Well, Dragon Con has come and gone, giving me a little more free time to get stuff done. Including this blog. Until I have to start getting ready for NYCC, at least. I’m not doing anything official there, besides networking with other comic creators, doing some simple cosplay and experiencing my first industry con.
Today though, I’m going to do something a little different. My cosplay is usually never super complicated, so I never want to talk about my process on it because it doesn’t feel super interesting. However, I’ve had such a trip with this latest one that I busted my ass on that I feel like I have to talk about it.
Ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between: meet the Bálor Dress.
As many of you know and have seemingly put up with, I got into pro-wrestling this year. It’s been an extremely cathartic thing for me, especially during the more mentally stressful times. I have lots of wrestlers I love (most of them being the Divas division), but there is one wrestler who makes me smile any time he’s on: Finn Bálor.Ever since I watched my first Takeover back in May and saw Finn come out dressed as a dragon and jumped from the titantron to take out Tyler Breeze, he automatically made it onto my list of favorites. Getting to watch him more and seeing that documentary NXT did about him just cemented him at the top of the list. His style in ring, his confident but relaxed presence, his love of LEGO, that smile, and just his creativity in creating a memorable character. It’s hard not to smile when he’s on my TV. He was the reason I was absolutely spent on the 4th of July because I stayed up all night to watch his match with Kevin Owens in Tokyo where he won the NXT Championship. (Worth it, btw.)
What caught my attention about him in the first place though is that character of The Demon, the dark side of Finn that comes out in the big matches. Yeah, it’s obviously a bit of makeup, but just the way he sinks into that character is amazing.
Which brings it back to my main inspiration.
It was getting to be crunch time a few weeks before Dragon Con and I had not started on ANY of my planned costumes. I figured I could still pull off Amaterasu from The Wicked + The Divine (spoiler alert: I did) and I had already gotten the bright idea to cosplay Becky Lynch, but I had to dump the Bitch Planet inmate and the Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling version of The Undertaker costumes I had wanted to do.
However, I was looking at Artsy Hobbitses adorable wrestling hijabi fanart on Tumblr, which included one of Finn’s demon. I looked at the fabric I was planning on using for the coat for Taker that was going to be for a Morrigan cosplay (WicDiv, not Dragon Age) before that and a Steampunk cape before that. I put that next to my red fabric left over from my Captain Marvel camera bag and something clicked…
I could totally make a dress that looks like Finn’s demon makeup. That’s not too hard, right?
Getting it together
Yeah, I sometimes overestimate my own skills. The fact I got this all done in a week and a half surprises me even more than the fact it looks pretty damn good all things considered.
Part of the problem with this is that I’m not an artist in the drawing sense of the term, so parts of the dress were kind of nebulous until I started working on them. I know I wanted it to have a wide skirt and a hood. I know I wanted to illustrate the idea of teeth on there as well as the red vein designs that run up a lot of the demon designs. I know I wanted to wear my Mary Janes with it. Other than that, I was kind of stumped, but figured I’d work it out as I went along. That’s how my Killjoys costume worked out anyway.
I already had the patterned black fabric and the red fabric like I already mentioned, but I knew it wasn’t going to be enough to get a hood as well, so I ended up buying a little bit more from Fabric World in Stone Mountain, GA. The picture doesn’t really show it here, but the other red fabric I got is lighter and more textured, so I ended up using more of it to give the dress more pop. I also found that lace, which I though looked enough like teeth to work well with the overall idea. The black fabric I bought for the hood doesn’t match the fabric for the dress, but I got an idea late in the game to cover that fact up, but more on that in a bit.
I also bought what ended up being my best friend and my worst enemy in this project: Heat’n Bond adhesive. Oh my god, I don’t think I would have survived this project without it. You can buy it by yard sheets, iron it onto your fabric and cut out shapes from there. Be careful though because it will melt if it goes beyond the 8 seconds you apply it (as I learned with my Carol Corps top that is also its own wrestling related in-joke) or stick to your ironing board cover and never come off if you’re using less than a yard and you’re not careful.
The dress pattern itself is actually a chimera of two. After searching Etsy and Pintrest for swing and skater dress patterns, I settled on Kitschy Coo’s Lady Skater dress pattern, which is more meant for jersey fabric, more intermediate sewers, and smaller women probably, but I improvised. As for the hood, I was unsatisfied with tutorials of tracing around one of my hoodies and making one that way because it wasn’t dramatic enough. Then I remembered that I still had Fleece Fun’s Red Riding Hood Cape pattern printed out from when I made my Steampunk Lady Loki costume a few years ago and it has a BIG, DRAMATIC hood. I used that instead.
As for the sleeves, you can buy those at the WWE shop. They are literally the only official merch in this endeavor.
Sew, Sew, Sew
I’ve had a few people ask if I bought the dress, then ironed the designs on. Man, how easy that could have been.
This is kind of where I wish that Kitschy Coo also had video tutorials of their patterns because while the written instructions were generally okay, there were a few parts I had trouble translating what they were trying to say and couldn’t quite understand the diagram. I’m also glad I didn’t go beyond the cap sleeves because I would not have had enough fabric.
The pattern itself is not overly complicated. There are two bodice pieces and one skirt piece that you cut twice, sleeve pieces and patterns for neckbands and arm bands. I wish it had been made a little more clear where the line actually was supposed to be for the bodice because the largest size actually ended up being kind of small on me and I had to improvise bolts. If you look carefully up the sides, you can see that there are four seams on each side of the bodice instead of one. The skirt turned out okay because I may or may not have left on an extra inch from where it was supposed to be cut. Again, not certain. I think there was also some disproportion for the neck and arm bands, but that could have possibly been printer error.
Speaking of neck bands, that was easily the most stress I have had over a simple thing in a while. Where I mentioned having issues translating what the instructions were trying to say, most of it came from trying to understand what exactly needed to be done with the neckband. I think I actually stepped away from the project for about two hours because I just couldn’t figure it out. I finally had an epiphany and got it done, but that’s seriously where a video tutorial could have helped.
The undersides of the sleeves also ended up being a bit of a pain as a consequence of the bodice bolting and the arm bands being short. After trying, failing, and trying again, I finally just patched it with extra black fabric and called it a day.
Once that was all sorted out, it was easy as sewing up the sides and making sure it fit okay.
My roommate Sharon was also a godsend in helping me getting this dress hemmed and bias taped. I put the dress on over my clothes and stood for her for fifteen minutes as she went and made sure the dress was going to have an even hem, which made taping the dress so much easier.
The hood itself was probably the easiest part, even if I was a bit short on fabric. After a quick go over or five with the video tutorial from Fleece Fun to make sure I didn’t screw it up, I sewed the hood together, including the lace to make the “teeth” look more natural with the hood instead of slapped on at the last second.
After that, I sewed the hood onto the dress, which included a fair amount of cursing and seam ripping as I made sure I got it right. I then attached more lace along the collar of the dress to give it a seamless look with the hood.
For about 48 hours, I had a respectable dress.
Then it was time to make it demonic.
The Demon’s in the Details
This was easily the most fun/most exhaustive part of this project.
Using references from every instance of the Demon and the arm sleeves as my guide, I got started on getting the designs cut out. I eventually settled on a dragon design on the back, finding a simple wing and tail cutout on the internet to base it on. As my mom cleverly spotted, the tail is actually based on Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon because I couldn’t find another tail design that I liked that translated easily to fabric.
Using most of what I had left of the red fabric from the inside of the hood, I ironed it onto a sheet of Heat’n Bond and then sat on the floor of my kitchen and cut out the wings, the tail, the scales, and an inordinate amount of red vein designs. The back got ironed on first just so I had a sense of what to work around. This is probably where I decided I could do a Bombshells Batwoman next year, but that’s neither here nor there.
After that, it was hours of standing in front of an ironing board, placing the appliqués and getting it bonded onto the fabric. I got most of this done in one night, working from about 8:15 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. with a couple of breaks to talk to my mom and just breathe. I picked up work the next day, rebonding some pieces, adding more, and putting a few on the hood for extra details.
In the space of about a day, this took the dress to about 90% done.
To take a break from this before it was finished (and because I had run out of Heat’n Bond), I decided to add a rag doll style trim at the bottom to make it look more ragged and to give more length to it. With more scrap fabric and even more bias tape, I flipped between the sewing machine and the ironing board to sew it together, sew it on, pin more bias tape onto those edges to make it pop, and then sewing that on.
Probably the most fun part was adding the details onto the dragon back. Using leftover black fabric from this dress and some white from my Amaterasu costume, I used more Heat’n Bond to create veins and spikes on the back. Once again, Sharon was a great help with getting the definition of this dress right. I had the hardest time getting the spikes to look right, so I asked for her opinion and she mentioned using the black to give it a shadow. This turned out pretty great in the end, giving a more 3D look from the 20 feet rule. I also added extra bits of bias tape between the “scales” to help it inhabit more space.
After that, the last little detail was ironing what was left from the red veins onto the black fabric on the trim and like that, the dress itself was done.
But there were still a few things left.
Accessories Bring It Together
As I mentioned before, I had already had my shoes picked out and I had socks I could use before my Sock Dreams order with a petticoat and stockings with lace up red ribbons arrived. I ordered cheap earrings from Miss A, but with everything else, I had to make as well.
The first was making a bag for my stuff because my beloved Ramona Flowers bag is too bright for a demon. Using scrap fabric from this project and one other, I made a hobo bag using Fleece Fun’s Quick Sew Hobo pattern. It’s a bit smaller than I would have liked, but it fit my water bottle, my wallet, my phone, and a couple of other things, which is really all I needed to get around con. I also added a tie to keep it closed and ironed on more cut outs to make it match my dress. You can’t see it here in the photo, but I also added lace to the bottom of the pockets for a more toothy appearance.
Believe it or not, but I had to do the last two parts while I was sick with a freak viral infection two days before Dragon Con. I don’t recommend it, but the show must go on.
The first part was making a necklace. Feeling remiss that I couldn’t incorporate the mythical Eye of Bálor on the dress itself, I settled for the next best thing: putting it into the necklace. Even better, I did it with LEGO. Using a couple of slope pieces, an Eye of Sauron minifig head, $1 wire from Walmart and superglue, I crafted a pendant. It’s not my best work, but I still kind of love it just because it’s a weird little inside joke about hobbies and mythology. Plus, weird little details that no one else would notice or get are my favorite kind.
Next came the headpiece, which made me finally learn the phrase “tubular crinoline.” After having some ill-fated luck with the company I ordered from shipping incomplete and late, I ended up finding some similar stuff at Walmart called “Crafty Cord.” It was a lot skinnier, which helped give it more definition. Using a simple stretchy headband, I sewed on a bunch of the crin along with some ribbon, what was left of the lace and a bit of scrap fabric. I probably added more definition than what’s on the actual demon headpiece, but at this point, I was less going for accuracy and more for interpretation and just getting it done because I was so sick and the con was the next day.
The Big Payoff
After getting this all done and doing a basic makeup test, I FINALLY revealed what I had been working on online. It had gotten a pretty good reaction from my friends and I went to bed that night to sleep off the rest of the infection.
The next morning, Twitter had absolutely blown up on me and in my fog, I couldn’t figure out why.
Until I traced back to Finn Bálor’s Twitter…
As you could imagine, I had kind of freaked out. I’ve been retweeted by a couple of the NXT wrestlers before. Charlotte retweeted me wearing her shirt, which caused me to become friends with comics writer Tres Dean, and Becky Lynch retweeted my costume of her, but this was different. I had just busted my ass for a week and a half on this dress and to get noticed by the man behind The Demon was exciting to say the least. I couldn’t take too much time to celebrate though because I still had to pack for con.
At the con itself, reaction was kind of what I expected. Only my friends who knew what I was doing referred to what the costume was (Tini Howard even called me ‘Finn Bálor’ on multiple occasions) and I got several “I have no idea what you are, but that looks awesome,” which gave me a chance to talk about Finn and NXT to people who didn’t know. And go into the process behind the dress, of course. I got referred to as Harley Quinn twice, which was weird. One was a basic question, the other was a drunk guy going “WOOOO HARLEY QUINN!” at me and then doing this weird wink when I told him I wasn’t Harley Quinn.
People at Dragon Con are weird, y’all.
The real payoff though was this past weekend when I drove down to Gainesville, Florida for an NXT house show.
That was a bit nerve-wracking. While I know I had worked very hard on the dress and got a good, if confused, response at Dragon Con, my anxiety flared up about wearing it around wrestling fans. Even though I KNEW they’d get it, there was a worry that they wouldn’t or would just give me the side eye.
The first thing that took that truly took that anxiety away? Izzy, Bayley’s biggest fan, came running up to me and told me that she liked my outfit. I swear, my heart and my constant anxiety buddy melted away as she said that and I asked her for a high five. In that moment, that meant more to me than I can even put words to. Everyone else could have hated it, but god, Izzy thought I was cool.
Luckily, that was just the first part in a series of greatness that night. Not only did I get a ton of compliments from other people, I actually got compliments from other wrestlers. Carmella complimented me on how great I looked (be still, my heart) and I got to tell her how much I love seeing her on my TV. Cass told me it was “excellent” and Enzo Amore went “I take it your a Finn Bálor fan? Just a guess” and asked me what I thought of the ladder match between Bálor and Kevin Owens.
The night itself was excellent as well. Mojo Rawley and Elias Sampson had a ridiculous opening match that opened with Mojo paying Elias a dollar to play guitar while he danced, I got to witness Solomon Crowe as a heel, the future greatness of Nia Jax, and the amazing team of Baymella, and I got to watch my favorite wrestler from the second row as he hit the Coup de Grace on two people at once. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what happened, but the whole thing was worth it.
After it was over, a bunch of us hung around to wait on the roster like after a concert. Izzy’s parents too sweeted me as they left, I said quiet hellos to Emma and Dana Brooke and complimented Solomon Crowe on his match with Apollo Crews that night. Also, does William Regal have a relative that works for the performance center? Because a dead ringer for him back in his early career said I looked like the lead singer of a London punk band from the 80s and I cannot remember the name to save my life.
I was having nice conversations with one family that was there with their kids (which included a girl dressed as Tyler Breeze), but between the rain and people thinking that some of the wrestlers may have walked out the back, I was about ready to give up for the night.
Until a woman came running up to me and said “Finn just walked out!”
I pretty much booked it a couple hundred feet in Mary Janes.
For a second, I felt terrible because I was shouting “Finn! Finn!” to get his attention and I’m sure he just wanted to go home, but he stopped, turned and exclaimed “OH MY GOD!” when he saw me. I apologized for stopping him, but I think he had even forgotten that for a second as I walked up to him. I’ve mentioned before when telling this story after it happened that we were both kind of staring at each other in awe because he’s my favorite wrestler and I just showed up wearing a dress based on his makeup. My heart nearly leaped out of my chest when he said “Holy shit, you look amazing” and “I didn’t know you were going to be here!” Shaking a little, I asked if I could get a picture with him and he gladly acquiesced, putting his bag away first like a true gentleman. I put my blaring pink umbrella off to the side and give my biggest smile. Lucky for me, he did the same.
After he checked with me to see that it came out okay, he gave me a big hug. I didn’t ask him. He offered. I don’t get many moments where I feel like I can stick my tongue out at my anxiety, but that hug was one of them.
I thanked him for the picture and stopping to chat with me and he thanked me for coming out and the dress, which he still seemed in awe of. I told him he was my favorite, so it felt appropriate to me. He thanked me for that too. It was nice.
We parted ways so he could talk to other fans and I just made high pitched noises that I accidentally recorded and sent to my best friend. The cherry on top of all of this though was Finn leaned out the window of the car as he was leaving and told everyone good night and to drive safe.
Finn Bálor is so good, you guys. If he didn’t already have top status in my eyes before that night, just seeing how kind and legitimately excited he was about a fan showing him something creative inspired by him would have done it. I know he talks about how shy he is outside of the ring, but the way he’s encouraged creativity in his fans online and feeds off of it is truly inspiring. He may play a demon on TV, but his attitude and excitement says otherwise. I hope our paths cross again, but if not, I’m glad I got this experience out of all possible ones.
After that, I went back to the cabin I was staying at, wiped my makeup off, got undressed, ate crappy pizza before I went to bed, and rolled my eyes at a friend who responded to my picture with Finn on Facebook with “That’s not John Cena.” I drove back to Atlanta the next day, marveling at all the bizarre billboards, still feeling in awe of the night before. At work on Monday, I proudly wore my new Bálor Club t-shirt, feeling like the phrase had taken on new meaning outside of just being a spin on the Bullet Club.
I’m not saying this happens with every cosplay. Hell, out of all the cosplay I’ve done, I’ve really only had a small number of reactions from creators of those characters. But to work this hard on something in the space of two weeks and to get such a great reaction from creator, it makes every ripped seam, every weird improvisation, and every “Um… who are you?/Are you Harley Quinn?” worth it and then some.
Besides, I think I’m starting to get good at this cosplay thing. I could stop now after this, but why would I want to?
Thank you, Finn. Thank you, NXT. Thank you everyone who helped or encouraged me on this. This won’t be the last you see of this dress. Not by a long shot. With this much work and this much love, I can’t let this stay on a hanger forever. Especially with Halloween right around the corner…