How do I Cosplay?? Third installation: Materials

How do I Cosplay?? Third installation: Materials

At last, the long awaited third installment! YAY! (Picture muppets flailing here)

Now, I love getting things on the cheap. I live partly on Army disability (Hooah, and all that junk) and a part-time costuming job (which is the coolest job ever!) but I in no way make zillions of dollars. That being said, I want you to remember my favorite cliché.


I can hear someone saying “but I found ____ for ____…” ZIP IT! There are always exceptions. We get it. Occasionally, if you are very lucky, you will be planning a cosplay at the perfect time of the year to get exactly what you want for cheap. But then there is the rest of the time. And the rest of the time might mean paying a little extra for that item that will really make your costume SING.

There are some things you can’t go cheap on. Your costume will fall apart because you used hot-glue instead of sewing and reinforcing with wire, or the way you want a fabric to drape won’t happen because you purchased broadcloth instead of silk. The quality wig will be thicker, more realistic, and will probably be able to have some styling too, rather than the cheap one that is slowly shedding all over your house, costume, and everything else.

Only YOU can decide which corners to cut in a costume. Some things only you will see! But then there are those costumes where there is nothing to hide, and everyone will KNOW. Especially if you are wanting to compete! Give yourself enough time to accumulate those materials slowly, and it won’t break the bank. But if you’ve left something to last minute, don’t be surprised if you are losing gemstones or your collar refuses to stand up the way you want it to. Some things you learn only be testing materials, and you need to give yourself time to do that. TIME MANAGEMENT! My Harley costume was an intense 30-40 hours of actual hands-on work, but months in planning and accumulating materials, plus makeup and material tests. (AND I STILL HAD A MELT-DOWN! WOO!)

So where do I go for materials? I don’t compete, so if I want to pull off a costume, I try finding clothing that can fit a costume at my local thrift stores first. The photo above is me as a sexy version of the Mad-Hatter for a group costume, and the orange coat I’m wearing was one of those amazing lucky finds for $5.00. That won’t always happen, but serendipity is a beautiful thing. If you are competing though, you will want to make as much of that costume yourself as you can. (Please, PLEASE give credit to the folks that you get to help you on the pieces you don’t make yourself. It is important to honor the people that the judges don’t see!)

I hit local fabric store’s second, especially if I haven’t found a dress or other item that I need as a foundation outfit that I can alter. I pour over patterns, and find one with a silhouette that is as close to what I want as possible. If there are no patterns that fit what I want, I search online to see if someone else has done the costume, and if there is a tutorial or ideas on how to do it. I am one of those people that find it very hard to visualize and make patterns without a guide. If you can draw up your own patterns, go for it! I am not one of those folks. I combine patterns, change them, add to them, whatever I have to do to get the result I want. When I did Harley, I cut the pieces meant for folds with a bit of extra on one side instead, because of the half red/half black look I was going for. When you alter, take into account how it may change the size of the garment. You may want to invest in some cheap fabric that you can test a pattern on before you cut into the fabric that cost you $15-50 a yard.

My next step is wandering my fabric/craft store and touching all the fabrics. Go ahead. Do it. They may stare at you after a couple hours of picking up each bolt and draping it around you, but if they are asking 10 dollars or more a yard, test that sucker in the store. If the people that work there know your name, so much the better. You can buy fabrics online too, so if you find something you love inside a store, but its honestly outside of your price range, don’t be afraid to wait and search online for it. You can find fabric on Etsy, Ebay, Craig’s list, and lots of fabric specific sites. There are even sites that will MAKE a fabric for you, if you send them a picture of the pattern you want! HOW BOUT THAT??? Check out:, they have some amazing prints, as well as taking custom orders. Be careful of copyrighted images though, buy licensed fabrics when they are available.

I do historical re-enactment, so I buy natural fabrics like wool, silk, and linen a lot. Linen I buy at or at local fabric stores when it is on sale. One of the suit companies near me has a yearly dock sale and sells remnants, I was able to find yards and yards of wool for cheap! Search your area for outlet fabric locations like that. Silk is great from, but there are usually at least basic colors available at your local fabric stores.

Don’t forget your other materials for sewing. Thread, zippers, buttons, interfacing, elastic, drawstrings, embroidery floss, yarn, rope, polyfil stuffing… there are so many different things you can use in a costume. Sit with your pattern and write a list down before you go to the store, you don’t want to be in the middle of sewing and realize you forgot something! Don’t be afraid to play with new materials, buy small bits of it and play with it. MORE TESTING! YAY! (And you thought you were done with school…) There are some materials (Like the skirt I made out of cards) that have nothing to do with cloth. You can do amazing things with cardstock, paper, wire, and more. Find these items at local craft stores.

When I need leather bits, I buy my materials from Tandy’s. Fur (when appropriate, like it is for historical costumes) can be found there too, as well as local taxidermy shops and occasionally private sellers who raise animals for that purpose. I try to use faux fur as much as possible in cosplay however, because it is usually easier to clean and keep long-term. Fur and leather, being natural materials, will eventually fall apart. That is the nature of the medium.

Then you start traveling down the paths that I haven’t trodden yet. My favorite instruction manual for armor so far is Kamui Cosplay’s book “The book of Cosplay Armor Making” (a $5 dollar download!) and she has one for painting too! She goes over Worbla and Wonderflex in detail, and since I have not (yet) built armor, I will defer to her expert opinion on the matter. There are also many tutorials online for EVA foam, craft foam, and other materials.

I will tell you reader, paint in cosplay is its own adventure. There are so many types! For painting my gladiator shoes for my Harley Costume, Kryolan’s vinyl paint worked wonderfully, didn’t rub off onto the bottoms of my feet during my 10 hours wearing them (they were sandals and my costuming partner Joey painted the entire shoe) or flake off of places where the straps bent when I walked. GLORIOUS! Keeping materials in mind, it is important to read labels whenever you are buying paint, and when you can get samples, do so, and test test test! if you are painting vacuum-formed plastic, buy plastic-bonding paint! It won’t flake off or crack like regular spray paint will on the more flexible plastic pieces. I also recommend clear top-coats for armor and modding weapons (Nerf guns look so much cooler when they aren’t neon orange). When you seal it the paint won’t rub off on your palms or the rest of your costume, as well as lasting longer in general.

I think I’ve beaten this dead horse to death. hehehe. Just remember, give yourself enough time to order hard-to-find-locally materials and TEST! Use coupons whenever possible! Borrow from friends when appropriate! Goodluck on your quest for the perfect materials, and stay tuned for the next installment, which covers the equipment I use!

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