Introduction to Fabrics

While #sewing is an important rudimentary #cosplay & #costuming skill, so is knowing a few things about #fabrics, which have different qualities depending upon the materials used & how they were manufactured.

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1. Fabric Basics

What is a fabric? A fabric (which may also be called a textile or cloth) is a flexible material comprised of a series of interconnected fibers. The three most distinguishing features of a fabric are the type of fibers being used, how the fibers were interconnect during the manufacturing process and the overall fabric weight.

Let’s look at fibers and the manufacturing processes first.

1.1 Fibers

Fibers fall under one of two main types: natural or synthetic. These have different properties that can be divided into pros & cons, which we have listed in the following table.

Natural Fibers

Synthetic Fibers

Composition

Come primarily from plants or animals. Created in a laboratory. Usually a petroleum product.

Pros

  • Easy to dye.
  • Absorbant.
  • Breathable.
  • Strong.
  • Wrinkle-resistant.
  • Versatile.

Cons

  • Plant fibers wrinkle easily.
  • Animal fibers are expensive.
  • Not very breathable.
  • Difficult to dye.

Fabrics can also be made from minerals, but since these are not common in clothing or costuming, we’ll leave that to you to research on your own if you choose to do so.

The most common fiber types are listed below:

Fiber Category

Fiber Types (& their sources)

Animal

  • Wool (sheep’s hair)
  • Silk (silk worm’s unwound cocoon)
  • Cashmere (Indian cashmere goat)
  • Angora (Angora rabbit)

Plant

  • Cotton (cotton plant)
  • Linen (flax, a.k.a., linseed)
  • Rayon (wood pulp)
  • Acetate (wood pulp)
  • Hemp (hemp fibers)

Synthetic

  • Nylon (petroleum)
  • Acrylic (petroleum & natural gas)
  • Polyester (petroleum & coal)
  • Spandex (petroleum)
  • Kevlar (aramids)
  • Nomex (aramids)

1.2 Manufacturing Processes

Of the various ways fabrics can be manufactured, the two most common are woven fabrics and knitted fabrics, which are compared in the following table:

Woven Fabrics

Knitted Fabrics

Construction

Constructed by interlacing a set of longer threads (called the warp) with a set of crossing fibers (called the weft) on a frame known as a loom.

Constructed by repeatedly interlacing loops made from a single, long fiber together in multiple rows.

Qualities

  • Minimal stretch.
  • Strong
  • Won’t snag.
  • Easier for beginners to sew.
  • Available in both 2-way & 4-way stretch.
  • Not as strong.
  • Susceptible to snagging.
  • More difficult for beginners to sew.

2. Fabric Weight

The type of fibers, the manufacturing process & how closely packed the fibers are determine a fabric’s weight. Fabric weight is measured as ounces per square yard (oz/yd²) or grams per square meter (GSM). The lighter a fabric is, the more flowing it will be, but it will also the typically be less durable. The heavier a fabric is, the more stiff and durable it will be. Also, the heavier the fabric is, the thicker it may also be depending upon the type of fiber used.

GSM

Fabrics

Lightweight

1 – 150 GSM

0 – 4.4 oz/yd²

  • Organza
  • Chiffon
  • Voile
  • Taffeta
  • Single Jersey
  • Spandex

Medium Weight

150 – 350 GSM

4.4 – 10 oz/yd²

  • Velvet
  • Cambric
  • Sateen
  • Chambray
  • Interlock Jersey

Heavyweight

350+ GSM

10+ oz/yd²

  • Canvas
  • Denim
  • Hessian / Burlap
  • Poplin / Broadcloth

3. Putting It All Together

Having listed the basics about fiber types, manufacturing processes & weights, here’s a more detailed list about each fabric listed above.

3.1 Lightweight Fabrics

Fabric

Fiber Type(s) & Manufacturing Process

Typical Uses

Organza

Woven silk, nylon or polyester
  • Bridal wear
  • Evening wear

Chiffon

Woven silk, nylon or polyester

  • Evening wear
  • Lingerie
  • Blouses
  • Scarves

Voile

Woven cotton, cotton/linen blend or cotton/polyester blend

  • Window treatments
  • Mosquito nets

Taffeta

Woven silk or rayon

  • Ball gowns
  • Wedding dresses
  • Curtains
  • Wall coverings

Single Jersey

Knitted wool, cotton, synthetic fabrics or cotton/synthetic blend

  • T-shirts

Spandex

Knitted spandex or spandex/cotton, spandex/polyester, or other spandex blend

  • Compression clothing
  • Super-hero costumes
  • Tights
  • Zentai
  • Wrestling singlets
  • Active wear
  • Underwear

3.2 Medium Weight Fabrics

Fabric

Fiber Type(s) & Manufacturing Process

Typical Uses

Velvet

Woven tufted rayon/silk blend, silk (rare), cotton (less luxurious), polyester, nylon, acetate or other fibers & blends.
  • Ecclesiastical vestments
  • Royal & state robes
  • Wall hangings

Cambric

Woven linen or cotton

  • Linens
  • Shirts
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Ruffs
  • Lace
  • Needlework

Sateen

Woven cotton, cotton/linen blend or cotton/polyester blend

  • Window treatments
  • Mosquito nets

Chambray

Woven cotton, similar to denim but lighter & with the white weft visible making it lighter in color.

  • Dresses
  • Pants
  • Shirts
  • Sneakers

Interlock Jersey

Knitted wool, cotton, synthetic fabrics or cotton/synthetic blend; similar to single jersey but both sides are identical and it’s thicker

  • Higher end t-shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Camisoles
  • Bridal wear
  • Receiving blankets
  • Dresses
  • Baby’s layette items

3.3 Heavyweight Fabrics

 

Fabric

Fiber Type(s) & Manufacturing Process

Typical Uses

Canvas

Woven cotton, linen or hemp.
  • Handbags
  • Backpacks
  • Electronic device cases
  • Shoes
  • Artist medium

Denim

Woven cotton

  • Blue jeans
  • Shirts
  • Jackets
  • Work clothes
  • Shoes
  • Upholstry
  • Lampshades
  • More

Hessian / Burlap

Woven jute or sisal fibers blended with other vegetable fibers

  • Rope
  • Bags
  • Gunny sacks
  • Rugs
  • Ghillie suits
  • Sand bags

Poplin / Broadcloath

Woven wool, cotton, silk, polyester or a blend of these

  • Dresses
  • Shirts
  • Upholstery

4. Selecting the Right Fabric(s) for a Costume

The first thing you’ll want to ask yourself is where you plan to wear the costume. If you’re only planning to wear the costume on a cool Halloween evening, then going with heavier / less breathable fabrics might be your better option for staying warm.

If you’re planning to wear the costume primarily at comic or anime conventions, then you’ll want to stick to the most breathable fabrics so that you stay cool and comfortable. After that, it also depends on what type of garment(s) you need to make:

  • Pants: linen or denim
  • Shirts & blouses: cotton voile; rayon challis; double gauze; knit; silk; chambray; cotton lawn or linen
  • Skirts: cotton lawn; rayon challis; denim; knit or linen
  • Dresses: cotton voile; cotton lawn; rayon challis; double gauze; knit; silk; satin or linen
  • Superhero costumes: spandex

If you need to dye a fabric, then you definitely want to use a fabric that is made primarily from natural fibers. Do you need to give the fabric a weathered or tattered look, then you’ll probably want to stick to cotton-based fabrics. Other considerations, such as the sewing pattern you’re using for the garment, can also impact the type of fabric to be used, including any color pattern that the fabric has.

References:

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Adam Savage Builds C-3PO Backpack for his “Star Wars” Chewbacca Cosplay

Adam Savage is a huge #StarWars fan & loves to #cosplay as iconic character #Chewbacca. To capture the spirit of #TheEmpireStrikesBack, Adam created a C-3PO backpack similar to what Chewbacca wore before he was able to fully reassemble C-3PO, who had been taken apart on the cloud city of Bespin.

In this YouTube video, Adam Savage shows how he put together the C-3PO backpack, complete with animatronics. The video is over 39 minutes long:

Next, here’s the video that Adam Savage shared a month earlier showing him donning the Chewbacca costume with the C-3PO backpack and wearing it incognito at Silicon Valley Comic Con:

2 months before the previous video, Adam Savage had also upgraded his Chewbacca costume bandolier, which he shared on YouTube in February:

Attaching Rubber Soles to a Spandex Costume

DIY #costuming tutorial: attaching soles to a spandex #costume. If your #cosplay has spandex feet (like #SpiderMan), you can attach rubber soles to the bottom of the feet to make it easier to walk and protect the spandex costume itself.

Bear in mind that once you attach soles to the bottom of your spandex costume, you won’t be able to remove them without damaging the spandex, so you want to be careful how you do it.

At a minimum, the supplies that you’ll need to attach soles are as follows:

  • A pair of rubber-soled boat shoes.
  • Fabric scissors.
  • Shoe-goo (or similar glue, such as E6000, Super Glue, hot glue, Gorilla Glue)
  • A box cutter or exact-o-knife.

Basic instructions:

  1. Using the fabric scissors, carefully cut the uppers of the boat shoes from the rubber soles.
  2. Save the insoles from the boat shoes: you will need these later.
  3. Using the box cutter or exact-o-knife, carefully cut a number of lines into the top side of the rubber soles (the side that your foot will be on). Be careful not to cut all the way through to the bottom of the sole. The cut lines will help the glue to adhere to sole.
  4. Apply glue to the top side of one of the rubber soles (left or right) and spread it around.
  5. Insert the insole from the boat shoes (that you saved earlier) into the foot of your spandex costume that matches the rubber sole that you applied the glue to.
  6. Insert your feet into the spandex costume legs. Make sure that the insole is where you want it to be and that there aren’t any unwanted wrinkles or folds in the spandex fabric.
  7. Place the rubber sole onto the floor and carefully step onto it with the matching foot that has the insole inside and apply equal pressure to help bond the fabric, insole and rubber sole together. Be careful not to get the glue onto your skin.
  8. After you have waited for a while, you can try to carefully slide your foot out of the spandex costume. Place some wadded up paper into the foot and then press something heavy on top of it, like a sack of rice. You could also wrap some rubber bands around the rubber sole and top of the spandex of the foot. This will permit you to walk around while giving the glue more time to set. We recommend 24 hours.
  9. Go back to step 4 and repeat the process with the other foot. You can try starting the other foot before the 1st one is finished, but this ensures that each one will be done well.

This tutorial video by “asleeplessvision” also shows this process. There are multiple, similar “how-to” videos like this on YouTube that you can also reference:

Why Face Shells Are Important

Any #cosplayer or #costumer who wears a spandex hood or mask will quickly learn the value of wearing a #FaceShell underneath. This is especially true for #SpiderMan & #Deadpool #cosplayers.

But what is a face shell and why is is important? Typically, a face shell is a molded piece of plastic worn between the face and a spandex hood that is worn above it.

Spandex is a very stretchy, form-fitting material. When worn, spandex (or Lycra) very quickly takes on the shape of the what it is covering. Hence, when it is worn over the face, the wearer’s facial features will quickly be visible beneath the spandex hood. When the wearer talks, observers will quickly see the moving lips of the mouth beneath the spandex hood. However, when viewing live-action Spider-Man or Deadpool movies, one thing that’s obvious is that when the actor beneath the costume talks, his moving mouth isn’t visible, nor are his other facial features. In the case of Spider-man, the face is supposed to be very smooth. In the case of Deadpool, a very distinctive facial shape should be present.

Thus, simply wearing a spandex hood or mask over a bare face and head can’t achieve the correct facial shape for the character being depicted. Also, movement from talking distracts from the illusion that the hood or mask is trying to create.

A face shell solves the problems of not having the correct facial shape and hides mouth movement because it causes the spandex hood being worn over it to take on the shape of shell. And, as long as the shell extends to cover the mouth, any movement by the mouth and lips will be hidden beneath the shell and not cause the spandex to move with it. This is illustrated by Spider-Man cosplayer “SonicSpiderman” in a video that he posted to YouTube, and which we have shared here.

There are some important considerations when wearing a face shell that SonicSpiderman doesn’t talk about in the video, but we will share here from our own experiences wearing them.

  1. The face shell should be sized correctly to the size of your face and head. You won’t be able to wear it if it’s too small and if it’s too big, it will leave edges where the spandex moves away from the shell and towards your head underneath. Also, it may become uncomfortable when the spandex is worn over it because the spandex will press the face shell more tightly against the head & face. (We address discomfort issues below.)
  2. The face shell should be well ventilated. The head is one of the human body’s primary means to cool itself. This is why our heads sweat when our bodies begin to head up from exertion and/or when the ambient air is hot. Wearing a mask or hood of any kind can exacerbate the heating of the head and while spandex itself is very good at allowing moisture and heat from escaping the body, a plastic face shell is not. Thus, it is very important for the face shell to be well perforated to permit airflow underneath and a way for heat and moisture to escape. If it’s not well perforated, after a short amount of time (especially in a warm, humid convention hall) not only will you start to feel very warm with the mask on, beads of sweat may collect at the bottom of the face shell and begin to seep out and cause an unsightly wet spot on the bottom of your mask.
  3. The face shell should be completely smooth on both sides. Any sharp edges on the face shell should be smoothed by sanding. Otherwise, it may cause discomfort and potentially damage the spandex material if it stretches over a sharp edge and snags. Snagged spandex can’t be repaired and may be difficult to hide, especially since it would be on the most visible part of the costume: the head & face.
  4. A small amount of foam padding may be needed on the inside of the face shell. If the face shell becomes uncomfortable when the spandex hood is worn over it, a small amount of strategically placed foam padding can alleviate the discomfort. But, it’s very important not to overdo the padding because it will reduce air flow and ventilation. Our advice is it use if sparingly if needed. We’d recommend foam padding that is typically used in pillows: very soft, but not too thick and easy to cut with scissors. For attaching foam padding we recommend Velcro so that it can be removed and re-positioned as needed. Encasing the foam padding in some fabric simplifies adding the Velcro. Sticky Velcro should be sufficient and the fabric can be glued into place over the foam padding.
  5. Make sure magnetized eye covers are secure and not likely to fall off when the mask is worn. If they aren’t sufficiently secure, you should consider adding more rare earth magnets to the face shell and the eye covers.
  6. Keep extra rare earth magnets & glue on hand while you’re in costume. Should a magnetized eye piece fall off and one or more of the rare earth magnets that hold it to the face shell falls off when it hits the floor, you may need to do an on-the-spot repair. If you don’t have any extra rare earth magnets & glue on hand if this happens, then you’re stuck with a mask that isn’t complete when worn and you won’t be happy.