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Costume and Prop Building Basics

- Still a work in progress -

Costuming/Propmaking for the Beginner

Good advice to the first time costumer is to start small, learn some basic techniques, then advance into larger projects after you complete the first one. If you've never made a costume before, look towards a costuming project that uses everyday clothing items in the costume, and needs a single prop/weapon that you have to custom create. Trying to take on a full body stormtrooper armor as your first costume project is daunting, it usually crushes the novice immediately. Start small, learn some basic techniques, then advance into a larger project after you complete the first one.

Potential first time costumes (just to give you an idea)

  • Han Solo (pants, shirt, vest, holster, blaster pistol)
  • Princess Leia (White Dress, leather belt, necklace, blaster)
  • Goku (pants, shirt, wrist bands, foam hair wig)
  • Gi-Joe Characters (Military clothing, replica machine gun rifle, custom made helmet)
  • Casey Jones - TMNT (sweatpants, sweatshirt, golf bag, assorted sports items, custom hockey mask)
Note: I do not want to discourage anyone from attempting a large project as their first project. If you feel up to the challenge, by all means go for it. The first costumes my Brothers and I made was a 3-man "Colonial Marine" squad from the movie Aliens. It took me 4 months to create and it turned out decent for a first time effort. I learned A LOT of techniques on that project. But it did crush me and I did not make another costume for 14 months.

The Idea and the Blueprints of that Idea

Every project starts with an idea. Without a idea of what the item will look like, you will be heavily challenged to make something. You can build a costume/prop from the hip, i.e. let your natural creativity shape the look of the costume, but even then, you still have to have an idea of what the final creation will look like. Drawings and photo references will assist you greatly in the creation process.

Researching your project

Search Engines. Google.com is a god send, but even yahoo.com in the old days helped the budding costumer immensely. I cannot stress enough the importance of using the internet as a research resource.

The internet is a great networking resource too. If you have an idea for a costume, odds are someone out there has taken on something similar and you can read about their project, or you can sometimes just email the person to find out how they did it.

Feel free to email me if you want to discuss this more, I am here to dispense information in a leisurely, email fashion.

Visual References

I like to use reference pictures of what I am making. These can be hand drawings or photographs. I like to go back during the course of the project and compare what I am making to what I wanted-to-make in the beginning. This ensures my original vision is not getting distorted along the creation process.

Immediately start saving dvd screen captures and any magazine/book reference images as soon as you start your project.

IF you can print the images out, do so, and store them in a 3-ring binder for easy reference. That's probably my most useful tool while doing costume reproductions, the Reference Binder.


The next thing I recommend everyone to do is make Blueprints of the actual item to be made. This helps keep the size of the costume or prop from ending up too small or too large when I finish with it, and the blueprint ensures your vision stays true. Lately I've been making 1:1 scale drawing of my full-size costumes on large sheets of brown craft-paper. These 1:1 blueprints have actually sped up my creation time of the costumes because I am not second guessing how large a particular item on a costume needs to be. I just whip out the ruler and measure the 1:1 blueprint.


When doing Sewing work I always keep a sewing reference book handy. "The New Sewing Essentials (Singer Sewing Reference Library) is excellent as is The Vogue/Butterick Step-By-Step Guide to Sewing Techniques and the Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Sewing. Buy a sewing book if you are going to sew anything from a pattern. Store bought pattern instructions expect you to know terminology like: MITER, EASE-INTO and NAP.


Some adhesives that you will use over and over again in costume and propmaking are: Hi-temp hot glue/caulk , Superglue/Krazy Glue, 5-minute epoxy and JB Weld (for metal parts).

Tape is always needed in costuming. Masking, Scotch, double-sided, electrical and duct-tape. Heck, DUCT-TAPE is the most widely used item in a costume makers kit bag. Duct-tape comes in very handy for fixing items on the spot when on stage or at a convention.

Velcro is a highly used item also. You can sew, glue or 'stick' velcro on almost any project you work on. Case in point: I tend to velcro my weapons into their holsters, to ensure they do not slip out when wearing the costume.

Sculpting Objects

Generally I am always sculpting one thing or another for my costumes. Usually props or accessories, but full head masks are not unheard of either.

Sculpting in Clay

I tend to use an OIL-BASED clay rather than Earthen based clay. Oil based clay does not dry out when left in the open air, earthen based clay will. Not drying out means I can walk away from the sculpting table at a moments notice and not worry about covering up my sculpture, or maintaining the clays 'wetness' as I work on the sculpture.

Kleen-Klay, Chavant and Sculptey III are my favorite clays to work with. Sculptey is best clay for projects smaller than 3 inches long (you can bake it hard and sand in some very nice details into the hard surface).

Sculpting and/or Building with Wood


More to come as I find time. Email me and bug me to finish this section. Sometimes I need encouragement.

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