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Tell us about your first cosplay experience. Who, what, where, when, and how did it go?

Well…when we were kids, my brother and I had a big bin full of old clothes that we’d use to play dress-up, and the first Halloween costume that I clearly remember was when I was a ‘geisha’ in kindergarten (more like a satin bathrobe and whiteface…*cringes*), and in high school I was one of the heads of the costume department for our school show…but I first discovered the fandom side of dressing up when I went to Anime North 1997. The con was just starting up at that time, and there wasn’t much to it, but there were already a few cosplayers, and I did my hair up like Devil Hunter Yohko. *lol* 

My debut, I suppose one could call it, was Anime North 1999, when my brother and friends and I did a big Slayers cosplay group. I was Naga, since I found her hilarious and could do the ear-shattering laugh with amazing accuracy, and it was certainly a learning experience. Like learning that it’s difficult to make a tight, form-fitting top with non-stretch fabric. *lol*  Or that plaster-strip can be useful for making armor, but it’s HEAVY. Or that a $10 Halloween wig will almost always look absolutely terrible. Anyway, one of our members had won an award the year before, so we were bumped up to the Journeyman level. Which was well enough, since we won Best Group Presentation and Best Workmanship for Armor. After that, I was pretty much hooked. J

In your adventures at various conventions, what are your observations on some of the differences and similarities between the types of events: sci-fi, comics, anime?

Before I started cosplaying, my best friend and I self-published a small-press comic book and did the comic-con circuit for a few years to promote and sell it, so I was familiar with comic cons. At that time, they were pretty much one big dealer’s room with very little else going on, mostly catering to (overwhelmingly male) comic collectors. You’d occasionally see somebody wandering around in costume, but they were definitely the exception. Nowadays, though, with the massive growth in anime con attendance, the other types of cons seem to be taking notice and integrating more fan- (and female-) friendly activities such as costume contests and discussion panels.

I haven’t been to very many U.S. anime cons due to the travel costs and the very large and supportive fan community up here in Canada (my con schedule is pretty much full just with local or near-local events), but overall, I’ve observed that anime cons, be they north or south of the border, tend to have a much younger age demographic. Most Sci-fi and Media cons have been running for decades, and they tend to run smoother and have a more laid-back atmosphere (due in part to the average maturity of the attendees; you won’t usually see hyperactive 14-year-olds whacking each other with yaoi paddles, for example, at your typical SF/media con). I’ve been slowly gravitating towards these types of cons over the past few years, partly because I’m not watching as much anime as I used to (I’ve been into anime for 11 years now, and having run an anime review site for years, I’ve seen more than 400 titles so a lot of stuff is just ‘been there, done that’ for me) and partly because I appreciate the atmosphere of open mindedness and inclusiveness that you’ll find at many media cons. Anything goes, from Star Trek to Stargate to LOTR to Buffy to anime, and you don’t get people giving you grief for wearing an original design (which seems to be a crime according to some anime cosplayers). I still go to anime cons, but now it’s usually in a behind-the-scenes role such as being a panelist, helping backstage, or judging the Masquerade.

On the other hand, one bonus I’ve noticed about anime cons (or the ones we have here, anyway) is that because the age demographic is younger, most of the guys are too shy to harass a girl in a skimpy costume (of which I’ve worn a few)…as opposed to a couple of the older SF/comic geeks I’ve encountered who apparently never learned social skills. :P

How did you learn to sew?

My grandfather was a tailor before he moved to Canada, and my dad was his apprentice, and my mom used to make all her own clothes, so my parents taught me a lot. I also taught myself a lot from reading my mom’s old Vogue Sewing Book (this is seriously the sewing bible) and just fiddling along and figuring things out. For a long time, I sewed everything by hand (my Windy costume for example) because I was very sewing-machine-phobic – I didn’t understand *why* it would just stop working sometimes – but when I got a job where I had to use machines, I basically just had to jump into the deep end and muddle my way through, and now I’m fine with them. I do still love hand-sewing, though; I find it relaxing. In fact, I need a new busywork project; my Bespin Leia costume’s embroidery kept my fingers busy during boring meetings, long bus-rides, etc., and I miss it. J

Your costumes demonstrate skill with many materials and techniques. Which is your favorite process? (sewing, wig styling, embroidery, props, jewelry/accessories, etc.)

That’s a tough one! I’d probably have to say ‘details,’ because I relish all the little extra things like jewellery, embroidery, beading, appliqué, etc. that add that special something. Probably my least favourite thing to do is yards and yards of long, straight seams – BORING. 

But my main motivation for costuming is the challenge of taking something from a 2-D drawing and figuring out how to bring it to life in 3-D. That’s why I often lose interest in a costume when I see it done exceptionally well by someone else; I feel like there’s nothing more for me to bring to it.

I think my favourite part of the process is doing a really good job on something really tough, then standing back and thinking, “Wow, I made that? I must have been crazy!”


With many cosplayers striving for the sometimes elusive goal of accuracy, how do you decide what to replicate “exactly” and what to take creative liberties with in your costumes?

It really depends on the artwork I’m starting from. If it’s very clear and there are no ambiguities, or if it’s something that exists in real life (like a movie costume), I’ll go for absolute accuracy if possible. Of course, some designs are physically impossible to recreate with total accuracy in the real world, but I’ll try to get as close as possible. However, if there are multiple reference images that don’t always agree, or the design is too simplistic and ambiguous for my taste (like Windy) I’ll take creative liberties and interpret it my own way. Recently, I’ve become more and more interested in designing original costumes from scratch as it allows me total creative freedom….

and if something turns out not to work as I’d intended, I can just change the design! ^_~

I’m a firm believer in altering a design to suit one’s individual body type in order to be more flattering. In my opinion, people will remember that a costume looked great on you far more than they’ll remember that there were one or two little inaccuracies, whereas a costume could be 100% accurate yet look really bad, because it doesn’t fit you properly or suit your body.

Once you’ve donned a costume, do you also try to behave as the character would, or is your main focus the artistic aspect of having created the look?

I’m in it more for the ‘costume’ than the ‘play,’ meaning that for the most part I choose costumes based on the designs – how challenging they are, how interesting I find them, etc. So sometimes, I have very little information on what the character is like. In those cases I just act like myself, or imagine what their personality might be and work with that…although in crowded convention halls, I often only have time to strike a default pose before it’s on to somewhere else. When I’m not doing photo shoots, I don’t act in character; I’m not much for role-play. 

There were a few exceptions, of course, where I chose the costume because I loved the character (Aisha, Hilda), and in those cases I really enjoyed getting into character for photos.

You have a number of costumes that don’t look like they can simply be folded or hung on a hanger for storage. How do you keep them so that they remain in excellent condition for future use?

Most of my costumes are hanging in garment bags or folded in big plastic bins, and things like wings are tucked up on the top shelf of my closet. I desperately want an industrial garment steamer because many of my costumes require major steaming before wearing and the little hand-steamers take forever to get all the wrinkles out. I do wish I had more opportunities to wear some of my more elaborate costumes (such as Morpheus or Windy), but they were designed for the Masquerade stage and are not really practical for walking around the halls. L

Does cosplay mesh well with your day job? Do you wish it did/didn’t?

I’m a freelance illustrator so I work from home, although I’ve worked at two mascot costume shops in the past. So in that way it does mesh well with my day job…although sometimes it can be difficult as I’ll want to work on costumes rather than painting! ;)

 

Any tips for making the coveted seamless bodysuit?

I got tips on this from the supremely talented Lindze. I used Kwik-Sew’s bodysuit pattern, removing the center seam and adding a gusset in the crotch to make up for the loss of the front seam. In my experience from Frostfaerie (mind you that’s the only seamless bodysuit I’ve made), it’s difficult to get it to cling to you perfectly, especially if you’re curvy, as there are no seams to aid in the shaping. It’ll also flatten the bust quite a bit, so add plenty of padding there.

For Frostfaerie, I made the main bodysuit and then cut out each overlay piece separately and pinned it in place while wearing the suit, then sewed it down by machine. Be warned that sewing appliqué to spandex will reduce the stretch of the garment, even if you stretch the fabric while sewing, so take that into account.

Some of your characters have bold makeup to complete their look.
What products and techniques do you recommend for others to create dazzling effects for their own costumes?

In my experience, Kryolan and MAC are the best brands out there, although I’ve heard great things about Grimas from a very experienced costumer and member of the International Costumers’ Guild. I’ve been a body-paint model a few times for a makeup artist friend of mine, and while Ben Nye worked okay, we found it tended to flake off in large applications. Kryolan Aquacolors (they go on with water but have a wax base so they require soap for removal) are great for all-over painting or detail work, but if you need to do a lot of blending and don’t have an airbrush, you might want to go with a crème makeup, which stays moist until you set it with powder. I’d only recommend crème for small areas like the face, though, as I’ve never heard of it being used for all-over applications.

For designs with Aquacolor, you want to clean the skin with alcohol, then apply your paint, let it dry, and then seal with a spray sealer. Be aware that some rubbing off is inevitable for large-scale body painting; wherever clothing rubs against your skin, some paint will rub off so it’s best if the clothing is a colour that won’t get stained. 

It can be difficult to do if you’re not used to wearing a lot of makeup, but just practice (I’ve been drawing things on my face since high school,) and it’ll get better.

If you’re going onstage, your makeup needs to be even bolder so that people can see your face from 20+ feet away. 

As for regular cosplay makeup, the secret is to go a bit overboard. I see a lot of cosplayers with fabulous costumes but washed-out faces, and it’s because even if you look fine in the mirror, other bright colours (like on many anime costumes) and/or camera flashes will instantly make you look like a zombie so you need to wear a lot more makeup than you’re used to. I always start with a light exfoliant, then moisturizer, primer, concealer, and foundation to get a nice smooth base. Makeup primer [Not paint! -ed.] is usually a silicone-based product that creates a uniform surface to help your foundation go on more smoothly, and it can be found at specialty shops like Sephora, MAC, and some department stores. It’s not as important as a good moisturizer and foundation, but if you want to go the extra mile, it might be worth the investment. Next, I use liquid eyeliner (mostly on the top lashes; doing heavy liner all around the eye is too harsh for most costumes), well-blended shadow (it’s best to use a few complementary shades, with darkest in the crease and lightest just below the eyebrow), and a good mascara. I also am a firm believer in fake eyelashes; they really make your eyes pop in photos. For lips, lip liner is a must, and it helps to powder your lips after applying lipstick, then apply another layer on top.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the “costumed crowd” at the events you attend? Any desire to turn back the clock?

The average anime con-goer definitely seems to be getting younger; these days I’m seeing hordes of unchaperoned ‘tweens running around and wreaking havoc. Maybe I’m just getting old, but back in my day (cue old lady in rocking chair), we didn’t glomp complete strangers or smack them with paddles. ;)

That said, as the interest in anime and cosplay has exploded, I’ve also seen a proportional increase in the numbers of people who are serious about costuming, and that’s very encouraging to me. On the other hand, though, I’m seeing a trend, especially in the U.S., towards cheap grabs for attention (pointless yaoi/yuri scenes onstage or panty flashes) taking over anime con masquerades, and good costuming skills falling by the wayside. A lot of people now seem to think that they can’t enter a masquerade without a group skit (and in fact some cons have actually implemented this as a rule), and I strongly disagree with this attitude. I’ve seen some jaw-droppingly fabulous solo presentations, and I’ve seen some terrible group skits, so choosing one over the other exclusively is a mistake in my opinion. I think a good masquerade should be balanced between great costumes and great presentations.

As for turning back the clock, I only wish I’d found about fandom back when I was a teenager so I would’ve had more years of costume fun!

Picture this scenario: It’s Monday just before a convention weekend, and you’ve accidentally spilled all the beads for the remaining part of your costume which has already taken way longer than planned because of some troublesome parts. There still remains a wig to be styled and boots to be painted. How do you keep your sanity when chaos seems to be winning its battle against order?

If it’s Monday, I’ll probably be okay. Stuff like that tends to happen to me on Thursday, in which case, my head explodes. Seriously though, despite the fact that I always end up doing something at the last minute, I’ve gotten a bit more pragmatic about these things. Unless I’m part of a group that will be entering the masquerade, and I must get the costume done, if everything is going all to pieces and there’s no way I’ll get the costume done unless I don’t sleep for days, I’ll probably decide to set it aside and finish it for the next convention. I’ve done the no-sleep-no-food thing; I’ve spent the entire convention up in my hotel room frantically sewing, and it’s no fun at all, so I try not to do it anymore.

Here’s your space for the dispelling of rumors and for additional comments.

Dispelling rumors….well, several people, when meeting me in person for the first time, have said, “Wow, you’re not as scary as I though you’d be!”  So I guess…I’m not really scary. *lol*  I think that because I’m very blunt and speak my mind honestly, and because I’m actually rather shy in person and don’t usually speak to people I don’t know, people sometimes get the mistaken impression that I’m snobby. I can be overcritical sometimes, but I’m overcritical of myself too, and I do remember that everybody has to start somewhere. I only really get bent out of shape when people don’t even try to figure things out for themselves and expect everything to be just handed to them on a silver platter. My advice to new cosplayers is to figure out what your limitations are and work within them – it’s far better to do a great job on something simple than a bad job on something fancy.

Ever since I started cosplaying, I’ve been strongly in favour of spreading information and helping others; people gave me advice when I was starting out and I feel it’s only fair to return the favour. I don’t believe in hoarding ‘secret techniques’ or such like; I figure that if I’ve thought of it, chances are that somebody else out there has too. So I offer tips and advice whenever I can – I have a section on my site for all sorts of advice and resources, and several friends and I have started Costuming.org as a resource to share information and to help connect the younger cosplay crowd and the older Sci-fi/Fantasy/Media costuming community. Kaijugal in particular is an invaluable member of the Canadian costuming community (without her, I think most of the local masquerades would simply fall apart), but because most of her costumes were made before the advent of digital cameras, and these days we depend almost entirely on online photo galleries, most of the younger cosplayers have no idea who she is, which is a shame. This kind of thing is very common amongst the older generation of costumers.

If there’s one thing I think we need to stress to the new generation of costumers/cosplayers, it’s that there’s a lot of history in our hobby. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t invented in Japan; people in North America have been dressing up at fandom conventions since the very first World Science Fiction Convention back in 1939, and there’s even a convention just for costumers!  So I disagree with the worshipful attitude that many North American cosplayers have towards Japan, like “Oh, Japanese people are automatically better at it than we are”…it’s simply not true. There are lots of talented people on both sides of the ocean. It’s all about how much love and energy you’re willing to put into the hobby. J

see more of Sarcasm Hime's costumes here

Sarcasm-hime, the intricate details in your costumes are always amazing, and those who get to see your handiwork up close are lucky indeed. It's great to learn how cosplay and conventions have changed over time and to wonder how it might still progress. Your willingness to help others is an invaluable asset that bolsters the camaraderie in cosplay circles and is a good trend that should progress and grow. We hope you'll continue to dazzle audiences far into the future.

~Mrs. Tomoe

 

 
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