Four layers of paint, four months of work and tears. That’s what it took for sophomore Katie Johansen to complete her most recent project: a Halloween costume of the main character from Journey, her favorite video game.
Johansen sewed the entire costume – red cloak, hood and scarf – and painted on the yellow, aztec-like motif all by herself. She began her project during summer break and worked all the way up until Halloween. The costume did get done on time, but Johansen panicked a few times when she thought it wasn’t going to turn out perfectly.
“I kind of screamed a little when I accidentally made the cloak a little too short, or when I cut the neck too wide so it went weird,” Johansen said. “But it ended up okay.”
That’s because Johansen knows what to do with cringe-worthy problems like these. She’s accustomed to fabric, needle and thread. After all, she’s been sewing since she was eight years old. Over time, her projects have slowly grown in size, along with the dedication needed to finish them. Example A: her Halloween costume.
When Johansen stepped into sewing teacher Janel Cates’s Beginning Sewing class for the first time this year, Cates quickly realized the talent Johansen possessed. It was the speed with which she completed her projects that gave it away. Johansen completed a project that was due on a Friday an entire week before it was due.
Johansen’s natural talent gives her the ability to both work quickly on simpler projects, as well as to create more complex, three dimensional things, like stuffed animals. According to Cates, this talent is due to a thought process that allows Johansen to look at a one-dimensional picture, picture it as three dimensional, and then draw patterns to cut out of one-dimensional fabric.
“She can kind of see the picture and think to herself ‘What does it take to make that shape?’” Cates said. “Not that many people can translate what they see to something and then make that same item.”
Though Johansen isn’t sure if she wants to pursue a career in the sewing field yet, Cates believes she that this natural ability she possesses would allow her to make it, whether it be in costume design or anything else.
“I think the main roadblock for people is being able to see and then do it,” Cates said. “And if you’ve got that part, all that’s left is the work ethic.”
This isn’t a problem for Johansen.
“For a project that I’m really interested in, I’ll usually wake up, spend all day doing it and then go back to sleep, and then repeat,” Johansen said.
Projects like this usually include her cosplay costumes, which are costumes of characters from video games, TV shows or cartoons that people dress up in and usually wear to conventions like Comic Con. Johansen also makes smaller things to fill her time, like “plushies.” These small, handmade stuffed animals vary from a four-foot long squid to two petite, My Little Pony characters.
One of these ponies is the first and only creation that Johansen has sold so far. Digital Design teacher Jennifer Hair asked her about buying them after seeing her sketch in class and wondering what other creative endeavors she might partake in. Johansen was more than happy to strike up a deal. The $35 that Hair offered actually surprised Johansen, who didn’t expect to get more than $20 out of the plush toys. Hair initially planned to buy both the ponies, but she decided to only buy one after seeing the hours of creativity and effort that had gone into the creation of the “best-looking” pony, as Johansen described it.
“I thought that’s really more marketable,” Hair said. “She should really sell that to the outside world.”
Hair bought the other pony, instead, to give to her one-and-a-half year old daughter for Christmas.
Hair isn’t the only person who has expressed interest in buying her costumes, or props she makes along with them. Her Tumblr followers reblog her posts with the tag “please sell this to me.” And she knows she likes to surprise people by showing up in one of her ensembles at different conventions and blowing people away with the intricacy of her designs.
For the next convention, she is already thinking about a new costume, a skeleton-like character named Papyrus from a video game. She’s not sure how she can make it yet, but she’s resolved to try anyway.
“I was thinking about cosplaying his brother,” Johansen said. “But everyone else is doing it too, so I’m like ‘Ha.’ I want a challenge.”