There are a lot of things that go into making a cosplay outfit: deciding on a character, buying fabric, patterns, and premade clothing, sewing the outfit, making the accessories, figuring out what con you want to wear it to, and on and on.
However, one thing that doesn’t get much discussion is how long it takes to make one of these outfits, and like a lot of things, it’s hard to predict unless you’ve already made a few costumes. So: I have decided to share my sage wisdom (read: five and half costumes) and give all three of my readers some pointers on how it takes to make a cosplay outfit.
Not surprisingly, it actually depends on a lot of different factors. There are five big ones. First; how experienced you are with sewing. If you’ve never sewn on a button, it doesn’t matter how simple your outfit is, it’s going to take you a while. If you are truly and utterly inexperienced, you’re going to want to pad your timeline a lot, and hopefully find someone who knows what they’re doing to help you thread the sewing machine. I’m working with the assumption that you have some experience with sewing – you’ve repaired some clothing, maybe made a shirt or something. If you’re really new, you’re going to want to at least double whatever time I say, and have a sewing resource very handy.
Second factor is how complicated your costume is. If the character you’re imitating only has one or two major pieces of clothing that aren’t too complex, you can probably finish it off in a week or two, assuming you put in an hour or two work each day (or do marathon sessions on the weekends, like I do). If you’re making a costume with lots of pieces of clothing, or with lots of lace and fancy details, or something with a lot of accessories, it’ll take you a lot longer at an hour a day. A month isn’t out of the question, with more time being a good idea if you’re doing something that you’ve never had to do before. Of course, if you’re spending several hours a day sewing that time line will get a lot shorter. In addition, things like screening a pattern onto the fabric can take hours or more. I’ve never done it personally, but even painting small designs on the cuffs of a sleeve took an hour or two. Painting, especially on fabric, is extremely time intensive.
Third factor is the resources you have access to. One of the most useful resouces is a sewing machine. Although a good portion of sewing might be tiny obnoxious seams that you’ll do by hand, things like shoulder seams and hems are almost omnipresent. And while it’s certainly possible to do them by hand (I have) they can take hours that way, and only ten minutes or so with a sewing machine. The second most useful resource is someone who knows how to make costumes or clothing. They can explain the notation on patterns, how to rethread the bobbin on the sewing machine, how to fit a dress by hand in a half hour. People with experience are unbelievably helpful, and they’re not necessarily cosplayers. My mother’s made clothing, and helped me figure out how turn a Halloween elf-cloak pattern into Ed Elric’s coat. The final useful thing is premade clothing patterns. Really good cosplayers and costumers can wing it, draping outfits with no patterns whatsoever, but I’ve always liked working from a pattern, even if I end up heavily editing it. It’s nice to have a base to work off of, if only to make sure you haven’t forgotten to make sleeves or some such things.
All the time estimates I’ve said assume you have a sewing machine; if you don’t, how long your costume’ll take will depend on how fast you sew, but plan to put in almost an entire order of magnitude more time into your costume. It can be done, certainly; I’ve made a number of costumes that way, but don’t expect it to be done quickly unless you sink days of sewing into it. Someone who knows how to costume can’t make you sew faster, obviously, but they’ll help you with problems you run into, and can help you get started. My rough estimate is that knowing someone like this who is willing to help you could reduce the time needed by a third or a fourth. A pattern’s usefulness varies a lot, depending on the complexity of the design and how much you’re editing the pattern, so it’s hard to give even a rough time estimate. It does help, though.
Fourth factor is accessories. Oh, accessories. These are another item that’ll make the time required vary widely. They may take longer than the entire rest of the cosplay. As with the costume itself, the time they add largely depends on how complex they are. If you can scavenge them from somewhere, or edit something you already have, the time required goes down by a lot, but a decently complex item probably takes a few hours to construct, and if it requires any sort of craft – paint, clay, carving – pad your estimates with a couple days and make sure you have everything you need before you start working. And never assume it’ll take just a few minutes. A friend of mine has made Miroku’s costume, and apparently his beads, which I would have predicted to be a fairly quick portion, took 45 minutes. And she’s the most experienced cosplayer I know. My advice is to, until you get an idea of how long it takes you to make things, limit each costume to one or two items, unless you have time to burn. Or, do the most vital items first, and finish the others as you have time.
The final factor is free time. I’ve always found myself to be most effective when I do my sewing in huge chunks. It may be because I have to take down and set up all my sewing stuff, and sort of settle into it, but I am much more effective when sewing for several hours at a time rather than a half hour here and there. You may be different, but doing the work in chunks can be a time saver, especially when you have to clean up whenever you stop. As a special note: it is possible to complete an entire cosplay in a week or less, but that generally requires a lot of free time and a fair knowledge of what you’re doing. I always try and make sure to add time to my internal schedule.
Well now, my intrepid cosplayer, now you have a rough guide to how long your cosplay’ll take, and you know if you can make that Chi outfit in time for the next con. Just remember; there’s no real harm in trying and overshooting your time line (usually). You don’t need to be in cosplay for a con, and it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a single piece of your costume. And remember – there’s always next year.