The Great Glue Review: The Best Glues and Adhesives for Costume Making
It’s no secret that I almost never use a sewing machine–we’ve talked about it on many podcast episodes. I’m just not that great at sewing, but I love using glues and adhesives.
My mother was. She used to make all kinds of clothing for me, my siblings, my dolls. She’s a sewing wizard. Why I didn’t learn from her as a child, God only knows. But I do love making costumes—for Burlesque performances, for Halloween, for random Tuesdays when I feel like being a bit “extra” and freaking people out. So, I have had to develop a relative mastery of all the ways I can make costumes that will actually function and last without a sewing machine.
And not just costumes, but props, too. I literally cannot remember the last time I actually sewed anything. Well, I take that back, I do occasionally hand-sew ribbon and such to corsets or more delicate materials, usually because I want the option to later use a seam-ripper and restore the costume piece for use in another costume, but generally speaking, I glue everything.
Over the course of many (I’d rather not list how many exactly) years of costuming, I had compiled a list of some of my favorite glues and adhesives and what I use them for. Here is that list:
Is there anything as magnificent as hot glue? Maybe a dual-temperature hot glue? *Swoon* I use hot glue for almost everything. I should buy stock in hot glue. Every year, I probably go through two-hundred sticks of hot glue over a single Halloween season, more if I’m making props. And I probably own half a dozen hot glue guns.
What do I use it for? Literally everything.
- Need a hem? Hot glue!
- Applique? Hot glue!
- Custom patches? Hot glue!
If you look closely at any costume I own, you will see at least some element of hot glue activity. Why? Because it’s fast, effective, and actually rather forgiving, depending on the fabric. I made a lamp-shade costume and was actually able to peel the hot glue away and reapply it when I got the seams wrong. One other thing I use hot glue for is to set items while I wait for the more permanent glues to dry. I don’t own a lot of clamps and I’m certainly not going to hold something for twenty-four hours until it sets, so I often use a combination of hot glue and whatever other glue as a setting agent. This works especially well for larger props and outdoor items.
Do I have a favorite hot glue? Not really. Whatever is on sale because I go through it faster than a bottle of wine at a Cabaret & Cocktails rehearsal (that’s fast).
Downsides: Uh, it’s called hot glue for a reason and I have definitely burned the crap out of myself and melted my fair share of fabrics and materials. That’s why I rely mostly on the cooler settings so I can still function if I touch the tip (that’s what she said). Beware, hot glue can also re-melt if you leave it in a hot car and live in a warmer climate (hello, Texas and Hawaii).
Pro Tip: I love using hot glue to fake decorative stitching and, of course, dripping accents like candle wax, etc.
This dress is made from hot glue, fabric glue, and a dream. Headdress? Hot Glue. Gold trim? Hot glue. Blue overlay skirt? Fabric glue and ribbon. Sleeve details? I didn’t even glue those – just cut some holes and ran ribbon through them.
I’m not sure there is a burlesque performer or cosplay participant in the world who hasn’t accidentally OD’d on the fumes from this glue gem. It has all the benefits of super glue, without the fast-acting annoyance of inevitably gluing my fingers together or to the costume. This is an absolute must for attaching rhinestones to just about anything. I tried using hot glue for that once, but it was too globby and didn’t last long enough when fabric movement was required (like say, in a costume).
Downsides: the fumes, obviously and this is a no-go for anything foam. I have eaten through some perfectly good props by not reading that fine print!
Pro Tip: Use a syringe filled with E6000 for more precise application for accents like rhinestones.
Another great one for all the jewels, gems, pearls, rhinestones, and general costume bling. I don’t use this one as much as E6000, but it’s still one I have in my arsenal.
I do love that this is waterproof, but man does it take forever to cure!
Downsides: It takes forever to dry and I’m dying inside.
Aleene’s Fabric Fusion Permanent Fabric Adhesive
This is a great, versatile option, but it is permanent, just like the label says, so don’t be an idiot. If you do make a mistake, you can wash the glue off with soapy water, but then you’ve just added several hours onto your process. Who has time for that?
What I like most about it is it’s great on a variety of fabrics and it won’t get all stringy. Even better, the fabric maintains a general amount of flexibility, even after washing, which is a huge plus for costume making—especially for burlesque since I usually wear those costumes over and over. Another favorite in Aleene’s collection is the Original Tacky Glue. It’s a lot like thick school glue, but it can work wonders for stiffening fabrics (like paper mache, but with fabric) because the adhesive actually works into the fabric fibers.
Downsides: Again, you will wait an eternity for it to fully cure. Sigh, I guess I’ll go watch some more Netflix.
I love Gorilla Glue! I use it for all sorts of random projects from foam props to even fabric adhesion. I will say that the Gorilla Glue made specifically for fabric is better (duh) at fabric projects, but you can use the original…because, honestly, how many containers of glue can I possibly buy?!
Downsides: the weird, slightly unpredictable expansion factor that leaves glue leaking from any visible seam.
Pro Tip: shave off the excess glue and sand it. Poof! The biggest downside is minimized.
Yup, it’s for exactly what it says—wood. Because the glue is actually made from sawdust (weird, right) it helps form a better bond from wood-to-wood surfaces, so it’s worth the extra expense if you have any wood elements either in your props, or your actual costume. It doesn’t have to be Gorilla Glue’s wood glue, but it’s a good one.
I won’t lie, I’ve had mixed experiences with spray adhesive. Generally speaking, it’s just not as strong a bond as I would like, but it does deliver such a smooth finish, especially if you are adhering paper to a surface (aka no bubbles). The trick is to make sure you are using a spray adhesive that is specifically designed for your project. 3M has a pretty nice collection:
- Hi-Strength 90, for heavier materials
- Rubber and Vinyl 80, obviously for use with rubber and vinyl
- Foam Fast 74, for fabric and foams
- Polystyrene Insulation 78, for expanding foam projects
Downsides: Overspray is a real issue. I once (okay, okay, many times) tried to use spray adhesive inside my apartment while costuming and crafting (and yes, I realize that is wrong on soooo many levels). And it just freaking gets everywhere, even if you place the smaller items in a box and spray into that box. Side note, I also tried this with spray paint inside my apartment. Same problems. Who knew a fine mist would coat literally everything?
Contact - Barge Cement
If you are gluing foam, like for those super-awesome cosplay costumes, then this is a staple in your craft closet! It’s best to apply glue to both sides, wait for it to become tacky, and then press the sides together. It’s way better than hot glue and will last much longer.
Downsides: The fumes are pretty intense. Crack a window, already!
Pro Tip: A lot of cements come with an applicator brush, but you’re going to want to get a bunch of super-cheap brushes to use for a more precise application. They will get ruined, though, so stick with the cheap stuff. This is where the Dollar Store really comes in handy.
Whoa. That’s a lot of glue. And I didn’t even touch on tape… mmmmm, tape. But that’s another blog post. What types of glue do you use in your costumes and props? I’d love to hear about it and get your tips! Halloween is coming…every year!
Disclaimer: Please do not use ANY of these adhesives on your skin. That’s another blog post, too!
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