Tips for Making Your Own Costumes

Making your own costumes can be a lot of work, however, you have better control over the finished product and it can sometimes be cheaper then buying them. These tips are based on problems I have experienced and problems I have seen others face.

Choose a costume

The first step in making a costume is to figure out what you want to wear at events. As in all things at Epoch, safety should be your first consideration. I recommend that skirts and capes not be longer then mid-calf so you will not trip over them. Dangly sleeves can be a fire hazard. Our outdoor season lasts from the wet of the spring through the heat of the summer to the cold winds of fall so be sure your costume is flexible enough to allow you to be comfortable in all seasons. Even in the summer, it can get quite cold at night.

Next, you need to have an idea of what you want your costume to look like. This will probably be determined by the kind of character you wish to play. You should consider what you will make yourself and what you will buy, and what order you will make it in.

The Pattern

You should always start a project with a pattern. Patterns help insure that you end up with what you wanted. They allow you to accurately estimate the amount of fabric that you will need. If you are making something simple like a pouch, you may want to cut one out of newspaper. If you are making something more complicated, then you may want to purchase a pattern. There are a number of pattern companies that make patterns for adult-sized costumes. If you don’t find what you are looking for from the big companies, there are also a number of on-line companies that supply historical or fantasy patterns.

The Fabric

Once you have a pattern chosen, then you can buy your fabric. The back of the pattern envelope will show you how much fabric you will need to make your outfit (the French side shows the metric measurements; most Canadian fabric stores sell by the meter). The pattern envelope will also suggest what type of fabric to buy. It may, for instance, suggest that you not use fabrics with obvious stripes or plaids. Fabric comes in two standard widths (115cm and 150cm): your pattern may list different lengths depending on the width of the fabric. It will also list the types of fabrics that will look good with the pattern (i.e. broadcloth, brocade, synthetic suede, etc).

When picking a fabric, it is important to keep in mind the washing requirements. Epoch costumes take a fair bit of abuse at events. Costumes that can washed and dried by machine are much easier to take care of. Some stores mark washing requirements on the bolt label, while other stores use a numeric code. In general, cotton-polyester blends are a safe choice. If you are unsure, ask the sales staff.

The colour of your garment is also an important consideration. Many Epoch players find it preferable make their garments out of dark colours. This makes it easier to hide at night.

Fabric can be expensive. Be sure to take advantage of sales. Also look for discount material. This may be discontinued fabrics or last year’s patterns. If you are planning to do a lot of sewing, it may be worth investing in a discount card or other frequent shopper program. You should be sure to check with a couple of stores before making your decision. You can look at a major fabric retailer (such as Fabricland) or a smaller local fabric store.  If you are very lucky you may be able to find fabric at a thrift store (such as Goodwill).

While buying your fabric, be sure to also pick up any notions. Notions are all things besides fabric that you need to complete your project such as buttons, interfacing or seam binding.


Before beginning to cut out the pieces of your project, you should pre-wash your fabric. This means you should wash the fabric in hot water (you don’t have to use soap or fabric softener) and machine dry it. This ensures that any shrinkage will occur before you make your outfit. Iron out the fabric as flat as possible.

The first page of the pattern will have the cutting instructions. Try to lay out the pieces as close to the diagram on the pattern as possible. Those pieces shown shaded should be pinned to the fabric upside down. You often have to cut one piece out several times. Sometimes this is often accomplished by cutting two layers of fabric at a time. Other times, you may have to move the pattern piece and cut it out again. Pay attention to the pieces that are supposed to be cut along a fold.

Patterns often have a line on them for adjustments. This allows you to lengthen or shorten parts of your outfit for your personal shape.

Commercial patterns already have a seam allowance build into them but if you have made your own pattern, add at least 5/8 of an inch extra around each piece.

After cutting the pieces, I like to preserve my patterns by placing them in a large zip-lock bag. Then the pattern is in good condition if you want to use it again.


It may seem obvious, but read all the way through the instructions before you start to sew. If there are instructions you do not understand, be sure to get a clarification on them first. Try asking friends or family for advice. You can even ask the staff of the store you bought your fabric from.

Generally you pin the good sides together and then sew. In between sewing each seam you should press the seam open. Make sure your iron is set to an appropriate level for the type of fabric you are working with. (There is nothing more disappointing then scorching the fabric when you are almost done.)

Finishing Touches

Once you have finished the basic garment, you’ll have to consider any finishing touches you want to add. This is really the point where you make it a special garment for your character. This can take the form of trim, buttons, clasps or other decorations.