Behind the Costume with Cosplayholic
Written by Dan Barnett on 29 Apr 2020
At only 21 Cosplayholic (aka Katie to her friends) is well on her way to cosplay stardom on the UK circuit. She took the time to speak with us and detail her career and the path to cosplay sucess!
When did you start seeing cosplay as something you wanted to be involved in?
It’s weird, because when I was younger I didn’t particularly enjoy sewing, but I’ve always been interested in creative stuff and when I was about fifteen I got shingles. I had a friend who just decided she was going to start cosplaying and I thought ‘hey, while I’m stuck inside maybe giving sewing a go would be a good idea’. It turns out I really enjoyed it!
We were going to I52 later in the summer and we both entered the competition there and I enjoyed performing as well and from then I just kept entering competitions until I actually go good at it.
Were those just masquerade-type competitions?
Yeah, at the time Insomnia just had one masquerade and it was for all abilities and it was just sort of fun to join in with. They give you feedback if you enter competitions which is a really good way to learn how to improve.
Who did you go as?
I was Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones.
So it was fairly recently that you got into cosplay then?
Yeah...I52...So, I’m twenty-one now and it was when I was fifteen. So it’s like six years ago roughly.
How did you enjoy the first time out in the costue? Were you nervous?
Yeah, I really enjoyed it. It was really fun. I always enjoyed performing in things, so I enjoyed the aspect of being on stage and doing a skit as well as the process of the sewing. And my grandma bought me a sewing machine when she found out I was sewing. (Grandma is awesome! - Ed) That just meant that basically it sped me up a lot so I immediately decided that I wanted to make something else and started on my next project as soon as I finished the first one!
How long did it take you to make the first costume?
Back in the day when I first started most of my projects used to take me about three days to make. Nowadays I’d say a casual costume, so one that I don’t make for competitions, takes me about two weeks. Not including planning and ordering materials. It will probably take me about two weeks to make. One that I’m making for competitions can take me from nine months to a year. Obviously I don’t work full time on them, but it takes a lot longer and they’re more complex.
How many costumes have you made since you started?
I am..unsure. I can probably count the competitive ones I’ve made, I’m not sure how many other one’s I’ve made just for general cons. I’d put the number between twenty and thirty.
That’s a pretty big number for six years experience!
Yeah! When I first started, because they only took me three days to make I would get through them pretty fast. I’d make one for each day of each con I was going to. Whereas now because my skills have improved and I tend to be lot more picky about the quality of my costumes they take me a lot longer and I reuse costumes more.
Do you have a favourite costume?
Probably my Sansa Stark which I did two years ago for I62. The championship there. It’s a really accurate costume. It didn’t actually cost that much to make but I really like the way it looks on me. It’s very easy to get into for a competitive costume and it just turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. That’s probably my favourite costume I’ve made to date.
I like how ease of getting into it is a key factor!
(laughs) Yeah, it’s like, I have to wear a corset with it so it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world. Depending on what corset I have to wear. But it’s definatley one that I don’t have to spend hours getting into!I’ve had some costumes where you have like body paint and armour and a corset and it’s taken me like two and a half hours to get into them which isn’t particularly good!
You’ve been talking about the competitions you’ve entered, how have you fared in those?
Generally I place in them, though I don’t always come first because there's a lot of skilled cosplayers in the UK. Thought the competitive scene is quite small. There’s a lot of people who are very good. I don’t do international competitions very much . I don’t try and enter them because they don’t have as good prize money for the preliminaries generally and as a student I use my prize money to fund my next project. I don’t think I’d do as well in them because you get such a high standard. I think I could probably qualify eventually if I put a lot of effort in but I don’t tend to tailor my costumes for those. But anything local or national I tend to do pretty decently in. At Insomnia I normally get a prize. The same with Showmasters conventions. But I won’t necessarily come first or anything. There’s lots of good cosplayers.
How many event’s are there in the UK? I suspect there are more than people realise.
There are quite a lot. If I’m counting international ones you’ve got Eurocosplay which has preliminaries in Manchester MCM and the finals in London MCM which is an international one. You’ve got the crown championship for cosplay which has preliminaries in Birmingham, Manchester and London and then the finals are in Birmingham MCM. Well, the finals are in Chicago but you’ve got to do a final preliminary in Birmingham. You’ve got WCS, the World Cosplay Summit which is in London MCM and then the finals are in Japan. I think Anime League do one as well but I’ve never gone to an anime league con so I don’t know much about those ones. Insomnia do a championship masquerade which is the one that I enter and they also do a community one which means...if you’re starting off in cosplay or you didn’t make your own costume but you still want to perform and maybe win a prize then the masquerade’s quite good. I think if you were just starting out then it’s a really good way to get feedback. And then the championship has a bigger prize fund and tends to have bigger costumes entering it.
There’s quite a good progression for people then?
Yeah, I find that Insomnia is a really good convention to enter for starting out in cosplay as the competition isn’t...I mean, it’s got a lot harder since I first started entering it but it’s not too hard compared to say a crown championship preliminary which would be really hard. And the prize money’s pretty good.
You’ve also got the Showmaster’s ones as well which have preliminaries around the country and then they have a final in London. Those are quite fun as well. They allow a video backdrop on the stage in the final which is not something a lot of cons have in the UK. That’s one if you like doing performance.
How do you choose which character you’re going to do next and putting the costume together?
If I’m doing a casual costume it’s generally ‘oh I like this character, I like the way the costume’s built’. I did Yen recently from the Witcher and my boyfriend streams sometimes and he was streaming the Witcher at the time. He has a great beard so we decided he’d make a good Geralt (Imagine how good a Geralt Brian Blessed would make! - Ed) so I agreed that I’d make him a Geralt costume if he paid me for materials and I would do Yen. I really like Yen’s costume. I really like her personality in the Witcher and I like Witcher lore so that costume just sort of fit in with me and I really enjoyed making it and wearing it.
If I’m doing a competitive costume I tend to choose a costume that is for a character that I like or that I at least know a bit about in the show because I need to be able to make a skit and I need some sort of knowledge of the character. I also make sure that they have a decent range of techniques in the costume. Generally something that I think is going to challenge me a bit. So at the moment I’m making Delores from Westworld. She has some very strange sleeves, and I’m not very good at sleeves! Sleeves are horrible! So my challenge with that is learning about sleeve modification and better fitting. She also has a bit of really basic leather work which I’m gonna be learning a little bit about because the costume I want to make afterwards has a lot of leather work. It’ll be nice to learn a little bit from Delores before I go onto my next one. In my last one I learned the basics of tailoring as well.
How much do you tend to make yourself vs buying off the peg?
With a competition piece basically everything's done myself. I tend to buy wigs but I modify them sometimes or style them. My last costume I made the corset, I made the socks. I made shoe covers...all of the clothing was made by me. For Delores I think...yeah, I’m making the drawers which is like the historical underwear of the time. I made the corset, chemise, bodice, skirt I’m not going to make the socks and I haven’t made the shoes. I bought a wig but I need to style it but the styling isn’t very complex. So it’s basically just buying a wig.
If I’m doing something for casual costumes I might buy gloves whereas if I’m doing it competetivley I’ll make the gloves. But gloves are really horrible to make though they give you good points in competitions. Generally I make thing’s myself. I also tend to like making the patterns myself because I just really dislike modifying patterns. The amount of time it takes me, especially if it needs to be really drastically different from something. I find it easier just to drape a pattern that I think will fit me relatively well and be about right to start with and then modify from there. I think that’s a much quicker process for me really.
What sort of key tools and skills do you need for cosplay?
My personal forte is sewing. I’m good at sewing compared to anything else to do with cosplay. That’s probably my key skill and that’s developed from at the start where I was completely self-taught so it was just sort of pinning pieces together and making sure it worked. In fact at the start I didn’t really pin fabric properly or finish my seams. I finished them with big zig-zag stitch but badly. I ran over them too fast with the sewing machine – it used to drop stitches. That’s how I started sewing. Over time I’ve come to notice that the advice you get given in terms of ‘press your seams’, ‘make sure you pin things’ like, ‘press your seams as you’re going not just when you’ve finished the entire costume’. Stitch slowly when you need to do close together stitching with zig-zags so it doesn’t drop stitches. Change your needles when you’re doing different fabrics. It’s all really valuable advice tat I didn’t listen too when I first started! But the more I sew, the more I notice the difference between me doing it and not doing it.
Well, we all know better to start with don’t we!?
(laughs) Yeah. I think that’s a lot of the reason I used to be able to get things done so fast. I just took so many shortcuts, I cut corners. But if I want something that’s actually good quality and competition standard to what I’m working at now it’s better if I actually do things how you’re supposed to do them!
I’ve also learned other bits and bobs, like I know the basics of warbler and thermoplastics. I know a lot of foam theory but I’m not very good at practically working in foam. I can do a big of haircutting and wig-styling but I’m not that amazing at it. But yeah, I’ve learned so many things with sewing and it’s been useful in terms of, I’m able to make my own clothes as well. Like when I had my prom in 2017 I made my own prom dress as well. Which was nice.
I bet that made you stand out from the crowd!
Yeah, I really wanted something Elie Saab style with gradiented embroidery and translucent long sleeves and I couldn’t afford a designer dress as I’m not that rich! So I just went and found fabrics and I made one and that was really fun to do!
What’s been your stand-out moment since you started?
I think a lot of my best memories are winning competitions when I really wasn’t expecting to win the competition. With my Sansa Stark, because it was so simply made I wasn’t expecting to do well with it and then it did do well and that was a wonderful moment. And also the first time I ever won a competition that was really great as well. It just feels like, when you do lots of entering competitions and you’re regularly entering them it gives me quite a boost when I do well in them. Also when I’m walking around conventions in costume I really like it when people ask for photo’s and ask about the costume. Although I tend to go off on a ...talking about things that they probably don’t understand costume-wise if they’re not a cosplayer themselves! But I really enjoy when people come up and speak to me and ask about costumes. That’s always nice because I like meeting people who are interested whether it’s in the show or the costume.
Where can people find you?
My main thing is my Instagram which is Cosplayholic_
*All images are use with the permission of Cosplayholic
About Dan Barnett
Dan first encountered anime at the ripe old age of six with a VHS copy of Laputa. Ten years later he re-discovered it in Robotech and overnight a DVD collection was born.