Building Characters: A Closer Look at the Kitsap Cosplay Guild

By Jenn Hemmingsen

In the BARN Fiber Studio on a recent evening, about a half-dozen teens and adults gathered around long tables. A man pulled a stringy clump of preserved green lichen from a small plastic bag and showed it to the group, saying, “I want to make it into a beard.”

“Use a knit fabric,” said Betsy Hagestedt, the group’s founder and leader of the evening’s activities. “It won’t unravel.”

“It will curl,” someone else chimed in, “but that won’t matter because the moss will cover it.”

In another context, his comments may have raised an eyebrow. But at the monthly meetup of the Kitsap Cosplay Guild in the BARN Fiber Studio, no creative question is out of bounds.

BARN CosplayAdults and children have found reasons to play dress up for centuries, whether for ritual, spectacle, or just plain fun. So when manga fans began dressing and acting as their favorite characters back in the 1980s, they were tapping into a very human urge.

Since then, cosplay (a portmanteau of the words costume and play) has been growing in popularity, as have the groups and pop-culture conventions where cosplayers show off their creations. Take Emerald City Comic Con, for example. The Seattle staple launched in 2003 as a one-day event that attracted a few thousand people. By 2019, it had expanded into a sprawling three-day conference that welcomed 98,000 fans and friends. At the 2024 event, manga and Anime fans mingled with fans dressed up as characters from movie franchises like Marvel Universe and Star Wars, and video game heroes like the Legend of Zelda’s Link.

Hagestedt, BARN Studio Support Coordinator and former Fiber Arts Studio Lead, attended her first “con” just over a year ago –  Dragon Con in Atlanta with her sisters-in-law – and she was hooked.

“I loved it instantly,” she said of the experience. “What’s not to love?”

Back at home, Hagestedt, who has been sewing since she was small and loves working with unusual materials, wanted to meet others interested in costume and garment construction. She started the free cosplay interest group last June. The monthly meetups are held in the BARN Fiber Studio from 6:30 – 8 PM on the second Tuesday of each month.

Most meetings have anywhere from 6-12 people in attendance. They’re a mix of ages, interests, and levels of experience. Hagestedt usually chooses a topic or activity based on the group’s request or her ideas. On any given night, the group could be exploring ways to make articulated fabric tails or 3D-printed accessories. This night, the activity is a reality-show-type challenge: The half-dozen cosplayers will split into two groups and see what they can create from a treasure trove of found objects.

BARN CosplayThey dig through the stash of cardboard boxes, rolls of bubble wrap, and black foam tubing, and sift through buckets of miscellaneous, like zip ties, glue, and tape, and two very different designs emerge.

My group chose to create a snail, with a cardboard shell, bubble-wrap slime trail, and a headpiece made of foam and duct tape secured to a plastic grocery bag. The other group crafted a suit of armor of cardboard panels, bubble-wrap sleeves, and a paper hat.

The challenges of cosplay go beyond general garment construction. Cosplayers have to meet creative challenges like structural integrity, texture, and unique materials. Often, they’re trying to recreate designs from two-dimensional drawings or computer-generated images that have never existed before.

Sharing your questions and ideas in an inclusive, welcoming group can be energizing as well as productive. As Hagestedt says, “You just have to embrace your nerddom and not care what other people may think.”

The Kitsap Cosplay Guild: Cosplay and Costuming Interest Group is open to anyone aged 14 and above. No previous experience is necessary — all levels of skill are welcome. For more information, or to register for this free event, visit www.bainbridgebarn.org

Jenn Hemmingsen is a Bainbridge Island writer, editor, and Marketing Communications Coordinator at BARN. Contact: jennh@bainbridgebarn.org

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