Essential Tools

This As-Seen-On-TV Tool Will Transform You Into a Costume-Making Pro

October 12, 2016

As one of the world’s most difficult film directors (let’s call him Gary) started screaming “ALISON!!!!” repeatedly across a darkened soundstage, it occurred to me that I might have a medium-to-large sized problem on my hands. Whenever your name is being shouted at top volume in Hollywood, you can assume that good news is not about to be delivered.

Not-so-silently ruing the day I thought it sounded like great fun to pursue a career as a costume designer, I grabbed my wardrobe tool kit and ran towards the set to find our star actor (let’s call him George, and I don’t mean Clooney) standing on a mountain of fake prop trash with the hem completely torn out of his Gucci pants.

Our bored-looking director of photography sat on the ground, pointing his camera at the actor’s feet as Gary ranted at the sight of me: “FREER!!! I’M DOING A CLOSEUP ON GEORGE’S FEET AND HIS PANTS HEM IS RUINED, I NEED IT FIXED IN 60 SECONDS OR LESS!!” (He actually said something far more colorful, but let’s try to keep this little story moving along.)

I briefly considered asking Gary how exactly he expected anyone besides a magician to repair a pants hem in under a minute, but no good could possibly come of that. Instead, I pulled out my Micro Stitch and got to work. In under a minute (and with just a few clicks of the handle), I repaired my actor’s pants hem, the director stopped screaming at me, and the shot (along with my career, likely) was saved.

The Micro Stitch, along with the black and white tags that come with it (and what they look like once punched! Photo by James Ransom

The Micro Stitch is a clever little "As-Seen-on-TV" device that has become my go-to secret weapon to solve wardrobe disasters on set instantly. It’s basically a tagging gun that shoots miniature versions of the plastic bits that hold price tags on clothes at the store.

The Micro Stitch is a great stand-in when there’s zero time to break out a needle and thread—or if you just don’t have actual sewing skills in the first place! I’ve got sewing skills for days, but time is money in Hollywood—and most fixes need to happen on the fly while the stage lights are blazing and a crew of 100+ people stands around with nothing to do until you’ve solved the problem. Whipping out a sewing machine in this scenario isn’t an option.

But I use my Micro Stitch for way more than fallen hems: keeping bra straps tacked into place, closing the gap between buttons on a blouse you may be a bit too busty for, whipping up Barbie dresses out of random scraps of fabric to impress my five-year-old niece, securing scarves that want to come untied as I wear them around my neck, and quickly attaching patches to jean jackets. It’s the most brilliant way to anchor your comforters inside the duvet cover at each corner so it doesn’t fall down to one side. You can also use it to tack down your tablecloth edges so they don’t blow off the tables at outdoor event!

Punch between two fingers holding the fabric taut—taking great are not to poke yourself! Photo by James Ransom

Where the Micro Stitch really shines is at Halloween. You can instantly take in a too-big packaged costume (I don’t think those things ever fit anyone properly), turn a thrift-store rag into something else, or embellish an existing garment in your closet to turn it into a costume.

The plastic tags come in either black or white, last through multiple machine washings, and hold steady until you decide to pop or cut the tags off. Unless you are using the Micro Stitch on pure silk, it doesn’t leave telltale holes or marks, so your garment isn’t ruined when you remove the tags. And with a little practice, it’s possible to do an inside stitch that can’t be seen from the outside of your item.

A few things the Micro-Stitch can do for your Halloween costume:

Improve on a classic:

The classic last-minute toga or ghost costume made from a sheet is great in theory—but the truth is that you really need to tack it closed in certain places to keep it from falling off your body.

Before: Big ballooning sheet. After: A tailor-made ghost costume thanks to a dozen quick microstitches. Photo by James Ransom

Instantly alter a too-big costume in a bag:

Not knowing how to sew is no reason to be stuck with a poorly fitting pre-packaged costume. You can easily tack up a hem to keep from tripping or shorten a sleeve without ever busting out a needle and thread.

Turn what you've got in your closet into a costume:

Got a red dress? A bit of felt and some multi-colored pom poms from your child’s craft stash? Congrats—you’ve got yourself a gumball machine Halloween costume. And the best part? You can pop those faux gumballs off the next morning and wear the same dress straight to work if need be.

Hot tip: To get the plastic tag all the way through the two pieces of fabric you’re trying to attach together, be sure to insert the needle of the tool between two of your fingers and hold the fabric taut underneath before pulling the trigger. But beware—the Micro Stitch is crazy sharp, and not for use by children under any circumstances. Happy Halloween, y’all!

Alison Freer is the author of How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing.

What other As-Seen-On-TV tools do you secretly find brilliant? Tell us in the comments!

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20 Comments

judy October 26, 2016
I used to use this many years ago when I was a custom framer (I am since retired) for stretching fabric around a board. It is extremely sharp even when you know what you are doing. I hadn't thought about the impact these nibs had on the environment at the time but do now. Interesting article and comments. Thanks.
 
Erin H. October 26, 2016
Thank you for that information, Alison. I don't sew, beyond (very) occasional hemming and embroidery, so I make no claim to expertise. Would you say that discarded thread is as dangerous to birds and animals as sharp plastic bits or does its inherent fragility modify the curse of a polyester core?
 
Author Comment
Alison F. October 26, 2016
Oh gosh, I couldn't even fathom a guess. I'd have to think that you are correct, that thread is less bulky than a plastic bit (even though the the bobs that the Micro Stitch uses are TINY). My industry (the film & TV biz) is so wasteful. We create a lot of trash due to the sheer speed with which we are expected to work. And recycling of bottles and cans isn't even the norm on every set! It's actually kind of scandalous. I am actually a bit of a tree-hugger at home (reusable straws and containers and rags) so it makes me crazy to see it at work.
 
Erin H. October 26, 2016
The "I want one" impulse struck me, too. Many thanks to those of you who pointed out the peril to other living creatures. Stacking a few fabric stitches in the same spots would do the same job -- not as fast but quickly enough, and biodegradably.
 
Author Comment
Alison F. October 26, 2016
Sadly, all thread is not inherently biodegradable--most modern sewing thread is actually polyester or cotton wrapped around a polyester core!
 
Rareplais October 26, 2016
Years ago, there was a similar tool, called a "Buttoneer". It was magical for those emergency button repairs !
 
Alice October 26, 2016
Oooh, me and this thing go way back. Can't remember how many pairs of slippers and towels I had to put tags on, but this guy was my BFF. Apart from the times that the tags got stuck in the gun and I had to pull them out. We were enemies when that happened.
 
Rhonda35 October 16, 2016
I didn't even know this gadget existed - love it!
 
Ruth October 16, 2016
Echoing Phoebe...more tiny bits of plastic to end up in the ocean, and in the guts of animals, and in landfills, to wind up in the guts of birds. For crying out loud people! Stop already.
 
Ursula E. October 26, 2016
Really?<br />
 
Phoebe October 13, 2016
Help, aren't those little plastic bits an environmental disaster? Yikes.
 
Phyllis Y. October 12, 2016
I have one of these for basting quilts. Thanks for the other ideas!
 
Ali S. October 12, 2016
More more more, Alison!
 
Marla J. October 12, 2016
Where do I order this tool?
 
Author Comment
Alison F. October 12, 2016
They sell it on Amazon!
 
Marla J. October 13, 2016
tysm
 
PHIL October 12, 2016
Who is under the sheet?
 
Amanda S. October 12, 2016
A very kind Food52er who does not have "costume model" in her job description (though she was a sport about it under the condition that I didn't poke her with the Micro Stitch).
 
PHIL October 12, 2016
I guess it will remain a mystery. We use the commercial tack guns, I have stuck myself a few times. They are super sharp.
 
Amanda October 12, 2016
I want one.