I’ve been making Halloween costumes for many years and have had an interest in cosplay for a while. This year I finally debuted a costume at my first convention, GenCon, to great personal success and the satisfaction of at least 2 extremely happy teenages who ran up to me thrilled to see a favorite character brought to life. If you’re a maker like me who likes to try many things, cosplay is a genius (and slightly sneaky) way to try your hand at a variety of crafts all under the umbrella of costuming.

What is cosplay?

Wikipedia defines Cosplay at “is a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character.” Sometimes people like to role-play as the character they’re dressed as, but it’s not an expected part of participating in cosplay. Although anime characters are the best known form of cosplay, characters from movies, TV shows, and games are also popular.

Usually cosplayers make part or all of their costumes, which is why it is such a great hobby for the distractible maker. Any one costume may call upon skills in sewing, modeling, woodworking, painting, 3D printing and more. As a group cosplayers are very creative and often come up with ingenious ways to make a prop or costume very accurate despite not having the resources of a movie studio or the ability to subvert reality, a la animation.

The Making of “Willow”

As an example, my cosplay for GenCon was Willow from the video game Don’t Starve. My husband dressed as my counterpart, Wilson. I sewed parts of each costume, created the prop lighter, and styled the wigs.

Designing/Sewing the Clothes

Sewing is a skill I’m very comfortable with, so I was happy to make some part of Willow’s costume with my sewing machine.

cosplay-gencon2015

Willow’s age is pretty indeterminate, but I think of her outfit as a sort of calf-length school outfit. The button down shirt I purchased (pro tip: don’t try to by a red shirt in October, it’s the “wrong season”), as well as the tights. I already had black boots, but since there isn’t a lot of detail to her footwear, almost any black shoes would do. I focused my sewing attention on Willow’s scribbly skirt.

Willow (c) Klei EntertainmentSince the style of Willow’s skirt is pretty indistinct, my first challenge was to determine if it was meant to represent a pleated skirt or not. If pleated, the skirt might actually be just black, with the white striping just there to indicate the pleats. If not, the skirt probably includes both colors and is striped. As luck would have it, I found a cotton fabric with a sketchy looking pattern on it that was perfectly suggestive of the style. With this fabric on hand, I used Simplicity’s skirt pattern 1369 and lightly pleated the top of the skirt.

Styling the Wig

A new skill for me was cutting and styling a wig; a very valuable skill set if you want to cosplay characters with distinctive hair. Willow in particular is almost unrecognizable without her gravity-defying pigtails.

willowcosplay-2014

To create the right look, I purchased the Buttercup wig from Arda Wigs, roughly cut the bangs, and formed the two pigtails around a clothing hanger bent into a “headband” with two curving U’s on each site. The tutorials from Arda were useful for getting up-do and bangs to look right on a wig that wasn’t designed to be worn up or with bangs.

After sewing the hanger into the inside of the wig, I bulked up each pigtail with a braid first, followed by “gluing” the loose hair around each curving braid. Some careful application of sewing thread helped stabilize the overall style, but by the third night of Halloween parties, I opted to hold the ends of the hair up with small, clear hair ties. The bangs I finished off while the wig was on my head but trimming them to the right length and applying pomade to make them rough and chunky.

After Halloween, the wig was stable enough to store in a plastic bin and be reworn for GenCon.

Modeling Willow’s Firestarter

Willow's_Lighter (c) (c) Klei EntertainmentFinally Willow’s firestarter/lighter was a great opportunity to try a variety of propmaking, painting, papercraft and even 3-D techniques.

I knew that I wanted two things out of Willow’s lighter. One, it had to be scaled for the handle to fit in my hand like it does in the game, and two, it needed to be relatively low tech since I am very new to the propmaking side of cosplay. Since I couldn’t find an similar lighter in the real world, I sketched out the prop and broke it down into the components I thought I would have to purchase or make (body, handle, decorative covering, all the parts of the starter mechanism). Then I got lucky and found the perfect size tea tin at Urban Ore. Armed with the body of the lighter and a drawer handle left over from an old project, I sourced the remaining materials I needed from Joann’s Fabrics and Ace Hardware.

willowslighter-diy

As I was collecting materials, I was stuck on how to recreate the striker mechanism. 3-D printing turned out to be the solution. I used the relatively simple Tinkercad webservice to create the general shape of the striker from several discrete shapes, and had the final object printed. I think I’m pretty lucky it worked out as well as it did, but I’ll definitely use 3-D printing in the future for small, strangely shaped things.

willowslighter-diy02

Finally I just had to paint, assemble and distress the lighter. Since I made the lighter about a week before GenCon, I broke down the process into several simple steps so I knew exactly what needed to be done each step of the way. The final result was convincing and doubled as a small purse (unfortunately too small for my monster cellphone).

Building on Experience

As you can see, building a cosplay is an experiment in a variety of making techniques and activities. While time consuming, the chance to do many things in a single project can help you focus your energy. You can even pick a costume based on the types of craft and assembly you want to practice.

Assembling the Willow cosplay was a super rewarding process, but sharing the final product at GenCon, even just by walking around in costume for most of Saturday, was even better. It’s so nice to have others recognize and appreciate your hard work. Fortunately cosplay keeps getting more popular, so there is a growing community of people to meet, get inspired by, and share with to grow our mutual costuming skills.

If you enjoy costuming and many types of crafting activities, you should take a look at cosplay as an outlet for your creative urges.

A Few Resources

When looking to create a new costume or prop, I spend a lot of time searching Google and YouTube. However these are a few of the resources I come back to time and time again for cosplay inspiration and DIY guidance. Share you favorites in the comments below.