I originally published this as a post on the Cosplay.com forums, but it gets lost in the shuffle….
Where to begin- how to plan your first built cosplay
There are tons of wonderful tutorials, lists, and helpful people here offering everything you could ever want to know about various aspects of the construction process, except the most important part: planning. I’m old and practiced in this process so I decided to share with you. It’s almost like a worksheet, and a system I use every single time I start a new project. Some of these steps require research, remember when doing your research that it is just that: a fact finding mission, don’t get excited and start buying or building before the whole outline is completed.
I. What do I want to do? yeah, pretty basic.
II. When do I want to wear/ use this?
II a. What day is it now? how many hours/ days/ weeks/ months until the ‘deadline’?
Be realistic. If you go to school 20 hours a week, have a job where you work 15 hours a week, spend time cleaning and spend every Friday night with your best friend, you may only have 4-5 hours a week to work on your project. Better to underestimate the time and complete it early that have half a costume the day before the con.
That said, most people find they need anywhere from three months to a whole year to complete a costume and all it’s accessories. When using paper mache and glues there is always drying time between steps, which draws out the total number of days needed.
III. What is my budget? More specifically, how much money do I have right now and how much do I expect to have every week to put into it? I err toward the minimum, it’s nice if you wind up with a bigger budget, but better to plan on very little and be able to complete it that expect a lot then not complete it because you ran out of money.
IV. What materials do I need? What materials do I already have? Make a list and detail everything that could possibly be needed: fabrics, plastics, wood, pipe, paints, threads, buttons/zippers/velcro, latex, paper mache, glue, wigs, hair spray, make up, etc. If ready made pieces are an option (like shirts or pants) list them as well. Physically go through what you have and put it together in one place, maybe the red fabric and the orange fabric are too different to look good together so one of them needs to be acquired anew. Once that is done put it all together in a big sack or box and LABEL it.
IV a. What materials can I acquire for free or trade from reliable sources? (i.e. can you pilfer scrap PVC pipe from dad’s garage? raid grandmas’ fabric stash? swap babysitting to the neighbor for some lumber?)
IV b. What materials do I need to buy? Are they the priced as you expected? If not, how will this affect your budget?
V. What tools and space resources do I have? (sewing machine? access to a wood shop? a garage full of the latest? a spare bedroom where things can be safely left to dry? only an exacto knife and the kitchen counter?) Sometimes this makes the difference between an awesome costume and just an okay one. Cramping yourself, using not-the-right-tool are factors that really make a big difference. Not to mention ruining the carpet in the living room, losing your apartment deposit and having your spouse not talk to you for three days because of what you did to the bedspread.
V a. Do I need to invest in any new tools to complete this project? Can I borrow it instead? How about renting? Storage units are pretty cheap in the US, and a great option for those who live in dorms and apartments. As to buying new tools, some things are always useful and worth going over budget to invest in a good one, like a Dremel, or a good powerful torque drill.
V b. Are there patterns or tutorials for the thing I plan to build? Sure, you can wing it, some things there really are no guides for and it’s the only way to do it, like cutting a path through rough jungle. But if there is a dirt road you can follow instead, take it, and if there is an actual paved highway, well, it’s stupid to be hacking through the jungle with a machete. Simplicity and Kwik Sew are like the interstate highways of sewing, take it to the nearest exit of the thing you want, then start carving your own way.
V c. Would it be easier/ cheaper/ more time efficient to acquire a ready made item and alter it vs. building completely from scratch? I’m big on saving time and money, there is no shame in thrifting the basics.
VI. Do I know how to do all the steps involved in this build? Are you sure? Do you know how to do a, b and c but d is completely new to you?
VI a. How much extra time and materials do I have for practice and learning? Whatever time you think you might need, multiply it by three for safety. For materials, small samples are all you need for learning, so just 10-20% over what you are getting for the costume itself.
VII. now that I have answered the material, tool, and experience/knowledge questions, do I need to amend my time or budget parameters? i.e. can you actually do this in the time given with the budget that has been set? How much time do you have for practice pieces? If a new method of construction is going to use a time consuming process (like paper mache) do I need to go back and adjust my original time needs for this project? Do I need to add more time for practicing and learning how to do a new process before starting on the final piece? Do I need a lot more fabric/ foam/ plaster/ fiberglass/ wood/ etc. than I originally planned for?
GOOD LUCK AND HAVE FUN!