Power Girl Cosplay Making of – Part 4

Store-bought clothes look so good

First, there’s one thing I want to make clear.  I sometimes hear people say things like: ‘Have you done this part of your costume by yourself?’  ‘No. I bought it.’  ‘Oh, I see. That’s why it looks so good. It’s store-bought.  It’s not like if it was handmade.’  Please, stop that. Right now.  Every piece of clothing or accessory, jeans, leather jacket, glove, shoe, cap, purse, wallet, etc. was hand made by a human being somewhere.  ‘Store-bought’ dosen’t mean that it was made by a robot.  Sewing machines still need to be operated by a human being.  Store-bought clothes ARE made with someone’s hands.  Yes, some precise steps of mass produced clothes like jeans are automated.  I have visited sewing shops were they were making jeans and I saw a programmed sewing machine that was doing by itself the top stitch of the jeans’ back pockets.  But this is an EXCEPTION.  Everything is made by someone.  And even if this someone is an asian woman, do I have to remember that it still counts as someone?  Some people seem to think that store-bought clothes and accessories are made by putting a roll of fabric on a conveyor, then the fabric goes through a magic box and a garment comes out from the other side of the box on the conveyor.  No, that’s not how store-bought clothes are made.  Everything is made using sewing machines and the hands of a human being that has skills.  It’s not ‘normal’ that store-bought clothes look better because they can be bought in a store.  Store-bought clothes look good because they are made by very talented seamstresses (who work too often in awful conditions in various asian countries, but that’s another discussion.)  My point is that it’s not ‘normal’ that a handmade costume looks a little crooked because it’s handmade.  It just means that the hands who made it need more practice and we can all improve our skills if that’s what we want. :)  That being said, if someone makes cosplay costumes for fun, I don’t mind the cute  technical mistakes.  Cosplay is a hobby first.  It’s supposed to be about having fun.  It’s not intended to be for professional costumers.  (NOTE: Parental advisory: explicit content will follow. The next sentences may be offensive for some people. It contains coarse language and violence. Tried to include nudity, but didn’t succeed. You’ve been warned.) If a young lady or gentleman claims to be a ‘professional cosplayer’ because she/he is a social media superstar and because she/he sells autographed prints of herself/himself in costume, I’d be expecting their ‘handmade’ costumes to look as good as a handmade ‘store-bought’ garment.  Kids in Asian countries can sew.  (And it’s a shame that kids have to work like this in so many countries.)  Young cosplayers who wish to call themselves ‘professional’ something should be able to sew as well as the young people who sew the store-bought clothes that we all wear everyday.  By the way, I think that we should not use the expression ‘professional cosplayer’ at all because it makes no sense. There are cosplayers, there are popular cosplayers and there are professional costumers.  I don’t consider myself as a professional cosplayer.  I consider myself as a professional costumer.  Am I part of the popular cosplayers?  I have no control on that.  The public decides.  What I can control, though, are my skills as a professional costumer. End of the parental advisory. The rest of this blog is PG13. ;)

 

What’s a cosplay costume?

All this brings me to another important point.  When I discovered cosplay, I looked at each costume as a piece of clothing.  Because costumes are clothes.  So why not using real clothes making techniques to make a cosplay costume?  I realized that since most of cosplayers are comic book/ Japanese anime/ videogame fans first, and not costumers, some cosplayers think of a cosplay costume like if it was a special object in itself and not a piece of clothing.  Let’s take for example that pattern making technique where people use tape to wrap someone’s torso over the person’s clothes in order to make the pattern of a shirt.  Even though it can be a useful technique for some very specific costume needs, there are already real pattern making techniques that allow you to do any type of clothes you can think of.  These pattern drawing techniques already exist.  Why would you look for another way to do it?  Pattern drawing is cheap. All you need is paper, a pencil, an eraser, a ruler and some curved rulers that are very handy.  Then, you’ll need cheap fabric or old sheets or curtains to cut and sew a sample of your pattern and make any necessary adjustment if needed.  And you’ll need the patience to do that step as many times as necessary to have a perfectly adjusted pattern before cutting in your real fabric.  But it’s doable and these pattern drawing techniques are available online.  Same goes for sewing techniques.  They already exist.  Sewing a zipper is a good example.  It can be complicated, but there are ‘official’ ways to properly sew a zipper and these techniques are available online too.  Why would we do it differently because it’s on a costume and not on a garment that we would wear everyday?  Cosplay costumes should be considered as clothes because that’s what they basically are.  It may sound like an obvious statement, but looking at many costumes over the past years made me realize that many cosplayers really consider a costume more like a crafted thing than like a garment.  Which makes that when they are looking for a way to do something or for a solution to a problem, they don’t search in the good domain.  They search for a way to reproduce the look of something. They don’t necessary try to understand how it would be made  in real life.  This is an advice that I would give to the more advanced costume makers who are interested in improving the level of their work.  Always ask yourself how the costume you want to make would be made in real life.  Here’s another example.  If your costume includes Japanese hakama pants, these pants exist in real life.  There’s a pattern to do this, there’s a way to sew real hakama pants.  Why would you try to recreate the look when you can make real hakama pants?  They exist for real already.  Same goes for a kimono, a samurai armor, a petticoat for a dress, a tie, etc.  These are all things that exist for real.  Why wouldn’t you search online for the technique to make a real tie?  It’s not because it’s for a costume that you have to ‘imitate’ a tie.  If you take the time to make searches about how already existing things are made, you may be surprised to see that in some cases, it may be faster or easier to do the real thing than to create  a new technique to imitate the real thing.  If you want to reproduce a prop that would ideally be made out of wood, why would you go, let say, for papier mâché first?  Why don’t you make some searches about woodworking techniques?  Of course, some materials are expensive or require specialized equipment and it may be easier or cheaper, in the end, to imitate a material than to use it.  But sometimes, it’s easier to go for the real material.  You just need to stop considering costumes as crafted things.  They are real objects.  If your intention is to increase the level of your costume, try to think of your costume for what it really is and make searches in the appropriate domain of expertise.  A garment is a garment.  A jewel is a jewel.  A leather belt is a belt.  And boots are boots.

 

You thought that gloves were complicated… Let’s talk about shoemaking

Yes, making custom leather gloves is one of the greatest sewing challenges I have undertaken  as a costumer.   But I still suceeded in doing it by myself.  However, there was also that other part of Power Girl’s costume that I couldn’t ignore: the boots.  And this, I coulnd’t do by myself.  As I mentioned it before, I had already made a pair of wedge leather boots for the costume of my character in Soda Pop Miniatures’ game Relic Knights.

MC_Bourbonnais'_character_in_Soda_Pop Miniatures'_game Relic_Knights

My character in Soda Pop Miniatures’ game Relic Knights

A friend of mine and I had worked on various prototypes before we made those thigh high boots that looked like boots, but that were not very comfortable.  There was a lot of things going wrong in that costume.  If you know how to make patterns and how to sew, you can figure out how to sew the upper part of the boots or shoes.  The complicated part is the sole.  The sole…  It’s a solid piece, but it’s not like building an armor piece.  It has to have a precise shape if you want to be able to walk.  It has to be comfortable.  Let’s put it that way: it was  a mystery in my mind.   I could sew the ‘soft’ part of a shoe of boot.  But how is it fixed to the sole and heel?   I could have dyed white boots in blue, I could have made shoe covers, I could have glued pieces of leather on already existing boots.  I could have ‘imitated’ boots.  But boots are an existing accessory and there is a way to make real boots from scratch.  Power Girl’s boots are not ‘costume’ boots.  They are real boots.  Blue, with a zipper and golden buckles.  Real leather boots.

In order to make the Soda Pop costume, my friend and I started making searches online about shoemaking techniques.  It was very hard to find anything.  And then, I thought of something.  We always search in Google in English.  What if we would search in French?  And for the very first time, we found more information by searching in French than in English.  In Europe, there are still shoemakers who don’t only fix shoes, but who make shoes from scratch.  There are people who make hats, fancy gloves, fur accessories and garments, all kind of specialized professions that are slowly disappearing in Canada and in the USA.  We have almost no seamstresses and tailors anymore.  No shoemaker who make shoes from scratch.  Nobody wears hats anymore. Caps are everywhere. In a couple of years, all these expertises will disappear if young people don’t get interested in this.  As a 36 years old seamstress, you can’t image how happy I am when I meet a 15 years old cosplayer who made a dress by herself.  That knowledge may survive.  And maybe that it will be through cosplay if people like me succeed in showing to younger people that using the real techniques is doable.  So my friend and I searched online for real shoemaking techniques and found French videos on Youtube.  However, most of videos online were talking about classic shoes for men with a stitched sole while I wanted to make ‘fantasy’ or designer boots with a glueded wedge sole.  My friend and I had only part of the info we needed and we realized, once we made the first boots for my Soda Pop’s costume, that shoemaking was a speciality that required many, many hours of work.

 

Meeting a shoemaker: the discovery of a dying profession

I talked to that teacher who had came to my workwhop to teach me leather sewing techniques and she actually knew a shoemaker.  He must be one of the latest shoemakers in the province of Québec to make custom shoes from scratch.  Shoemakers are definitely an endangered specie here. And he agreed in giving me private lessons.  It’s with the help of Monsieur Lamontagne that I could have the Power Girl boots done as I wanted them to be.   Now if you thought that making leather gloves was complicated, take a deep breath and be ready for everything.  Because making Power Girl boots required 25 hours of work and more than 100 steps.  Have a little rest and make sure to be in great shape for my next blog!  Because reading how to make boots from scratch, even with pics, will make your brain work! lol

To be continued…

4 Responses

  1. Robert Bos

    Your discussion of lost skills is interesting. It’s a shame to see some skills and technologies fall by the wayside. It is the price of progress, but as you note, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

    I buy my shoes from Dayton Boots (/plug) in Vancouver; they’ve been making leather boots from scratch for decades. I think they’re going strong. Just had mine repaired and resoled. It’s wonderful, like wearing a slipper (once you get past the break-in phase). There’s a lot to be said for local craftsmanship, if you can find it!

  2. Jon

    If people didn’t doubt your sincere passion for costume making before, this blog post definitely demonstrates it! This was a great read :)

    Looking forward to reading how the boots were made. I remember watching some videos about shoemaking, and they look like a lot of work! Interesting bit about the state of shoemaking in Québec. It’s odd to think that the discipline of making something so common is actually becoming a lost art. One day, you’ll have to travel atop the highest mountains to learn at the feet of the last master of shoemaking. XD

  3. Euan M

    Definitely with you on the “think of how the garment would be made” rather than just trying to imitate the look of it. I think once you get into that mindset it can also be quicker to work out how other things can be put together. Good read though, I definitely agree that as long as people will say if pieces have been bought (or for example commissioned for them by someone else) then there is absolutely no issue – cosplay is about the costume and character after all, and not necessarily about the “this was all handmade by me” aspect. I’m surprised and somewhat saddened to hear about your difficulties finding a shoemaker, even though I know they are pretty rare over here in the UK too… if there were no shoemakers, then eventually nobody will be able to maintain the mass-production machines and we’ll all go back to wearing simple bits of leather tied around our feet!

    Really looking forward to the rest of the progress posts on this :D

  4. avid

    I think your point is very thoughtful and not sure why the warning. What you’ve written is very logical. But you’re still a very excellent seamstress by your own right!

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