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Tell us about your first cosplay experience.

I’d been making costumes of various types, mostly medieval/ren-fair sorts of things, mostly quite badly, for years, and attending science fiction conventions which usually included anime programming. Once I started getting into anime five or six years ago, I decided to do a set of Kenshin and Kaoru for myself and my friend Diane, mostly because I happened to have long red hair at the time. Well, those costumes were terrible. God-awful. I did exactly no research, I had no idea how to wear a kimono or what they should be made of, and to top it off, we wore them to a sci-fi convention where nobody had any idea who we were, and I got lectured by a total stranger for wearing my kimono right over left. In addition, it was January, it was Boston, it was windy and raw, I have sensitive skin, and my face got so chapped it was redder than my kimono.

I’ve gotten better.

Do you find that cosplay is easier or harder now in terms of competition or one-upmanship?

I don’t normally compete myself, because my costumes tend not to be the type that display well on stage, but I’ve judged several masquerades and seen many more. I worry that cosplayers put much too much emphasis on awards now. I’m genuinely shocked *clutches pearls* by the phenomenon of people competing for craftsmanship awards with costumes they did not make. I can’t understand why anyone would want an award for something they didn’t do—to me, that kind of competition is a chance to show your pride in your accomplishments and measure yourself against your peers; going in with something you didn’t make, especially something you bought, starts to undermine the whole point of the exercise. How much fun can that be, and how proud can you be of an award like that? It throws off the playing field for everyone, and seems to me to violate the spirit of a friendly competition. This isn’t something I see very much in the sci-fi/fantasy con world, where there generally seems to be more of a spirit of collaboration and everybody being in the hobby together; and while it’s certainly not unheard of for sci-fi/fantasy folks to throw an internet tantrum if they don’t win an award, it seems much less common. I wish there were more of a sense of competition and creation for their own sake.

Most of us go through changes in style with our costumes, but we often have that one favorite series or game to which we return for inspiration even after several years. If you have one, which one is it for you, and what’s so compelling about it?

I don’t think I have a “muse” series. My inspiration for things tends to come pretty late in the game, after a series has been around long enough that I’m sure I like it, or if I know people who are doing a group, so I usually end up doing things that have already been done a zillion times. I’ve also returned to particular characters because they flatter me, or because I liked them, but I can’t say any particular source material has a huge hold on me. If there were such a thing, I’d probably say the Suikoden games because they have such a wide cast of characters with such a variety of body types, ages, and costumes; anyone can find something flattering and appropriate from any of those games.

What sort of equipment do you use to create your outfits, and what’s your favorite tool of the trade?

My equipment was pretty low tech up until last year. Before that, I had only had the old Viking portable sewing machine my mom gave me as a high school graduation present. (I skipped my tenth high school reunion to see “Zoolander” instead… you do the math.) Last year, I got a shiny new Bernina sewing machine and serger. My sewing cabinet and cutting table fold up so that, in theory, I don’t take up much space between projects. Unfortunately, there’s rarely a “between projects.”

 

You don’t really need a fancy sewing machine. Ninety percent of the time, all I’m using on it is straight stitch and zigzag. Unless you’re a quilter or otherwise need a ton of decorative stitches, a simple machine that does the basics well is probably all you need. I will say my serger has changed my life; something that would have taken me a week of short sessions to finish before I got it now takes me an afternoon, and the rolled hem alone has saved me dozens of hours. But it’s all stuff I could still do without a serger. Just slower, and not as nicely.

 

Is there a skill or gadget that once you acquired it, it opened doors for many other costume possibilities?

I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of a technique that involves making iron-on appliqués by ironing fabric to a double-sided fusible backing and then zigzagging over the edges with invisible nylon thread to prevent fraying after fusing it to the final piece. It makes beautiful clean shapes, and it’s fast and easy. I hate putting decorations on things; I just don’t have the attention span so this technique has been a godsend. I used it on both Belldandy costumes and Relena’s coat; I’ve also made patches using multiple layers of it.

I’m also really happy that I’ve learned to dye fabric pretty well and consistently. It’s made not being able to find that perfect fabric much less of an obstacle. I’ve gotten confident enough that a few months ago, I hand-dyed over 100 yards of silk for a large group presentation at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention.

Which has been your most difficult project?

Every costume has its own challenges. For instance, I had to learn to do gradient dyeing and armor for Samurai Yuna, and *ahem* augment my figure with duct tape for Matsumoto. I think in terms of pure frustration, one of the hardest things I’ve done was Relena Peacecraft’s Sanc Kingdom Ambassador coat. I started with a men’s historical pattern much too big for me, had no success scaling it down, threw it into a corner for a month, and went back to it only as the deadline was approaching. I managed to make it work by adding a waist seam, so I was able to scale down above the waist and keep the fullness in the pleats below. Then I had to draft every bit of the collar and cuffs by hand, including the appliqués (and I got a C+ in drawing in college), make the color-blocked pleats work, and make the whole thing stay together. I couldn’t get the buttonholes on my sewing machine to work. I seem to remember sewing on buttons sitting on the bed at the con. On the upside, I did get to wear buckle shoes. My costumes are not flashy to look at, but they all involve a great deal of work. Usually much more than I expect when I’m starting on them.

The only costume I’ve ever scrapped because it was just too much for me was Siegfried from Soul Calibur 3. I started making the armor out of Wonderflex, and was about 30 hours into the project and had largely completed the gauntlets when I discovered that Wonderflex wouldn’t work for what I needed it to do. I threw out what I’d done so far and never want to hear his name mentioned again. I hold grudges.

 
 

Are you a good time manager or a procrastinator? Any tips for staying on top of projects rather than getting buried underneath?

I’m terrible about time management. I have an incredibly short attention span and very limited free time, so I can’t work on things in uninterrupted afternoon-long blocks like some people I know. As a result, it usually takes me months to finish anything. The best way to get me to finish something is to a) hand me a deadline, and b) have other people counting on me to meet it. I need outside pressure before I’ll finish anything, and even then, most of my costumes are held together by pins and tape at least for their first run. In fact, in typing up this question alone, I’ve already stopped four times to sew something, cook something, play with the cat, and look at something shiny.

When shopping for wigs, what are the main qualities you look for?

A good wig is one you can work with, no magic about it. I hate and fear styling wigs, so I first try to find one that’s close to the style I want. Failing that, (and it usually does) all you need is a relatively sturdy wig with plenty of soft fiber, and a lot of patience. I buy most things online now, including wigs, so it’s helped to become familiar with the major brands and know which ones tend to have coarser fiber, which ones don’t color well, etc.

Does cosplay coordinate or clash with your career?

Neither. Cosplay has no bearing on my career whatsoever. I’ve always been a firm believer in keeping work and hobbies separate – otherwise, the hobbies start to blend into the work and start losing their purpose. I wouldn’t want to work with fabrics or costumes, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t find it fun in the off-hours anymore. My co-workers know that I make costumes as a hobby, and they’re welcome to look if they feel like it, but for the most part we have no interest in each other’s activities outside of work.

Given unlimited time and funding, what costume or group would you create, and what would set it/them apart?

It’s not so much time and funding that get the better of me, it’s more a matter of space. I always wish I had more of it, especially a workshop space where I could set up some serious tools and learn how to make props. If I weren’t so scarred by my previous experience with Siegfried, I might like to go back to that, using sheet metal this time.

Have you ever hit a slump? How did you get out of it?

Most of this year has been a slump for me, unfortunately. I moved to a place that requires me to be commuting for 4 hours a day (in fact, I typed most of this on the train), so since I don’t get home until around 8 PM, I haven’t really had the energy or time to do much work on costumes. Having friends to prod me into doing things as parts of groups or pairs helps a lot, because if someone else is counting on me, I’m much more likely to get something done. I spent the month before Otakon working on a complicated commission. But in September, I’ll be moving back to a city where I’ll be living just a few blocks from the subway, so I expect to get my sewing time back soon, and I’m very excited about that.

 
 

Regarding cosplay at conventions, what are some improvements you’d like to see?

It would be great to see more people sharing skills at conventions rather than the usual “Cosplay 101” panels; of course that requires people who have those skills and are willing to do panels/demonstrations. I’d also like to see more emphasis on skillful masquerade presentations. At many cons, the need for an audience-pleasing skit becomes the primary focus, while the sci-fi masq model, which I’m more used to, highlights stage presentation as a way to effectively display your costume. Some cons hold a separate skit contest to feature performances while keeping the masq itself at least theoretically more about costumes and their display. I like that model, though I don’t know whether it works as intended.

I used to be a huge proponent of making the International Costumers’ Guild guidelines apply to cosplay masquerades, but I’ve changed my opinion about that. I think that s-f/f masquerades and cosplay masquerades have evolved along tracks too separate to be able to make one fit the other without major modification. However, I don’t think the ICG guidelines should be completely ignored; they’ve been doing the job for a long time, and they make it unnecessary for masq directors to reinvent the wheel every single time. I think that’s one problem with current cosplay standards; there aren’t any, so the con you go to this week might have completely different rules from the con you go to next week. (This is also increasingly true with other types of conventions.)

I’d also like to see more cons/con judges willing to build in a “masquerade review” panel the day after the masq. A lot of sci-fi/fantasy cons do this, where the judges and masquerade director can be available to discuss why they gave awards the way they did. While I’m afraid this might lead to shouting matches, I also think that if it’s approached in a mature fashion, making the judging process less opaque (How many cons have we been to where the awards don’t seem to make any sense to us?) would benefit everybody in the long run.

Here’s your space to dispel rumors or make additional comments.

Rumors… I don’t know of any of those. ^__^ I know I tend to come across a little too no-nonsense online, and that translates into a brusque and cool Internet persona, but in person I’m really rather quiet. I think a lot of people are surprised that I’m not really very scary – or scary at all. I’ve been guilty of being overly snarky in the past, but my attitude was completely changed by an article I read about a year ago, written by another former “garb snark,” Margo Anderson. Like her, I realized I had been thinking along the wrong lines and costuming for the wrong reasons. It was something of a road-to-Damascus moment; my outlook did a complete 180, and, also like Margo, I’m much happier for it. (Incidentally, Margo also puts out probably the best Elizabethan patterns on the market today.)

There is a whole world of costuming out there beyond anime conventions and years of history behind the hobby, and I’d like to encourage everyone who’s interested in hobby costuming to explore all the avenues available, from the ICG and sci-fi/general conventions to specialized costume conventions like Costume-Con. There are so many people out there with a wealth of knowledge who want nothing more than to share their experiences and help newbies to the hobby grow and develop their skills. And don’t make the mistake of thinking general or sf/f costumers look down on anime cosplayers – this year at both Costume-Con and the World Science Fiction Convention, Best in Show was won by anime groups which has certainly alerted the greater fandom world to our presence. Don’t be afraid to approach costumers in different areas or to bring your work to other types of cons – cosplay is changing the face of hobby costuming in an amazing way, and you can help that happen!

General advice on costuming… The best thing you can do if you plan to do much garment-making or sewing in general is to learn about fabric. Learn the properties of different fibers and weaves of fabric, and you’ll immediately have a starting point for every new thing you want to create. Small things make a huge difference to the success of a costume. Good construction will always serve you well in the end.

Finally, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Aurora Vanderbosch who took most of the photos that go with this profile, and thank you to everybody else who’s ever helped me out by taking photos of my costumes. The people who document us, the places we go, and the things we do work hard and have a huge impact on how others see us and how we see ourselves; we owe them a lot.

see more of Koumori's costumes here

Koumori, your work is a fine example of how we don't have to make the flashiest costumes to enjoy cosplay. Figuring the details of construction and making a clean finish can bring as much satisfaction as building massive wings or hammering out functioning props. Developing a healthy attitude is also something that we all need to remember if we want cosplay to continue to be a hobby that people of every skill level can feel at home in even as it grows to new heights. We hope your upcoming relocation will go as hoped and leave you with more time to expend your creative energy into wearable art.

~Mrs. Tomoe

 

 
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