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Crazy about crafting

Whether it’s knitting, creating plush creatures or making costumes for an anime convention, Jessica Portner’s up for the challenge

January 28, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent


If a craft is not a challenge, it's not worth doing, Jessica Portner of Marshall said. She said she also has a "horrible habit" of picking up hobbies.

For the last eight years, Portner has created 20 costumes from various anime shows and video games. She also makes several different kinds of accessories - cufflinks and rings made of clearcast acrylic, plushies and other "geekery" items, along with doing knitting, sewing, wigcraft and crocheting.

Article Photos

Jessica Portner sews on one of the several accessories she makes, which includes plushies, headpieces and jewelry.

The costumes are for the anime conventions she and her husband, Justin, and other friends have attended throughout the years. The accessories are items she'll bring to the conventions as an artist.

Portner first got into anime more than a decade ago. She started with watching "Dragon Ball Z" but hated the show. Then she discovered "Fushigi Yugi."

"I got hooked," she said. Portner attended her first anime convention in 2004-2005.

Portner said she's always been doing general crafts since she was 5 years old, such as paper mache and cut felt. She didn't learn to sew until she was 16, starting out with hand sewing.

"That's something I taught myself," Portner said. The first thing she made was a southern belle style dress.

Portner also made Halloween costumes.

"It was essentially the cut and the design of the costumes that appealed to me," Portner said.

One of her first anime-related costumes was a white mage from the "Final Fantasy" series. It involved a floor-length cloak, which was easy enough, she said. But then she did a zig-zag red trim on the fabric down the front and around the hood. She had to create the ragged design and do the math to get the design to line up.

"It was really simple," she said.

Other costumes she's made include Ryu and Chun-Li from "Street Fighter," and Lulu from "Final Fantasy X."

Portner attends anime conventions as an artist, and has been to Anime NebrasKon in Omaha, Neb. twice.

Every time Portner works on a costume, she looks up different photos of the character that wears it to get all the angles. That was tough to do with the Lulu character as most photos Portner found were from the front.

Lulu was an involved costume, Portner said. It required belts in the front and she handpainted the designs around the edge of the costume. It also had a corset-style bodice.

Portner said quality is important when creating her costumes.

"I don't use cheap material," Portner said. "I don't cut any corners."

When she does tell her friends the cost of one of her costumes, they can be taken a bit aback. Then they realize the cost of the material and work that goes into the costume, she said.

"They already expect the sticker price, they know what to expect," Portner said.

"As I've been working on more and more of them (costumes), I've been getting more detailed," Portner added. She said she finishes off her costume pieces with her surger so there's no rough edges.

Portner also has an embroidery machine to work on her various items.

"Another big draw to getting the embroidery machine was to make high-quality costumes," she said.

Making a full costume doesn't take too long, Portner said.

"For me, it's really fast, I can sew a whole corset in a day," Portner said. If she just sits down and works on a costume, she can get one done in a week, she said. "I have sat down and got four costumes done in a month."

And she continues to have more and more ideas for anime-themed costumes.

"I keep saying 'I'm going to do this character, I'm going to do this character,' but keep putting it off," Portner said.

Her list of accessories and other items she makes and sells at anime conventions include little stuffed Lumas, a character from Mario Galaxy, and brain slugs from the show "Futurama."

"I've actually got requests from one of the vendors who goes to 18 conventions a year" to sell the brain slugs, Portner said.

Portner said she's now starting to get into working with metal clay.

"I'm excited about that because I can make my own jewelry," Portner said.



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