35 Things to Consider When Designing a Costume by Nikki Wheeler

Much critical thought and analysis goes into the costume design process each and every time a designer works on a new project. The number, depth and variety of the questions that runs through a costume designer’s head knows no limits, but below is a basic list of things (or at least the sort of things) that a designer will consider every time they dream up a new design. I came up with 35. Let know if I missed any!

  1. What color would this character wear?

  2. What time period should the style be?

  3. Where does the scene take place?

  4. Is is hot?

  5. Is it cold?

  6. Is it indoor?

  7. Is it outdoor?

  8. What time of day?

  9. What are they doing?

  10. What did they think they would be doing?

  11. How old is the character?

  12. How rich?

  13. How nice?

  14. How happy?

  15. How weird?

  16. What color is the scenery?

  17. What color are the other costumes?

  18. How does the actor look in that color?

  19. How does the actor look in that style?

  20. How will the actor feel in that costume?

  21. Will the actor hate the costume?

  22. Should you care?

  23. What should the fabric be, historically and geographically?

  24. Can you afford it?

  25. What other fabrics can look like that?

  26. Can you make the costume?

  27. Can you buy it?

  28. Should there be a hat?

  29. Do they have enough pockets?

  30. What shoes will they wear?

  31. Does the actor have to sit?

  32. Run?

  33. Dance?

  34. Climb?

  35. Fall?

Costume Rendering With Markers- Part 1 by Nikki Wheeler

I’ve always wanted to learn the art of drawing with markers. Costume renderings done with art markers have such a unique aesthetic to them. If they are done well they have a beautiful simplicity, grace, and movement to them that I just don’t feel can really be achieved with any other medium.


Another (bigger) reason to learn to color costume renderings with markers is speed. As a freelance costume designer, time is money. When I get a contract to design costumes, I am not paid hourly but paid the same amount for that project no matter how much time is spent. It is in my best interest to spend as little time as possible on each part of the design process, but definitely not at the expense of quality of work.


Even though it will take quite the time commitment to learn to create marker illustration, I really think it will pay off in saved time on future renderings. I’ve tried and failed so far to find any good resources like books or online classes for using art markers to illustrate costume design, so the process will be trial-by-error and bit painful.


Here is my first attempt:

Not bad, I think. I did not take any real risks with color, using three shades of red basically right near each other on the color wheeI to create depth and dimension. I did not take any step by step photos of my first attempt, but did for my second illustration:

Marker 2.jpg

First I drew in the darkest shadows of the dress in the darkest shade of green I was using. (Imagine the light source coming from the right side of the page)

Marker 3.jpg

Then I traced over the darkest shadows with a green one shade lighter, making them thicker and more substantial.


I continued tracing over these lines, making them thicker and extending them further around the figure’s body where shadows would hit the dress.


Using a third color, one a bit lighter and closer to yellow I continued filling in the dress in the same pattern started with the darker shades, being conscious of the curves of the body and how the light would hit the dress, making it appear lighter in some areas.


I used a fourth color, very light cream to layer on last in the places the dress would reflect the most light. I also colored the heels and the flower on the dress.


This is the final rendering after coloring the skin and hair. I think I need a little work on those!



How To Be a Freelance Costume Designer by Nikki Wheeler

Many creative and talented people dabble in costume design, and wonder if they can make any money as a freelance costume designer. I get many questions from students and colleagues about working as a freelance designer. Here are some of the tips I have for making it work. 

1. Get experience any way you can. The only way to convince someone to hire and pay you to do the work is to prove you can deliver good work. As a costume designer the only proof you have that you can deliver a great costume design is previous experience in the work. Obviously the best and most traditional way to do this is to get a college degree in theatre production, where in any good program you'll leave with a wealth of specialized knowledge in costume design from classes plus a ton of hands-on experience. But a fine arts degree is not always practical for everyone, so think outside the box to get experience. Find online training, volunteer in a costume shop, volunteer for small high school or community theatre productions, or make cosplay or historical costumes for friends. Expect to do these things for free for awhile!

2. Diversify your skills. A lot goes into being a working professional costume designer- especially a freelance designer since often times you'll be working smaller productions as a one woman (or man) show. You'll need to be able to make good design choices, sew, make crafts, do a little fabric art, and be good at shopping. 

3. Have good customer service skills. As a freelance costume designer you are a small business. You are the business. You are selling your services and yourself. Be pleasant and professional always. 

4. Get organized.  To make a living as a freelance costume designer you'll often be juggling multiple projects at a time. All projects will have different timelines, different budgets, different priorities. To successfully navigate this you'll need to have systems and habits in place. (This is my greatest challenge, BTW.) Everyone's system will be different, but mine includes color-coded Google Calendar and separate 3-ring binders for each show.

5. Learn the business side of things. Working as a freelance costume designer is not like trading hours directly for a paycheck at a job. There are entire books on the subject and laws vary from state to state, but you'll need to think about things like taxes, W-9's, business bank accounts, budgets, and contracts. 

6. Develop a good online presence. This is absolutely essential for success as a freelance costume designer in 2016. For the first 8 or so years after I started my freelance career I relied solely on free resources- a free place to host a simple portfolio and social media to get my name out there. Once you are ready to move to the next level, hosting an actual website is the more professional way to go. 


What the Experts Have to Say About Costume Design by Nikki Wheeler

Quotes From Top Costume Designers

What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not. We ask the public to believe that every time they see a performer on the screen, he's become someone different. 

Edith Head


Costumes, hair and makeup can tell you instantly, or at least give you a larger perception  of who a character is. It's the first impression you have of a character before they open their mouth, so it really does establish who they are. 

Colleen Atwood


The main thing is, it's not about looking good. It's "Is this the character? Will this help them portray the character?" So looking good does come into it, but it's necessary for your to intellectually capture their imagination, explain, and work through this process of making a costume and help them become the character.

William Ivey Long


It isn't just designing cute clothes. And also, having a strong personal style does not make you a good costume designer. Every character you design has their own style, and you have to take that into consideration.

Bob Mackie


It's not a matter of telling actors they look wonderful; it is telling him or her you trust them to create a character. 

Ann Roth


You can acquire chic and elegance, but style itself is a rare thing.

Irene Sharaff


A designer is only as good as the star who wears her clothes.

Edith Head


One thing about costume design- and I think design in general- but especially costume design, is people have a misconception that it's very glamorous work. 

Colleen Atwood








The Story a Costume Design Tells by Nikki Wheeler

What leads a costume designer to make the design choices she makes? It's certainly not putting the prettiest things on the actors to make them look as pretty as possible.

Movies, commercials, plays and other performances allow a small window of time to inform the viewer about what they are viewing. Sometimes actors need to make an important impression and provide vital clues about their character in a matter of seconds. Fist impressions matter. First impressions are a costume designer's medium. 

"First impressions are a costume designer's medium." 

There is quite a bit of the information the costume can provide about the character. Some of the things are glaringly obvious, while others are much more subtle.

1. Time. What a character wears gives off a ton of information about time. This can be time or day, or time period. For a movie, TV show or play with a historical setting, an accurately historical costume is essential for making them look from a specific time period.

Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra, in Ancient Egypt

Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra, in Ancient Egypt

2. Place. Is the character wearing jeans, a sweater, and slippers? They are probably home. Is the character wearing a winter parka, boots, snow pants, gloves and hat? They are probably somewhere near the arctic circle. Completely shredded and torn up suit? Maybe some wreckage of a disaster. See where I am going?

Oregon Shakespeare Festivals 2013 production of  Midsummer Night's Dream  in a modern private school setting.  

Oregon Shakespeare Festivals 2013 production of Midsummer Night's Dream in a modern private school setting.  

3. Age. Age of a character is told a lot by the costume, but many of the elements that age a costume are more subtle. This includes fit of a costume: an older person might wear clothes more frumpy, as would a child. But a person in the prime of their lives (teens, 20s, 30s) would wear something more fitted. The amount of skin coverage, the length of a skirt or pants, a hairstyle and even color go along way.

Bradley University's  Spring Awakening  shows adolescent girls in shorter hemlines and girly details.

Bradley University's Spring Awakening shows adolescent girls in shorter hemlines and girly details.

4. Personality. A good character has a personality that is as interesting, complex and nuanced as real people in the real world. There is such a huge amount of diversity in the personality traits and how people choose to represent them with their clothing, it is one of the more challenging aspects of being a costume designer to delve into the psychology of a "person" or character giving the often little information we might have. It's probably what sets an adequate costumer apart from an artistic Costume Designer. Is the character villainous, greedy and power hungry? She probably wears black, red, white and great or other bold colors. Is the character sweet and innocent? She probably wears lights and flowing fabrics that are light and pastel colors.  

Sir Ian McKellan as Richard III. 

Sir Ian McKellan as Richard III. 

7 Ways to be a Great Costume Designer by Nikki Wheeler

I've had several encounters in the last couple weeks with people that have expressed admiration at my success in such a unique field of work. I continue to land new gigs, high-quality projects (in other words high-paying,) with places and people that really appreciate my expertise and skill set.

It has made me thoughtful- partly because I try to express gratitude constantly for each opportunity I have, but also thoughtful about why I continue to find costume design jobs.

What makes a great costume designer? Talent and skill and experience certainly a play a part, but I wanted to come up with a different list. A list that you won't find in textbooks or college coursework.

Here is a list of 7 ways to be a great costumer designer:

1. Always be pleasant. Be nice to everyone and be as positive as possible. Seriously. I understand everyone has shit in their lives, I have bad days too. Bottom line is, you have the opportunity to create art (maybe even make money at it?) make the experience positive for everyone you interact with from actors to directors to stagehands. If you raise the energy level everyone will want you around!

2. Remember that you provide a service. This is maybe the most important. As a costume designer you are providing a service! You are serving the actor, the director, the other designers, the production itself, and the audience. You are not providing a product! The finished costume is not everyone's ultimate goal. No one else really cares about it that much, but they do care about how you serve the overall production.

3. Be reliable. I work at the same places and with the same people over and over again because I'm reliable. They can rely on me to be at meetings on time, to meet deadlines, to fulfill the production's needs, to give them creative designs, and to be pleasant (see above.)

4. Be humble. I'm not above scrubbing pit-stains from a shirt. I do laundry. I still crew my own shows if it's s mall production and there's no one to help (or I have to pay someone myself.) I'm not above any of these things, and probably never will be. Once again, my goal is to serve the production (see above.) Also, sometimes I don't know things, and forget things and mess things up. I admit it and find out the answer or fix the problem.

5. Be complimentary. This is closely related to being pleasant. Compliment how the actors look. Compliment the other designers. Compliment your assistants and crew. Compliment the director. Appreciate everyone's effort.

6. Ask questions. Don't talk a lot or loudly just to display your expertise in costume design and express your creative genius. NO ONE CARES. Ask questions to get into everyone else's head, so you know how best to serve them. Ask the director questions. Ask the actor how they feel in their costume. Ask them if they like it. Ask the opinions of assistants, and crew members and everyone.

7. Embrace a short attention span. There's a fine line between short attention span and scatter-brained, but if you learn to embrace it like I have it can immensely help a freelance design career. Stay organized, but be able to easily hop from one thing to another without missing a beat. It's not multi-tasking, (I don't even believe in truly multi-tasking,) but hopping quickly from one thing to another with ultra focus.

Easy Sewing Project: One Hour Bolero Jacket by Nikki Wheeler

I'm currently designing and building costumes for the musical Little Shop of Horrors, which opens at Eureka College Oct 1st. As usual in theatre, I have a small amount of budget to come up with many costumes, so I decided to create a quick bolero jacket for one of Audrey's costumes from things I already had left over from previous projects.

The sewing project is incredibly simple. The only thing about this project that is intermediate-level is drafting a pattern. It is a great starter project if you have never drafted a flat pattern- it's about as simple as it gets as far as sewing patterns go.

Firstly, here is a link to the free pattern I used. It is about a 36" bust, or about a size medium. That is about perfect for the actress I am costuming. (If you need a larger or smaller size, well... that's another blog post for another day.)

The free pattern must be copied and drafted from the image. That is pretty easy to do, you will just need 1-inch drafting paper. I didn't have any on hand- as you can see from my pictures I just carefully taped 6 pieces of printer paper together with masking tape and used a large ruler to draw 1-inch squares. Not gonna lie, it is a little tedious to get all the lines straight. (Tip: don't waste time erasing, I just redrew less-than-straight lines a little darker right over the first ones.)

Count out and plot the points of the pattern pieces, and then connect the dots. There are only two pattern pieces for this bolero jacket. Note that the only part of the sewing pattern that is completely straight is the long edge of the back piece. The rest of the edges should be curves. Some very gentle curves, some more extreme. It is helpful to have a dressmaker's curve, but these lines can be free-handed easily as well. (A dressmaker's curve is inexpensive and an essential tool to have around once you start drafting sewing patterns regularly.)

Cut out the two pattern pieces. Always label pattern pieces that you draft. Label what the sewing pattern is for, what sewing pattern piece it is, what size, and how much seam allowance is included. I always file away my drafted patterns and have reused many in my costume designs.

Use the sewing pattern to cut out two front pieces and one back piece. the back pattern piece is to be cut on a fold.

Next, cut out the two front pieces and one back piece (on the fold) from lining fabric.

Pin the front pieces to the back piece- right sides of fabric together- at  the shoulder seams. Stitch together. Do this for both fashion fabric and lining pieces.

Pin the front pieces to the back, still with right sides together, at the sides. Stitch the sides. Again, do this for both the fashion and lining layers.

At this point in the project you should use a hot iron to press the shoulder and side seams open. This is an important step for all sewing projects. I, however, skipped this step because the fabrics I am using do not press.

Now we need to attach the lining layer to the outside layer of the bolero jacket. With right sides of the fabric together again, pin all along the neck, front, and bottom continuous edge. Be sure to line up the side seams and shoulder seams. Stitch along the entire edge.

Turn the bolero right side out by pulling through one of the sleeves. Press the edges into place.

The final step is to finish the edges of the sleeves. Fold the edge of the lining and the edge of the fashion fabric under and pin into place. Once again, be sure to match up the seams. Slip stitch the sleeve lining into place.

The front of the finished one hour bolero:

The back of the finished on hour bolero:

I Make a Living Dressing Imaginary People by Nikki Wheeler

In our society often one of the first things adults ask one another in an attempt to create small talk is "What do you do?" I used to dread this question. I would shy away from the inevitable blank and confused stares as many people had no idea what I was talking about when I would say "costume designer."

Maybe it was a reaction to my less-than-self-assured answer to the question, but surprisingly it never sparked any follow-up questions and rarely fueled an interesting conversations. I finally came to the realization that I needed to come up with a concise statement about what exactly I did- an elevator pitch. (Thanks in part to John Lee Dumas' podcast Entrepreneur On Fire, check it out, BTW.)

I am a costume designer, fabric artist and educator. 

You see, I am a costume designer by trade. It is what I studied, how I have developed my artistic and technical skills. I make part of my income designing costumes. 

I am a fabric artist because that is a very broad term, (whereas costume designer is a very specific term.) I dye fabrics, I make things and sell them, I build and sew and paint and construct the costumes I design. I design and make custom clothing. I make some of my income doing these things- the myriad of things that don't come to a person's mind when I simply answer "costume designer."

I am an educator, because I teach others to do the things that I know how to do. I teach costume design. I teach sewing. I teach dyeing. I teach fashion design. I teach fashion history. I teach illustration. 

So my answer to the inevitable "what do you do?" is now a confident "I am a costume designer, fabric artist, and educator."

It leads to a few more conversations. Those that are fascinated usually follow up with "how did you come to do that?"

How did I come to do this? It was definitely not a straight path, but is anyone's career path so straight? 

I can certainly pinpoint a few things that stick out in my media-fueled MTV-obsessed adolescence in the 90s that inspired me. I can look back now and remember a few moments with clarity and draw a straight line to what I do now with my life.

MTV was in its Golden Age. Music videos could make or break a band. They are an artistic medium that has faded in its glory. I'd be surprised if music videos alone could inspire any young artists nowadays to do anything. Here are a few masterpieces that inspired me to pursue a career as a costume designer:

Smashing Pumpkins' Tonight, Tonight

This music video was so aesthetically different than any other music video of the mid-1990s, it was mind-blowing to me. Every aspect of the production of this music video was highly stylized and surreal. 

The slightly Gothic period costumes paired with the rudimentary theatrical props and set pieces are a throwback to time of Vaudeville and Silent films. They made the pale faces and dark eyes look effortlessly modern and cool. I ate it all up and was fascinated by the entire production design. I remember wondering (in the pre-Google age) where people went to learn about things like old-timey clothes and the Silent Film era. 

Weezer's Buddy Holly

This music video cleverly edited footage of Weezer playing Buddy Holly onstage into the world of Happy Days. The tune was so catchy (one of my favs at the time) and the video so cool and unique that it was impossible not to like. I was already a couple years into my early 1960s obsession- I styled myself after Jackie O for my 8th grade graduation afterall- so I felt at home in the world of Happy Days (1970s version of the 1950s.) 

The subtleties of the costume design were not lost on my young mind. The band was dressed in period clothing and dressed all alike, like a band would have been in the fifties. But the awkward hairstyles have the weirdness that comes about when one historical period is interpreting another. (Again, 1970s versions of 1950s.)

Michael Jackson's Remember the Time

Like all of Michael Jackson's work, this video is on a completely different level. Released as short film starring big name celebrities of the time, this 9-minute video is epic and stunning. Every frame  this video is spectacular, from the massive Ancient Egyptian sets to the stunning choreography (hello, it's Michael Jackson.) 

The costumes were not like anything ten-year-old me had ever seen. While I realize now they are not historically accurate, they are pretty close and only take departures from accuracy when necessary- like putting the dancers in light flowing gaucho-like pants instead of wraps skirts. The ladies would have likely been topless instead of wearing string bikini tops, but I'm sure they weren't willing to go with the R-rating that would have required. 

I even love Michael's gold mock turtleneck and Schenti over his black pants and boots. It's weird, but it works stylistically for Michael. I mean, he's a wizard in the video anyway.

The Design Process Begins for Spring Awakening by Nikki Wheeler

Summer is here, and in between baseball games, soccer clinics, karate classes, play-dates and trips to the pool I've been working on some cool projects. I 'm teaching Fashion Design for Kids at a local community college and putting together a fashion line for a budding fashion designer.

Along with some fashion design work, I am in the beginning stages of designing costumes for my next big show, Spring Awakening at Bradley University. Spring Awakening is a rock musical, with fairly current and edgy music by Duncan Sheik. Spring Awakening deals with uncomfortable but timeless issues of adolescents discovering and coming to terms with their sexuality. The musical uses modern folk-rock set against the backdrop of late Victorian Europe to touch on such heavy subjects as abuse, incest, homosexuality, rape and abortion.

At this point in the process I have done some research and had a few meetings with other designers. My research has included historical photos for period clothing, German expressionism artwork and contemporary rocker-style clothing. I'm  a little uncertain how this will all come together in terms of a cohesive design, but I am pretty excited.

Most likely the costumes will be period- 1891 to be exact- but with some contemporary rock-n-roll influences. The rock-n-roll influences will probably be found in small and subtle ways like modern slim-fit schoolboy uniforms on the boys, and possibly textured tights or edgy accessories on the girls. I'd like to see a juxtaposition between stiff and buttoned-up late Victorian silhouettes and edgy, alternative hairstyles and makeup.  The aesthetic qualities found in German Expressionism will likely influence the costume design's color palette and textures.

I've shared some of my favorite research images below. Look for some sketches in a future blog post and we'll see if I can bring all of these elements together for a beautiful yet effective design.

                                         I like the S&M or steampunk qualities of the the details of this dress
                           School boys- love the guy in the middle!
                               Modern rocker style for boys
                                       ★ Rock 'n' Roll Style patterned tights, floral dress, black boots combo
                            German Expressionism- color pallate
Find all of my research images on my Spring Awakening Pinterest board:  http://www.pinterest.com/nikkiwheeler30/spring-awakening/

18th Century Stays by Nikki Wheeler

When designing costumes for The Rivals at Bradley University we decided to build the stays, which is the proper term for an 18th century corset. The Rivals takes place in the 1790s, and getting the right silhouette for the time period is only achievable with the properly- shaped foundation garments.

The shape that 18th century stays gives a woman is drastically different from a modern or even Victorian corset. 18th century fashion accentuates of torso that is narrow, flat and almost conical in shape with the smallest point sitting at or just below the natural waist.

We used the below commercial pattern as a starting point. Unfortunately, it is out of print now, so the extra step of enlarging a pattern from a book might normally be required for making stays. We used this for the pattern pieces only, as the directions found in commercial corset patterns only result in very flimsy lightweight ones. 

After making mock-ups for each of the corsets from cheap heavyweight twill and sizing exactly, 3 layers of each piece were cut from the final pattern: one in the fashion silk fabric, one in coutil, and the final in cotton twill for lining. 

Simplicity 3635

The fashion fabric layer and the coutil were flatlined together. I very carefully drew in boning channel lines, 3/8" wide, leaving 5/8" seam allowance around the edges of the corset. Historians might disagree, but I don't believe there's really a right or wrong way to put in the boning channels. Once the channels were drawn I measured, counted and ordered pre-cut steal boning.

The lining of the corset was then stitched to the fashion/coutil layers with wrong sides together, creating the boning channels. The steel bones slipped into the channels and the edges stitched closed. The edges were finished with contrasting binding tape- a fun little detail reminiscent of the 18th century. 

After grommets and lacing, the actresses had the shape required to fashionably wear the 18th century clothing. 

Gettin' Wiggy Wit It by Nikki Wheeler

My husband and I have this thing that every time I am styling wigs (more often than one might think) we say I'm "gettin' wiggy wit it." Why? Because we're huge dorks that find humor in unlikely places sometimes. That is definitely what inspired the title of this blog post.

Once again I've been a very bad blogger. Sometimes I get too busy with my work to be able to organize my thoughts into cohesive sentences required for a decent blog post.

I just finished up designing costumes for The Rivals at Bradley University. There are actually four performances left, so if you are reading this GO SEE IT! Costumes for The Rivals are 18th century. One thing unique to 18th century fashion is the huge and ridiculous hair!

18th century hair was usually styled in very high egg-shaped curly up-dos.  Some decent 18th century wigs can be purchased pre-styled, but the styles and colors are limited.

I ended up styling about 7 wigs, but I wanted a very specific hairstyle for the ingenue of The Rivals, Lydia. I did not want a white wig, but a natural color and soft style. I purchase a very long and wavy dark brown wig.

This is how the wig was shipped

After I combed out the wig

I separated the hair on the top of the crown and pushed it out of the way. This is the hair that will cover the front of the rats.

I pinned one long rat to the crown of the wig to build the hair around. I could never get the height required for 18th century hairstyles just from teasing.

For even more height, I pinned another smaller rat to the top of the first. Placing the rats on the head and pinning them to one another the right way is essential to getting the right shape in the final style. 

I then curled the front of the hair about midway down and left the ends loose. When styling a wig, never use heat. I simply wet-set the foam curlers and waited until the next day to unroll them. The wig had a nice curl to it at the ends, but to achieve the look I wanted, the hair needed to be curled closer to the scalp.
 Once the curls had dried and set, I carefully arranged and pinned the hair one tress at a time over top of the rats.

I was very pleased with results of styling this wig 18th-century. Unfortunately, by the time it was completely styled and shallacked* into place I had no time to take photos. I will post finished photos of the actress in her wig and costume soon. 

 *That was a joke, never actually shellac a wig. Lots of very cheap hairspray will give you similar results.

Final Designs for The Frogs at Eureka College by Nikki Wheeler

The concept for The Frogs at Eureka College started out as circus-inspired, but quickly evolved into something entirely its own! I was pleased to see, while sitting through dress rehearsals, that everything works in this bizarre world we have created for the classic Greek play.

The set is fairly abstract, with simple platforms, a couple moving set pieces and large swaths of fabric draped which different colored lights are thrown upon to take us to different locations throughout the story. Many of the characters are represented by puppets.

The costumes are an odd conglomeration of over-sized headdresses, ridiculously huge pants, stylized regular clothes, and clown-inspired garb.

Is it weird? Yes. But does it work? I think so. Here are my final designs.


Designs for 'The Frogs' coming together by Nikki Wheeler

This year has started off at full speed for NW Designs. I'm now working at another local college, Bradley University for the semester, as well as writing an arts and crafts column for the local newspaper.

In addition to those things, I am also designing costumes for two shows at Eureka College this spring. The first of which- The Frogs by Aristophanes is opening at the end of February. I've finished preliminary sketches of the costume design of The Frogs, and sent them to the director to okay.

I shared some research images in an earlier blog post about The Frogs designs. It was mostly inspired by the circus. In the beginning stages of the design process, we talked about representations of each character in the play as specific circus performers. As the show was cast, rehearsals began and the design process moved along, I found the costume designs moving away from circus performers as specific representations of the characters and into more obtuse designs that generally fit into the bizarro circus-inspired world we were creating for this show.

Take a look at the the designs and let me know what you think. Some of the characters are still obviously inspired by circus performers like the snake charmer and the ribbon twirler. Others less so, but all still fitting into the strange surreal world we are creating. At least that the goal!

5 Tips for Finding Freelance Design Jobs by Nikki Wheeler

As someone who is self-employed, one of the things I'm asked most frequently is how I find freelance jobs. While NW Designs has only been incorporated as a business for a few months now, I have been perfecting the art of finding freelance jobs since around 2006. I have learned much along the way and apply that knowledge religiously as freelancing has taken on a new importance since it is now my main source of income. Here are some tips for finding freelance work:

1. Network and build relationships with local customers. It might not always be the case, but right now my local customers are my bread and butter. Two local colleges and some local theaters hire me as a regular costume designer, and pay me pretty nicely. Because I've built long-term relationships with them and proven my professional adequacy and consistency in work ethic time and time again, I can count on them to hire me on a regular basis. They aren't always the highest paying jobs, but they are the most consistent. Because I live in an area that is relatively small, the potential work for a designer or artist in my field is not plentiful, but year after year as word spreads in the industry of my professional reputation slowly more local customers are added.

2. Understand the Importance of self-branding and online marketing. I have a professional profile everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and countless freelance job sites. Not only do I have professional profiles on all of those sites, but they all look the same. With self-branding, consistency is key. I have the same username, profile picture, About Me information, and sample photos of my work on every site. When I post to one social medium, I make the same post to all social media. 

3. Use all of the industry-specific job sites. It is essential that I have profiles and search for jobs on sites for freelancers that do exactly what I do. Since I'm searching specifically for costume design jobs, I use sites like OffstageJobs.com, which lists jobs in performing arts, ProductionHub.com, which lists freelance TV and film gigs, and TheRagTrader.com, which is for freelancers in the fashion industry, just to name a few. Most freelance job sites offer free profile options.

4. Don't overlook general freelance job sites. I've actually found more jobs from broad freelance job listing sites that industry specific ones. It may be due to the fact that there is less competition for each project listed than for industry-specific sites. I find there are almost as many costume design jobs listed on these types of sites, although the customers are usually different. They are usually customers from other industries that may not know where to turn- such as corporations for corporate mascots. Two of my favorite sites that have options for free profiles are Elance.com and Guru.com

5. Make it a daily habit to search for jobs. I've made it a habit to look at job listings on all of my freelancer sites everyday. It's one of the first things I do in the morning while I'm having a hot cup of joe. Because I stay on top of this everyday, it is very quick to look for new listings. Many days there aren't even new listings. I've made such a habit of searching these sites I can search them all in about 10 minutes. I only have to dedicate 10 minutes of my day to searching for jobs. Now, if I find a listing and decide to bid on the job that takes longer, but that is another post for another day!

Superhero Costume Ideas: Making Custom Boots by Nikki Wheeler

Getting the boots just right is an essential part of a great superhero costume. Costume boots can be found fairly easily and can even be fairly inexpensive, but colors and styles are usually very limited. As part of my super hero costume project (I covered making the custom mask in a previous post,) I decided to make custom boots so that they would be the right color, shape and height for the superhero costume and fit within the project budget.

Making boots is not a project for newbies; but with some patience and some room for error it is not impossible. It is really more of a crafting project than a sewing project, although sewing experience is probably not a bad idea since sewing vinyl fabric can be tricky!

Things you'll need:

Cheap canvas shoes
Shoe Goo
Hot glue
1/2 yard lightweight Vinyl Fabric
Heavy duty/Leather Sewing Machine Needle
Sewing Machine

Start with cheap shoes. (These were from the a big-box discount store on clearance for about $6 a pair.) 

Cut the shoe off the sole as closely as possible. 

Carefully trace the boot pattern onto the fabric side of the vinyl fabric. (Sorry I have no link to a download pattern, but it is easy to free hand.)

Cut out 4 boot shapes. Stitch 2 together with 3/8 inch seam allowance. Stitch 2 together with 5/8 inch seam allowance. Be sure to set sewing machine stitch to a long stitch length. Remember to back stitch the top of the boot and the bottom of the boot! 

Tip: Vinyl can't be pinned so use small binder clips to hold in place, taking them out as the vinyl goes through the machine.

Grade the seam by cutting up to (but not through!) the stitch line around the curves. Use small dots of hot glue to keep the seam open. Do not use too much hot glue or the seam will not sit nicely when turned right-side out. 

Turn the two boot shapes sewn with 3/8 seam right side out. (These will be the outside of the boot.)

Turn down the edge of the top of the boot and tack into place with hot glue. 

Trim 1/2 inch off the top of the boots sewn with 5/8 inch seam, (these will be the interior of the boots.) Put inside the other boot and line up seams. Line up the edges and attach with hot glue. 

Put a liberal amount of Shoe Goo all around the sides of the shoe soles. (Sorry I have no pic for this step, and BTW it is VERY MESSY.) Stretch the bottom of both layers of boot around the sole. I do this by lining up the seam in the center of the front of the sole and stretching around and back.  Be patient, this step can be a bit tricky but the glue doesn't dry fast so you have some time to adjust and try again. Adjust the boot on the sole until the bottom edge of the vinyl is about 1/4 to 3/8 inch from bottom of the sole. Add some extra glue where needed and allow to dry. 

Common Sewing Terms for Sewing Newbs by Nikki Wheeler

As a costume designer and fabric artist I sew ALL THE TIME. Not everyday, but most. I sew fast and I sew well. Really, I consider myself an expert. I often shock people with my skill and knowledge because I'm young(ish) and look even younger than I am. But I don't know anyone that sews more than me- I've been sewing for 20 years, and almost daily for 10. I make a living from this stuff. I teach this stuff.

Now that I've convinced you all of my expertise, I want to impart some of my knowledge on you. I meet people nearly everyday that say they'd love to learn to sew. There's a lot of resources for learning the art, even from the comfort of your home. One thing I hear a lot is how confused people get by all the technical jargon. It's easy to pick up an easy sewing pattern for beginners, but not easy to follow when you're not sure of half the technical terms used. Below I've listed many of the most basic terms with a brief explanation of what they are. 

running stitch- the most common of all stitches, straight, in and out through all layers of fabric.

hem- hemming is the process of folding over the edge of fabric and stitching into place so that the fabric can't unravel.

blind hem- a blind hem is a certain hem that the stitches are not visible, used most often for dress slacks.

baste- to baste something is to sew it together quickly with large stitches that are meant only to be temporary

lining/line- lining is an inside layer of fabric, not meant to be seen, but used to conceal seams for a neat finish, make a garment thicker and more durable, more comfortable, and slide on and off easily.

flat line- a certain way of lining that is only meant to make a fabric thicker and give it more body. Two fabric are sewn together around all edges, then treated as one fabric.

sack/ bag line- a way of lining that does conceal the seams and finishes edges.

hook and eye -very small closure that is a metal hook that secures to a metal C-shape.
finished edge- a fabric edge that will not come unraveled, a finished edge can be done in many ways such as lining, hemming or casing.

unfinished edge- a fabric edge that is raw and may come unraveled.

bar and hook- a closure that is a metal hook that secures to a metal bar. It is similar to a hook and eye but larger and more durable, used often at the waist of dress pants and skirts in place of or in addition to a button.

press- to iron. Many underestimate the importance of carefully pressing each seam as they sew. I know I did when I was a newb.

top stitch- a top stitch is basically a running stitch that is through all layers of fabric and visible on the outside of the garment

serge/overlock- a super-secure way to finish edges and/or sew together fabric and finish the edge at the same time. I serer/overlock machine is required for this. Most commercial clothing is serged. It is made of a complicated series of straight stitches and loops around the edge.

stitch length- the length of each stitch. The stitch length will be mostly determined by the type of fabric being used.

seam allowance- the narrow strip of fabric that includes the unfinished edge on the outside of the stitch line.

trimming a seam- cutting off the extra seam allowance on a seam that will be turned inside.

grading a seam- when a seam is on the outside edge of a curve, the seam allowance must be slashed up to but not through the stitch line to allow the seam to finish nicely once turned right-side out.

notching a seam- similar to grading a seam, but cut V-shapes out of the seam allowance to remove bulk when a seam is on an inside curve to allow a nice finish.

selvage edge- when fabric is woven one edge is self-finishing, meaning one edge of fabric will not unravel without finishing.

grain line- the grain line of a fabric is parallel to threads of woven fabric. When cutting out fabric it is essential to pay attention to this, fabric will become warped if not cut on the grain.

bias- a 45- degree angle to the grain line of fabric. All fabrics have a certain amount of natural stretch to them when cut on the bias.

darts- a dart is stitching a wedge-shaped fold of the fabric to give it shape to fit around a body. Used very often in making clothing.

gathering- a technique for adding fullness, a piece of fabric is stitched and then drawn up on the stitch so that small folds are created along the stitch line and the overall length of the piece of fabric is shortened.

pleat- another technique for adding fullness, fabric is folded back on itself and sewn into place.

casing- a fabric tunnel created so that a drawstring can be run through, often within a hem.

facing- fabric used to finish the edges of a garment so that no stitches are visible, like lining but only for one edge of garment, not the entire thing (like a neck or armhole.)

right side- the side of fabric meant to be visible and worn on the outside of the finished garment.

Circus of Frogs by Nikki Wheeler

It is time to start gearing up for spring shows at a local college that hires me, Eureka College. The first show that I will design costumes for is The Frogs by Aristophanes. Even though The Frogs is a Greek play over 2,000 years old, there will be nothing that even remotely resembles a toga in this show. (Togas are not actually Greek at all, but that's for another blog post.) This show is inspired by the circus, but less cotton candy, balloons and over-priced souvenirs and more creepy Vaudevillian circus freak. 

Many of the characters of this show will not be costumed at all because they will be portrayed by puppets. Each of the characters portrayed by people are inspired by classic circus characters: the bearded lady, the strong man, and trapeze artists may all make an appearance. 

A lot of the research I did for consisted of vintage circus posters and pictures of Vaudeville variety performers. Take a look below at the direction these costume designs are headed so far. Some of the circus freaks that appear in The Frogs may include: 

A Snake Charmer

Trapeze Artists

Freakish Clowns

A Lion Tamer

Strong Man