The 15 Most Useful Items In My Very Swanky & Very Well-Appointed Atelier
--> In addition to the ecydiastical* enterprises, I'm a professional seamstress & costumer and a lifelong crafter - and consequently, I've found that some tools and items are simply indispensable to me. You can spend a lot of money on the 'professional' version of pretty much anything (and there are some things that, ultimately, you do just have to pony up and pay for); but there are a lot of things I use constantly that cost little to nothing (especially to anyone with a frugal New England background and/or mild hoarding tendencies). Here's my list of the 15 most useful super-cheap costuming supplies I use every day:
• Disposable Chinese-takeout chopsticks - I hoard these like the treasure that they are. Useful for most gluing projects (wet or hot**), a lot of painting and mixing, stirring dye baths, propping up things while they dry and - in a pinch - as the stick for various commemorative pennants.
And since I live in New York and we get a lot of takeout ...
• Disposable Chinese-takeout containers -The sad loss of those fetching little folded takeout boxes of my childhood did result in one good thing: cheap storage for a variety of odds and ends in the form of plastic takeout containers. (They're also terribly useful as easily-cuttable bases for hats, headdresses, and various other construction projects.)
• Alcohol prep pads - At under $5 a box, these little babies are totally worth having on hand. I use them chiefly for cleaning stray glue off of tweezers during large-scale crystalling projects, or for getting the goo off of any tool (or body part) when it becomes, well, gooey.
• Every single Ziploc baggie of every size and description that enters my life - The tiny ones are great for separating out a couple of buttons or half a dozen googly eyes; the large ones make a handy rain hat or temporary shelter. Seriously, though, pretty much every object in my studio (and costume storage room) gets sorted into its own baggie at some point; with so many things around all the time I find it's the only way to keep everything (relatively) neat and - most importantly - quickly findable.
• Spare comic book backing boards - For some reason I ended up with a butt-ton of these. They're a convenient size to store and a great balance of flexible/cutable but also sturdy. I use them for catching drips from my elderly glue gun, stiffening headdresses, packing up pasties for shipping, and - well, all my small-piece-of-cardboard needs. (Which are legion.)
• Clear nailpolish - Just the cheapest 99-cent version will keep the cut ends of cords and fringes from unraveling; seal in paint or glitter in small areas and keep it from chipping; make things a little shinier and protect the backs of kinda-scratchy things from catching on fabrics and trims.
• Black nailpolish - I actually raid the nailpolish drawer a lot for craft projects, but I find black is the color I use the most. Is that silver snap, magnet, zipper pull or fastener glaringly bright and hideously non-matching? Hit it with some appropriately-colored nail polish (a thin coat won't affect the grabability of most snaps or magnets) and it disappears. (This is also a great way to get rid of printed-on logos and labels on the bottoms of shoes.)
While we're raiding the beauty supplies ...
• Emery boards - Which is what my grandmother always called nail files. There are times when you need a big he-man-sized piece of actual sandpaper, but more often than not (shaping the ends pf plastic boning***, for example) just a cheap nail file will do.
• Darice gems - Living where I do I can't always find these chain-craft-store acrylic crystals, but when I do come across them I stock up quite literally by the bushel. Personally I use just acrylics on a lot of my costumes, but even if you're of the Swarovski-or-Nothing School of Bling it's worth having a bag of multicolored, multi-sized acrylics on hand for quick projects. I adore Darice: the colors are super bright and they're the shiniest acrylics I've ever found (and the silver backing tends to bubble less than other brands when in contact with the more toxic glues and epoxies). Plus they're, like, $12 a pound. A POUND - at that price, you could fill up the bathtub just for the hell of it.
• The silver straight pins that men's shirts are packaged with - Okay, this might be where my own personal Crazy starts to show, but I actually prefer these pins to any that I've ever bought in a sewing-supply store. They're longer, sharper and they don't bend as much ... and salvaging them from The Man's shirt purchases before he throws them out makes me feel delightfully Dickensian. (Yeah, I'm probably crazy.)
• Dollar-store electrical tape - But specifically the cheap-ass dollar-store version, which is sticky enough to stick, but not so actually effective as to stick forever. I keep a couple of spare rolls on hand specifically for wrapping my fingertips while I'm batching pasties: hot-gluing 200 pairs at once tends to burn the crap out of your hands (and ruin your manicure), no matter how careful you are (and I'm not very careful), but gloves either melt (latex) or make you too clumsy (rubber). I wrap up my fingertips in crappy electrical tape, and if they get too covered in glue I just peel off the tape and re-wrap.
• Måla kids' drawing paper roll from Ikea - This shit is the the bomb, yo. It's way cheaper than the exact same thing in an Expensive Fancy-Ass Art Store (only $5 a roll), it's sturdy enough to draft durable sewing pattern pieces (I tend to not like actual 'pattern paper;' I also tend to re-use patterns until they disintegrate) and it's decent enough paper for actual sketching.
• Clamp lights galore - My personal combination of weird apartment ceiling lights and insomnia means that I work a lot in the middle of the night in very bad lighting. These lamps are around $6 each at every damn hardware store in the world and they're great for general lighting or for focusing on a small area for close work.
Speaking of hardware stores (which, by the way, I adore) ...
• Aluminum drywall t-square - Because sometimes you need to draw 4-foot-long straight lines and right angles. Seriously.
• LED Headlamp - Did I mention the bad apartment lighting? This is genius for really close-up work: strap this fucker to your head and you get an instant spotlight on whatever you point your face at. (The added bonus is that you look like a total idiot: The Man once caught me sitting on the living room floor in the middle of the night, wearing sweatpants and my headlamp, watching Futurama and gluing crystals with disposable chopsticks, and immediately dubbed me 'The Next Dita.' Glamour!)
... Like I said, there are plenty of times when cheaping out costs you more money in the long run (If you sew a lot, get a decent ironing board and invest in a good pair of scissors) or when you really do need the actual tool actually created for the job. But over the years I've thrown out enough optimistically-purchased items in favor of A Folded Up Piece Of Paper to have learned that ultimately, you just need to use whatever damn thing works best for you.
* Look it up.
** That's what she said.
*** Heh. "Boning."