Five Tips for Costume and Cosplay Sewing

McCall's costume patterns

At this time of year we’ve got costumes on the brain. Last month we enjoyed a flood of amazing cosplay pictures from San Diego Comic Con, and more pop up every week from conventions around the country. New York Comic Con and Halloween are just around the corner, and if you’re anything like us, you’ve already got piles of fabulous inspiration for your next costume project. But where to begin? Here are our top five tips for cosplay sewing.

1. Fabric is everything

Butterick B6108 early 20th century costume pattern

Finding the right fabric is one of the first and most important steps in building a costume. Start by thinking about your character and the fabrics he or she might wear, whether that’s regal brocades and velvets or rough-and-tumble cottons and linens. Some costumes require fabrics that perform in particular ways: if you’re making a superhero leotard you’ll need a fabric with plenty of stretch in both directions, while a corset needs a strong, rigid fabric to hold everything in place. For other projects, you can browse with an open mind for anything that has the right look and drape.

With costumes it’s especially important to pick materials that will photograph well, so be careful about choosing shiny fabrics as they tend to look harsh in less-than-perfect lighting conditions. And if you’ll be wearing your costume to any summer conventions, try to pick breathable plant-based fibers to avoid overheating. Cotton is very popular thanks to its low cost and availability in a plethora of weaves and colors, while rayon is a good choice if you need something with more drape. Linen tends to be a little more expensive, but is very comfortable to wear and commonly available in coarser weaves that can make it an excellent choice for historical costumes.

2. Don’t skimp on structure

McCall's M6629 steampunk costume pattern

Interfacing, boning, crinoline, buckram, horsehair – structural materials are the bones of an outfit, and they’re absolutely essential for creating dramatic costume silhouettes. The right interfacing can be the difference between a crisp standing collar and a limp flap of fabric. Every ballgown needs a good petticoat or three, and don’t you dare skip the boning on that corset. The back of the pattern envelope will include information about what notions and interfacings you need, but don’t be afraid to try different types and combinations to get the effect you’re looking for.

3. Indulge in the details

McCall's M6911 steampunk pattern

Costume sewing is a great opportunity to break out all the crazy trims and embellishment techniques that would never fit into your everyday wardrobe. I almost never use trims or heavy ornamentation in my everyday clothing, but when it comes to costumes I’ll go all-out and spend days on embroidery or beading. Braids, sequins, and fabric paints are essentials in the cosplayer’s arsenal. Many costumes are more convincing if they look a little lived-in, so a few artful smudges or scuffs wouldn’t go amiss either. Keep swatches of your fabrics in a notebook so you can have them on hand when shopping for embellishments, and always do a sample on scrap fabric first when you’re trying a new decorative or weathering technique.

4. Accessorize

McCall's M6975 steampunk accessories pattern

A fabulously sewn garment is a great start, but it’s the little finishing touches that make a costume outstanding. The right props and accessories will make the whole look feel more detailed and complete, and help to ensure that your character is identifiable and believable. If you have a bit of extra time and fabric, you could even make a coordinated bag to carry all your halloween candy or convention swag. We’ve got patterns for hats, gloves, belts, and bags to get you started, or you may want to try jewelry making, papercrafting, sculpting, or other crafts as well. If you enjoy experimenting with new materials and techniques, this is your chance to develop a new skill or two.

5. The envelope is a starting point

Retro Butterick B6022 princess costume pattern or wedding dress pattern

Our McCall’s and Butterick catalogs have over a hundred different costume patterns to choose from, but don’t worry if you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for. Find something that’s close, then adapt it as needed. Make a copy of the line art and draw your ideas all over it. Imagine the pattern in different fabrics; picture it shorter or longer or with a different neckline; try swapping in a different skirt. Think about layering or combining patterns to create a total look. Or, try browsing outside the costume section: V8858 could be the start of a smashing steampunk look, or Retro Butterick B6022 would make a fabulous gown for your favorite princess. Kwik Sew’s leotard and activewear section is your home base for all things superhero.

Do you have a costume project in the works? Headed to any conventions this year? We’d love to hear what you’re making!

Editor’s note: This post was written by Gillian Conahan, associate editor of Vogue Patterns Magazine. She’s a fantastic sewer and just so happens to be an expert on cosplay sewing techniques. Look for more posts from Gillian in the future.

  1. I’m (and I bet many of you) making Anna and Elsa!

    1. For those of you using McCall’s pattern M7000 for an
      Elsa costume, please note the double notch of the back overlay side seam is incorrectly placed in size 5/6. As well, the overlay is the same length for size 3 through 8. Did not notice this before cutting so back to the material store!

  2. I will be making Elsa! Also Ghostbuster, Luke Skywalker. There are several others my grandson picked out because he loves costumes. He wants two for Halloween and the rest for fun! Oh yeah, also Uncle Sam.

  3. I love that McCalls and Butterick are doing Cosplay patterns and I’d REALLY love to see them publish some patterns based on Japanese Anime and Manga characters or characters based on video games like Attack on Titan. These are extremely popular at Cosplay conventions and if there is a copyright issue, perhaps you could create generic styles from these genres that can be customized. Have a look at AnimeExpo or SakuraCon for ideas. Thanks!

  4. Well I’ve never made a costume from a pattern before, I make handbags from just cutting material and somehow it comes out unique! I purchased the m7000 frozen costume to make for my 5 year old daughter. All im seeing on the patteren is misses s m l xl, not the children sizes. Ive looked through all the directions and I’m helplessly lost any suggestions on how to fix this? Did I buy the wrong one? I’ve already cut out the patteren but have yet to touch the material (thank god). If anyone can help me Please send me a response. Thank you.

    1. Hi Shelly, that pattern does come in two different size ranges and unfortunately it sounds like you might have ended up with the wrong one. It should say on the outside of the envelope whether you have the children’s or misses’ size range. Sorry you were confused, and good luck with your project!

  5. Thank you for your response, I called mccalls and yes this dummy bought and started to cut out the wrong size. Lol! So I went and purchased the correct one and it looks so much better! If anyone needs this pattern in misses size small I have one cheap!!!!

  6. Great tips. I started work on Mellisandre, the red priestess from GOT for me and my friend. I am using as starting point McCalls pattern for Cersei dress but with different shape of sleves and in one case different shape of neckline as we wanted to be same but not exactly same ;).

  7. I am doing a costume from Lord of the Rings and crafting it through different patterns to make it my own. This being my first garment sewn, this is very helpful…

  8. Fantastic experience of learning after reading your outstanding and informative blog. I really enjoy your aesthetic taste. Thanks for sharing and invite you to have look my blog page too, Churidar Neck Designs.

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