Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Ups and Downs of Online Cosplay Tutorials

(Originally posted as "Online DIY Challenge" on the blog I made for my Constructionism class. Our prompt that week was to make something by following an online tutorial.)

I'm going to talk today about a cosplay I made last year entirely by following an online tutorial. Just in case you're unaware (i.e., just in case I haven't blabbed about this project enough in class!), exploring cosplay--portraying a fictional character through costume creation and wearing and/or roleplay--is my contribution to the Re-Crafting Mathematics project, in which we're investigating educational connections between traditional textile crafts and math. My craft is sewing, and cosplays are what I sew, because I am a nerd and proud! This has the additional benefit of connecting to interests that many youth have in favorite media, so it could be a route to math learning that they may actually enjoy.

Cosplay is not often cited as an example of the Maker Movement, but I think the two are compatible (as well as compatible with constructionism). Both makers and cosplayers follow their interests and passions to make items that are personally meaningful, intending to share them with others. Both sometimes use online resources and in-person mentors to learn how to make their chosen project. They even both have big events where they can show off their work--Maker Faires for makers and fan conventions for cosplayers.

Just as you can find Instructables and other online tutorials to make items that are more stereotypically "maker," like laser-cut constructions, Arduino projects, or drones, you can also easily find online tutorials to create cosplays, as long as others have made the same costume you want to make. I have used online resources for all the costumes I've made so far, even if sometimes only to find reference images. In the case of my cosplay of Dirk from the webcomic Homestuck, however, I followed an online tutorial for almost every step of the process. I also did more of this costume by myself than with any other major costume I've made. The result was recognizable, but not perfect.

Here's what Dirk looks like, wearing the outfit I made:



I had already bought the shirt, and I laser-cut and 3D printed the sunglasses and sword, so the tutorials I followed were just for the hood, cape, shorts, and gauntlets. Here's where I found them:

It's worth noting that lovejoker put up his cape tutorial before we had seen this outfit in complete form in the webcomic, so the cape is a tiny bit inaccurate. Instead of a single point as in this tutorial, Dirk's cape has two points that extend outward to his sides. I wanted those points to look stiff and triangular rather than droopy, so I also came up with the idea to add stiff interfacing between the two layers of the cape. So these are two examples of modifications I made to the online tutorials.

To make this costume, I had to do a ton of math. I had to take the recommended measurements before buying the fabric in order to figure out how much fabric I needed in the first place. I needed to redo the measurements when drawing the pieces out on the fabric. And that's where I ran into issues. In conventional sewing, you trace a full-size pattern from paper onto your fabric. I didn't have a full-size pattern; all I had was some not-to-scale drawings online, with measurement guidelines. So as much as I measured and re-measured, a ruler wasn't going to help me with things like angles. I ended up messing up the angles for the back of the cape. I didn't realize this when I drew on or cut out the fabric because I hadn't yet sewn the pieces together and incorporated seam allowance, which makes the final product an inch or so smaller than the pieces you cut. That's another mathematical/spatial aspect of sewing that I haven't gotten the hang of. You need to be able to not only envision the two-dimensional fabric wrapping around a three-dimensional body, but also envision that fabric missing half an inch along all its edges for seam allowance. None of this was in the tutorial; basic sewing skills were assumed. But it's not something you can really learn until you try it yourself--several times!

Here's the cape, with too wide of a central angle and not enough space between the top and the midpoint.
I had tried to make this cosplay entirely by myself based on the online tutorials, the way a lot of cosplayers do when they have no one else in their lives who knows how to sew. But this was an over-ambitious goal. I ended up taking the costume to a Mending Day at our local public library, where my sewing mentor Gail Hale helped me problem-solve all sorts of things. For instance, when I told her that the online tutorial had made the front pieces of the shorts the same size as the back pieces (resulting in shorts that didn't fit me well in the back), she told me that almost no pants are ever really like that and showed me an example of some scrubs pants that someone had brought in. This shows how sometimes you need real-live help even if you're following online instructions.

Basically, there is always more to the story than the steps you find online. You often need to customize, the way I had to modify the cape shape and add stiff interfacing. The tutorials often don't help you troubleshoot problems you run into, like with the cape angles. And without an expert on hand to ask, you have no way of knowing if the tutorials are actually advocating the "wrong" way to do something that is conventionally done some other way that works better (like the size of the shorts in the back). Ultimately, however, it worked out in my case! Take a look:

I have improved the sword since this photo was taken!
 

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