Shit people don’t tell you.

This is a big part of why I wanted to make this page.  There a lot of shit that you can google and learn on the internet.  Unfortunately, a lot of that shit is still incomplete.  I googled a lot about dying denim so that I could make sure I end up with the right hues for my costume.  Even so, there’s a lot of this process that is technique (which nobody tells you) and requires practice (which nobody tells you), not to mention having too little of the previous two items means buying more and more materials (which nobody tells you) in order to get enough of one to have the other.  Which can be pretty fucking expensive, and I think one of my google searches did mention this but I’m not sure.

Here’s some of the shit I learned in a very expensive manner.  Bleaching blue jeans is a common start to dying them a specific color.  Fair enough.  Some of the basics are common sense and some actually need to be mentioned.  Like diluting the bleach 1 part to 1 part water or 1 part bleach to 2 parts water.  Why?  Because bleach can burn holes in your clothes if it is too concentrated.  For a chemistry geek like me I didn’t need to know that but some do.  Wear gloves while you’re doing this.  Naturally we’re not talking about ski gloves.  Rubber gloves.  Most people think of rubber dish gloves.  While effective I would recommend large industrial rubber gloves.  They’ll last longer and stand up to heavier use.  You may be using them for dying, bleaching, painting, gluing, glazing, jerking off, any number of things.  Invest a couple of extra bucks and get some that are worth the investment.  The link I gave is for the Marigold site where you can buy them by the dozen, at not a bad price.  You can buy them by the pair at Grainger.  I would also recommend Grainger for any other PPE (personal protective equipment) you might need.  When working props you’ll use saws, dremels, brushes, sand paper and any number of other things so you’ll want things to protect yourself like disposable coats and safety glasses.  Having worked in chemistry labs I cannot stress safety enough.  I’ve seen people go to the hospital for the dumbest reasons and most of them because they didn’t take a second to protect themselves.  Losing an eye because you’re just going to trim something off with the dremel and won’t need the safety glasses is just stupid.  Buy a pair, wear them, live a long and happy life.  The same kind of thing is true from the gloves.  Some of the things mentioned above involve some very caustic chemicals and keeping them off of you will make the entire process much more enjoyable.  Sure the gloves, glasses and coat may be warm and uncomfortable for 15-30 minutes, but that nasty chemical burn that sends you to the emergency room in pain is going to show you what I mean.

Getting back to the bleach thing.  If you use it straight is will take the color out of your clothes quickly, and when you wash them to get the extra bleach out your clothes will literally fall apart.  Even diluted there is some technique involved in bleaching clothes.  I purchased two pairs of pants and some bleach to try just for the experience.  At $20 a pair, perhaps not my best thought out plan.  This is where that whole Love Goodwill thing comes in.  I purchased two large bottles of bleach but only used one.  In an odd spat of thriftiness I decided to reuse the bleach water from the first pair.  Somebody with more experience might know whether this is a good idea or not.  Nobody fucking told me this shit so I had to try it for myself.  The first pair of pants are on the left and the second are on the right.

Bleached pants
Bleached pants
Another picture of the exact same shit.
Another picture of the exact same shit.



The pair on the left still has some blue in them.  One of the things that was mentioned in my googling was to move the clothes around to prevent clothes from bunching up and preventing the bleach from bleaching evenly.  On the left the bleach was even but it looks almost like they were not bleached long enough.  I did leave them in longer than the 30 minutes most searches recommend.  Because I was going to dye them I wanted to make sure I had a good base to work with.  After pulling them out and putting in the second pair I noticed that the color seemed to be fading significantly faster in the second pair.  This could be an issue with the quality of the pants or even a greater concentration of bleach as water was removed from the bucket when the first pair of pants were removed.  I have no idea the actual reason.  Because of the speed the reaction was progressing I pulled the pants out quicker than I did with the first pair.  The discoloration is much more thorough in regards to the blue.  The difference, however, is that the pair on the right show some yellow discoloration.  This IS something they tell you on some of the searches.  Concentrated bleach can leave a yellowing type tint to the clothes.  As I haven’t dyed them yet I don’t know if this will effect the final color.  Because of the differences I have decided to dye the blue tinged pants with my green dye and the other pair with the much lighter yellow dye.  Once that is done I’ll post my thoughts on the effects of the bleaching and dying.

Is it possible that reusing the bleach water made a difference, absolutely.  I’m not going to go buy a couple more pairs of pants to check though.  Feel free to attempt this experiment yourself.  This is definitely and area where visiting Goodwill, buying some cheap clothes and trying it out first could save a lot of time and money.  Because of the length of this I will cover the dying technique in my next post.

Let’s start with something pretty straight forward.

One of the biggest decisions a beginning cosplayer makes is their first costume.  At first blush it makes sense.  You pick something that you love.  Something that would impress.  Something amazing!  BUT!  You also have to pick something you can actually make.  I had been thinking of doing a costume for some time and only recently decided to jump in with both feet.  Once I decided to make a costume I started thinking about what costume I was going to make.

Since this is my first I want to be one of those people that make a huge splash from the moment they appear.  You know those people like Stacy Rebecca who don one costume and suddenly they’re all over the internet?  THAT is who I wanted to be.  I wanted a big, amazing, impressive cosplay and so I looked for big, amazing, impressive subjects.  What I settled on was Songbird from Bioshock Infinite.

Tell me that wouldn’t be fucking badass!  You want to make an entrance, there it is!

And then I started looking for images to work from.  The more I found the more excited I got about the idea.  And then I started looking for  materials and techniques I would need to use.  That’s where it all fell down.  First of all, leather is fucking expensive.  I don’t know why, it’s just dead cow.  Given how much beef we eat and waste in this country, there should be a leather surplus.  They should be giving you your Big Mac in a leather bag.  To paraphrase the comedian Bill Kirchenbauer;

They’re not even that hard to kill.  They run around in a pen.  Moo, moo, oh moo.  BANG!  You’re a hat.

But it is.  It’s also a huge pain in the ass to work with.  That’s the real reason that leather products are so expensive.  Just looking at what was going to be required in terms of the amount of leather, special tools to cut, sew and mold the leather, I was already getting frustrated.  Not to mention rethinking the notion of even doing a cosplay.

Another thing to keep in mind when making the decision on what to create is your own skill level.  For example, I learned to sew in middle school so I’ve got at least a little experience in sewing.  Unfortunately middle school was about 30 fucking years ago so that little experience is probably more of a liability because I can delude myself into thinking I can do anything because I already know how to sew.  Yeah, right.  Realize that some of the things you will have to do to create this costume  is going to require learning new skills and just like any skill, when you start things are going to look like shit.  Practice and things will get better.  All of the established cosplayers have been honing their skills for years and it shows in the quality of the work they produce.  There is only one way to get 25 years of experience.  Keep working on it and you’ll get there as well, just don’t expect it to happen over night.  With that in mind pick early costumes that will cater to the skills you have and minimize the skills you need to improve.  Another example is the fact that I have settled on a costume that has minimal props.  Some of the cosplays you see are heavy on props like armor and weapons.  While I am incredibly imaginative, my dexterity is not even a distant second skill wise.  I know that props are going to take incredibly time, effort and patience for me.  So I am starting out accordingly.  My first costume is sewing intensive but prop light.  Giving me the opportunity to revive a skill I already have, improve it and create something that will keep me interested in cosplaying in the future.

As I mentioned previously, this is not the kind of thing you see on the Big Wigs pages because they’ve moved past all of this.  If you get the chance to talk to them, undoubtedly, this is the kind of advice they’ll give.  But on their pages the have the skill sets and experience to take any suggestion and make it reality.  We’ll get to that point but for now lets work on what we can do and worry about what we’ll eventually do later.

Be honest with yourself and your skill sets when making the decision on what to cosplay first.  If you’re one hell of a painter then perhaps a prop heavy costume will very little sewing is a good idea.  If you’re in amazing shape, something with less fabric might be in order, just try not to be the guy who picks a cosplay just so that he can show off his physique.  Sewing is a skill I actually have so I am working on a cosplay that requires more than a little sewing.  Play to your strengths and keep your enthusiasm alive.  This is supposed to be about having fun.

First post

We will start by making it clear that this blog is going to be oriented towards cosplayers and beginning cosplayers at that.  Why?  Because I’m a beginning cosplayer myself and hopefully some of these insights will help other beginners avoid some of the frustrations that I have enjoyed.  Why have I been frustrated about some things?  Because nobody created a blog to help me with shit that I didn’t know already.

Like most of you (beginning cosplayers) I’ve been following several well established cosplayers like Abbey Darkstar, Nicole Marie JeanCara Nicole, Ani-Mia, Jessica Nigri, Yaya Han and Rosanna Rocha.  All great people and worth following.  Additionally, they all make this shit look easy.  Why do I bring this up?  Because the last thing a new cosplayer needs is a false sense of simplicity.  As I am finding out, and hopefully will be imparting to you rapidly, this shit takes some work and can be frustrating as hell.  By posting my misadventures here, hopefully, we can minimize your misadventures and frustration.  This means more fun, more cosplays and more winning lottery tickets.

One thing to remember is that all of the cosplayers that I mentioned above, while great people, will not be of much help to you. Don’t get me wrong, they would love to help you out.  But the fact is there are just not enough hours in the day for them to respond to every email, instant message, or facebook poke they receive.  Remember, for every honest question about how to sew this, dye that or paint X, they receive 1000 messages about their boobs.  How big are they, can I see them, are they real, etc.  Plus, and this may come as a shock to some of you, they have lives of their own.  This is not the ONLY thing they do, hell, for some it’s not even their real job!  Because of this they don’t have the time to get back to your questions or give you pointers or google something for you.  They learned all of this the same way that I am, trial and error.  While you see some progress pics, you’re not likely to see posts about what to do and how to do it to minimize frustration.  They don’t have time for that.  I’ve read some of them mention putting together cosplays in a single day!  Most of them can open their closets and put together costumes that would not embarrass them at a convention.  Like something right out of The Professional.  Since they have a life and I don’t, I’m going to help you out with this shit.

One of the first things you will need to wrap your head around is that this is going to be fucking expensive.  One way of keeping those costs down is by doing as much of the shit as you can by yourself.  But that comes with its own set of shit to deal with.  For example, sewing costumes.  Just like anything else that involves skill or technique, it also requires practice.  Additionally there are start up costs.  These are never mentioned by those that are established because, they’re already established.  I thought we had established that.  Establish.  What does this mean to you?  Unless you’re going to sew all of your costumes by hand you’ll need a sewing machine.  I’d been toying with the idea of buying one for years so that I could mend and sew my own shit, cosplay is just a convenient excuse.  The Singer sewing machine that I bought was hardly the most expensive, in fact, it’s probably pretty close to the bottom of the list.  And it still cost $140.  Plus thread, bobbins, pins, replacement needles, fabric, and so on and fucking so on.  There are also other little things you need to take into consideration with these start up costs.  You’ll need a stable desk or table for the sewing machine.  The folding card table I put mine on to begin with bounced around so much that I couldn’t get a straight seem to save my life.  All I wanted was a straight line sewing two pieces of fabric together, no such luck.  So I had to go out and BUY a new desk.  Since I wanted to save some money I decided to dye the pants and shirts the right colors.  Dyes, start up cost.  Large fucking pot to dye the clothes in, start up costs.  Pants and shirts, start up costs.  Of course next time I won’t have to buy the pot, sewing machine or the desk but it still cost more than a couple of bucks to begin with.

First tip, learn to love Goodwill.  This is one of the few tips you could get from the Big Wigs.  I, having a good job, wanted quality materials for my first cosplay.  I am trying to get some of the more established cosplayers to do a shoot with me so I want a debut costume that will stand up next to them.  Because of this I purchased online.  Because, you know, cheaper.  Even so I have spent over $400 on pants and I STILL have not gotten far enough to start working on that part of the costume!  That’s right, still not far enough along to consider that ready.

Another reason to love Goodwill that ties directly into saving money and one of the items I mentioned earlier, practice.  Sewing requires skill, dying fabric requires the right technique, not stabbing yourself with a needle requires a bit of both.  Going back to why I have spent so much on pants, no practice.  Technique comes directly from practice.  The first set of pants I dyed were mottled and streaked because I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing (a dedicated post coming on that later).  Buy some cheap shit from Goodwill and practice on that before you try it on your limited resources.  The same goes for sewing.  Rather than start with sewing costume parts I sewed myself a simple convention bag.  Something to hold my photo sleeves, purchased items and whatever general shit I happen upon.  An incredibly simple design that gave me some confidence that I won’t run my hand through the machine like every shop teacher you’ve ever hand in high school.

Next tip, give yourself time to do all of this.  And I mean practice, buy what you need, design the costume and put it together.  As I mentioned, the people who have been doing it for years can slap shit together and look fantastic.  You can’t do that!  Figure out what you need, how you’re going to do it, whether it’s feasible, then think about buying and practicing.  Remember, time flows like water.  It’s incredibly difficult to hold on to and before you know it, it’s gone.  Not being rushed is going to be one of the best defenses against frustration.

I’m going to wrap this long ass post up by reminding you that you have a couple of choices.  Take your time and learn to do this right or you can pick up that playstation controller and do something meaningful with your life.  If I can help you out I will certainly try.  At the very least I hope to keep you pointing and laughing.