* Do your research. I usually spend a good month on research and scouting out materials before I ever sew the first stitch. Get images of your costume from every angle possible and print them out. Take your images to the fabric store so you can match up fabrics and buy patterns if needed. Order fabric swatches online if you can’t find it locally. The same goes for any other supplies you may need for props, wigs, etc. You can never do enough research.
* This one is slightly off-topic but very important. A lot of us in the costuming community seem to have an affinity for cats. If you do have cats, please be very cautious not to leave thread or needles/pins out where your cat can get to them. If your cat swallows these items the result can be lethal. The thread can build up and cause intestinal blockage and require painful and expensive surgery. Keep your sewing notions in a box or somewhere your cat can’t access them and always vacuum your sewing area to get any stray threads or needles that may have escaped your attention. The same precautions apply to all other pets as well. If dogs will eat poop I assume they won’t say no to some needles and thread.
* It should go without saying but always use the utmost caution when working with power tools or chemicals. Remember, just because Joe Cosplayer did a fiberglass tutorial without a respirator and gloves doesn’t mean it’s safe. Remember, do your research.
* Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. On the flip side, don’t contact someone asking them to basically write a tutorial for you on costume xyz. You should have the majority of the costume figured out on your own (remember our talk about doing your research?) but there might be some part you just can’t pin down. Focus on problem areas and you’re much more likely to get a helpful response. It shows that you’re actually trying instead of just expecting someone to hand everything to you. Costuming message boards are also a great place for advice.
* Some costumers will tell you that you shouldn’t cosplay a character you don’t look like/share a similar body type with/etc. and will berate you for doing otherwise. I say that’s an asinine notion. Make the costume that inspires you. The whole point behind this hobby is to have fun and to step outside yourself for a little while. I recommend taking on the costumes you’re enthusiastic about regardless of physical similarity to the character.
* Try not to be discouraged if you enter a costume contest and walk away empty-handed. Use it as an opportunity to size up the competition and determine why they won. If you’re a chatty person you might try talking with them about their costume and the work that went into it. Most costumers are only too happy to discuss their work.
* When speaking with costume contest judges be polite and concise. They have a lot of contestants to see and very little time. Don’t get an attitude and don’t whine. Nothing will get you written off faster than acting like a brat.
* Practice, practice practice. If you don’t know how to sew take advantage of sewing classes in your community or have a knowledgeable friend or family member show you the ropes. There are also endless YouTube videos on sewing techniques if you’re of the recluse variety as I am. Find some $1/yd fabric and just practice.
* Try to have scrap to practice on before moving on to your final piece. This applies to sewing, props, wigs and what have you. Nothing sucks worse than ruining your final piece and having to start over.
* Iron your costume. Even if you have a painstakingly executed costume it’s going to look bad if it’s wrinkled. I have been guilty of this myself so believe me when I say you’ll regret it later when you’re looking back at your costume pictures.
* If you plan to do a good amount of costuming or even just general sewing I recommend investing in a serger. You can get a decent one for around $200 and they’re worth every penny.
* Make lists of all the items you need to take to a convention including costume pieces, toiletries, everyday clothes, electronics, food, etc. If you make a list beforehand you’re less likely to forget something at home. Have a standard packing list that you can use for all conventions and save it so you can print a copy when needed. In addition to your standard list you should have a packing list specific to each costume you plan to bring. For all your lists, have a spot to check items off for the initial packing and another spot to check them off for the return journey to make sure you don’t leave anything behind. Here is a good list to get you started.