Floating straps that move with you instead of trapping you

Floating straps look really cool, but the problem is they float and real life doesn’t always work that way. You could feasibly attempt to wrap yourself in them, but 5 minutes into the con, they’re likely falling down already. So like with most things in cosplay, you fake it.

Adrift Camilla from Fire Emblem Heroes. She has a lot of straps crossing her midsection and hanging down the dress.
The Adrift skins in FEH use a ton of straps

I’ve encountered floating straps before, but my recent Fire Emblem Heroes cosplay demanded a lot more straps than I usually make. I needed something that moved with me and could handle stretch fabric. I also didn’t want to feel trapped within the straps while wearing it.

Fortunately, with just a few simple tricks, some hand sewing, and cotton strap fabric, you can make floating straps for nearly any cosplay you need. Cotton and polycotton work best as you’ll want to steam iron it flat, and it also bends and moves with the natural curves of your body. You can also get away with pure polyester. Just make sure it is middle-weight fabric.

Skill level: beginner friendly for both machine and hand-sewing techniques

Cost: relatively budget-friendly

Materials:

  • cotton, polycotton, or polyester middle-weight fabric for straps. The longer the straps, the longer your fabric needs to be. Straps can be cut along the grain or the crossgrain so it will depend upon the length.
  • Muslin or scrap fabric
  • Ruler. Yardstick, clear ruler, or tailor’s ruler will work. You’ll need them for drawing out the straps on the fabric.
  • Tape measure
  • Matching thread
  • Universal machine sewing needle
  • Hand sewing needle
  • Straight pins
  • Pinking shears (recommended)
  • Fabric scissors
  • Steam iron and ironing board (or thick towel or mat)
  • Large safety pins
  • Twine, thick string, or similar stringy things
  • Contrasting thread for contrast designs (optional)
  • Clear or open-toe sewing machine foot (optional for stitched details)

Planning

With anything custom-made, you need a plan of action. And before you dive into the good fabric, you want to make a template or a test version first. Muslin or random scrap fabric works best for this. Paper templates generally won’t wrap around the body or dress form well enough for testing, so fabric is king here.

Strips of muslin fabric crisscrossing over a halter dress on a dress form
Planning the straps with muslin

Figuring out the width of the straps is where most of your guestimation will be in this process. Since most of us aren’t anime or video game-shaped, you need to find a good balance between the straps on your body to the proper spacing to match the character designs.

A 1½” strap is generally a good starting point. This width is relatively easy to sew and is a good width to fake a strap or a belt. You can go larger for wider designs but going smaller than 1″ will give you problems when turning the straps right-side out.

As the straps aren’t load-bearing, you can cut them along the grain or crossgrain. You don’t need any stretch in the straps, so no need to cut them along the bias. To save fabric and costs, you can cut them along the crossgrain. 45″ straps will get you pretty far.

Cut out as many muslin straps as are required for your cosplay. If it wraps around the back, cut two straps so you can separate them along the back seam or the zipper line. For Camilla, that was a total of 4 long straps to mimic her crisscross design with a gap in the back.

Once you have all your straps, put the cosplay on a dress form or yourself and start laying the straps out along the cosplay. Use pins as needed for the planning. This step doesn’t need to be exact with placement, but it should be close enough to give you a good idea of what the final version will look like.

Once you’re happy with the placement, mark the strap where you’d like it to end. Take a tape measure and measure the length of each strap. Add about 5″ to each measurement to allow for seam allowance and discrepancies in measurements.

Making the straps

Once you figure out the width of the strap, you’ll need to add a seam allowance before you can cut them out. Standard allowance is usually 5/8″ but doubling that is kind of a pain. Instead the easiest way is to use a 1/2″ seam allowance, making the total seam allowance added total to 1″

So if you have 1½” straps + 1″ seam allowance, cut 2½” straps from your fabric. Make sure to cut both a front and back for each strap.

Once you have the strap fabric cut out, sew the front and back together using a ½” seam allowance (how much space between the seam and the raw edge of the fabric) on both sides of the strip. Only sew the long sides and not the short ones. We need those open.

To turn the straps right-side out and iron them, follow this guide on an easy method to do so with some twine and safety pins: Turning long tubes of fabric right-side out the easy way

Adding stitched details

After you’ve turned and flattened the straps, you might have a design with line details. Unless you’re working with striped fabric, you’ll need to make these stripes yourself. The easiest method to add lines is to stitch them with thread.

Camilla's artwork showing the lines beside the final stitched straps in the cosplay.
Camilla’s artwork with the finished stitched straps

To make sure your lines are even, a tailor’s ruler is most useful as it has distances marked in small slots. Since my straps are 1½” wide, I marked every ¼” using the tailor’s ruler as a guide.

A tailor's ruler, showing common measurements and widths
A tailor’s ruler with common tailoring measurements marked

If you don’t have a tailor’s ruler, a clear ruler and a yardstick can work just fine.

A pile of straps with stitched lines in a contrasting purple

Once you have the lines marked out, stitch along the lines using a clear or open-toe foot so you can see your work as you sew. Use a contrasting thread so the stitches are visible against the base fabric color. Follow the lines closely to make sure your stitches are even.

Keep stitching until you’ve sewn all your lines and decorated your straps. If you have a lot of straps like Camilla, this might take a bit, but believe me, the detailing is worth it.

Pinning the straps

Now that your straps are pressed and detailed, it’s time to attach them. If you have multiple crisscrossing and layered straps, you want to work in sets or pairs at a time to make it easier to work with. For Camilla, she has an upper pair of straps that tucks under a lower pair, so I worked on the upper pair first.

Before the pinning begins, you’ll want to secure the strap to the back of the cosplay. If you do a lot of work by yourself, you can’t really reach that spot, so securing it first is key to preventing slippage while you work.

I have a zipper in the back of my dress, and if you do, clip the edges with pinking shears then turn it underneath, sewing it down and giving it a good press.

Back of the strap sewn next to the zipper.

As Camilla’s straps appear to wrap around the back and cross in the front, both straps from the same pair were sewn down to work at the same time.

Once you have the back secured as needed, it’s time to try the cosplay on or slip it on a body double. You only need to pin in key locations to make the floating straps appear to float. Sewing the whole strap down takes a lot of time and can lose a little bit of flexibility or stretch, leaving you feeling trapped within the straps. So for movability, just key points are best. Your main key points are

  • Along seam lines of the cosplay like the side seam
  • The top or bottom of a curve
  • Where two straps crisscross
  • The endpoint of a strap

As your straps are longer than you likely need, pinning the endpoint is important so you can trim it and sew it down. The rest of the points are places and locations where a lot of movement may happen or are details you want to stay in place.

General pinning

When pinning, you need 1-2 pins at each point. If the point can wiggle like a crisscross, you want two for stability. Along the seams or curves can generally work with one.

A single pin near the top of a curve
Pin near a seam at the top of a curve,

When pinning, pinch the cosplay fabric and the strap then pull it just slightly away from your body. This keeps you from stabbing yourself while you work. Slip the pin into the fabric then fold the fabric just enough to push the fabric out. Quilting pins will be easiest to do this with as they are extra long.

In general, always pin perpendicular to the strap and not parallel to it.

Pinning a crisscross

When making a crisscross, you want to tack the two straps together to ensure they don’t move and shift while you’re wearing the cosplay.

Straps crossed over each other then pinned together.

When pinning a crisscross, pin the two straps together and not to the cosplay. This will allow the crisscross to move with you but not to a point where the crisscross ends up in the wrong location. Pin them together with the pins perpendicular to the top strap and use two pins to keep them from moving.

Tucking a tail

Tucking a tail under another strap works pretty similarly to making a crisscross. Position the top strap where the edge of the lower strap will be near the center of the strap.

A top strap is pinned over another strap, the edge of the lower strap marked in red
Lower strap edge marked in red to show how it tucks underneath the other strap

Use two pins to ensure the upper strap doesn’t move. Pin them perpendicular to the upper strap, pinning all the way through the dress fabric. This strap needs to not move else the edge of the lower strap may peek out.

Tacking the straps down

You can’t go to a con with pins stuck in your straps, so it’s time to break out the hand sewing needle and some thread and tack the straps down at the points you pinned. There are a few stitches you can use – whip stitch, blind stitch, even a ladder stitch – but to fake it, you can use a regular old straight tacking stitch. It’s one of the most basic stitches you learn with hand sewing, and it will get you far.

Likely the straps weren’t ironed with the seam completely at the edge (it’s honestly hard to pull it all the way out) and we’re going to use that to our advantage. You sew along that inner edge inside the overlapping sides and hide your stitches.

Straight stitches hidden inside the ironed edge.

Thread your needle with matching thread and start your stitch behind the strap or behind the cosplay fabric itself. Do a couple of straight stitches along that inner edge, hiding your stitches inside. The stitches don’t have to be exactly even to make this work. Stitch a few straight stitches then knot your thread and snip it.

For most of the straps, stitch along the top edge only, allowing the bottom edge to float against your body. This allows for greater movement and prevents any bunching that may happen if you shift in a way that the strap doesn’t want to.

For crisscrosses and for straps hiding the tail, sew both the top and bottom edges to ensure these straps do not shift and show edges you don’t want.

So what about the tail? It depends on where the tail sits.

If the tail is a finished edge like at a back seam or along a seamline, trim the edge with pinking shears then tuck it under, sewing the tail down much like you did with the back edge along the zipper or back seam.

If the tail is hidden, clip the edge with pinking shears to prevent fraying and sew the tail down as is. Optionally you can tuck the edge under before sewing it down.

finished straps showing how much give they have.
They have a lot of give, which works great with movement

I hope this helps you with making your straps float and move with your body without tugging on the cosplay underneath. With floating straps like this, you have no visible stitches, and you have a much smaller risk of popping a stitch if you shift in a panel chair or decide to go out to the rave that night. They have a lot of give and flexibility and move with you.

You can decorate the straps further with accents or beads or even trim, hang something off it like your con badge, or simply leave them as is.

Let me know how your floating straps go. @ me on social media so I can admire your work.

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