Cowled Cape- it’s not as hard as you think!

The Cowled Cape

I see people wanting to do characters with this cool looking cowled cape freak out on a pretty regular basis. Don’t! It’s EASY!

First acquire or make a perfectly ordinary cape in the color & fabric of your choosing. Preferably something with a bit of body to it, it is outer wear after all.

Put on the cape.cape1

Reach one hand down and grab the bottom corner, pull it up toward the opposite shoulder. (My mannequin isn’t sentient, so I used the pin for demonstration. Pretend there’s a hand holding that corner).cape2

Pull it over the shoulder at least 6”, maybe more.cape3

Push the swagged part crossing your body back over your shoulder.cape4

Hey look at that! Now if you want, push the hanging coat front back over your shoulder.cape5      TA DA!!

And a back view just for fun. cape6

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June 2, 2016 · 7:15 pm

starch: still great stuff

In our world of modern materials and technology, things like ironing and starching garments aren’t as common as they once were. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider ironing a chore and I guide my husband toward permanent press for his work shirts because, ugh, that’s a lot of ironing. But when I do it, I do it well, and on garments that really benefit from it as opposed to hang-it-up-straight-from-the-dryer-and-it-looks-okay clothes.

This technique isn’t suitable for every garment, but high polyester content fabrics were designed to avoid ironing, so it shouldn’t be necessary for those. Cotton, linen, ramie and the various blends though, all benefit from starch and steam.

I love linen. I made these palazzo pants a couple years ago after the pair I bought eight years previous wore out. I copied that beloved pair of pants pretty closely, except I made the pockets bigger. But they are 100% linen, a fairly dense weave (the first pair were very thin, which is why they wore out so fast*). So, they pretty much wrinkle just by looking at them. Ironing isn’t optional, and dip starching makes a big difference.

  • linen is a very tough fiber, lasting up to hundreds of years and even centuries when processed and cared for well. King Tut wore linen, his clothes are in a museum.


Here are the pants hung straight from the dryer, not bad, but definitely could use some freshening up.


Ok, standard spray starch and a good hot iron. Below is the result.


That doesn’t look terrible, but just from ironing wrinkles have already set themselves. So, on to a dip starch!


The materials: liquid concentrated starch, water, a container big enough to fully immerse the garment, and a safe place where spills won’t be an issue. I’m using a bowl from my kitchen without worry, starch is a byproduct of processing food, mostly potatoes. Color and scent have been added, so I wouldn’t eat it, but you could boil some potatoes then use the leftover starchy water the same way. That’s how they did it in the ‘olden days’.


Read the bottle, it gives ratios for how stiff or light you want your starch. For these pants I want “heavy” which was 1:5 starch to water, so I used a pint glass as my measuring device as I needed to fill a fairly large bowl.


Stir the starch and water, then dunk your garment.


Let it soak 20 minutes to an hour. Longer than that the starch will settle to the bottom of the bowl and get weird and thick.


Wring out and hang to dry.

starch after

I got busy, so my pants hung there all wrinkly for several days. No big deal other than they haunted me to finish this post project.

starch after2

That’s pretty stiff!

starch after3

Plug in the iron and set it to the appropriate heat for your garment. linen needs high heat.

NOTE: Most irons come with a water reservoir and a steam setting. Really good quality irons this feature works really well, for a while. Cheap irons it rarely works even fresh out of the box. I’ve yet to come across even a high quality expensive iron that doesn’t drip or leak water when you don’t want it to after several years of use. Therefore I recommend keeping your iron dry and using a mister spray bottle for when you want steam. My iron (pictured above) is ten years old, and as good as it is thermostat-wise, it even leaks after all this time.

starch after 4

ready to iron!

starch after5

you can see the damp areas before I apply the iron. In order to activate the starch in the fabric, we need it pretty damp before applying heat.

starch after 6

hey, look at that!

starch after 7

Finished pants. Notice how the hems are standing in big loops instead of falling flat? that’s the starch working. I’ll update after I get another person to take a picture for me so you can see how good they look on a body.

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May 18, 2016 · 3:52 pm

“you suck, get better”, or Why Projects Fail

Why projects fail: a detailed explanation of a beloved gaming quote “you suck, get better”
Not doing the ‘homework’ of researching the technique/ materials first.
It’s easy to watch one video and say “oh, that looks easy!” and dive in before watching and reading several more tutorials. Maybe that first person knows carving so well because they used to work in a dentist office and that material is way more finicky than a beginner can handle. The more homework you do, the better your chances of finding a tute better suited to your skill set, climate, and tools.
Cutting corners in technique.
When the can says ‘touchable in 2 hours, dry in 24’ it means just that, doing anything else on top of the surface dry application can ruin both layers. You really do need to let the product set up as long as the can says. Skipping the ironing to sew faster results in shoddy looking sewing. Yes, you really do need to launder the fabric before use. Yes, when the product says ‘prime by wiping with alcohol, wait to dry before applying’, it means it. ‘Only use in a properly ventilated area’, seriously, why try to craft while high? Follow the instructions for the materials, they are there for a reason even if you don’t understand what that reason is.
Using the wrong tool.
If the tutorial giver elaborates on why they used a spoon instead of a fork, it’s worth listening too. Sure, you can cut balsa wood with a really good kitchen knife, but it’ll be really hard work. It’s much easier to find an actual saw and cut it with that. Learn to borrow, rent, or save money for the tools you need.
Using the wrong material.
There’s an old adage “You can’t make a silk purse from a sows ear”. Pigs ears are covered with fine hair, it looks soft, but it isn’t. they make paint brushes and scrub brushes from pig hair, it’s coarse and stiff. Silk, of course, is completely different, an insect product. The alchemists of old tried to create gold out of all kinds of other things. It didn’t work.
Don’t try swapping cooking spray for silicone spray (they are different on the molecular level!!) Don’t mix different quantities until you’ve done the math* to know exactly how much will result in your desired amount. Don’t try to convince yourself that draping will somehow magically reduce the amount of fabric the pattern says is needed. Don’t use regular paint on boots thinking “it’s only one wearing, it’ll hold up, right?” because it won’t.
Last I’ll say this: garbage in, garbage out. If you buy the cheapest poor quality materials you can find, no amount of talented construction is going to make sheer polyester broadcloth look like anything other than sheer polyester broadcloth.

Trying to rush the project.
This goes back to following the instructions, and points forward to failure to plan well. If you are in a hurry, trying to finish up the night before, you failed in some other aspect of planning, or worse, never made a plan in the first place.
Not practicing techniques before starting large scale items.
I’ll be honest, no one likes doing homework. The good news is the only person grading your homework is you. You can do small scale or partial sections, as many or as few times as you want. You are your own judge! So if you’ve never used this specific product before, but have used something similar, you can do one test on scrap and it will suffice. But if the whole thing is completely new, get extra materials, pick a section to do, and try it.
Not doing the math.
This mostly applies in two areas: sewing and mixing multi-part resins and glues.
For the liquids, the math is usually really simple multiplication, if 1 oz. plus 3 oz. fills ¼ of the mold, you simply multiply both numbers by 4, or five if you think you might need to allow for spills. But actually do the math, either by hand or with a calculator, but write it all out so you pour the right amount of A and B. Simply having it written down in front of you can eliminate many errors when in the heat of “pour and mix quickly for proper adhesion”.
Fabrics on the other hand can get tricky fast. If you are shorter than average, the yardage a pattern calls for will be more than you need, I buy that called for amount anyway, a little extra for practice is never a bad thing. Conversely the tall suffer having to guess how much more they will need, and it depends on the pattern and where their height falls, evenly? Or mostly in their legs? And bigger people suffer a multitude of injustices aimed at them by pattern companies. Learn how to measure your body, use the numbers to translate to the pattern. When draping, it takes many years of practice to be able to look at a concept drawing and a fabric choice and say ‘this will take five yards’. Your best bet when you haven’t draped enough to have acquired this skill, is to find a commercial pattern that covers the same amount of the body in roughly the same volume (say, using a wedding dress pattern with a full skirt for a ball-gowned character) and use that as a guide.
As a general rule of thumb, I’ve found the following estimates, when added to the above pattern use guideline, work pretty well. If you are taller than 5’9” and female, add a yard. Taller than 6’3” and male, add a yard and a half (increase by half a yard for every 2” height). If you fall into the ‘plus size’ range or are an exceptionally busty female and are average height, add two yards. ‘Plus size’ and over 5’9” female add three yards. ‘Plus size’ and over 6’3” male, add four yards.
Failure to plan.
Really, it doesn’t get much more simple. Getting in the car with no destination usually results in being lost, out of gas, and hungry. I’m a big fan of list making. It’s just a list, not an essay, nobody else has to read it but you. Write it down, on paper with pen, in a computer program, on a chalk board in your work space, whatever works for you. Getting all the different ‘buy’ ‘make’ borrow’ ‘learn’ written in one place helps immensely in getting your system organized, budget made, and time managed. My blog is called “three lists” because it’s the average number of personal lists I have going on any given day. Every project is composed of ‘buy’ ‘make’ and a third category determined by the type of project. Lists = planning, and that’s a good thing.
Now, go out there and succeed!

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Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall

There is an old joke that goes something like this:
TOURIST: “Excuse me sir, could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”
NATIVE NEW YORKER: “Practice, practice, practice”

The thing is, there was a time when no one got to perform at Carnegie Hall unless they were absolute tops in their field. To be invited meant that you had ‘made it’ in your performance genre. It’s still one of the top venues in the world for live performances. If Carnegie hall invites you to perform, your only excuse for saying no is being dead.

So, people who want to make things go to the internet to find out how. There are specialized websites, YouTube, Pinterest, instructables, craftsy, and so many more! It’s exciting! That guy did it in five minutes! It looked so easy! Ah, there’s the rub…
What you don’t see is the two hours of prep time and the five failed attempts. You don’t see the twenty-seven other similar-but-not-as-complicated things he made over the last year. You don’t see the scraps of practice swatches filling his trash can. All you see in the six minute video is the five minutes of final assembly. It’s not intended to deceive, but it does so anyway, because that guy has put in his practice time.

Watching Eddie Van Halen perform one of his amazing guitar solos isn’t going to suddenly make you be able to do the same the first time you pick up a guitar.
Watching Pablo Picasso paint isn’t going to magically impart his knowledge or talent to you.
Watching Michael Jordan dunk a basketball isn’t going to metaphysically impart his work ethic to you.

Watching an artist, performer or athlete can impart knowledge about what they do, it’s a vital step in learning to do a thing yourself. But you must do, over and over and over again, to gain the skill. Your hands and body must go through the physical motions, become comfortable with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s drawing, painting, carving, modeling, sewing, knitting, weaving, running, throwing, dribbling, passing, getting the right chord, hitting the right note, speaking the right words with the correct meter, pitch and accent…. It must be done over, and over, and over, until you get it right. Then keep going until you do it better. And then keep going until you are the one showing off your skill.

I often remind my students about the fact that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. He had no innate talent for the game. So he went home and started practicing, hard, daily, and never ever quit until he retired from the NBA. He got there through hard work and determination, not talent. Innate talent is incredibly rare. Most people viewed as talented, are in fact just very hard workers.

So yes, you can play guitar or sew a dress or dunk a basketball, but it’s going to take a lot of practice. No technology exists (yet, I’m waiting on those Matrix downloads) that one POOF! will magically enable you to do the thing perfectly the first time and every time.

So when Yoda says “Do or do not, there is no try”, what he really means is: ‘You will do badly, many times. Then you will do mediocre, many times. Then you will do good, many times, then you will do great, and not stop, for if you do you will slip back into good, then mediocre, then bad’.

YouTube is not Carnegie Hall, it’s more like a small town community theater. Sure, there are real concerts and performances that people pay money to see there, but there are also those kids who wrote their own play that had to beg their own parents to come and watch. And the show was at 3PM on a Tuesday and free.
Take anything on YouTube with a grain of salt and some background research. Sponsored by a business or materials company? Probably have lots of practice and will give a good lesson or advice. Sell their products with good customer reviews? Probably good advice. Obviously filmed with a phone camera and say “um” every four seconds? Might know what they are doing, but poor communication skills mean it’s probably a waste of your time. Radically different approach, not using safety gear or ventilation, say things like “well I don’t have an [tool] so I used [kitchen implement]”? Chances are they don’t know their ass from hot rocks, skip it.
I’ve seen displays of good work or talent ruined by an inability to communicate, which is frustrating. I’ve seen people who obviously weren’t skilled enough to be teaching others, but apparently had the over-inflated egotistical notion that they did possess the talent, which is annoying. This is the downside to YouTube tutorials, anyone can post, there is no vetting, no required criteria, just a video and a means to upload it.

There are websites with reliable tutorials and videos, but they vet their authors. Craftsy, instructables and make all have pretty reliable authors on a wide range of subjects and projects. There are hundreds more that are more specialized for specific crafting genres like knitting, woodworking, car repair and then some. These are often a better first step than just going straight to the Tube for your instructions.


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Thrift shopping for costuming

So you don’t have the skill to sew for this specific character and he’s wearing more-or-less ordinary clothes, so why not try to buy second hand? Yes! Second hand shopping solves many issues: it’s ready to wear, it’s reasonably priced, and more often than not your money serves a wide variety of charitable ventures. Thrift stores fall into three basic categories: big chains, small independent church or club shops, and ‘full retail’ consignment stores.


Big Chains
You know these names: Salvation Army, Goodwill, Thrift City. Of the three Thrift City is a business, not a charity, their mission is admirable, just understand the difference in where your money is going if it makes a difference to you.
Pros: big chains will have the biggest stores with the largest volume of stuff and they are often pretty well organized. The employees will be paid staff there at least 20 hours a week if not full time, so they will have a good idea of where to look for things. Pricing is set very clearly and daily specials are common. Because they are big their product turns over very quickly, just because you couldn’t find purple pants last week doesn’t mean they won’t have six pair this week.
Cons: People are lazy and rude, so a lot of stuff dropped on charity porches is done so unwashed, on Saturday night, in the rain. Thus the “Thrift Store Smell”. Clothes are washable, you’re getting a mans suit for $30, remember? That cost $300 when it was new ten years ago and has been dry cleaned ever since, shelling out $15 to get it cleaned to your tastes it still is a fantastic bargain. There are certain things big chains just don’t bother with: board games, sewing patterns (unless they come into the store in a box then they will hit the floor as a group) and craft kits where missing pieces mean it cannot be completed as-is. Another con is they rarely have truly vintage stuff, it’s mostly just recently outdated. If you are in college and need a muffin tin, this is the place to go.

Independent church and club shops
The Junior League is a national organization with chapters darn near everywhere and better than 60% of chapters run a shop. Even the smallest towns have at least one church that runs a thrift shop that supports various missions of the congregation. Middle sized and large cities often have thrift stores that support a specific mission, like a runaway shelter, an animal welfare facility or a senior care organization.
Pros: these are my favorite shops for vintage goods. Because the majority of donations come from congregation or club members, the things they held onto longer get donated to the organization they really care about. You feel good giving your prom dress to your club shop when your friend runs the counter. Another pro is that they tend to be a lot cleaner. When Sally hands Mavis her bag of goods, Mavis will tell everyone if she didn’t wash them first. Last, because they are focused on raising money for charity, they put out for sale everything they get, sewing patterns and games are much more commonly found at these types of shops as well as more formal or fancy home goods like champagne glasses or really nice furniture. I have kicked myself for years for not buying the Ethan Allen twin sized canopy bed I saw for $60…. At the time I didn’t have children yet and nowhere to store it.
Pro & Con: these shops are more focused in their donations and area of contributions. Which means if you live in a working class neighborhood, the shop at the church down the street isn’t going to have anything nicer that the richest guy on your block, who only makes $2k a year more than you. BUT if you are willing to drive across town to shop in the ritzy neighborhood, you are in for a treat! No, not the brand new McMansion neighborhood that just went in, there won’t be any thrift stores there at all because the rent on retail space is too high. Go to the neighborhoods with the big old houses, with white haired ladies still driving their 1995 Cadillacs. That is the shop that will have mink stoles and 1950’s taffeta prom dresses, designer men’s suits and Louis Vuitton luggage. (yes really). When I was a kid my mom went across town to shop at The Green Door. There was a song ‘green door, what’s that secret you’re hiding?’ I honestly thought the song was about that shop because they had such wonderful things. I was in high school when I realized it was a second hand store. It’s still a great place to shop, huge applause to the ladies of Saint Luke’s Episcopal for running such an incredible shop for so long.
Cons: the staff are nearly always all volunteer, and likely each only work one shift a week so they don’t know what’s in stock. There’s always one really grumpy lady, can’t tell you why but it seems an unwavering fact of these types of shops. Chances are they are all retirees, so no hope of getting help loading that new-to-you couch into a truck. Pricing may not be quite as clear and you might be face to face with the person who donated that item, keep disparaging remarks about the goods to yourself. Because they are smaller and draw from a smaller pool, these shops don’t get as much new merchandise as often as big ones.

Full Retail consignment shops
These are rarely charity driven, but occasionally you may come across one. These types of shops are much more current fashion and often high end goods, designer labels and tailored items. The standards for what is accepted into this type of shop are much higher. Things like wedding gowns and really nice suits are most common in these shops. While I frequent these types of shops, I do so for everyday wear, not costuming.
Pros: Everything will be clean, complete, and generally good quality if not full blown designer label stuff. Their vintage will be the collectible, highly-sought-after type things. My best friend in high school had a pink Chanel suit from the 60’s (the Jackie O one) that she paid $100 for at one of these type shops. I’m still jealous.
Cons: Their prices are higher, justifiably so, but you’re still going to spend more in these shops. But hey a pair of Tony Lama boots for $75? Heck yeah! You will feel more guilt buying something so nice if you know you need to tear off the sleeves and slap ‘blood’ all over it. These aren’t where you want to shop for Halloween costume stuff.

Okay, so we covered the types of shops, so now how to go about finding what you are looking for.

thrift7be kind to your fellow shopper, even if you can’t see her over the racks.

First: this is going to take time, multiple trips and possibly several locations. I live in a big city, there are twelve Salvation Army shops and seventeen Goodwills, and that’s just those two chains, there are more independent shops than those two combined. When I decided to dress as the Tenth Doctor for Halloween a couple years back it took me two separate days of shopping, at least ten stops, and a whole tank of gas before I found a brown pinstripe suit that fit me. The smaller your town the fewer options you have and therefore the more time you need to give yourself for the shops to potentially bring in the thing you need. By “more time” I mean weeks of waiting in between individual shopping trips.

Second: have a list that includes both immediate desires and long term planning. My current list is as follows: an orange shirt for younger child for a Welcome to Night Vale character (immediate), a light colored leather day planner to do John Winchester’s Journal (immediate), something than could be converted into a celery costume (yes really, it’s for a school play), anything real leather (long term), and anything non-polyester taffeta preferably in a formal length with lots of yardage (long term). You might find a jacket perfect for a character who was lower on your list and be able to bump it up to a sooner wearing because the hard-to-find piece fell into your lap.

thrift4 oh hey look, someone stashed some taps shoes in the mens section…

Third: walk the whole store. Doesn’t matter if you only need a white mens dress shirt, you might find just the right size stuck in ladies shoes. It’s a thrift store, that happens a lot. And because of your list, you might find a pan or a decorative bowl that might be a perfect base for a weapon build for that other character on your long term list. It might be inspiring as well, we made a Jedi costume for my youngest because we found the perfect pair of boots, and they fit. We didn’t go in with Jedi in mind, but the right stuff was there.

thrift10 this has all kinds of interesting potential…

Fourth: Think outside the box. This is the hardest part and I’ll do a separate blog on modifying clothes but like the Jedi example above, looking at the potential of each item is key to getting the most mileage out of your money. What does this look like? Can you cut or tuck it somewhere to make it work for something? Hem it shorter? Add a ruffle? Paint a stripe?

Last: be fearless with what you may potentially do to that item or garment. That wedding dress is at a thrift store, not a nice consignment shop, it probably has bad karma from the original wearer and she’d be happy to see you turn it into Zombie Bride. Don’t think because it was once a nice blouse or an expensive-when-it-was-new jacket that this fact in anyway prevents you from cutting, tearing, sewing, painting, or whatever else you want to do to it. You paid money for it, it’s yours to do with as you please.

Go shop!

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Leather and vinyl: stop putting off that big build!

Vinyl, pleather, suede and real leather: or how not to freak out and blow your budget.

Special thanks to the awesome team at the Tandy store who let me take pictures for this post.


vinylleather varietyvinyl 2
So you want to make a warrior character, cool! He’s head to toe in leather! He looks so badass!! And so very expensive to build…..
A lot of times people put off characters like this because they know it’s going to cost a lot, and it is, I won’t lie. BUT there are things to consider before going straight to vinyl by the yard at your local JoAnn’s.
First consider all the parts of the costume, anything that might be recyclable (belts, bags, belt pouches, weapon slings, outer wear like jackets) it’s usually worth investing in real leather. Think on this: a belt blank from Tandy runs about $8, but in order to sew a belt of the same length from vinyl, you need to buy at least a yard (if 58” will do) or more, at $12-16/ yard. So for a belt, real leather is often cheaper.
Second, while I love wandering around in the Tandy store, I know I’m spoiled rotten having a brick & mortar one in my city. Ordering unfamiliar materials online is terrifying. But you CAN buy sample swatches, which will get you familiar with the various weights and textures, and help you make more informed decisions. I’ll go into more detail a little further down but, nothing beats touching the materials with your own hands, it’s the best way to learn.
Misconception #1: my outfit must be all leather or all fake.
Why people think this is beyond me, mixing the two stretches your dollars significantly, improves the overall appearance of the finished costume (when real leather is used in the highlights) and there is no logical reason for restricting materials used.

Misconception #2: If I want leather I have to buy a whole cow hide retail.
Get thee to a thrift shop! I’ve bought numerous jackets and coats that were 100% real leather never spending more than $20 on any single item. Need little pouches or belt items? Buy outdated purses, the wear on them that resulted in their being donated to charity may be perfect for your character. They may have gathers or pleats or flaps already made that you can cut around and glue up the backside to make your pouch. That and you can feel good about supporting charity with your purchases.

The best leather I’ve bought at thrift stores for recycling was ladies skirts. Late 80’s early 90’s A-line skirts in a mid-calf length were hot with the cubicle crowd, and in a size 16 that’s over a full yard of unblemished (usually, inspect carefully for stains and tears) leather with only side seams and darts to work around. These are often priced the same as any other ladies skirt, the last one I bought at Salvation Army was $3. A whole yard of real leather in a lovely chocolate brown for threeeeeee dolllllaaaarrrssss….. At that price you can afford to practice sewing it before investing in bigger yardage.

The second best item is mens outerwear. The bigger the size the more leather you get to work with.
Think! You aren’t looking for current fashion, it’s a thrift store, remember? It’s all going to be outdated and weird, you are looking for the materials alone, in quantity to do your project. Mens outer wear is usually a little bit heavier, but not impossible to sew on a machine. Good choice for the rugged and rustic builds.

Last, I think I’ve seen real leather pants second hand once, and that was a really nice consignment shop. Pants just aren’t going to be easy to find in this context, so resign yourself to buying or making these for your character if they are necessary.


This comes in two basic categories: upholstery and garment. Garment vinyl tends to stretch (not intentionally) and is pretty wimpy. It’s exceptionally subject to chemicals and heat. Ever had a fake leather bag or jacket start bubbling, cracking and peeling? it’s garment vinyl. Pleather is a brand name of garment vinyl (like Kleenex or Xerox… common useage but still a brand name). There are stretch varieties which are actually spandex with a coating on top. The advantages are that this is at least hand washable, and fairly comfortable to wear. Upholstery vinyl is just that, a bit thicker and a bit tougher (much more so in the heat and chemical resistance categories) intended for harder use. If the costume you are making is supposed to look like armor (saddle leather) this is what you want to use. The down side to all vinyl is the back and cut edges are obviously not leather, so it must be treated or sewn in such a way as to not ever expose the backs or have raw cut edges visible.


headliner foam

there is this other product, headliner foam, that when paired with vinyl and sewn in a classic lining method, replicates thick tooled leather beautifully. It CHEAP and really fun to use. Buy some and play with it!

Let’s break down generalized sections of wardrobe to give the pros & cons of leather vs. fake and help you determine where to spend your money and time.

Pants are one area where real leather is rarely necessary. If there are accessories, weapons and any outer wear that hangs to the hips or longer, no one will notice if the pants are real or not. Washable faux suedes are most comfortable, but wet look spandex is often a good substitute also. If it needs to look like armored leather, line it! Don’t use upholstery vinyl in the crotch region if you can avoid it. The lack of softness at the seams will result in much chaffing.
Let’s face it, butts get sweaty, do you really want to sweat all over something that will cost several hundred dollars to get professionally cleaned? Or just own really stinky pants eternally? I once knew a musician who had leather pants he wore on stage regularly. Those pants were sexy as hell, from a distance. His girlfriend literally did not allow them in their apartment, he was required to strip at the door and they were left on the back balcony to prevent the funk from invading. Fine to own if you’re a rock star who can pay a lot to maintain a wardrobe…

This is where you want to invest in real leather if the belt is in any way functional. If it holds up your pants, has pouches or a weapon hanging from it, you need the strength and rigidity that real leather provides. Remember those belt blanks from Tandy; they can be textured, dyed, trimmed down and more and the basic blank size is very long.
If you need multiple belts, or they aren’t doing anything besides looking pretty, do real math to see if belt blanks or vinyl will be cheaper. Skinny belts for the leg harnesses worn by Scouts in Attack on Titan can be made from splitting belt blanks long wise. If you are slim, two belt blanks might be enough, if you are tall or broad, vinyl might be cheaper, it all comes down to exactly how much you need.

Mix the materials! Use real leather on the collar and front panels, and sleeves. Use vinyl as your inner facings, lower tail sections and back if you can get decent enough matches. Using a faux suede mixed with real leather gives nice texture differences and adds breath-ability to an otherwise warm garment. This is how discount furniture chains sell “real leather!” couches for only a couple hundred bucks, the cushions you sit on are real leather, but the back, sides below the arm rest, and lower areas that get kicked a lot are all vinyl.

Again, I recommend mixing materials and definitely lining the garment. The less sweat that can seep into the real leather the better. You can hand wash the sides & backs to make the sweaty areas less funky for repeated wearing. IMPORTANT: you don’t want deodorant coming in contact with the leather, it will dry, crack and discolor it. It’s very important to have your underarm areas well lined or in the case of bra or corset type garments, have some other more washable material in that area. Try to keep the real leather front & center, on bra cups and abdominal region.

Go for real leather. Your face is where others naturally look first and if you are dressing in a character with specific headgear or hair, it is going to be scrutinized more than any other part of your costume. This is generally going to be a natural highlight of your costume anyway so splurge!

This one is tricky, I would say “go for leather” but not crafting from scratch. Sewing gloves is not for beginners, ever, and doing so in the very thin leather gloves are made from… no wonder they went out of style.
Kid gloves were vitally important to the debutante set up until the early 70’s, meaning they now crop up very regularly in garage and estate sales. And they are so luxurious to wear! I regularly pick up these fancy leather gloves in all kinds of colors and sell them through my Etsy shop.
For the guys and more robust characters, welders gloves can be bought for about $15, they are often medium ‘natural’ tones that can be alcohol dyed darker.

Sorta depends…. If you are making boot covers, not intended to be worn more than a couple times and definitely not making permanent alterations to a shoe or boot, go faux. If you are permanently transforming shoes into, say Jack Sparrow boots, and you hope to wear them a lot, spend the money on real leather. Just don’t say to yourself “well if I like them I can re-do them in leather” because they won’t go together as well the second time and you will have wasted money by making them twice.
This is just a broad overview, there are many more subtle splits, but this lumps it into three categories specific to costume making.

The prices in these photos are just a reference point. Photos taken November of 2015. Leather is usually sold by the square foot, not by yard or meter!


Kid or Glove
This is what those debutante gloves are made from. It’s so thin it can be stretched fairly easily and it’s soft, like that big fuzzy blanket at mom’s house soft. It’s also pretty expensive.
Kid leather generally comes from goats and deer, but there is always variation as to specific breeds by the leathers country of origin. In the US that hide comes from axis and white tail deer, and Boer and Barbari goats which are meat varieties.
Use-wise this is only suitable for non-weight bearing items, gloves and decorative appliques.

garment cow 2leatherwhole hide

This is a fairly generic term, because it covers a lot of ground, but basically it means “everything that can be worn easily and still has structural integrity of its own to not need other support”. Mostly this is split cow hide, split pig hide, larger antler types like elk and moose and occasionally buffalo or bison. Again, this leather mostly comes from critters farm raised as meat animals, nothing goes to waste. Outside the US this leather comes from whatever big grass eating critters they eat in that country.
Cow and pig hides are very thick, like ¼” to 3/8”, which isn’t really wearable as is, so it is split horizontally through the center creating double the square footage of more flexible leather. The outside split has a smooth surface and a rough surface, the inside split has two rough or suede surfaces.
This is the leather you will get if you buy second hand garments, and what you want for the majority of your builds.

scrap 2scrap 3

This is what it sounds like, thick, hard leather, frequently used for wet forming things like purses, holsters, bags and other really heavy duty applications. Good quality work boots are made from slightly thinned saddle leather, and boot and shoe soles are made from this as well. This is mostly just cow but sometimes pig too. In other places and for those who want to spend big money on exotics, hippo and elephant hide are used this way. (I don’t approve personally of using elephants for hide, just stating facts).
Saddle leather can be stamped and carved, and the style isn’t restricted to Western themes. Go meet some SCA dudes if you want to see what leather armor is really all about. While the thought was intimidating, my first experiments with wet forming were very successful and much easier than I expected. There are plenty of tutes on that already out there, no need to elaborate here.

So in summary:
1. Don’t be scared!
2. You can afford to try it if you are willing to thrift shop!
3. As always, have fun!

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What does it all mean? Reading the bolt

Reading the Bolt

Thanks to the lovely ladies at my local JoAnn’s for letting me take pictures.

When shopping for fabric, after something grabs my attention I touch it, if it feels good the next thing I do is read the bolt. There is a lot of information there and knowing what parts matter to your project and your budget will help you decipher all that information.
First, there are three things required by law that must be on the bolt:
1. Country of origin
2. Fiber content
3. Washing instructions
The other things listed on the end of the bolt are usually:
4. The price
5. The name of the maker or designer
6. The fabric type
7. Style or design name.
8. Fabric weight

For me personally, the price is always the first thing I check, I have champagne taste and a beer budget most of the time. The next thing I check is the washing instructions. I hate messing with dry cleaning, it often means the fabric is too fragile to tolerate common detergents. Because I know fibers well, I know when I can fudge that and hand wash instead, but that’s something I’ve learned from a lot of trial and error over the years. If you aren’t a Master of Delicate Laundry, obey the washing instructions.
Fabric names aren’t too important if you are making one thing for yourself, but I have been in situations sewing for theater or other large groups where we had to buy whole bolts from numerous stores because we needed somewhere in the neighborhood of 45 yards total (most bolts are only 15 yards to start). Knowing the fabric was called “Upsy Daisy” made life way easier when calling all over town.

bolt end

In this first example, there is no maker name because it’s a “JoAnn’s exclusive”, but the fabric design name is there “wandering spirit” and the fabric type “stretch silky”. In this specific case, that is a general description as opposed to a formal weave name.


In the second example here, we have fabric weights. See the one is “5 oz.” and the other “10 oz.”. So what does this mean? One square yard of this fabric weighs that much. So, logically the 10 oz. denim is going to be denser and thicker fabric than the 5 oz. tencil. It will be tougher to make a rolled hem, but it will hold up to rougher use. The top one would be fine for a blouse or a summer dress, the bottom one for a duffle bag. Going to a store and handling these things side by side helps when you shop online, because nearly every online retailer lists the weights.


This example gives the formal weave name.

Okay, are you ready? lets shop!

lets shop

( Not my car, just an enthusiastic sewist who hit the sale with vigor!)

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November 24, 2015 · 8:40 pm