Hi! I’m back.
It’s the very beginning of spring here in my bit of Australia. The mornings are still freezing and there’s plenty of clouds around and rain likely to come, but there’s been sunny days too. Yesterday, I had a ridiculously short work day and sat out in the sunshine and worked on my writing for a good hour before lunch time. The world building is coming along slowly, but surely. One of these days I’ll have something from that to share, maybe clothing when I’ve figured it out. I don’t want to be too quick to share, not with my track record on finishing things.
For now, I’ve got more thoughts of costumes and a lot of project notes. This time there’s headings for easier navigation. You’re welcome.
I nearly titled this post The Problems with Creating Cosplay from Books, but there’s only so much that can go in a title and this is more a case study than an essay.
The problem can be stated pretty simply: Books rarely describe clothing in the detail that a cosplayer would like. At least not in the detail that I want. Especially not the specific details that I would like.
I’m not sure when I decided that I want to do a Kyrin cosplay, but at one point I had thought it would be for Realm Makers this year. (Possible even last year, but that was never going to happen.) I mostly gave up on that idea when I realized I was stuck in Australia, but the idea was still around.
As it turned out, I was away for the four weeks prior to Realm Makers, watched the keynote from the motel room I ended up in when I had to flee over a state border, and was too tired to do much more than a little video chatting while things were live. I did manage to pull together something of a costume from an unfinished project, which I will share when it’s done. It’s basically a loose tunic and shouldn’t take too much work once I get to it.
I’m far from giving up on the Kyrin cosplay, so I figured it would be interesting to document the process here. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, as I haven’t figured out exactly what’s going into it. However, despite the unfinished design process, I’ve already got a good stash of materials. This is good because it will help me know what my options are. Also, due to the various lockdowns I’m under (yay, border regions), I have less options for fabric shopping.
As for why I want to do Kyrin, it just so happens that she is canonically my height and her hair colour is pretty close to mine (also like mine, it is not good at holding a curl). Beyond that, the Ilyon Chronicles were one of the first fandoms I was part of and pretty significant in my path to becoming a writer.
There’s some very minor spoilers, but for the most part, I’m just not explaining who any of the characters are.
In classic overthinking form, I don’t want to design one costume in isolation. I want to think about them all. Thinking like a costume designer and making sure the clothing makes sense in universe isn’t necessarily the smartest choice, but it’s what I’m doing.
How to think like a costume designer
First, split your brain so you have other people to bounce ideas off.
Okay, maybe not, but honestly trying to figure things out on my own has been one of the things to slow me down. There’s a whole lot of creative decisions to be made and sometimes I just want some oversight to tell me that I’m on the right track. There’s not much of an active fandom these days, so mostly I’ve been trying to pull feedback out of my brother and hope that anything I want to do that actually deviates from the books is a good idea.
What I think are the most important aspect for costume design are consistency and distinctiveness. Consistency is both the different things people wear fitting together in some kind of cohesive whole and the things generally making sense in the world. Distinctiveness is making sure it’s not he same as every other fantasy adventure.
There is also a stage of understanding who a character is and what their daily life is like and how they’re going to think about their clothes,
Kyrin is pretty practical. I don’t get the impression that she cares a whole lot about her clothes as long as they cover her decently. She’s going to keep them neat and choose clothes that let her move around freely, but she doesn’t have q problem with wearing dresses.
One of the steps I’ve taken is to go through the books and make a record of every mention of clothing. I had the book on Kindle, so I did a lot of searches for clothing words. The words include: Dress, pants, shoes, coat, cloak, lacing, uniform, shirt, shield, tunic, jerkin, doublet, pockets. There’s lots of interesting things to find out by doing this. For example, shields are never used in the Ilyon Chronicles, but the concept of shielding someone is in there.
Along with picking out generalities, there’s specific outfits to examine. Specific descriptions can be quite helpful, though they can also be frustrating if the details don’t work well.
For Kyrin, there’s quite a few outfits, some described more than others. It would probably be helpful to draw sketches of these, but I’m not very skilled at putting my mental image on paper, so I’ve not done much of this.
Tarvin Hall uniform: Black and gold. Black trousers, gold shirt. I would go for a mustard yellow for the gold. Black jerkin over the top that nearly falls to the knees. Jerkin isn’t actually a term used historically, but there are various garments that could be meant. Something with very short sleeves and not super thin. I would be inclined to use wool, though perhaps several layers of linen would work. Or linen with a layer of sturdy cotton beneath because that’s what we have available. Armour isn’t part of the uniform, but there’s some mention of leather armour.
Aurea palace dress: This is a gold dress with a black vest over it. Long sleeved with black ribbon sewn down along the sleeves. it is not specified how or where the vest closes, but with that decision made, could probably sew something for this easily enough, but it doesn’t interest me. What does interest me is a couple of details. One, the dress laces up the back, then has more laces on the sides to pull it tight. My historical research hasn’t uncovered any examples of this, but it might be a trick to make multi size dresses. Too much fabric to draw in and it would sit weirdly at the sides, but this means close measurements don’t have to be taken.
The other interesting detail is the shift worn under the dress. It is white linen, tight fitting and short sleeved. Personally I would choose longer sleeves or no sleeves, but it’s q pretty conventional garment. It does make me wonder what was the base layer of Kyrin’s uniform. A tight fitting shift would provide bust support. It seems Kyrin didn’t require much of that, but I do and I’m sure other girls at Tarvin Hall would have. Remember, undergarments were generally worn with good reason.
(side note, palace uniforms: Armour doesn’t seem to be worn here. At least not as a significant feature)
After this, there’s a dark gray dress over a blue shirt and linen pants. Also a forget-me-not blue dress with short sleeves and various other dress over shirt and pants combinations that have even less details. Wool overdress, sleeveless suede overdress, wool pants, wool shirt.
The lack of details means this is where the most creative design is possible. I do have some references from a Pinterest board that point towards a fairly flared knee length dress with a a front laced, fitted bodice. A shirt worn under the dress, with a little hint towards 18th century men’s style. I think that fits better than the proper, embroidered, very gathered smock.
There is one more outfit of Kyrin’s that is described in quite a bit of detail and that is her crete dress. I quite like this one and I’ve mostly lead back from it because I don’t think I have the resources to make it to my satisfaction. Skirt and bodice of pierced together leather and a blue blouse with flowing sleeves that are open from the shoulder to the point they’re joined at the elbow. It would take experimentation to get the sleeves to actually work rather than hanging weirdly, but I like the idea of them. I would just need face paint to put a trillium on my shoulder.
Another source for dresses is what Lady Anne wears. If I was going just from the feel I get from her, I would be tempted to make the style more structured, hinting towards early Victorian. however, all the women’s clothing descriptions really do point to something medieval, do I don’t think I can include any kind of boning. Possible some stiffening, but not much.
I did consider spinning things in the direction of the late 1700s. Some of the features of the men’s clothing in the books fit the styles of that time and Jaye L. Knight herself does reenactment from the era. furthermore, military uniforms were don’t a medieval feature, bot in the way they seem to be described in the books. A surcoat over armour, yes, but that’s not what is going on. The uniforms frustrate me, especially because I do also want to design a costume for the captain of the Landale militia dragon riders.
The downsides of incorporating 18th century fashion is that women’s clothing always closed at the front (or was open at the front) and the specific details are about the opposite of that. It would be possible to have a front opening ren-faire style bodice with a blouse and skirt that fits stylistically with the back closing dress, but I have no textual basis for skirts. It’s all dresses. Besides, ren-faire style is pretty common in visual fairytale fantasy.
Very early on, I decided the costume was going to include blue. It is Kyrin’s favourite colour and she definitely wears it.
I’ve decided on making something along the lines of the gray overdress and blue shirt. It seems practical and I have the materials for it. I like the idea of the short sleeved blue dress, but I don’t have sufficient fabric.
Kyrin’s blue necklace is an essential part of the outfit, which means whatever do must have a neckline it works with.
I want to incorporate trilliums. Either, I’ll find a way to leave the shoulder uncovered so I can paint one in, or I’ll incorporate it as embroidery. This is definitely more a cosplay choice than an in universe clothing choice. I want something to make the Costume Kyrin’s.
The everyday dresses need to be practical and be easy enough for Kyrin to come by. They should feel like clothing that would be worn in the setting.
Layers! I’ve heard this is one of the tricks to making costumes look like clothing. It also makes the outfit more adaptable. I’ll be able to change it up my leaving some parts off. If I make extra pieces, I can swap.
Natural fibers. This is kinda obvious given the setting, but it’s also very practical. I’ve worn a multi layer synthetic dress in heat and it is not comfortable. (summer night in St. Louis after the Realm Maker costume banquet. It wasn’t long before I ran inside to swap into a t-shirt.)
At some point, you’ll want to go more visual than descriptive. I’ve got a pinterest board with lots of historical references, pictures from Jaye L. Knights inspiration boards, and everything I could find that was anything like what I want to make.
I’ve also done some sketches. I’m not a great artist, but with a template to trace, I can do clothes okay. The most recent thing I tried was drawing the outfit in layers, with each layer traced over the previous one. Fortunately, faces are not necessary as I’m far from mastering them.
This is all the bits that I can think of that will make up the intended costume.
- Some sort of historical bra.
- these will have a drawstring waist so that they are adjustable. That seems to fit best with the text and is probably easy to sew that something with a single size waistband. They will be fitted at the lower leg and somewhat baggy above. Somewhat like the viking pants called Rus pants
- I have fabric for this. A slightly rough weave cotton cloth that I dyed to a brown colour using eucalyptus leaves. This was originally intended for something else, but I bought it online and thought it was a cream colour when it was a flesh colour. I should have known better from the description, but dyeing fabric can be quite fun.
- A shirt or chemise
- Unless my plans change, this will be the blue element of the outfit.
- I have a couple metres of sky blue cotton-linen blend fabric that should do quite nicely for this.
- One style option that I’m considering, the one in the drawing, has a pleated yoke and cuffs and is inspired the short linen shirt that armstreet.con sell
- another style options is a ‘pirate shirt. This is similar to 1800s men’s shirt and Bernadette banner has a tutorial
- The overdress
- I have a dark gray “linen-look” cotton table cloth that I bought this week that might work well for this
- I’ve got about three ideas for what the overdress could be and I’m planning to decide after I have the shirt and trousers.
- Overdress options
- Tunic overdress
- I have found evidence of shorter dresses worn over full length dresses. the have a fairly similar cut to the long tunics I’ve found being worn over baggy pants. This would be a compromise between adapting men’s and women’s wear. It would probably have a band of blue fabric at the hem and embroidery. My examples all have sleeves which I don’t really like.
- Apron dress
- Not the distinctive viking kind with the thin straps and round buckles, but something that hags from the shoulders and is open at sides with a lacing to hold it in place. Side slits do fit one of the descriptions in the books
- Something else with a front slit. Possibly a more fitted garment than the tunic dress.
- Tunic overdress
- I already have this. Christmas gift from my woodworking brother. Brown leather, fairly wide, two strips of leather joined end to end with a metal ring with a second ring on one end. It wraps around me twice and the free end loops through the ring.
- I have these. Viking shoes from Armstreet.com I’ve worn them a time of two, but they’ll need more work before they stop looking new.
- I’ll need some kind of socks or stocking to go in the shoes
- A hooded shoulder cape
- this is my own addition to Ilyon styles. I like them and I think it would be practical
- I have a yellowy gold linen that might come in here.
- A hair net or something of the sort
- this is partly because I’m not willing to hack my hair off and it’s a little on the long side. I might find some other medieval hairstyle, but hair net’s were mention in one place as existing.
- Blue stone pendant
- A signature piece
- I will add other random pieces as time goes on. Extra layers for wearing it in winter and to make it work well as a larp costume
- A staff would be nice
- Kyrin uses a bow, I might just borrow my brother’s
- I don’t think some kind of dagger (fake) would go amiss
That looks like a lot, but there’s only five things to sew, four not counting the hood. It’s not nearly as complex as a 18th century outfit, though there is going to be quite a bit of detail work.
I’ll definitely be sharing updates as I work on it, but I at least want to finish off the seams of an 1890s skirt I’ve been making. The seams need finishing and I need to put a second pocket in. I might also do some more general Ilyon Chronicles costume design, for other characters I’m not planning to make costumes for. That will depend on me doing more drawing though, so I haven’t made specific plans.
Until next time, stay safe in the hands of the Creator.