A couple months ago, I decided to cosplay for the first time by attending the Dallas A-Kon anime convention as the Pokémon Espurr. It was a decision made completely on impulse, for the idea came about at a point when I had an eternity of free time. See, I had unexpectedly found myself without schooling and without employment in the Fall of 2014. In an effort to retain my sanity and keep track of the passing days, I began creating mini projects for myself. As I contemplated a sort of creative avenue in which to channel my time (as opposed to purely consuming), I got the idea of putting together a cosplay for the upcoming A-Kon 26.
When I was a little kid, I loved arts and crafts. I remember that my mom would take me to Garden Ridge (a store I only knew as “the craft store”) and let me buy little things like pipe cleaners and fabric paint. For some reason, I really liked making pillows back then; I think I was enchanted by the prospect of 2D images becoming “3D” when sufficiently stuffed. My mom would draw things on layers of fabric and I would cut them out for her to sew using the machine. I would then decorate the sides using scraps of material such as pom-poms and ribbon. I was also particularly fond of painting on various patterns using special glow-in-the-dark fabric paint. After letting me stuff my creations, my mom would sew together the final edge and turn my work into a shaped pillow.
I used to have a lot of fun making little crafts like that, and I would check out craft books at the library for even more ideas. The most complicated project I attempted involved a little stuffed turtle (utilizing patterns from a book, mind) that I stitched together by hand. Even so, despite my enjoyment of such activities, I soon left them behind as I grew older and found myself spending more time on things such as drawing or programming.
Needless to say, when I decided to act on my impulsive desire to make a cosplay, I was treading into uncharted territory; while working as a child, I never even advanced my skill enough to create clothing. Arts and crafts had not entered my thoughts in years! However, I had a lot of time on my hands. To be honest, I was more preoccupied with deciding on the character I’d be cosplaying as instead of worrying about my capabilities. Given that I had not formally watched any anime in years, this was a somewhat difficult decision. After rejecting a few potential characters in my head, a friend of mine indirectly reminded me about the Pokémon Espurr. I had previously spent the past months attempting to breed a shiny Espurr in Pokémon X, as I considered it one of my favorite Pokémon. Given the personal connection I felt after having “raised” an Espurr in-game, I found the prospect of cosplaying the adorable-yet-disconcerting little oxymoron hilariously charming.
After I had finally decided on a character, I then turned my sights towards actually figuring out how to make it happen. I had no clue as to how to approach the project and I actually feel that this lack of knowledge ironically helped. See, while I didn’t know what to do to make a costume, I didn’t know what to not do either — in essence, I did not know what was a plausible course of action and what would be unrealistic. If I have to be completely honest, this was the basis of how I made my costume: trial, error, and experimentation. A skill-set quite familiar to me as a former scientific researcher.
I did eventually settle on a starting point, however — I decided to draw. I still didn’t have a coherent enough goal to be able to sketch concept art, but I did know that I would have to adjust the Espurr Pokémon’s proportions to fit human proportions. I also knew that I wanted a full removable “head” for my costume — one, because I thought it would be funnier and two, because it would be my first time cosplaying, the mask would let me feel more “in character”. During my research when I googled other Espurr cosplays, I noted that some of the heads people made were (in my opinion) either too large or too small in terms of proportion. Thus, the head became the focus of my measurements. I should also add that the Espurr image I distorted to human proportions to help me determine the sizing is burned into my mind as a thing of horrors.
At any rate, once I determined the proportions of the head, I was then faced with making the drawing a reality. I was fortunate enough to have Jo-Ann Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, and Michael’s all across the street from my apartment and situated next to one another. After lurking around the aisles, I eventually settled on purchasing 2.5 yards of 0.5″ foam from Jo-Ann Fabrics. The length of the roll was admittedly more than I actually needed, but I figured that I would waste a lot of foam when I would “carve” it into shape as planned — especially if I would do so poorly, which would be highly likely.
Since my timing was fortuitously shortly before Halloween, I was also able to make note of a gray fur material which I decided looked Espurr-y enough for my purposes. As there was only a little bit of material remaining on the bolt however, I decided to request a special order at the counter for more of the fur.
I started by making a foam mask that fit around my head, bonding the pieces together with hot-glue. Everything else was experimentation. Using a mishmash of scissors, an X-ACTO knife, and a suture needle driver, I ended up with… a mess. Indeed, I eventually had to go back and re-glue together chunks of foam that I had cut off until eventually realizing a shape that was beginning to look like an Espurr head. Partially due to the holes in the foamy framework, the head had rather good ventilation and I intentionally left some areas of air-flow under the ears as well. For most of the construction however, the ear portions remained detached; seeing as the ears were such a large part of Espurr’s design, I wanted to be fully satisfied with the shape of the head before adding the ears.
I eventually received word from Jo-Ann Fabrics that my special order had come in. The timing was rather good, as I had progressed with the head far enough to start trying to fur it. Unfortunately, I soon found out that the store had royally screwed up my order — not only was the fur completely different from the one I had requested, but they had also ordered an additional roll of foam for some reason. To make matters worse, I was informed that the store would not be able to order more of the material I originally requested because, for some senseless reason, the fur shared a SKU with an assortment of other furs. It was an outrageous affair, and one that irrevocably threw a wrench into any plans of possibly making a full-body costume. Since at this point I didn’t even know if I would be able to make the head, I reluctantly accepted the gray fur that remained, as well as their apologies. Thankfully, they were accommodating enough to discount my purchase.
Since I was not cognizant of fabric-lingo, I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that the width of the fabric was roughly twice the size of the bolt (earlier, I had thought that “width” was referring to the yardage). I knew I had to be very careful not to waste much, however. Spoiler alert: wastage happened regardless, and I had to fall back on my tried-and-true method of hot-gluing smaller pieces into larger ones. For the most part though, furring went pretty smoothly. I would use masking tape to create a, well, mask of the area needing fabric (the tape stuck poorly on the foam, making it easy to use) and would cut out a matching piece of fur. I would then — you guessed it — hot-glue the fur onto the foam. It worked pretty well, and the seams were hidden for the most part by the long pile of the fur.
I could not fur the entire head, however. For one, I still had not finalized the shape and the way the ears would attach. But in addition to the ears, I would also have to figure out how I would make the eyes before gluing fur onto the face. The eyes were another crucial part of Espurr’s design, and while I knew I could cobble together a pair, an embroidered set of Espurr eyes on Etsy caught, well, my eye. I thought that embroidered patches would go really well with the fur covering the rest of the head (perhaps creating a sort of plushy/doll effect) and submitted an order. As for actually creating a system for me to see out of the costume, I decided that I could cut a horizontal hole in the front of the head that could be reasonably concealed with fur.
Either way, I could not progress with the vision or fur aspects of the head until the embroidered eyes came in. Unfortunately, communication with the seller was exceedingly poor. While I do not mean to generalize, I have regrettably experienced only mediocre service from “freelancer-type” artists over the Internet — punctuality and communication are usually unsatisfactory. While I do apologize if the complications with my order were legitimate, I received excuses detailing things such as machinery problems and issues with the post office (all sent weeks apart, mind) until I finally received the order. At that point, I was just happy to have received the eyes and was rather satisfied with the quality.
In the time it took for the eyes to arrive, I had finalized the shape of the head and ears. By this time however, I had also realized that my previous technique to see out of the costume would not work without Espurr appearing with a large gash on its face. I did a bit of research on the techniques mascot costumes use to accommodate the wearer’s vision and found a method that has been utilized by Disney in the past. Essentially, the trick is to use a plastic sheet that is covered in tiny perforations; while the plastic (and any accompanying paintwork) appears fairly solid from afar, positioning one’s eye right up against the material will also allow them to see through it fairly well.
Unfortunately, the embroidered eyes I ordered were obviously not made of micro-perforated plastic. They looked so nice with the costume’s fur however that I wanted to use them and adapt them somehow so that I could see. Eventually, I came up with a solution — I could cut out the white “shines” from the patches and replace them with the special material. I was actually able to find such a material fairly easily as Michael’s carried a vinyl weave used for cross stitching that worked perfectly. I then carefully cut out the shines from the patches, outlined the area with black paint pen, and sealed the frayed thread with 99¢ clear nail polish. I was pretty happy with my modifications!
Slowly, my tangle of unorthodox ideas and failed experimentation shaped Espurr’s head into a product I was happy with. With still some time remaining until A-kon, I figured that I could make use of some of the fur that I [surprisingly] still had left over. I enlisted the help of my friend to measure/cut a shirt pattern and hand-sewed the pieces together on account of not owning a sewing machine. I also used remaining scraps of foam to (yup!) hot-glue Espurr’s wing-like protrusions of fur to the back of my newly made shirt. While the final top was still rather rough and could have had its edges finished better, I was thankful that my handiwork was holding together at all and was pleased with the result.
Unfortunately, I did have to remedy a slight problem that I noticed while wearing the head with the costume — my neck would show! I made a quick fix by essentially making a simple ascot-like piece that could be held with Velcro (for easy removal). In doing so, I found the concept of Velcro-aided detachable pieces appealing enough to incorporate into yet more impulsive additions to the costume: the white tips of Espurr’s arms. I had thought earlier that having Espurr’s digit-less “hands” would look funny in costume, but did not want to deal with the obvious complications that would arise throughout the day if I would have to remove my top to use my fingers. Velcro solved this problem nicely and added two bonuses: one, watching Espurr rip off its own forearms was hilarious and two, I got to feel like Iron Man as my friends helped me “suit up” by sealing the Velcro forearms in place.
The only thing remaining was Espurr’s pants… or lack thereof. The original goal of this project was to make a lone Espurr head that I could casually wear at a convention — it had expanded into something much more featured. As a result, the absence of pants made the costume feel a little lacking. I made a reasonable effort to locate a similar fur material to the one I used so that I could make pants. I even ventured back to 2004 and went on LiveJournal to ask the Furry community, only to find that the “warm gray” tone of the fur was, in fact, rather sought-after.
I then had a decision to make. Either I could spend a lot of money to try various fabrics (likely imported from overseas) until I found an acceptable match, or simply embrace the inevitable imperfections that I would introduce into my costume otherwise. The fact of the matter was that I really had no future plans to improve, reuse, or re-purpose my costume — this was a project born out of a vast sea of free time that (as I later found out) would be coming to an end a few months after A-kon. Basically, it wasn’t worth the money or effort for me to seek out a suitable matching fabric. I then focused on the next best thing — comfort. All I did was find a pair of comfy gray pajamas and wore them with the rest of my outfit. There was a noticeable mismatch, but I really do think it added something to the costume in its own way.
When the weekend of the convention finally arrived, I couldn’t help but wonder how long the costume would last; I was almost certain that it would not hold through the weekend, especially considering the fact that the copious amounts of hot-glue holding the cosplay together would be exposed to the unforgiving Texas sun. I was not too concerned however and was going to take whatever would happen in stride — I’m quite good at that sort of thing. I was pretty sure that only a handful of people would recognize my cosplay and take my picture that weekend anyways as there would doubtlessly be numerous other, cooler cosplays present.
Upon receiving my badge, I immediately realized that I had not accounted for a way to display my badge in costume without it appearing in the way. Without any tools to work with, I quickly came up with the idea to knot one side of the lanyard multiple times and slipped the cord through between the waistband of my pants. It worked well and served its purpose.
As for my actual experience at the convention, I was very surprised at the amount of people recognizing my cosplay and wanting to take pictures. Not only that, but I was shocked at the amount of compliments I was receiving, especially when people would ask how I made certain parts of the costume. Being able to interact with the amount of attention I was receiving “in character” was a lot of fun for me, especially since it was my first cosplaying experience.
On that note, I must say that the act of interacting itself took a little bit of adjustment. Most notably, I lacked any sort of peripheral vision whatsoever. In addition, the construction of my eyes was in such a way that vision worked better in dim environments, meaning that I would be temporarily blinded every so often when I stepped into a patch of sunlight. I did a bit of searching beforehand to read about how professional costumers dealt with this, and found that they typically had a “handler” at their sides to help them move around. Indeed, I had noticed this practice at Disney World and also chuckled to myself as I witnessed how “unsteady” some of the full-suited cosplayers appeared during the cosplay contest when faced with the descending stairs.
Even with a friend to serve as my “handler,” there were a lot of funny moments where I would inadvertently run into people/walls or perceive illusory “obstacles” due to my “eyes” playing tricks on me in the lighting. Stairs in particular became my worst enemy. Nevertheless, I adapted fairly quickly as my handler and I devised a number of tactics to ambulate effectively. I also found that sort of swaying my head from side to side would offer glimpses of my lost peripheral vision. The bonus in doing thus was also the fact that it looked like Espurr was curiously looking around the venue as the handler was guiding it.
Indeed, it also was a slight adjustment for me as I realized that my and Espurr’s “bodies” were a little disconnected in some aspects. For example, I am not used to having “wings” on my shoulders in real life, so I often found myself failing to account for the extra space they would take up and often hit them on door-frames. I also obviously did not have nerve endings on my Espurr “head” and would sometimes not realize where people were petting me. Even when my body would be touched by others, I would sometimes not realize where they were touching me because of the fur padding (though I would have a general idea, of course). In addition, I realized that the head’s “mouth” would, of course, stay stationary when I talked, making it a little difficult for people to realize that I was talking unless I spoke louder than usual. For that reason, I eventually stopped trying to talk and started focusing my thoughts into my body language. I think doing so made interactions more vibrant (and slightly unsettling, which would be in line with the Espurr character).
All in all, the experience was a lot of fun, and served as a very exciting initiation of me officially becoming a cosplayer.
I have to say that one of the reasons why my experience was so enjoyable was because of the cosplay community. Everyone was there to have fun and the cosplayers were definitely supportive of one another; it was the reason why I was able to attend a photoshoot at all, despite being in an amateur costume. With the way they treated me, it made me feel as if I had always been a part of the “group” and was taken aback by some who inquired whether I would show up at other Texas anime conventions. I was even flattered by another cosplayer telling me that she was glad to see other “Furry Pokémon cosplayers” like her and was surprised when I told her that it was my first time doing anything remotely cosplay-related.
When the time came for me to hang up my costume, I had gained a new-found respect for cosplayers and the their community. But perhaps even more-so, I gained an immense respect for those who toil to create their own costumes; I’m talking about those who dedicate large amounts of time and money to their craft. My trials in creating my cosplay made me realize what a … high art-form costuming is — it is an imaginative task of creating the tangible from the intangible and allows for a lot of opportunities to think out of the box. To me, it seems that such a process in creating the costume inevitably brings the creator closer to the character and expresses their love for their subject beyond simple imitation. At that point, they have become the character.