Author Katja Wise, Photographed by Madison Brendle

Soon, we will be adorned with creative costuming elements from head to toe!

Hi! My name is Katja Wise, and I am a special events entertainer and hoopdance instructor based out of Raleigh, NC. When I first started costuming, I wasn’t sure where to turn to create my costumes. There were fantastic examples set for me by phenomenal, thriving performance artists in the Triangle…but I still had to figure a lot out by research, trial, and error. I hope this post will inspire you to create your own costuming details with fantastic shapes and dramatic, theatrical effects, while also being resourceful!

That’s right, put your wallet away and hear me out: we can achieve completely original, professional-quality performance looks on a shoestring budget! With a little investment of time and money, costuming doesn’t have to be a major expense.

If DIY (do-it-yourself) is a completely new field for you, it may seem hard to get started. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” Creativity is a journey that challenges me to grow, because I know the more I invest in and explore my creativity, the more creative I become. I am grateful for the creatives who inspire and challenge me, and who celebrate my creations with me.

  • This post is for you if…you want to put just as much time into looking great as you spend practicing your performance craft. I keep my tutorials simple, for easy time-management.
  •  This post is for you if…you also want to be mindful with your money. When I have the opportunity to put in a small bit of time while also saving money, I get excited! 
  • This post is for you if…you want to achieve one-of-a-kind looks to provide the astounding characters your clients want.

There are only two ways to get that one-of-a-kind look: you either buy a one-of-a-kind costume or you make your own. You can choose to outsource, hoping others will see into your mind’s eye…or you can DIY to bring your vision to life!

Are you ready to save money and be a DIY Diva like me?

Here are my 5 tips for being a resourceful costume creator:

1) REDUCE, REUSE, and – that’s right! – UPCYCLE

Whether from your closet, a friend or relative’s closet, or a thrift store, upcycling saves time & money when costuming! When I upcycle articles of clothing, I look mostly at the pattern, fabric type, and the existing seams to determine what cuts/adjustments I’ll need to make and whether it will be worth the time it would take to save on fabric costs. 


A hot glue gun is the ultimate handcrafting weapon for creating ornate headdresses, masks, 3D effects, and more. It’s a small investment, and chain craft supply stores often run sales on mini hot glue guns. These are portable and easy to use even for on-the-go costuming. I never go anywhere without my hot glue gun!


Pro Tip: Use Tape or fine threads/small/loose stitches for temporary fabric re-shaping. A dress can be worn as a scarf, scarves worn as chunky bracelets, and pants in layers. I consider myself a sculptor of sorts as I twist, tuck, tie, and adjust garments into new shapes for new uses! Taping and loose thin seams work well for short term costume situations, since tape can easily be removed, and loose, thin stitches can easily be restitched to suit another purpose. 

Original Jumbo Shrimp costume design for “Under The Sea” themed event in Wilmington, NC. Photo Credit to fellow stilt walking performer, Irene!


One of my favorite looks is big shapely hair through stuffing and twisting! Save paper towel rolls and trim them to size, then stuff hair to create a molded dramatic look. Well placed buns also help. Complete the look with details that add sparkle or enhance the theme, and create unique hair accessories by hot gluing trinkets, flowers, or foam sculptures onto hair clips and headbands. 


Finally, keep a grid-lined notebook nearby – great for both writing and drafting to scale – for sketching, note taking, and other creative musings. You never know when your inspiration will strike so it’s important to store your ideas for later reference. Also consider using this notebook for outlining your special event costuming prep timeline. Organizational details like these are critical for DIY planning & the creative process. If you find yourself in a slump or creative plateau look back on your sketches and notes to refresh yourself with all your past inspirations. 

Keep a grid-lined notebook handy for scale design and planning.

So there you have it! DIY is a crucial element to creative and original costuming, and it can also be an enjoyable process. Watching your materials transform into the costume you’ve imagined is very rewarding, and your crafting skills will sharpen rapidly with dedicated practice.

To learn more through a one-on-one guided tutorial about how I create certain costume elements, please comment your requests! 

By putting time and effort into DIY costuming, it becomes effortless, and you will immerse yourself in creative flow. If you are intentional balancing your time and money resources, using these 5 costuming life-hacks will give you amazing DIY costumes while also enhancing your creativity! 


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