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Fourteen keys to success from eight costuming experts

ornate keys

Within these pages you will find the best top tips from a cross-section of today’s top costuming experts. Some specialise; some are skilled in many historical periods. Some make whole outfits; some specialise in corsetry or millinery. Some are professional, working on individual bespoke outfits for private customers or on whole theatrical, TV or film productions; some are dedicated, experienced amateurs. Although they all have prior experience of teaching or answering questions from less experienced designers, makers and seamstresses, none can ever remember having been directly asked to cut to the chase.


I know making that leap took forever for me, and it made all the difference when I did.
Kendra Van Cleave


None of them have ever been asked the most probing questions: What is the one thing that sets your work apart from the average costuming effort? What do you wish someone had told you when you were just off the starting blocks, trying to improve, trying to find a way to make professional-quality costumes?

Well, this article dares to ask those most challenging, most basic, most cheeky of questions, knowing that we were all there once, struggling to escape the “home-made” look. Our writer Kendra Van Cleave says it best: “I know making that leap took forever for me, and it made all the difference when I did.”

Now, for the first time you’ll get to pick all of our brains as we get down to the core of the issue, the brass tacks: in a few pages, you will know the most important things that a budding costume designer or seamstress must know in order to make the leap from amateur-quality, home made results to stunning, couture-quality work.

Even if you should leave YWU in the future, you're free to download and keep this Masterclass in full by clicking here.

Congratulations: you are about to take your favourite pastime to a new level!

Before you begin

sewing machineCostuming is not a precise science. Every expert has her own way of doing things, and you must remember, when reading the following collection of keys to your success, that these are not commandments, handed down from on high for you to ignore at your peril.

These tips are the product of years of experience; they demonstrate not what "must" be done but what works for these costumers every day, and we invite you not only to try them and use them, but to vary and improve upon them.

I have collated the contributions of all the other experts into fourteen overall keys to costuming success, and then added my own comments and interpretations below.

I invite you to read these steps, print them out, try them, use them, work with them, and see what works for you.


Unlock your dream wardrobe!
Nice article! I only slightly disagree with the authors regarding the use of quality fabrics. It is true that the use of the highest quality fabrics makes the difference between a regular costumer and a very good costumer, and a good costumer should always use the best materials he can afford. Making stunning gowns from stunning materials is not so difficult, but I think the real master is the person who can make a stunning gown out of a plain, inexpensive fabric.

Zuzana from sartor.cz

Lisa Miller
Unlock your dream wardrobe
Wow! My grandmother certainly taught me how to sew the right way. What she didn't teach me directly, I went on to learn based on what she had taught me. And most of it is here in your article. The only things I hadn't seen before were to iron the seams flat before pressing them open, and the use of a specially shaped board to press seams. This is ALL excellent advice. I'm thankful my grandmother taught me everything she knew.
Thanks for witing this guide! I started sewing about a month ago and my work started looking a lot better after I read this article and started taking my time with each little detail and planning ahead.

Carelessness and rush are the surest way to ruin a project!

I would not put foil over my wooden pressing tools. They are made of soft woods that I can pin to (I use thin silk pins and replace them regularly like my machine needles). Do not use woods with too much resin in them or they will mark and cause odors, which may not be obvious immediately but perhaps when exposed to sun. The foil will make condensation on the fabric which can be undesirable on expensive sensitive fabrics. Wood is suppose to absorb water without problem. When in doubt, use test scrap fabric. I use my pressing tools bare with pristine white silks without problem. I will agree that great fit and construction is greatly marred by poor pressing (which newbies may refer erroneously to ironing). I'm all for sharing and encouraging someone's evolution in costuming. My two cents.tongue
mistakes (and being human)
My advice with forty years of mistakes under my belt is to pick out the mistake and then walk away from the pieces. Only then could I ruminate about a solution (and sometimes there isn't one - that is an answer too - back to drawing table and reexamining the goal). If I left a mistake I found it was almost impossible to come back with a fresh mind, the situation only dredged up the bad time previous. Think of it this way, you are already annoyed, so pick it apart, then go have a cup of tea and come back mind and body relaxed. Go ahead and try it both ways, and see what fits you. But just don't stop creating.

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