Using Notions and Embellishments to Enhance Your Cosplay

Picking out embellishments for bouquet de fleur cosplay sewing pattern

Bouquet de Fleur pattern by J. Hart Designs (M2096)

If you’ve looked at the main Cosplay by McCall’s site recently, you may have noticed that we added a notions section to help you find the buttons, ribbons, trims, and accessories to complete your costume look. Thoughtful detailing can really take your costume to the next level, whether that means ribbons and rhinestones or studs and leather cord. So let’s talk a bit about how to choose embellishments that reinforce your vision for a character, and how to apply them to your costumes.

Cosplay accessories sewing pattern with embellishment selections from Cosplay by McCall's

Becoming Emelie pattern (M2098) with some embellishment ideas selected by our team

Choosing Materials

Choosing the right notions for your costume can be as important as choosing the right fabric. Often, it’s the detailing that makes a costume identifiable, or that brings a basic design to life. Depending on the level of detail in your reference image or design sketch, you may have particular requirements for color, size, pattern, and/or texture. But often that leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and of course when you get to original designs, character mash-ups, and other creative interpretations all bets are off. Our best advice when it comes to embellishing your costumes is to be resourceful!

Threading a ribbon through lace trim is an easy way to add detail. Different ribbon colors can bring out different effects

Threading a narrow ribbon through lace trim is an easy way to add detail. Different colors can bring out different effects.

In addition to looking at the range of trims available to you, think about how they can be adapted, combined, or repurposed to better suit your needs. Combining ribbon and lace trims can give you a deeper and more intricate effect, as can twisting, braiding, or layering trims together. Wide ribbons can be gathered or pleated to make excellent ruffles, as they require no hemming and have the body to stand out in beautiful waves. Fabric flowers can be dismantled and reassembled, layered, or punched up with beads, rhinestones, or glitter. Also, many trims and notions can be dyed, painted, or weathered if you’re not finding the exact thing you need off the shelf or it looks a little too fresh and shiny. Many of the Cosplay by McCall’s sample garments also use broken jewelry and other found objects in addition to conventional notions and trims.

Eventide cosplay jacket sewing pattern and embellishments from Cosplay by McCall's

Eventide pattern (M2088)

As you work, it helps to keep a visual record of your design choices. This can be a virtual inspiration folder or board, but it’s often nice to have a physical design board so you can look at all your inspiration images, design sketches, pattern envelopes, fabric and trim swatches, and other costume elements at the same time. It’s a useful way to see how everything is cohering, so you can see what you’ve already collected and what you still need, and make sure all the various colors and textures work together. (It’s also handy for keeping track of any easily-misplaced bits and pieces, like buttons or jewelry.)

She Cut notions selections

She Cut pattern by Seattle Cosplay (M2107)

Attaching Trims

Once you’ve picked out the embellishments for your costume, you need to determine how to attach them. It’s important to start considering these details early, because different materials need to be worked into your costume at different stages of the process. If you’re doing a lot of embroidery, it’s often easiest to do before the garment is assembled – or even before the pieces are cut out, if the embroidery will cover a large area. On the other hand, if you’re attaching delicate jewelry items or gluing on gems and rhinestones, you might leave them until the very end so they don’t snag or catch on other parts of the costume, or get dinged up or knocked loose while you work.

Also think about the materials you’re using and how easy they are to care for. Are you willing to take your costume to a specialty cleaner every time you wear it? Fabric flowers, leather, feathers, antique laces, or costume jewelry items may not be machine washable, or washable at all, so you may want to think about making them easy to remove so the rest of the costume can be cleaned normally.

Metallic rickrack inserted in a seam makes an interesting piping substitute - baste it to one side of the seam, use the basting as a guide to sew and press flat

Metallic rickrack inserted in a seam becomes a scalloped piping substitute. Baste it to one side of the seam, use the basting as a guide to sew, then finish the seam as appropriate for your fabric and press flat.

Machine Sewn

Attaching embellishments by machine is often the fastest way, especially if you’re sewing on a large quantity of trim. If machine sewing, determine when each embellishment will be attached before you begin construction. Embellishments that are inserted directly in a seam (like piping and some laces) need to be considered at the appropriate time in the overall assembly, and you may need to adjust the construction order to accommodate.  Individual pieces are easier to maneuver through the machine than a whole garment, so it’s best to sew flat trims on as early as possible. This also allows you to cleanly finish ends by catching them in the seams, and ensures that the stitching will be neatly hidden by the lining. Appliqués, whether pre-made or created yourself, should also be sewn on individual unassembled pieces as much as possible, as they will be easier to sew smoothly and without ripples. And if you’re adding lace or ribbon to a gathered ruffle, it’s much easier to sew it on while the material is flat and then gather and attach it afterward.

When working with elastic trims, attach with a zigzag or triple-step zigzag stitch to retain the flexibility.

When working with stretch trims, like this ruffled elastic, stitch with a zigzag or triple-step zigzag to retain flexibility.

Machine-sewn trims can be as simple as bias binding, or more detailed ribbons and laces. When attaching them, consider the structure of the trim itself. Plain ribbons and woven bands may do best with a straight stitch, which follows the sharp edges of the trim. Some laces, braids, and embellished trims have a distinct border or channel that suggests where to sew. Narrower ribbon and cord embellishments might be secured with a decorative machine stitch over the top. And if you’re using an elastic trim that needs to be able to stretch, use a stretch stitch like a standard or triple-step zigzag or a coverstitch.

Attach lace with a narrow zigzag stitch that follows the design of the lace - in matching thread, the stitching will disappear into the pattern

Attach lace with a small zigzag stitch that follows the pattern of the lace.

A small zigzag stitch (about 3mm width and 0.8mm length) is a great option for attaching lace, as it creates a soft line that disappears into the overall design. If your lace has a scalloped border, following the outline with your stitching will help to ensure that there are no floppy unattached bits. It also helps to stabilize the edge of the underlying fabric, so you can even cut away the backing if you want a peekaboo effect.

This metallic cord trim is a little chunky to sew on by machine, but if you sew it by hand the stitches disappear behind the cord

This metallic cord is a little chunky to sew on by machine, unless you have a cording foot, but if you sew it by hand the stitches all but disappear behind the cord.

Hand Sewn

Hand sewing your embellishments is often time consuming, but certain situations demand it. If you have an already-assembled garment, especially if it’s lined, hand sewing your trims allows you to secure them to the outside layer of fabric without going all the way through to the lining. Hand stitches are often smaller and less noticeable than machine stitches, and are also less stiff, so they can be a good option for very lightweight or delicate materials. Or, you can attach trims with visible stitches in a decorative thread such as embroidery floss to add another layer of detail to the design. And finally, hand stitches are often the only way to sew on unusual items like jewelry pieces, fabric flowers, and other findings, which are too bulky to effectively stitch by machine.

Another advantage of hand stitches is that they’re easy to remove, if it ever becomes necessary. Some very delicate embellishments should not be washed, so you might want to remove them for cleaning; or you might want to re-use an item for another costume later. In either case, a hand-sewn seam can be as secure as you need it to be during wear, but still undone in a matter of minutes when the time comes.

Gems and stones are often intended to be attached with an adhesive

Stones and gem embellishments (like these pearly ones) are often intended to be glued in place.


Although some sewing purists might consider it cheating, in some cases glue really is your best option. Certain kinds of rhinestones and gems are best attached with an appropriate adhesive, and for extremely detailed designs with a large number of embellishments you may find that judicious gluing is a more effective use of your time than tacking everything by hand. If using adhesives, make sure that the type of glue is appropriate for your materials and that you’re able to use it safely (While many cosplayers wear our hot glue burns like battle scars, some adhesives are hazardous to breathing and brain cells and should be used with adequate ventilation.)

lace trim topped with tiny ribbon roses

Tiny ribbon roses can go either way: sew them on if you have the time and patience, but you’d be forgiven for gluing in a pinch. If pairing with lace or other soft trims, sew the trim down first then go back and attach the roses.

In general, glues are most appropriate for securing small, lightweight, not-too-flexible objects that can’t be easily sewn through, and less appropriate for flexible, porous materials like fabric appliqués and ribbons that might stiffen or bleed through when glued. Fusible web and other fabric adhesives can be helpful for temporarily securing trims and embellishments, but in general it’s best to also sew them in place or you’ll find that they eventually bubble or peel up around the edges. Any glued-on items should be handled gently and cleaned with extreme care.

Other options

Another solution to the cleaning problem with delicate embellishments is to make them completely detachable. Snaps, hooks and eyes, jewelry clasps, hook-and-loop tape, button loops, and other fasteners can be used to attach feathered collars or cuffs, bows, floral details, chains, and other fragile components so that they can be removed for washing, storage, or any time you want to change up the look. Yes, it’s a bit more work up front, but it can save you a lot of time and effort later.

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