Profiles in Sewing: Philip OdangoAn avid creator pursues cosplay excellence
From superheroes such as DC’s Aquaman and Marvel’s Doctor Strange to warriors like Moana’s Maui and The Hobbit’s Thranduil, Philip Odango has cosplayed characters of many backgrounds. Cosplay, short for costume play, is the practice of not only wearing a costume depicting a certain character, but acting like the character as well. It is also commonly used to refer to the costume itself. A cosplay is not necessarily handmade, but many cosplayers take pride in constructing their own armor and sewing their own garments.
Philip is an award-winning cosplayer and has been featured at conventions around the world, speaking about cosplay techniques and judging cosplay competitions. Since 2006, he has created more than 60 costumes, some of which can be seen on his website, CanvasCosplay.com. He is the creator of the Instagram account and hashtag BrosWhoSew, building a community connecting men who sew and sharing their work on the social media platform. He is also a brand ambassador for Singer Sewing Company. Threads asked him to discuss his work and his experience in the world of cosplay.
Threads: How did you first become interested in cosplay?
Philip Odango: I first became interested in cosplay in 1998 when I volunteered for a children’s festival in Virginia. Dressing up in a large bulldog mascot costume, being extroverted, and creating fun moments with kids gave me an immense thrill. That’s also when I learned how difficult and exhausting it can be to wear 80 pounds of fur while standing on your feet all day. Since then, I’ve enjoyed the “play” part of cosplay, and participated in plays and other community arts events.
TH: How do you decide which character to cosplay?
PO: I enjoy connecting with the story of the character I am cosplaying. I often relate to underdogs or magical creatures with hidden agendas. There’s the thrill of discovering those qualities within myself and bringing them to the surface through cosplay that allows me to become my version of the character rather than being a carbon copy. With inspiration drawn from pop culture, literature, art history, and emerging technologies, there are so many options and opportunities now. I often select characters whose stories I embrace and whose technical craftsmanship challenges allow me to elevate my own skill sets. For cosplay craftsmanship competitions, I select characters whose designs can highlight difficulty of technique.
TH: What is the process of creating a cosplay like?
PO: I project-manage my designs through four phases: observation, preparation, execution, and editing. Coming from a professional theater background, I enjoy observing the character in their natural habitat and considering their environment, terrain, eating habits, and daily schedule. From those imaginings, I draft concepts around texture, movement, color, scale, proportion, fit, and begin exploring the technical challenges of making it all work. During this preparation phase, I also begin swatching fabrics and materials and study them under different lighting. I develop a materials list, budget, and production time line. My time lines are informed by feasibility in terms of cost, time to execute, and skills required. The execution phase is when the sewing and fabrication take place. In the edit phase, I tailor the costume and make fixes to get it right.
TH: How long does it generally take to complete a cosplay, from concept to completion?
PO: Depending on the time of year, finances, scheduling with other priorities, and if there’s a project or convention I’m working toward, a cosplay can take from a couple of weeks to six months to conceive and complete. Sometimes, materials need to be sourced internationally or have to be made from scratch. There is also a trial-and-error period, as we are constantly discovering new techniques or doing research to troubleshoot a problem. There is also the process of making a muslin version of the cosplay and ripping it up for patterns. Therefore, there are many aspects to consider when planning a cosplay. For many cosplayers, the work is almost never done, as we often like to revise or augment some portion of our work.
TH: What has been the most challenging cosplay to complete?
PO: My most challenging cosplay is Aquaman’s gold armor. All the body armor pieces are entirely sewn. The fabrics are thick, scale-textured faux leather and four-way stretch metallic fabric from CosplayFabrics.com. To get a custom fit, I create all my patterns. For this cosplay, I had to create the pattern and cut and sew all the muscle sections of the zip suit, including the French-seamed pauldrons (shoulder covers) out of this textured faux leather, in addition to fabric-covered bracers (arm guards), gloves, leg armor, and boot covers.
TH: What is the most rewarding part of sharing your work at cosplay conventions?
PO: While I enjoy showing o my creations and meeting up with my cosplay friends, as a professional teaching artist I enjoy sharing my insights, knowledge, and tips by presenting and participating in cosplay panels. From tips on competing in cosplay competitions to sharing sewing techniques using my Singer sewing machines, helping others discover their own sense of creative self-expression is the most rewarding thrill of being involved at conventions. As a plus-size cosplayer of color and as a male sewer, I am always inspired to meet creators like myself.
TH: Why did you start the BrosWhoSew online community?
PO: In the media through the early 2000s, the idea of men sewing was limited to fashion designers or tailors. While I enjoyed watching them on fashion reality TV shows, there really wasn’t a push for the accessibility of sewing as a skilled craft or even a hobby for men. However, just because it wasn’t as visible doesn’t mean that those men didn’t exist. BrosWhoSew was created to highlight everyday men and boys on their journey to creative self-expression through sewing. From there, an online community was created to continue highlighting an underrepresented group in sewing.
TH: Where does the name “Canvas Cosplay” come from?
PO: I believe we are creators of our individual stories and universes. Our bodies are our canvas, and we collectively paint them using our life experiences and aspirations. I see myself as a canvas upon which I build a character from the inside out. And when a cosplay is done, the canvas is painted over, and the cycle of imagination and creation begins again.
What is your favorite . . . ?
Sewing machine: Singer Heavy Duty 4452
Notion: It is a tie between a seam ripper and an angle-tip tweezer
Garment to create: A muumuu with pockets for snacks
Sewing technique: French seams
Place to find inspiration: Pinterest
Erica Redfern is Threads’ assistant editor.
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