All posts by Wendy

(Western) History

Do you ever try to put history in context with other things, the stuff they didn’t teach you in school? I’ve tried to put together a basic timeline that includes a little history, a little art, some books, some movies, major historical figures, and some patterns to help put everything in perspective. It is not exhaustive, and admittedly it’s pretty anglocentric — I’m going to remedy that ASAP. There’s so much more I need to add, but in order to make it readable, I had to be pretty selective about what I included.

My goal was to help you, as a costumer/cosplayer, get a better feel for the time and place your costume was from, if it’s coming from a time not now. To be honest, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for myself for a long time, so finding a site that enabled me to do it and share it was pretty fantastic. I hope you find it interesting and useful in your costuming!

It’s pretty enormous, spanning a couple years — beginning in 330CE with Constantinople becoming the capitol of the Eastern Roman Empire and goes all the way to 2263 to The Fifth Element. It can’t be embedded, so it will take you away from Sew Your Cosplay.

Unconventional Sources of Fabric

If you’ve been in a fabric store recently, you know how expensive fabric can be. Once upon a time, sewing your own clothing was something you did to save money; now it’s practically a luxury. However, if you’re willing to compromise a little and be a little adventurous, there are ways to get inexpensive fabric.

Most thrift stores sell fabric pieces that have been donated to them. That can be hit and miss, but it’s always worth looking — never know what you’ll find! They also usually have bed linens, sometimes as full sets, sometimes just as the individual components. Flat sheets are the easiest to work with and have the most useable material for the money. But, how much fabric is actually in a sheet? (North American sizes; other sizes are found via Wikipedia, where I found these.)

  • TWIN Flat: 72″ (2 yd) x 102″ (2 5/6 yd)
  • TWIN Fitted: 39″ (1 yd, 3 in) x 76″ (2 yd, 4 in)
  • FULL Flat: 87″ (2 1/3 yd, 3 in) x 102″ 2 5/6 yd)
  • FULL Fitted: 54″ (1 1/2 yd) x 76″(2 yd, 4 in)
  • QUEEN Flat: 105″ (2 9/10 yd) x 110″ (3 yd, 2 in)
  • QUEEN Fitted: 60″ (1 2/3 yd) x 80″ (2 yd, 8 in)
  • KING Flat: 110″ (3 yd, 2 in) x 114″ (3 yd, 6 in)
  • KING Fitted: 76″ (2 yd, 4 in) x 80″ (2 yd, 8 in)
  • CAL. KING Flat: 111″ (3 yd, 3 in) x 114″ (3 yd, 6 in)
  • CAL. KING Fitted: 73″ (2 yd, 1 in) x 85″ (2 1/3 yd)

Keep in mind that those estimates can vary, so if you’re relying on every last inch of fabric, this may not be the way to go. Other considerations: tears you may not see because the fabric is folded or the lighting is poor, stains (likewise), or the color may not match what you need  it to be (and many sheets are poly/cotton blends and won’t take a dye well if at all). But you could get lucky and find exactly what you need for $5, and considering broadcloth runs between $2-6 (not on sale, without a coupon), $5 for 6 yards of queen sized flat sheet is quite a bargain, if you can find one at that price, in a color you can live with, not counting the gas and time you spend running around to all the thrift stores. If you go to the thrift store for fabric, take your tape measure so you can see if whatever fabric you’re looking at has the yardage you think you need. (Actually, that’s just good advice: have one of those little retracting tape measures on you all the time — they’re handy, and you never know when you’ll need one.)

Goodwill linens
The navy sheet is probably only twin size, but it was $3.49, and on a red tag 50% off day, so it would have been $1.75, for a decent amount of fabric.

You can also find curtains and tablecloths at the thrift shop, but for those you’ll definitely want a tape measure, and maybe a friend to help you.

Another source for large, inexpensive pieces of fabric is Walmart. On clearance, these queen sized  flat sheets are $9 (full $7, king $11). Plum not the right color? There’s lots more to choose from in this aisle, but the regular price is $11.47 for the queen flat. At that price, it’s only a little cheaper than broadcloth from the fabric store.

Walmart sheets
Better color selection, new, but the savings isn’t as great unless you catch great clearance deals.

Curtain sheers are also pretty inexpensive, and less fragile than chiffon. They’re sold in single panels in varying lengths. The store brand Mainstay 84″ panel is 59″ wide (it’ll be on the package somewhere); that’s 2 1/3 yd x 1 1/3 yd, 11 in. However, because of the rod pocket at the top and the hem at the bottom, you’ll lose some yardage, call it $2.44/yd of nearly 60″ fabric since the sides are  selvedge. Walmart sells these for $4.87; the shorter 63″ sheers are $3.62 on the website, so I think the ones in the photo are on the wrong pegs. The color selection is more limited than what you can get in the fabric store, but chiffon can be pricey, so again, that’s a pretty good compromise if you can find a color you can live with.

Walmart curtains
Inexpensive sheer panels.

It is possible to dye polyester and nylon with special dyes. Jacquard makes iDye Poly just for that and it comes in 16 colors, but it looks like it sells between $3-4 per packet, so that would have to be factored into the cost of the fabric and whether or not buying sheers and dyeing them is cheaper than just buying the chiffon to begin with. One packet dyes 2-3 pounds of dry fabric — maybe 3 of those sheers. (I have not tried disperse dyes like iDye Poly myself; if you have, feel free to leave a comment with how it worked for you!)


A Brief History of Paper Patterns

History, so long as it’s not someone making you memorize dates and places for a test (that you’ll just forget ten minutes after the exam is over), is a fascinating and interesting thing. At least I find it so. YMMV.

When I started searching for vintage hat patterns and read descriptions of “perforated patterns,” I really didn’t have a clear idea of what that meant. Modern sewing patterns come on large sheets of that irritating tissue that’s impossible to fold back into the envelope. You cut out the pieces to the size you need and pin them to the fabric according to the grainlines indicated on the pattern pieces, cut the fabric, and off you go. Perforated patterns came in envelopes, too, but the pieces were pre-cut. The “perforated” part was the dots and letters indicating which piece it was; no other markings, no grainlines, nothing.

Scanned on black paper to show perforations.

The instructions were often not as helpful. (You think they’re bad now? Ha!) But I think more women had basic sewing knowledge from their mothers or home economics classes than people do now, so perhaps those ladies from 1943 (when those pieces were made; Simplicity #4924) didn’t need as much instruction as I do.

So when were the first commercial paper patterns made?

  • Ebenezer Butterick made the first graded pattern in 1863.
  • James McCall founded the McCall Pattern Company in 1870.
  • Vogue Magazine sold patterns beginning in 1899.
  • McCall’s sold the first printed pattern in 1919.
  • The Simplicity Pattern Company started in 1927.
  • DuBarry Patterns became available in 1931.
  • The Hollywood Pattern Company began in 1932.
  • The Advance Pattern Company began in 1933.
  • Simplicity sold printed patterns starting in 1947.
  • Butterick sold printed patterns starting in 1948.
  • Burda began including patterns in their magazines in 1952.

In 1863, Ebenezer Butterick invented the first commercial graded (where you could size a garment up or down) pattern. He was a tailor, and according to the Butterick website, he was inspired by comments his wife made while she was designing something for his baby son. The first patterns were only for men and boys, but three years later, patterns for women became available. He created the magazines Ladies Quarterly of Broadway Fashions (1867) and The Delineator (1873) to help market his patterns. In 1948, they began manufacturing printed patterns. Then 4-color printing was added to the envelopes and catalogs, then black and white photos were added to the catalogs, then full-color photos appeared on the catalog cover in 1950 for the first time.

James McCall established the McCall Pattern Company in 1870. A monthly magazine, The Queen (1873), was largely a means of advertising patterns, and was later renamed McCall’s Magazine and then shortened to simply McCall’s. They began selling printed patterns in 1919. By 1932, all of their pattern envelopes had full-color illustrations.

Vogue Magazine was founded in 1892, and sold patterns starting in 1899 via the “Vogue Pattern Department” with a coupon clipped from the magazine and 50¢ after Rosa Payne (who was a pattern designer) approached editor Josephine Redding about having a weekly article about sewing patterns. Vogue was purchased by Condé Nast in 1909. By 1913, Nast had made Vogue a major fashion magazine and the patterns were a significant part of it; the pattern department was now the “Vogue Pattern Service.” By 1920, the Vogue Patterns business was so large that it outgrew the fashion magazine, and were featured in their own, Vogue Pattern Book, published six times a year with over 350 patterns in each issue. Hollywood Pattern Company was started by Condé Nast in 1932, and continued production through the end of WWII.

The Simplicity Pattern Company began making patterns in 1927, with the goal of making simpler, less expensive patterns. After 1946, all of their patterns were printed. DuBarry Patterns were made by Simplicity exclusively for Woolworth’s from 1931-1940. In the mid-1980’s, Simplicity acquired the British pattern company, New Look, and maintains an office in the UK.

The Advance Pattern Company was founded in 1933 and was only sold at JC Penney stores, continuing production through 1966 when the company was sold.

In 1950, the German fashion magazine Burda Moden was founded, and in 1952 they began including paper patterns with every issue. In 2013, the US version, Burda Style, began. Simplicity has a distribution agreement with Burda patterns.

In 1961, Butterick licensed the name and trademark “Vogue Patterns” from Condé Nast Publications, Inc., and bought their pattern division. In 2001, the McCall Pattern Company purchased Butterick and Vogue.

Kwik-Sew was founded in 1967 by Kerstin Martensson with the idea of being for “real people” and for all levels of sewing ability. It was acquired by McCalls in 2011.

So there you have it, a very brief history of paper patterns! It’s not exhaustive, and there’s so many pattern makers that got left out, but these are the ones we’re all familiar with today.

Beginner’s Glossary

If you’ve been sewing awhile you probably don’t need a glossary, but for newer sewers this may come in handy.

Appliqué — A decorative surface embellishment usually stitched to another fabric.
Armscye — Armhole.
Back-tack — A few back and forth stitches at the beginning of a seam to anchor it. Sometimes called backstitching.
Baste — Temporarily joining fabrics together with large stitches that are easy to remove.
Bias — A diagonal line to the length and crosswise grains of a fabric. “True bias” is at a 45-degree angle to the selvage, and allows for the most stretch in woven fabrics.
Bias tape — A strip of fabric cut on the true bias, often used for binding raw edges.
Boning — Narrow metal or plastic strips used to stiffen garments or accessories.
Bound edges — Raw edges that are covered with fabric (such as bias tape) or trim strips.
Brocade — Fabric with an elaborate design, woven to appear embroidered.
Buckram — A stiff woven interfacing, often used in millinery (hat-making).
Center Back/Front — The true vertical center of the garment’s back or front.
Charmeuse — Lightweight, drapable fabric with a satin face and a crêpe-like back.
Corselet — A foundation layer in a dress that helps to support and anchor the outer dress fabric to the body.
Crêpe — A general term for fabrics that have a textured surface, that can be created by weaving the fabric with a twisted thread.
Cross-grain — This is the line perpendicular to the fabric’s selvage.
Dart — A wedge of folded and stitched fabric that shapes a garment over curves.
Double-folded hem — A hem that has been turned under twice to enclose the raw edge.
Drape — How fabric hangs in a garment (and on the body).
Ease — (1) The amount of comfortable movement a garment allows. Also the difference between the pattern measurements and the body measurements. (2) To slightly gather a longer piece of fabric piece to fit a shorter one.
Fabric marker — A pencil, felt-tip marker, pen, or chalk that’s used to make temporary (removable) tailoring marks on fabric.
Facing — A partial lining for finishing any exposed edges, like at the center front or back, neckline, armholes or hem.
Feed dog — The part of the sewing machine under the presser foot, that “feeds” the fabric while you sew. These “teeth” can be lowered for free-motion sewing, as well.
Flounce — A ruffle made by cutting a curved strip of material and sewing it along a straight line.
Fusible web/tape — An adhesive product that glues fabric or trim layers together when heated.
Gather — Drawing up a length of fabric in a series of puckers along a line of stitches.
Gathering stitch — A long running stitch used for pulling fabric to create gathers.
Grain — This is the thread orientation in woven fabric. Warp threads are on the lengthwise grain and parallel to the selvage, weft threads are on the cross-grain and perpendicular to the selvage.
Grainline — The double-ended arrow on a printed pattern should be aligned with the fabric’s lengthwise grain (parallel to the selvage).
Hand — The way fabric (or yarn) feels to the touch: soft, crisp, etc.
Hem — A garment’s finished lower edge.
Horsehair braid — A firm, bias-woven nylon strip of threads that is often sewn into hems to give them body and support.
Interfacing — Fabric that can be either sewn in or fused to fabric to stabilize, reinforce, or shape it.
Interlining — A layer of fabric used between the exterior fabric and the lining, to pad or stiffen the main fabric.
Jacquard — Fabric with a woven decorative design.
Lining — A layer of interior fabric to hide, protect or beautify the interior of a garment or bag. In the case of a jacket or coat, a silky lining may also make removing it easier.
Muslin — (1) Unbleached cotton fabric. (2) A test garment made with inexpensive fabric to ensure fit before making the garment with more expensive fabric.
Nap — Fabric that has a directional pile that can be felt by running your hand up and down the length of the fabric, such as velvet and corduroy.
Pin-fit — Using pins to temporarily fit a garment or muslin to size while on a dress form or the wearer.
Pinking shears — Scissors with sawtoothed blades that cut a zigzagged edge, useful for preventing fraying in woven fabrics.
Placket — A faced strip of fabric along a garment opening for buttons and buttonholes.
Princess seam — Vertical seams that run from the shoulder seams, over the center bust, to the hemline. They eliminate the need for darts.
Raglan sleeve — A sleeve with seams that run diagonally from neck to armhole; there are no shoulder seams.
Raw edge — The unfinished cut edge of the material.
Rolled hem — A very narrow hem where the fabric is rolled and stitched, either by hand, machine, or serger.
Rotary cutter — A circular cutting blade with a handle and used with a cutting mat.
Ruffle — A gathered strip of fabric used to embellish or finish an edge.
Seam — Where two pieces of fabric are sewn together.
Seam allowance — The margin of fabric between the cutting line and the seamline. Typically in home sewing the seam allowance is 5/8-inch, but it can vary.
Selvage — The tightly woven edge parallel to the lengthwise grain of the fabric.
Set-in sleeve — A sleeve sewn into an armhole (armscye).
Shoulder point
 — The point where the shoulder seam intersects with the armhole seam.
Silhouette — The outline of the garment and the shape it creates on the body (i.e.: A-line, hourglass, sheath).
Stabilizer — An underlayer that supports the fabric for machine stitching. Some stabilizers are water-soluble and are washed out, others can be torn away, others stay sewn in the garment.
Staystiches — A row of stitches, usually about 1/8-inch from the regular stitch line, made when the garment is being sewn to help support edges and help hold its shape, especially on curved edges like armholes.
Stitch length — The length of a stitch, produced by the movement of the feed dogs.
Tailor’s chalk — Chalk designed to mark fabric, that adhere well but are easy to remove and do not stain.
Temporary spray adhesive — A non-permanent bonding agent that adheres fabrics and stabilizers together and then releases them once it evaporates.
Thread tracing — Using hand-basted stitches to transfer markings from a pattern to fabric. Also called tailor’s tacks.
Topstitching — Decorative stitches on the garment’s right side.
Underlining — A fabric layer placed under the garment fabric’s wrong side, to reinforce seams, hide construction details, or add weight or firmness.
Understitching — A row of stitching close to an edge seam on the wrong side, joining the seam allowances to the facing layer and keeping the edge seam rolled to the underside.
Waist stay — A ribbon or elastic band on a garment’s inner waistline, anchoring it to the body.
Walking foot — A sewing machine presser foot that “steps” across the fabric intend of sliding, to ensure even feed.
Zigzag stitch — a Z-shaped machine stitch that is used to sew stretch seams, or sometimes to finish raw edges.
Zipper foot — A sewing machine presser foot that allows for sewing very close to the zipper teeth. It’s also handy for sewing piping.

For more sewing terms, visit:

Stash/Project Management

Tim’s accessories are still not done, I still haven’t begun mine, and I’m still sick. My Little Monster’s on spring break next week and that’s going to put me further behind. Begin panic mode… NOW! Sleep is for the weak! …or something.

I have far more ideas than I have time. If I locked myself in the basement, asked my husband to throw me down a pizza once in a while and just sewed for a month, I couldn’t even make a dent in the ridiculous amounts of projects that I have in my head and in my stash.

A few years ago, I really needed to get my stash a little better organized; it was getting unruly. I started putting the smaller projects in inexpensive gallon-size zip-top bags, along with a quick note with what the project was. (Anything too big for a gallon-size bag went into a plastic grocery bag.) In some cases, if I had a specific pattern in mind, I kept the pattern with the project, too. In other cases, if the project was inspired by something I had seen online, I printed it out with some notes and put that in the bag. That way, when I was finally able to get to the project, everything was together, and I knew what it was supposed to be. I set up a shelving unit by my sewing table, and in it are many of my projects. Now, if I want to sew something, all I have to do is grab something off the shelf; it’s right there, handy.

Projects ready to be sewn.

More recently I became rather obsessed with hats, and remnants are perfect for that. I have a lot of remnants… I did some sorting and rearranging in the space under the stairs, and managed to get everything sorted by color, because that’s how my brain works. Maybe you would rather sort by texture or fabric content..? I also have bins of other pieces of fabrics, large enough to be made into something, but don’t have plans for them (yet) that were given to me by my mother who decided she didn’t want them anymore. It’s maybe not a perfect system, but with a limited amount of space since I don’t have a whole room devoted to sewing, it works for me.

Remnants sorted by color.

I gave in a couple years ago and got a sketchbook to jot ideas down, with the idea that if they weren’t in my head, maybe I could get to sleep. (I didn’t work. Writing them down just made room for more.) Since then, I’ve also had to get a small sketchpad to carry on my person (so I don’t have to try to draw on a paper napkin with a ballpoint pen), and two more sketchpads: one just for hats, and another for clothes/costuming. My drawing skills aren’t fantastic, but they’re improving, and this is a convenient way for me to keep my ideas organized, future projects that I don’t have materials for — so nothing to add to my shelf.

Where I download by ideas.

How do you stay organized?

Going to the Faire?

Tim the Enchanter’s not quite finished, but I’ve been sick as a dog and haven’t been able to finish the accessories. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the Renaissance festival season. 

Forsooth! Festival season is upon us! Depending on what part of the U.S. you’re in, anyway. In the warmer parts of the country, it’s already started; those of us still in sweatshirts have some time to sew our garb.


The Renaissance covers a lot of ground, historically, beginning in Italy late in the 1300s and and continuing into the 1600s. It was quite literally a rebirth for Europe, devastated by the plague — the Black Death may have wiped out as much of 60% of the European population from 1346-1353. Globally, a hundred million people or more died from the pandemic, which is thought to have begun in central Asia and traveled west along the Silk Road.

Since the Renaissance covered so broad a time period, and all of Europe, the clothing didn’t look the same in 1450 Italy as it did in 1550 Germany or 1650 England. Most Ren faires are set around the late Elizabethan period, but unless you are actually working at the faire and have a strict dress code to adhere to, that may not be so much a concern for you. (If you are working at the faire, as a performer or a vendor, check to see how strict they are with period correctness. Some faires are sticklers for that — no modern fasteners or fabrics.)

Another thing to consider is that a lot of these festivals are in the summer, and Elizabethan garb has lots of layers, especially for women. There was a “Little Ice Age” happening at the time, temperatures in Europe were cooler so it made sense for them to wear all those layers. Be sensible, if you don’t have to wear all those layers, skip them. Check the forecast before you go, if it’s going to be a hot day, leave off the petticoat. Or if you start to get too hot, slip it off and take it back to the car. Don’t sacrifice the fabulousness of your costume for your health! (Been there, ladies; trust me, heat exhaustion is not fun!) That goes for you gentlemen, too — yes, you look amazing in that doublet and cape. Take it off before you pass out. Thank you. This has been a public service announcement from Sew Your Cosplay.

If you’re sewing your own costume/garb for the faire, you’re probably also considering class. Peasant class is always the easiest, and certainly least expensive, route. Roughly woven wool or linen fabric dyed from plants would include blue from woad or indigo, yellow from onion skins, red from madder or the insect cochineal, orange from safflower, etc. Peasants would have little time for embroidery or money to purchase ornamentation for their clothes, so they’d be pretty plain. Simplicity 3519 (views B without the lacing, or D) is ideal for men’s peasant shirts. Simplicity 5582 will take ladies from peasantry to upper middle class, depending on the fabric and ornamentation used. Men, up to the the gentry, would have needed Butterick 5936 for the pouches to carry their things, most especially the water bottle carrier for today’s faire-goer when you don’t want your plastic water bottle ruining the look of your costume. Ladies carried simple baskets to hold their stuff.

Merchants or tradesmen would have slightly better fabric, but still rough. They’d have more ornamentation, and the fit would be better — clothing wouldn’t be so sack-like. Since this is a more prosperous group, they’d have more than one set of clothes, so their clothing colors would be a bit brighter since they didn’t get washed as often, but the colors themselves would be the same. However, because indigo was so readily available and inexpensive, it was a color worn by servants and apprentices — social climbers would never have worn indigo so as not to be associated with the working class. Simplicity 4059 would be an excellent pattern for men’s garb for this class.

Upper “middle class” are highly skilled tradesman, gentry, or lower nobility — landowners. Shirts and chemises would be linen or cotton, with ruffles at cuffs and collars. Wool and linen are still used, but are more finely woven. They’d have just a bit of silk satin and velvet, too. Their colors were brighter jewel tones and trim was more ornate, but only the wealthiest members of this group could afford gold and silver trim — and pay the sumptuary taxes that went with it. Simplicity 3809 is a step up the social ladder for ladies, and depending on the fabric and colors, this could be used for gentry or nobility, while Burda’s 7171 is more limited to the nobility.

The nobility are certainly the most colorful and fun to costume, and more expensive, then and now. Silk satin, damask brocade, velvet, finely woven wool and linen, and even Egyptian or Indian cotton in small amounts were used by this class. The colors were bright — but still limited to what could be achieved by natural dyes. And remember: purple is exclusive to royalty! Jeweled embroidery is abundant and the overall effect is opulent. Burda’s 6888 is an excellent example of a slash-and-puff jerkin, with an opulent coordinating doublet in 6887.


For the Silk Road aspect of the Ren Faire, Simplicity 5359 (view B), or Simplicity 2158 and 2159 (designed to go together), are close to what might have been worn by dancers at the time. (Ghawazee coats are 19th century, not 17th. The Ottoman entari coat is similar, and more “period correct,” without the keyhole in the front for the bust.) Again, remember that  colors would have been limited to what natural dyes could produce if you’re trying to stay at least within shouting distance of history: orange, golden yellow, red, brown, blue… not green. (Green is the color of Islam, and dancers would not have worn it to dance in; that would have been blasphemous.) Also: no coin bras, no beaded fringe, no giant yarn tassels (those were worn by camels, not people). You want to balance the historical accuracy with your visibility, freedom of movement and comfort, and audience expectations. If you have friends who dance at faires, you might ask what works best for them.

There is certainly a blending of cultures happening at the Renaissance faires. I’ve seen belly dancers, Klingons, faeries, walking trees and royalty interacting with “everyday” people as though nothing unusual was happening at all. What’s not to love about them? I think my favorite memory of being at a Ren faire was getting caught in a downpour, and everyone ran for the nearest shop to get out of the rain. We were all so crowded, there was no “personal space” to be had, and even though the shower lasted for quite some time, the mood remained quite jovial. (It probably helped that it was fairly early in the day, and not at the end of the day, when everyone was exhausted…) Then the sun came out, and we all trooped off, avoiding mud puddles as we could — it was the best day!

For further reading: 
Elizabethan Costuming for the Years 1550-1580 by Janet Winter and Carolyn Savoy is an amazing reference.

The Renlist — “The easiest way to find Renaissance and other fairs near you.”
Renaissance Magazine — they also have a page with a list of faires, but there’s lots more info

Cosplay: Tim the Enchanter, P6

After staring at the mostly-finished coif for a couple of days trying to figure out how to attach the horns, I decided to try to use a large button inserted into the smaller hole. I knotted it on a long length of hemp cord — about a yard, because I didn’t know what else I was going to do with it, and wanted to be sure I had plenty — and pushed it into place, where it seemed to hold fairly well.


I marked the placement of the top of the horn with a pin, so I knew where to attach it. Using the tapestry needle threaded wi the hemp cord, I tried to get the needle through cloth layers and Peltex (four total layers of fabric, plus the stabilizer) and simply could not push the needle through it. I had to use an awl to make a hole just to get the needle through, and then had to pin the fabric layers together because the outer fabric and the lining didn’t want to match up when I did.

Horn placement
Lining is pinned in place, and the placement of the top of the horn is marked.
I couldn’t have gotten the needle through all the layers without using that wicked-looking awl.

Satisfied with the placement, I knotted the cords, but didn’t cut them (just in case). If you use a pin or even a pencil in the center/base of your knot as you pull it tight, you’ll get a nice, tight knot that hasn’t wandered from where you wanted it. Even with that trick, I wasn’t able to get the horns as snug to the sides as I wanted them to be, as they needed to be to look right.

Horn gaps
The gaps between the horns and the sides of the coif look enormous.

NOTE: Don’t do what I did! Do the finish work on the coif before you attach the horns! It was a pain in the butt to work around the horns — don’t do that!

I used perle cotton (for embroidery) for the whipstitching detail on the seams. I had some waxed cotton that would have looked fantastic, but when I tried to pull it through a scrap of the ultrasuede, the fabric tore a little, and I didn’t think I could get it through that and the broadcloth lining without seriously straining the material. The heavy tapestry needle and the thick embroidery cotton were bad enough, and pretty hard on my fingers — this is a good time for a thimble, if you have one.

No, it’s not tidy; it’s not supposed to be.

I made the ties with broadcloth, not wanting to “waste” the expensive ultrasuede on something that wasn’t really going to show. Those are finished, no fraying; I stitched them, turned and pressed them, and tucked in the ends and stitched them down, too. When I sewed them onto the ends of the coif, I double-stitched them. I sewed down the width of the tie, moved the fabric over about an eighth of an inch (with the needle up) and then sewed the same line in reverse. I’m pretty confident the ties are secure. I tried to brighten the photo to show the detail, but it’s black on black, so it’s still hard to see.

Double-stiched ties, going nowhere.

As I was doing on the finish work (that I should have done before I started on the horns), I thought about how I was going to get them snug to the side of the head. Sewing them wasn’t an option; thread would tear right through the foam, and getting a needle through the Peltex and the foam would require a really wicked curved needle, assuming I could get it to work at all. The foam at the bottom of the horn, the flat(ish) part, is actually pretty thick. What I came up with that seemed to work is ridiculously simple: diaper pins. They can be tricky to find, but I have bought them at fabric stores, and every costumer should have at least a dozen of them at all times. Srsly — they are incredibly useful. Every bellydancer I know swears by them. (DO NOT USE SAFETY PINS! Safety pins can pop open and will gouge you, or whoever you made the costume for, in the head and make you very sorry.)

Diaper pin
Diaper pins; every costumer’s best friend.

Because they’re so lightweight, the pins hold them tight to the fabric; because the Peltex is so sturdy, it doesn’t flex much or give the foam horns much opportunity to move and tear. The pins are high enough up on the coif, practically in the seams, that they aren’t uncomfortable (so sayeth my model, who could tell something was there, but not what). Would I want him to wear this out in a hurricane, or heavy rains? No, but I think it will hold up to reasonable wear, and I’m really happy with how it looks.

There are some who call me… Tim?

All that’s left now are the accessories, and then I can get started on my own cosplay. (W00T!)

Cosplay: Tim the Enchanter, P5

After using a pair of pantyhose as a skullcap, and covering my husband’s head with duct tape, I attempted to make a pattern using his head for Tim’s headpiece. Even though the sides were reasonably flat (I sketched the locations of the seams based on the screenshots), the center piece was still way curved. There’s several ways to turn a curved item into a flat pattern piece, but none of them would end up looking like the hat Tim wears, with lots of darts and stuff… so now what?

Well I was clearly overthinking the whole thing. He comes upstairs and suggests I look for balaclava patterns, or Snoopy’s aviator hat — so I did. And I found something even better: an actual coif pattern, which is more or less to the time that Monty Python and the Holy Grail is set: 932AD (according to the beginning of the movie). So instead of reinventing the wheel and making a pattern with duct tape, there’s a much better pattern that can be used for a Middle Ages coif as well as an aviator’s cap (great for steampunk!). Cynthia Virtue has the pattern and instructions on her page.

The pattern is sized by “adjusting the measurements to fit your head,” so I measured Marc’s head forehead to nape, jaw to jaw (over the top of his head), ear to ear (over the top), and the width of his forehead from the  outside edges of his brows. I didn’t know how many of those measurements will actually prove useful, but I figured too much info was better than not enough.

I put Ms. Virtue’s pattern pieces into Photoshop, and altered the long center piece first. Using the measurements I took from my husband’s head, I scaled it to the right length and width, saved it to two printable documents and printed them out. After carefully splicing them together, I cut it out with a wide margin in case I needed to add to the length or width of the piece. Then I tested the piece against his head, and even with the seam allowance folded under, I think it’s going to work; it might be a little short, but the width seems good. Excellent.

The second piece is marked “proportional” and I didn’t want to monkey with it too much. I used another measurement I took from about where the side seam would be to his jaw. Using that number, I scaled the side piece accordingly. It seemed a little big, but I printed it out (four sheets this time) and spliced it all together. It wasn’t a little big, it was huge. I’m not sure where I went wrong, but it was way too large. Measuring along the curve, front to back, it was over 6 inches longer than my center pattern piece. To determine the percentage I needed to reduce the pattern to make it the right size, I had to divide the correct measurement by the incorrect one and multiply by a hundred to get the percentage: 15.75 ÷ 22 = .7159 x 100 = 71.59%. I reduced the size of the side piece to 71.59%, printed it out (only two sheets this time), measured the curve, and it was a match to the center piece! Yay math!

Next, I made a muslin with some leftover black broadcloth. The fabric I bought for the costume coif is on the pricey side, so yes, I made certain everything fit the way I wanted it to before I cut into it. The nice thing is, after verifying that the muslin fit (huzzah!), I can line the costume coif with it, since that fabric is rough on the inside.

Coif muslin
Finished muslin (and lining!)

The ram horns are from Elope (purchased on Amazon), and when they arrived, one of them had been molded badly and was collapsing, right at the base because the foam wall was too thin. I cut a small hole in the center of the base and stuffed polyfill into the hollow horn until it was stable. There is no discernible change in the weight of the horn, but I did add some to the other horn as well, so they’d be balanced. Looking at them, you can’t tell which one was messed up if you didn’t know.

I had a remnant of Pellon 72F Peltex Ultrafirm stabilizer that I decided to try to sandwich between the layers. It’s fusible on both sides, but mostly I wanted something that was a firm base for the horn to rest on, not just fabric. If Tim’s coif was actually leather (and it appears to be) then his ram’s horns (which also appear real) probably didn’t need stabilizing. My “leather” is ultrasuede and the horns are lightweight foam, so they need some firmness since there’s no weight to hold them.

To get the placement of the horns and the stabilizer, I tried to use my tailor’s chalk on the edges of the horns, but the chalk was too hard. Marc suggested baby powder, and that worked great. I rolled the edges of the horns in the powder and placed them where they needed to go on the lining. That left an impression of the horns on both sides, that I then traced with white pencil so if the powder came off, I’d still have my placement. It’s going to be on the inside of the coif, so it won’t show. Next I sketched around the base of each horn (they are not identical), with about a half inch margin, on the Peltex — figuring I could trim it if a half inch was too much.

Powdered horn marking
Here you can also see the small hole I made to stuff polyfill inside to shore up the miscast sidewall of the horn.

I pinned the stabilizer in place through the center and put all the pieces together to check the size and placement. They needed to be trimmed a little, and moved forward a bit from where they were, but then they could be ironed on. But wait! 72F Peltex is a double-sided fusible stabilizer — if I wasn’t going to fuse it to the ultrasuede (and I wasn’t), I needed another layer of the broadcloth over the exposed side, or I’d ruin my iron and/or pressing cloth. So I covered the exposed stabilizer and ironed both pieces in place. Since I had the iron out anyway, I pressed a quarter-inch hem around the edge of my lining so I could stitch that down, and not worry about any raveling raw edges. (The ultrasuede won’t fray and doesn’t require a turned hem.)

peltex1 peltex2

Finished lining
The Peltex is trimmed and in place, edges finished.

I’m almost done with the coif… but I can’t quite decide how I want to get the horns attached. I’m still playing with a couple of ideas, but that will have to wait for next time. Stay tuned!

Cosplay: Tim the Enchanter, P4

With the robes done except for some additional distressing (more trips through the washer, shredding the sleeves, etc.), all that’s left is the cloak, the cowl, and the accessories.

This is a quick post, because, honestly the cloak really did go quickly. The worst part was cutting it out, because even on my new cutting table (huzzah for the back-saving height!), the pattern piece just didn’t fit on it, and six yards of fabric is simply unwieldy.

I used McCall’s 4139, an altered view B. I shortened it and added the red lining, so sort of a hybrid of B and C — lined, but with the hood, not the collar and capelets. Each layer was sewn separately then stitched right sides together and turned right side out. I ironed the sides and topstitched them to keep the lining from rolling to the outside. The hood was sewn in, and then I zigzagged the seam allowance down after trimming it a little. (The back of the collar ended up a little wonky, not sure exactly what happened, but Tim wears his hood down, so it won’t show, and I can fix it later if I need to.)

Shortened pattern
To shorten it without cutting into it, I just folded it up, and was careful not to snip the fold.

I did not hem the bottom. In the pictures, it does look fairly even at the bottom of his cloak, but I was afraid that a neat hem with everything else being shredded just wouldn’t make visual sense, especially up close and in-person. I already topstitched the front edges; more than that and it might look weird.

The way I decided where to rip the back of the cloak was determined by all those screenshots I took of Tim. I tried to get the same look with my husband’s cloak, and the hardest part there was pinching away that first bit of fabric and making sure that it was only the black, and not both layers. After that it was just a matter of choosing the location, making a small vertical snip, and tearing. I did this with him wearing the cloak, so I could get the placement as close to “screen accurate” as I could manage. In the scene where they’re at the Cave of Caerbannog, hiding behind the rocks, you can see the lining of Tim’s cloak through a large hole on his left shoulder. I tried to rip a hole on the left side of Marc’s cloak that will have roughly the same placement.

The shredded back of the cloak.

As with the robes, the cloak is going to need some more “weathering.” The shredded areas look too neat, so I’ll either need to pick at them or hope the washing machine does the trick. I’m getting kind of excited, because it’s really coming together, and even though key pieces are still not done, it’s really starting to look like Tim the Enchanter.

Over the weekend, I’ll be working on the cowl piece. I have to make the pattern from scratch for that, and it’s going to involve pantyhose and duct tape. Stay tuned!