Cosplay A to Z: Getting Organized

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You’ve chosen a costume, collected a ton of references, but now where do you start on your costume? Going from nothing to a fully fledged costume that will stay on your body can seem incredibly daunting, and the easiest way I find to tackle it is to start by getting organised. But before you consider what you need to know, you should consider how you are going to keep it all organised. So here are some questions to help get you organised.

1) Are you a planner or a pantser?

This question is shamelessly stolen from NaNoWriMo, but I think it applies to a costuming just as much as writing. Are you someone who plans everything out, or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants? Knowing this not only will help you figure out how to get organised, but how much organisation you need to do.

Planners are the type to make sure they have everything planned out 100% and know exactly what they should be doing at every step along the way. The good thing about this approach is that you have a game plan. The limitations of this is that at some stage something will go wrong or won’t fit within the plan and then you have to consider what you’re going to do then. My planning is always subject to the planning fallacy, which simply put is that doing things often takes a lot longer than we expect it will. Plus, in my experience, some planners will plan forever and then never actually get anything done because they spend so much time planning.

Pantsers, on the other hand, fly by the seat of their pants and just go for it. They often don’t really have anything but an end goal planned out, relying on inspiration and enthusiasm to get them to the finish line. The downsides to this is that if things go wrong, you’ve no plan to help fix it and if inspiration and enthusiasm wane you’re stuck with a half finished costume. Plus, without some sort of plan you always run the risk of putting on your finished costume to wear and realising that you didn’t make something vital, like pants.

Personally, I find that a combination of both works best, but that we all tend to fall into one or the other category. Knowing which one of these types you are is useful because it helps you know where your strengths and weaknesses might lie. If you know you’re a planner, give yourself a set time to plan in and then make yourself get working so that you don’t spend so long planning that you can’t finish the costume in time. If you’re a pantser, great! Stay motivated, but maybe take some time to quickly jot down even a basic game plan so that you can be sure you will have a fully finished costume done at the end of it.

2) Do I want to keep my information offline or online?

This didn’t use to be an issue, but in today’s world you have options. Back in the day, a pen and paper were an organiser’s best friend, and for many still are. If you prefer having physical lists to look at and tick off, or love the idea of having a cosplay notebook to keep all your musings in, then the classic pen and paper method might suit you well. You can even find purpose made cosplay planners or build your own.

Customized Cosplay Planners available from

Benefits of the offline organisers include that you know where everything is, your references are all static and won’t require you to remember whether it was Image001 or Image342 that you liked best, and let’s face it the potential to use fabulous stationary. I love having physical lists and find that organising for conventions this is one of the best ways I can make sure everything makes it where it needs to. Not convinced? This blog post talks about how one cosplayer organises offline to great effect.

But the flip side of it is that the physical will be something you need to carry. For me, a large part of organisation has therefore moved to an online basis as I travel so much. I regularly don’t have space in my suitcase for an extra anything, so taking a notebook or folder with lots of images to compare when I fabric shop abroad just isn’t doable. So I’ve been looking at online options, or at the very least, on device options.

One of my favourites is the app Cosplanner. In it, you can keep detailed notes of the costumes you’re planning, keep limited reference pictures, keep track of your expenditures, your progress, and the time it takes you actually put everything together. Its a great little app if you happen to have a smartphone, but you don’t have to just take my word for it.

However, a fancy cosplay specific app is certainly not required. You can use Evernote, Microsoft Word, or any other organisational tool you have at your disposal to keep your notes together. At the very least a folder on your machine can hold the images, notes, and other documents you have to help you along the way.

The downside to having a lot of my organisation on a device, is that screens will change how you see colours. Further, the lighting you’re in when looking at a screen may change how you see colours. This means that it has happened that I walk away from a shop convinced I have the perfect fabric or paint or whatnot only to get home, look at it on a different screen or in different light and be disappointed.

3) Do you have a space that you can make a costume in?

This seems like a no-brainer, but it can make or break the completion of a costume in my experience. I am by no means saying that you need to have a dedicated craft room, although I think that’s what all costumers aspire to. The fact is, most of us will be spending our time working in a space that isn’t designed for what we’re using it for, be it at the kitchen table, on the floor, or in a tiny apartment.

This question, though, goes to getting yourself organised. Can you make a costume at your kitchen table and be able to still put everything away every night so that people can still eat dinner? Do you have somewhere safe to store your materials, tools and works in progress? Can you make your space so that it will be conducive to being productive? Not every space is great for this, but you can adapt the space you have when getting organised to make your crafting easier.

Nothing derails a costume construction like having to stop to find what you need. Can you organise all of your supplies so that you will know exactly where things are? Can you put your entire project into a single box that you can put away or bring out as needed? Where will your tools live both during work and when put away?

One thing I highly recommend is is creating something to make finding your tools easy. This can be as simple as a bag that holds your main tools, or you could look into fancy boxes and storage solutions. But whatever it is, now is a good time to try to organise your space to make it more work friendly. Obviously, some of this you may not know fully until you have plans for your costume, but a general idea and organising now can make later steps go much smoother and easier.

So to recap, your questions on getting yourself organised are as follows:

  • Are you a planner or a pantser?
  • Do I want to keep my information offline or online?
  • Do you have a space that you can make a costume in?

At this point, if you’ve answered these three questions, then you should have an idea of what you might need to do to get yourself organised. Next week we’ll talk more about getting organised specifically in terms of costume questions, but if you have these sorted already, it will be a process that will go much faster.

Happy organising!

~ eliste

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