Tips For Better Costume Making

During the making of the costume for my first solo act, Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’, I made a lot of mistakes. A. LOT. I am currently outlining all those mistakes in a 6 part blog post over on my website. Like most of us, I always learn so much from the mistakes I make so I’ve decided to share with you what I’ve learnt in the hope that you won't repeat these mistakes yourselves. So here are my 7 tips for better costume making.

1. Get the right materials for the job.

Most of the issues I had in constructing my corset were due to poor material selection. Corsets are made out of heavy materials such as coutil for a reason. So save yourself the struggle and buy one of these materials. Your outer ‘fashion’ layer can be any fabric you like, just make sure it is strengthen with one of these heavy fabrics or a heavy interfacing.

Another thing that helped me immensely was a walking foot. This is a sewing machine foot designed to be used with stretch fabrics. It has feed dogs on the foot so that the fabric feeds through smoothly without stretching or missing stitches. You stretch fabrics will end up looking like they were sewed by a professional when you use one of these bad boys. So do a little research first and you’ll save yourself the struggle.

2. Have realistic expectations of how long something is going to take.

In order to get things finished on a deadline you need to be honest about how long they are going to take to complete, then double that time because you know no one is ever really honest with themselves. When I first started sewing on the marabou trim of my gown I had no idea how long it was going to take. Once I’d sewn for a couple hours and hardly made a dent in the 20m of marabou I had I decided that drastic measures were required. I was able to take the day off work to sit and hand sew all day. And after Mommie Dearest, Gypsy, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2, as well as Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 and 2 it still wasn’t finished. I luckily had only a few hours of sewing left and enough time to get it done in but imagine if I hadn’t been able to take the day off work. So double it.

3. Customise patterns and sew toiles.

My tap pants were made from an original 1940’s pattern translated from French. It was designed for a 28” waist, which I definitely don’t have. I was however able to alter the pattern to fit me using a sew-along tutorial provided by the pattern seller. I then sewed a toile (or mock-up) using some old fabric I had laying around in order to test out the altered pattern. I’m pretty happy with the result and learnt a lot about construction that I will use to draft my own tap pants pattern, which I will definitely test out with a toile. So if the only pattern you can find is too small or large or wasn’t designed with your body type in mind (which is all patterns for most people) then don’t be afraid to use it as a starting point. If nothing else you will learn something about patterning and construction which will definitely help you in the long run.

4. Always buy extra material to give you the room to fail.

Have you ever tried to unpick tulle? It’s impossible. How about stretch mesh? Have you ever made something and it’s just absolutely perfect the first time? Stretch and mesh fabrics are hard to salvage from failed attempts so always buy extra. This applies to everything especially the items you’re ordering from far away. You might not end up needing it but it could end up saving you.

5. Cut corners where you can and multipurpose materials.

Faux fur is expensive. I needed 3 different kinds to make my 3 different powder puffs. The amounts I needed for 2 of them was well below the minimum cut length of 20cm meaning I would have to buy a lot more than I needed. Yes, I did just say that buying extra is good, but when the fabric is $60 a metre you can probably just ignore that. So instead I bought 1 type of fur and altered it so that it could be used for all 3 puffs. I bought Yeti fur (faux, of course) which I used in it’s glorious original longhaired state for the largest puff then trimmed the length down for the 2 smaller puffs. And from the stage no one can tell. You can repurpose a lot of thing to be other things. Like making tassels out of fringing or stealing a few feathers out of your boa to embellish pasties or a headdress. Get creative with your use of materials.

6. There is a wealth of information available out there. So go get it girl!

Oh how I wished I had taken a pastie making class with Lenore Noire before I made my pasties! There are so many talented people at the Bombshell Burlesque Academy with so much they can teach you. And I’m not just talking about the teachers either. Through conversations with teachers and students alike I have solved so many design dilemmas. There are also blogs, Facebook pages, websites, YouTube channels, and so many other online resources that there really is no way you can get away with saying you don’t know how to do something anymore.

7. An act is never finished. This goes for the costume as well.

Something I have only just realised is that acts can change. The act you debut is not the act you are stuck with forever. As you perform the act and your skills and understanding increases it’s only natural that you will change and improve your act. This is the same for costumes. I will eventually make a corset I am happy with and when that happens I will likely crystal the crap out of it. I have only just recently crystalled my g-string and I have remade my smallest powderpuff. I am currently waiting on some magnetic snaps to arrive so that I can change the closures on my triangle bra to speed up removal (and to avoid it getting stuck in my hair for the 3rd time). Acts can change and costumes can too so don’t ever feel like you need to have everything perfect before you can debut an act.

I hope you found something helpful in the above list. So much of what I do is trial and error which can sometimes make me feel like I’m rummaging through a dumpster behind a Mecca Cosmetica looking for one of those fabled unopened expired eyeshadow palettes. But you’ll realise that all that hard work and struggle was worth it when you finally lay your hands that Urban Decay Naked palette. So happy metaphorical dumpster diving!

xo Margeaux Le Gogo

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