- Photo credits: Header and slideshow photos by ALP Photography, featuring Koholint and AdventTraitor as Sayaka.
Kyoko was a project I’ve had planned on-and-off for many years. I always had a very distinct vision for how I wanted my Kyoko cosplay to turn out, and I first began work on her in 2014; I bought fabric and base boots, and I even went to so far as making patterns for her black top, red sleeveless “jacket”, and boots. Unfortunately, I was still a student back in 2014, and I ran out of time to start any of the “real” work on the costume, so Kyoko sat as an abandoned project until 2017.
We (Cosmic Coterie) voted to make Madoka Magica our big build for 2017, and that was when Kyoko was officially put back on my “to make” list. I thought very little about her outfit between 2014 and 2017, but my initial vision never really changed; however, my sewing skills had improved a huge amount during that time, and this allowed me to take a different approach to the pattern than I was planning in 2014.
Before I expand on my vision for her outfit, I want to clarify that these are only my own personal thoughts and preferences – as cosplayers, we all have our opinions and ideas on what a character’s outfit should look like when brought to real life. We also generally know what looks best on us, which may or may not be the same thing that looks good on someone else. Therefore, please understand that I’m not saying my way is the only or best way, and I mean no offense to anyone that made their outfit differently. I had a different vision is all, and my approach reflects that.
Figure 1: Kyoko Sakura, official references
So here’s the thing: in my opinion, Kyoko’s outfit is not very flattering. It features knee-high boots with thigh highs and a pleated skirt, and over the skirt is the peek of black top and a bizarre, sleeveless red jacket with a hi-low train. The jacket has an ellipse-shaped cutout in the center of the chest, a mandarin collar, and the train has oversized ruffles. None of these elements are easy to make look flattering in real life: the knee-high boots make it difficult to feature as much of the thigh-highs as the show does, and the skirt has to be EXTREMELY short in order to pull the thigh-highs up as high as they need to be.
Next, the red jacket has no tailoring, and the train is more or less a shapeless fall of fabric. The oversize ruffles can be overwhelming if too big or look “off” if they’re too small. Finally, the mandarin collar requires special care because if it’s too tall, it hides the neck in an unflattering way… but if it’s too short, you don’t have enough room to include the bias border. Oh… and the armholes of the red jacket aren’t like a regular tank top – they’re angled inwards.
(Did I mention that the arm warmers go almost all the way up her arms, past her biceps? Idk about you guys, but sometimes having something squeeze my squishy little arms around the top isn’t the cutest look, lol…)
Anyway, those are some of the basics – in my personal opinion – of why this outfit was a challenge to make look good in real life. With those issues in mind, my plan to make Kyoko more flattering on myself was as follows…
The issues I needed to solve:
- Proportions of boots, thigh-highs, and skirt
- Mandarin collar proportions
- Black top which lacks official references of the upper portion
- Shapeless jacket train
- Large ruffles on jacket train
- Squeezy arm warmers
There wasn’t much I could do about the boots, thigh-highs, or the skirt. I did what I could to help myself out, though: I made the boots a little bit shorter than in the reference artwork, and I made my skirt what I call “magical girl short”, aka, just long enough to cover my derriere. My base boots had a modest heel, but I still put shoe inserts in them. This combo of tweaking the costume pieces, plus the lift from the heels and shoe inserts, gives the illusion that your legs are longer than they really are. The shorter skirt and slightly shorter boots allowed more of the thigh-highs to show, ultimately making the costume look more proportional to what’s seen in the anime.
The black and red top combo was the bigger challenge: in the anime, the black top peeks out from the front of the red jacket, and depending on the reference, it appears to be kinda long, maybe even approaching tunic length – yet there’s still a lot of skirt that shows… somehow? This was never going to work in real life, and wouldn’t look very nice on me, either, so I made the top about as long as my hip bones – just enough to peek out from under the red jacket and have enough room for the white swirly designs, but not long enough to cover too much of my skirt.
That left the red jacket for last… from the waist up, it seems to be well-fitted but lacks seams entirely. The train is just a blob of fabric and was, in my opinion, the biggest problem – it looks lifeless if it’s made without enough volume or any sort of shape, so making the red jacket exactly like in the anime was going to be a no-go for me. The jacket is the most iconic part of her outfit and I wanted to take extra care with it.
My vision had always been to tweak the design and make her jacket with more of a “bustle” style – it couldn’t be a real bustle, I didn’t want to change the design too much – but I thought using a bustle as inspiration would help make the train fall in a more flattering way, as well as be a good way to incorporate more volume. This way, the jacket would have more shape and the train would be prettier. I toyed with dozens of ideas over the years, and I thought I was going to have to build a hidden “petticoat bustle” that would discreetly attach at the small of my back and support the back of the jacket train.
My issues with this method were that I just could NOT figure out how to hide the petticoat bustle: building it into the jacket would mess with the lining, and the pleated skirt of the outfit was not big enough to hide any kind of bustle from view. I decided on a vague approach: make the train with the volume I wanted, and then see what kind of support it may need after it was done. I normally don’t like such vague approaches to my costumes, but I had a finite amount of time to work on Kyoko and needed to make progress since I had other builds for the group on my plate (namely Madoka’s bodice).
I started by heavily modding a favorite pattern of mine (McCall’s 7352), which is a princess seam dress pattern. I’ve used it for loads of projects because the princess seams allow for a lot of modification ability, and the sleeve pattern comes in handy as a base so that I don’t have to scratch-draft sleeves. I’d mostly just done minor modifications to the pattern in fabric though, so this time, I wanted to take the pattern and turn it into a properly-fitted base bodice pattern. It took some time, but I ended up with two base patterns before I actually patterned out Kyoko: one shoulder princess seam pattern, and one armhole princess sleeve pattern. I used both for different parts of her outfit.
Since the jacket is fitted above the waist, I planned for this part of the red jacket to have princess seams. I know this isn’t accurate to the reference images, but since my goal was to make a flattering Kyoko cosplay and not a “one-hundred-percent-accurate” one, this trade-off was acceptable to me. Princess seams are extremely flattering and wouldn’t detract from the overall look of the jacket, anyway.
Figure 2: Some of the many patterns and mockups I made for the top half of the jacket.
During the pattern fitting and mockup phase, I was also testing various ideas for the shape of the jacket train. My best mockup came from a full circle that I sliced a cut into that ended at the middle. When I experimentally tied this around my waist, I realized that I really liked the shape it had, and it didn’t need a petticoat or any crazy undergarment to hang that way! I was very careful to note the grainlines of the fabric, so that I’d get the exact same fall style in the final jacket. Grainlines are extremely important!!!
Figure 3: Successful jacket fall test
Next, I took my finished patterns and cut out the fashion fabric and linings for the jacket. The fashion fabric is a discontinued shade of the red cotton sateen that Joann sells – it’s unfortunately not the same as the “biking red” color they sell as of the writing of this post. The upper lining is china silk in a mauve-y rose pink. The fall is lined with the same sateen as the outer layer, since Kyoko’s jacket fall appears to have the same fabric on both the inside and outside.
Figure 4: Messy work-In-progress shot of the sateen fashion layer (from the back)
I assembled the fashion and lining layers separately and then got to work on drafting the collar pattern and working on the white appliques. I had a very specific idea for what I wanted the appliques to look like, and I poured lots of time into researching a method. My favorite Kyoko cosplay was Kimidori’s, so I referenced her Kyoko writeups several times and knew that she did machine-stitched applique for her outfit’s appliques. Kimidori is a master of this technique and her work is extremely clean-looking, but I wanted an approach that avoided applique, simply because I don’t really enjoy doing it… (I’m sorry ;n;)
I turned to tutorials on Youtube and found a method used by quilters called “needle turn applique”. It was very close to what I wanted, so I watched some more videos and realize that a lot of quilters use freezer paper to help with their appliques. These gave me the ideas I needed to work on Kyoko’s.
I prepared two methods at once so that if one failed epically, I could quickly switch to the next. I used white cotton sateen to create the applique pieces. In the first method, I attempted to see if I could sew the desired shape to a lining, which I would then turn and flip. This didn’t work at all, so I switched to method two, which was a variation of the freezer paper needle turn applique methods I learned from quilters on Youtube.
Figure 5: Two methods I tried for the appliques. The top one didn’t work; the bottom one did.
The freezer paper method worked EXTREMELY well, such that I was able to finish the appliques that same day! I used the freezer paper to create crisp fold edges while ironing, and then I carefully snipped the turned-over edge and held it in place with Wonder Tape.
Figure 6: Ironing the applique edges to get a crisp fold.
Figure 7: Turning over the snipped edges of the applique and using Wonder Tape to keep them down.
Here’s the final result of my appliques, pinned in place to my jacket WIP. My soul gem is also pinned in place to make sure the size is proportional.
Figure 8: Finished appliques, pinned in place
I topstitched these pieces down EXTREMELY carefully, and thus finished the appliques! This was exactly the look I wanted and I’m extremely pleased with how everything turned out.
Figure 9: Appliques, topstitched on
After all of this, I needed to make progress on other pieces for Kyoko, so I switched gears and worked on the skirt! I already knew it needed to be “magical girl short”, so I was pretty much able to jump into cutting the skirt right away. I used a discontinued Casa Satin color in a lovely shade of rose pink. The pattern was extremely easy: I started with a rectangle and put a box pleat in the middle. On each side of the box pleat, I did knife pleats facing towards the outside. These met up at the back of the skirt, where I inserted an invisible zipper. Finally, I finished the skirt with a self-drafted curved waistband.
Figure 8: Skirt WIP and finished product
After the skirt, I made her hairbow. It’s our Cosmic Coterie Venus Hairbow Pattern shrunk to 60% of its original size. It’s made of black Casa Satin, and I hand-sewed an alligator clip to the knot to be able to clip it into my wig. While working on the bow, I also made the wrist cuffs and finished those completely, save for sewing on the buttons. I didn’t get pictures of the cuffs in progress, so here’s just the bow:
Figure 9: Hairbow WIP
Kyoko’s arm warmers were similarly simple – I took a piece of scrap spandex which Space Cadet pinned to my arm and marked for me, and then used this as a pattern. The arm warmers were made of a grey matte moleskin fabric with 4-way stretch. The Geeky Seamstress had some leftover from a previous project and she generously let me have it for Kyoko. I left the side near the wrist raw, since spandex doesn’t fray, and finished the top with some silicone-backed elastic that The Geeky Seamstress also let me use. I used a serger to sew the single seam pinned below:
Figure 10: Arm warmer WIP
Next, I worked on the black top. I decided to make it strapless so that it wouldn’t interfere with the cutout on the jacket or the angled-in armscyes. The top was a pretty quick piece to make, but I was under a lot of pressure at the time, so I made it EXTREMELY quickly. I took the shoulder princess seam pattern that I drafted at the very beginning of this project, made a copy of it that I modified as I wished, and did one very quick mockup before cutting into my final fabric. The top was made of black Casa Satin, lined with black china silk, and was finished with white purchased bias tape. The white swirls were cut from white vinyl and topstitched on. The top was also reinforced with a little bit of Rigilene boning, and I put in a zipper at the back.
Figure 11: Finished black top, from the front and back
Finally, I had to make boot covers before I returned to finishing the jacket. I made the pattern and cut out the pieces from vinyl I had in my stash, and The Geeky Seamstress did me a huge favor by sewing them together for me and attaching them to my boots. They turned out super pretty and I’m so grateful for her help! The boots have a “lining” made of the same rose china silk as the red jacket, to help me slip my foot in and out easier.
Figure 12: Cutting out the vinyl for the boot covers
The Race to the Finish Line
With the other pieces done, I was finally able to get back to finishing the jacket. If you recall from earlier, I left the jacket as separate lining and fashion pieces, with the appliques stitched on. I hadn’t made the ruffles or collar yet.
(Full disclosure, I didn’t finish this 100% until around noon on the day of our photoshoot on Saturday at A-kon 2017. This was because I was also making Madoka’s bodice and bows, and that project consumed me such that I was unable to finish my own cosplay on time. It was a really rough end of the road for my Kyoko build, but here’s how I finished…)
First, I had to draft the collar pattern and attach it. This wasn’t especially difficult, but it’s stressful to do anything during crunch time. After working on the collar, I attached the lining to the fashion layer at the armscyes and finished the raw edges with purchased white bias tape.
Figure 13: Sewing bias tape onto the collar to finish it.
Next, I had to create the keyhole cutout in the front of the jacket. I did this by finishing the edges of a piece of white peachskin fabric, stitching it to the right side of the keyhole, and then cutting out the middle and flipping it. The finished part of the peachskin piece is then used as a sort of “facing” for the keyhole, and makes the edge clean and finished.
Figure 14: How I did the keyhole. The first image is the “facing” stitched onto the right side, the second is the finished look.
So at this point, it was literally Friday morning of A-kon and my dear Coterie teammates as well as my friend Morgan were scrambling to help me finish on time. The Geeky Seamstress cut and serged pieces of peachskin for my ruffles, and Morgan did me a solid by sewing the white buttons on the jacket and wrist cuffs for me while I pinned ruffles. I seriously could not have done it without their help and I am so grateful to have amazing friends help me when other things took my time from me.
This was Kyoko as of Friday evening of A-Kon (please don’t mind the pink petticoat on my dress form):
Figure 15: When your cosplay is so close to being finished, yet still so far…
It looks like there’s not a whole lot left, but unfortunately I still had to sew the ruffles on (you can see that they’re only pinned on in the photo), and had yet to add the “smaller” ruffles to the gap. In the reference art, they sort of resemble the draping on curtains, but I couldn’t seem to make them look very nice due to the panic of trying to finish on time and the lack of leftover peachskin fabric. Therefore, I made them as smaller ruffles instead, and I’m actually pleased with how cute they looked, even though it’s not “accurate”.
I managed to do all of that on Saturday morning, and then rushed to the con just in time to squeak into our photoshoot. I snapped a couple of selfies later that day just to have documented the progress of the brand-new cosplay!
Figure 16: Kyoko – finished!!! Please don’t mind my upside-down soul gem, it was a rough morning LOL.
There’s a few minor things I’d like to tweak on Kyoko, but overall I’m very happy with the finished cosplay, and I’m really glad I waited to make her until my sewing skills improved. She’d always been my favorite Madoka Magica girl, and I feel super accomplished that I finally finished her, after having been planning her since 2014.
Figure 17: Full shot of my Kyoko from Animefest 2017. Photo by BTSEphoto.
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