Friday, May 18, 2012

Adding It All Up

In my short time (so far) doing professional costuming I have come to realize that many people don't understand the true costs of doing this.  I have had people balk at a quote I've given them and try to argue me down.  So I thought I'd give a quick lesson in what it takes to make a costume.

Obviously fabric is the most important and noticeable piece of a costume.  In a job like mine where everything is custom-made, I don't have the luxury of buying cloth in bulk and getting a wholesale discount.  I never know from costume to costume what kind or color of fabric I'll need, so I buy things based on the costume, paying retail price.  Unless you're very lucky fabric will typically cost at least $6 per yard, and can easily go to $15 or higher per yard.  Want something higher quality like velvet?  Expect to pay at least $25 per yard.  Depending on the size of the costume I typically buy anywhere from three to eight yards of fabric, so this averages around $30 for a short coat to $80 for a large dress.

Okay, not too bad so far.  But fabric isn't all that goes into a costume.

Thread normally runs $3 or more per spool and a single costume will typically use one to two of these.  Zippers cost $3 to $7 depending on length and style.  Buttons are a whole 'nother beast!  You can spend $3-4 for just two buttons!  It's not uncommon to have up to 10 buttons on a costume for an average cost of around $35.  Interfacing (used for stiffening collars, the front of coats, and anything else that needs thickness or stability) averages $2 per yard and you may have to buy as much of this as fabric.  Do you want something fancy or stylish on the costume?  Trim runs a large gamut depending on material and complexity, from $2 per roll to $5 per roll.  If you're paying per yard for trim it can easily be $6-7 a yard.  If a garment has to be lined (common in coats, vests, and dresses) you'll spend $6 per yard.

So let's add all of this together for something simple. Maybe I'm making a Civil War uniform.
Cloth (8 yards) @$8/yard = $64
Buttons (16) @$1.5/button = $24
Zipper (1) = $3
Lining (4 yards) @$6/yard = $24
Decorative Trim (2 yards) @$3/yard = $6
Thread (2 spools) @$3/spool = $6
Interfacing (2 yards) @$2/yard = $4

Total Materials = $131

Now keep in mind that this is what I am paying!  This doesn't cover my time making it (at least 10 hours total time), overhead costs (electricity, wear and tear on sewing machine, etc.), and any profit.  If I only charged what it cost me to buy the supplies there would be no reason or ability for me to stay in business.  If I want to be a successful businesswoman I have to charge appropriately.  Which means that the actual cost to the customer for a full Civil War uniform would be $325-375 depending on the detail or if it was an officer's uniform.

Yes, it adds up quickly!  But keep in mind that all of this is for a custom costume made to a customer's specific measurements.  This is tailored work.  Whenever you're working through a personal costumer it's going to cost more than a mass-made costume that is created overseas where labor costs are low and are sewn with lower quality materials. 

But the results are well worth it! A custom costume is certainly worth the expense as it will fit better, look better, and last longer than anything you buy from a store.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

There and back again!

One of the biggest questions I get asked is ,when did I start sewing? This is a simple yet complicated answer and to really answer sufficiently, I have to start at the beginning of the story.

My mom is a wonderful seamstress and has sewn since she was in 6th grade.  Back when she was in school they had that as an elective and the took Home Economics every year she could.  While I was growing up, she really did not sew very much, as she was a mother of four and that seemed to take all of her time.  I remember very clearly though, when I started High school that began to change.  The first thing that changed was the fact that my parents started homeschooling the four of us kids. So mom thought that it would be a perfect time to try and teach her daughters how to sew. NOT!!!! I hated it and really did not learn anything, mostly because I thought "I have my mom, why do I need to learn how to sew?"

I never saw the need to learn how to even though my mom has made many wonderful clothes, including my wedding dress(which she says was the hardest thing she has ever done).  It was never an interest to me, because making clothes seemed so boring.

So fast forward to 2005, Dragon Con.  My first ever "geek" convention.   I remember looking at all of the costumes and thought, "wow, I wish I could do something like that". Now,  I had been to the Renaissance Faire and we bought all of our costumes pieces for that, but never in my wildest dream did I imagine that I would be one of those people.  The following year, we piece together simple costumes that were just modifications of regular clothes(Wash and Zoe from Firefly).  We even went so far as to dress our kids up like mini versions as well.  It was fun and I had found a new love. 

The next year rolled around and I knew that I wanted to do more, so we purchased a few more things online. The third year, we began to get creative with our costume ideas, so I went to my mom and asked her to help me make a couple of dresses for Dragon Con.  She agreed (not really sure why), and she helped me (when I say help, she did the work while I told her what I wanted). I "made" my first two costumes. I did the design work and she did the sewing. Fair enough, so I thought.

That year for Christmas they bought me my own sewing machine and pretty much told me I was on my own from that point.  I jumped in head first and started by making Belle's yellow dress.  A large feat for some one who was scared of her sewing machine. I quickly learned not to be afraid to try anything and my seam ripper is my best friend.

So there you go.  I got my first sewing machine in Dec 2008, made my first(completely by myself) costume in Feb 2009, and here I am today.  I still look back and laugh at myself, wishing that I would have learned earlier, but better late than never.  I still think that sewing clothes is boring, but I dabble a bit with that.  My main passion is costumes.  It is so exciting to create something that you have always wanted to wear and could not find easily.  I love the creativity behind it and how I feel when I stand back and look at a job well done.  So if you have ever thought about sewing, give it a try.  You will find it very rewarding (once you get past the initial messing up part).