Ready to take the plunge into sewing your own custom cosplays? Or are you already sewing your own costumes, but want to get to the next level? Here is what you need in your cosplay sewing toolkit to elevate the quality of your work and prepare you for your next big comic convention or cosplay contest!
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Your cosplay sewing shopping list
The most important tool in your cosplay sewing kit is a sharp pair of FABRIC-ONLY shears.
There is a reason this is first on the list. Having quality scissors is, in my opinion, more important than the type of sewing machine you have. Like knives, a dull pair of scissors cause more harm than good since you are more likely to exert excessive force when cutting, which can cause slips and cuts. Not to mention dull scissors tear, fold, and damage your fabric. I recommend the Guggenhein Professional Tailor Shears because they have a great weight and the black finish sets them apart from non-fabric shears. If you’re not yet able to invest in a professional pair of shears like Guggenhein or Gingher (I am a fan and owner of both), purchase Fiskars and mark “FABRIC ONLY” on the handles so they are not mistaken for office scissors.
When you need to cut paper, patterns, foils, and everything that’s not fabric you need a solid pair of sharp NON-FABRIC scissors.
Speaking of Fiskars, I tend to retire my Fiskars scissors from fabric-only to non-fabric scissors after they lose their “fabric edge”. (Don’t get me started on the lack of available scissor sharpening services in my part of the world.) But, it is still important your non-fabric scissors retain some sharpness for cutting pattern pieces, paper, and other materials. Once they struggle to cut paper, donate them to the foam smith in your life who will destroy them, then get a new pair. These Fiskars office scissors are a good price and will do the job for your non-fabric work. (“Elle, you could always sharpen them with….” Yes, there are sharpening tools on the market, but I’ve not had success with them so far.)
Always have a small pair of embroidery scissors close at hand.
Whether it’s trimming an end to thread a needle, or snipping thread tails from seams, you need a small pair of scissors close at hand. I keep a pair of Gingher embroidery scissors by my sewing machine and another pair on my ironing board. That way, I don’t need to search for my shears under piles of fabric or pattern pieces. These are also great for, wait for it…. embroidery work! These are just the right size for hand stitching, embroidery, and delicate bead work.
NOTE: Though I do have other specialized cutting implements, like pinking shears, dressmakers shears, and rotary cutters, the three mentioned above are used most in my workshop and I couldn’t sew without them.
Slap this on your wrist and you will always have your pins safely with you when you’re sewing.
It’s sewing go-time when I snap my pin cushion on my wrist! What I love most about the Singer ProSeries Slap-On Wrist Pin Cushion is how convenient it makes sewing. My pins are always at the ready, and easily returned to the cushion as I remove them. I’ve used the same one for nearly ten years (but I had to replace the snap bracelet part four years ago when the original became thread bare). Other pin cushion bracelets have come on the market, including some that are magnetized, but I stay with this one because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Mark your fabric’s notches, buttonholes, guides, and sides with tailor’s chalk to avoid guesswork and mistakes.
Once you cut your fabric pieces, it isn’t always easy to tell which is the right side and which is the wrong side. Is this the front of the sleeve, or the back? How do I match this collar piece to the neck section? I use this tailor’s chalk to make notes on the fabric and brush it off when you’re done. I always number my pieces in chalk on the wrong side of the fabric because this one time I sewed the wrong side to the right side and didn’t realize it until the cosplay was under bright light and the sheen was different one ONE panel. OOF. Lesson learned. NOTE: There are also water and air soluble pens that disappear after time or with water. I use them frequently, but you MUST test them on a fabric scrap because they do not disappear on ALL fabrics.
Save time and frustration by using pattern weights that hold your pieces in place while you work.
Pattern weights keep slippery fabrics from slipping off your cutting table. They hold pattern pieces in place while you cut around them. They keep heavy fabrics from pulling down on pieces you’re cutting. They keep the fabric in place while ironing. I use these Dritz pattern weights constantly because they are heavy enough to do the job, but also gentle enough to not catch on delicate fabrics. I’ve seen heavy metal washers from hardware stores used, but I’ve shied away from them because they sometimes have jagged edges that might snag on sheer textiles. The Dritz pattern weights are also great to throw at the foam smith in the house when he tries to take your fabric scissors.
A good sewist always has an accurate tape measure close by for body measurements and constant double checking.
Yes, accurate. Not all tape measures are reliable. (Seriously. Grab all the tape measures you have in your house and compare them. Unless they are all good quality, you are likely to find one or two that are OFF.) I use Singer 60″ tape measures because they are inexpensive, strong, and accurate. IMPORTANT NOTE: Once you begin a cosplay sewing project, always use the same tape measure. That way if it is a little off, you are always comparing it to the same amounts.
Use a sewing guide for the precise measurements needed for buttonholes, pleats, hems, darts, and seams in your costumes.
In sewing, every 1/8 inch matters, so having accurate measurements is critical to the fit and look of your sewn cosplay piece. Your tape measure will be there for getting those body measurements, but it isn’t always great for all the other calculations you need. That’s where your sewing gauge comes in. This little tool seems to be in everyone’s sewing kit but is often overlooked and unused. I use this sewing gauge CONSTANTLY to mark buttonholes, hems, pleats, darts, and, well, everything else. The slide stays in place, so you can lift the gauge and move it without losing accuracy. Once you set the gauge, you’re good to go.
A good sewist spends more time with their iron than their sewing machine.
Ironing is critical to a good cosplay. The heat and steam fuse your threads together and creates a strong bond. When you press open your seams, they sit better and look cleaner. (Nothing shouts novice more than unpressed seams.) You can also use your iron to set your hems before heading to the sewing machine. In some cases, you eliminate the need to pin the hem at all because the iron has done all the work for you. Every time I finish at my machine, I head to my ironing board to steam the stitches and press open the seams.
Fun fact: I am more likely to bring a good quality iron to a con than my sewing machine. One — because I hate con crunching. Two — hotel irons SUUUUUUUUCKKKK! Read about what we take to cons HERE.
Every sewing workshop needs three ironing tools: a good quality iron, a tailoring ham, and a clapper.
Your tailor’s ham is necessary for ironing curved areas like arms, collars, and darts.
I resisted buying a tailor’s ham for the longest time. Instead I used a rolled up towel and shoved it into my fabric pieces. That was a pain, by the way. For a mere $14, I got a tool that was designed to iron curves and make my life easier. Imagine that! My only regret is waiting so long to get such a necessary item for my sewing workshop.
Invest in an iron specifically for sewing to get hard-to-reach places, good steam coverage, and avoid spitting.
My life changed the day I went from a $15 iron to a $100 iron. I didn’t realize how how big a difference there would be. I use a Rowenta Focus DW9280, which cost me around $120 on sale. But, the Rowenta Focus listed here for $60 is a good “next step” if you’re transitioning from a standard household iron.
A clapper absorbs heat from the fabric after ironing to create crisp seams and creases.
How did I go decades sewing without a clapper? Goes to show that there is always something new to learn. The clapper’s science is brilliant — after ironing the seam, you press it down with the clapper. The unfinished hardwood “soaks” up the heat and “cures” the crease in place. I only regret not finding this product sooner.
Your cosplay sewing projects (and your sewing experiences) will be great when you have a good quality, reliable sewing machine.
And finally, no cosplay sewing shopping list would be completed without a sewing machine recommendation. The Husqvarna Viking Emerald 116 is ALWAYS my recommended machine for cosplayers who are serious about upping their sewing game (or for anyone who wants to start sewing). Here’s why:
- The Viking Emerald 116 is a non-computerized machine. This means there is less stuff to BREAK. I’ve used this machine without power because it is a mechanical machine. You turn the wheel and the needle/bobbin do what they do. The one in the photo above is the machine I purchased 14 years ago and it still worked like a charm when I upgraded to another Viking. (More about upgrading machines in another post to come.)
- The Emerald does NOT have a bunch of stitches you won’t use. Trust me. You will NEVER use the some of the 100+ stitches your machine can do. You need a straight and a zig zag. This machine does those brilliantly.
- The Emerald is a basic girl, so you will learn the basics. On a mechanical machine like the Emerald, you will learn about tension, stitch length, and width, and bobbins. If you start with a computerized machine, you might not learn the basics of how sewing works because the machine makes all the decisions for you.
- The Emerald is a WORKHORSE. This sewing machine stitched a MILLION stitches without any breakdowns. I cleaned it regularly, changed out my needles, and that was it. No trips to the repair shop and no missed days. It is a solid machine that will serve you for a long time.
- The Emerald has trade-in and resell value. When I purchased my Emerald twelve years ago, I purchased it for $260. In 2020, I sold it for $200. The woman who bought it repeated over and over, “Are you sure you want to part with it?” Once you are ready to upgrade to a snazzier machine, you will have some value in your trade-in. INSIDER TIP: Ask at your local Husqvarna Viking Shop about special trade-in sales. I got my traded-in Viking Designer Ruby Royale for half off an already reduced rate!
So, that’s it! Those are my top twelve sewing tools you need for great cosplay. Did I leave something out? Leave a comment!
Want to hear more cosplay sewing tips, tricks, and advice?