I’ve sewn since I can remember. I grew up in a craftsy and practical household; my mother loved quilting and cross stitch like the many generations of women in our family before her. From the quilts that never seem to get any closer to finished to the pile of clothes needing buttons and mended holes, I was surrounded by project after project. Though it was chaos, and often projects went unfinished, they were never thrown-together--even our Halloween costumes were immaculate, as my mother had a keen eye for perfection and would take nothing less. This environment harboured my early entrance into the trade, and probably my crippling perfectionism, but I digress. I began sewing in 4-H, which is sort of like Girl Scouts, except without any cookies, and anyone is welcome to join. So you have a troupe and you do all sorts of activities, but in 4-H, each person chooses one or a few activities to focus on, specialize in, and compete with. I, of course, chose sewing since I had had some prior experience and wanted to follow in my mother's footsteps. Thus began my journey into a future of costume creation and cosplay, but we’ll get to that later. So, the point of this little story? Well, I had never realized that sewing wasn’t something a lot of people just know how to do. My youth of ironing patterns and learning how to pin chiffon was an experience that my young self didn’t realize was unusual. Rolling my $200 Janome sewing machine down the hallway in 5th grade, I got a lot of strange looks. I had teachers stop me in the hallways to ask me questions about what was in the large carrying case I dragged with me everywhere. They’d tell me, “You sew? Good for you, it’s a dying art.” But why? Why is that? Though I realize that the practical need to sew is not something we as a society deem necessary anymore, it is still a useful life skill and something that’s valuable to know. Not only had I been sewing for fun and, of course, for Halloween, this was also around the same time that I had begun doing large scale theatrical productions, and naturally being the only kid in most any cast who could sew, I became a hot commodity for free labor in any costume shop I entered. In case I haven’t emphasized enough, sewing was one of the biggest parts of my life for the better part of a decade, and I never understood why I was in the minority.
The magical thing was: sewing was coming back, and it was no longer just for those in fashion school or your grandmother anymore. What began this journey, you might ask? Cosplay! If you’re unaware, cosplay is the combination of the words “costume” and “play”, and it involves dressing as a character from a video game, movie, manga, or any other piece of media. There’s some hot debate about whether or not buying your costume constitutes as cosplay, but regardless, the popularity of cosplay in pop culture has breathed new life into the art of making clothes, and it all begins with the women who have grandfathered American cosplay. While cosplay has been a crucial piece of Japanese street fashion and convention culture since the early 90’s, I’ll be discussing its rise in the United States. Creators like Yaya Han, Jessica Nigri, Kamui Cosplay, Meg Turney, and many more have brought cosplay into the mainstream through social media, and have shared their knowledge and skills with the community through books, YouTube tutorials, and their passion for the art. One of these cosplayers in particular has been incredibly influential, and that is Yaya Han. She began her cosplay journey almost 20 years ago, beginning with making her own costumes and small commission pieces on the side from her full time job, to now, where she has built herself into a queen of cosplay. With well over half a million followers on Instagram and one of the most revered presences in the community, Yaya Han has become synonymous with cosplay, and for good reason. In 2016, it was announced that a cosplay-specific fabric line would be coming to Jo-Ann’s fabric store designed and curated by none other than Yaya! It was an extremely exciting time for the cosplay community, as it meant that more character-oriented, high-quality material would be more easily accessible than ever. Now, speaking from experience, strictly fabric stores don’t really exist anymore, as it was not something that was in high demand for a long time. Hancock Fabrics, a chain fabric and sewing store, went bankrupt in 2016 and closed all of their stores for good. As you can imagine when living in rural Wyoming, this was the only fabric store (besides quilt shops) in the entire state, so when it closed, my mother, I, and every fellow costumer I knew mourned its loss for the next year and beyond. Point being that often cosplay supplies were, at one point, extremely difficult to come by, but this collaboration made unusual specialty fabrics with specific characters and costumes in mind readily available. Not only that, but more recently, Jo-Ann’s has begun carrying a Yaya Han collaboration with Dremel with her own custom Dremel tool, as well as Worbla and EVA foam, two of the most difficult materials to find and the most expensive to ship. (Read more about these materials HERE).
If I sound like a crazy person ranting about the accessibility of cosplay materials, it’s because I’ve had an intense love and passion for the art from a very young age, and it was not always an easy hobby for me to pursue. Cosplay is extremely difficult. It’s expensive, requires a lot of on-the-fly adaptation and invention, it’s very time consuming, and I found that the resources to pursue it were few and far between in my tiny town. When I saw the Yaya Han collaboration in Jo-Ann's for the first time, it was such a joyful experience for me. I was overwhelmed with inspiration and light from simply walking through the isles of faux leather and brocade, and it was a really powerful experience to see the parts and pieces of a hobby I had dreamed about making a career sitting on a shelf inches away from me. In the gap between the end of my competitive costume making days and my discovery of cosplay, I rarely sewed, because I never had a reason to. It always made me happy, but I hadn’t been drawn to it until I first discovered people like Jessica Nigri and Zonbi. I’ve watched the cosplay community absolutely explode in America over the past ten or so years, and it’s been an incredible journey to see my childhood hobby turn into something so revolutionary. In short, the cosplay community has inspired countless young artists to pick up the sewing trade, and I can’t wait to see what they create in the future.
Cosplayers Mentioned (and some more that I love):