Winter is coming. Every Sunday night, millions of fans gather around their televisions to take in the spectacle that is a new episode of Game of Thrones. Much is made of who will be gruesomely murdered each week on the hit show, though sometimes the question really is who won’t die a fiery death. The show, based on the Song of Ice and Fire series written by George R. R. Martin, is a truly global phenomenon. With the seventh season of the HBO series in production, Game of Thrones has been nominated for multiple awards, its cast has been catapulted to celebrity, and references to it proliferate throughout popular culture. Often positioned as the grittier antithesis to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Martin’s narrative focuses on the darker side of chivalry and heroism, stripping away these higher ideals to reveal the greed, amorality, and lust for power underpinning them.Fan Phenomena: Game of Thrones is an exciting new addition to the Intellect series, bringing together academics and fans of Martin’s universe to consider not just the content of the books and HBO series, but fan responses to both. From trivia nights dedicated to minutiae to forums speculating on plot twists to academics trying to make sense of the bizarre climate of Westeros, everyone is talking about Game of Thrones. Edited by Kavita Mudan Finn, the book focuses on the communities created by the books and television series and how these communities envision themselves as consumers, critics, and even creators of fanworks in a wide variety of media, including fiction, art, fancasting, and cosplay.
About the Author
Kavita Mudan Finn is the author of The Last Plantagenet Consorts: Gender, Genre, and Historiography 1440-1627.
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Game Of Thrones
By Kavita Mudan Finn
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2017 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
Cosplay of Thrones: Recreating the Costumes of Westeros
The television series Game of Thrones relies on medieval-esque costumes, which, in turn, inspire cosplayers to recreate those costumes to the best of their abilities and financial realities. This chapter explores the reality behind recreating Game of Thrones costumes, from cosplayers' use of mass-produced patterns to crowdsourcing images and beyond. What does it mean to recreate costumes that physically exist on-screen compared to fabricating costumes that are not seen? How do cosplayers decide which fabrics to use and where to deviate from screen accuracy? How has the Game of Thrones costuming community lauded its 'lookalike cosplayers' who share physical similarities with on-screen actors? As a Game of Thrones cosplayer myself, I have insight into the mechanics of cosplay and costume fabrication, and can draw upon my own experience recreating Sansa Stark's dresses. I consider what it takes to reinvent the show's costumes alongside the methodology used when deviating from screen accuracy.
Recreating the costuming of multimillion-dollar entertainment always poses a challenge, and perhaps no media enterprise strains the creativity and finances of cosplayers more than the elaborate costumes in Game of Thrones. Yet, Game of Thrones cosplay remains incredibly popular in a community of artists who make their costumes by hand, often alone or with a small group of collaborators. To answer why and how requires a journey into the compact, largely digital community that brings screen life to real life, one thread at a time.
The term cosplay blends costume and play, referring to the act of wearing a costume as an embodied fan practice. The fan act of costuming traces back to the late 1960s at Star Trek conventions, though the term did not come into being until the 1984 World-Con where Takahashi Nobuyuki coined the word kosupure or 'cosplay' to describe the fan costumes he saw (Winge). Nicolle Lamerichs positions cosplay as 'a form of appropriation that transforms and actualizes an existing story in close connection to the fan community and the fan's own identity'. For Game of Thrones, cosplay allows fans to interact with a tangible aspect of the show through the physical act of making and/or wearing costumes. Costume fabrication allows fans to express material fondness for the source material while also reinterpreting the on-screen costumes for off-screen use.
The costumes on Game of Thrones have been nominated for and won a variety of awards, including Emmy nominations for all six seasons. Michele Clapton was the lead designer for the first five seasons, followed by April Ferry for Season 6. The costuming department features about one hundred people who work on hundreds of costumes per episode. Michele Carragher is the principal embroiderer, Simon Brindle is the armour supervisor, Kevin Alexander is the hair designer and Tommy Dunne is the weapons master, while a team of ten works full-time to distress the costumes (Herbert). Compared to this team, a single person who recreates a single costume performs magic.
The reality behind costume recreation
Making costumes is not easy. I sew and make costumes myself (with two Sansa Stark dresses under my belt), so I know how much blood, sweat and tears go into a costume. With decadent fabrics, ornate embroidery and metal and leather armour, Game of Thrones is no exception to the rule. A team with a large budget creates the show's lavish costumes, while those worn by fans tend to be made by a single person with a limited budget. Additionally, cosplayers often work on specific deadlines, which requires another level of craftsmanship.
There are a variety of online communities that discuss costume details and crowdsource information. I personally belong to two Game of Thrones-related costuming groups on Facebook: a public group for all Game of Thrones- and A Song of Ice and Fire- related costuming; and a closed group specifically for Game of Thrones embroidery and embellishment. In the former group, photo albums preserve on-screen costume references alongside screen-accurate fabric identified by fans. The group also offers links and contact information for tailors and prop sellers. In the Facebook group for costuming, people share their works and ask questions about anything from types of fabric used to seam locations and much more. Whenever a character on the show receives a new costume, stills from the show appear in the group within days, prompting cosplayers to discuss patterns and details for quick turnaround on creating the new costume. Fans crowdsource their costumes by sharing tips and tricks for recreation. When one person finishes a popular costume, they often share how they created certain components so others can replicate them. This group therefore acts as a community reference, similar to the Replica Prop Forum (www.therpf.com), a popular resource for cosplayers. The Facebook group also provides cosplayers with exposure to like-minded fans.
In 2014, Andrea Schewe began drafting Game of Thrones-inspired fantasy costume patterns for Simplicity, which she details on her blog. While not officially licensed by HBO, the Simplicity patterns certainly evoke the designs seen on Game of Thrones and are widely used by cosplayers. Pattern number 1246 features designs for Daenerys Targaryen and potentially Margaery Tyrell; 1487 provides the Southron wrap dress worn by Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark; 1347 showcases three different Daenerys dresses and one Tauriel costume from The Hobbit; 1137 offers Sansa's early Rose Tourney dress as well as her Alayne Stone feather dress; 8074 looks like the Sand Snakes of Dorne. The McCall Pattern Company also releases fantasy patterns that definitely take their inspiration from Game of Thrones. Pattern number M694 delivers Daenerys Targaryen outfits. M6940 features the aforementioned Southron wrap dress worn by Cersei and Sansa. I modified M6940 twice for my own dresses. M2016 is a newly released pattern for cloaks inspired by the cloaks of the North worn by Jon Snow and Sansa Stark, though the pattern appears to be available only on the McCall's website.
These mass-produced patterns make it easier for cosplayers to become the characters they admire. These patterns mimic the silhouettes of the show's costumes, making them easier to use than manipulating historical patterns or draping and drafting patterns from scratch. They are relatively easy to modify if the mass-produced pattern uses the wrong seams or needs to be fitted differently. Some cosplayers choose to use the pattern as is, while others create a mock-up of the pattern with scrap fabric that they then alter for a different fit, thus creating a new pattern from the mock-up fabric pieces.
Game of Thrones costumes frequently feature detailed embroidery, primarily done by Michele Carragher. Some of the most impressive examples include the wedding dresses of Sansa Stark in Season 3 and Margaery Tyrell in Season 4, both worn only once, although Carragher's embroidery also appears on almost all of Cersei Lannister's gowns, the 'dragon-scale' blue outfit worn by Daenerys Targaryen for most of Season 3, and a number of more minor characters' costumes. Carragher often shares her methods on her website after the season ends and she loves seeing what costumers do to replicate her work. In the Facebook group for Game of Thrones embroidery, people share their works in progress as well as tips for general embroidery. Carragher also belongs to this group and occasionally shares additional information about the embroidered pieces. After Season 6 aired, Carragher complimented cosplayers' keen eyes: 'You are all very wonderful at spotting the details from the screen, like many members of this group. You all do great work, I can't wait to see all of your costumes in the future, especially with embroidery!' (personal communication). She regularly encourages people's work by commenting and liking their posts.
Cosplayers also must decide when they should or should not deviate from source material. With cosplay, a person must balance time, budget, skill and accuracy. If a cosplayer possesses unlimited time, budget and skill, they could attain perfect accuracy, but any limitations make it more difficult to recreate detailed costuming while maintaining screen accuracy. It is not impossible, just challenging. For a start, the fabrics used on the show often run well over L100 per metre. Some cosplayers are able to purchase screen-accurate materials, as seen with Margaery Tyrell cosplayers who acquire the blue and gold Rubelli fabric used on the show. However, for cosplayers with a limited budget or costumes without identified fabric, people must be more creative with their choices.
HBO's budget makes it possible for the Game of Thrones costuming department to purchase high-quality upholstery fabrics, leathers, metal and whatever else they might possibly need. Most cosplayers do not have HBO's budget and must find fabric that fits their budget. Depending on where a cosplayer is located, they may have access to a local fabric or garment district with high-quality fabrics at lower prices. If not, the local craft stores feature more expensive alternatives. I live near the Los Angeles fabric district so I often make use of their wholesale pricing. Every store is different but I acquired silver-blue upholstery fabric for a Sansa Stark gown at approximately L4 per metre. Some cosplayers choose to seek out used sheets at charity shops in order to acquire a large quantity of fabric at a low price. With no nearby fabric or craft shops, other cosplayers acquire fabric from a variety of online platforms (including eBay, Etsy and specialized e-commerce platforms like Fabrics.com). Cosplayers set their costume budget by researching fabric costs per metre and the amount of fabric needed for the costume.
Making complicated garments requires exceptional detail work, and time constraints can hurt the final outcome of the garment. Likewise, cosplayers must consider skill level when tackling an ornate and intricate garment. An entire team works on the show costumes for their livelihood, while many cosplayers work solely during their free time. Sometimes, sacrificing screen accuracy is the only choice.
What about costumes for characters in the World of Ice and Fire that have not yet appeared on-screen? The show excludes a wealth of major players in the book series. To cosplay one of these characters and make them recognizable, cosplayers pair book descriptions with the costume elements of the show.
Chloe Ketchum's Thrones closet includes multiple Sansa Stark, Nymeria Sand, Lyanna Stark and Ashara Dayne dresses. The latter two characters do not appear on the show, so Chloe opted to design her own versions. When asked, she explained that her inspiration for Lyanna came from
the Camelot film starring Keira Knightley mixed with elements from the Southron dresses worn by the ladies in King's Landing with a few medieval elements like the romantic draping of sleeves to convey that it is still a different time than present King's Landing.
Chloe combined elements from Westerosi fashion with other media and time periods in order to evoke a character of the place but not of the time. Designing costumes that would fit within the Thrones show or A Song of Ice and Fire book series requires another level of creativity. Not only does a costumer need the ability to employ the same craftsmanship techniques, but they must also be capable of approaching a yet-unseen costume to make it seen.
The lookalike experience
Because Thrones is a live-action television series with actors, cosplayers also may take into account the actors' physical appearance. When they do, it shows, and in the Thrones community it spreads across the Narrow Sea. Particularly prominent in Game of Thrones cosplay are those cosplayers who also resemble the actor who plays that character. While physical similarity is not the only thing that catapults a cosplayer to recognition, it is uncanny when a cosplayer looks like the actor.
Ginny Di is well known for her Arya Stark cosplay, partially because her costume is a magnificent piece of craftsmanship, but also because she bears an incredible likeness to Maisie Williams. On her blog, Ginny discusses the problem with cosplay lookalikes, noting that
90% of the feedback I have received has been not about my costuming work (my six months and hundreds of dollars of work, my hours and hours of research, my carefully written tutorials), but about ... my face. On the one hand, I am grateful that by happening to look like Maisie Williams, my cosplay has gotten in front of a ton of eyes that never would have seen it otherwise. But on the other hand, I do not like how that eclipses my actual costuming.
While some cosplayers exclusively cosplay one character, Ginny's repertoire includes a wide variety of costumes. As much as she loves Arya, she cosplays other characters and puts effort into creating beautiful costumes both within and beyond the world of Thrones. Yet, even when she wears costumes that are not from Game of Thrones, she receives comments about how she looks like and should cosplay Arya Stark. I am no stranger to the phenomenon since I resemble Sophie Turner who plays Sansa Stark. Luckily, when people comment on my Sansa costumes, they often include both compliments regarding my costume craftsmanship as well as my facial similarity to the actress. Much like Ginny, I am somewhat frustrated when I am not wearing Sansa but am told that I should cosplay Sansa. While I do cosplay Sansa, she is not the only costume in my closet. Meanwhile, cosplayers who do not look like their counterpart actor may occasionally be overlooked, even with impeccable craftsmanship. This is especially prevalent for non-white cosplayers who may be told they are somehow 'less accurate' due to the colour of their skin. This is, quite frankly, ludicrous, and the cosplay community has begun taking steps to promote inclusivity.
Cosplay is one-part costuming and one-part play. To completely ignore the costuming component hurts the cosplayer who often pours time, money, energy and love into their costumes. While it is exciting to see cosplayers who look like their character, it is also important to recognize the hard work and dedication that goes into creating or commissioning costumes.
Becoming Sansa Stark: My experience making a Game of Thrones costume
As a medievalist, a cosplayer and someone who bears a slight resemblance to one of the actors on Game of Thrones, all these things combine and result in my reconstructing Sansa Stark's dresses. I opted to first make her pink dress from Season 1 because a friend sent me both the Simplicity and McCall's patterns for the wrap dress Sansa wears in King's Landing. I found sheets and a duvet in a similar shade of pink, so my budget for this costume remained incredibly low. Two years after that, I tackled her blue-grey dress worn in King's Landing in Seasons 2 and 3, also in the wrap style but with a larger budget for nicer materials. When I made the pink dress, I did not make a mock-up but rather cut to the largest pattern size and took it in haphazardly. For the second dress, I remembered the earlier mishap and made a mock-up out of scrap fabric. With the mock-up, I modified the mass-produced pattern to get the seam lines I preferred.
When I made my first Sansa dress, I was working full-time in marketing. I cut the fabric on my driveway and sewed the pieces together with my sewing machine on the floor. I did not have the time or patience to add embroidery on the hip panels, shoulders, back and sleeves so I painted the designs on the hip panels because 'close enough is good enough'. I scrutinized screen caps to get an approximate design for her gold belt, which I drew onto craft foam and cut with a craft knife. I found a dragonfly pendant at the local craft store and put that on a chain braided with embroidery floss to mimic the on-screen necklace. After discussion with other Thrones cosplayers, I found the screen-accurate dragonfly pendant on Etsy (which I purchased and put on my chain) and I re-drew the belt design onto upholstery leather, which I again cut with a craft knife and painted gold. I also upgraded the belt 'chain' from gold ribbon to gold chain. Still, I wondered: how do I make this work given my time and budgetary constraints? For me, it meant sacrificing accuracy (and quality) in order to finish. Many of my updates (like the painted details, new pendant and new belt) all came at a much later date than the original dress.
Excerpted from Game Of Thrones by Kavita Mudan Finn. Copyright © 2017 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction KAVITA MUDAN FINN, 5-16,
PART 1 – MATERIAL WESTEROS, 17,
Cosplay of Thrones: Recreating the Costumes of Westeros CAITLIN POSTAL, 18–29,
A Song of Toys and T-Shirts: Game of Thrones and Its Cultural Artefacts ANDREW HOWE, 30–39,
'Growing Strong': Expanding the Game of Thrones Universe through Fan-Made Merchandizing JULIE ESCURIGNAN, 40–50,
PART 2 – VIRTUAL WESTEROS, 51,
The Watchers on the Wall: Game of Thrones and Online Fan Speculation ROSE BUTLER, 58–69,
Restoring the Balance: Feminist Meta-Texts and the Productivity of Tumblr's Game of Thrones Fans BRIONY HANNELL, 70–81,
A Stark by Any Other Name: A Comparative Analysis of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones Folksonomies KRISTIN LINDER, 88–98,
A Fan's Got to Have a Code: Evolving Perspectives on the Hound's Violence and Sexuality BETH WALKER, 100–113,
PART 3 – CRITICAL WESTEROS, 121,
Colouring Outside the Lines: Social Justice and Fandom H. KAPP-KLOTE, 122–127,
Unbowed, Unbent, Unaccepted: Disputing Women's Roles in Game of Thrones JANICE LIEDL, 128–139,
Learn to Fight with Your Other Hand: Game of Thrones as Complicated Champion of Disability COURTNEY STANTON, 140–150,
Game of Thrones in India: Of Piracy, Queer Intimacies and Viral Memes ROHIT K. DASGUPTA, 152–a162,
By the Old Gods and the New: Daily Interactions with Game of Thrones JENNIFER CRUMLEY AND AMY STAVOLA, 164–173,
Geeks of Thrones: Scientists as Fan-Scholars KRISTINE LARSEN, 178–190,
Contributor Details, 198–201,
Image Credits, 202–203,