My First Cosplay: Part 1 of 3 part series on the creation of a 1920’s Gangster Dalek

Happy fall Mile High Who! Is there anything better than fall with all its delicious comfort foods, colorful leaves swirling in the wind and that crisp nip in the air? I have to admit there are a few things, but not many – this is by far my favorite season. One of highlights of this time of year is of course Halloween! A holiday filled with costumes and candy. For most of you, now that Halloween is over the thought of costumes has fled from your brain. Likely replaced with thoughts of family, travel, and the upcoming winter holiday season. For some of you though, thoughts are starting to turn towards the 2017 comic con season and what cosplay you want to create. Let me tell you those elaborate cosplays you see wandering the halls of a cities convention center take a lot of time, and even though most of us scramble to get them done, it’s never too early to start thinking of some ideas. So, grab a cup of tea and sit back and let me tell you the tale of my first major cosplay….


It Starts with an Idea

More often than not when I mention that I’m going to comic con, I get a series of blank stares and one common question: “What do you do there?” Now this question isn’t usually asked by those who have gone to a con before, but from people who have zero idea what it’s about. I tell them about all the wonderful panels where you can gain insights on various topics and learn new skills. Depending on the person I tell them about the guest speakers and celebrities that come to visit (though I’m not a collector of autographs myself). But you know what my favorite thing is? Looking around at all the amazing, beautiful, terrifying, and simply awe inspiring people in full cosplay. The dedication that goes into these costumes, the discomfort most of them inflict upon the wearer and just the impressive nature of them is worth taking a pause to admire them. I tell people who have no interest in paying to go into comic con to at least go downtown and have lunch by the convention center (in the case of Denver Comic Con) and watch the endless parade of costumes.

Adam, myself, and the wonderful author of the Dresden Files (among other series) Jim Butcher at Denver Comic Con


During my very first comic con, I did a couples cosplay with my boyfriend. He went as Harry Dresden and I was Karrin Murphy. We looked the part and got quite a few compliments, and even met the author of the Dresden Files, Jim Butcher. That being said, I was nothing special. Wait. No. Let me take that back. Karrin is smart, beautiful, and not a girl to get on the wrong side of. I was very proud to go as her. Karrin (for those who don’t know) is a detective for special investigations and as such, I wore slacks, a button down shirt, and had a shoulder holster. So when I say I was nothing special, I’m really referring to the lack of a stand out costume. Unlike our custom built, glowing staff with color changing runes that even caught the eye of Jim Butcher himself…. but I digress.


For 2016 I wanted a unique cosplay, something that people would recognize and find interesting. Something a bit more exciting that wearing business casual. I can’t remember where the idea came from, I think it’s quite possible that it came from a desire to use the pin stripe fabric I found at the store, but regardless the idea came to me. 1920’s Gangster…in dalek form. Now I’ll let you in on a little secret, if you’re worried that your costume won’t be a perfect match (hey, we can’t all be like the 501st) do something unique. There isn’t a 1920’s dalek so I can take a lot of liberties with the design, rather than fixating on finding the exact matching button from episode 9. Of course going on a treasure hunt and trying to recreate the exact costumes from the show/comic/movie/etc is a ton of fun too, but this isn’t that story….



The Early Phases

So, you’ve got an idea for the cosplay, now what? For me the first question is always what medium is going to be the main focus? Are you making it from cardboard? Worbla? Layers upon layers of upholstery foam? (Remember when I said comic con is full of panels that teach you a lot of amazing things? Cosplay creation is one of them, check it out!) For me, I decided to venture into the world of sewing. I’m not much of a sewer, in fact I’m not sure I can actually sew a straight line without tremendous concentration, but it’s one of those skills that you have to practice to get good at. So that’s where I started. For the dalek, I figured that the ideal way to get that shapely robot bottom half would be to use a classic technique: hoop skirt. So how does one go about making a hoop skirt you might ask? Google. Step 1 is to do a google search looking for patterns to aid me in my journey. And I found the perfect ones from an etsy shop: patternsoftime. I proceeded to buy this pattern and get started on my way!

cutout pattern

Basic pattern, pinned and cut out from a white base fabric

For those who haven’t done any sewing with patterns, they typically consist of several sheets of tissue thin paper with a series of lines (for different sizes and styles) marked on them. I spent one day cutting out the paper patterns and then pinned those to some white fabric and cut out the shapes from the fabric. The result? A series of shapes ready to be sewn together, so I got myself another cup of tea, pulled out the sewing machine and set forth to following the instructions and sewing the pieces together. It wasn’t as hard as I originally thought, just took some care and patience. Then I had to get a little creative, because you know what? Finding hoop steel is a little hard to find. The trick to the hoop skirts back in the day was a band of steel bent and sewn into the skirt at various levels. The steel pushes against the fabric and creates a very hula hoop like shape. For me, I chose to use flexible PVC pipe and some threaded rods and glue. The result? An accordion, hula hoop like base for my dalek:


Bell skirt with PVC hoops

Patterns and pinstripe

Repeat the process with new fabric!

Watching this skirt take shape from a few yards of fabric to a series of cut shapes which then got sewn together to form a skirt which then took shape and created a bell – a beautiful bell – is nothing short of magical.  I gained a lot of sewing confidence that day and I am very glad I took the challenge to attempt this. Now with this as a base, the next phase was fairly simple: Go and purchase the classic pin stripe fabric from the store (the very fabric that may have started all this madness) and repeat the first steps. Allowing for a tiny increase in the size to cover over the base coat. I don’t know why, but even with knitting, the simple act of changing colors makes things feel new and exciting, and that’s exactly what I felt in working with the pin stripe fabric. Different, new and exciting, and oddly things seemed to work well for me getting the lines to line-up, that or I am not as particular as I should be about such things. Oh I almost forgot one very important step: have a helper around in case your pattern decides it wants to wander off the table!

cat inspection

Always inspect both the inside and outside of sewing projects

cat pattern holder

Sprawl and spread out to keep maximum coverage over patterns

cat osmosis

When reaching a difficult spot….nap on the pattern to learn through osmosis

Now the major sewing components are all done. It’s time to start considering how to make the pieces that will truly make this costume stand out. I’m talking Dalek bumps and accessories! But, alas, I’m out of tea and the day is drawing to a close. Come back next week to read part 2!

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