After you’ve made your first couple of cosplays, and you’ve gotten the hang of the starting process, designing, and sewing basic garments, it’s time to think about finishing. Some cosplayers choose not to fully finish costumes because “You won’t see it” or “It doesn’t matter how the seams are on the inside”. Sometimes you need to save your time for getting the costume done in time. I used to leave raw edges, do costumes out of single layers, and only use the iron for wrinkles, but the more I cosplay, the more I value good construction. Nothing sucks more than your best cosplay falling apart after wearing it once, but if you practice good construction techniques from start to finish, you won’t have to worry about that!
Using some examples from the cosplay I’m currently working on, I’m going to do my best to explain how to sew clean, well constructed, and sturdy costume seams and edges!
So I’m going to discuss the 5 steps I like to go through when I want a clean looking, well constructed garment!
Step 1: Fabric selection. If you want a garment to stick together, your seams to hold and be solid, and avoid any weird sliding, sheering, or warping, try to find a good textile! The perfect textile for the job is going to be different for every costume. For my Elsa bodice I found a cotton blend that had a reasonably tight weave, but somewhat low thread count that gave it a rougher, more heavy duty texture.
Step 2: Seam Allowance! Depending on how exact your pattern is, and how much you’ll be wanting to fit and alter the piece, it just makes sense to have a larger seam allowance on those seams which you are going to be changing more. It’s always better to make a piece bigger than smaller! When patterning my pieces out on paper I do not include a seam allowance; the size of the paper pattern is exactly the size I want the garment to be AFTER stitching. After it’s all patterned out on paper, I like to trace the pattern onto the wrong side of the fabric with either chalk or a fabric pen/pencil. Once the outline of the paper pieces, or the eventual sew-line of the cloth pieces are transferred, I get my clear sewing ruler and add a second set of seam-allowance lines. The general rule I follow is 5/8″ on the sides of each piece, and 1″ on the top and bottom. The more sure you are in your pattern, the closer to 5/8″ you can go, and especially with any kind of complex shape, you may want to lessen that seam allowance to save yourself any extensive clipping and trimming later. After the seam allowances is all traced on, I can start to cut along that line:
Step 3: Be aware of how much you’ll be handling the pieces. For a bodice like the one I made, it was fully lined, boned and finished. There’s going to be a lot of touching and possibly seam ripping and resetting. All of the work WILL fray any fabric you’ve cut, so it’s time to meet your best friend in the whole world for this issue: Fray Check!
Frey Check is essentially a fabric glue that comes with a small two-prong applicator. After you cut each piece of your garment, you run all the edges between the two prongs while squeezing out a small amount of glue. The Fray Check glue dries quite quickly,and will keep your pieces edges nice and clean for the rest of the time you’re going to handle them. The only time I would consider not doing this is if you’re not lining the garment (which I don’t recommend) because the glue gets hard to the point that it may be somewhat scratchy if the edge is up against bare skin. If you chose not to use Fray Check, you can also bind off the edges with a simple zig-zag stitch right along the edge of the piece, but I find this more time consuming and a bit less effective.
Step 4: Sewing and Pressing. I know it gets exciting once you’ve pinned everything in place, run it through the machine, and pull out what is actually starting to look like a real piece of clothing! I know I love to throw it on, take a few pics, look in the mirror and all that jazz, but in all the hoopla, don’t forget to press your seams! if you just leave your seams unpressed, from the outside they’ll look bunchy, wiggly, and lumpy, and those are three words nobody wants applied to their cosplay! Even just pressing seams to the side can lead to a visible addition of thickness in that area of the costume. I always ALWAYS press my seams open. Even when doing a french seam, press your seam open first to straighten the stitch line, and then press over into your french seam. When I say press I seam open, I mean flip your item so that the “bad side” is up, open up that seam, and iron it flat, like so:
Step 5: Lining. I may cover over a lot, and gloss over some things in this step, because the item I’ve been using as an example (and the one I actually remembered to take pictures of!) was not only lined, but also stabilized with fusible interfacing, and boned.
There are several ways to line garments, ranging from very basic, to so complex you may have to break laws of physics with your sewing machine to properly execute them. I tend to lean towards some of the more basic techniques, and that’s what I’m going to explain.
The basics of lining are essentially that you take what you have with your outer garment layer, make another one, and then sew the two pieces “good side” to “good side”, leaving one end open.
Then you invert the item, and top-stitch over each panel to keep the lining from separating from the shell and shifting around or bagging out during wear.
Well that’s about it for seaming and finishing! If you think I’ve done a particularly great (or poor) job, I’d love to hear about it, so feel free to leave comments. I will also probably write an article soon about finishing seams that aren’t just straight, so look forward to that!