27 April 2011

Craftsmanship Judging: Tales & Tips

So you are getting ready to compete for craftsmanship at a convention, now what should you expect? Whether you are competing in Hall or Masquerade, the procedure is pretty similar.

Be prepared to be probed. Well, almost, but a good judge will not judge your costume from afar! Oh no, they will get up and get in there, checking your stitching, linings, seams, fabric quality, wig, everything. While they do that, they will most likely ask you loads of questions. Be prepared to talk about how you made everything. Relax, don't dwell on parts you messed up, just shine a spotlight on the coolest parts and have fun. You're not going to have a lot of time, so it might help to write a note card of what you want to talk about if you have trouble with remembering things you want to say.

Bring reference images. Bring lots of them. Preferably in color. Print them out! Yes we can see them on your computer or cell phone, but it is preferred that your images are printed so that they might be collected. Bonus: Progress photos! Not very many people bring these, but its a huge plus! Take pictures of your costume in progress and print them out.

Be polite. This isn't a frequent problem, but theres always that one person. Don't show up expecting to win, be a good sport whether you do or don't. If you didn't win, take a close look at who did. What can you learn from them?

Make it yourself. This shouldn't need to be said either, but don't try to slip costumes you purchased past judges. Also, some beginners don't know that you can be disqualified if your costume is stuff you assembled from Goodwill or the mall and just added things to. You gotta put in the work yourself. If you do not have the sewing skills, you can just compete for performance only.

.... Now that is all well and good, but what do you do before you even get to the convention? Let's go head to toe!

Wig: Is your wig accurate to the character? Could it be more styled or custom dyed? Sometimes characters have really thick hair and you may need to sew extra wefts into a wig to add volume. Sometimes you have to dye a wig or parts of it for accuracy. Here are some wig tutorials. Usually if you are competing, it is not a great idea to use your natural hair instead of a wig, unless it is a realistic character and your hair matches it exactly. Otherwise, character hair tends to be pretty wild and only a wig can emulate it well.

Make Up: This is a personal choice, but it can make a big difference. Does the character have big eyes or huge eyelashes? You can definately do that! Are they a different gender than you? Try contouring. Have fun with it! Youtube has a lot of video tutorials for make up... a loooot.

Fit & Proportion: Take a test photo of yourself, or have a friend stand about 10 feet away and evaluate your costume. Does the silhouette look right? How exactly does each piece fit? I could devote a whole post to just this concept. Get a full body shot of your character and measure out the proportions of their outfit. Is that skirt a bit above the knee, or a lot? Are those pants tight at the thighs, then loose at the ankles? Is that weapon as long as their arm or as tall as they are? What percentage of her height does that hair cover? Measure the proportions to yourself and adapt them. Fit can make a huge difference! Now try on your costume and pin areas you want to adjust, and take the time to fix it. Silhouette is a major identifying characteristic of a character and the right proportions can make or break the overall look.

Fabric & Texture: I can't stress this enough! Entry after entry, we often see the same old cotton. Boring!
The worst is thin, inexpensive quilting cotton... it is not really made for garments and wrinkles easily, and may be fairly sheer. If you are serious about making your costume look as nice as possible, take the extra time to save up and invest in nice fabrics. Treat your character. Twill and sateen are great alternatives to plain cotton as they have a bit more weight to them and look a lot nicer. Nicer fabrics will last you much longer. Simple, fitted items with no seams drawn can look beautiful in rayon jersey knits. Organic cotton jersey, if you can find it, is also lovely. Rich, luxurious designs demand fabrics like velvets, silks, wools, sequins. Try to find where the nearest fabric district or warehouse in your area.. you will find a much more diverse selection than your local craft store's fabric shelves. Look at the design and really think hard, "If this was real, what would it feel like? How heavy would it be? What kind of texture would it have?"
Sometimes things call for spandex, vinyl, or pleather. Have fun with your trims too! Did you know you can make your own bias tape? You are not limited to the prepackaged cotton colors. You can dye your fabrics, treat them with different finishes, silkscreen or stencil designs on, burn in designs, sew on beads or sequins, and so much more! Again, another topic I could go on forever about. Last note: corsets require specific fabric, so a lightweight cotton is not a good idea. Silk wool is expensive but really ideal. It will cost you less to make it than to buy a true corset. Research is your friend.

Seams & Hems: No safety pins. No safety pins. No safety pins. Unless your character is a punk, drawn with safety pins in their clothes, just don't do it! Research is really your friend here, there are many many many ways to finish seams and hems, and the internet is rich with information. Properly finished costumes will last you a long time and give your major points with judges. There is a correct way to do bias tape. There is a correct way to do invisible zippers. Snip all your loose threads and look sharp! Neatness counts. Take your time and baste tricky seams before sewing them. Iron your seams closed first, then opened. If your hem if curved, don't just fold your fabric under, it will pull and not look right. Use a facing, lining, or hem tape. Use the right color thread, mismatched thread looks careless. Please, if you really really need to use glue, hide it very well. Raw, unfinished hems are a no-no unless your character is drawn with a torn hem.. then make a point of it and really rip it up.

Undergarments: Another personal preference. I am all for dance tights. They really help anyone look smooth and more animated. Does your character wear a skirt? Why not so some cute matching bloomers under? Brownie points, right there. Sometimes you have to go the extra mile and invest in good shapewear to achieve character silhouettes. I'm not saying this is crucial, but it is extra credit. If you are cross-dressing, then this is definately something to think about.

Shoes: Dirty sneakers are a giant no-no. Unless your character is specificly drawn with dirty sneakers, just do not do it! Shoes can be expensive but are another make-or-break part of the look. I do have a bootcover tutorial to help you save money & make awesome shoes :) Try to make your shoes really accurate, they will definately get looked at closely.

Props: Not my area of expertise, but I will tell you the simple truth. Do your best. Make those props look polished and neat. Make the proprtions correct. If its really off or sloppy, keep working on it. Try to get the texture right. Don't stop at lumpy, keep sanding and smoothing. This can sometimes be the most time-consuming part of the costume, so do not save it until the last minute. Plan ahead so it will not break on stage. Have a repair plan in case it does break during the con.

So I think that is just about everything I wanted to say. Any questions? Comments?
Oh yea... GOOD LUCK!!!!


  1. This is by far the most helpful FAQ about cosplay craftsmanship I've read yet. And I couldn't agree more on the fabric choices, it's so boring when you see cotton, cotton, and more cotton. I've found a good way to choose fabrics is to watch a few movies, and look at the choices the costume designers used to get an idea of what goes good together. The LOTR extended documentaries are a prime example, as well as the Star Wars ones.

  2. Wonderful write-up! This is a really great overview for people starting out on the masquerade scene. ^^

  3. Thank you for this! I've been interested in getting into craftsmanship contests but I'm not sure what they really judge by. Now I know! Thanks again =)