Cosplay with Freestanding Lace

Every September, there’s an anime convention in Denver called Nan Desu Kan. Some friends of mine run the registration desk, and for many years I have been volunteering for them.

While registration can get very busy, there are usually some slow periods when I get to people-watch—or, more accurately, cosplay watch. NDK has been the source of many of the most complex and amazing costumes I’ve ever seen. It’s also fun to see how people who don’t have the skills or resources to make huge, complicated costumes manage to make very passable costumes through just small touches or the use of simple skills.

I like to participate, but it’s a little complicated, because 1) I have to wear a staff t-shirt and 2) I’m working long days, so I’m really dedicated to being comfortable. Generally I just add little touches above the neck. This year I decided to use my new machine embroidery skills to feature freestanding lace (FSL) in my cosplay. I found two designs I loved on Urban Threads.

For my first day, which is really just a few hours tonight, I chose the Dark Adornment Cat Ears. Cat ears on human people are a anime trope, and they make a quick and easy cosplay look. I chose to embroider my ears in a variegated thread of cream, orange, and russet. Here are the pieces, embroidered and still on the stabilizer.

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The ear pieces embroidered on stabilizer.

You can see that I conserved stabilizer by stitching one ear, then unhooping, rotating the stabilizer, and rehooping to use the other side of the stabilizer piece. I decided it was worth the risk of compressing the previous embroidery in the hoop, since the freestanding design is fairly thick and stable. It seems to have worked out—the first ear doesn’t seem to have been stretched or deformed by its time in the hoop.

That stabilizer is Jenny Haskins Dissolve Magic, by the way. I love it for FSL because it embroiders like fabric but washes completely away. I’ve found that the plastic-like washaway stabilizers can’t stand up to the stitch density of FSL and many of the more fabric-like stabilizers have some fiber that doesn’t dissolve. Always test a corner in water if you’re not sure!

Per the manufacturer’s recommendation, I wet the ears enough so that the stabilizer dissolved out of the open spaces, but didn’t rinse it out completely. This allows some of the liquefied stabilizer to remain in the piece and act in place of starch, keeping the design stiff enough once it has dried to hold its shape without drooping.

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The ear pieces with stabilizer removed.

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A main ear piece with the dart stitched closed.

After I trimmed the stabilizer, dissolved the rest and let the pieces dry, it was time to assemble my ears. The first thing to do was stitch the dart in the middle of the ear that makes it curve. I used the same thread I used to embroider with so it would blend in and whipstitched it. Once that was done, all I had to do was attach each ear to its base. The base sits flat against your head and it’s how you secure the ears. You can put the ears on a headband or attach them individually with clips or bobby pins. I don’t really like headbands (they irritate behind my ears), so I decided I would pin or clip.

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The ears complete. Meow!

I really like how they turned out. My husband says I’ll look like a fire cat!

For one of the other days, I decided I wanted to do a steampunk look. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s an aesthetic that works from an alternate Victorian/Edwardian period where technology is very advanced, but via steam power and machinery. The look involves a semi-historical clothing style accented with gears, cogs, clocks, rivets and a lot of black lace. Goggles are often involved.

I just wanted a touch of steampunk, so I chose Urban Threads’ Dapper Top Hat. It’s only about 2” tall, so it’s actually a fascinator. Urban Threads has two other top hat designs—one’s similar to the Dapper Top Hat, but has fewer pieces, and the other is taller and more contoured, so it widens from the brim to the top. In the end, I liked the lace of the Dapper Top Hat the most, so that’s what I went with.

The design comes in nine pieces—four brim pieces, four sides, and one oval for the top. Here they are, fresh from stabilizer removal. I chose black for this because it makes a good base. I can add any colors I want from there, and if I’m smart about it and don’t glue onto the hat, I can change the decoration and wear it for other purposes (Halloween, anyone?).

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The individual pieces of the hat.

I stitched the brim together first. The pieces aren’t identical, so placement is important; luckily for me Urban Threads has a tutorial on putting the hat together. Next the sides are stitched, and finally all three (brim, sides, top) are combined to make the hat. I whipstitched again, in black of course. I forgot to take process pictures as I was stitching, so as an apology here’s a picture of my cat Maggie wearing the hat right after I finished putting it together.

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She’s so patient with me.

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The hat band with bow and velcro.

To decorate my hat, I started with a 5/8” wide ribbon, long enough to wrap around with a 1/2” or so overlap. On each end I hand-stitched a small piece of hook-and-loop tape, one on each side. I then made a matching bow by folding a piece of ribbon in half, pressing the center down to make loops, then whipstitching it all together in the back. Then I wrapped a short piece of ribbon around the middle and whipstitched it closed. I used fabric glue to attach the bow to the long ribbon on end with the hook side of the hook-and-loop tape.

To decorate my hat, I started with a 5/8” wide ribbon, long enough to wrap around with a 1/2” or so overlap. On each end I hand-stitched a small piece of hook-and-loop tape, one on each side. I then made a matching bow by folding a piece of ribbon in half, pressing the center down to make loops, then whipstitching it all together in the back. Then I wrapped a short piece of ribbon around the middle and whipstitched it closed. I used fabric glue to attach the bow to the long ribbon on end with the hook side of the hook-and-loop tape.

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The hat with the band. Looks pretty good, if you ask me!

Finally, I glued together a shortened piece of ostrich feather and a few dyed chicken feathers and then glued them to the ribbon behind the loop tape at a jaunty angle. The result is a ribbon/feather band that can be quickly and easily put on and taken off the hat.

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The hat band with attached feathers.

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The complete hat. The band is completely removable!

Freestanding lace projects are so much fun to work on. The trick is to make sure you have a good dissolving stabilizer, load the bobbin with the same thread as the top, and slow down the machine if it’s having trouble with the thick layers of thread.

Have you ever done a freestanding lace project? If you haven’t and want to give it a try—or if you have and are inspired to do more—Urban Threads has wonderful designs, and Embroidery Online is a great alternative if you like a more traditional style. You can also find some nice designs at Embroidery Library. A lot of FSL is Christmas and Halloween décor, so they are the perfect projects for this time of year!

I’m heading to the convention after work today. I’m hoping to take some pictures of awesome cosplay—check the Sew News blog in the next couple of weeks to see what I manage to photograph between handing out badges!

Screen Shot 2016 08 16 at 3.36.45 PM Cosplay with Freestanding Lace

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3 Responses to Cosplay with Freestanding Lace

  1. Marlene Clausen says:

    I have been having fun machine embroidering for several years. Sometimes, it is not as much fun as frustration. I was working on some FSL snowflakes and for some reason the water soluble product I was using was not standing up. By chance, I was in a fabric store and saw a large display of white organza, some had itty bitty iridescent “chips” in it. I bought several 1/3 yds to play (my largest hoop design area is 7″ wide, so 12″ doesn’t require any trimming). I hooped the organza with a top layer of water soluble and sewed out my snowflakes with no problem.

    The organza with the chips actually look like “ice” reflecting in the sunlight.

    These days, I almost always use this method to create FSL. The organza is almost invisible and and is much sturdier than projects made without. It does take a little trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t, but I’d rather do that than waste time, effort, and expensive materials trying to get something done on a deadline and ending up with more disasters than finished projects!

  2. Kate says:

    What a great tip! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mark Oscar says:

    Awesome Article and fab work I really like it :) It was awesome :) Thanks for sharing , keep on sharing such Articles :)

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