Costumer Spotlight: Kat McConnell, First Time Gen-Con Winner!
During my time at GenCon, I had the pleasure of working with a number of great people at Terrorwerks, a live-action airsoft event run by PST Productions. While I’ll go into more about Terrorwerks in my next post, this spotlight is dedicated to Kathleen McConnell. Kat is a long-time costumer who took second prize in the fantasy division of GenCon’s costume competition. Every year, hundreds of competitors come together to show off their finest and Kat, a self-professed ‘well-practiced amateur’ beat out many others with her original creation of Matilda, the bridge troll.
I sat down with Kat the next day in between Terrorwerks runs to discuss her costume and her history with costuming in general.
Yesterday, you were in the costume competition and won second prize in the fantasy competition. Can you describe what your costume was exactly?
I was Matilda, the troll that lived under the bridge, whatever bridge is most convenient for people to recognize… For GenCon, it was the Ohio Street Bridge over the Canal. People might have crossed it, so I might hassle them for children.
So she eats children?
Yes, I accept payment in the forms of children, bacon, shiny baubles, and children… wrapped in bacon.
The costume is extremely elaborate. About how long does it take to create that, from concept down to the actual costume?
[It took] most of the year to get all the stuff together, but most of the stuff I was accumulating over time… I go to the Ohio Rennaissance Fair most years, and the year before it was cold! And I said I want a warm costume this time, I’m going to make a shawl. And I used the left-over bits of yarn from various projects, like afghans and whatnot, and I had a bunch of feather yarn from a half-cat Hermione costume for a Harry Potter-themed convention… It’s recycled from other costumes, some of it. The base dress [was from] a Lady Stoneheart costume from the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series. I used that base dress from working at a haunted house before, and then I just did a lot of detailing with the yarn on the shaul and then a lot of bits of funky yarn, some scraps of fabric from when I made a Beholder costume, bits of things I found around the apartment. I was just running around the day before tying things to various belts and putting things in pouches. I ended up with strips of beef jerky in one pouch, saying it was strips of dried eight year old marinated in teriyaki should I not be able to find my own child for my nice warm cauldron bath full of… we’ll call them ‘soothing herbs’. Like sage and garlic.
You seem to do a lot of costuming: first, how long have you been doing this?
I just never outgrew playing dress up.
So you’ve just been doing this all your life?
Yes. And ever since I’ve been going to cons especially. I’ve been going to cons for the last ten years and I’m in costume almost constantly at cons. Because I love playing dress up I have a lot of costumes i wear. A lot of the costumes share pieces so when I’m packing its ‘ooh, if i just add this other shirt, then I add this skirt and this other thing, it becomes this other costume’ then I end up packing way too many things… Occasionally I will just wear it out to dinner or something, because it’s pretty. And people will look at you a little funny. But at cons, nobody cares or they compliment you on things.
Have you won a lot of awards for your costuming?
My first real convention was InConjunction in indianapolis on the Fourth of July weekend and I just entered the Masquerade. So every year I entered the masquerade at that convention. And every year I would enter as a walk-on, as in a non-competitive ‘hey look at me, I’m awesome’, mostly because InConjunction is a smaller convention. At GenCon, you have people who do this professionally or this is their main hobby and they are fantastic at it. And I am a well-practiced amateur, I think, so I didn’t think I could compete. A bunch of people convinced me to do the masquerade at GenCon four years ago and I did a Beholder costume. Well, it’s based on craftsmanship and my then-boyfriend was irate because I didn’t place [in the contest] and I told him… I put [the Beholder] together the Thursday night before GenCon… and it was sort of half-done and half-assed, but it certainly didn’t deserve any kind of awards.
So this is the first major award you’ve taken?
Yes… It’s a real nice ego boost.
Do you feel its important that if you’re going to be entering the costume contest that you have to make all the stuff yourself?
To me, it is. Its important that I did it. I get a little upset when somebody who had a professional make their costume won, because… I feel like they cheated sort of. They didn’t really, but I feel like the person who made the costume should get the credit, not ‘I commissioned this, look how awesome it is.’
So do you consider yourself a cosplayer or just a costumer? I mean, do you have a line that differentiates between the two or is just costuming in general?
Again, I just like playing dress up. If there is a character that I know I’ll be playing, I’ll do my best to costume appropriately, and if I don’t have costume stuff, I’ll go through my dresser and find something that that character might wear to distinguish it from just street clothes. At this point since I’ve been costuming so much I’ve accumulated. Like, I was at Good Will the other day and I found a green button-down shirt and a purple blazer. I’ve got purple pants, I’ve got a Joker costume now. Oh my God, they’re selling light guns, I’ve got a Joker costume with a light gun – heck yes! And then I wore that later to a job interview, and then I thought ‘I’m wearing a part of my Joker costume to an interview!’ and I thought ‘I shouldn’t mention this’ to the people who are doing the interview’.
Do you have any other costumes that you have planned for the future?
Yes, I have a Winter Fae costume that I would like to tweak. Again, it’s another assembled piece. I wore it to MarCon last year and people asked me why I didn’t enter that in the masquerade. I told them it’s because I didn’t make any of it. The only thing I made was that I modified a couple of skirts I had found – I had found these two silver dresses at Good Will that I think were bridesmaid’s dresses. I am neither a size six nor a size eight but when I cut them in half and sewed them up the middle, I have this gorgeous silver skirt.
How do you see costuming? Is it something fun that you do, is it art? What do you think of it as?
I guess its a hobby. It’s just something fun I do, it makes me feel pretty… I don’t ever really dress up. Like, I have a lot of t-shirts and jeans and that’s what I wear. But like the other day, I have this poodle skirt that my mom made me for this Grease medley in high school that still fits me… All my pants were in the laundry and I said, ‘y’know, I’ll wear my poodle skirt!’ So I’ll even integrate costuming into my regular wardrobe.
Congratulations to Kat on her first big win and for many more in the future!