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Sewing for starters ??? Tips #1

Posted by Ellinor Orton on February 19, 2018 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (1)

Recently I was asked if I had a blog or similar for the sewing tips I’d been posting on the Orton Originals facebook page and twitter account (shameless plug!). I've posted some up here, and it's cross-posted over at" target="_blank">Costume Collective, which is a brand-new collaborative costume and prop=making blog I've been asked to contribute to.


These are probably aimed rather more at those of you who are just starting out in sewing rather than a more experienced costumer, but you might find something useful. They’re purely from my own experience and I will admit that I have a lot of bad habits!


When I started out, there were a few things that I didn’t really bother with, and I have to say that, with hindsight, they are quite important to getting a good finish to your item. I’ll try to post a couple of “getting started” type tips every so often. For the purposes of this article I am going to assume you’re using commercially available patterns to start out with. I’m aiming to take you through them in the order you might use them, so today we’re going to look at what I consider before I thread up my trusty sewing machine.

Wash and iron your fabric


Seriously. I hate ironing and I only own an iron because I sew. Iron your fabric. Wash it first if it’s washable (in case it shrinks a little), and then iron it. It will make your life easier and means that there’s not a great big crease under one of your pattern pieces that makes the cut piece a funny shape. Plus you’re most likely going to fold your fabric along the length to cut your pieces in twos, so it’s easier to get it folded tidily if it’s ironed.

Cutting on the grain


If you’re starting out with remnants, curtains and bits of fabric from charity shops, you’re probably just crowding your pattern pieces onto the fabric however you can. Once you move on to buying fabric by the metre, it really is worth making sure you’ve got the pattern pieces lined up to the grain of the fabric. Your pattern pieces will often have a long arrow on it, marked something like “grain line”, and that’s what you want to match up.


Why bother? Well, your fabric will drape according to the grain, and might stretch differently along the warp and weft (that’s the “up and down” and “left to right” grain). If your pattern pieces are cut on the same axis, they’ll all drape uniformly. Cut at different angles, the garment will hang strangely and bag or pull in different places. In addition to this, if you’ve got a design on the fabric then cutting on the grain will keep that straight and you’ll get a much nicer overall look.


One last note, and that’s nap and one way designs. Sometimes you’ll see your fabric amounts given “with nap” and “without nap”. “Nap” is what you get on fabrics like velvet. It has a definite “up” and “down” to it, which means that the fabric catches the light differently when it’s “upside down” and can look very noticeably different.


This means that you have to you have to cut all your fabric pieces round the same way. You can’t top and tail them. It uses a lot more fabric because you can’t fit them on as efficiently, but if you don’t do it you’ll find the fabric looks different between panels. You can make a feature of that if you want to (or if you forget, as I have before!), but it’s something you should bear in mind.



When you’re at the cutting stage, you’ll see that your pattern pieces might say things like “cut 4 of fabric and 2 of interfacing”. Cutting 4 of the fabric means you’re probably going to use 2 of them as lining or facings, and those will probably want interfacing.


Interfacing is a type of fabric that you use to add body or stiffness to parts of your garment. You’ll find it in your shirt cuffs, and at the front and collar of a coat. It comes in various weights, from featherweight to heavyweight, and can be sewn in or ironed on (fusible). I like fusible because I think it’s easier to use, but I have stuck a lot of it to my ironing board, so your view might differ. And if you turn the interfaced pieces over and press it again, be careful you don’t get the adhesive side stuck to your iron…


Interfacing might seem like a fiddly extra step that no one is ever going to appreciate because it’s never on show, but it can really lift a garment to the next level. It gives you a crisper finish to the open edge of your coat, and helps a collar hold its shape. If you’ve got a flimsy fabric that you’re using for detailing then it will give it a little more body. Basically, it just gives a slightly more professional finish to your piece, and it’s not really that much of a faff. I really do recommend not skipping interfacing – I never bothered with it at first but it really does make such a difference.


Next time we’ll look at construction techniques and things to consider when you get to the sewing stage. Is there anything you want help with? Or any hard-earned lessons to share that you wish you’d known when you started? Let us know in the comments.

Thermoplastic Gunblade

Posted by Ellinor Orton on October 29, 2017 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

I’ve never made a cosplay for myself before, for various reasons, but I decided at the last minute to make a costume for hallowe’en, and picked Squall Leonhart from Final Fantasy IIX. I’d made a jacket for a customer several years ago, so I still had the pattern for that, and I had various remnants to make it from. By Wednesday I was happy with my soft kit, but I wanted to make a gunblade, Squall’s iconic and impractical signature weapon.

As any costumer will tell you, the night before you need it is the best time to embark on building a prop, especially if it’s going to involve a new skill. This was of course the case with my gunblade. I’ve learned a lot making it and I know what I’ll do differently next time. And there will be a next time!

I started with a vague idea of a rough and ready build that wouldn’t be all that accurate to the game, to which end I purchased a plastic gun and two plastic swords from Poundland. These turned out to be unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, because I got over-excited and a bit more accurate about stuff.

So, the first thing I did was work out the proportions of the weapon, work out how long I wanted the blade to be, and pattern it out from there. I used a very technical method for this, by measuring a picture, scaling up, and drawing on a sheet of newspaper.

I then transferred these measurements onto a sheet of mounting board, which is stiff cardboard. I discovered it wasn’t quite long enough for the whole blade, but I got round that by sandwiching the join under two other bits of card.

I wanted the blade to be a bit more rigid so I made it in two layers, attaching them together with contact adhesive. To get a smooth finish to the edges I glued the sheets together then cut them as one. This wasn’t really necessary in the end as I wound up covering the whole thing in thermoplastic, but that wasn’t the plan to begin with.

I had intended to make the handle by just cutting the barrel off the plastic gun, separating it into its halves (it screwed together) and gluing that in place. But I realised that it wasn’t going to be the right shape, and by now I was way too into accuracy for what had been a quick fix build.

So I cut the gun down and separated it as planned, then made a card template for the extension and glued that in place with hot glue. I then used gaffa tape and craft foam to build it up round, because gaffa is amazing. This was very wobbly, but provided the framework to wrap overlapping strips of thermoplastic round. This gave it rigidity, but wasn’t very attractive. I smoothed it with a layer of craft foam, and filled in any big hollows with extra bits. I then covered it with gaffa to see how smooth it would be and added more filling as necessary.

I made a paper pattern that I thought would cover half the gun handle, tried it out as best I could, and then cut two versions in worbla. Positioning it was tricky as I had to hold it in place until it was set. I made the seam where the two sides of the covering met as smooth as I could by just working it, but if I was remaking with more time I’d sand it down, too.

That left the raw edges at the bottom to be filled. I cut an oval a bit larger than the hole for that. The gunblade has a chain hanging from the bottom so I just poked a hole in the middle of the base and pushed a section of chain through. I sealed it in place with a blob of hot glue. I failed to consider that this would heat up the thermoplastic and make it flexible – the weight of the chain pulled it through the panel, bringing the glue with it, and in the process of putting it back in place I burned myself pretty badly with the hot glue. So don’t be daft like me.

Once that had all cooled, I attached the panel by heating the edges and pressing them onto place. Again, I smoothed out the seams with my fingers but would sand if you’ve got time.

I think it was at this time I decided to sheath the blade in thermoplastic, to try and get it to be a bit more rigid. I think next time I’d probably try to do that differently, but I’m not sure how. Perhaps making it from all thermoplastic, maybe three layers. Or from a thin board of wood. But this worked well enough. I just folded a triangle round the blade and cut the detailing in at the tip. I had to add a strip at the top to get a smooth join. I’m not pleased with that bit.

So now I had a smooth plastic covered blade and hilt, which needed the barrels and the revolver part adding.

I cut a short length off a poster tube and cut it in half lengthways. I then cut out a rectangle of sticky back craft foam for each, and cut out three groves with rounded edges out of them. I stuck those on and covered them with thermoplastic, pressing it down into the grooves to give the shape I wanted. I attached these with hot glue, positioning them over the end of the handle to cover that and give both of them a neat end.

For the barrels, I cut a section of drinking straw, wrapped it in worbla, and got glued it in pace, sucking the end under the revolver cylinder. They should be wider, I think, so maybe a chunky straw or a length of dowel would be better.

That just left the trigger guard so I referred back to my diagram for the dimensions, then cut a small strip of foamcore, scored it and bent it, then wrapped it in thermoplastic and attached it. I should have done that with the trigger too, but I was getting really tired so I just cut the trigger off the toy gun and glued that on. It’ll have to be replaced because it’s not on properly and has come loose.

I ran out of time to make the lion charm that ought to be on the chain, so just popped a bead on there for now.

With hindsight I ought to have masked up the handle then sprayed the rest silver, because I used black thermoplastic, but I didn’t because it was late and I wasn’t thinking that well by then. So I sprayed it silver, then masked the silver and sprayed the handle black.

And that was that. My first big project using thermoplastic and my first cosplay costume for myself!

I’m excited about making more stuff. I might well make a Vincent Valentine costume, and I could use similar techniques to make the gun. I think that if I do need to make another gun or gunblade handle, I will probably make it with stacked layers of thick corrugated card to create the basic shape to form the worbla around.

Anyway, I’m pretty pleased with what I made and how I made it, and I’ve learned some things for my next project.

White Mage cosplay

Posted by Ellinor Orton on September 22, 2014 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

It’s all happening over here! I’ve got cosplay and costume commissions out the wazoo (wherever that might be).


The most recent one to be completed was the White Mage from Final Fantasy XIV. This is a complete outfit with accessories. It consists of:


A white dress with rolled collar, long flared sleeves and pleated skirt. The pleats in the dress are inset in red, and the sleeves feature red applique with embroidered self-coloured patterning on them.


A white bolero with a hood and short flared sleeves. The bolero is extensively decorated with self-coloured embroidery, which runs continuously along the edge, joining designs at the front and back. The sleeves are also embroidered with similar designs, and are stiffened so that they stand out. The back has a long split, and there are designs at the corners and also on the top of the split. The bolero hood is long and pointed, with a similar red applique to the dress sleeves. Again this is embroidered in a self-coloured design. The bolero fastens with black cotton tapes. It is fully lined with white cotton.


A narrow white belt worn loose and at an angle.


A broader brown belt with a feature fastening .


Four pouches of differing designs and a leather bottle.


Gaitors/boot tops, laced at the back and with a strap to pass under the boot. The backs are reinforced with two layers of imitation leather and have high-quality metal washer eyelets set into them to strengthen them. They are laced with brown cord.


The complete outfit, except the gaiters - sadly Nefetari doesn't have the legs for them!


This isn’t a game I’ve played but fortunately there was plenty of source material. People post screenshots, and of course there are publicity shots and fan pages.


The client supplied her own fabrics. She picked cotton velvet for the white part, with a short pile, and plain cotton for the red part. The leather parts were white and brown fake leather.


The dress part has inset pleats in red, and a concealed zip up the back. The sleeves are fitted to the elbow and flared out, with red appliqué with self-coloured embroidery at the cuffs.


Where I’ve got appliqué, I’ve used bondaweb. This is sort of like double-sided sticky tape for fabric. You can draw a shape onto it, place the rough side onto the fabric and iron it. At this stage it’s sort of like interfacing. You can now cut around your shape and it won’t fray (that’s not a long-term thing). You now peel off the paper backing and put the fabric shape, bondawebbed-side-down, onto the fabric it’s going to be attached to. Iron again, and it’s stuck to your fabric. At this stage it’s a very good idea to put a close zigzag stitch over the edges, both to hold it down and to make sure it doesn’t fray.


Applique on the sleeves. You can see where I've zigzagged the edges to prevent peeling or fraying.

The embroidery that you see on the red cotton parts is a close zigzag and is drawn on freehand in tailors chalk. I then sewed over the lines. On the velvet parts I had initially thought to draw the design onto the smooth back of the velvet and zigzag from the reverse. However, I didn’t feel this looked as good as doing it from the right side. It’s hard to mark velvet with chalk on the right side, and these parts were going to be right next to each other so had to be symmetrical, so I didn’t want to freehand the design anyway.


I could have used a transfer pen to draw the design on paper then iron it on, but those are only available in black and it would probably have shown through. I could also have used a water-soluble pen to draw it on, or a light-sensitive pen* but I was again worried about symmetry.


What I eventually did was decide to line the bolero with a thin white cotton I had left over from something else. I traced the design onto the lining, attached it to the outer with bondaweb so it wouldn’t move, and then sewed the outline I’d drawn with a running stitch, which of course showed through onto the right side. I then went over this with the tight zigzag. Which was a bit of a faff but I think it looks absolutely amazing.



Embroidery on the bolero

The white belt, and the straps on the pouches and gaiters are all made by cutting a strip of fake leather twice the width I want, then putting a strip of double-sided tape down the centre of the wrong side and folding the edges in (rather like bias tape). I then sew along the edges to keep it in place and make a neat finish. I do find double-sided tape really helpful when using imitation leather. It’s generally advisable to use a double layer on anything that’s going to bear weight because it stretches very easily. The stitching also helps stop this.

Pouches and bags hang on the brown belt

The pouches are all quite basic to make, but the bottle was more tricky. It is made of three body panels and a small round panel at the bottom. An inverted champagne-type cork is pushed into the neck, the whole thing is stuffed firmly with wadding, and the bottom panel stitched on by hand. Again I used double-sided tape to add the white lines in imitation leather, stitching them down at the ends. I used white cotton tape for the hanging loop. If you’re going to make one of these, sew the three panels on the sewing machine, clip the curves (essential for it to have a smooth finish) and then unpick a couple of inches on the bottom of one of the seams. Turn the bottle through, push the cork into the neck (a champagne type cork is the best as it has a wider top – you’re using it upside-down so the narrower bottom sticks out of the bottle and there wider part stops the cork getting pushed out when you stuff the bottle), and close the seam by hand using the holes the machine sewing left. Ram the wadding down hard with whatever you’ve got to hand. I used a felt tip, with the lid on, of course! The more you stuff the bottle the smoother and rounder it’ll be.

The rough shape of the bottle pattern, in case you want to make one!


If there’s any aspects of the outfit you’re particularly interested in knowing more about, leave a comment and I’ll address them in the next blog!


*Light-sensitive and water-soluble pens are two ways to mark your fabric with clear lines which are easily removed. They look like felt tips but are temporary. Water-soluble ink vanishes when cold water is applied, and a light-sensitive pen, as the name implies, vanishes within 24 hours, though the process can be speeded up with cold water. It’s always a good idea to test a small scrap of fabric though; just splash cold water on the light-sensitive ink to see if it’ll come out. There’s no need to wait! I’ve never found anything they didn’t fade on, but you don’t want to learn the hard way that you’ve found an exception!

Oberyn's coat

Posted by Ellinor Orton on August 26, 2014 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Another Game of Thrones based costume, though this time not an exact replica. I was asked to make a costume for live roleplay, based off the sunburst coat but with embroidered spirals instead of the suns.

There were plenty of pictures of the coat, which let me see that it comes to slightly below the knee and is worn over a tunic and held shut with a belt (neither of which were included in this project). The front crosses over low down, meeting a little above waist level, and the line of the edge continues without changing angle. There are sunbursts in two sizes on the coat, located on the front, the sleeve head and the cuff. I replaced those with spirals. On the original the larger suns have beads or studs at their centres.

There are plenty of pictures of this outfit which show the basic shape and length


There was no way I could find a fabric with the same sort of almost-paisley design on it, so I went with a plain fabric. Initially I had thought to make the tunic out of a silk dupion, but after looking at more detailed pictures it’s clearly something less shiny and smooth and more like a linen or cotton. You can see in some pictures where the fabric has been rubbed and fine filaments are showing up in the light. In the end I went with an imitation linen in two colours for the robe and trim, and lined the tunic in a deep burnt orange cotton. This was washable (essential for costume used at live roleplay events outside!) and gave the look and texture I was after. I used the smoother side of the linen for the main part of the coat and the rougher side where the weave was more apparent for the trim. The spirals are embroidered in a burnt orange of a similar shade to the lining.



The coat initially looks like a very simple pattern. I thought it might be a three-or possibly four-piece pattern, but finding a large and high-definition picture of it made me rethink this. There’s an insert in the side of the front panels. It’s hard to see and I can’t work out why it’s there. I think it is a separate panel but I suppose it’s possible that it extends from the back panel. I can’t work out why that might make sense either, though. Anyway, it’s there. On the picture below I’ve highlighted what I’ve identified as seam lines, with the unedited version for comparison.

Part of the reason it’s hard to spot is that the print of the fabric is nearly exactly matched to the insert, which I got when I cut a rough version out of some patterned fabric and cut the insert pretty much butted up to the panel it would be attached to. Of course, this could be because the fabric is printed after stitching/cutting (as I suggested was the case with the Varys robe).

So, the front is two panels for each side, one small one inserted into a larger long one. Reference of the back was harder to find, probably because mostly people don’t bother filming or photographing actors walking away from camera. Shots were mostly fuzzy or quite small.

The back seems to be three panels, with three visible pleats but no noticeable riding split. There’s no sign of any split at the back in any pictures, so I didn’t include one. The back does seem to be panelled as the centre part is wrinkling differently to the upper parts (around the shoulder blades). I cut the back as three panels, with pleats set into the skirt at the waist. There are also pleats at the side seams as the skirt seems to be quite full.



The back of the coat. The fabric seems to pull differently in the centre back, suggesting panels for a closer fit.

The sleeves are long and fitted, and they seem to have a very slight flare at the wrist where it comes down over the hand, coming in tight at the wrist and then mirroring the line of the hand. The seam is also in a strange place; further forward than is normal in a one-part sleeve where you would expect the seam of the arm to meet the side seam of the coat body. This gave me a strangely shaped arm pattern.


Front and back outline diagram of the robe I made

Front of the robe, showing the embroidered spirals

Side of the robe, showing the insert panels at the side front

Back of the robe, showing the pleats


This is a popular design so it’s likely I’ll make it again. Looking at more pictures, I may need to revise the hemline as it seems possibly that the front should not be cut straight but should come down to points at the open edges.

Possible revision to the front

In addition, and as a result a more dramatic pattern revision, the back may be constructed differently, with a separate back skirt panel, at least at the centre. I suspect that the entire back is in fact three panels above the waist, with no centre seam, and two panels below the waist with the pleats set in.

If this is the case, the insert panels at the front side might be the edges of either the centre back panel, as pictured below. Alternatively, the “shoulder” panels in the upper back might come down below the armscye, in which case it could be the front of those that you see showing around the front. Either of these scenarios make more sense than the front insert panel being just for show. On reconsideration I’m leaning towards the second scenario as the belt at the front sits quite a way below the front panel, but at the back the belt must cover any horizontal seam that there might be, so that seam would need to be lower than the front.



Two versions of the revised back. I personally consider the second option to be more likely for the reasons discussed above.

Varys robe

Posted by Ellinor Orton on July 9, 2014 at 7:50 PM Comments comments (2)

This commission was to make a robe based off one of the ones worn by Varys in Game of Thrones. The robe is for a Game of Thrones themed party rather than a convention. I still wanted to make it as accurate as possible to the original item, however, within the customers’ budgetary constraints.

The original of the robe I am creating

Having done some research it seemed that the tunic would be just below knee-length, with a wrap-over front secured with a belt (not in scope). On the side of the front which goes under the wrap-over the collar isn’t attached all the way along and mostly hangs free, allowing it to be crossed over the other side and tucked into the belt, giving a more symmetrical front. Other tunics seemed to be split at the side to below the hip and worn with loose-fitting trousers underneath them.

A shot of the character wearing a similar robe. The construction looks the same so the length is likely to be similar.

The sleeves should also be overly-long so that they can be pushed up the arm to give the folds on the lower arm seen in the picture. They seem to be quite fitted from the shoulder to elbow and then flare out. There’s a separate panel that forms a very wide “cuff” which seems to be a straight rectangle.

A show showing the back of the robe. Note the different pattern of the damask in the t-shaped centre section.


The robe is made from a pale gold or taupe material with an obvious slub weave. Slub weave is where the weft (left-to-right) threads of the fabric have a noticeable difference of thickness, giving a textured finish to the surface. It’s often seen in silks so I chose a faux silk dupion for this. The original has some plain panels and some with what I think is an appliqué in a grey fabric, forming a damask pattern. It could also be a printed design. The client opted to have this painted on instead. The damask is applied to the same dupion as the rest of the robe.

One of the front panels with the design drawn and painted on.

I couldn’t find any pictures of the front of the robe without the sleeves obscuring the pattern, so I extrapolated what I could see and made a repeating damask pattern from it. I don’t think this is actually what was used in the original. It’s possible that it’s a one-off design that was created for specifically for the panels. I used this pattern for the front and back panels. I made a template and repeatedly traced it, tessellated, onto the front and back. I then painted it in silver fabric paint. I made a different design for the cuffs, based off what I could see on the pictures.

The cuff panels.


The body of the robe is constructed of four panels for the front (two each side) and three at the back. At the front the outer panels which form the main wrap-over are damasked and the two narrow side panels are plain. The side panels at the back are also plain with the central t-shaped section having the damask. The back panel seems to be less scrolling than the front panels and much more floral, making me think that I’m right that this is a pattern applied to the panel rather than a damask fabric.

The sleeves are two part. They have a main part with the slub running horizontally (no damask) and then a wide damasked cuff where the slub runs at 90 degrees to the upper sleeve. This is bag lined or folded over to be self-lined. Possibly the whole sleeve is lined, but I lined only the cuff, using a poly-cotton. 

Outline diagram of the back of the robe.

Outline diagrams of the front panels.

For the loose section I sewed both of the outside edges together, then sewed the inside edge together from the bottom to where it would join the front of the robe. I turned that through and pressed it flat, then, as on the other side, attached the inside collar section to the front of the robe, turned under the outside collar section and sewed it down to the robe. I turned the back centre edges under and sewed them together by hand, but ended up deepening the curve of the collar at the back so I had to add another section, which I made as two sections again. Next time I’ll know that I need to do that.


The side splits have a narrow hem (turned under twice) and the bottom hem is overlocked then turned under once to allow for a better drape. All the inside seams at overlocked.


The finished robe, front view.

The finished robe, back view


If I make this again then obviously, I’ll need to adjust the back of the neck and the collar sections accordingly. Comparing the finished item to pictures of the original I think I need to make the front sections a different shape. It is possible that they should come to a half t-shape, like the back. Certainly the damasked front sections seem to hang over plain fabric, whereas mine show more damask underneath them. A wider plain side panel seems indicated also by the lack of any damasking on display under the arm in the shot from the back. I also think that the centre of the back panel (the upright of the T) should be narrower.


I also have realised that the sleeve cuff is actually folded back on itself. So it might be self-or bag-lined (if bag lined it will likely be in the same fabric) but the cuff should be twice as wide as I’ve made it, with the damasking on the inside, and then folded back so the damasking shows on the outside.


Painting the design took forever. If I make it again I’ll screen-print it. It also took four pots of fabric paint. The robe itself took two more metres of fabric than I’d anticipated (a total of seven metres).


In the pictures above you might notice that the left cuff is actually on upside-down. I noticed this after I took the pictures, when I came to fold it for packing. I did change it before sending out, but I didn’t have time to take a new set of pictures!


For more pictures and some work in progress shots you can check out the gallery page for this project. I hope to have a picture of the client wearing it, if he gets any he's happy sharing!

First entry!

Posted by Ellinor Orton on July 7, 2014 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

It seemed like it might be a good idea to keep a blog on what I'm making and my progress, and what better time to start it than the week I start moving house!

It's been a busy week. I've finished a banner and a suit and also completed a cosplay for Varys from Game of Thrones. I'll put pictures of that up next week, after the client has been to his event. People often like to keep their new outfits a surprise so I post pictures after the first outing.

Still to make I've got a knight's surcoat in green velvet and another Game of Thrones inspired tunic. I also have a skirt to make based on one from Legend of the Seeker, and I really need to replace my own coat if I can fit that in!Also coming up is a White Mage cosplay from Final Fantasy XIV, which promises to be really exciting. 

Over the coming weeks I'll be getting more involved with a project called Ren, a webseries being created by Mythica Entertainment. You won't get to see pictures of that, I'm afraid, until after the series has aired. We want everything to be a surprise!

I'll try to post progress pictures and update regularly. As well as this, once I move house I'll have a room that's mostly my studio again so there might well be pictures of that. It's been a while since I had a proper sewing room!