Cheating For Costumes

You all know me. You know I have a Thing for being accurate. I feel like I’m cheating using metal needles at this point, let alone a sewing machine or inappropriate fabrics. This is not a post about that. This is about straight up theater costumes.

What do I mean by theater costumes? Not, surprisingly, costumes intended for theater, but rather outfits you make Just Because. You don’t have to justify them. Maybe you just want one outfit from a specific time period you don’t normally play in, maybe you’re making something for a friend who has a specific look in mind, maybe you’re doing something like the Birka fashion show and decide speed is more important that perfection. This is perfectly 100% acceptable. Do it up.

Lets talk about How. Yes my darlings there is an art to faking it and having it look right.

1. Patterning.

Look at your inspiration piece or pieces. What is most important to evoke the correct look? Is it the neckline? The skirt? The pants? The pattern of fabric? What needs to be there to have it have any hope of the final product passing for what you want? From there find modern patterns with similar lines to form your base. This’ll save you from drafting everything and gives you a solid place to start from.

You will need to edit your pattern. For example you can take a modern fantasy pattern and use it to make the structured bodice for Italian ren, so long as you trim off the bits that don’t look right compared to your inspiration piece.

2. Know what corners you can cut.

Are you planning on wearing this once? Indoors? Screw it, get cheap synthetic fabrics that look right. You don’t need it to breathe if you’re not worried about over heating. If you are worried about over heating? Spring for cotton. Does it need to be supportive? No? Awesome, use plastic boning and just make sure you can wear modern underwear under it. Can you get the right shape without multiple layers? Cool, sew what look like under garment sleeves right onto the outerwear. Will you see the fastenings? No? Now is the time for machine button holes and/or metal grommets (don’t use them anywhere they’ll be seen please. Nothing screams ‘deadline’ or ‘lack of fucks’ like metal grommets). Only going to see about 6in of what should be a full additional dress? Only make those 6in and pin them into place.

3 Machines are your friend.

Seriously. Machine stitch every bit you can. Don’t have a serger? No problem, finish those seams by running a wide zig zag stitch over the raw edge of your seam allowance. If this is for a one shot, or a just for fun situation then no one is flipping your seams. And if they are then they have other things they could be focusing on rather than how your seams were finished.

4. Safety Pins Hide Sins.

Making a German gown but can’t get that front stomach portion to stay up or closed? Pin it to your bra. Don’t have time to sew in ties for 14th century fancy sleeves? Pin those suckers in. Missed sewing in a button? You guessed right, pin it.

5. Know where you need to do it Right.

Yes you can cheat on damn near everything. But there are places you Have to do something correctly or by hand. Either it’s a fairly blatant spot (like eyelets down the front of the gown) or something your machine just isn’t designed for (like stitching down pearls). When you get to these spots it is just So Much Faster to just do it by hand than it is to try and make up a solution, get frustrated, then do it the way you should have in the first place.

Are there more tips? Yup! Sure there are! Ask anyone how they cheat on quick and dirty garb (my favorite is bias tape as hem treatments) and they’ll have a trick or two. But remember, these won’t win you any accuracy awards. So don’t do them all the time, yeah?


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