Crafting Costumes and Props on a Budget

January 25, 2018

Creating elaborate costumes, props and sets is, for me at least, where most of the fun is. Crafting is notoriously expensive, so here are a few things that I learned about how to save your hard-earned dollars while still creating your unique masterpiece.



 Repurpose clothes from thrift stores

Dyeing wedding gowns or repurposing prom dresses that you find at thrift stores or in the back of your closet are wonderful ways to create really unique and exciting costumes if you don’t have the ability to sew a gown from scratch. I have been really fortunate to have found two wedding dresses in thrift stores, and have dyed both of them to create unique gowns. The gown that I wore in “Forever at Home” was an old wedding dress that I attempted to dye black, and instead, it turned out grey (which I liked better in the end). Keep in mind that dying a wedding dress is a very tricky art. Most wedding dresses are made of a mix of natural and synthetic fibers and will take to dye differently. Let me know in the comments if this is something that you would like me to write a blog post about!


Your outfit doesn’t have to hold up in the long run

Ask yourself if your props and costumes need to hold up in real-life scenarios. For many of my gowns, hot glue and pins will suffice to keep the costume in place for the image and I don’t need to take the extra time and money to create something sturdier. For "The Watchtowers: Fire- Knowledge is Power," the hoop skirt was made out of plastic tubing purchased from the local hardware store, ribbon, and cotton fabric. The bodice, however, was made out of leftover cotton fabric that I tied around my mannequin with ribbon, hot glued the paper to the front of the bodice and hoop skirt, and then created the breastplate out of cardstock. I made an apron with a large piece of white scrap fabric and a ribbon so I could glue the burned pages to the front without ruining the hoop skirt. None of this dress is usable in real life, and if you turned my model around, you would see an unfinished back and a bunch of pins and tied ribbons. Since most of my costumes are only meant to be worn once, the *way* they are crafted is a lot less important than how they show up on camera.



Stock up on discount fabrics

Do you see some fabric on sale? Buy a few yards and stash for a later date or build an idea out of it! If you have long enough fabric, it can be fashioned into gowns by using belts, pins, or added to existing gowns for long trains and capes. The “dress” that I am wearing in "Rain Dance" (pictured above) is actually just a long 9-yard piece of yellow fabric that I folded in half, hamburger style, and then pinned in the front to cover my body. I held a corner in each hand and flailed around when taking the image so it would look like a whole dress that is billowing. I usually buy no less than 3 yards of fabric so I know I have enough to get a little creative. Drapes, table cloths, and other household décor can be a great source of extra fabric.


Before you throw away previous props and costumes, salvage the reusable materials.

There will be a day where I can save all of my costumes and headpieces from a series and exhibit them alongside the printed image, but while I live in a small studio apartment, that day is not today. Therefore, I am a little more picky about what I will save and what I will toss or sell.

For "Waiting at the Window" (pictured above), I found a purple dress at a local thrift store for less than $10. The top half of the gown was lovely, but the bottom half was a little boring, so I created a mermaid shape by taking the tulle out from under an old wedding dress that I had dyed purple. The shade of purple doesn’t match in reality, but on camera and after the image had been edited, you would never know. The mermaid train of the dress was safety pinned to the dress while the model was wearing it. Without saving the tulle from that purple wedding dress, I would have had to purchase many yards of tulle to get the fullness of the skirts that I wanted.



 Get creative with your surroundings

“The Ivy Coil” was originally meant to be a concept about environmentalism so I decided to lay my model in a pool full of watered-down chocolate pudding that was meant to look like oil. In order to contain the pudding mixture, I bought a plastic children’s swimming pool for $5, some brown spray paint for $3 at Walmart to paint the pool, and a box of pudding mix for $1.50 at the grocery store. The execution wasn’t working, so I decided to table the pudding idea for another time and simply lay my model in a pool of ivy and water to create a more magical scene. The surroundings look like she’s in a beautiful lake, but really, she’s laying in a plastic pool in the middle of her garage (with a little pudding mixed in. Gross.) Her outfit was repurposed from an elaborate costume that I made two years prior, and she did her own makeup. The entire scene was created for less than $10.



See the Behind-the-Scenes story of how “The Ivy Coil” was created here.



Remember an important detail when you are done creating your not-incredibly-expensive-to-make masterpiece: putting these things together still takes a lot of time, effort, and creative thinking. Some costumes, like the one in Rain Dance, was pinned on my body in 5 minutes while others, like The Watchtowers: Fire paper gown, took 4 months to craft. Value the effort that you put into your work when talking about your process and pricing out your prints. Just because the gown may fall apart out in the real world doesn’t mean it should be valued less. Coming up with creative ways to bring life to a piece of fabric is something to be proud of! Additionally, once you start playing with the glue guns, safety pins, and spray paint, you will be surprised how much easier it will be to figure out how to bring more complex creations to life using more advanced materials.


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Hey there!

I'm Meghan, a fantasy and conceptual photographer and mixed media artist from southern Wisconsin. I'm honored that you've stopped by. This blog is all about the things I've learned through my artistic journey, in the hopes that it will help other artists as it relates to conceptualizing, planning, creating, editing, and selling your fantasy and conceptual art. Poke around, and please stop by my social media accounts to see more!

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