(Photo by Steamkittens)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a cosplayer who has devoted countless resources including but not limited to time, money and tears to an intricate costume will suffer the tragedy of a broken strap or zipper or malfunctioning accessory. Armor cracks. Wings tear. Wigs can only defy gravity for so long. For many cosplayers, this calamity will occur at the worst possible moment: in the middle of a convention with limited access to the necessary equipment to repair the damaged costume.
This is where mobile cosplay repair technicians enter the fray, those guardians of the grommet, avengers of armor, watchmen of worbla. Wielding portable hot glue guns and packing extensive supplies including safety pins, bobby pins, plastic cable ties, Velcro, spirit gum, hair spray, multiple types of glue and tape, scissors and makeup remover, these cosplay superheroes fix whatever's broken for free before sending the previously-distraught cosplayer on their way to enjoy the convention once more.
Australian cosplayer Captain Patch-It (@captainpatchit) is frequently credited with pioneering the concept, which rose from another common problem among cosplayers: the first convention of the year was mere weeks away and he didn't have a costume prepared. It was 2014 and Captain Patch-It recalls asking some fellow cosplayers whether they thought it would be useful for him to bring a few repair items to the convention to assist them with broken props and torn costumes.
(Center and right photographs by Brett Woolgar Photography)
“They replied with a resounding yes,” Patch-It recalled. “So we brainstormed a few ideas of things to carry, then I strapped it all (and a few extra bits and pieces) to a costume tactical vest and that kind of got the ball rolling on the whole cosplay repair thing!” The look that he established at that first convention stuck and nearly five years later, Captain Patch-It still wanders the convention floors wearing aviators, a mustache and a bandolier filled with cotton thread.
In the early days, Captain Patch-It brought a spare phone to conventions, passing out his number so cosplayers could contact him if they needed his help. Eventually, he developed friendships with many of the artists that sold their work at conventions and these artists volunteered their stalls as a meeting place. Reactions from cosplayers were enthusiastic and often confused. “At the start, the reactions I'd get were ‘What? This is a thing?' and ‘You mean you fix stuff for free?'” Captain Patch-It recalled. Despite the fact that he was making everything up as he went along, he was helping people, making their cosplay and convention experience that much better. At the second convention where he offered his services as a mobile repair tech, he had an experience that solidified his passion for what he was doing.
“I was walking into the con hall when a small girl in front of me dropped a plastic toy pistol and it shattered into half a dozen or so pieces. She immediately burst into tears, and her father kinda had no idea what to do. I walked up to the father, gave him a card with my information, explained that I was more than happy to fix everything up and then super-glued the girl's gun back together! It was an amazing feeling being able to help out both the girl and the father, and knowing that I was able to get them going with their day with minimal hassle!"
(Photo on the left by Snappy Happy Ian, center photo by Steamkittens, right photo by @onesnapcos.)
On the west coast of the United States, in April of 2014 a would-be cosplayer trying to find her place in the community read an article about the Australian cosplayer offering free repair services at conventions. She reached out to Captain Patch-It requesting his permission to bring the idea to the United States. He readily agreed and Sgt Swift Stitch was born. Sgt Swift Stitch (@sgtswiftstitch) wanted to be part of the cosplay community but described herself as an outsider looking in. She followed cosplayers on social media, watched cosplay tutorials on YouTube and had been sewing historical reenactment costumes for years but lacked the self-confidence to join the community in a more active way.
“Mobile cosplay repair initially appealed to me as a way for me to be involved in the cosplay community without actually cosplaying,” she explained. “At the core of it I love helping people and I am good at it. I've worked in corporate customer service just shy of a decade and I've always been dubbed the mom friend because being helpful is what I do best.”
(Center photo by @luisprojects)
Sgt Swift Stitch debuted her mobile cosplay repair character at San Diego Comic-Con in July of 2014. Like Captain Patch-It before her, she developed her own methods of letting cosplayers know she was available for repairs. Roughly one week out from each convention, she posts that she will be attending, her hours of operation and a phone number to reach out to for assistance across all her social media accounts. During the actual convention, Sgt Swift Stitch roams the halls looking for cosplayers in need. Some reach out to her via social media or her phone. Many initially think the “Free Cosplay Repair” sign that she wears is a joke until she offers them help.
“My favorite moment that really nailed it down for me was early on I encountered a family with a crying little girl, maybe 5 years old, whose skirt of her Cinderella gown was torn because a careless passerby stepped on the hem,” Sgt Swift Stitch recalled. “I sat down on the floor next to her and pulled out my sewing needle and thread. And before I could even ask her name she promptly sat in my lap causing me to have to wrap my arms around her to sew up the tear. The whole time we talked about Cinderella and other Disney princesses and she told me I was like a fairy godmother that came to rescue her. By the time I finished mending the tear she had stopped crying and was all laughs and smiles. That smile and the many following it are why I keep doing this. No matter how expensive it gets nor how tired walking 30 miles in a weekend makes me I will find ways to keep doing this to see the smiles on cosplayers' faces when I get to save the day.”
Over the years, Sgt Swift Stitch has met countless cosplayers in need. In 2016, the year that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in theaters, she estimates that she repaired 100 broken staffs for people cosplaying as Rey. At anime conventions, she tends to see a lot of misbehaving wigs. And as 3D printers have become an increasingly common tool for cosplayers, she's fixed countless broken props. “All it takes is one little bump at just the right angle in just the right weak spot to completely snap Captain Mal's blaster in half,” Sgt Swift Stitch explained the challenge with 3D-printed props.
(Photo on the left by @paincakesphoto, photo in the center by @gilphotography)
Shoes are a common and challenging issue in the convention hallways, in part because according to the mobile repair tech “when shoes fail, they fail spectacularly.” Soles peel right off the shoe, heels snap and zippers burst. While Sgt Swift Stitch gives 100% to each cosplayer, fixing a shoe is messy and structurally challenging and she laments that the fix often isn't as aesthetically appealing as she would like. In some cases the best she could do was use packing tape to secure errant footwear. Still, it's infinitely better than being shoeless in the middle of a convention.
As a hobby, mobile cosplay repair isn't exactly cheap. Tickets to multi-day conventions often cost hundreds of dollars, parking costs add up and materials like thread, glue, tape and pins constantly need to be replenished. According to Captain Patch-It, the initial investment in supplies and tools can be steep but now that he's been doing this for a few years, he estimates that he invests a few hundred dollars per year restocking smaller items like tape and glue. For him, it's the fees associated with attending the convention that cause the biggest headache. Last year, he attended 10 conventions and his record in any given year is 14. Sgt Swift Stitch attends between two and eight conventions per year, mostly spanning Southern California. Some conventions will comp her the cost of a ticket in exchange for the service she provides to cosplayers and others will allow her to speak on a panel in exchange for a ticket. Her favorite panel to teach addresses the subject of self care in cosplay but she also offers panels about cosplaying on a budget and hand-sewing workshops for beginners.
Sgt Swift Stitch agrees that the initial cost of building a repair kit can be formidable, and she estimates that she uses roughly $50 worth of materials at each convention she attends. To offset that cost, she set up an Amazon wish list and Patreon account so cosplayers can send her supplies or money to purchase new materials for her kit.
In the years since Captain Patch-It first pioneered a new way to cosplay and Sgt Swift Stitch followed in his footsteps, the community has become a lot more familiar with the concept. These days when Captain Patch-It attends a convention, there's usually a facility or space devoted to the repair techs making them easier to find and ensuring they don't have to carry materials up and down hallways. But there are still challenges.
“When trying to fix things, do you make things more secure at the risk of it looking less visually pretty or do you go for aesthetics over being more secure?” he asked. “Do you spend all your time focusing on one difficult prop, or do you try to help the other dozen cosplayers lining up for help?”
Challenges aside, the ranks of mobile cosplay repair techs around the world are growing and both Captain Patch-It and Sgt Swift Stitch welcome the assistance. As the cosplay community continues to grow there are more broken pieces of armor than ever, more wings damaged by thick crowds of people, more shoes requiring patience and a liberal application of glue.
Sgt Swift Stitch's advice to cosplayers interested in mobile cosplay repair
Be prepared to not see the convention at all. By taking on this kind of a role you are essentially working a job. My first WonderCon I had another mobile repair medic with me and we did not stop the entire weekend. I think I saw two whole rows of the entire convention floor and spent the rest of the weekend running from one repair to the next.
It's expensive! I put together a list of a basic kit for someone who wanted to try out mobile cosplay repair on Amazon and the total came to $130 and that didn't include a bag or shipping.
Do your research. Know what glue is best for what material. Learn to stitch neatly and well. People are coming to you with months, even years, of hard work gone into their cosplays so you absolutely have to treat each costume or prop with respect.
Support the cause
If you're interested in helping Sgt Swift Stitch to continue providing free mobile cosplay repair assistance to the cosplay community, you can purchase products from her Amazon supply wishlist, donate money through Ko-fi, send money to @sgtswiftstitch through Venmo or support her Patreon account.