My name is Su and I am a seamstress from New Brunswick, Canada. I was always a nerd watching anime, reading mangas and playing video games. Then one day back in 2008 something wonderful happened. My younger sister who was just as much of a nerd as I was, introduced me to cosplay. She showed me various pictures of Yaya Han and other cosplayers who dressed up in various characters. So one day, I bought myself a costume from a local anime store and attended my first anime convention. I was living in Vancouver, BC at the time and the convention was Anime Evolution. What got me really sucked into the world of cosplay was when I met other cosplayers. They were complete strangers, but gave me lot of compliments and even invited me to photoshoots. For once I wasn’t afraid to be myself and I found other kindred spirits that loved the same shows that I did. That same year, I made my first costume. Since then I haven’t stopped making costumes, learning new techniques, and socializing in the community.
The way I chose projects have evolved throughout the years I’ve been cosplaying. Initially I chose projects that taught me new technique, but were also large. I always looked for challenges and loved it because I felt I had something to prove. When I decided that the best way for me to grow as a crafter was to compete in masquerades, my competitive drive was also factored into my choices. A good example is the cosplay I did back in 2012, Seth Nightroad from Trinity Blood. I loved the anime and even more so the manga that was released closer to the time I decided to tackle this project.
One particular element that always caught my attention was the intricate designs and clothing that the characters were wearing. It’s always the design that draws my curiosity about a character first. I sped through reading the manga and watched through the anime where Seth was introduced. Then I started drawing out the criteria about the character I wanted to portray through sewing. I would ask myself ‘how can I make this character believable? How can I make people believe that the outfit I make is a piece of clothing and not just a costume?’ The best way to research for me was to look at fashion, both modern and historical. I looked at historical clothing that were worn by royalties to help me decide how I would adorn the costume to make it believable that this character is regal. I looked at haute couture to see how I can construct the costume to look like the image, especially the lantern sleeves. Once I had figured out the bigger picture (silhouette, size, design, techniques… etc.), I would do a quick sketch of how I want to build the outfit. I always start making my costumes from inside out. That’s the best way to make everything work together. If you make something from the outside and try to make something to go underneath, it’s most likely won’t fit properly. I didn’t know how to draft patterns at the time, but what I did do was modify existing patterns I bought from fabric stores. I knew how to use patterns and understood the basic mechanics of them. I knew why certain seams were placed in certain areas to allow a 2D object to successfully contour around a 3D object. So in order to learn more about patterning, I would modify existing pattern to fit the design I was trying to create. I certainly couldn’t find a pattern that had lantern sleeves, so to draft it from scratch was a big learning curve for me. I was also learning to use my new embroidery machine. I had no prior knowledge of how to successfully design files for it, I didn’t know what supplies I needed to run the embroidery properly, and I certainly didn’t have too much time to experiment either. I basically hit the ground running. I just went for it and crossed my fingers. Lucky me it all worked out. I was working on the costume right up to the day I was leaving for Anime North where I was going to enter the masquerade. I was sleep deprived, but was so happy to be there with my friends.
I even got asked to do a photoshoot with photographers, which was a first for me. It felt like people were really interested in what I had created. I heard lot of gasps, flood of compliments, and got stopped every minute for a photo. I couldn’t go anywhere easily because everyone wanted to see what I had created. The masquerade also went amazing. The judges were so impressed, and on stage all I heard were cheers and more gasping. One thing that was a negative I would say is that I was too shy to converse with other people, which made me kind of unapproachable. I’m lot better at that now because I don’t want to seem unfriendly. I really do like everyone and the hard work people put into their stuff. I think that’s the greatest gift the cosplay community has given me is help me grow in things I didn’t excel at, such as socializing in crowds, while motivating me to continue to do what I love.
For a while every convention I went to felt like a repeat of the last. I would choose a character in similar manner, compete and do photoshoots. But there were things that started to grab my attention. I feel really old saying this, but cosplay started to really pick up in the world of social media. In my view I felt it really brought attention to how cosplay can’t be just about making stuff and dressing up. Other aspects of cosplay such as photography and videography become more and more needed. So arranging photoshoots and finding those talents to work with became very important. It was how people were going to see you and find you. Another aspect that social media brought to cosplay was putting tutorials together, sharing your process and being very up front about your work was almost expected. It opened up the opportunities for me to also do some commission work. Now this is all really good for the community and I think many of us have the skills we do now because of this. But for me a problem rose. I was overwhelmed and was burning out trying to keep up with everything. I felt a pressure I didn’t have before. Always trying to impress, always produce, and always ‘entertain’ people even when we are not planning for a convention. This is something some people can do, but for me my health deteriorated. I wasn’t myself and couldn’t do anything anymore. My illness like anxiety and depression worsened. The neglect became too much.
Eventually I stopped cosplaying. I remember having absolutely no costume or any pictures of me in cosplay in 2013. I even considered just stopping all together. What got me back on my feet and back cosplaying the following year was the friends I made through going to conventions and cosplaying. They encouraged me and told me that I shouldn’t listen to the negativities that was occupying my mind. I had to take care of myself, and love who I am. Eventually I stopped looking at cosplay as a job, but something I can enjoy. So all this pain ultimately helped me choose my ‘come back’ costume, which was Bombshell Wonder Woman.
It was Wonder Woman, but dressed in a vintage style outfit. Now growing up in a very traditional Asian family, the girls weren’t treated as equals to boys. When I read about Wonder Woman and watch Justice League, I felt a certain empowerment that I had never felt before. Here is a woman who can kick Superman’s butt. A woman who can stand equal to man, and all around strong. She represented strength to me. There was no doubt I loved this character, but to pair her up with my love for fashion sealed the deal. The whole outfit was small enough to put together relatively quickly. I needed a project small enough to give me a sense of achievement of finishing a project. When it was done, I wore her to a comic convention that year. For the first time in a long while, I felt like I found my place again. Once again. I heard nothing but compliments, and I felt a sense of strength I hadn’t in a long time. From there I went to another convention that same year, and something incredibly memorable happened. It was a very touching story another attendee wrote about on Facebook. It was about how much she hated her body. Basically she was calling herself fat and how she shouldn’t cosplay. Then she shared how she saw me at a convention we attended. She was impressed how someone who wasn’t as small as the characters looked confident and beautiful. She later added that I inspired her to love who she was, and that she can cosplay whomever she wanted. It was the moment where I really felt like I broke through a wall that had been holding me back. This thing that had forced me to stop doing what I love for a whole year was releasing me. I became comfortable with who I am and opened up to the community again. I felt confident and recognized my strengths. It really changed my perspective of myself, and my surrounding that I screen cap’d what she shared to keep reminding myself that I am a good person.
From this point on things just kept looking up. These days, the way I would choose a character is different and the way I believe in my own abilities to make something is even stronger. I also love my body and the person I am. I developed to trust in others observation of what I’ve accomplished. I don’t tell myself I’m not good enough or try to be someone I’m not. I’m also more open about letting others know that they are worth something. I’m not scared to say what’s on my mind or make mistakes. From here I chose another project. A project that really made me feel like ‘I’m back’, which is Calamity Jane in her purple gown from the manga version of Trinity Blood. Believe it or not, this wasn’t a challenging costume for me after my many years of experience. I wasn’t looking to prove anything, but needed something that made me proud to put together and enjoy wearing. Now I just needed that motivation to help push me forward.
One day I received a message from a friend telling me that bunch of my cosplay friends had a great idea of doing a cosplay trip to the Canadian Rockies. It’s something none of us had done, and might be a good way to change things up instead of going to a convention. Without any hesitation, I accepted the invite. I was determined to enjoy myself on this trip, so I finally saw a doctor who can help treat my depression; Dr. Savoie, who has been amazing. I feel like myself again, and better than I have in years. I was also driven to tackle this project just like when I last made Seth all those years ago. I felt refreshed.
My approach to take inspiration from fashion hasn’t changed, but my ability to draft patterns from scratch has greatly improved. The embroidery machine is no mystery anymore, and beading was no problem. I did still learn a new skill and made a hat for the first time. I never stop learning in this hobby, and I love it. Through all the hardship, I have skills that many don’t have because cosplay challenged me in ways that I can develop them. It also marked a point where I felt proud of the way I looked. I didn’t think the mermaid gown silhouette was something I could ever pull off, but I think I looked great in it. I wore it to Otakuthon in Montreal before the trip, and the con reaction was very good.
The most memorable reactions that I got were from non-con goers. This happened during the trip to the Canadian Rockies. I had just finished doing a photoshoot at Chateau Lake Louise in Banff National Park. I was waiting for my ride to come get me from their shoot that they were doing at Lake Moraine that was just a 10 minute drive away. While I sat on these large benches the hotel had set up in one of their large halls, few people thought I was part of the hotel attraction. They thought I was an actor that was hired. I had someone tell me I looked like I was dressed up for a grand ball. I took pictures with some tourists passing by as well. The best part was when a whole bus load of Chinese tourists were dropped off for a tour. They didn’t know how to ask for photos, and they were trying to sneak me their shot by positioning themselves just in the right angel of the camera. I got tired of just sitting around so I got up and posed with some of them. I thought ‘oh I’ll just take couple of shot with this person’ and didn’t think much of it. By the time it was all over, I had posed with every single tourist from that group. I swear the hotel should have paid me. Still it was quite a memory I will never forget.
The thing I’m most grateful about the community and the experiences I gained from cosplay is the sense of worth. I feel accomplished in ways I never had working in retail or corporate jobs. I feel happier, I get to travel and see amazing things. Even though we dress up as someone who isn’t real, I feel most alive when I cosplay. It has taught me that being different is the most beautiful thing you can be.