Making Your First Larp Outfit (5×5 #13)

You’ve already been larping for a while, you’ve had your fill of improvised larping outfits, you’re ready for something more… something bigger… handmade outfits! Made by you, of course. What are you waiting for?

One / The bare necessities

#1 Dare, time and patience

While starting out in making your larp outfits yourself, a step further from combining them from stuff you already have, you’ll have to dare embark upon the sewing journey, set aside enough free time so you can do what you need to do without losing your mind over inhuman deadlines, and learn some patience – if you don’t already have it – because otherwise you’ll just end up hating costuming in general and that would make me a very sad larping advice writer. I’m not saying it’s going to be hard, and it definitely won’t be simple, either – but it will totally be worth it.

#2 The perfect pair of scissors

When making stuff on your own, don’t underestimate the value of good tools. Whether you’re sewing by hand or on a sewing machine, before you start make sure you have everything you need – heavy duty scissors (especially if you’re making, say, medieval inspired wool cloaks), needles enough to poke your inquiring neighbours’ eyes out, thread, pins, sketch and pattern paper, pencils – whatever you need. Step number two – make sure everything actually works before you find yourself running around town late Saturday night hoping a handcraft shop is open somewhere because you’ve run out of black sewing thread.

#3 Tutorial love

There’s two things you need to know about tutorials. One: the only way to find stuff you need is to google it. Sure, there are resource lists etc., but many great tutorials come from cosplayers and the SCA people, not larpers – and it’s worth a shot to try and find out what they know. (Don’t neglect DeviantArt, too – a ton of useful propmaking tutorials by cosplayers!) Two: instructions for almost anything you wish to sew can be found online, usually with free access due to someone’s costume making passion. Even if you already know what you’re doing, I wouldn’t advise against glancing over a tutorial or two from time to time – they’re a great source of outfitting inspiration. Keep what you like, adjust what you don’t – and learn from the pros!

#4 Info on supplies stores in your town (or online)

I’m one of those diehard touch-testing fans, which means regular, brick and mortar handcraft shops are my only option. For you, it can be eBay or a specialized online fabric store or whatever – you just need to know where to find what you’re looking for. People who regularly buy fabric will know where to find the best bargains and most natural fiber mixes, but those of us who are just starting out will probably have to do some legwork first. It pays off, even if you use the knowledge for weird stuff (like my hunt for orange coloured hard duty cotton fabric for an upcoming Star Wars fanlarp).

#5 Storage space

It’s easy to get overly excited about the prospect of making all of your larping outfits yourself, being the best clad person on the event etc, but if you don’t control your storage space first, you’ll only end up creating more problems than it’s worth. Clear out your larping storage before you start making shiny new outfits and who knows, maybe you’ll find something old to upcycle and make shiny and usable again, before you go on a fabric shopping spree without a free shelf to hold new outfits…

Two / Larp outfits vs. your everyday wardrobe

#1 Where to start

You can read more about the possibilities of using everyday wear in larp in the article about first outfits on the blog, and I’d definitely suggest starting that way, too. But there’s stuff people simply don’t wear in this day and age, which is more than appropriate for several larp genres. If this is your first time making larp outfits, try to decide on one or two pieces you really need, right now, and dedicate time to that first. For me it was a poet’s shirt and cloaks, for you it might be the perfect tunic, or a dress, or heavy duty trousers – anything you will end up using often. If you don’t want to commit to making bigger pieces from the start, you can always begin with hoods, arm and boot covers, bags and pouches etc. – especially if you’re new to sewing in general.

#2 Hoods and cloaks

Things you will definitely not find in your everyday wear (unless your wardrobe belongs to the frillier side of modern garments, like gothic, steampunk or EGA), and which make regular appearances in most fantasy larps are hoods of all shapes and sizes and my overall favourite cloaks in every length and colour imaginable. Hoods are relatively easy and definitely very decorative – just make sure to try them on before finishing them, especially if you’re making them with someone else’s premade measures. With cloaks… if you’re making one piece, and you’ll engage in acts of fantasy (or historical, or space opera) larping regularly, trust me on this – make a cloak. There’s no single piece which will get more wear than a really good cloak – and you’ll be grateful for it once night falls, bringing the temperature down with it.

#3 Falling in love with an outfit

Never fall too hard for your outfits, since they will always betray you – they won’t necessarily get coffee or mayo stains on themselves, but they will get: covered in mud, ripped to pieces, stuck on random shrubbery, torn in fight, burned by special effects pyrotechnics… It’s a bit different with everyday wear, since you can control what it goes through, most of the time – but while you’re out there, who knows what might happen. You will lose and replace more than one outfit in the course of your larping career, so try not to weep too much over stuff you can’t control. (Just make sure to take enough photos of the best outfits.)

#4 Natural fabric

Depending on your work and life conditions, in the urban jungle you can sometimes get away with wearing stuff which isn’t 100% natural (otherwise known as “fiber mix”), but when you’re larping, you’ll probably want to go with clean fabric, like pure cotton, almost pure or pure wool etc. It will deal with sweat better, it will breathe better, and most of it will keep you warm better, too – if you layer the pieces and make sure to get heavy wool for your cloaks. Not to mention it actually looks more realistic, too…

#5 The life cycle of an outfit piece

The co-alpha has a great outfit piece – I call it “Kolfinna’s skirt”, even though it’s closer to a tunic nowadays. We’ve made it together (I did the seams, she took care of all the decorative details) several years ago, and it started out as a wrap skirt for a oneshot outdoor fantasy larp. Then it got remade in a regular viking tunic – a bit on the short side (we didn’t have any of the original fabric left), but passable none the less. She was still wearing it, years later, when the Kolfinna character got killed (technically, turned undead in the process of dying from unnatural causes, but let’s not go into the details), when it finally got retired – at least for the time being. Because that’s what happens – not all larping outfits get destroyed. Some get remade into new things, some just fall out of use due to whatever reasons. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to the “skirt” next – it could be literally anything!

Three / Pattern love

#1 Thinking in 3D

The single thing which makes outfit making hard, apart from hand and finger coordination prerequisites, is the fact that you have to be able to imagine things in 3D before you make them. (Yeah, I call it 3D imagining – some people would probably find different labels for it, feel free to use any you seem fit.) It’s not really math, it’s more understanding physical space and seeing things before they happen – if you do something this way with a piece, it will look that way finished, and if you switch it the other way around, it will look totally different. It may sound like rocket science, but it’s really not – all it takes is a little bit of the good old trial and error method, as well as inspecting already finished clothing pieces you like and finding out how they work. (Yup, you got it right – the best way to find out how to make a sleeve is to inspect one which is already a part of a wearable garment. Just make sure it’s not a stranger’s sleeve – ask permission first.)

#2 Using pre-made patterns

Though I have no experience with ready-to-print patterns, I hear they might be quite useful, as long as you have somewhere to print them. Your other options are already printed patterns (being European, I love Burda patterns, online I’ve mostly seen mentions of Simplicity) and pattern sketches used as inspiration. If you’re taking the cut and make approach (copying a complete pattern and sewing stuff directly from it), make sure it’s something comfortable enough to be used for larping and appropriate in terms of genre and style for specific events (and check #5, below, for size).

#3 Pattern and outfit inspiration

When it comes to outfit inspiration, there’s so much to be said, some of it already said, here – and many more things to add than can fit in a humble 5×5. Just notice where your sewing inspiration goes while you’re making stuff and keep finding new patterns to use and get inspired by. You’d be surprised how much you can learn not from what you make, but what other people make. After all, if you’re only trying to be better than yourself, how are you ever going to get great?

#4 Pattern vs. fabric

When you pick a pattern, you will probably imagine it at its best, as the perfect outfit of your dreams. There’s just one catch – you have to make sure the fabric you’re using fits what you have in mind, too. There’s no use in making skirts from fabric which will just stick out in every direction (unless that’s your idea) – you need heavier, flowy fabric for that. You won’t make a cloak out of transparent fabric – except if you’re a spirit of the forest and it represents your general lack of visibility (or physical appearance). Mistakes will happen (to some of us *khm* they keep happening), but if you take a moment to think about the expected interaction between your pattern and your fabric, you’ll be able to evade them most of the time and make happy, wearable and good looking outfits.

#5 Always layer

Severus would agree, Caskett would agree – and we all know I love my ships as much as I love my layers. You will love them, too – especially after your first outdoor larping freeze. (Temperature freeze – not time freeze, just to be sure we’re on the same page.) Whatever you end up making, do your best to make it layearable, always. If you’re making something you can wear close to your skin, make it fit really close. If you’re making something which should go over it, make it just a little bit larger – and so on. It doesn’t mean you have to think of everything in advance – after all, we hope you will be larping for a long, long time – but a little layer planning goes a long way. Always.

Four / Larp-specific machine sewing tips

#1 Why go electric?

There are people who will never come closer to a sewing machine than a yard, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re one of those who don’t think electricity will help in making awesome larping outfit – or you can afford to pay someone else to do so – be my guest and stay manual. But if you have, can afford or borrow a sewing machine, you’ll probably be better off. After all, there’s only so much you can do by hand…

#2 Using your floor for its true purpose yet again

If there’s one thing many larping garments have in common, it’s that they are huge. (Really huge. Like, bigger than you could imagine. And it’s not just the cloaks.) Remember when we’ve talked about tents and the true use of your clean, tidy home floor (hint – it had to do with clean, happy tents…)? Well, it’s time to put it to use again and ditch the tables at least while drawing out the patterns and cutting the fabric – you’ll not only have better overview of what you’re making, but you’ll minimize your margin of error, too.

#3 Pattern adjustments

As mentioned above, not all patterns are larping appropriate. Some modern clothing just doesn’t allow enough shoulder movement, isn’t running friendly, uses obviously too modern seam styles etc. Some things can be adjusted – matters of length and size definitely – but some stuff should just be avoided. If you can see (or imagine) what a pattern would look like after it’s done, and it’s something which would not suit most of your larping events, try to imagine if there’s an adjustment (maybe adding some ribbon or dropping the too obvious outside pockets?) to make it better looking and more comfortable. (Yes, comfort does come first – or it should, most of the time…)

#4 Reinforced seams

Sometimes, when making everyday clothes by machine, you can get away with a single seam, oftentimes not even finishing the cut fabric edge. If, on the other hand, you regularly engage in larps which take the “action” part of the equation seriously, well, you won’t go wrong with sewing down the seam twice, reinforcing points of high pressure (middle of the pants, under the armpits etc.) even another extra time by hand, if necessary. Some people like to make visible seams (especially hemlines) by hand for improved historical and fantasy feel – I prefer the heavy duty approach. Better safe than pretty.

#5 We still do a little bit (by hand)

No matter how expertly you wield your sewing machine, or how skillfully you design everything and then make it in one take only, there will always be larping stuff which just can’t be machine made – not to mention leather (and faux leather) costume parts which are not worth destroying your machine for. When calculating how long a garment will take, always add some time for finishing touches by hand, and never presume you can do just everything on your machine, no matter how awesome the two of you are.

Five / Bonus hints

#1 Always experiment

Layers are not the only thing worthy of the “always” title – experiments are another one, too. In the past (roughly) 23 years of sewing (and 8 years of costume making), I’ve never learned as much from any other method as I’ve learned from experimentation. Premade patterns and other people’s advice may be great, but if you only stick to stuff you know, you’ll never find out what else might be done, and in which way. There’s a great saying in Croatian, something with getting stuck in ditch water (or frog’s mud) – I’ll just say ribbit, ribbit…

#2 Never stop learning

Some people feel like there’s only so much you can know about a certain subject – any given subject – and that one day, you will reach the top of that knowledge hill and there will be nowhere else to go. In my experience, the only way to stop learning how much you don’t know is to get bored with something. Once you dare to try making larping outfits on your own, I hope you never stop learning new things about it, and if you get bored by it, just use the wonderful wardrobe of interchangeable, layerable larping clothing pieces.

#3 Don’t take it too seriously

Nevermind the money we pour into larping gear, nevermind the time and effort it takes to make even the smallest pieces, I hope one thing is clear – larp clothes will never be everyday clothes, not work clothes, not lounge-at-home-in-front-of-the-laptop clothes, not even special occasion, peacocking clothes. There’s really no need to choose to spend several weeks (or more) on a special embroidery for a robe which can get destroyed the moment you enter the woods. Similarly, there’s really no need to spend insane amounts of money for silk fabric or anything similar, no matter how great it would look in a certain pattern. Make sure you’ve got your priorities straight – if you spend a lot of time and money on larping, be certain you can afford it. (Sure, if you’re being paid for making a certain costume, by all means, go ahead and take your time and spend your budget! Just notify your customer about the slight possibility of the outfit lasting bare seconds in a skirmish – so their heart doesn’t get broken, too.)

#4 Don’t sweat the small stuff

Unless you’re an utter pro (hate you and wish to be you), stuff you make will never be perfect, not matter what you do. There will always be a seam off, or you’ll have to finish the garment with a different coloured thread than the one you’ve used from the start, or you’ll just plainly destroy a perfect piece of fabric by poor planning. And you know what? It’s perfectly fine. Because not many characters we wish to portray could even own something perfect, or skillfully made, or even-coloured – sometimes, mistakes make things more realistic. Just find a way to deal with your inner sewing perfectionist (many of us have one, myself included unless I’m on a serious deadline) and realize it’s the voice inside you, not the universe, that notices when something is off. Life is imperfect – don’t sweat the small stuff.

#5 Think of the storage space – please, think of the storage space!

There’s a reason I’ve started and finished the list with storage space – years long storage heartbreak in my pack’s residence. The initial thrill of making stuff for yourself is a bitch, and it may take years before you realize you don’t need to make an outfit from scratch for every single larp you wish to play. Reuse, recharge, recycle stuff – it’s not like anyone will notice, unless you have 3 things you cycle regularly. (Even if you do, I can’t say I find it wrong – I’ve seen it work for others, when done well, why wouldn’t it work for you?) If you need something specific specific (not random specific), see if you can borrow it from someone first, especially if it’s not something you see yourself larping in regularly. Some things I’ve been wanting to make have been on hold for months, years even, because they just weren’t necessary. (And because I show our storage space love. It’s never done me anything wrong – after all, I know all the mess comes from the larpers, not the closets.)

Five by Five is a regular feature on Skirts ‘n’ Wolves, which runs on the third Monday of every month. I’m a huge lover of all sorts of lists, and larp-related ones fit right in. Come to think of it – got a great larp list idea? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment or an e-mail.

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