Tessa Spangler is a junior at the University of Arizona studying Biochemistry and Neuroscience. Tessa is also the founder of the “Giving Magic” (@givingmagicua), a student club that cosplays as Disney characters while visiting Children’s Hospitals and other nonprofits. The club has allowed Spangler to transform her love of sewing and creating costumes into more than just art—she’s transformed it into service for others.
WOD: When did you first become interested in sewing and cosplay? What inspired you to start creating your own designs?
Spangler: I think I first got interested when I was watching TV and saw a girl who designed her own costumes, and I thought it was so cool that she could look at things and then recreate them—it was amazing! My mom also knows how to sew, so she used to make me Halloween costumes every year. I think it was around the time when I was applying for college that I actually started to sew, so my mom taught me how, but it was a very “correct” and rigid way where we followed a pattern and proper techniques. It was really helpful when I was first learning because I learned how to operate a sewing machine, but I didn’t get really into it until I started to make my own costumes.
WOD: What do you love most about your craft?
Spangler: When I started to make my own costumes, it felt like a problem-solving case, one where I’d see something and think, ‘how can I make this real?’ I’d look at pictures and sketch out how I thought shapes would go together, and I really tried to visualize the costume before I sewed it.
My favorite part is definitely the beginning where I research and think about how I want the costume to look. You can lay down and fantasize about how amazing a costume could look, and you’re not faced with the dilemma of mistakes or spending money on fabric yet. You can look at the costume and interact with content that you like, which for me is animated Disney movies and videogames.
WOD: What’s your favorite piece and why?
Spangler: My costume for a character from Fire Emblem, Azura. It’s one of the costumes that I let myself spend a little more money on and buy nicer fabric for. I also got to incorporate techniques that I learned from other projects, so it was satisfying to bring past experiences into new creations. The way it’s made, I can go back in and change pieces of it. I’ve been able to add to it throughout the years to make it a little bit better.
WOD: How does your love for art and creating translate into your everyday life?
Spangler: Maybe it’s the burden of being a student, but if I just sit and play video games, I feel like I’m wasting my time. If I play video games for an hour and get inspired to make a costume, I’m learning how pieces could come together, working with different fabrics and types of clothing. l don’t feel like I’m wasting my time, and I also get to enjoy playing videogames and watching movies. It’s just really satisfying to not have the stress of…being graded, but I still get to think, make a cool product, and feel like I’m being productive.
WOD: What inspires you to continue creating?
Spangler: I really like going to comic conventions. It’s really fun to see everyone else in costumes while you are too. It’s the biggest symbol of ‘yes, this is my favorite show, talk to me about it!’ A lot of us are introverted as well, so there’s less pressure to be so sociable, but we still know we have this common interest, so that community is just awesome.
WOD: How have you stayed involved in the arts during COVID?
Spangler: I still like doing photoshoots because it’s fun to see yourself entirely transformed. It was difficult to motivate myself to continue creating when COVID-19 hit because conventions shut down, but that’s why I started my club. Now, my motivation to create is because I want the character’s costume to be as accurate as possible so that when kids see me, they think I am the real deal.
WOD: What kind of impact do you think your work has, especially your club’s work?
Spangler: I think the club has had an impact on the community because we’ve worked with Boys & Girls Club, hospitals, and elementary schools. When we see the kids, they are just so excited to talk to us, and they might not have opportunities to go to Disneyland or meet characters in person, especially during the pandemic, so it brings a little bit of “normal” back.
WOD: How do you think living in Arizona in general has influenced you as a creative?
Spangler: There is a really strong cosplay community in Arizona, with conventions and Instagram pages with large followings to connect with. It’s nice that Arizona is close to California, too, because there are a lot of smaller conventions in Arizona that aren’t found in other parts of the country.