Saturday, May 21, 2016

Combined Cosplay: Elsa, Princess of the Fire Nation!

I've written before about the most complex cosplay I've made to date: a fiery version of Elsa from Frozen. In that post, though, I had not yet finished the costume nor achieved my ultimate goal of combining the Elsa costume with Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender. This combo translates to a dark-haired Elsa dressed in fire colors, with Zuko's scar and Fire Nation accessories.

I got the idea from a combined cosplay workshop I attended at the Anime Central convention in Chicago last year, in which we were encouraged to design unconventional cosplay ideas that would change up the typical "canon accurate" cosplay formula. Even though Elsa has the grace of a snowy day, while Zuko has a short, fiery temper, I feel these two characters are similar. Both start their stories as heirs to their country's throne, both are older siblings (like me), both feel burdened by their parents' expectations, and both lack confidence and a sense of belonging. In the end, both embrace their powers and inherent worth, both gain the inner strength needed to help defeat the bad guys, and both end up as well-loved monarchs (bonus: fire colors match my own olive complexion better than Elsa's icy pastels!). And as of my last Google image search, no one else appears to have done this costume concept before (or if they have, they haven't put it online), so it's original!

This fanart from zhevickmeister of Zuko "letting it go" is the closest thing I found to an Elsa-Zuko online.

As I reported in the prior post, I wore the costume for the first time at Con-Alt-Delete, where I didn't yet have all the Zuko accoutrements and just went as a Fire Elsa. Since then, I've worn the complete costume at three more cons! Feedback from fellow con-goers has been overwhelmingly positive, though I almost always have to tell people who I'm supposed to be. Here's a picture of my cape/ the back of the costume (i.e., the prettiest part):

Note, also, the scar makeup around my eye, the Fire Nation crown, the Fire Nation symbols in my hair, and the gold-sequined "embroidery" of the Fire Nation symbol on my sleeves!

I was wondering how I would feel wearing this costume, considering that it combines both a male and a female character. Well, firstly, the positive responses from other con-goers made me feel super proud and happy! And the costume itself (as usual) seemed to imbue its own inherent sense of confidence, because I strolled through the halls of Ohayocon in Columbus, OH singing a Zuko-relevant remix I wrote of Elsa's song Let It Go. In public! I never would have had the courage to do that normally! (It also helped that it was so crowded that I don't think anyone heard me besides my friends) But as for the gendered aspects--in this case represented by whether I was acting more like Elsa or more like Zuko--it interestingly depended on a prop.

Ohayocon in January 2016 was the first time I wore the complete Elsa-Zuko getup. I did not have a flame-shaped prop to wear on my hand at that point. I posed for most of my pictures in this manner:

It looks a lot like Elsa's signature pose where she's conjuring a snowflake, right? And that pose was what I felt most comfortable doing at the time, nice and subdued and non-threatening.

However, I wished I had something that looked like a flame to "conjure!" So I set a challenge for myself to add some tech to this cosplay by laser-cutting a flame shape and lighting it up with EL wire. With help from folks at Bloominglabs, our local makerspace, I got the EL wire working and was now able to "firebend"!

Interestingly, I now started posing like this:

Unfortunately the flame was briefly not lighting up at this con. Credit for the professional-quality photo goes to PixieLight Photo!
Note the fierce snarl and aggression in my stance. This is much more Zuko-like than my previous flame-less poses, because firebending in Avatar usually involves flames coming out of a punching fist. This clashes greatly with my usually even-tempered disposition. Like Kylo Ren's mask, this flame prop seemed to make all the difference in giving me the confidence to act differently from my usual self. And it was a lot of fun pretending to punch fire everywhere! At one con, I even played with my friends' young daughters, who were "cosplaying" (in store-bought dress-up dresses) as Elsa and Anna. I would "hurl my fire" at them, and they would "defeat" me, over and over again, with their "powers." I think this speaks to the way cosplay taps into the inner child in all of us, recovering that sense of delight in play that seems to be lost as we grow older.

I'm planning to wear the Fire Elsa dress one more time, this time at a con where all my friends will be dressing up as personifications of websites like Twitter and Youtube. I decided to use this dress to represent the browser Firefox. I will use different props this time, including fox ears and tail, a glowing blue globe like in the Firefox logo, and a red and yellow wig. It will be interesting to see how these different props and group dynamics will inspire me to act!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Making Knit-Waves: The Seafoam Stitch

A few weeks ago I went on a bike-adventure-turned-misadventure: my chain broke, the bike shop nearby was closed, and a rain-snow mixture was pelting down on the streets of Pittsburgh. This situation could have become very stressful very quickly, but thankfully, I happened to be carrying a skein of yarn and a pair of needles in my backpack. Once again -> Knitting to the rescue!

I jumped between puddles and landed in the Beehive, a corner coffee shop on the southside of the city. As I slowly settled in the comfy coffee-scented space, I realized that this was a prime opportunity to scroll through Ravelry. I was not going anywhere anytime soon, so it was just fine if I got lost in the endless pages of beautiful and interesting knit patterns.

How do I choose a new pattern?

At this point in my knitting path, there are still so many stitches and patterns that I have not made yet. However, I am more draw to patterns that I cannot figure out simply by looking at the picture. For example, I know how to identify ribbing. To make ribbed knit stitches, the knitter knits two stitches then purls two stitches (K2P2) for the desired length. Although I like the way ribbed stitches look and feel, this is not challenging for me.

In a nutshell: I currently choose patterns based on my inability to figure them out with the naked eye. The presence of the challenge drives the motivation to make.

So there I sat, allowing myself to sink deeper and deeper into the ocean of Ravelry patterns when something caught my eye: Ali Green's Seafoam Scarf pattern. I stared at the picture for a minute.

How did she make those interesting loops?

Ali Green's Seafoam Stitch pattern. 

I had no clue, which is why I decided to cast on and get started.

As usual, it took me a few knits and tinks to understand what was going on in the pattern (like I've mentioned before, so much of the learning happens through doing and then undoing). I realized that the pattern is rooted in sets of 10 stitches. This means that the knitter can choose the width of the piece, as long as groups of 10 are maintained. Here, I followed her pattern and chose to work with a total of 30 stitches.

The cast on and first rows of my own rainy day seafoam stitch project.

Much to my delight, I soon found that the pattern consists entirely of knit stitches and yarn overs (YO). Have you ever heard knitters talk about the meditative nature of the craft? This is definitely a pattern that can become meditative, as the absence of purl stitches allows the knitter to keep a repetitive flow of movement.

As a side note: I have become much more aware of texture as my knitting journey progresses. The seafoam stitch creates an extremely comfortable texture because the intentionally-dropped YOs give the wearer a maximum range of movement without disrupting the aesthetic of the piece. 

The texture of the seafoam stitch is the result of a lovely blend of form and function.

I carried this project with me for several weeks. Eventually, I ran out of red yarn and only then did I realize that I had not planned how to finish the piece. After I bound off, I was left with a very short scarf - something made for a kiddo. For the first time, I decided to stitch the ends together with a needle and a bit of thread to make a cowl. Admittedly, this felt a little bit like cheating, as I completely bypassed the complexity of knitting the round, but what can I say? Sometime's you've just got to roll with the (knitted) waves.

The finished seafoam stitch cowl.