Cosplay 101 – Ten Things You Need to Know Before Starting Your Cosplay

Your Sensei for Cosplay 101 is Matchstick! Matchstick is a Michigan cosplayer who got started a little over a year ago creating her own costumes. Her Borderlands cosplay was a big hit at Youmacon and Washi Con, and she became accidentally popular online when a friend posted her cosplay photo on Reddit. Please welcome Matchstick Cosplay to Dashing Nerds and sound-off in the comment section with your cosplay questions.

Cosplay is difficult to break into, especially if you are considering making your own cosplay. If you’ve never sewn before, it makes things even harder. I was lucky enough to have someone teach me the basics of sewing before I started cosplaying, and I hope that I can teach my skills to others so that maybe they can break into one of my favorite hobbies! These are the 10 things that I knew (or wish I knew!) before I started making my own cosplays.

1. Materials

There are a couple things that I would recommend getting before you start your first cosplay. For sewing specifically, I would highly recommend using a sewing machine. A basic machine will be fine, especially for just starting sewing–you most likely won’t need the functions on the more expensive machines, like embroidery or options to work with difficult fabrics.

The next things will be fabric and thread that matches the color of the fabric you’re sewing. You should buy a pattern for your cosplay. Patterns can be modified, but I recommend starting out with a pattern that you don’t need to modify for the sake of becoming familiar with sewing.

Other things you will need include pins, fabric chalk, and fabric scissors. Fabric scissors are important because they are sharper than normal scissors, and will cut the fabric with minimal ragged edges, which makes it easier to cut precisely along the lines of the pattern.

2. Patterns

Choosing a pattern for your cosplay all depends on what you are cosplaying. For a first cosplay, start with something easier. You should take a couple things into consideration when figuring out what will be easy. The first would be a cosplay with minimal ruffles, folds, or collars; they tend to be harder to sew because they require more than just a straight fabric on fabric seam.

The second would be a cosplay that is looser. The less form-fitting a cosplay is, the less precise you have to be with your sewing. The first pattern that I worked with was a cape for a Red Riding Hood Costume. The pattern only required a couple pieces and did not have a lot to sew together. These are the types of costumes that are great for beginners. It takes a while to understand the tension and stitch length in your machine and what works best for the costume you’re making. Try a couple easy costumes before you start modifying patterns – you’ll have a much easier time after you learn how patterns work! Just remember, practice makes a world of difference. Sewing, like anything, takes time to get good at it.

3. Fabric Types

The most important factor for most people when choosing a fabric for their cosplay is going to be the color and pattern, as most cosplayers want to be as accurate to their vision as possible. This is why it’s important to choose a character that has an outfit that’s easy to work with. Starting your first cosplay with a character who wears a full catsuit might be a complicated project to start with simply because of how difficult it is to work with stretchy fabric. I consider a couple factors when choosing fabric: movement and thickness. The more movement a fabric has, the harder it is to work with. This includes fabrics like spandex, latex, and blends that include either. If the fabric is thick, like faux leather, it will be harder to sew in a machine, and may require special add-ons and options on your machine. Thin fabric tends to snag in the machine and might tear if your tension and stitch length aren’t perfect.

Stick to fabrics like cotton or polyester! They are easy to work with and tend to come in many colors and patterns, so they’re perfect for creative projects!

4. Symbols

A symbols key will be printed on your instruction sheet within your pattern.

cosplay sewing help symbols

Two important symbols you need to be aware of are notches and grain lines. Notches will usually look like small triangles that are printed on the cutting lines. They should be cut on the outside of the pattern (protruding from the cut) and will be later used to help you line up the pieces of cut fabric. Grain lines indicate the way that the fabric will pull. You can tell the grain lines of the fabric by pulling on it and seeing where the fabric is strongest and moves the least.

5. Fabric Chalk

As well as those symbols, there will sometimes be circles or dots on the pattern, which will also be used as markings to line up pieces. However, since holes generally aren’t cut into fabric without a specific purpose, we use fabric chalk to mark the dots. These can be found in several forms, so get the one that suits you best. If you’re afraid of the chalk marking up your fabric permanently, fear not–the fabric chalk can be very easily washed or rubbed out of your fabric!

6. Pre-Pinning

Most patterns will have you make your cuts with the fabric folded so that you will get two of the same shapes with one cut. The placement of the pieces is important to how much you will get out of the least amount of fabric. Both will be specified in the pattern–the amount of fabric will be written on the back, and the placement of the pieces will be in the instructions.

Note: Make sure to take your measurements before you buy the fabric–these will determine your size, which will determine how much fabric you need. A chest, waist, and hip measurement is usually all that is needed.

When preparing to cut out your fabric, first cut out the numbered pieces that go with your pattern. Pay attention to which pieces go with which outfit, as some patterns may come with more than one. Pin all of the numbered sheets on the large piece of fabric before you begin to make your cuts. This will ensure that you have enough fabric in the placement to make the entire pattern. Pay attention to where the pieces are pinned–some will have symbols that specify that they are on the folds.

7. Pinning

There are two important things to keep in mind while you are pinning. Firstly is the placement of the pins. I prefer to keep them parallel with the edges of the fabric; this way the pins’ pointy edges will not get caught on anything (like your skin). Keep the pattern pinned to the fabric after you finish your cuts; the numbers on them will tell you which piece it is.

The second thing to keep in mind is how the fabric should be folded or not folded before pinning. Like I mentioned earlier, the fabric will most likely be folded to make two cuts of the same pattern, but some patterns may not call for this. The pattern will also specify the “right” or “wrong” side of the fabric facing out, or it might specify “pattern facing up” and “pattern facing down”. This is usually indicated by shading, so pay attention to that before cutting or you could end up with some pieces with the pattern facing inside in your final costume!

8. Stitching, Tension, and Other Sewing Machine Functions

Your sewing machine will most likely have several options for the type of stitching you can use in your project. Each stitching type has a different function, but for most projects, the straight-line stitch will do just fine. The tension is something that will need to be played with before sewing your actual pattern. I recommend practicing your stitching on pieces of scrap fabric to make sure that your stitching does not snag or rip the fabric. Start in the middle and adjust as needed until your stitching turns out straight and flat.

9. Seam Allowance

Congrats, you’re finally ready to do some stitching on the costume! But first, you have to know the seam allowance of the pattern that you plan on sewing. The seam allowance will be printed in the instructions of the pattern, although most seem to be around 5/8 inches. Luckily, most sewing machines will make this simple to measure by printing a number of measurements near the foot (the thing that makes the material stay flat) of the sewing machine. Just line up the fabric with the measurement line, put the foot down, and start sewing!

10. Seam Ripping

There will be times when you completely screw up the sewing of your project. That’s okay! Seams can easily be ripped and resewn. A seam ripper is easy to use and is super cheap. Just tear the thread that you used to make the stitch and resew the project! I find that I rip many seams during the cosplay creation process because, as with everything, mistakes are inevitably made. Trial and error are necessary, so don’t beat yourself up over it. In a pinch, a pair of small scissors can also be useful!

Happy sewing!


Written by: Matchstick Cosplay

Nerd who enjoys playing dress up a little too much.

2 Comments Added

Join Discussion
  1. mm
    Darling Otaku March 1, 2018 | Reply

    Matchstick-Senpai, what kind of sewing machine would you recommend getting? Is there a price range you would recommend for beginners? 🙂

    • mm
      Matchstick Cosplay March 2, 2018 | Reply

      Otaku-Kohai! There’s a couple really reliable brands of sewing machines, but I would recommend Singer or Brother. The general price range should be really be around $100 – this is because you won’t need all the functions like complicated stitching, ability to sew leather, or embroidery functions, if you’re doing basic/beginner-level cosplay things! (Or, to be quite honest, intermediate cosplay will not need these functions either.) I use a Singer Prelude and it’s perfect for everything I need. An updated model is sold on Amazon (called the Tradition 2259) for under $125! 🙂

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