As you get started cosplaying, you’ll come to realize there are tools and materials you use over and over again. I know when I first started out, I found that there was always something I was missing. I would either need to make another trip to the store or borrow what I needed from a friend.
Save yourself the trouble with this checklist of cosplay construction supplies. I’ve separated these basic supplies into two categories because the materials you’ll need for sewing a costume are typically very different from the materials you need for prop or armor construction.
Of course, every project will have its own specific needs, so don’t take this as a catch-all list of supplies. I’ve certainly used my fair share of feathers and bells in cosplay, but I don’t consider those to be basic supplies you’ll always need. However, these lists will help make sure you don’t forget about any of the essentials.
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Supplies for costume construction
Basic costume construction is done with mostly fabric and a needle with thread. But there’s more to it than that! You need to think about how to get your fabric into the correct shape, how it will attach to your body, and how to apply decorations and embellishments. You also want to be prepared for any last-minute fixes you need to make if you run out of time or something falls apart at the convention.
1. Safety pins!
Safety pins are one of the most versatile tools to keep around. Do not underestimate them! I recommend purchasing an assortment of safety pins in different sizes so that you can have them available whenever you need them.
Safety pins can be used for:
- Attaching ribbons, bows, or other pieces to your costume
- Testing out how an adjustment to a costume will look (such as a shorter hem)
- Last-minute fixes if a button pops off or zipper stops working
- Attaching a hat to a wig
- Just about any other type of quick attachment
2. Hot glue
Hot glue is the other tool I recommend keeping around at all times. Bring it to the convention with you so that if any part of your costume starts to fall apart, you can use hot glue to quickly fix it. Hot glue is also great if you’re running up against the last minute when creating your costume. While it’s certainly not seamstress approved, you can actually use it to sew up seams that would take too long to sew (this works better with thicker fabrics).
Hot glue is also incredibly useful when making a hat or a bag that goes along with your costume. Instead of trying to sew through the thick materials involved, you can glue them in place for a bag that’s just as sturdy.
3. Needles, pins, thread, and a pin pillow
Let’s get down to the basics, you need a needle and thread if you’re going to sew your own costumes. I know, shocker! But I’ve forgotten to get thread in the past, so I figure I’ll put this here as a reminder. When you purchase your fabrics, make sure to find thread that matches the color. This way it won’t show up too much when you are sewing with it.
Of course, you also want to have unlimited pins (you’d be surprised at how many you’ll go through) and a pin pillow. You can get pin pillows in just about any shape nowadays, but I recommend finding a magnetic version. These are so useful if you drop a pin and can’t find it on the floor.
You’re also going to want to make sure you have needles. Even if you will be using a sewing machine, there will be some parts of the costume that are just easier to sew by hand, so don’t skip the regular hand needles.
In sewing, a tape measure is a flexible ruler that you can use to measure around objects. You’ll typically use this to take your own measurements, including the chest, hips, and waist. But a tape measure is also useful for measuring any type of curved object.
If you don’t have a tape measure, you will need to use a piece of string, wrap it around you and cut it. Then you can measure the string to get your measurements. However, these won’t be as accurate as using a tape measure, and tape measures really aren’t that expensive. To save you a little bit of hassle, don’t forget to get that tape measure with your cosplay supplies.
It’s well known within sewing circles that you don’t cut fabric with the same scissors you use to cut everything else. This will cause rough edges on the fabric that are difficult to work with. It’s well worth it to buy a special pair of sharp fabric shears to keep with your sewing supplies.
This may seem like a bit of an unnecessary expense if you’re new to cosplay. However, a good pair of shears can make cutting fabric much quicker (and it will be less frustrating), your wrist will hurt less, and overall you’ll have a more professional-looking costume.
6. An iron
You may already have an iron in your home for your regular clothing, now it’s time to use it for your costumes. You’ll be doing a lot of ironing during the costume-making process. It’s a pain, but you’ll want to iron your costume between pretty much every step during the sewing process. You want to iron your fabric, iron your seams and darts, and iron your costume when it’s all ready to wear.
An iron is also useful for applying decorations, interfacing, and embellishments. You can iron on appliques and patches for costumes that have specific crests (military or school emblems) for the character.
7. Interfacing and wire
If you’re going for any gravity-defying clothing, interfacing, and wire are wonderful tools. You can add wire along the seams of a trench coat, for example, to create a flared open look. Interfacing is a stiff material that you add in between layers of fabric to add shape and make it sturdier. It’s great for creating those standing collars that are so common in anime and comics.
If you’re interested in creating gravity-defying cosplay, check out my tutorial on using interfacing and wire in costumes.
8. Zippers, elastic, buttons, and attachment hooks
Unless you’re using a stretch fabric, you’ll need to include closures on your costume. I have forgotten this step before and ended up creating a dress exactly my size, but I had no way to put it on! So, always plan out how you’re going to close your costume to get it on and off.
In general, I find it’s a good idea to keep elastic and buttons around since they are multi-purpose closures. Zippers can be purchased in many colors to match your cosplay fabric. They can be annoying to work with, but you’ll get a clean finish to your costume. You can also use an assortment of hooks and snaps that you can use for coats, cloaks, and more.
One type of fabric that everyone should keep around is muslin. This is a cheap type of fabric that is used for creating mock-ups of a costume. It’s especially useful when you are trying to make your own pattern or make adjustments to a sewing pattern you’re using. You would create a first version on the muslin fabric to avoid making mistakes on the more expensive costume fabric.
When purchasing your fabric for your costume, always get at least half a yard more than you think you’ll need. This will give you a little extra to work with for embellishments or keep you from having to purchase more if you make a small mistake.
Don’t be afraid to keep the remnants of previous costumes around too. Since I always get a little extra fabric for my projects, I can use them for small pieces of costumes in the future. I’ve even used some leftover fabric to make real-life clothing!
10. Sewing patterns
Cosplay and sewing patterns have an interesting relationship. I find them very useful and always use a sewing pattern when creating a costume, but I never follow it completely. There is always something I need to alter to make it look correct for my character. It could be anything from the skirt length, to the collar, to the addition of pockets.
However, if you’re like me and have no experience draping your own clothing patterns, it’s so helpful to have a sewing pattern as a base for your project. There is a line of Yaya Han cosplay sewing patterns that you can use for many common cosplay clothing styles. However, I also like to look through other sewing patterns to find an article of clothing similar to what I need.
For example, if I’m looking for a coat for my character, I’ll find a pattern that is similar enough to the style. Then I’ll look at the pattern and figure out the alterations I need to make in muslin before putting together the final outfit.
11. A dress form (optional)
A dress form is a very useful tool to have, but it can be pretty expensive. The best ones will have adjustable measurements so that you can easily create your costume and make adjustments to it while it’s on the dress form. However, if this is not something that’s in your budget right now, you can also simply wear the costume yourself and make adjustments that way.
12. A sewing machine (optional)
A sewing machine is another incredibly useful tool to have that is pretty expensive. It makes costume creation go much faster, but there is nothing a sewing machine can do that you can’t do by hand. In fact, for the first five years that I made my own costumes, I hand-sewed everything.
Without a sewing machine, you do have to plan ahead more effectively. It will take you a lot longer to finish your costumes, so you’ll want to make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to get started.
Supplies for prop construction
Creating props requires a completely different set of skills than sewing. You use a wide variety of tools and develop skills that are closer to DIY construction projects than traditional costume making. The actual supplies you use for your props or armor will vary drastically depending on what you are making, but these are the basic tools you should have on hand for just about any kind of prop you are creating.
1. Basic prop-making materials
You can create props from so many different materials. What you use will depend on what you need to make and what kind of material you have experience with. Some of the base materials used for cosplay props include:
- PVC pipes or wooden dowels
- EVA foam or craft foam (more information on how to use EVA foam for beginners)
- Paper clay
Inevitably, there will come a time when you need to experiment with something new. When you do, always get more of the material than you think you’ll need. Not only will this cover mistakes that you will definitely make, but it also means you’ll have leftover material to add to your supplies closet for future use.
2. Adhesive (glue!)
Whatever project you are working on, you are going to need some heavy-duty adhesive to put it all together. The three types of glue you always want to have on hand are:
The type you use will depend on the materials you’re using. I use hot glue as my first choice since this is the non-toxic option (always use contact cement and superglue in a well-ventilated area). However, hot glue does not have as strong a hold and it’s likely to fall apart when if you’re using it with a prop you are heat-shaping (such as EVA foam).
Duct tape, masking tape, and packing tape are also good to have around if you can cover them up. The problem with tape is that paint doesn’t adhere to it very well, so you’ll end up with an uneven paint job if you mainly use tape to hold your prop together.
I cannot tell you the number of different paints that I have stored away in my cosplay supply closet. You, of course, will end up accumulating many different colors, including shiny and metallic paints.
The ones you always want available, however, are black, white, red, blue, and yellow. With these five colors, you can make just about any other color in the rainbow. So, if you find you forgot to get a color for a specific part of your prop, you can simply mix the paints you have available.
When it comes to paintbrushes, you want to get as many sizes as you can find. You want tiny brushes to work at the little details and patterns, and large sizes to cover large areas with paint and finish quickly. Don’t get the cheapest set you can find. The bristles in these tend to be stiff and even fall off, so you don’t get a very smooth finish. You don’t have to get a professional set, but expect to spend more than ten bucks.
4. Primer and finishing paint
Before you start painting a prop, you want to include one or two layers of primer. This is a transparent layer that seals the material below it, preventing the paint from bleeding into the prop. It means you won’t need to use as many layers of paint.
The most common brand of primer that can be used with almost any material is called Mod Podge. This brand can also be used as a finishing layer to seal the paint below it and prevent it from chipping. You can get a version of Mod Podge with a matte finish or a shiny finish, depending on what your project requires, but I always keep some of this around and use it for just about every prop I make.
5. Razors and sharpeners
Whether you’re using a box cutter or a pocket knife, you’ll definitely want some kind of cutting tool. Scissors just aren’t good enough. I recommend getting a few different sizes to work with. Larger razors for general cutting, and small razors for precision cuts and some engraving.
Along with the razors, I highly recommend you keep a sharpener on hand. This will make your cuts cleaner and your props looking better, but it will also help in preventing injury. I use a regular old kitchen knife sharpener for this, but you can also use something like a sharpening stone or other cool blade-sharpening gadgets.
Believe it or not, you can use patterns for props the same way you can use patterns for sewing projects. Usually, these will be digitally downloadable, so you can print out the pieces and assemble your cosplay prop. Most often you’ll use patterns with EVA foam to make complicated armor pieces, but you can also find patterns that other cosplayers have made for staffs, swords, bows, etc. of popular characters.
A good place to start looking for your pattern is Kamui Cosplay. They have a lot of different types of patterns to get you started, but you can also search around the cosplay community to find other people who are selling patterns for props they’ve made in the past.
7. Safety gear (goggles, work gloves, etc.)
Always make sure to keep safety in mind when you are working on a cosplay. Pay attention to the safety instructions of any materials you’re using. This means using a respirator mask, around any material that might be toxic (cement glue and some paints) and while you are sanding.
Goggles and work gloves are also necessary sometimes to protect your hands from high temperatures and prevent anything from accidentally splashing into your eyes.
Sandpaper is an essential tool for getting a pristine finish to your cosplay props. It’s especially important for anything that you want to look like a blade (such as a sword, axe, etc.). However, sanding the seams of most props will do a lot to create a smooth overall look.
Using plain old sandpaper is always an option, but you can also use a rotary sanding tool to speed up the process. I like to use a Dremel Lite to sand my props because it makes everything so much quicker and honestly looks better in the end.
9. Foil or styrofoam
Aluminum foil and styrofoam are excellent tools to use as a base shape for your cosplay props. They are lightweight and easy to mold or cut into different shapes. I use these to create the general shape that I’m going for, then I’ll cover them with paper clay, EVA foam, or some other material to create the detailed shape. This prevents the final prop from being too dense and heavy, while also making it solid and less breakable.
You can use sheets of aluminum foil that you find at your supermarket and purchase styrofoam shapes at a craft store. If you need to use a lot of styrofoam, you can also buy large sheets of it.
10. A large cutting board (optional)
I highly recommend getting a large self-healing cutting board to use for your prop-making journey. It will give you a large area to work on without worrying about ruining your table, floor, or cutting blade.
However, a good cutting board can be pretty expensive. If it’s not in your budget, you can flatten a cardboard box and place that underneath anything you are cutting, so you don’t damage anything.