Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 4)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the fourth-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Angle and Perspective. (If you missed any prior installments: Part 1Part 2Part 3.)

Angle and perspective is just what it sounds like – what angle is the camera at relative to the subject, and what perspective does it create?

Here’s an image with a really, really flat/square/straight perspective:

The camera is facing subject straight on, and with little or no angle either horizontally or vertically. This results in a classic portrait-style image, with no part of the cosplayer given particular emphasis (or de-emphasis.) Most of your pictures will be shot like this, for obvious reasons. But like everything else, it needs to be deliberate. If you’re shooting from a classical portrait perspective, then get it right.

Square up. Make sure you’re not too high or too low. If you’re a lot taller than the cosplayer (I almost always am) hunker down a bit. Ideally your lens would be even with the center of the subject – for example, if you’re shooting a person who’s standing up, you would want your lens about even with their waist. This is why when I take pictures of people, even just quick snapshots, I almost always kneel. That way the center of the image is even with the center of the lens, and the sensor is perpendicular to them, so there’s no perspective distortion. It’s okay to be a bit off, but the closer you are to them, the more difference it makes.

If you’re not going for a pure straight perspective, again, do it deliberately, and think about what you’re doing. Here’s a picture we’ve seen before:

I chose to shoot this image from below the level of the subject. Although the model is still clearly visible, the angle emphasizes the crate and the message written on it to some extent, which helps counter the fact that the crate is much less visually interesting than the model and the eye would be drawn to her first if the shot had been taken from a purely straight perspective. It also draws out the door behind the model, making the entire image slightly surreal. (Remember, like I said last time: The failure mode of “surreal” is “pretentious and/or stupid.” Use discretion.)

The thing to remember about perspective is this:

  • Things that are bigger look closer.
  • Things that are closer look bigger.
  • The eye gives more attention to things that look bigger or closer.

So if that cosplayer has an amazing helmet on, shoot from as high as you can. Maybe even have them kneel down and you shoot from head height. From that angle, the helmet will seem closer, which will make it seem bigger, which will make it the focus of the shot without completely removing the rest of the costume from the image. Likewise, if they have some super-cool boots that you want to emphasize, have them stand and you get as low as you can. (Maybe even put them on some steps and you get below them!) Shoot up slightly, and the boots will be emphasized because the lower portion of their body is closer to the camera and will therefore look bigger.

This is also a very, very useful technique to help cosplayers (or any subject) look their best. Shooting from relatively high or relatively low will tend to stretch out the body, making the figure seem more slender. Shooting from up high draws attention to the face. Shooting from down low draws attention to the legs. Shooting from straight on draws attention to the body as a whole. What do you want to emphasize? What does the cosplayer consider the most important features of the costume? Get that part closest to your camera, and it will jump out at the viewer without having to crop the field of view so that only that part is visible.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!


Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 3)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the third-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Environment. (If you missed any prior installments: Part 1Part 2.)

Every photograph tells some kind of story. After making sure that the photograph is respectful, and that it’s lit the way we want, now we are starting to consider the story of the photograph. (That is, the story which is external to the inherent story of the cosplay.)

Environment is the surroundings of your cosplay subject – everything in the picture, basically, that isn’t your cosplayer. When you are taking professional cosplay pictures, you usually either try to find a really appropriate location (like, say, Doctor Evermor’s Forevertron, where I would give my eye teeth to photograph some really rad steampunk cosplay) or photograph against some kind of very plain and uninteresting background Usually this is just seamless paper hung from a rod, or walls painted white. The former is just called “seamless” and the latter is sometimes called a “cyc.” (Pronounced like “psych.”) As an example, here are two models shot on seamless, which is literally just a 9 food wide roll of heavy white paper, and a model shot on a crate I found next to the loading dock of a place where I used to have a studio.


The model with the dreads is the same model in both shots – quite a bit of difference, though! In the first shot, the models and their unusual makeup/clothing/actions are the entire focus – they are the story. In the second, while the model is striking, she’s part of a story. The environment tells the rest – and tells us that there’s probably more to the story that we don’t know.

You may not have ready access to either an amazing set or a nice clean seamless drop, but they are great examples of the two basic approaches to using environment in cosplay. Namely, minimization and utilization. If you’re minimizing environment, you want your cosplayer to be the story. If you’re utilizing the environment, you want your cosplayer to be in the story. Although there are no absolutes in photography, these are some pretty firm opposites. Try to decide which you’re doing, and do it as best you can.

If you’re minimizing, minimize. Remove every distraction you possibly can. Look around. Consider what, within the available environment is the plainest, least-distracting possible backdrop. Is there a white wall around? How about a brick one, or one with large, regular tiles or other interesting but not distracting elements? Never underestimate the power of a good brick wall to provide a background that punches up the photograph but doesn’t distract from the cosplayer:

Where can you stand to have the absolute minimum of furniture, equipment, or other people visible in the shot? Can you use nothing for the background (in other words, shoot against a window or the sky itself?) Example:

This was shot on a rooftop: from any other direction, there would have been buildings much closer as opposed to the ones visible in the far distance. However, I wanted the emphasis on the cosplayers. Had it just been one, especially with a more subtle costume, I might have used the buildings to make the image more visually interesting. Here, it’s not necessary – they’re already a highly interesting group.

If you’re utilizing, be bold. Drop that cosplayer in the environment. Make them part of it. (Although it can be clear, as in my crate picture above, that they don’t belong in it, but rather they are something extraordinary which is nevertheless in that environment. It’s okay to look weird: try not to look fake.) Here’s one of the models from the picture above in a much more utilized environment.

In this picture, the model is much more integrated into the backdrop of the city. She’s sitting on a rooftop, with other buildings nearby. You can imagine her looking for someone on the street below, or moving above the crowds unseen. She looks much more human, more a part of her environment, than she did in the first picture. In the first picture, you knew she (and the other models) were badasses. The picture was about their badassery. This one’s different. You wonder how she got there, what she’s doing, where she’s going. But it’s still appropriate for her badass self. The same model, photographed in, say, a kid’s park, would still be badass, but the story wouldn’t make sense. (Unless you were going for surreal. I love a good surreal image, but remember that the failure mode of “surreal” is “pretentious and/or stupid.” Use discretion.)

There are some good examples of the two approaches to a pre-arranged cosplay shoot. What about if you’re just walking the Con? Then what?

Exactly the same thing, that’s what. Here are some examples taken at an auto show, which is kinda like a Con in that it’s utterly chaotic and not very inclined to arrange itself to help you. :


In the first example, the model is against a weird sort of patterned wall thing that I found. (In the compressed version here, it’s a bit moire’d. It’s not so bad in the full size.) Interesting, but with no other actual objects to distract from the model. In the second, she’s in front of a fancy sportscar, looking fancy herself, and with the large ad slogan-which happens to be completely appropriate for the image-placed to make it part of the story, just like the car and the model herself. That’s the whole of it, right there. In the first one, the model is the story. In the second one, she’s in a story.

So, to sum up, ask yourself that question – is my cosplayer in a story, or are they themselves the story? Do I want the environment to be part of the story I’m telling, a character in its own right? Or do I want it to simply be unobtrusive?

If you want it to be unobtrusive, minimize it. Look around, turn and move, to find the largest, plainest, most uniform environment you can.

If you want it to be part of the story, make the cosplayer look like they are in that environment for a reason, that they are moving through it, reacting to it. Use the environment. Make it do some work!

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!


Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 2)

Welcome back! In this installment, we’re going to talk about the second-most important thing to consider when photographing cosplay: Lighting. (If you missed the first installment, just click here.)

Photography, as we word-nerds know, translates as “writing with light.” Light is everything in photography. If it’s too dark, you can’t make a good photograph. If there’s enough light, the only problem is harnessing it. (If there’s too much light, we also have a problem but that’s much easier to deal with.)

So, first ask yourself: Is there enough light here?

If there isn’t, you have some options. The easiest one, by far, is to move to where there’s more light. Back up a few steps and get your cosplayer in the sunbeam coming through the front doors of the convention center, or closer to a lighting fixture.It doesn’t take much: what may not look like a very bright light to you might be more than your camera needs. Your brain automatically adjusts the apparent light level you see – the camera doesn’t. What looks like just a little more could be plenty. And you can be creative about using light fixtures. For instance, I wanted a dramatic shot of this model at a trade show. There were lights in the FLOOR. Problem solved!

8074_surreptitiousGet them out of the shadow they may be standing in. Move toward a large light-colored wall, which will reflect light from the room onto the cosplayer and illuminate them more strongly. Look for light. Go to the light. (However, if you see a small woman saying, “Come to the light, my children,” consider not getting any closer. And possibly fleeing. I’m just saying.)

Your second option is adding some light. Is there a light nearby you can turn on? Does your camera have a flash? Try it and see if it helps. Here are two pictures taken seconds apart. In the first one, there’s no flash – the background, where the stage lights are, is too bright and the dancers are too dim. In the second one, I turned on the flash (although it wasn’t aimed directly at them – see the upcoming “Equipment” post for information on bounce/indirect flash. It’s easier than it looks)

CRW_5835 CRW_5834

Big difference!

Your third option is helping your camera use what light there is better. Here are the potential adjustments you might be able to make to get more “light” out of your camera.

A) Does your camera have an aperture setting? This is usually labeled in f-stops or just “f” and then a number. Don’t worry about what the numbers mean: that’s advanced level. Just remember that the lower the number, the more light will get into the camera. At f4, a lot more light gets into the camera than at f16.  The “middle” of most f-stop ranges is f8, which is a nice compromise between letting in light and losing depth-of-field, which is the tradeoff you get when you use lower f-stops. (Not going to explain depth-of-field as it’s usually not that important in this kind of photography: Google it if you’re interested.) Start at f8 and go up or down from there. Changing the aperture – lowering the f-stop number – is usually the best bet for trying to improve your chances of a good picture in low-light situations. But not the easiest, because you still have to set it manually. Easiest is increasing the ISO setting – see below.

B) Does your camera have a shutter speed setting? If so, decreasing the shutter speed will let more light into the camera. If you go from 1/100th of a second to 1/50th of a second, you’ll get twice as much light! But the longer the shutter is open the more chance things have to move while it’s open. If the camera moves, you get camera shake, and the entire photograph will be blurry. If the subject moves, you get motion blur, and whatever moved will be blurry. Either way, blurry. Unless that’s what you want, blurry is bad. So try not to decrease the shutter speed any more than you have to to get the shot. This is why messing with shutter speed is probably the least good way to get more light.

As a rule of thumb, most human beings in reasonable health can handhold a shot at 1/60 of a second or faster without much difficulty. If you have to go lower than that, get as steady as you can and if at all possible get your subject to hold as still as they can. The best way to get steady is to use a tripod, but that’s obviously not good for spontaneous photography. (It’s WONDERFUL for planned photography. If you’re going do any serious photography, get a good tripod!) So short of that, improvise. Can you put the camera on a table? Can you sit down and brace against the arms of a chair? Can you lean against a wall or a pillar? Whatever you can do to get the camera steady, do it, and you can get away with surprisingly slow shutter speeds (I’ve successfully taken photographs handheld at 1/5 of a second with minimal blur, and acceptable photographs that just looked a little soft at lower speeds than that.)

C) Does your camera have an ISO-equivalence setting? That’s a number, usually starting at 50, 100, or 200, and going to anywhere from 800 to 25,600. What it means is “how sensitive do you want the camera to be to light?” The lower the number, the less sensitive. “Why don’t I just leave this turned up all the way all the time?” I hear you ask. The reason is that the higher the ISO setting, the “noisier” the photograph will be. “Noise” is the digital equivalent of grain in film photography – the picture gets less detailed and starts to look “speckled.” Noise isn’t inherently bad, but most of the time we want the least noise we can get away with, so we want the ISO setting as low as we can get it. Upping the ISO, especially higher than 400 or so, is our last choice. (ISO 400 or lower, in most modern cameras, is pretty darn good and noise shouldn’t be all that big a deal.) However, if a higher ISO makes the difference between getting a good shot and getting a picture that’s motion-blurred, shaky, and dark, up the ISO and be glad you can.

Here are two pictures, taken with everything exactly the same except the first was taken at ISO 100 and the second was taken at ISO 12,800 (which is as high as my camera goes.) No other adjustments, no added flash. Just changed that setting.

_MG_0201_7s _MG_0201

Again, big difference! Now, you can’t really see much in the first picture, but the second one does have some grain or noise – speckly distortion bits, to use a technical term. That’s the tradeoff. However as you can see modern cameras (and the camera that took that isn’t even that modern, as I took it several years ago) are pretty good about minimizing noise. So find that setting and go to town!

Another sort of compromise is to see if your camera has an “exposure compensation” setting. This is usually labeled “EV,” and you can move it up or down in increments. Moving it up will make the camera try to make the photograph lighter. Moving it down will make the photograph darker. Changing the EV is a lot easier than manually changing aperture, shutter speed, or ISO, so if you don’t want to monkey with manual settings, look for EV and give that a go first. Note that many less expensive cameras which may not have manual setting mode will still have EV settings. Even some high-end cell phones have it. Find it. Play with it.

Once you’ve got enough light, look at where the light is coming from. Is it right behind the cosplayer? Is it right behind the camera? Is it to one side or another? Whichever it is, is that the best angle, and if not, can we move the light or the cosplayer? Moving the light is often tricky. If you’re in a convention center and don’t have your own lighting equipment, it ain’t gonna happen. So if you can’t move the light, move the cosplayer.

Here is an example of using the light you’ve got well, followed by an example of… not.

V0010_nefarious _MG_2767

Notice that in the first one, the light (from a large fixture) is coming from the subject’s right and in front of him. It lights up the important part – his face and hands – and provides dramatic shadows. In the second one the light is coming from directly above them. I did get the marvelous Malificent costume reasonably well lit, but that was at the cost of the shadows on their faces.

In my defense, the second picture was a candid. I did ask, and they were very gracious. But I didn’t want to wander them all around the con (this was GeekGirlCon 2014) to get perfect light. I just wanted a memento. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Don’t obsess over everything, and don’t think all your pictures have to be perfect. If you just want a picture of a cool costume to remember it by, ask and snap away. These tips are for when you need more than that, and to encourage you to be mindful of the light. And if I’ve helped make you more aware of how being mindful of light can enhance your photographs, they are a complete success.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that you find it useful in future. Please check out the other parts of this series and the rest of our articles here on Sew Your Cosplay!

You are welcome to ask questions in the comments and/or by emailing me at any time. Thanks for reading!


Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 1)

Hi there! I’m Marc, Wendy’s husband and co-conspirator here at Sew Your Cosplay! She thought it would be helpful if we had information on how to photograph cosplay. I mean, you went to all that work, why not get some nice pictures? Whether you’re photographing your own or someone else’s cosplay, this article will help you get the most out of your pictures.

Here are the elements I’m going to cover:

  1. Respect
  2. Lighting
  3. Environment
  4. Angle and Perspective
  5. Equipment

As you can see equipment is the last thing on the list, because it’s the least important, and I don’t want anybody to think for a second they can’t make cool photographs without an expensive camera. The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, pioneer of “decisive moment” photography, once said, “The best photographer in the world is not as good as the worst camera.” As usual when it came to photography, he was right. If you know what you’re doing and are mindful, you will get better pictures out of your iPhone than someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and isn’t mindful will get out of a multi-thousand-dollar DSLR with all the latest whizbangs. So don’t be afraid, grab your camera and let’s make some photographs!

Continue reading Photographing Cosplay – At Any Skill Level, With Any Camera! (Part 1)

(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