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

My first convention was back in 2003 Ė not too long ago actually. I had just started showing interest in cosplay, but Iíve always been a very artistic person and enjoyed drawing and making costume designs for my own original characters. However, it never occurred to me to learn to sew, and when I first started to cosplay, I went into it just for fun without knowing so much as how to thread a needle properly, haha. I remember seeing some fantastic Sera Myu cosplayers online and thinking how amazing they looked and really wanting to get involved myself. Cosplay seemed like a fun new hobby that mixed the best of both worlds: being creative and my love for anime, manga, and video games. Not only that, but back when I was in elementary and high school I was pretty much the only person interested in those things (especially in an all-girl Catholic High School, of all places Ė not much interest in Japanese animation culture there, lol) so having the chance to be around other people with those interests was definitely exciting. I started meeting some local cosplayers in Philadelphia, and we met up at PhilCon where I was Mai Valentine from Yu-Gi-Oh. The entire costume was found/altered items since I had no sewing ability whatsoever Ė and letís not get started on the bright yellow wig, but hey, itís a first cosplay. I felt a bit silly too because it was a multi-genre con, and not many people were in costume, but I got quite a bit of attention nevertheless so I didnít feel too weird after a while. Instead, I found myself hooked on cosplay and con-going and made plans to do it again Ė and I have. Many times! And of course, from there, I decided that it was a good idea to learn to sew. I'm mainly self-taught, but my mother also helped me learn when she had the time.

What features make your favorite convention(s) your favorite?

Iíd have to say out of all the conventions I have been to, MetroCon has always been my favorite. The original Anime Human Chess Match is simply amazing, and Iím proud to say I had the honor of being in it for two years (as Rei Ayanami and Hiei). It takes months of dedication for a group of people to learn stage combat, acting, and put on a great show for an audience of a thousand or more people. I also had the honor of being the convention mascot last year which was a fabulous and very fun experience! The convention also has a lot of great guests every year and held a special event last October in which I got to meet one of my idols, Yoshitaka Amano himself Ė that was a fantastic experience I will never forget! As a gift, he even drew a picture of me in my Relm costume in my Amano artworks book, so that book is quite treasured! Itís also a joke amongst some of my friends and myself that my paintbrush is now officially ĎAmanoí since he included it in that drawing, lol. But back to MetroCon in generalĖ it's also one of the more spacious conventions which allows people to wear some of their larger, more elaborate costumes without too much difficulty. I think originality is part of what makes cons enjoyable for me, and I must say, a lot of conventions here in Florida take on a lot of original ideas so each is unique and enjoyable in their own ways. JACON had the Animusical; AFO this year had an RPG theme going on all weekend, etc. Itís very hard to be bored at Florida conventions, what with all the new, creative ideas each convention has to offer. Of course I would really love to be able to travel to conventions out of state Ė but work keeps me put. I hope to try next year though.

How does it feel to have a "signature" costume or character whereby most everyone recognizes you?

Itís pretty much a rule of mine that if I donít love the character, I wonít cosplay him/her. When I really enjoy cosplaying the characters I love most, I tend to make several versions of him or her, and then I start to get a bit Ďknowní for it (such as with Kenshin or Rei Ayanami). Iíve seen this with quite a few cosplayers: when most people associate them with a character they pull off amazingly well and do several outfits for. Then again, I think we all have a known character, regardless of whether or not weíve done multiple versions. One of the reasons I cosplay is out of love for the characters I admire because I want to represent them and bring them to life. I consider that a challenge as well, especially since my favorite characters run the gamut of male, female, young, mature, etc. And I always love seeing other cosplayers as my favorite characters Ė Iíve met several amazing people that way. Being able to share the fandom or love of a character is a great thing. However, of late, variety has been the spice of life for me, so I'm doing fewer versions of the same person and creating more characters that I like in general. Iíve realized that there are many costumes I want to make, and many more characters that I simply adore, so I have to cut back on making new costumes for characters Iíve already cosplayed.

When you work on a project, which do you enjoy more: striving for stitch by stitch accuracy or taking creative license?

I put accuracy first and foremost, but creative license is important too. It also depends on the costume itself. For my Amano costumes, a lot of it had to be creative license since the artwork is so ethereal: the lines are wispy, the color blends together, and detail can be very hard to make out. I will try to get as accurate as I can get, and I make up sketches as I go along to make things clearer for me. From there on, the creativity kicks in, and I even add details you donít see in the art but would work well with the design. Other times when looking at a costume design, parts can be pretty difficult to figure out so I start to get creative Ė what materials will work, how can I get these pieces to defy gravity or look right, what seams do I need to implement that are not in the artwork so this garment fits properly, what notions should I use to keep it on (zippers, snaps, grommets), etc. But getting back to accuracy Ė whenever I decide to make a costume, I stockpile reference images for it and try to get as many shots of it as I can: front, side, head, back, close up on details, etc. I study the design and start to break it down into pieces and figure out which will be easiest and which might give me some trouble so I can work on figuring out a solution. A lot of the initial staging process for a costume is mental and involves problem-solving. From there, I start searching for fabrics that will work for that character Ė sheen, weight, stretch, color, etc. are all very important to me. I also start to think of what other materials I need and how to go about making them, since, nine times out of ten, my costumes require more than just the right fabrics, but other materials are incorporated as well. I admit, accuracy means a lot to me with my costumes. I want to do the characters I love justice!

You've incorporated extremely intricate detail into a number of your costumes. What do you suggest for persisting when you've reached the thousandth bead yet it's only a fraction toward completion?
Whenever I do a detail-intensive costume, itís always a good idea to give myself a break and know when to do so, haha. Once I get frustrated, I put it down and walk away. If I keep on going, chances are, I will start to get tired and cranky and the thread will start to get tangled, and I will end up doing more work than I already have on my plate. I just go out and do the other things that I enjoy doing (reading, shopping, going for a walk, spending time with friends, boyfriend, my rabbits or my Siamese cat, etc) and get away from the costume. Budgeting time is very important whenever you decide to involve yourself in a costume that will require a ton of handwork. I think one thing that has always been able to get me through is my natural stubborn streak Ė I can be very persistent in getting things done, even when the project itself is not nearly as close to completion as I would like it to be. I donít think it is healthy to work on a costume non-stop so I give myself breaks. Sometimes, even weeks go by with a detailed costume when I leave it be and go back to it when I feel the motivation kick in.

Does cosplay go well with your career choice? Do you wish it did/didn't?

Iíll start by saying that I certainly wish it did! Right now, my career is in telecommunications and has nothing to do with my cosplaying hobby. In fact, long hours at the office eat up most of my time so I donít really have much time these days for doing what I love most: making costumes. I guess itís just the natural thing that happens with adult life; work comes first and hobbies have to take a backseat to that and a lot of other things. In a few years, I am hoping to get an education in textiles and fashion design to lead into having a studio in my own home and doing commission work. Itís a little dream of mine. I love sewing too much to ever quit, and Iím not even sure when Iíll be able to have the heart to stop cosplaying! I simply love it too much.

What's a technique that you'd like to try or a new material that you'd like to use, and on the flip side, what's something you've done or used that you'd prefer never having to do again?

Iím the type who always enjoys learning new things, particularly when it comes to costuming. Iím constantly working with new fabrics and materials. Right now my main focus is to learn casting and armor making, and Iím currently working towards that goal with a couple of my current projects. I love the thrill of a good challenge and the lessons learned from it that I can add to my knowledge base which can then be used for future projects. The more you learn, the more things you'll be able to create and the easier it will be to troubleshoot parts of a costume or prop for whatever it is you want to make. As for regrets, I learned that if Iím not totally Ďfeelingí a design, then I should not attempt it. I love the Rydia character from Final Fantasy IV, and I love Amanoís work, but I wasnít 100% into the child design from the start. Because my heart wasn't in it, and I did not like the design much, it showed. I pretty much just rushed it and didnít put as much thought into it as a I normally do with a costume, so I ended up unhappy with the results Ė which is pretty rare with a costume. Normally, Iím satisfied once Iím done and have tweaked it, but if I simply do not like the design, I wonít make the costume Ė yet another lesson learned. It goes to show that not only do I have to love the character, but what the character is wearing.

On a day when all the beads spilled, the paint smeared, the wig melted, and your car imploded Ėhow did you keep your cool?

Exploding automobiles aside, that has all happened to me in the past, LOL. Itís times like these that I really have to understand and realize there is more to life than cosplay, and itís only a hobby and not a life or death situation. Sure, I like things to run smoothly and look perfect, but doesnít everyone? The plain old fact is that no one is perfect, and things go wrong (especially when you're a cosplayer, haha). I just have to grin and bear it, and try, try again. I think the worst of it is when I have no choice but to start from scratch because then I have to dig into my wallet and invest more money into it Ė or hope I have extra material handy. Many a time Iíve had costumes that required a lot of trial and error, and accidents have happened (yes, I did fry a wig Ė once). But at least I can look back at those things and laugh about it, and know how to avoid making the mistake again!

Some of your costumes are rumored to be entirely hand sewn. Please share some tips for hand sewists to achieve the results they desire.

Although I started hand sewing out of necessity rather than a desire to learn it, I've come to enjoy it and even find it very therapeutic. I didnít have access to a sewing machine for some time after the move from Philadelphia to Florida because my mother put everything into storage, and we had an old Singer that was built into a desk so I took up the hand sewing needles. I did not want to stop making costumes (itís that stubborn streak I was telling you about earlier, haha!) so I opted to do things the hard way and sew them entirely by hand. There are both good and bad things about hand sewing. The good is that it's much easier to control the seams, and you donít have to worry about a sewing machine going out of control and attempting to eat your project. The fact that it's a slower process makes it more time-consuming, yes, but it also makes things easier to manage as you sew. I replace my hand sewing needles quite often, since a dull needle will damage your fabric and do more bad than good. You have to be careful with your stitches and make them as small, straight, and close together as you can. Also be careful what threads you use Ė thick thread or thread with absolutely no elasticity (stiff) is a bad idea for hand sewing a garment. It is also very difficult to put together a garment with stretchy material if you are hand sewing, especially if the fabric is lightweight, because hand stitches donít offer options that machines do and, chances are, the fabric will not stretch much, or at all, once hand-sewn. During the time I didnít have a machine at my disposal, there were several costumes I couldn't make as a result. It definitely puts a limit on what you can and canít do. Also, it's likely the costume won't handle wear as well as a costume put together with machine stitches Ė itís only logical. I donít recommend making anything like a long train for a dress, thatís for sure. Now that I have a Brother and a Husqvarna Huskylock serger, I donít think Iíll be hand sewing entire garments ever again. But from doing it, I learned a lot about control and hand-detailing things onto fabric, and I definitely learned to be a lot more patient with my projects. I doubt I would have been able to do the hand-detailing for Rydia if it had not been for the long hours spent hand sewing costumes. I definitely recommend all cosplayers do some hand sewing Ė a lot of costumes require it since a sewing machine has its limits too. Some details or parts just have to be done by hand.

While we'd probably all like to go the whole 9 yards on every costume, we all have budgets that shouldn't be busted if we want to be able to continue. What are some elements that are essential and others that can be left out to make a great presentation of a character?

I think the wisest thing for anyone to do is shop around for the best bargains because sometimes you really do spend more than necessary. Personally, I enjoy using only quality materials for costumes so I can really drive myself nuts trying to save money and have those materials simultaneously. I normally budget things by writing down all the materials I need for a costume and how much they would typically cost me, and plan from there. Granted, I wasn't always this organized, but as a result of spending too much, Iíve come to be more careful and plan, plan, plan. Compare prices whenever possible, and sign up for coupons at Joannís or wherever you happen to shop most frequently for fabric. I think, like most people, I donít want to cut out anything from a design that is important, or leave anything out that would make it feel incomplete, so it takes a lot of work to be able to make it affordable Ė sometimes what helps is digging into the old fabric box with all the scraps and bolts I have accumulated and using it for a project I am working on, or finding a creative use for a regular household item or inexpensive doo-dad and incorporating it into the costume. I think the most important thing about any costume, however, is a clean appearance Ė nice seams and/or fit, appropriate wig or hairstyle, great choice of fabrics and materials, appropriate footwear, everything in place and looking just right. Things like big, fancy props or a ginormous costume with a bajillion details are nice, but not essential to pulling off a character well or impressing people. And when you do want to make something of that nature, like I said Ė budget, and plan ahead so it will be easier to afford and give you more time to find a good bargain on what you need. Big and flashy is not necessarily better.

How has cosplay changed since you started?

Obviously, it has become a lot more mainstream. There are cosplayers around now that werenít around what I started out, and there has also been a huge increase in talent as well. Granted, Iíve only been cosplaying for three and a half years so I havenít seen the drastic changes as others have who've been around for 10 years or more. Along the way, I've gotten to befriend a lot of very talented people, and this is part of what makes cosplay so enjoyable for me. It's also interesting to see the phases of cosplay: how one series can be so popular one year but the next year something else is the new big thing Ė whether it be an all-around popular series like Naruto, or a series with designs that appeal to very ambitious cosplayers such as the Amano works or Trinity Blood. It always leaves me wondering what the new big thing will be for the coming year, and what will fade out. My old school heart yearns to see more Dragonball cosplay and such, but what was popular years ago doesn't seem to be so anymore Ė at least here in the States. The phases seem to be different all over the world which is also very interesting.

How would you like to see cosplay grow and change in the future?

I think nationwide (or even international) competitions would be a good idea, maybe with some kind of points system to it Ė but such things would need a lot of organization. Not everything went well with the World Cosplay Summit, for instance, so I would like to see things handled much differently. It's very hard to have that kind of organization since cosplay within this community in and of itself is not bound by rules and regulations such as the guidelines set by ICG standards. Each con has its own rules for costume contests and its own format of competition (cosplay and costume separate, together as a Masquerade, etc). I think in general we need more uniformity for costume competitions, at least for craftsmanship. I donít think we could get all anime conventions to follow through, but a majority would be great. I see a lot of confusion among cosplayers about what division they should be in at such-and-such convention, and I can see why since each con has its own idea of qualifications and some cons donít offer divisions at all (Novice, Intermediate, Journeyman, Master, Craftsman, etc). But before I babble on too much, the basic point is that uniformity would be nice and less confusing all around. Particularly since cosplay has grown tremendously in the past couple years, I think now is a good time for some of that change. As for growth, well, the more growth the better! I would like to see the cosplay community more united as well. Iíve seen a few rifts here and there, and sometimes needless drama can create tension. I would like to see things change for the better in regards to that Ė weíre all in this hobby to have fun, right?

Here's your space for additional comments and/or the dispelling of rumors.

Ah, rumors. While I'm not completely sure what may or may not be said about me, Iíve heard a few things. Iím a very shy, soft-spoken person, so I might give a bad impression to people who do not know me too well. I can be pretty hard to get to know as a result, but Iíve certainly gotten a bit better over the years, and I do love making new friends. And for that reason as well, I think itís a common misconception for people who don't know me to assume that I'm obsessive about making costumes and only care about winning, but thatís not the case! I admit to being my own worst critic at times, but awards are certainly the least important part of the cosplay experience for me. The satisfaction of making something with my own two hands, being happy with the outcome, and Ďbeingí a favorite character for a day is what makes it all worthwhile. I encourage anyone who wants to get to know me to do just that. I love making friends, and I guarantee Iím a nice person! And if anyone wants me to ask me about some Ďrumorí they heard through the grapevine, just ask Ė I'll be happy to dispel it. Silly stuff aside, I would like to thank all of my amazing friends who have been there for me, and for all the great memories I have because of them. You guys are the best! And my boyfriend for putting up with me, this hobby, cosplaying characters to accompany me, and the endless piles of fabric in the apartment, haha. Heís always been my number one supporter through this crazy thing called cosplay. And to all the cosplayers out there, keep on being amazing; I love seeing what you all come up with and would love to meet many more of you! And if life gets you down, just keep on trucking. So many of you guys make me smile when I see what wonderful things you make and how well you pull off my favorite characters. And finally, thanks to the Lab for giving me Spotlight, I was very surprised and feel quite honored!

see more of Hime no Toki's costumes

Hime_no_Toki, your diminutive figure belies the big impact your costumes have. You've certainly raised the bar for crafstmanship at Florida conventions so it's nice that you also have a worldwide audience online. Your attention to detail makes your work stand out against the crowd, and anyone, cosplayer or not, can appreciate the artistry. Keep pursuing your dream until that exciting day when wearable art produced in your own studio travels to happy cosplayers across the country.
~Mrs. Tomoe

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