The first cosplay costume Bothell High School grad Rachel Dooley ever donned was that of Poison Ivy. With a green curtain, a thrift store jumper and an assortment of fake leaves, Dooley’s mother, Pat, transformed her daughter into a DC Comics super villain.
“She rocked it,” Pat Dooley said. That was at Emerald City Comicon in 2011.
Since then, the mother-daughter cosplaying team has advanced its costume-making skills to even more elaborate heights.
Cosplay is a form of performance art in which participants dress up in often ornate, handmade costumes and act as specific characters, usually from a comic book, movie, or television show.
If it sounds like a nerdy hobby, that’s because it is. But the Dooleys don’t care. In fact, they embrace it.
“Normal is boring,” Rachel Dooley said.
“You don’t have to be the same as everybody else,” echoed her mother.
Pat Dooley said she was initially skeptical of allowing her daughter to attend comic conventions.
“I was a very protective parent,” she said. But once she experienced the environment firsthand, she changed her mind completely. “It’s the most friendly, fun, most accepting thing.”
It doesn’t matter whether a cosplayer shows up in a beautiful, pricey costume or a much cheaper outfit assembled out of cardboard and duct tape.
“This is not a hugely competitive community. It’s very much a collaborative community,” Pat Dooley said.
Rachel Dooley, who also does modeling and some photography of her own, has cosplayed as Maleficent, Victorious Morgana from League of Legends and Katniss from The Hunger Games, to name just a few.
Rey, from Star Wars, a particularly exquisite Pat Dooley masterwork, was entirely handmade except for the boots.
Dooley hand-dyed the fabric, fashioned the belt out of leather and made the intricate staff from scratch.
Each costume takes, on average, about six months to make. Some take longer — Victorious Morgana took about two years — and some Dooley is able to whip up within a span of about 45 minutes. “Project Runway-style,” her daughter called it.
Cosplaying can be expensive, but Dooley said she collects items to use year-round at thrift stores and on Craigslist.
“We’ve done ten dollar costumes and we’ve done costumes that cost quite a bit more,” she said.
Considering the cost and the immense amount of time involved in cosplaying, what motivates the Dooleys to keep doing it?
For Pat, it’s all about expanding her knowledge of the craft. She’s always adding to her arsenal of techniques, including 3D printing, laser cutting, new paint methods, foam armor making and latex prosthetics.
“I can’t not learn,” she said. “My favorite job would be if someone would pay me to go to school.”
Dooley does not do work on commission, partly because she doesn’t have time. She’s a hardware technician at Microsoft. But she said it’s also because she likes to create simply for the joy of creating.
For Rachel, the best part of cosplaying is getting into the mind of the character. Not only does she help her mother make some of the costumes, she also does research into the characters’ back-stories in order to better portray them.
“Dressing up is definitely a part of it,” she said. “I also love the challenge of bringing that character to life.” She has countless anecdotes of children and adults alike approaching her when she’s in costume, ecstatic to see their favorite comic book character in person.
“Those are the soul-feels that make all the cosplay worth it,” she said.
Pat Dooley’s costume design skills don’t just apply to cosplay. She also helps the Bothell High School Drama Department with their costumes, something she’s been doing for almost ten years.
For the school’s last rendition of “Guys and Dolls” Dooley designed and made the cast nine tear-a-way dresses.
The pair’s next project is to turn Rachel into the Princess Diana of Themyscira version of Wonder Woman.
She will cosplay at the Emerald City Comicon on March 2-5 at the Washington State Convention Center and will also sit on a panel at the convention about improving cosplay photography.
“Everybody is welcome,” Pat Dooley said. Everybody who has a judgment-free attitude, that is. “Divas need not apply,” she added.
See Pat Dooley’s work at www.facebook.com/utterlyotter and Rachel Dooley’s work at www.facebook.com/yaseminarts.