It wasn’t until I lived at student accommodation, which regularly held themed parties, that I realized – I love dressing up in costume. Mine were usually cobbled together from op shops, due to a complete lack of practical skills, but I always admired those with the skills to make stuff themselves.
Seeing all the amazing costumes at Oz Comic Con, where very few looked to be sourced from op shops, got me wondering how the dedicated cosplayer goes about recreating the outfits of their favourite characters. I sat down with Kaori Koneko, who you may have seen over the weekend cosplaying as Tintin, for a look at the process.
Check out her blog here, for regular updates on her projects.
How did you originally get into making costumes for cosplay?
If I recall correctly the idea to make character costumes initially came to mind for Halloween and costume parties friends were having. The available costumes in stores always seemed tacky, generic and generally didn’t incorporate things I had any interest in (except for maybe those aimed at young children, which were far too small for me).
How long have you been doing it?
I began attempting to craft my own costumes around 2002 or 2003 but didn’t start publicly wearing them at conventions until 2006.
How did you develop the skills required?
As a child I was always trying to make and build things, while these projects didn’t always go to plan they certainly paved the way for success with future projects.
My father originally taught me to sew and my grandfather gifted me with my first sewing machine (though an antique, it is quite a solid piece of technology and is still in working order- though it doesn’t get much use any more).
There were always textile and design classes on my timetable in highschool and after finishing school three years were spend studying fashion at TAFE (amongst other things).
There really isn’t a point where you can stop learning with costume work, as each character will pose their individual needs and challenges. The Internet is a great resource for getting in contact with and learning from others, not to mention the array of blogs and tutorials documenting specific techniques which can be appropriated for all manner of uses.
What is the process in making a costume, from idea to the event?
Generally it starts with the character; if they have more than one costume which costume do you want to wear?
Next will be locating screen-shots of the costume from different angles, once that’s done it’s a good idea to break the costume down.
Looking at the costume as a whole can be quite stressful depending on how complex it is, so I’ll break it into as many individual pieces as I can, such as; top, jacket, trousers, wig, shoes, etc.
Then draw sketches of the individual pieces, including seam lines and any minor details.
Once I feel happy with the sketches I’ll get started on the patterns, for which I use a combination of flat drafting and draping, depending on the piece. Fabric sourcing will also happen around this time, it’s usually fairly easy to estimate how much of each fabric will be required based on the pattern pieces.
Once that’s all done it’s finally time to start actual, physical work on the costume. Assuming all the planning and pattern-drafting has gone well, the construction itself usually doesn’t take a whole lot of time (though some minor fitting adjustments are often required).
During the construction process I’ll also be looking out for the parts which I don’t plan to make, such as shoes, contact lenses and wigs. In some cases even down to the socks and underwear.
When it is finished and all the pieces are together I’ll try on the complete outfit and see how it looks with make-up. If the character wears make-up then I’ll try to get some close-up screen-shots of their face to copy their look and if they do not seem to wear make-up I’ll experiment with a few different looks to decide what suits the outfit best.
When the make-up is decided that’s usually the point where it’s ready for the event and (theoretically) everything should come together on the day without a hitch.
What is usually the hardest step of the process?
Physically getting started on the costume. Every time. Deciding is easy. Sketching is easy.
But looking at it, even after breaking it down, I still find myself going: “This is ridiculous. What am I even doing?”
The pattern drafting and cutting is often quite tedious and frustrating for me, so I have a bit of a tendency to put it off or get distracted.
But once I finally start sewing the pieces everything just sort of… rolls along.
How long does a project generally take?
This comes right down to the individual project. Some take maybe two weeks, others take several months- maybe a year.
How regularly would you work on something once you start?
If it’s a personal project it depends on what other commitments are going on in life. I may not be able to work on something for several days, even weeks at a time.
If the project is for a commission or trade I’ll do my best to work on it at least 5 days a week until it is finished.
How do you decide what you’d like to make next?
It will be something I’ve really gotten into; a video game, comic, television show, film, etc. and I’ll find myself really identifying with one of the characters.
Generally it is the character as a whole that grabs me and making the costume is a (slightly strange) way of expressing respect and admiration to the creators.
Do you design a costume with a specific event in mind?
If I’m going solo then generally not. Often I’ll have multiple projects on the go at any given time and when I see an event I’d like to attend I’ll go through them and see which is nearest completion.
Even if I say “I’m planning to wear this for this event” I’m liable to change my mind on a whim.
If it’s with a group however, the event will often be planned long in advance and randomly changing my mind or backing out would be quite rude.
What do you do with the costumes after they’re finished?
To be honest I still have pretty much every costume I’ve ever made (excluding commissions and trades, of course). A couple of the really old ones were dismantled and recycled into other projects but for the most part I hold onto them.
Usually I’ll have vague ideas of photo-shoots in mind (though that rarely ends up eventuating) because the few photos obtained during conventions generally don’t showcase the costume terribly well.
Old costumes which I don’t intend on wearing again are kept in a box. More recent costumes are kept either in bags, to keep all their pieces together, or hanging in the wardrobe if they’re too bulky to fit in a bag.
Have you won any awards for your work?
Not really… like two, ever. I tend to shy away from entering competitions due to several bad experiences when I was first starting out.
How much help do you get from friends and family?
With friends I’m often the one doing the helping! Though I’m not so good with the props and have often enlisted the power of trades to obtain those (you do my gun, I’ll do your clothes).
In terms of family I’ve found my father to be an endless source of information and soldering equipment. He tends to be the first person I turn to if something is causing trouble or I’m not sure where to obtain a particular item (such as old motorcycle helmets to destroy).
My mother not so much, though I did recently enlist her knitting skills after having no luck with sweater-vests. Knitting is not my strong point.
What are some of your favourite costumes you’ve created?
Oh… How about a top 5? In no particular order:
– Commander Keen. Though the costume is incredibly basic, the Commander Keen games were some of my favourites as a child and wearing the costume to conventions I met so many lovely people. Seriously, Keen fans are the sweetest, nicest people I’ve ever met.
– The Medic from Team Fortress 2 because I really feel like I got the distinctive look of that lab-coat and also because TF2 cosplayers seem to have some sort of innate ability to mob together for photo opportunities at events.
– Nefertari Vivi from One Piece because that was part of a group and we all worked together on our costumes and skit. Good memories all ’round.
– Princess Zelda (“Twilight Princess” version). Though there are many aspects of this costume I would prefer to re-make before wearing it again, it was the first sort of big and complicated costume I’d embarked upon and many new skills were learned in the process.
– Ivy from Soul Calibur IV (player 2 version) just… because. Ivy has a special place for me.
What was the most difficult costume you’ve made?
Probably Ivy (Soul Calibur IV, player 2). There are actually about 5 layers of fabric in that costume. Not to mention all the chest-padding. And that ridiculous hairstyle. I’m still very much a n00b at wig styling.
What are some of your favourite experiences from creating or presenting cosplay?
Performing a skit with the One Piece group was great after working so hard with everybody on the costumes as well as writing, rehearsing and recording the skit. It was slightly sad once it was done, because we had been spending so much time together and that was all over.
As a more general thing; all the free hugs. It doesn’t really matter who you’re cosplaying, somebody will inevitably want a hug- and I’m not one to turn these people away unhugged.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am working on a costume based on the character Rory Dubois from the web-comic Teahouse. Two costumes based on this have already been finished and I’d like to complete one more, possibly to wear to Manifest later this year.
There are also a couple of commission works I have on the go at the moment.