Ever thought about a Star Wars-esque cosplay of Queen Amidala in one of her ornate, over-the-top, regal outfits? Perhaps a The Emperor’s New Groove’s Kuzco costume is more your speed. Or, maybe you have an OC that has some awesome millinery, but you’re just not sure how or where to get started on such a project. Well, hopefully this tutorial will be of some assistance!
This summer’s productions have taken me a little out of my comfort zone as a costume designer, which is great in the long run, as it helps me to build and develop new skills. Plus, with the amount of trial-and-error that occurred, my projects also taught me a lot about what doesn’t work, which, while frustrating at the time (for myself and the people assisting me), is beneficial going forward.
What in the world was I building, you ask? Well, for one, I built a light-up, fan-shaped headpiece for the wedding scene in the Muhlenberg’s Summer Music Theatre’s production of Avenue Q, and then I created a Steampunk-inspired helmet for Grimm!, a world-premiere children’s show; I was in my headspace, if you will, and I thought I’d share the process for the first project, since its shape and design could be maybe useful for a number of costumes and cosplays!
In order to design the Christmas Eve wedding dress, I did a lil’ bit of research, and I was inspired by both modern and traditional Japanese wedding attire, and by artwork of old— The Jewish Bride (Esther Bedecked) Aert de Gelder’s 1684 painting (this is a nod to the fact that the man Christmas Eve is marrying in Avenue Q, Brian, is Jewish).
Last year, I shared a tutorial on how to make a pair of wings, and some of the information in that article is pertinent to this project as well. A number of the materials are the same, and the reinforcement methods are frequently identical or at least similar. Reinforcement is a key word when you’re building structures like hats and other accessories, and for this particular endeavor, BALANCE is equally as important.
**Disclaimer: This is a moderate- to difficult-level project, and not necessarily something for novice stitchers and crafters.**
Paper for patterning
Wire snips/needle-nose pliers
Long straight pins (I prefer quilting pins like these)
A sewing machine (w/a heavier needle in it)
Tape (I used gaffer’s tape, but cloth adhesive tape would also work)
Heavy-Duty hand sewing needles
Button and carpet/craft thread
Hot glue gun
Dowel rods/other stiff reinforcement stuff (I used paint stirrers and bamboo skewers!)
Fabric of your choice to cover the headpiece
*Buckram is a stiffened cotton cloth that comes in a variety of weights. Its uses vary from bookbinding to millinery, but it’s a versatile material that’s flexible, lightweight, and, to a certain extent, can be sculpted and manipulated with heat and steam. Your best bet is probably ordering it by the yard from the internet, although you can sometimes procure it at your local fabric/upholstery store.
**I used millinery wire because it’s what we typically use at my costume shop for these types of projects. It’s strong, flexible, lightweight and easy to use, but if you have a preferred wire, by all means, used that.
There was another, different, start to this project,but, as it progressed, I realized that the original (Plastic needlepoint canvas) material that I thought would be perfect ended-up not being so perfect, since I couldn’t manipulate it the same way I could with buckram. Additionally, buckram is lighter, and weight/balance is a big concern for headgear like this.
1. By the time I actually deduced that my original idea just wasn’t going to work, the entire plastic needlepoint canvas fan had already been made. I was able to use some of its dimensions to figure-out what size I wanted to make the new buckram headpiece, at least!
Step number one would be ‘figure out how the heck big you want your hat/headpiece to be’. Then draw it out! Feel free to make a paper pattern FIRST. I just threw caution to the wind and drew it right out on the buckram, however.
2. Next, I pinned TWO layers of buckram together and cut my fan shape out on the lines I drew. At the bottom, I added a little upside-down ‘U’ of extra buckram, as I needed a way to affix the fan piece to to hat form later on.
3. I notched the extra ‘U’ of buckram. The top/pencil line of the ‘U’ is the measurement from side-to-side of my buckram hat form.
4.Next, I sewed the two pieces of buckram together. I zig-zagged them together on a large (4×4 on the Bernina) stitch width and length.
5. Next, the millinery wire! I am able to tack right into my table at work– this creates a sort of wire jig, so I could follow the shape of the headpiece (about 1/2″ from the outer edge) and pivot it where necessary.
6. After I wired the entire outside and pinned the wire in place, it was time to [VERY CAREFULLY] zig-zag the wire to the buckram. Again a large zig-zag should be used to allow the needle to clear the wire.
7. Once you have the headpiece cut and wired, you’ll want to add some sort of additional framework to stabilize your structure. How much framework depends up how big your headpiece is. Sometimes, you’ll need to add more as you go along.
I hot-glued them into place, as shown above, spray-painted them white, then took a moment to see how the headpiece was shaping-up.
8. Using the little tabs I’d cut into the bottom ‘U’, I pinned the fan to the buckram hat base:
9. Time for some cross-supports! Last time, I used an old, broken wooden ruler, but this time I used a paint-stirrer, as it is wooden, flexible lightweight (and it didn’t cost me anything). I also used another dowel as a cross-support.
10. I affixed the crosswise pieces with a bit of hot glue, then wired everything into place at the dowel rods’ and paint stirrer’s junctures. I wired it right through both layers of buckram.
11. Let’s see how these supports are working-out:
12. With the fan seemingly well-supported, it’s time to sew the fan to the hat form. I did this by hand and with craft thread. First, however, I traced the shape of the fan onto brown paper so I could make a fabric cover later on.
13. Next, I hand-sewed a comb in the front of the hat form and a headband across the crown. Note: Due to a quick-change, the headband pictured is NOT the headband on the final headpiece.
14. Using my paper pattern from step 12, I cut a ‘cover’ from my fashion fabric (white poly crepe, in this case), and sewed it together. Remember to notch and clip your seam allowance on the curves!
15. The fabric is now like a pillow case to slipcover (I only sewed the top curve, not the straight bottom part)
16. One you’re certain the slipcover fits, go ahead and slipstitch the bottom shut.
17. Some MORE, external supports needed to be added, so, using the plastic needlepoint canvas, wire and some bamboo skewers (strong, lightweight, flexible, inexpensive!), I built a little structure on the backside of the fan.
That’s pretty much it for the basis of this project. Everything else is me realizing the final design of the headpiece.
18. PUT SOME TRIM ON THAT PUPPY! I LOVE TRIMMING PUPPIES.
19. It took a goodly amount of time to figure-out how to wire the freaking thing.
20. Enjoy the fruits of your labour!
A special thanks to Caroline, Meg, Sam, Jessica, Jess and Erin for helping me in the creation and realization of this monstrosity of wearable sculpture!
What amazing cosplay projects have you created, fellow Geekettes? Feel free to share pictures in the comments below!