Thoughts about: Patternmaking
Updated: Jun 11, 2022
This is probably going to be all in text, but I just wanted to ventilate some thoughts I have about a crucial part of making any costume - patternmaking.
This is a well discussed topic and there are lots of ways to make your patterns, so I'm mostly just going to gloss over a few different ways and talk more about what I have found important when it comes to making patterns, or altering existing patterns.
Comfort isn't always something I consider important for a costume, but it's a very large aspect to keep in mind depending on what you want to use it for. If it's only for photoshoots, then the comfort doesn't have to be optimal. Is it something you want to use three days in a row walking the con floor and also be up on stage with? Then comfort is crucial. Costumes for LARP also go in the category of needing good comfort, because they will be made using different techniques compared to cosplay and have to keep you warm outside and hold up for about a week of consecutive wear. Usually you don't have any way of repairing a LARP costume, especially at a Fantasy larp since you're out in the woods miles away from the closest town. At least here in Sweden. Cosplay and LARP are somewhat overlapping hobbies, yet still vastly different. Like two siblings in the same family. But that's not the topic of today!
When I started making LARP costumes I had a few base patterns for medieval clothes that I worked with. I modified these depending on what character I was playing, and for the most part since I began making costumes I've made patterns myself for everything. In order to make patterns yourself, you need to study what it is that you want to make. Take a look at a pair of pants for example, look at where the seams go. How do the pieces come together. You can use a lot of modern clothing and rip the seams open to make patterns out of something that you already know fit, and you want to replicate. The better understanding you have of how things come together, the easier it will be to make your own patterns. Where to put the seams, folds, hemlines and everything else to get the desired garment. It's also nice to sometimes purchase patterns for pieces that you're unsure of how to make, like a suit jacket. Suit jackets and other tailored clothes tend to have very complicated patterns, and my only word of advice is to not shy away from something despite the difficulty level. With each pattern that you use, or modify, or make yourself, you'll gain a deeper knowledge on how to construct things.
Practice is mandatory in order to make good patterns. This isn't something that you learn overnight, and it will take a lot of questionably fitting pieces before you learn your body's measures like the back of your hand and can freestyle patterns without using a measuring tape for every inch of the pattern. Of course I do recommend measuring everything so you know how much material you'll need for whatever piece of the costume you're working on.
My recommendations for the material making patterns out of are a bit depending on your own economic situation. Newspapers are the absolute cheapest solution to make patterns, so long as it doesn't bother you that there's print all over the pieces. If you have a bit more budget you can get thin paper specifically made for clothes patterns that is semi transparent, very lightweight and with two different sides. One more glossy, and one more matte. This can be helpful if you're incorporating two different types of material, such as wool and leather. To represent the wool parts you may want to use the matte side, and to represent the leather part you may want to use the glossy side to get an idea of how it will look once cut and assembled. If you have even more budget than that, I recommend using a cheap fabric to make patterns and mock-ups. The advantage of using fabric is that you can pin it, baste it, do whatever you like and test the actual garment on without worrying about paper tearing and you'll get a more accurate representation of how it will fold and fall and wrap around you. It's also a huge help if you're planning to make anything out of a stretchy fabric such as a bodysuit, bathing suit, socks or overall very tight stuff. Be sure to pick a mock-up fabric with about as much stretch as your proper fabric will have, otherwise it's probably going to become poorly fit.
A small tangent on basting, it's incredibly helpful to always baste your patterns and/or fabric parts before sewing them together. Or any other soft parts, like leather or suede. It will allow you to test the fit and change the seams easier than after doing the proper sewing.
As for armour, I personally prefer to use a thicker paper normally used for construction work to cover areas protecting them from paint, dust and such. Since it's a bit more structured and harder than other paper it's easy to make abstract shapes and have them "stand out" the same way as the foam, worbla or whatever material you pick to use. You can also use any of the other aforementioned materials (newspaper etc.). A good thing with construction paper is that it comes on a roll and is fairly cheap, so in order to make large pieces or props it's very convenient to be able to roll out a nice length. For example all my pattern pieces for Ornstein were made using this method:
Armour is something that has an abundance of tutorials and how-to's, so I'll keep myself short about what I think are key things to consider when making armour patterns: * Make sure you allow an extra "seam allowance" on all your parts, because the foam is thicker than the paper pattern. This helps with not accidentally making pieces too small.
* Use paper tape when testing your patterns. This will be easy to remove without tearing the paper apart
For parts that are more anatomically fitting such as a breastplate, I recommend the tried and tested plastic wrap -> duct tape -> draw the pattern -> cut yourself out of it. This is the absolute easiest way to make something fit 100% to your body. It does require some practice and most likely help being cut out of the tape, but it's a very good way to make snug armour pieces. Kamui, Yaya Han, Kinpatsu and Jessica Nigiri to name a few have a lot of tutorials and information about how to use this method.
Having a mannequin or tailor's dummy will also be very helpful patterning anything out. They can be quite pricey, but if you get one with adjustable size you'll be able to use it for a great variety of projects (perhaps even for others). If you experience weight gain or loss, it's also nice not having to buy another new one. It's possible to also make your own dummy if you want a cheaper alternative, however these are in my experience not as durable in the long run and very hard to make without having an accidental tilt in your body creating an uneven dummy. But if you do want to try your hand at making one, you can follow for examle this tutorial: https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Mannequin You could also buy a cheap non-adjustable mannequin and add padding wherever you need to make it accurate to your body.
Personally I use an adjustable mannequin, the smallest size on it is too large for me but it's a great help in making base patterns and adjusting lengths etc.
I also want to mention that during the patterning process, you can figure out where you will need attachments such as velcro, snap-buckles, magnets, zippers or any type of closures. Maybe you're able to just slip in some parts, but it's something that I like to think about when I make the patterns. Most character designs don't have logical ways of getting in or out of the costume, so considering where to add "seams" so that you can actually take it on and off is very important in the pattern-making stage of the costume overall.
When it comes to props my new favourite way of making them is to grab a photo of the prop (sword, bow, spear, whatever you want to do) and scale it up through posterazor and print it out. This will make it possible to check the scale properly, and have a great pattern to work with since you'll get the 1:1 scale print as a guideline. I used this method when creating my spear for Ornstein, and bow for Sylvanas. Before I started using this method I just drew the patterns by hand until I was happy with them.
The Sylvanas bow pattern
Proportions and scale overall are a tricky thing to learn, but keep at it with practice and you'll get there!
I think that's about all I had to say about patternmaking, sharing some thoughts and recommendations that I've tried over the years. If you have a method you really like to use that you think I should try or talk about, send me a message! I'm always interested in hearing other people's opinions and thoughts of the different parts in the process of making a costume.