable. Practice your skit and tell them to ring the bell, wave the hand, or whatever, when they're bored. That's your signal, you should do something new 2 seconds before they put up the sign. You'll be suprised how little time you have before someone is bored or confused. Onstage, bored or confused judges will stop paying attention to you and start picking on your costume in their heads. Audience members will start talking to their neighbors, which distracts more people and makes the clapping polite, not happy. In general, something new should happen every 20 seconds, MINIMUM. More often is even better. Someone should enter, someone should turn around to show the back of their costume, there should be a punchline, an interaction, or an exciting new body movement going on almost constantly. You'll probably find out you really shouldn't lipsync that whole song, just the first verse, or even just the chorus. Leaving the audience wanting more is fifty times better than leaving them slightly bored. You can always do an encore in the halls for adoring fans :D

Costume workmanship: The key to this one is figuring out what is new and exciting about your costume. This doesn't have to be new and exciting to everyone, just you. For example, if you are most proud of your hoopskirt because it is the first time you've made one/best one you've ever done/used a new acid-based inflatible balloon polymer then be sure that's on your list. Pay special attention to the things that YOU are the most excited about, not what you think will impress the judges the most. Judges are much more impressed by your enthusiasm than they are about what you think they will like. While you're at it, list off all the flaws you know the costume has. Come on, you know we all catalog these while making costumes. Now, once they're listed, make yourself a pact to NOT mention these in front of the judges. If they ask about it, fine, but don't tell them about your flaws before they see them. I've had plenty of instances where I didn't know the character being presented to me, yet the costumer started off their presentation by listing everything that was wrong with their costume and why it was that way. IF THEY DON'T ASK don't tell them!!! The judges may not remember that sash was light yellow and not light green, and if they do they will probably ask about why you changed it, and you can tell them then. Also think about how you can prove your claims to the judges. Some things, like a good fit and new techniques, are self-evident, but proving that you look exactly like the character is hard if the judge doesn't know the series or source material. Think about what angles are the best and worst on your costume, and try to find pictures of the character with those angles. Reproduce these pictures in triplicate to bring to the judges.

Character tribute: Put down why you like the character, what's so great about them, and how you plan to look, and act like them. Include how the character walks, talks, stands, sits, express happiness, sadness, grief, boredom, and other emotions. You are, in effect, an actor researching your character. See about checking out books from the library on how actors prepare a role. Do some searches on the net for questions writers or roleplayers answer on their character. Then (the hard part ;) ) watch lots of the show/movie or read the books and fill them out. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice in front of friends. Practice is the key :D

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Yet More 15th Ct. Resources

The research continues, so here's more links to great 15th century pages:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stuff Day: Michel Pastoureau's Books

Thursday is Stuff day. Sometimes I'll review a movie. Sometimes it'll be a book, or maybe a cool tool. Sometimes I'll just tell you about something neat I've heard of but haven't had a chance to play with yet. It's the stuff I'm excited about right now!

This week I've been doing a lot of research into both 15th century clothing and 18th century.  In doing this I look at a lot of pictures and illustrations, so you see a lot of the colors people are wearing, but if you're like me you never learn why, which is always important.  I like knowing what people thought about what they wear and why they chose what they did.  These books are great for that.  I love how they tell you great information about what people thought of a color and why you don't see it very often, and why one pattern is more popular than another.  I hope he keeps writing these, I really would like to see a book on red!

Blue: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau
Black: The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau
The Devil's Cloth: A History of Stripes by Michel Pastoureau

(all link to Amazon, where I may be an affiliate (I dunno if it's still active))

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Easiest Documentation

Lots of people freeze up when a contest wants costume documentation. Face it, I wrote enough term papers in high school and college, or maybe still have to write them, and I don't want to write another just for fun. And I feel for you. Really. I too have avoided contests that require documentation because it seems scary. But then I figured out the 10 minute way to write documentation that will please any judge. So sit down, grab a scrap of paper or a napkin, and we'll have good documentation in no time.

Start with a finished (or nearly finished) costume. I know, if you're like me the costume will NEVER be finished and you'll be working up until the day of the contest. But work with me here. The best documentation is of what you've done, not what you're going to do. If necessary print this out and do it in the car ride to the con. Just be sure to do the last step before you leave.

Okay, let's start then. The first question to ask yourself is "What rocks about this costume?" Yup, that's it. What's the one thing that will make you really sad if you forget to tell the judges? If you met someone in the hall and they only had time to ask one question, what would you want it to be? In short, in your opinion what's the greatest thing about what you've done? Take a minute to think about it, then write that thing on the top of your card. Take one sentence (30 words or less) to describe why it's the best thing. Is it the first time you've ever tried that technique? Is it different from every other costume you've ever seen? Was it really hard for you to perfect? Whatever it was, simplify it and write it down.

My Edna Mode costume is cool because I had to do lots of math to get the proportions right on the skirt width and length.

Don't worry about it being too simple, because in all the contests I've seen that want documentation you'll have time to talk to the judges about what you've written. You can always give them more information when you talk to them.

Now draw a line across your card/napkin/hotel notepaper. Yup, that's the end of part one. Not so hard, is it?

Next think about everything you eliminated in writing part one. You're going to get slots for three things this time, so all the ones you liked that were close, but not quite winners can be put here. However, now you've got a 15 word limit for each of those things.

The dress is satin that is quilted and supported by hidden hoops.
The sleeves are a base of cotton that is covered with vinyl 'scales'.
The scale proportions were obtained by making mock-ups out of newspaper.

Now draw another line. Part two down! Only one to go! See, this is simpler than you thought!

For the final part you get a little more space. Write down anything you think they'll ask for that you might forget. Start with what pattern you used, if you used one. Write down what fabric the costume is made from. Write down where you bought your wig/sword/shoes, and whether you modified them at all. You only get enough space to fill a 3x5 card, so be stingy. Remember, you'll be there to explain anything written, so if you only need two or three word clues, only write three or four word clues.

The shoes were bought, but I had taps installed to make them sound like the movie character. The leotard is a full bodysuit so that I don't have to worry about wearing an undershirt. I sewed the bottoms of the legs together so that there's no break in the shoe vamp. The wig is bought. I do my hair in a special braid wrap to make the sides stick out more square like the movie. The glasses are costume glasses from a costume shop. The cigarette holder is bought. The newspaper was grabbed just outside the con because I liked it better for stage than the smaller cig holder.

Now, one final thing. And you'll probably want to think about doing this one before the con. Find a color printer. Then find ONE good shot of your character FULL LENGTH. That means you can see his/her head and their feet. The bigger the better. Print it out full-size on an 8x10 sheet of paper. If you've got cool details you've copied exactly then think about printing out smaller pictures of those, but an 8X10 is a minimum. You can't prove to a judge how well you copied a costume without showing them the original. And trust me, after 4 hours of judging people's costumes in a small room you can't even remember what your shoe size is, let alone what that specific character in Naruto looked like. So be kind and print it out for them.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why do Costumes Cost So Much?

If you're here you probably recently suffered from custom seamstress sticker shock. Perhaps you are looking to commission a costume or dress for a special event. Maybe you want a corset or outfit made to your special size and body shape. Whatever the reason you wanted it to be perfect. However, when you emailed around you were quoted prices that seemed outrageous! Where do sewers get off in charging that much?

Honestly, sticker shock is common among first-time commissioning clients. In most cases, however, the price really is justified. This is to help you understand how legitimate stitchers price their creations so that you can understand why they cost so much as well as make you better able to spot a rip off if you encounter one.

First you need to understand that clothing in much of the developed world nowadays is grossly underpriced. Most clothing is sewn in China, where workers are paid an average of $1 a day for their work. Even the lucky few who work in the most elite shops are paid around $5 a day, which is a high standard of living (farm workers make less than .80 a day). Even clothes that are made in the United States are done much cheaper than minimum wage. Workers are not paid by the hour, they are instead 'contract workers' who are paid per piece they complete, often .10-.40 per garment. Even with three or four people working on a garment the labor costs are still minimal. Is this legal? No, not in the United States. These low wages, combined with grueling work hours, make up the infamous stitching sweatshops. Yet they still exist, and even prosper, in the garment industry, even in the United States. In fact, the US Department of Labor estimates that over 50% of garment shops in the US are illegal sweatshops. However there are not enough inspectors and regulators to shut them down, and companies keep hiring for lower and lower prices, encouraging the lawbreakers.

So when you commission a garment what are you paying for? Usually the breakdown is materials and time. You have to pay for all the fabric and tools the stitcher uses to create your outfit, and you have to pay for the time they take to do it. But that's a very generic answer, so we'll breakdown each part.

First, materials. Materials breaks down into two major categories: disposable and permanent. First, the permanent materials. These are everything the stitcher uses to create your garment that they keep after they're done. Things like sewing machines, scissors, pins, needles, and irons are not included in the garment you are given, but they are all necessary for making that garment. Also included in this price is the cost of the building where they are kept, electricity to run them, and materials and repair to maintain them. It's just like when you go to the dentist: your visit cost includes not only the salary paid to the dentist, but the salary paid to his assistant, receptionist, and janitor as well as the cost of the building, the chair you sat on, the magazine you read, and the elevator music you listened to.

Disposable materials are the ones that are used up in your garment. Things like fabric, thread, zippers, snaps, and buttons. These must all be purchased by the stitcher, who then passes the costs on to you. Also, these materials are not as cheap as WalMart's materials. They may be the exact same items, but when a stitcher buys four yards of cotton in a fabric store they are paying much more per yard than WalMart did when they bought 80000 yards for their clothing. Same with the buttons, zippers, snaps, and thread: bulk buys get discounts, and you are paying because the stitcher only needs a few.

Another large category in disposable materials is the outfit's pattern. Every garment that is made must have a pattern. Commercial sewing patterns today start at $15-20 each. They can be had for cheaper at sales, but even then they rarely fit correctly and the stitcher must alter them to fit. If there is no pattern the stitcher must come up with one, and then instead of paying for the pattern you are paying the stitcher for their time.

When talking about the stitcher's time there's more to it than just dollars per hour. The price per hour comes from an assessment of the stitcher's education, experience, and skill.

First is education. Yes, you're paying for the education of your stitcher. The same as jobs that require college educations pay more than those that just require high school diplomas. You are paying for how your stitcher learned to sew, the time, effort, and expense it cost them, how much they learned, and how well they learned it. This also doesn't just mean formal education. Stitchers that read books and magazines on their trade, who go to trade shows and browse internet sites, and who keep up with the latest techniques are more likely to know tricks that will make your garment fit better, sew faster, or use less materials, and you're paying less for them knowing it than you would have on wasted materials, which is saving you money.

Second is experience. When you pay your stitcher's experience you're paying them for completing your garment correctly and on time. When a project is first started a lot of time is spent in figuring out how to do something. When a stitcher is experienced in making something it eliminates this time, saving you the costly per-hour fee. You're also paying for their experience in working with a sewing machine, serger, rotary cutter, and any other special materials used in your garment, because the longer you do something the faster you get, and you waste less material in doing it.

Finally, you are paying for skills. There are many skills associate with sewing. You are paying not only for the stitcher to know how to put a needle through fabric, but how to use the tools associated with sewing and any other special skills the stitcher has. For instance pattern drafting or draping is a special skill that takes time to learn. A beginner will take a lot of time to make an improperly fitted garment that requires alteration, while an experienced pattern maker will take less time and be more likely to get it right the first time, saving you money spent on that time. Specific skills such as millinery, corsetry, and shoemaking are skills that you pay extra for because not every stitcher knows how to do them correctly and in a short amount of time.

Stitchers factor all this in when quoting you a price (or they should if they want to stay in business).   If you want something designed specially for you that will need to be added in as well.  The best thing you can do to help yourself out is to educate yourself.  Go to a fabric store or surf fabric stores on the internet and see how much fabric really costs.  Ask your stitcher to provide you with a breakdown of their charges and look at them critically (and yes, there's a difference between critically and nit-picky, don't attempt to barter the sections down).  Most importantly get quotes from another source and compare them.  And remember, if you want quality you have to pay for it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Progress Update: October 21

Did a lot of research this week, but only sewed on Thing 1's Halloween costume:

It needs to be hemmed, the lower sleeves need to be added, then I need to glue a ton of "sparkles" and get it in the mail, then start on a dinosaur.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Burgundian Research

I spent the day doing some crazy research and starting documentation for my Costume Con 32 Historical Entry.  I'm doing a 1460-70's English group, so men and women both.  Right now, though, I'm concentrating on women.  Here's a link-spam of my research today:

Saturday, October 19, 2013

How to Run a Small Costume Contest

I've decided to re-post some of the tutorials over on my LiveJournal so they can get reworked.  Here's the second.

How to Run a Small Costume Contest

AKA: What's the Bare Minimum I Need?

So you want to run a small costume contest at your con. Maybe you don't have the space for a full Masquerade. Maybe you just want a contest for your track/fandom/interest group. But where to draw the line as to what's needed and what isn't? Hopefully this article will help you organize your thoughts some and help you organize the awesome contest you've been dreaming of.

First every contest needs rules. Yes, even yours. Rules allow everyone helping you out to determine what is and isn't allowed without bugging you about it every 10 seconds. Here are some rule categories you should consider covering:

How much will you allow? How much is too much? Yes, even if it is an NC-17 contest, if you're charging to get in (to the con OR to your little contest) you should check to see if you're covered by public entertainment laws on nudity and conform to them or risk getting yourself and your contestants arrested.

Which ones are covered by the contest? How much crossover is allowed? You'd be suprised at how a clueless Trekkie/Stormtrooper/Anime/Furry/Comic/Whathaveyou character will want to enter your Star Trek/Star Wars/Cosplay/Furry/Comic/Whathaveyou contest. Have a rule in place as to what you'll allow, or someone will sneak through and make the audience say WTF?

-Bought Costumes
Have a hard and fast ruling on bought costumes. Are they allowed? What if only part was bought? What if it was bought from a thrift store then changed by the entrant? Giving your staffers rulings ahead of time prevents drama.

-Costume Stuff
Will you allow any costume? How about the fairy that's throwing glitter everywhere? Who's going to vacuum afterward? How about the guy that's covered in peanut butter, glopping all over the floor (yeah, it's a famous story, google it). How about people throwing things into the audience? Set a limit or you'll be left cleaning up the mess.

Next you need to decide on prizes, both what you'll award and what you'll give to winners. First decide what kind of things you want to award. Is your contest for well made costumes, great skits, crowd favorites, or a combination of the above? Even if you want to say it'll be even, it never will, so decide now what's most important for the winners to have. This helps you pick the right judges and advertise to the right crowd. You also need to decide what you'll give the winners. JMO, ribbons with nothing printed on them or blank certificates where prizes can be filled in are better than dictating awards. Especially at a small contest you can try to give a 'Best Child' award, but if no children enter you're stuck with a ribbon you can't use. If you have access to a computer and printer consider making up a template and printing out awards as the judges decide. Also, decide if you'll be giving honorable mentions, and how many prizes total you will give out. It's rather obvious and disheartening when you give out 6 awards in a contest that had 8 entries, and the 2 that didn't get an award are going to be more heartbroken than if you only gave out one prize. I recommend not allowing more than half the contestants to get awards. Consider how much space and time you have and determine how many entries you can handle from that. Too many entries can wreck a contest even more than too few.

Next your contest needs judges. Your judges should really be tailored to your award emphasis. Try to get experienced costumers to judge a contest for well-made costumes, and great skit people or guest actors for skit-centric contests. If you want audience favorites, consider letting the audience decide. If at all possible don't rely on applause, though. If your audience and number of contestants are small enough you can give each audience member a token, colored toothpick, or other small item and have them put them in jars/tissueboxes/whathaveyou to vote for their favorites. It's also better if the jars/boxes/whatever are closed and opaque, or you might get hurt feelings from Joe's friends who tell him he only had two tokens in his box. Also, you can give prizes to first, second, and third using the counts, or you can use this to give an 'audience favorite' award in addition to awards given by judges. Final note on judges - odd numbers rarely have ties.

Next determine your resources. Will you have a stage? How about a cd player or sound system? Do you have an MC or announcer? Is that person NOT you? It really shouldn't be, because you have too much to do, and leaving the big decisions during the event to your staff is cruel. Consider how much space and time you have and determine how many entries you can handle from that. Too many entries can wreck a contest even more than too few. Consider how much space you have. Contestants need somewhere to sit, minimum. Making them stand the entire time in a back hallway makes for unhappy contestants. They can sit in the audience, but then you have to rope off your best seats, or you'll delay the contest by the contestants coming from the back. How much time do you have? Skits take time. Presentation time, setup time, and judging time. If you don't have a lot of time consider not judging skits, just costume workmanship, and consider having the judges work without the audience (during a social hour or break in the schedule), then pull all the contestants on stage at one time for the audience to look over as you announce winners. Takes very little stage time, and contestants are happy they got to talk to judges personally. Also, provide your judges with some paper to write on. A judging form is nice if you expect more than 20 contest entries, but not necessary. While you're thinking of forms, make up an entry form, too.

Finally, figure out your staff requirements. You should have one door guard to the contestant area pre-contest. One person should be in the contestant room before and during the contest to answer contestant questions and line them up in order. If you have an announcer/MC they can go around ahead of the contest and collect names/announcements. Provide them with a stack of index cards and a bundle of pencils/pens. Have someone to keep track of the order people go onstage and help line up groups during the contest and escort them to stage. Have a judges' assistant if you have more than one to take their award list and organize them for the MC. If you're doing an audience vote have a staffer to guard the jars/boxes/whatever. Above all, try for none of these people to be you so that you are free for the major emergencies. If there are none just help out where you are needed in a place where all your staff can find you.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tips for First-Time Judges

I've decided to re-post some of the tutorials over on my LiveJournal so they can get reworked.  Here's the first.

 Tips for First-Time Judges

-Find out if there will be a judging form. If so, try to get a copy ahead of time so you can read and understand it. If not, bring a pen and pad of paper, and invent a notation system so that you can write quickly and still remember what it means.

-Get a copy of the Masquerade rules. Read them. Understand them. If you have any questions, ask the MD for clarification. The rules are a great key into the thinking of the MD and the kind of contest they are running.

-Find out if there will be a judges' briefing. If not, email the MD. Find out what kind of things they want rewarded (good costumes with an OOC presentation over a great skit with bad costumes is a good example). Also find out if there will be pre-judging, and if so, how much time you have for each slot. Ask for a rough estimate on how much time there will be for judges' deliberation after the contest before awards need to be given. Find out what awards are expected to be given, and whether or not there are miscellaneous awards or smaller prize items available if you feel the need to reward more. Find out what the MD's expectations for the masquerade are. A good question to ask - Why did you pick me? That tells you what skills you have that the MD saw and wanted to use. For example, if it's because - You make awesome fursuits - that means the MD wanted you to judge construction. That doesn't mean he doesn't want you to look at stage presentation, but it gives a clue to where he wants you to emphasize.

-During judging, keep track of time or appoint someone to do it for you. Take a note of the impression of every costume - one you dismiss may be brought up by your fellow judges, and it helps discussion to note why you dismissed it. Also remember that dismissing costumes is part of your job. At least half of the costumes in the contest will not get awards, and trying to fit every one into a category only increases the time you will spend deliberating and the frustration of the deliberation discussions. Don't be afraid to ask your other judges for advice, but also don't be afraid to offer up your own opinion, even if the other judges have years of experience over you. You were chosen to judge because of your own merits, and your opinion is just as useful as anyone else's. A good judge is aware that they have prejudices and gaps in their understanding. For example, I am totally in awe of Mechas, because I've never done one and have no clue how to start. A Mecha maker, however new, can look at a Mecha costume much more objectively than I can, and know how well it was made because they understand the techniques. Also, even if you share or overlap specialties, one set of eyes can only look at one place on the stage at a time. Don't be afraid to speak up about something you caught that no one else did.

-If there is a pre-judging session, try to refrain from setting out all the awards before the stage session. In fact, I encourage no deliberation time whatsoever between pre-judging and the stage show. If there's a break, find some friends who are NOT judges and go eat. If your mind is made up for the stage show you'll pay less attention, and you may miss a great entry that deserves to be bumped up just because you'd already determined who would win.

-During the stage show, try to take every entry seriously. They put the time and effort into making or obtaining their costumes, practicing, and getting onstage in front of an audience. Even if the skit is 10 minutes long and you are bored out of your mind appear to be paying attention. If you must, write notes to keep yourself engaged. Keep in mind that 'joke' entries are just as eligible for awards as other entries, and they deserve equal consideration if they have the same evidence of skill.

-Before you get to the con, determine if you will give feedback or not. Contestants will ask you what you think, so have an answer ready. For example, when I'm asked for feedback I tell the asker that I don't discuss entries at a con, then hand them my card and tell them to email me in a week or so. I do this because I've found that with a week's reflection any passions, on either end, have cooled and I am more able to look at any entry objectively. Knowing this answer ahead of time makes it easier when asked on the fly. Also, keep in mind that it is acceptable to talk to an entrant about your impressions of their entry, but only that. It is not acceptable to talk to an entrant about another entry, even to compare that entry to the entrant's. It is also not acceptable to repeat anything that was said in the judging room, or to give opinions for other judges. If the entrant wants the opinion of another judge, they can go ask them. Watch out for this, it can be really tempting to say "I thought you were great but the other judges voted no" but that's putting the other judges in a very bad position (and possibly setting them up for a very charged confrontation).  Give only your own impression and suggestions for improvement. Also, don't be afraid to ask for a picture of the entrant's costumes to jog your memory. They should understand that you saw a lot of people in a short amount of time, and faces were low on the list to remember.

-WARNING- a lesson learned the hard way. Find out at the judges' meeting what will be done with the judging sheets. If a staffer collects them and throws them out, either make sure it's a person you trust implicitly or else follow them to the trach can. Or keep your own sheets and throw them out yourself. Don't throw them in the deliberation room trash can. If possible, find a dumpster a block over. Or keep them to throw away at home. You can't imagine what kind of drama comes from entrants finding the judging sheets in the trash after the contest and then posting scans of them on the con's message board.

-Finally, be courteous. Don't make fun of entrants, even in the judging room. Don't use slurs on contestants, present or not, or on your fellow judges. Remember that you're critiquing the entries, and that is your job, but not the anime/movie/tv show/comic/etc. that the costume is from. The only time it is acceptable to discuss the medium is when there is a question whether the medium falls within allowable entries under the rules, and that question should be immediately forwarded to the MD for a ruling, not the judges (judges should never disqualify an entry, that is the MD's job ONLY). Try to judge an entry for its own merit, not your like/dislike of the medium. Also, be courteous. Be on time. Try to keep the judging on time. Be nice to your staffers and helpers. Last, if any of the rules, MD's expectations, or con traditions don't jive with your outlook or experience, it's ok to say no. If you feel you need to say no, the earlier the better for the MD's sanity.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dog Costumes

My SO has been taunting me with Halloween and the fact that I now have a little one (dog) of my own to dress up.  As I research dog costumes I decided to leave you with some of my funner research: examples of geeky dog costumes.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New Video Up!

Just posted one of the videos I've been working on.  This one is a vid of examples of my work.

Want to learn to make costumes like this? Support my Indiegogo campaign:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thank Yous!

Thanks a ton to MellyMel and Heather for donating to my Indiegogo campaign.  Slowly but surely we'll get there!

Haven't donated yet?  Support my Indiegogo campaign:  If you can't donate please share and let people know!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday Progress Update: October 14

Halloween is getting closer, and so are the two costumes I'm making for my niece and nephew:

My niece wants a purple Twilight Sparkle princess dress with pink and silver sparkles.  Here's the bodice for it.  It will have a big split skirt with an underskirt of the center satin and lots of 'sparkles' all over it.

My nephew's dinosaur costume hasn't gotten as far yet.  It's cut out, but not sewn yet.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Since I'm doing a male cosplay soon I decided to invest in some real bust binders.  My previous male cosplay, Napoleon, involved a binder I made myself out of 6" elastic, hook and eye tape, and plastic imitation whalebone.  It ends up riding up and the bones dig into my underarm, so this time I went for some more comfortable options.  I purchased these from

First off, in my regular bra:

And a sports bra, which I've seen recommended:

Here's the Super Strength Velcro Short Binder:

 The High Performance Velcro Short Binder:

And the Strapless Velcro Binder:

 They're all very comfortable, and have a great result.  I'm looking to get a compression shirt to wear over the last one, just to reduce the issue of side-boob under the arm, but in all I'm pretty happy with all of them, and I'll be putting the others into my kimono kit so I can wear kimono more comfortably!

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Working on a few different tutorial ideas:

How to start a costume, from picture to sewing
How to draft bust cups
Devore velvet
Resist dyeing
Discharge dyeing
Gradient dyeing
Airbrush basics

What would you like to see?


Thanks to Kelly, Nancy, and Janice for their support of my Indiegogo campaign!

If you haven't donated, you can do so here:

If you can't donate, please share the link and spread the word!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bias Binding Tutorial - Version 3

Bias binding is a nice, clean way to finish an edge.  You can use matching fabric or contrasting for a different look.  There's three major ways to do it, so in the next few days I'll be showing you all three versions.  This third version is a little bulkier than the other two, but it's often used in quilting to provide a firm fold.

Version 3: Folded

Start by cutting a strip of bias that is six times the width you want your final bias to be (yes, six, not four like the other two).  So in order to get the same 1/2" binding I need to cut a 3" strip of satin.  My favorite way of doing this is with a rotary cutter, but employ your own favorite way of cutting continuous bias, there are a ton of ways out there.  If your bias is not long enough for your edge piece strips together to get one long enough.  Once you have a strip cut fold it in half wrong sides together and press.

 Pin the raw edges of your folded bias strip flush with the raw edge of your fabric.

Sew the strip down.  The width of your seam allowance will be the width of your final bias binding, in this case 1/2" seam allowance equals 1/2" bias binding.  Open the seam, seam allowances to the bias tape side, and press open.  Then fold the bias around to the back and press, then pin in place.  The bias should just barely cover the seam.

From here you can finish the bias tape either by stitching in the ditch like you did for Version 1 or by slipstitching by hand like you did in Version 2.  This method renders a sturdier, more durable edge that is bulkier than the other methods:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thank Yous!

Much Thanks to Erica, James, and Star for contributing to my Indiegogo on its opening day! You make my dreams possible!

For those of you who'd like to contribute, go here:

Stuff Day: Bias Tape Maker

Thursday is Stuff day. Sometimes I'll review a movie. Sometimes it'll be a book, or maybe a cool tool. Sometimes I'll just tell you about something neat I've heard of but haven't had a chance to play with yet. It's the stuff I'm excited about right now!

Today's Stuff Day entry is a tool: a Bias Tape Maker!  Plus a video showing you how to use it:

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bias Binding Tutorial - Version 2

Bias binding is a nice, clean way to finish an edge.  You can use matching fabric or contrasting for a different look.  There's three major ways to do it, so in the next few days I'll be showing you all three versions.  The second requires some handwork but presents a fully-finished look with little excess bulk.

Version 2: Hand-Stitched

Start the same way you did for version 1: by cutting a bias strip of fabric 4x the width you want the final binding to be.  For instance, I like 1/2" binding on my corsets so I cut 2" strips.  My favorite way of doing this is with a rotary cutter, but employ your own favorite way of cutting continuous bias, there are a ton of ways out there.  If your bias is not long enough for your edge piece strips together to get one long enough.

Place your bias tape on the edge you're going to finish with the right side down.  Pin it in place with the edge flush to the raw edge of the fabric.

Sew the strip down.  The width of your seam allowance will be the width of your final bias binding, in this case 1/2" seam allowance equals 1/2" bias binding.

Press open the seam you just made with all the seam allowance toward the bias tape side.  Then fold the bias tape over and press again.  Finally fold under the edge of the bias tape so that you have a clean fold on the inside and press.  With this method it isn't important that the fold cover the seam.

Using a needle and thread slipstitch or blind hem the bias tape folded edge to the fabric.  In the case of a corset with multiple layers try to hide the stitch length in the fold of the bias or between the two layers of fabric and be sure to only catch the inside layer with your stitch so that your stitches cannot be seen from the outside.


Secret plan going public time! For almost a decade now I've had this idea of doing costuming videos. It started as "someone should do this" and eventually morphed from "I should do this" to "I HAVE to do this". So what is it? I want to produce a series of topical videos about costuming. Kinda like Good Eats, each episode would concentrate on science and techniques, not projects you won't be motivated to finish. It'll have information for everyone, from beginners to advanced users who want to learn the why of things they do. I've been hard at work these past few months putting together a business, budget, and business plan as well as lining up topics and starting on scripts and storyboards.

Sound cool? You can help! I'm funding the first season through Indiegogo here: Please donate a few dollars, and share it with your friends!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bias Binding Tutorial - Version 1

Bias binding is a nice, clean way to finish an edge.  You can use matching fabric or contrasting for a different look.  There's three major ways to do it, so in the next few days I'll be showing you all three versions.  The first is a quick, easy way to do bias tape that requires some precision with the machine but saves a lot of handwork.

Version 1: Stitch in the Ditch

Start by cutting a bias strip of fabric 4x the width you want the final binding to be.  For instance, I like 1/2" binding on my corsets so I cut 2" strips.  My favorite way of doing this is with a rotary cutter, but employ your own favorite way of cutting continuous bias, there are a ton of ways out there.  If your bias is not long enough for your edge piece strips together to get one long enough.

Take your bias tape and pin one edge flush with the edge of the fabric you're binding.  I know it looks ripply here, I'm not sure why that is, but make it flat and smooth on the face of the fabric.

Sew down the strip.  The width of your seam allowance will be the width of your final bias binding (in this case 1/2").

Fold the bias tape over the edge of the fabric to the back.  Then fold the seam allowance in to the fabric, leaving a smooth fold on the back of the fabric that is longer than the seam from the other side (this is key.  Back must be minutely longer than front for this method to work).  Press and pin in place.

Using your machine, sew the front of the fabric along the line where the bias tape folds.  Don't stitch on the bias tape, stitch the fabric right where the bias tape ends (that's why this is called "stitch in the ditch").  If you did it right when you are finished the bias tape on the back will be barely caught by the second seam, and the seam in the front will sink into the shadow created by the bias tape and be virtually invisible.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Progress Update: October 7th

I've mostly worked on my Halloween corset this week.  It's sewn together, boning channels on, and one side is bound.  It's ready to be boned and bound on the other side, then grommetted and it's done!

Up this week: curtains for my living room, finishing the corset and starting a skirt, a dinosaur costume and a Twilight Sparkle costume.  Not necessarily in that order.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


What makes something "go" together?  I've been thinking about this for a while now.  Color matching and choice is a lot of what you do as a costumer.  Sometimes it's finding that perfect shade that's depicted in art.  Other times the art is black and white and you get to do color choices yourself.  In those cases I have a set of markers and I do a lot of scribbling different combinations until I come up with what I like.  My Lady of Lanterns dress recently was one of those; I had six drawings until I was happy with the color combinations.

Now I've come back to it again as I'm working on a quilt.  Unlike my last venture, which was monotone, this time I'm working in blue and yellow.

It took us a long time to find a yellow that matched the teal-and-blue combination we had going.  Even in picture you can't get good color reality, the middle fabric is actually a teal. A lot of yellow has been leached out of that picture.

Which I think leads to the true problem with color: you never know quite how it's going to react in a given circumstance.  It's especially hard to predict how stashed lights with colored gels are going to make a fabric look.  A rosy color wash that brings out a skin tone can turn a nice green muddy.  A golden sunrise effect can render a red orange.  With stage sometimes you can work with lighting designers and make corrections ahead of time, but that's not always possible.  Especially with Masquerades you've got to do your best and hope it turns out ok because there's no time to change things after dress rehearsal.  It's a note of how good the tech is at many masquerades because they often manage somehow to make everyone look amazing no matter what color and fabric they're wearing.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Question for the Masses

Busy trying to write an article tonight.  It's on Costuming as Art.  Feel free to discuss, do you think Costuming/Cosplay is art?  Why or why not?