WHY I CHOOSES THIS COSPLAY
If I were to choose a Disney Princess, it would have to be Merida from the 2012 Pixar movie Brave. If you haven’t seen it, close your computer (not this page, leave that open) and watch it now and thank me later.
I have always loved Scotland and Ireland even though I have never been there (fingers crossed, one day). I think I started back in high school reading fantasy books, being led to the more grounded celtic aesthetic. I remember being fascinated by knotwork and all the details that were used in their crafts (jewelry, carvings and tapestries etc.) especially the medieval works, and I try to think about that today in my own work. So a movie placed in Medieval Scotland was everything. If I was not 25 when it came out I would have been one of those girls that make one princess their whole personality.
It didn’t help that I looked like her (I thought). Being a redhead, whenever you were playing princesses with other little girls you were always pigeonholed as Ariel, but I was not Ariel. I was not slim or graceful, sure I loved to swim but I was not a dancer or anything like that, granted I was not really a tomboy either but I did play softball. So Merida’s less girly qualities and no nonsense personality was more my speed.
Add to that a complicated relationship with her mother and being more attached to her father. Dealing with the world in a more independent way, that was, in short ….. Goals.
Design: How Did I Design This and Why I Designed It the Way It Is
The first thing I did was to think about the person that wore this garment and why.
Merida is a rough and tumble individual, so she is not going to be wearing fine or expensive clothing. Now, she is a princess but she is not a princess in London, Edinburgh or a city that is a trading hub. She is a princess in the highlands which, to me, means plaid. I LOVE PLAID SO FREAKING MUCH, I needed to incorporate that into my design. But things like cotton and silk, while available through trade, was not what these garments would be made of (they actually are but not modern sleek fabrics) and they probably would have been a rougher weave as they were everyday garments.
I had found this great plaid at a thrift store, which was not amazing when it came to weight but was perfect in color and scale and amount (which is very rare). So that was covered. Next I had to deal with her white underdress
I doubted it would have stayed pure white for long so I chose an off white textured fabric. At this point in my life I had been working in theater for about 5 years. One of the things that had been drummed into me was TEXTURE ADDS CHARACTER TO A DESIGN. Whenever possible avoid things like satin and quilter cotton, unless it is a lining then go ham.
Texture in a costume can add so much (link to choosing fabrics for cosplay). This was a great place to make the garment visually interesting and still be a restful place for the eye.
A few months before I decided to make this Merida cosplay, she had gone through a redesign and Disney had added a celtic knot pattern around the bottom of her skirt (swoon). It was like Disney had heard my prayers and I NEEDED to add that to my version of Merida. In the drawing (add version of Merida here) it is a much fancier dress than I was planning on making so I needed to find a material that looked as rough as the rest of the materials I had chosen, preferably heavy, to weigh the hem down and visually make the plaid look heavier than it is ( it is VERY LIGHT). I also didn’t like the uneven look of having this fabric just on the hem, I wanted this fabric to add to the design and look like a purposeful choice rather than look like I didn’t had enough to finish the whole thing (in the end I didn’t, but no one needed to know that) so also finding places to accent was important.
Take The Look Apart
I started with a Butterick 4827 pattern for the base of the dress. I knew going into this I was going to alter it quite a bit but this pattern's princess seams and the fullness in the skirt was perfect (I have a tendency to add too much fullness, when I personally alter a pattern like that). I had to trace out the pattern on brown butcher paper so I could cut what needed to be altered without damaging the actual store bought pattern.
Because there are so many layers and steps I think the best way to tackle explaining it is to go through the alteration from top to bottom and inside to out, since this cosplay does have two layers that are fused at the armscye.
Instead of lining there is an underdress. In this case I took a bed sheet (white) since no one is really going to see it (picture of me and the door). This garment looks like the full 4827 pattern but without sleeves. I know I didn’t want any zippers or any other closures so I needed to cut it my size at the shoulders and larger under that but not a full A shape, tent like dress under the laces because I didn’t want all that fullness to get scrunched in under the lacings. To do this, I cut the body of the dress 2 sizes bigger to fit over my bust and hips.
I hear you saying,” you used a bed sheet for the underdress but what about the white part around the neckline, that looks like the world's most uncomfortable sheet”, and you would be right, that part you see around my neck is actually a facing (page to dictionary with expiation of facing) . I use visible facings a lot in these and any other costumes so lets quickly go through what that is and how to make them.
I make facings a lot and once you get the hang of them they are really easy. In this case I traced the pattern pieces I needed to be faced onto a scrap piece of paper and then identified the edge I needed finished, from there I measured down as much as I needed and drew a line mirroring and connecting what I needed (draw image). I cut this new piece out of the rougher fabric and attached it to the neck line after sewing the shoulders together. In this case the facing was sewed to the inside and flipped to the outside. I wanted to finish the facing raw edge by turning it up a half inch and stitching them down to the lining/ bed sheet. To get a good, crisp, even line when I turn a curve up I put a line of basting or stay stitching on the fold and iron it (remember you will probably have to snip some of the extra away). This visual facing technique will come back in the overdress.
Plaid can be super tricky to cut so that all the lines match up… and in this case I didn’t do it ( don’t tell.) I repeated the facing technique on the neckline of the overdress. However, in this case I cut the neckline down first, so you could see the “underdress” and then made the facing. Although this was years ago I think I might have also cut a small v out of the center front to give more space for the lacing to really stand out.
Because I didn’t want a zipper but also didn’t want to swim in the dress I chose to add laces which means loops. I made a tube with some leftover fabric and sewed that into the front side seams and back side seams. Because lacing two sides is a pain everytime I wanted to wear this cosplay, I made them elastic, with a hook and eye at the top so I didn’t have to tie elastic
The hem should probably be its own section because it was rather complicated
So that brown fabric is an upholstery fabric with a plastic back, that means it will not fray which is good because actually putting a hem in that material would have been really bulky. I make this piece very similar to a facing but with no fabric behind it (I DO THIS A TON). Let me explain why this is necessary because while this is a very time consuming process IT IS VITAL to the continuation on the circle skirt. (images)
Lots of people think they can just add a long rectangle to the bottom of a curved skirt to lengthen it and while you can, the longer the rectangle hangs down the more awkward it gets. But why… GEOMETRY… as the skirt gets longer, the hem should get wider. If you cut it and put a rectangle at the bottom, you abruptly stop the circle from growing and while it might look ok for a inch or two any longer and it will start to fall flat (This is more troublesome when you are wearing a petticoat (See strawberry shortcake)
In this case I traced the skirt piece (1,2,3 and 4) measured up equally on all of then the height of the brown section ADDED SEAM ALLOWANCE AT THE TOP and cut them. With the plaid I did the same thing but instead of measuring up and cutting the seam allowance up I measured up and subtracted the seam allowance (brown pattern piece is 15 and I subtract 14 ½ from the plaid fabric)
Now because the hem is not a rectangle and curves that means the Celtic knotwork must also curve. THANKFULLY the curve is the same on all the piece. There was some math done to make sure they will fit together in the end ( there is a spot where they don’t quite but with all the fullness no one has ever commented).
This project was done before automatic cutters were readily available so I needed to make a stencil on poster paper, traced it in brown permanent marker and then painted it. That helped make a super clean border around the piece of the knotwork.
I find the easiest way to make this sleeve is to cut the sleeve pattern provided by Butterick, this will be the lining. Then you will need to cut 2 rectangles of the plaid, these will be for the upper arm and forearm. These should not be any wider than where you are going to place them in the arm in fact you can just lay them on top of the sleeve and cut them exactly, but leave seam allowance at the top and bottom. I just folded it over and, when it came time, top stitched them down to the lining.
Six thinner strips, these I made into thin tubes and will be the pieces that runs from the shoulder to the upper arm and from the upper arm to the forearm. The last thing you will need is 3 strips of whatever white fabric you used for the neckline each should be slightly longer than the shoulder, elbow and wrist ( where they will be placed ). I chose to add some of the brown fabric on the cuff, you don’t have to so I will not add that to this process here.
Measure up the arms on either side, the same amount about 4 to 5 inches (you will need to clip the seam allowance because the seam allowances are going in the opposite directions). Right sides together with the plaid forearm, sew up the the wrist cross over the wrist and the same up the other side, flip it up so the plaid is on the outside and the seam allowances are all nicely covered, now finish by bringing the plaid up, fold over the seam allowance on the top and top stitch it down ( I swear this is the hardest part). For the upper arm just fold the seam allowances up on the shoulder side and the elbow side and top stitch. I surged the raw edges but you can pink or zigzag them if you don’t have the machine
From here I would the treat the sleeve as one single piece. Before I put it together I sewed button holes to lace the sleeves up. I sewed the arm seam and finally pieced the sleeve in the arm hole.
Run gathering stitches along the longest edge of the white piece but only the piece you are using for the shoulder and elbow. Gather them down to the width of the sleeve lining. Pin these to the sleeve and sew them down, I know that it will be tricky on the sleeve cap because they are different shapes but don’t try and get it to the same shape. Pin it square and after sewing it along the cap cut the extra off. Then add those 6 little strips. I would tack them down when you top stitch the upper arm and forearm down they will be stuck in there. That last white piece should be the wrist piece, fold that piece in half and sew the short ends together, from there gather the raw edge of the fabric. This will sew to the wrist part of the sleeve but with the seam allowance up (on the “ outside”) it will get covered with the forearm plaid piece. Which we will do now.
Ok, so the design on the belt buckle is not the design on the character’s belt buckle it is actually the design of the necklace, I liked the necklace better so I used that instead.
I actually found a woven belt and with a large flat metal hook style buckle at Savers, that is the base of the belt.For the buckle, I found an image of the necklace and messed with the contrast and size when I printed it, it was as big as the original belt buckle and I could trace the bears onto 2 mm foam and GENTLY with a SHARP exacto knife cut into the foam being VERY careful not to cut though.
When I accomplished that and started breathing again, I heated up the foam to open the lines and while it was still warm pressed the back of the foam onto the belt's original buckle, this helped the foam take on the curved surface of the buckle. Ideally I would have liked to take the buckle off for painting but I had no luck so I masked off the leather part of the belt and painted the foam silver. Once that was dry I rubbed black and brown into the grooves that the heat gun had opened up, did some touch up in silver pen and sealed it with shellac since it was not going to bend and crack.
I grilled PVC…. this quiver takes a beating, I can’t tell you how many doors that thing has banged into or people have whacked into it walking past me. I think the first one might have been just foam but honestly I cannot remember. This one has a core of PVC I put on a tray and put in my grill (PVC when heated lets out some pretty toxic fumes so well ventilated is a must). I cut a dart out of the PVC to get a good taper and then glued black liner fabric inc. Using 8 mm foam I covered the PVC and added texture with aluminum foil and added stitches. The arrows are made from dowels and 1mm foam stuck onto a ring of foam I lodged in the PVC.
Arrows are nice but getting them past Weapons check is a hassle which is also why I decided not to carry a bo
I put a combo of alcohol ink (types of ink) and rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle. This I find is a better way to control your saturation, since I was only adding a little color it took me 3 fine layers (I let the mixture sit on the wig for about 4 hours after every section with the spray bottle)
but I eventually got the color to be a more natural reddish brown. I wanted to give it even more definition by rooting the wig (link). It is a really easy process that makes a huge difference. Once everything was dry I started to curl the wig.
Because the wig is so long and there are so many fibers I started at the top and worked my way down. I knew that I could not fit all the rollers on the wig cape section so the curlers at the bottoms were going to be hanging off the nape. I choose to use smaller rollers on the top and the bigger rollers at the bottom. (It took about 4 packs of rollers, if anyone ever needs rollers I have them) (link)
It is important that when you curl the hair around the curlers to keep them smooth from the tip to the root. Once I got all the curlers in it was time to dip the wig in hot water pretty much the opposite of when I straightened it, I waited DAYS for it to dry.
The wig is probably the thing I would redo the most. It is amazing how much more knowledge is out there now then back in 2015. I would even at this point check out YouTube for newer techniques.
I am not still not amazing with wigs. You can imagine that in 2015 I was much worse, so the closer I could get to what I wanted the better. Thankfully, long curly red (more like orange) are very easy to find online (links).
After getting the wig and comparing it to what I wanted, I decided to change two things
1) Shift the color from a very unnatural orange to a more natural red
2) Re-style the curls to make them tighter.
No matter what the first step was to straighten the whole thing. Now, when I buy a wig off of Amazon, Light in the Box,or Rowene I am never sure of the quality of the fibers. Sure some come with a " how to care” tag but I don't trust them (I would trust care tags form Arda or Wig is Fashion)
With these questionable fiber wigs (cheap) I always choose the more delicate option. I got a large pot of water and heated it, then submerged the wig in the hot water and brushed it out. The water is a more gentle way to apply heat to the fibers, and wigs are easier to color when they are straight.
This takes some supplies so first I will list them, the project itself is pretty straightforward though
- 2 water bottles one narrower then the other
- frosted glass paint
-a battery powered light source like fairy lights
-tulle is optional
When I teach cosplay classes the whispy project is the final project, I have made one on livestream in 3 hours, they are a very simple project that makes a cool visual.
When working with PETG I find it easiest to use something that is the ideal base shape since PETG, when heated, springs back to the original shape, if the base is a sphere start with a sphere.
I try and get 2 clear PETG bottles that are slightly smaller than one another ( so they sit one inside the other). You also need bottles that have a half circle as the top like you see in the image above, these are an ICE bottle and a smart water bottle but bottle with that shape will work . I then cut the twist cap section off to fit the stand in and cut the extra off from what was the bottom and is now the top.
Cut the top into THICK section, on the outer bottle make than shorter and the inner bottle make them longer.
QUICKLY hit them with heat, this will take some time to perfect the right angles and timing but mess with it. Heat the neck/ ball section, heat the flame's tail bits and play with them. If you like having control this is not the project for you, PETG is really hard to control. To fog the plastic I sand the plastic at the point, the scratches will fog it but also give it texture, since sanding before now it will make it look flat. Spray the two "flames" with clear tinted spray. I like the Krylon stained glass spray (if you can dye PETG too there are a few on YouTube ). Once this dries try to nestle them together, you might have to fidget with the flame piece to get the pieces to rest comfortably but don't worry about breaking it, it is very hard to.
Putting on a handle is optional but if you decide to use it you will need a thin strip of PETG, I get mine from the pastry containers at Stop and Shop. I took mine and heated it on the side of a table so I got good clean right angles. You can fit the stem into the hole in the bottom (where the twist top used to be) glue the handle with hot glue.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND AWARDS
I still really like this costume and I should probably put it back into rotation. Really the wig is the worst part. I can't keep it from tangling and the crown always looks really bad no matter what I try. I could probably use my hair but it is not that long or curly… but really beside 2 people who really does.
2015 Terrificon Best Female cosplayer
2016 Baltimore Comic Con 2nd place masters
(If there was anything I would change, I might make a bow, I do a LOT of versions of Merida and the bow might be easier to incorporate