Easy Costumes: the Simple Shirt

Last blog I wrote about the financial challenge costuming can be and mentioned that I was going to do a series on inexpensive costuming. Here, in Part 1, I give you: the Simple Shirt.

What you’ll need:

Thank you, amazon.com for the image


1. A collared dress shirt, preferably in a solid color that fits the time period (no neons or pastels). Look for black, white, off white, dark blue, red, dark purple, dark green, brown or dark grey. In my opinion those are the best color choices for immersion. For size I recommend you obtain one that’s too big for you. The look and feel of the day was far baggier than what we find comfortable by most modern standards. Also, a larger shirt is less restrictive when you’re sword fighting. Lucky for you, shirts like the one above can be found at almost every thrift store in existence as well as most garage sales, attics and the dusty backside of closets. Especially for the ladies: try to get one that hangs down to about mid-thigh or a little longer so that you can belt it without it constantly untucking itself from your movements.

Things to avoid: patterns and pockets. We’re going for simple and immersive here. Avoid polo shirts. They’re incredibly not time period and there’s really nothing you can do to make them immersive. Avoid stretchy materials. They’re hot and uncomfortable to wear over a full weekend of athletic activity.

2. A seam ripper.

3. A pencil

4. A decent pair of scissors.

5. A length of leather lacing. Here’s where the expense comes in. You’ll probably have to buy a roll of leather lacing from the craft section of Walmart or you’ll have to get it at your local craft store. You can also order them on the internet. A friend of mine opts for the boot laces instead of getting it on a roll like I do. Here’s what it looks like:

image courtesy of amazon.com

Here’s the Amazon link to this particular item because if you try to use the search bar you’re bound to wind up with all sorts of interesting pictures that you don’t necessarily want to see. http://www.amazon.com/Genuine-Split-Suede-Leather-Black/dp/B001NW2QQA/ref=sr_1_51?s=arts-crafts&ie=UTF8&qid=1369865718&sr=1-51&keywords=craft+leather I’m pretty pleasantly shocked by the price of this. In store prices are significantly higher.


Now that you have your materials together. Here’s what you want to do.

1. If you hate the way the collar looks (some collars are too skinny, some button down onto the shirt, or you’re like me and just hate collars in general), then use your scissors and cut it off.

I recommend you keep the part my finger is on and cut to the right of the seam that is to the right of my finger. You'll have what is called a "mandarin collar" left.

I recommend you keep the part my finger is on and cut to the right of the seam that is to the right of my finger. You’ll have what is called a “mandarin collar” left.

This shirt is by no means expected to last you 20 years, so I’m not going to have you “finish” any of it. Finishing work is meant to prevent the material from fraying and ripping, but it takes a knowledge of sewing that is beyond what this tutorial is designed for. The area where you cut the collar from might fray some, which in my opinion just adds authenticity to any adventurer’s outfit, but because you left the seam to the right of my finger intact it will not rip easily. If you’re playing an aristocratic or rich character, you might want to just find a shirt you like the collar on already.

2. Take your seam ripper and pop the buttons off the front of the shirt. You want to slide the inside of the curve under the button and gently, but firmly, push against the threads. The blade on the inside of the curve will slice through the threads and the button should pull free. Then pick out the threads and use your pencil to mark a spot on the shirt where the threads came from. Repeat until all the buttons are off the front of the shirt. (If your shirt had buttons to button down the collar, just take the buttons off and remove the threads. Don’t mark these with the pencil.)

3. Now you’ll be using the long pointy side of your seam ripper. Place that point on the mark you just made with your pencil and push the point through the fabric. Wiggle the seam ripper around until you’ve created a hole large enough to fit your leather lacing through. Do this for every pencil mark on the front of the shirt.

4. Starting at the bottom of your shirt, thread the leather lacing through the button holes and the holes you just ripped in the same way you would lace up your shoes.

Congratulations! You now have a Simple Shirt. If you don’t want to lace it up every time you put the shirt on, just pull the shirt over your head to wear it.

You'll notice here that I lace my shirt down, not up, in order to avoid it getting caught on my armor. I also removed the buttons from my sleeve cuffs to give the sleeves a more open swashbuckling appearance.

You’ll notice here that I lace my shirt down, not up, in order to avoid it getting caught on my armor. I also removed the buttons from my sleeve cuffs to give the sleeves a more open swashbuckling appearance.

SPECIAL NOTE: Most leather doesn’t react well to being washed, especially if it’s dyed to a color. I recommend you remove your lacing before you wash the shirt to avoid any dye seeping onto your costume or wrecking the lacing itself.

Some variations:

VarI: Go sleeveless! Cut the sleeves off the shirt with the scissors. Be sure you cut on the sleeve side of the shoulder seam to prevent the shirt from ridiculous fraying and potential ripping.

VarII: Using a T-shirt instead of a dress shirt is possible, but not as immersive. Cut the collar from the shirt with your scissors and cut a line straight down the center front to the desired depth. Most people prefer to end this cut just above the bottom of the pectoral muscles when the shirt is being worn. Use the seam ripper to create holes across from each other (like on a shoe) and lace the leather through. I highly recommend going sleeveless if using this method.

I’d love to hear from you if you try out this tutorial. Tell me how it went in the comments below!

Inexpensive costuming

A marmot character. Photobomb courtesy of Gizmo.

A marmot character. Photobomb courtesy of Gizmo.

So what better way could there possibly be to spend your Memorial Day weekend than gaming in someone else’s chapter? So that’s exactly what we did. Dustin and I packed up the dog and a short list of gear and we headed out to Tecumseh, KS to play The Edge of the Wilds with Heroic Central. It was a really interesting experience as this game capitalizes on a tribal element that you don’t usually see in high fantasy games. And there were ticks. Lots of ticks.


So while I was up there I was amazed by the youthfulness of the Central player base and it got me to thinking. When you’re young you really don’t have a lot of cash to throw at your costumes. The above costume is roughly as follows:

turban: $6

red shirt: $8

blue pants: $12

boots: $15

black leather armor: $3.50

belt: $3

belt pouch: $2

shoulder bag: $5

furry gloves and tail: $8

paint: $6

foundation: $7

brushes for applying paint: $5

TOTAL: $80.50

You show that number to a high schooler and they’re going to explode with OMGs. This is just the price for the costume. it doesn’t include the price of the event, the Heroic membership fee that gets you insurance during the event as well as other extremely helpful doodads or the price of food during the event.

Now I’m really going to blow your mind. My costume was EXTREMELY inexpensive for the look I achieved. It could have been more inexpensive, however I hadn’t quite yet discovered the local thrift shops when I purchased the red shirt and the pants… and if I was able to sacrifice a stuffed animal for the fur. *shudder* I just can’t do it. It looks at me while I’m trying to rip the seams and makes me want to cry. Velveteen rabbit, anyone?

Now lets make it more accessible to the regular human being. My red shirt, blue pants, shoulder bag and boots were all purchased over a year ago for another character. They were just sitting around my house. My belt and belt pouch were also purchased for yet another character and were just sitting around my house. The turban is a length of fabric I purchased 10 years ago as a makeshift table cloth. The glove pieces under the fur on my hands were originally skeleton hands from a ruined Halloween costume we’d purchased to make packets out of. I paint as a hobby, so all the paint and brushes were sitting around my house. The black leather armor is a leather jacket my husband found months ago and picked up because it was stupid cheap at a thrift store and he figured we’d use it eventually for the leather in it.

For this specific character, I spent $15 and a reasonable amount of time for a pretty kick ass costume. Most high schoolers can scrounge up $15. If you don’t do something that requires the unique foundation/paint mix that I use, you could spend less than $10. Here’s how.

1. Check your closet, your mom and dad’s closets, your grandparent’s closets, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, best friends, garage sales, thrift stores, consignment shops, and talk to anyone you know that’s been doing costuming for a while. There’s likely a bunch of things just lying around that you can repurpose into your costume. Always start with the stuff that’s free to see if there’s something that might work. Another great way to save money is to hit costume shops during the off season or check into those “only open for Halloween” shops a week or so after Halloween is over and they’re trying to clear out their inventory before they close.

2. Learn to use one of these:

Thanks to Amazon.com for the picture

This is a seam ripper and if you’re trying to save money on costuming, it’s your best friend. My leather armor was a leather jacket that came to my knees. I used a seam ripper to take everything off it but the vest portion that I wanted. To avoid overheating issues I removed the lining (also with a seam ripper). Then I put it on and stuck a belt over it to hold it closed. The end. Easy cheesey. Just don’t stab yourself with the ripper. It hurts. A lot.

3. Learn to view every sheet, curtain, tablecloth, old couch or cushy chair, prom dress, coctail dress, ruined leather anything, blanket and comforter as a potential costume. My husband’s shiny mage shirt was a women’s plus sized dress shirt before I took a seam ripper and a sewing machine to it. His one shouldered monk robe was a women’s satin bathrobe with lace on it.

4. Learn how to sew on a button. It’s inexpensive, relatively easy to learn to do well and incredibly necessary when you’re learning to reclaim items into costumes.

5. Reassure yourself as you look at this weird jumble of stuff you’ve collected that costumes evolve over time. As interactive theater players or larpers, we have the privilege of wearing this outfit more than once and there’s nothing wrong with changing it up as you go. In fact, this is completely normal.

There’s the basics. As I continue blogging with my costuming how-to stuff I’ll be including ways to skimp on the cost while still providing a really amazing looking result. Stay tuned!



*please note the boffer weapon I carry is not included in this as I consider weapons/shields a separate crafting category. If you’re curious, my boffer is worth about $15-20? I didn’t build it so I’m not sure exactly.

Fantastical Weekends

You know the age old concept of looking forward to the weekend because you can spend the entire thing drunk and pretend you’re someone else? What if you could do it without the alcohol? Yup. I’m sure after my last post it won’t surprise you all that much, but I’m a role player.

photo by Dustin Bumgardner

photo by Dustin Bumgardner

Most people have never heard of role playing and it comes in many forms, so I’ll describe what I do. Improvisational theater is where you have no memorized lines and only a vague idea of what the story is. You know who you are and where you are and that’s just about it. This is usually done in a class to enhance your acting or public speaking skills, but some of us have made it into wonderfully long events where you get to go to a campsite or park somewhere with 30-100 of your fellows and dress in full costume as your character to do improvisational theater for as long as the event lasts. And (my favorite part) your character gets to keep coming back to that same world with those same people for as long as you choose to attend the events! It’s like a video game, but you’re actually playing your character physically instead of pushing buttons.

Why would you do this? Because it’s fun. Because you get to enter a world that you wish you’d grown up in where there are dragons, faeries, talking cats, majestic lion folk, wise elves and staunch dwarves. In our land there is an evil queen who gained her station by poisoning her husband, who wasn’t much better than herself (or so we heard). Magic things can happen and grotesque creatures abound. There are puzzles to solve and people with their own agendas and battles to be fought with foam covered plumbing supplies. Who wouldn’t want to try it just once?

If high fantasy isn’t your thing, there’s also the post-apocalyptic version: Aftermath, the post-apocalyptic version with zombies (because who doesn’t love a good zombie game?): Dystopia Rising, or you can do the vampire version: Vampire: the Masquerade.

My particular flavor is Heroic. We have a chapter that’s based right here in the DFW area, an amazing support staff that handles writing all the plotlines, keeping track of all our characters as they grow, feeding us at weekend events, taking pictures of our incredibly awesome costumes and epic battles, marketing us to bring in new players, someone to make sure there are people there to play the monsters we fight against and there’s even a team that helps new players build their characters, make their costumes and teach them how to play! Last weekend this young chapter had its very first weekend long event at which I was privileged enough to be their tavern bard. We had a great time and I’m looking forward to our next full weekend event in May.

That brings me to a special passion of mine: costuming! The more you read on this site, the more costumes and costuming ideas you’ll find that have been produced and tested by yours truly! When it comes to creating that perfect phys rep (physical representation of something necessary to play the game) you just can’t shut me up! And my husband is right in those trenches with me. Last night he spent about 6 hours coffee dying paper for a new spell book.

So today I wanted to present to you one of my latest creations that I was particularly proud to have accomplished. It’s fairly inexpensive, easy to wear and so incredibly necessary to most fantasy/medieval costuming. Let’s talk about ARMOR!IMG_20130315_001314

At any given live action role play (LARP), interactive theater doing fantasy/medieval and even some Halloween parties you’re bound to find many different levels of awesomeness in armor. Some things are period replica and can be ordered online. These pieces are made of metal and are often quite heavy. My friend’s full suit, which is quite impressive, weighs about 80lbs! Others make their own armor that ranges in the 10-30lb range, like my husband’s suit made from roof flashing. But I’m a girl and I have womanly curves that aren’t accommodated by unyielding yet shapable earth. I also have no desire to be running around the park (literally) with that much weight pulling down on my shoulders. Then my husband presented to me the idea of foam armor.

In many games your armor must LOOK like metal. That doesn’t mean it must be made of metal. So if you’re willing to break out the glue gun and some paint, anyone can recreate a very attractive piece that will fool the untrained eye in a jiffy!

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 sheets of art foam (that stuff you used in kindergarten- sold at most craft stores and in the children’s craft section at Walmart in 8.5×11 sheets)

Hot glue gun with glue sticks (kids, let mom and dad help you with this part. This glue is HOT)

Spray adhesive (I use Locktite)


A ribbon or belt to hold it on

Exacto knife or box cutter (again, kids, let mom and dad help you with this. Blood isn’t very attractive on the finished product)

paintbrush or sponge

old rag

acrylic metallic paint in the color of your choice

acrylic black paint (for antiquing, optional if you don’t want shiny armor)

spray shellac, optional

Here’s how it’s done:

1. bond the two sheets of foam together with a permanent bond per the instructions on the can. Let it dry overnight. I recommend doing this in the garage or outside somewhere because of the smell and sometimes the spray adhesive drifts off your project a little. Wouldn’t want sticky glue on Mom’s carpet.

2. Cut the bonded foam into a square. It should end up 8.5in by 8.5in.


3. Mark with a pencil the place where your ribbon will go through. Make sure it’s wide enough to accommodate the ribbon or belt and that it’s the same distance from the edge on both sides. Mine is 2in from the points.


4. Use the Exacto knife or the box cutters to cut slits where your pencil lines are. (Let an adult handle this part, kids.)

5. Pencil in the pattern  you’d like to have as the raised portion of the armor. Then carefully hot glue over your pencil lines. Don’t worry, the pencil won’t show once you’ve painted the finished piece. (This is a part to have an adult help you with, kids.)


6. Let your glue dry. It doesn’t take very long. Have a snack!

7. Once the hot glue has dried, remove the little spider webs the glue gun leaves behind so you just have the design you wanted without all the little strings.


8. Next, use your brush or sponge to coat the top and edges of the whole thing in your metallic paint. Wait for this to dry. You might need to repeat once or twice to get a good coverage so the color of your foam doesn’t show through. Be generous with the paint and make sure it gets into all the little nooks and crannies!


9. When the metallic paint has dried (about 10-15min), cover the whole front and sides again in black paint. Again, be generous so all the little nooks and crannies are filled. Then immediately go back over the black with a rag and wipe as much of it as you can off. This leaves black in some spots, but not all, which gives the armor an aged look.


10. If the armor looks too dark (like the black stuck to it too much and you want lighter colored armor) lightly go back over the front with the metallic paint. DO NOT try to jam the color in the corners and crannies this time. We’re just trying to hilight the high spots and the middles of the wide open spaces.

11. Allow the paint to dry completely. Then spray the shellac and let it dry according to the instructions if you’re concerned about making sure the color is water proof. You can also decoupage the piece, but keep in  mind this will make the piece stiff and inflexible so you’ll have to dry it against you (which is uncomfortable to say the least). I didn’t seal mine with anything. I wasn’t that worried about it.

12. When the paint is completely dry you might want to flip the piece over and do a metallic base coat on the back of it just in case the back accidentally shows when you bend over or something. Since I was playing the lap harp while wearing mine, there were definitely times when one of my points bent far enough for people to see the back.

13. Thread your ribbon or belt through the slits you cut in the foam earlier and put it on!


Now you have a beautiful piece of armor that is light and flexible! Congratulations!

If you build a piece from this tutorial I’d love to see it! Feel free to post about it in my comments below!

The Girl With the Wings

Photo by A# Image Marketing and Photography: Dave Goodwin

Photo by A# Image Marketing and Photography: Dave Goodwin

It was drizzling that night much the way I always assumed it would in London. This is Texas, though, and here water is usually a welcome thing. The air smelled great and I was full of creativity as I donned my masque, my tail and my wings. I was ready for the party. Mardi Gras might be on a Tuesday, but here in Mansfield we were celebrating early with Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat followed by Jason Elmore and Hoodoo Witch. So it was Saturday night and I was dressed as the perfect pegasus. I headed with confidence to the Farr Best Theater only to discover that the party was starting across the road. Down to the crosswalk I went, arriving just in time to miss my chance to cross.

The intersection there is two lanes headed in both directions so I had to cross four lanes of traffic to reach the safety of the sidewalk on the other side. I pressed the walk button and impatiently waited for the pedestrian walk light to inform me it was safe to cross. I had a moment there where I seriously considered crossing against the advice of that pedestrian sign, but decided I should just play it safe and wait for that little blueish white man to beckon. When he did, I confidently strutted my runway walk down the crosswalk, aware that there were probably people staring at me in my little flirty skirt and knee high boots (not to mention the beautiful feathery wings) as they waited for the light change. It’s not every day you get to see a person in full masquerade costume proudly cross a street.

I remember realizing that I was no longer upright and deciding that I’d fallen off my heels. (Hey, it happens to the best of us.) While trying to catch myself from falling my brain ran a diagnostic and reported that my ankles hadn’t turned, so it would have been impossible for me to have fallen off my heels. That was when I realized that I was on the hood of a car. In the split second that followed I remembered playing Saints Row III which reminded me that it would be far safer to slide off the side of this hood than off the front. My attempts to scramble to the side were no match for inertia and I slid to the pavement in front of the car that had just hit me. Terrified that the driver would be unable to see me in my prone position, I sat up as tall as I could. I then realized that another car could be coming through the intersection at any time and began to pull myself toward the sidewalk out of self-preservation. If the car that just hit me was rear-ended, I would be hit again and unable to save myself.

I remember a woman’s voice yelling for me to not move anymore. She wanted me to just sit still because that’s what you’re supposed to do after an accident. She knelt in the wet street beside me and continued talking to me, encouraging me to calm down and take deep breaths. Good thing, too. I was about one step away from a panic attack. When a local shop owner arrived on the scene and this helpful voice realized that I knew said shop owner, she returned to her car for a blanket to try to warm me until the EMTs arrived, apparently comfortable with doing so only because I was now with someone familiar. The blanket was soft and protected me from the cold night air and the nonchalant drizzle. Her voice and the voice of the local shop owner attempted to calm me and comfort me until the EMTs arrived and began their flurry of, “Where do you hurt,” “Does this hurt,” “How about here,” “How about over there,” “How about on the moon, would it hurt there?”

I lived.

Such a simple statement. So rife with meaning.

I had no broken bones.

So significant. So often taken for granted.

I hurt like hell.

The whole thing rearranged my life. Here I am, not  a full week later. My injuries are invisible given the right clothing, but I can’t even lift the water pitcher to pour myself a drink. Today I was able to brush my hair by myself for the first time. I’m a professional musician, but I’m unable to lift my lap harp to play. Everyone is beautiful. Every child I see is perfect. I tell every family member I see that I love them. I get that country song about skydiving stuck in my head at weird times. I finally tackled my fear of wordpress and wrote this blog. I can barely sit up more than an hour and a half. I break down and sob at 30 second intervals with no warning.

I survived what killed my teacher.

He was world renowned. He was a genius in his field. He was wise and he was kind and he was special and about 14 months ago someone hit him with their car outside the train station causing his death not long after. But I survived.

It feels so wrong.

What do you do when the cosmos seems to be indicating there is more left to do with your life? You face your fears. You chase your dreams. You love people. You learn from your mistakes and you try to pass it on. You reach down deep inside of you and discover you’ve always known how to fly.

I’m the girl with the wings and I won’t be invisible anymore.

Stick around. Let’s see what happens.