Speculative-Inspired Arts: Shasta Schatz

This month in “Speculative-Inspired Arts”, hobby costumer Shasta Schatz dishes the details on both the work and play sides of costuming and how she comes up with her best creations!

Historical Hogwarts
Designer Shasta Schatz in her Historical Hogwarts costume.

You design costumes to wear at fairs, conventions and other gatherings. How do you pick the character or persona for each event?

My projects are based on what I’m reading, watching, or playing at any given time, then I tailor those choices to the event that I’m attending. I fall in love with costume ideas pretty easily, but I have to be mindful of fandom, audience, and functionality. I wear comic book costumes to comic cons, but I make sure that the design elements are going to fit my activities. It would be ill-advised to walk around a vendor alley with five-foot wings, so I keep those characters for photoshoots. When we attend “Wizarding Weekend” at the Renaissance faire, our 16th century garb undergoes a Ravenclaw makeover with house colors and wands to fit the theme.

You draw inspiration from a variety of sources, from graphic novels to TV shows. Do you find one type of source material easier to develop costumes from than others?

The X-Men’s Storm by way of the Georgian Era.

Ten years ago, I would have said that comic books are easiest because you can just look at the art and construct the costume as you see fit. Today I’d say that movie sources are where it’s at. When studios started releasing character art and books detailing what went into their costume design, the floodgates opened. All of a sudden hobbyists were exposed to behind-the-scenes processes and fabric sources. Now everyone knows the exact cloak closure for Game of Thrones Stark Bannerman #3. Costumes are going on tours around the world, people can watch interviews with designers to see intricate textures and even tutorials. The beginner skill level of costumers has jumped from “my grandma sewed this for me” to “I learned tambour embroidery just for the beading on this skirt panel.”

Your designs involve much more than sewing. What other materials and skills go into making a full costume?

Shasta models her Twi’Lek meets Link mashup

As far as materials go, nothing in my home, the hardware store, or the thrift store is safe. I’ve worked with a variety of craft and hardware foams, clay, LEDs, thermoplastics, wood, resins–pretty much any substance is a candidate for costume manipulation. In the beginning, my projects were a way to expand my sewing skills to include specialties like embroidery, while dabbling in jewelry making, wig styling, and numerous ways to rework yarn. These days, most of my costumes involve some level of foamsmithing, 3D printing, painting–both body and costume, power tools, and non-fabrication work including basic photography and web documentation.

What’s the quickest you’ve ever put together a costume, and which one has taken the longest to create?

From scratch, I made a Murloc from the World of Warcraft MMO in four hours. It was entirely felt and hot glue that I purchased on my lunch break that day, and it looked like a really sad mascot when I was done. But, I won a costume contest with it, so that was neat. My longest costume build was probably Georgian Storm. She took six months, starting with undergarments, and technically, I was still doing wig work at my booth the morning of the comic convention. I hand stitched more of that costume than I’d planned, but she was worth it.

In addition to direct interpretation of characters, you also create great mashups (my favorite is Victorian Beach Storm!). What kind of reactions do you get when you wear these?

Victorian-era Beach Day Storm

Thank you! She was a one week build and super fun to design. The looks that my mashups receive are priceless. They range from confusion to appreciation to anger–since some people don’t know how to act when you mess with their favorite fictional characters. Most of the feedback, especially from other costumers is incredibly positive, and we end up geeking out over one detail or another. Outside of the community, I get a lot of “What are you supposed to be?” Those instances are my opportunity to start a conversation about how I chose to integrate elements from each fandom into the project. A benefit of mashups is that I’m not beholden to specific versions of characters, especially the ones that tend to flood events after a new movie release. That is where my creativity is happily challenged.

Do you have a favorite fandom you like to work with? Which of your costumes has been your favorite to date?

In general, I love comics the most because the art is open to interpretation: how true to a design you want to be, which artist’s rendering you prefer, adapting a classic color scheme and logo for a different take on a character. As a bonus, the longer a story has been running, or the number of arcs it’s taken in the life of a superhero or villain, the more options you have.

Shasta as Renaissance Batgirl

These days, creators have even allowed the line between canon and fan art to blur, much to the delight of costumers. The DC Bombshells phenomenon (2011), wherein our favorite heroines received 1940s makeovers (which costumers had been doing for years), is still providing fantastic material for the community.

Renaissance Batgirl is my baby! I made her in 2012 to wear opposite my husband’s Renaissance Superman that I made in 2009. The entire costume was made from fabric remnants and curtains that I had in my stash–you can even see spots where I had to piece the fabric together to make it work. I keep upgrading her accessories and making small repairs, but the base costume stays the same. She is a perfect blend of my love for historical costuming and comic books.

What projects do you currently have on your table?

Right now, I’m finishing up Orko from He-Man & The Masters of the Universe, as part of a 50+ person cosplay group debuting in the spring. My current mash-up project, which will debut the same weekend, is an 18th century version of Princess Allura from Voltron–think “Pastoral Cat Lady”. For this one, I custom designed fabric which was such a neat experience!

Follow Shasta at her website and on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter