25 Great Tips on How to Make Costumes on a Budget for Reenactments and Faires:

Costuming for reenactments and faires is just like playing dress up when you were little,only this time there are LOTS of other kids playing with you!  Whether you follow the Ren Faires, are an SCA enthusiast, are into LARP, do Civil War encampments and balls, just love Dickensian / Victorian England, you can make your own garb for very low cost and have fun doing it. These are 25 of the best tips from my daughter and I, both award winning costumers.  We do this for the love of the creation, and anyone else can too.

Backstage in the dressing room ~ the Victorian Fashions Show, Riverside Dickens Festival, February 2009, Riverside, California
Backstage in the dressing room ~ the Victorian Fashions Show, Riverside Dickens Festival, February 2009, Riverside, California

Our 25 top tips for costumes on shoestring okay - its 26

1. Learn to sew
The most basic step to have the wonderful costumes that you desire is to learn the most basic sewing stitches and make them yourself. It is really easy to create wonderful items with very little skill. No you wont be creating a replica of Elizabeth I coronation gown on your first try out, but knowing a straight stitch and a button hole will allow you to make most other costumes. Machines come in very basic models for less than $100 all the way up to the super deluxe computerized ones for close to $10,000. Check out the Project Runway series at Wal~Mart. And practice you hand sewing techniques. You’ll need these for buttons, trims, and the occasional repairs that pop up.

2. Bargain bin fabrics
Costumes can take anywhere from a few yards of fabric to ten or more - depending on what you make. With the cost of fabric, this alone make prohibit someone from having a great costume. Keep you eyes open for the really inexpensive Bargain Bid fabrics at your local fabric store or craft center that sells fabrics. Theses store vary from location to location, and what sell really well in one store may not sell well in another. There are always sales and clearance racks. Be creative. Look for decorator fabrics on sale. Some stores even have large selections of $1-$3 fabric bolts. These are mill ends so they never know what is coming in or when. Check often and buy what you like when you see it. Don’t wait thinking it might be there next time - it wont.


3. Shop thrift stores: fabrics, buttons, trims, accessories

Keep an eye out for old prom dresses, formals, and wedding gowns. This is a great place to find wonderful laces, trims, buttons, and fabrics that you can REUSE. Buttons can cost several dollars a piece, it is worth buying a crappy blouse for $2.00 if you can get several buttons off of it that would cost $15.00 by themselves. Thrift stores are also a great places to shop for underpinnings. Look for the petticoats, hoops, and corsets that are worn under wedding gowns.

4. Shop yard sales and estate sales
Another often over looked source of fabrics and trims is the estate sale and yard sale. Look for the same things you might find at a thrift store. Plus, folks clearing out closets at have frequently have stacks of cloth they bought or were given years ago and never use.

5. Shop craft departments for trims
Don’t limit yourself to just the fabric stores. Southern Belles and Victorians often trimmed their dresses with flowers. Look for bunches of silk ones in the craft department. Take them apart and save big money over the ones individually packed in the sewing section.

6. Buy washable fabrics - easy to care for
This is common sense really. It will never fail that when you make a great costume in wonderful expensive fabrics, somehow you get a massive spot on it. If it is not washable you just lost your piece completely or got stuck with a huge dry cleaning bill.

7. Use Old linens for undergarments
Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But this is a really great way to save cash. Do you have old sheets that you don’t use? Old sheets make very comfy under garments. They are broken in an soft on the body. Flannels are wonderful for chilly days too. If you make a flannel petticoat, it might stick to your legs when you walk if you wear stockings, so layer these with other fabrics and wear several for extra warmth. Linens also work well for lining fabrics and often have trims you can remove and reuse.

8. If you need lining, use unbleached muslin
Muslin in my favorite fabric. It is your basic cotton weave and comes in a wide variety of weights and widths. Recently I bought an entire brand new bolt of light weight unbleached 72” wide muslin in a sale for about $10.00. When this stuff goes on sale -BUY IT. You can use it for anything: lining, undergarments of all kinds, even skirts, blouses, and shirts for men and boys. Muslin comes in white or unbleached. It has a beautiful look that makes costumes appear even more authentic. Muslin also takes to dye very well, so you can create your own custom fabrics. Be sure to dye before you cut and sew.

9. Be creative, but be authentic
Let’s get real here: no one before 1970 wore spandex. Think about what you are buying before you buy. If you want to be really accurate, stay with only nature fibers. But, sometimes you can find synthetic fabrics for really cheap that look close enough to natural fibers that you can pull it off. Just think before you buy. Nothing wastes money like getting a fabric you like, making a piece and then not using it because the fabrics is just all wrong for your time period.

10. Waste nothing
Why pay for stuffing material when you have scrap fabrics you would toss out any way? Save scraps to stuff bustles and rolls when you need that a bit of fullness.

11. Become a preferred customer
If your local fabric or craft store has a preferred customer list, get on it. Stores frequently have special coupons and sales just for the preferred list. Plus you’ll get advance notice of all the ads and specials through your email and snail mail.

12. Buy patterns on sale: Joanne’s and Wal~mart
Patterns can be one of your bigger expenses. Look for deals, and scoop them up when you can. Several times a year Joanne’s has patterns on sale for ridiculously low prices, but only one brand at a time. (like McCall patterns for $1.99 each, limit 10). Wal~Mart carries only Simplicity patterns, but they are ½ what you would pay for them at any other store. Look through pattern books every couple of months to see what’s new and be ready to get what you what when the sales come around.

13. Use separate pieces instead of one piece costumes
Making separate pieces instead of one piece dresses will double or triple your uses of each piece. If you like to dress for different event, this is a must! It also helps when you start sharing with a friend.

14. Reuse pieces for different time periods
You can make one simple skirt that is suitable for use in a Renaissance garb, colonial, Civil War, Dickensian, or Victorian era - if you are careful with the fabrics and keep it plain. Dress it up for each period with a different set of undergarments, vests, blouses, bodices, jackets, and shawls. Simple blouses/bodices can be very versatile as well.

15. Use one pattern with different views and fabrics that can be mix & match
This tip goes hand in hand with the one above.

16. Never cut your patterns
Fold patterns along cutting lines to get more sizes from them. Most patterns now days come in multiple sizing each pattern piece. Fold them in place and iron with a hot dry iron before you lay out your pieces. Your patterns will last longer and be more versatile.

17. Sew with a friend & share pieces
Shop, sew and dress with a friend. Its more fun, you can buy in bulk together and save; each one can use their own best skills, and by sharing your wardrobe just keeps expanding!

18. Make costumes adjustable sizes
Zipper were invented in 1939 - Avoid using zippers and modern closures that will limit you. If you use buttons, hook and bars, and ties, you can adjust for changes in your own body, its easier to share with other re-enactors, and your pieces will be more authentic.

19. Make button holes instead of using grommets
Use button holes made on your machine for laces instead of metal grommets. Grommets can be tricky to learn how to install and get expensive - the sewn holes are more historically accurate for most costumes.

20. Shoe laces can make great bodice laces
Use the heavy boot length laces, they are strong, tie well and stay tied. If you use ribbons, avoid the nice shiny silky ones, they fall out easily. Instead use a grosgrain. The ribs which are woven in will help hold you laces in place.

21. Know what you are looking for before you shop
Be prepared. Think about what you are going to make well in advance of needing it. Several months to a year works best. If you are in a time crunch you will spend more money to get what you need instead of shopping carefully. Plan ahead, shop wisely, and save!!!

22. Know your real measurements
NEVER believe that if you wear a certain ready off the rack size that that’s the size pattern you need. Sewing patterns vary in sizing from manufacturer to manufacturer and design to design. Have a friend help you measure. Wear only the undergarment that you will wear with your costume. Write these down and carry them in your purse. Recheck you measurement anytime you gain or lose 10 pounds or twice a year.

23. Carry a list of what you need with you at all times
Know what you need: patterns you want when they go on sale, how much fabric and trims you need for a pattern you already have, etc. Be prepared for sales and save.

24. Set a budget and stick to it
This is were personal restrain comes in. But again, if you are prepared and have enough time, you can make a great costume for $20-&30. And it is such a great feeling to bargain hunt and be successful!

25. Not every one needs to the Queen
Key point here. Most folks in the olden days had very little cash to spend on clothing. There were distinctions between classes which were easy to see in the clothes they wore. When you first start making you own costumes, try a lower class. If you like the pretty fabrics and more elaborate designs, go with a merchant class instead of nobility. You will save money while having great costumes and increase your skill for when you are ready for nobility.

26. Shop etsy.com or eBay.com
Okay, so maybe all of this sounds like too much for you, but you still really want that awesome costume that sets you apart from everyone else at the event. Or maybe you just don’t have the time to make a costume right now. Shop etsy.com or eBay.com. Etsy is amazing - all of the items are hand made or real vintage over 20 years old; and there are many artisans that will custom make items for you. eBay always has several sellers with new, gently used, or even custom made to your order costumes for decent prices. With most sellers on either website, you can request express shipping and have your new garb in only a few days.

However you get you costumes, enjoy the experience! I find that making my own can be rewarding and fun.. Anyone can do it - even you!

As always, I welcome any comments or questions on this and my other hubs. I do hope this has been helpful information and that you put it to use soon.








Undergarments made from used linens

Both the chemise and colonial petticoat were once bed linens. Corset was purchased From Fredrick's of Hollywood, not period correct, but it was on sale and works!
Both the chemise and colonial petticoat were once bed linens. Corset was purchased From Fredrick's of Hollywood, not period correct, but it was on sale and works!

Colonial

Made with $1.00 a yard fabric, white muslin, and lace remnants.
Made with $1.00 a yard fabric, white muslin, and lace remnants.
Recycled wooden buttons.
Recycled wooden buttons.

Variasion on a pattern

Blouse with back button closure, made with bargain bid plaid and vintage linen blouse.
Blouse with back button closure, made with bargain bid plaid and vintage linen blouse.
Same pattern as above, but blouse opens in the front and a train has been added to the skirt
Same pattern as above, but blouse opens in the front and a train has been added to the skirt
We added lace to sleeves with pearl buttons from a sale rack.
We added lace to sleeves with pearl buttons from a sale rack.

More Variations on a Pattern

This costume of a simple skirt and blouse was dressed up with a light weight jacket
This costume of a simple skirt and blouse was dressed up with a light weight jacket
This style is more "common" worn with a shawl made form left over skirt fabric.
This style is more "common" worn with a shawl made form left over skirt fabric.
Same skirt pattern as above, but done with a Renaissance style blouse and bodice. Skirt Fabric is home dyed heavy unbleached muslin.
Same skirt pattern as above, but done with a Renaissance style blouse and bodice. Skirt Fabric is home dyed heavy unbleached muslin.
Same patten pieces as above photo, but done in large size and fabrics in a pirate wench style.
Same patten pieces as above photo, but done in large size and fabrics in a pirate wench style.

These Ball gowns use several of the tips!

This gown uses a pattern that was purchased for $1.99, $1.00 per yard gold poly backed satin, vintage lace taken from a wedding dress in a thrift store, white muslin, and is worn with a hoop from a thrift store and bustle stuffed with scraps.
This gown uses a pattern that was purchased for $1.99, $1.00 per yard gold poly backed satin, vintage lace taken from a wedding dress in a thrift store, white muslin, and is worn with a hoop from a thrift store and bustle stuffed with scraps.
Gloves from a local vintage consignment shop, broach is a vintage costume piece.
Gloves from a local vintage consignment shop, broach is a vintage costume piece.
Floral accents came from the Wal~Mart floral department in a large bunch for less than $10.00 Back is laced with a boot length shoe lace.
Floral accents came from the Wal~Mart floral department in a large bunch for less than $10.00 Back is laced with a boot length shoe lace.
Lovely in natural light.
Lovely in natural light.
On stage at the 2008 Riverside Dickens Festival winning First place for Best Costume!
On stage at the 2008 Riverside Dickens Festival winning First place for Best Costume!
Same pattern as the gold dress, just different fabrics and trim. The laces are a 1" wide grosgrain ribbon. The fabrics for the skirt and bodice fabrics were purchased using a store coupon from a preferred customer email.
Same pattern as the gold dress, just different fabrics and trim. The laces are a 1" wide grosgrain ribbon. The fabrics for the skirt and bodice fabrics were purchased using a store coupon from a preferred customer email.

Selling what you make - so you can make more!

My daughter and I love to create costumes. We often make costumes of differing time periods just because we like to do it. Frequently we offer them for sale on eBay. This is a great way for us to continue to finance our creation hobby.

Every year, my daughter creates new costumes for the Fashion Show at our local Dickens festival,and then we sell what she has made to buy supplies for the next year. She has taken to spending more time and money on the Fashion Show costumes in an effort to be more historically accurate. But, still she keeps nothing...and wears nothing to more than one event! All the costumes show on this hub wear the handiwork of my dear talented daughter, Sarah Rizzo, who learned to sew at the age of 7 and has not stopped since!

I do hope you have enjoyed seeing these wonderful creations and learning a few of our best types for costuming on a budget. As Always, I love to read your comments and questions and continually strive to bring my fellow "hubbers" hubs that interesting and informative.

Blessing til next time!

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Judith Rizzo 5 years ago from Phoenix ~ The Valley of the Sun Author

So glad you enjoyed this one! Let me know if I can write anything specific for you or answer any questions.

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