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Superhero Tools and Materials
Superhero Costume Class
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Lesson 2: Superhero Tools and Materials
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To make your superhero costume, you'll need to have some specific tools and materials. Here's a list of everything you'll need for this class.

To work with spandex, EVA foam and Worbla you'll need all the following tools:

To create the components of your outfit you'll we'll be using these materials:

Depending on your design, these tools and materials will also come in handy:


What We'll Be Working With

We'll be using some very specific material in this class. Here's a little more information to help you choose the right stuff. I also talk about each material in even more detail at the beginning of the corresponding lesson.

Stretch Fabric

To make a good supersuit, you need a good stretch fabric. There are all kinds of stretch fabrics that differ by construction, thickness, and fiber content which are good for different types of projects. The best kinds of fabric for tight fitting superhero garments are spandex knits with a very high percentage of spandex. Even jersey fabrics that contain some spandex, like the fabric used for cotton leggings, will not have enough elasticity and may end up sagging after you wear them a few times.

The fabrics I'll be using in this class are all variations of 4 way stretch spandex that you can find at most fabric stores. This is the best material for supersuits and is actually surprisingly easy to sew on a home sewing machine. Contrary to popular opinion, you really don't need a serger to sew spandex, and we'll be learning some great stitches and techniques to help you sew spandex on your home machine.

Spandex also comes in an insane variety of colors, textures, weights, and finishes, from crazy holographic patterns and beautiful ombres, to prints of cats shooting laser beams out of their eyes... there's something for every kind of mutant in spandex world... (though I think Spandex House is actually the best place to buy spandex :)

EVA Foam

EVA Foam, also known as craft foam, is a material that was widely used for all kinds of applications such as padding, and flotation before it was discovered by the crafting and cosplay community. EVA makes a great material for constructing costumes and props because it is lightweight, cheap, and can easily be cut, carved and even heat shaped to create interesting forms. When it is finished and painted it is relatively durable and can be made to mimic a lot of different materials like metal, wood, leather and plastic.

EVA foam comes it a wide variety of colors and thicknesses which gives it a lot of versatility. It is great for creating large lightweight forms in costuming, but not that great for creating details. For this reason it can be, and often is, combined with many other materials like Worbla to create beautiful costume armor and props. While it is cheap, and relatively easy to cut and form, the process of gluing and sealing it can be somewhat tedious, but it's still a great material to have on your costume skills utility belt.

Worbla

Worbla is an amazing, and relatively new, non-toxic thermoplastic sheet material made partially from wood pulp. It's is a supernaturally awesome material that lets you quickly create durable, sculptural costume pieces and props with minimal tools, drying time, or toxic chemicals. It has become extremely popular in the cosplay community because of it's versatility, and ability to mimic materials like metal.

Worbla softens at 194 degrees fahrenheit (90 degrees celsius) which means you can usually mold it with your bare hands and feel like a superhero! It it's heated state it sticks to itself like mad, so you don't need any glue whatsoever to work with it. When it hardens it is extremely strong and can be painted and finished easily. It can also be re-heated and formed endlessly, so you never have to waste any of it! Just heat your scraps and mush them back together. Fantastical.

There a few different types of Worbla that are good for different applications. In this class I'll be using the standard kind, which is officially called "Worbla's Finest Art". Other Worbla variations are designed to create finer details, stronger structure, or transparency. They work in much the same way as the standard variety, so feel free to experiment with them once you've grasped the basics.

Worbla comes in different sized sheets that are all 2mm thick and can be layered on top of each other or combined with thin EVA foam to create thickness. The one drawback of this material is that it is fairly expensive. For the headpiece project I'm creating in this class, you'll need about one medium sheet. If you are feeling budget-conscious and adventurous, you could also try making your own Worbla by following this Instructable by Plastic Apprentice.

Glues, Sealers, Paints and Finishes

You will need glue to assemble your EVA foam pieces. The strongest and most effective kind of glue for EVA foam is DAP Weldwood Contact Cement. It is a bit tricky to work with however, and has a long cure time. You'll need a ventilated area and at least 24 hours to let it set before you can move on to sealing. Other potential adhesives are Barge, spray adhesives, and, hot glue, which is good for gluing foam together edge to edge, but not for lamination.

Both EVA foam and Worbla need to be sealed or primed before they can be effectively painted. There are a few different options for sealing each depending on what kind of finish you are going for.

In this class I'll be using Plastidip to seal EVA foam. Plastidip is a great material because it both prepares the surface of the foam for painting and makes the whole thing stronger and less likely to tear. For certain kinds of designs it can be an awesome looking finish in itself without even adding paint.

Worbla, especially the original kind, has a bit of a granular texture that really needs to be smoothed out with a primer before it's painted. The smoothing compound we'll be using in this class is Flexbond. It is very similar to wood glue, but gives even faster and better coverage. It's not a noxious chemical so it can be applied anywhere, and it dries fairly fast.

Once your foam and Worbla creations are sealed and primed, you can paint them in a variety of ways. I like using acrylic paints, but spray paint as a base coat can also be a good option. For creating metallic effects, I'm partial to using metallic pigment powders mixed into an acrylic medium. Pick out something you'd like to experiment with and do some tests.

After your pieces are painted, you can give them extra shine or durability by adding a coat of some kind of clear sealant or finish. The most durable top coat for EVA foam is a roofing sealant called Through the Roof. This will really give your piece a shiny look and a lot of protection, but it's pretty nasty stuff, so if you're looking for something a little less intense, you can use Mod Poge or another acrylic finish.


Understanding Our Tools

Here's what you'll need to manipulate each of the materials we're working with.

To sew spandex we'll mostly just need standard sewing tools with a few stretch-specific variations.

In the following lessons, I'll talk in more detail about where and when to use the tools we're buying, but for now, here's a little more info to help you understand the purpose of each tool.

Sewing Machine or Serger - Both home sewing machines and sergers are capable of sewing stretch fabrics, but in this class, I'll be focusing on how to sew stretch with a home sewing machine. Contrary to popular opinion, I actually think using a home machine is easier than using a serger and produces better results. Hoe sewing machine's are more versatile and easier to set up and maintain. I'll be teaching you all about stretch machine stitches in this class, but if you aren't familiar with the basic operations of a home machine, check out the Meet Your Sewing Machine lesson of my Machine Sewing Class.

Smaller Sewing Tools

Bobbins - bobbins are a small spool that holds the bottom thread on your machine. You'll want to have some extra empty bobbins on hand for different colors of thread.

Zipper Foot - if you decide to add zipper to your supersuit, you'll need a special kind of foot attachment for you machine that lets you sew on zippers. Sewing machines usually come with one, but you can also buy them separately. Make sure you are getting a foot that fits your specific machine.

Machine Needles For Stretch Fabrics - different fabrics require different types of sewing needles, and there are specific needles designed to help you sew stretch fabric more effectively on a home machine. Stretch needles help prevent dropped stitches and creating large holes. It's important to have them for spandex sewing.

Double Machine Needle - a double needle goes into your machine just like a single needle, but gets threaded with two threads. It creates two lines of straight stitches on the top of the fabric, and a zigzag between the two rows of stitches underneath, allowing it to stretch. It's a great solution for making nice looking hems on spandex, helpful but not necessary.

Fabric Shears - having a good pair of scissors for cutting fabric is essential for sewing, there are many brands of scissors that will work just fine as long as you keep them sharp! Label your fabric shears, and try to never cut anything besides fabric with them! Protect them from uninitiated interlopers who try to grab them and use them for chopping up any old thing! Be mean and possessive! There's nothing more frustrating than trying to cut fabric with dull scissors.

Paper Scissors - you will also be cutting paper and other things while making patterns in this class, so have a pair of scissors dedicated to that as well, and when people try to borrow scissors from you, hand theme these :)

Thread Snippers- these tiny little guys are handy to have for trimming the ends of threads off seams and other small jobs where regular scissors are unwieldy.

Seam Ripper- this little tool that looks like a tiny lobster claw, or some kind of scary implement from the dentist's office is used to remove stitches if you make a mistake. It's a very important tool because no matter how long you've been sewing, you're going to make mistakes. The pointy end is also useful for making marks in EVA foam.

Hand Sewing Needles - even when you're sewing by machine, you're always going to have to do a little hand sewing every now and then, so have a set of hand sewing needles handy.

Pins- an absolutely essential tool especially when sewing with spandex on a home machine, pins are how you hold your fabric in place so you can sew it together. I like glass head pins best, and I you want the extra thin kind for spandex as thicker ones will be hard to stick.

Magnetic Pin Holder - There are a few different kinds of pin holders, from the old fashioned kind that looks like a stuffed tomato to these magnetic dishes. I prefer the magnetic kind because they are easiest to grab from.

Transfer Paper - used to transfer markings from patterns onto fabric, you'll use this a lot in this class when designing your pattern. It's usually good to have some in both light and dark colors so it will show up on any color fabric.

Tracing Wheel - this is what you use with the transfer paper to trace markings through from a pattern.

Pattern Paper or Large Sheets of Tracing Paper - Pattern paper is large and slightly translucent to allow you to trace one piece through onto another. You will need this kind of paper to trace off your base onesie pattern and make a new one unique to you. It's important to have a lot so you don't have to worry about making mistakes.

Tailor’s Chalk or Disappearing Marker - these are used to make marks on fabric that will disappear later. Both are good options, but chalk usually shows up better on dark colors than the pen does. We'll be using this to mark up our supersuit mock-up to make changes in fit and create our style lines.

Flexible Measuring Tape - used to take measurements on yourself, on a dress form, or any other place where you can't use a stiff ruler.

Clear 18"x2" Ruler - these are one of my most essential sewing and drafting tools, the clear grid makes them great for drafting patterns and measuring seams etc.

Hip Curve- a curved ruler used in pattern drafting. They are very helpful for creating smooth shapes, and are especially designed to create the correct curve in the hip area of a pattern. While you can freehand curves on a pattern, your patternmaking will be a lot more accurate if you use a hip curve.

French Curve - another type of curved drafting guide used for creating smaller curves. Not as essential as a hip curve, but still a useful and cheap tool.

We will be using similar tools to work with both EVA foam and Worbla.

X-acto knife - a sharp x-acto is essential for cutting EVA foam, and can be helpful for cutting Worbla too. Depending on the thickness of foam you are cutting, you may want to have both some smaller craft knives, and larger box cutter type knives around. And be sure to have plenty of extra blades. Foam dulls x-actos surprisingly quickly, and you won't get a clean cut without a sharp blade.

Heat Gun - a heat gun is a the most important tool for working with Worbla. A heat gun let's you soften the Worbla so it can be shaped and stuck together. Heat guns will also let you do some heat shaping on EVA foam. No need to spend too much money on one though.

Glue gun - If you are planning to make an EVA foam project that involves glueing the edges of the foam together, hot glue can be an easy option for an adhesive, though it is not the best glue method when you are layering flat pieces of foam like I am in my shoulder armor. Hot glue is also great for attaching straps foam armor pieces, and is generally an important tool to have in your crafting arsenal.

Scissors- you will need some fairly heavy duty scissors for cutting Worbla. I think these serrated ones work best. They will also come in handy for cutting thinner EVA foam.

Cutting Mat - you will need a cutting mat or other smooth, slightly soft cutting surface to cut EVA foam on with your x-axto knife.

Saran wrap- you will need this if you plan to use the saran wrap and tape method of armor patternmaking around your own body or a dress form. I don't actually use this method myself here, but it's great for making breastplates and other fitted designs.

Painter’s tape - also necessary for saran wrap and tape patternmaking. I use a tape only version of this method to make a pattern for the headpiece we're creating in this class.

Oak Tag or thin cardboard - I find these large sheets of thick paper to be an essential tool for making pattern mock-ups of Worbla and foam pieces. If you don't want to spend the money on actual oak tag, pieces of cereal boxes will work too.

Needle point tracing wheel - slightly different than the serrated tracing wheel you use with transfer paper, this wheel lets you mark through paper and oak tag by poking a row of tiny holes. A great tool for armor patternmaking.

Roller or rolling pin - when you are working with Worbla, you will often want to laminate tow or more layers together to create thicker pieces. A rolling pin or the kind of roller used for printmaking can be useful for this. You could also substitute any hard, smooth cylindrical object.

Carving tools- Worbla can be shaped and textured when it's hot, and having some carving or stamping tools around can let you create some interesting details. If you don't want to invest in actual carving tools, just look around at the objects you already have. Kitchen tools, screws and screwdrivers, anything can be a scultping tool.

Sandpaper- if you want to spend a lot of time getting a very smooth surface on your Worbla pieces, you will need to prime and sand, often multiple times. I'm lazy, so I don't tent to do thus too often, but it can create some really beautiful results. Combing sandpaper and heat from your heat gun can also help you smooth over rough areas on EVA foam.

Upholstery foam scraps or makeup sponges - the best tool for applying Plastidip to EVA foam. Foam scraps work much better than paintbrushes, but you will go through them fast.

Disposable paintbrushes - work well for applying glue to EVA foam.

Nicer paint brushes - you'll need these for painting both your Worbla and foam pieces. Be sure to have some in various sizes so you can paint both details and large areas.

Gloves - absolutely necessary for working with Plastidip if you don't want it all over your hands. Also nice when applying contact cement or spray painting.

Tin Foil or a smooth wooden cutting surface - a lot of people use tin foil or wax paper as a work surface when heating and shaping Worbla. I have actually found that Worbla sticks to both when it's hot, especially the wax paper. My preferred surface is just a hard, smooth wooden counter or cutting board.

A protected well ventilated area - contact cement, Plastidip and spray paint are nasty chemicals that you don't want to inhale. Make sure you are using them in a well ventilated area, or wear a respirator. The contact cement we are using also needs to cure for at least 24 hours, so you need to have a safe place to keep it during that time.

Dress form or mannequin- there are a lot of ways to create patterns for Worbla and EVA foam pieces, but I often like to create mine by constructing mock-ups on my dress form. A dress form is a very useful tool to have as a costume maker, but certainly not an absolutely essential one. Dress forms are fairly expensive, but you can often find used mannequins for much cheaper. If you're trying to drape clothing patterns, a mannequin won't substitute for a dress form because it doesn't have the right human proportions, but it will give you a helpful base to design on when you're making armor pieces. If you don't have either of these, I will also be discussing methods for using your own body as a base to design over.

Head form - like a dress for a head form is a useful tool for designing headpieces, and luckily they are much cheaper. You can get plastic ones like the one I'm using at wig and beauty stores, or there even cheaper ones made of styrofoam that you can stick pins into. My one complaint about head forms is that they are not actually the size of a human head for some reason, so you have to take that into account when you are using one.


Tools and Materials by Project

For the Spandex Project

Materials:

  • About 2 yards of 4 way stretch spandex (or what is required for your pattern)
  • Matching thread
  • ⅜” elastic
  • Zipper, hook and eyes or other closures (depending on your design)
  • Paper pattern, or spandex garment to use as a pattern

Tools:

For the EVA Foam Project

Materials:

Tools:

For the Worbla Project

Materials:

Tools:


Now Let's Make Something!

Now that you understand everything you're going to need for this class, go ahead and get all the supplies you need so we can get started creating an amazing new identity!

In our next lesson, we'll start designing your supersuit, so make sure you have all the tools you'll need for pattern drafting.

CLASS PROJECT

Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

Nice work! You've completed the class project