Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Photographing Costumes for Reference

Last week I mentioned I was going to go see the Rogue One costumes at Star Wars Celebration. Several weeks ago on Craft Hackers, I mentioned what you should be looking for in terms of references. Today, I’m going to talk about how to shoot photos of costumes that are ideal for references. For your enjoyment, I’m going to be using the Rogue One costumes to illustrate my points.

Meet Director Orson Krennic from Rogue One
The modern world has started to give us costume people more and more information. These days, you can buy books on favourite tv shows and movies that often have pages devoted to high quality photos of the costumes and, if you’re lucky, interviews or tips from the costuming department. If you’re really lucky, they may release sets of the design photos with notes to help along the way. However, nothing really beats being able to see it with your own eyes.

 If you have the opportunity to see a costume in person, then it is worth your while thinking about what and how you need to photograph it. First off comes general photography skills.

Make sure your photos are in focus

You want sharp pictures. Slightly blurry photos will end up with you furrowing your brow, trying to decide if its just a fold or an actual pocket for hours later on.
Second one is still not perfect, but you can see the details much better.
I actually tend to delete anything that isn’t 100% sharp simply to avoid this. This does mean you may need to check your photos as you take them so that if you only have one shot of the back and its out of focus, you can take another.

Try to represent the colour truthfully

Colour can change depending on a lot of factors, including some that are out of your control like the lighting that is on the costume. However, the biggest changer of colours is flash photography. If you can get non-flash photos, you will have a truer representation of the colour. Of course, this can be compared to images on screen, but remember that those may also have been colour washed or filtered by the video department and may not be accurate either.

Get top to bottom shots

Most people already do this, sort of. Most images you see are of about 3/4 of the costume.
Another photographer demonstrating the photo most people take in front of what you need to take.
But you need full length. There’s nothing worse than realising that you’ve photographed everything in detail, but now you’re home and realise you have no idea what those shoes looked like.

Get close up detailed shots

I actually go ahead and use my zoom lens. Yes, it is designed for making that person who is an auditorium away a lot closer, but you know what? It makes those details really pop.

First one is what people usually take for detail shots. In this case, at that distance, it almost looked like a USB port on the bottom of the gun, but with closer detailed shots, you can see that is not the case. 
This is your best chance to really find out the details of a costume, so take it. Is there stitching? Take photos of it. Is there a funny looking panel? Take photos of it. Is there what appear to be cape slits? You know the drill.

Get shots from different angles

The simple fact is you can’t see everything from just one angle. If you only take photos from one angle, you will miss details.This is especially true if you’re trying to figure out how something works.

This is a series of shots I took just to figure out how the slit in the back of cape worked. You can’t even really see the slit from the first picture, but by the last its pretty obvious. Is it crazy to take 8 photos of the same thing? Not if at the end of them you have a good idea how it all gets put together and works.

Take as many photos you can, in as high a resolution as you can.

There really is no such thing as too many reference photos. Sometimes the camera focus will change slightly from one to the other and you’ll notice something. Higher resolution photos mean that you can zoom in later on to answer questions.

And if they are nice enough to give you a blurb about the costume, photograph it. Trust me, you won't remember the exact combinations without some kind of reminder, and a photograph is faster than writing it down.

The best way of thinking about this is as a puzzle. How is this costume put together? How does it all come together? What are the proportions like? The more photos you have, the easier you can put it all together later. Hopefully, by the time you’re done taking photos, all your questions will be answered. 

If you’re interested in more photos of Director Krennic, you can see them on Facebook or for super high quality photos on my Flickr. Other costumes from Rogue One will be uploaded later this week.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


This post was originally posted on

It is Star Wars Celebration this weekend!! Well, for those of us in Europe and those who care to make the trip to London, that is. This is normally a crafty blog, but today its going to be a trip through nostalgia lane.

If you don't know Star Wars Celebration, it began on a slightly rainy weekend at the end of April in 1999. I remember, because I was there. I was in college in Nebraska at the time, and myself and a group of fellow Star Wars fanatics drove the 6 hours to Denver, camped on a friend’s parent’s floor, ate too much fried food, and ruined one of my favourite pairs of shoes in the mud. It was one of my favorite weekends.
Because, yes, I am a big kid on a bouncy castle excited about this

Because, yes, I am a big kid-on-a-bouncy-castle excited about this
Celebration was made for the fans, and as a fan I could not have asked for anything better. It was at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver, Colorado which reminded me of nothing more than a large high school gymnasium, probably because I barely got in past the panels going on in the marquees outside.

Back then it was small. Panels were maybe 100 people in a room, and even then it wasn’t always full. I watched Anthony Daniels become C3PO without the costume, Ray Parks do some phenomenal stunt work, and then drooled over every last one of Padme’s costumes. Skipped out on Aerosmith tickets to watch it all some more.

At this point, we had no idea what would be in the movie, but I loved every minute of it. In ways I miss the allure of not having everything mentioned, everything spoiled before we get to release. I haven’t quite gotten the bug to hear creators speak about everything in as vague ways as possible, nor do I need 5 trailers to keep me interested.

This weekend though, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the Rogue One costumes. It was what I loved most about Celebration in 1999, and I’m looking forward to it again. These kinds of exhibitions are gold mines for those of us who love to create costumes, and I am so happy that more and more exhibitions of this kind are happening. You just can’t really get a good sense of some of the delicacies of these costumes with what gets seen on screen.

The detailing done in costume shops across the globe produces some amazing pieces of absolute art. Museums are starting to cop on to this and there are some that specifically have been bringing costume exhibitions in, but fabrics can be difficult to preserve for posterity and there is always that worry that something will damage it. So if you ever have a chance to see one of these exhibitions, I highly recommend it.

The modern con scene has grown somewhat since 1999. This year’s Celebration is going to be nothing like what I experienced in Denver except for two things. Firstly, everyone there will love Star Wars. There is something about being surrounded by people who adore the same fandom you do. It infects the air, and becomes a sea of in-jokes, fun, and the occasional squabble over canon. But generally, single fandom groups tend to have an excitement about them that can’t be matched by big everything-under-the-sun cons. Secondly, it is going to be a weekend full of fun. Lightsabers everywhere, Stormtroopers ahoy. I’m looking forward to it already.

If you’re going to Celebration with me, have a wonderful time. If you’re not, tickets are out for next year’s already!
~ eliste

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Peggy Sunnies

Of all the things I thought I'd learn to deal with while making Peggy costumes, car wrap vinyl was not high on my list. However, in my quest for closer to screen accurate sunglasses, that's what ended up happening.

I can't take credit for having figured this out. I got the idea from the very talented Adria in the Agent Carter Cosplay Community, but I still had to figure out how to do it. I used the guide here, which happened to be quite accurate. Since I wasn't doing an area too large, it worked really easily. To recap:

I took one set of not exactly SA, but better than the other pair I owned, sunglasses that had nasty polarised lenses together with a light smoky car headlight vinyl tint.

First I cleaned the lenses.

Then I peeled the two coverings off of a piece of the vinyl that was large enough to cover the lenses with a bit of excess.

Both the lens and the sticky side of the vinyl got sprayed with water. This helped the vinyl go down with less bubbles.

Then I kind of squeegeed the water out from between the two layers after I put the sticky side down on the lenses. I found that I had to hit it with the hair dryer to get the vinyl to hug the curve of the lenses. I took an X-acto blade to carve the excess vinyl off of the lenses.

In the end, I actually went for two layers of the vinyl as I thought the polarised finish was too obvious with just one layer of the vinyl. If I'd bought a darker vinyl, I might not have needed the second layer. This was slightly more difficult, but not significantly.

Actually the hardest part was getting the lenses back into the sunglasses without the vinyl pulling back. I had hoped to push the lenses in from the back, which would mean I wasn't pushing the vinyl up at all, but despite heating the frames it just didn't want to work. So eventually I had to push them in from the front which meant that a little bit of the vinyl pushed up at the edges.

It ended up being just fine as I took out the excess with cautious x-acto cuts.

In the end, I was pretty happy with how they turned out.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Mara Jade's Bodysuit

So, it took a long time to get this right. Mostly because I kept getting significantly frustrated by it. It is also difficult to show progress photos of this, because shooting pictures of all black material really doesn’t do a lot, so ya’ll will have to live without them. 

Mara’s bodysuit has been made by any number of costumers before, so I did my homework and looked at everything everyone else had one first. And promptly decided that I didn’t want to follow their plans.

My first attempt was to make my own catsuit pattern. I liked the idea of doing so, have always enjoyed making patterns, and so, why not. I used the pattern here, as I mentioned a while ago

The pattern was great, for the bottom half. Unfortunately, when you got to the point where my body began to have curvature that wasn’t sideways based, it all went to pants. I may be able to salvage the bodysuit for something where the front unzips, but I just wasn’t happy with the upper half of the pattern at all.

So then I went back to the research I’d done on Mara’s suit the first time. I read through all the classic examples and blogs about how people had made their suit, and decided to copy their plans. So I bought myself a copy of Kwik Sew K3052 pattern that others had used and gave it a whirl. 

The typical way of using a pattern like this is to make the pattern, then cut in the lines for the piping and the panel sections on the legs as described by Pam in the classic tutorial on how to put Mara's bodysuit together.

And I hated it. Again. I wasn’t thrilled with the fabric choice I’d used this time, but more importantly the pattern was just… blah. Again, I’m pretty sure this is because of the bosom I have. While I’m sure the pattern would work for other ladies, for those of us with ample curves, to get it to fit around said curves, it just made it look like a giant tube encircling my waist, making it look tens time larger than it actually is. I would have had to do a lot of surgery and fixing to try to get it to look even semi-decent.

I thought maybe it was the fabric, which was a bit heavy, so I changed fabric and tried it again, altering the pattern by nipping it in at the sides. It still looked terrible. The fact is, these patterns are not meant for ladies who have curves. 

Enter my saviour, Yaya Han and McCalls who have put together a bodysuit pattern that is customisable and already takes into consideration the needs of the busty girl by having various options in terms of bust sizes. It is M7217 Misses' Zippered Bodysuit by Yaya Han

The bodysuit pattern itself requires a little bit of alteration to work for Mara Jade, but nowhere near the kind of royal pain that was altering completely unseamed bodysuits like the previous patterns I tried. To get it to look like Mara’s there are alterations to the pattern that need to happen. 

This is a basic rundown of the changes that need to happen. Use View B on the pattern, but skip the collar and the sleeves. The above image shows where to take out lines and where to alter or add them. So for instance, the princess lines I moved up to become the more accurate straight down from the shoulder lines.

This second one is slightly more accurate in terms of matching Mara's seam lines. You can certainly do either, depending on how much work you want to get into. I did a combination of the two in that I did all of the body changes listed in Version 2, but went ahead and extended the seamlines on the legs down to the ground because its easier to insert a seam all the way down the leg than only partially and because of the gear she wears, you can't see the lines anyway.

All of these changes I drafted into a pattern because that is my workflow. It would also be very possible to put the entire thing together, draw the lines you want on it, and then use that as a pattern for the pieces you want. I had to guesstimate in a good few places, but the nice thing is that with the stretch material it isn’t really that much of a big deal if you get it wrong as it will sort itself out. 

So here is a word version of these changes:

The princess seam needed to be extended up to the neckline. I made sure to line this up with the back seam so that I could put one long line of piping up and over. This became my main seamline on the front. I extended the line towards the crotch and remade the side to include the excess.

The side panel of the pattern is designed with a bust portion and a midriff portion, which I put together and took out the seam allowance. This gives you a single piece for the side of the torso like Mara is supposed to have. 

If you have big breasts compared to your waist measurement, I went with the largest bust option in the size that fit my bust (the 16) and then matched it up with the waist option that matches my waist measurement (10) and adjusted the line where the two met. This gave me a bodice that is still a little snug for my DDDs, but not overly so and looks so much better than anything else I tried making. 

View B has a zip in the back, so you can follow the instructions on putting in the already existing back seam and zipper.

The pattern originally calls for a front seam, so I took that out by cutting the front piece on the fold instead of cutting two (taking out the seam allowance on the mid line). You do still have to create the diamond, which I did by putting it mostly together and drawing on where I wanted it to go and cutting it out with seam allowance added. I then made the diamond bit to finish out the front.

The small diamond on the front of the middle section was a bit more of an issue, as the pattern wants this to be a curved section with a seam down the middle. I didn’t want the seam, so I again cut it out along a fold, allowing just a small part to need to be sewn. Once the body suit is on this small seam isn’t noticeable at all as its well and truly hidden. If you're not using a fabric that shows your seams as much as mine you could theoretically leave it as is, but I think its better to adjust it as none of Mara's images have a seam there.

There were two alterations involving the legs. Firstly, I didn’t want seams at my hips as is called for in the bodysuit, so I added the patterns together, taking out the seam allowance, to create the long side lines. 

Then the legs had to be split (with seam allowance added) so that I could get the piping down the leg. I ran the piping all the way to the very end of my leg, because it was easier when sewing everything together and you don't see it anyway because of the boots and armour.

The inner leg pattern wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds. Mara’s bodysuit has a slightly different pattern from the bodysuit in terms of the seamlines going down. If you wanted you could probably just use the seams they have, but I wanted to do the version of her bodysuit where the piping goes down to her crotch and then goes down the leg from further up.

I ended up bringing my thigh seams in quite a bit more than I had realised, but if you follow the original seam line down to the hip, you probably won’t run into that problem. I ended up remaking this so the line would be more central down my leg.

To do this, I ended up cutting off part of the original center body piece and added it to the top of the inner leg (removing seam allowance at the top of the leg and added a seam allowance towards the crotch). The front inner leg I then added an additional 4 inches from the top to the knee. This provided me with enough extra material that I could use my serger to take out 1/2 inch for each seam needed to create the horizontal lines. I did 8, because that looked well spaced out on my leg. I wouldn’t go closer than 1.5inches between lines as they looked too jam packed otherwise unless you're a lot smaller than my 5'5" frame.

I will say, that having tried it a couple of ways, I find that it looks most pleasing if the seams for the diamond lines up with where the piping going down the leg starts. It just looks better for some reason.

Then it was a matter of putting it all together. The McCalls Cosplay blog had some great tips about putting in zippers with stretch material, some of which I followed, some of which I didn’t. 

On fabric, I ended up with a matte black spandex. It has a bit of a sheen, but it isn’t glossy, and stretches nicely. It is also very comfortable and I can move well in it. The pattern has a stretch guide that gives you a good guidance on how much stretch is preferable. Mine was a tiny bit short of stretch in one direction, but had plenty in the other, so I used the stretchier side as my up/down axis as that is the axis that needs greater stretchability. The only difficulty I found in using this is that it acts like leather/pleather in that if you poke a hole in it, that hole is always going to be visible. So if you’re doing a mockup, do it in something else.

The piping I made out of excess material, and I put a piece of elastic in it. The one thing I didn’t know to do until after I’d done it wrong was that you need to make sure that both ends of your elastic is sewn down. Otherwise the elastic inside the piping will make a lovely not-so-charming wiggle all up and down your seam line as it shifts inside the piping resulting in wavy lines like this:

Thankfully it was an easy enough fix. You just have to make sure that both ends of your stretchy piping is tacked down and is a little bit tight. I needed it to be stretched just a little bit while on my body or else it would go wavy, so its a little bit tighter than the rest of the costume. If you use the stirrups on the McCall's pattern, it also helps.

This bodysuit is actually the part of the costume that took the longest for me to get together, mostly because of the patterning issues. Had I not been so picky, I certainly could have used one of the others, but I really do feel that this was a much better fabric and pattern to use overall. 

Photo by JK-KC Photography
There’s still a few things I might alter (like loosening the stitching around the neckline so it doesn’t cut my head off) but overall, I’m really happy I took the time to find a pattern that made me look good. I feel much better wearing something I’m confident in.