Hello, everyone! Welcome to my blog series: #CreativeQueens! Every few weeks we interview and feature an up and coming female content creator(s) in the video game and animation industries!
This week we interviewed Couture Bag & Accessory Designer, Miki aka @oyasu_miki!
Hi Miki! Before we start can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you're from and about what you do?
Hi! I’m a freelance artist, currently bag maker, living in Portland, OR. (I’m originally from Texas though and still consider myself a Texan haha) I design and sew couture gamer/nerd bags and purses; everything is from scratch! I love anime and manga and I’ve played a metric butt ton of Monster Hunter.
So, let’s jumpstart right into it! What’s your story? How exactly did you get into couture design and creating (really, really cute) bags and accessories of all things?
Well, to be honest, I only started sewing a few years ago, maybe in 2016? As a kid I drew A LOT and always wanted to do something art-related when I grew up, but, like many creatives, I was told I would only be a starving artist and that I should pursue a career that would actually be able to pay the bills. I did the “responsible” thing, and more or less gave up on art after high school. I went to college for physics and computer science for 7 years before having a mental breakdown.
"It really started to set in those last few semesters of university that I was dooming myself to a life without art. I realized I just couldn’t live that way."
At the time, I thought I might regret it, but I can say now, years later, that the best thing I’ve ever done for my mental health was to drop out of school. It was definitely an expensive lesson though haha. When I started drawing again to pull myself out of my depressive state, I was really disheartened by how out of practice I was, and I just started making random things and trying out different creative hobbies. Whatever came to mind really. I pulled out my old watercolors, I dabbled in cooking/baking, screen printing, box making, sculpture, etc.
At the time, I was living with my grandmother, and I used her sewing supplies to try out embroidery. I was really happy with my first piece and decided I wanted to make it into something useful. It just happened to be on a scrap piece of canvas, and so my first thought was to make it into a simple tote bag, but then I wanted more pockets, and then I wanted a zipper, and then I wanted it to be waterproof, and then I wanted the same thing in black, and then I never ended up making that tote bag haha. What I did find out though was that I wanted to learn to sew. I never took any classes or watched any Youtube videos or anything, I just asked my grandma how to use her old sewing machine. She showed me how to thread it and I just kind of figured out the rest on my own. I naturally gravitated toward thicker, heavier fabrics because they felt easier to work with, so I think that’s why I haven’t sewn clothes or anything like that. Maybe someday haha.
As far as joining this craft with nerd culture, that was pretty natural as well. I fell in love with anime at 10-years-old and was never closeted about it, so it was bound to happen. A few months before I dropped out of university, I found an anime chat group and met a lot of new friends, including my now life partner, who really helped pull me out of my depression. (Love you guys!) We watched a lot of anime together and played games together too.
"I will always cherish these memories, and so I really associate anime and video games with happiness."
What is your creative process for creating/designing a bag and how long does it take to bring one to life from an idea to the finished product?
I always have ideas for new projects running through my head, so for non-commission pieces, I just choose whatever idea from my sketch book that I’m feeling at the moment. I usually only allow myself a few hours to brainstorm for commissioned bags though. Once I have the basic idea, I spend a couple hours planning it out: what will the bag be used for, what items need to fit inside, deciding dimensions, planning out basic functionalities, which parts are integral to the bag, which parts will be nonfunctional, what non-fabric pieces do I need, what color fabrics do I need to order, etc. Depending on the piece, I can end up spending several hours just shopping for fabrics. I’ve gotten pretty good with keyword searching though haha. At this point, I start patterning out the main compartment of the bag.
For my Animal Crossing pieces, this part takes several hours, but for my more creative projects, like my Monster Hunter bags, I tend to spend a few days patterning the main components. I don’t like to pattern the entire bag before I start sewing mostly because I start to lose steam and I want to get to making already, but also because it’s easier for me to see exactly how everything will fit together after I get some of it sewn up. I always have a general idea of how I’m going to execute it though. Cutting out fabric and sewing together the pieces is definitely the longest part of the process; especially cutting out delicate, complex shapes. I end up taking lots of breaks in order to rest my hands. After I pattern and make the final components, I hand sew the main seams of the bag (for strength, but also because I’m a perfectionist), and then I sew in the lining.
"This part where I’m doing all the construction of the bag can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, or even more!"
What series have you already created projects from and what is your favorite/most memorable bag you've ever made to date? Why?
For bags specifically, I’ve created pieces for Revolutionary Girl Utena, Hunter x Hunter, Monster Hunter, Pokemon, XXX Holic, No Game No Life, and Animal Crossing.
I’m not sure I could pick a favorite, but my most memorable piece is definitely my first ever bag commission back in 2018: the Nargacuga backpack. Up to that point, I had made around 10 Monster Hunter themed bags, but nothing that came close in complexity. When I first started discussing with the client what they wanted, I almost told them I couldn’t do it haha. I ended up accepting that commission partly because I didn’t want to turn down my first ever request, but also because I could feel how much they believed in me. It was very empowering.
"Looking back on it, that backpack pushed my abilities so much that I think it defined my current 'figure it out as I go' work style haha. "
I looked up so many how-tos for that bag; this thing had it all: it was the largest and heaviest piece I’d made to date, it had padded straps that were adjustable with buckles, two main compartments with quilted padding for a laptop, two different styles of pockets on the inside, pen holders, card slots, a top flap with magnetic closures, a foam and fabric sculpted head and ears with a coin purse at the mouth, custom made glass eyes, big sculpted blade-wings, metal claw studs, lots of pieced-together and textured fabric, and after it was all finished, my client and I decided it needed fur too, so I took it apart, added fur (which I’d never worked with before), and sewed it all back together. It was a wild ride haha.
For the entire two months it took me to make that backpack, my client was so patient and reassuring too. They even sent me some Monster Hunter gifts afterward as a thank you. I’ll definitely remember that experience for the rest of my life.
What would you say is the hardest thing about your process and poses the biggest challenge for you?
The hardest part of my process is self-imposed actually; I have a bit of a complex surrounding my speed. When I take commissions, I have a habit of being overly optimistic with my timeline. I feel a lot of stress missing the deadlines I make for myself, even though my clients are seriously the best and always reassure me it’s okay. This is something I’d like to work on, but I think it’s going to take me a long time. The second hardest part is asking for payment!
What does your workstation look like? What tools are essential to your creative process?
"I have a passion for organization, so my work space is always very clean and tidy. Having a clean workspace is an absolute essential for my creative process."
I also can’t imagine now working without my chair; I recently invested in a Herman Miller and it’s done wonders for my back health. Totally worth the money. My work table is right next to a large window as I prefer natural light while working. I keep most of my essential tools on my desk: pencils, paper, lots of scissors, needles, pliers, clips, etc. All of my cotton fabric is neatly folded on shelves, my thread is organized by color, my faux leather is all on rolls in another room. My workstation is located in the living room so I can be close to my partner while I work. :)
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
Definitely my clients’ feedback. I’ve realized over the years that the projects I’m most proud of are the ones I’ve made for other people. I love making gifts for my friends and seeing them use my art. Similarly, I love sending my work off to my clients and hearing about how they use my purse everyday, or how their significant other cried when they gave them a bag from me.
"Making others happy with my art is my reason for living."
Do you have any memorable stories involving creating a custom bag for one of your customers?
After the Nargacuga backpack, my second most memorable piece is the Gore Magala Backpack. That client had actually asked me if I could make them the exact same Nargacuga bag, but I declined (I prefer making something new over making duplicates), so they asked me if I could, instead, make them something similar, but Gore Magala themed.
One of Gore’s mechanics is that, in the beginning of the fight, she kind of blindly slumps around all dark and gloomy, but after you fight with her a bit, she gets angry, opens her wings real big, and grows horns.
My client and I agreed that we wanted to incorporate her “big reveal” into the bag, so I knew I had to make some large, maneuverable wings. I was having trouble figuring out how to make such large and heavy wings both stable and moveable in both the open and closed positions. I ended up going to the hardware store to pick up some metal door hinges and screws haha. Definitely the most unconventional bag making supplies I’ve ever used.
Apart from bags, you also sell really cute clothes and accessories on your Etsy shop! Do you think you'd expand into apparel more in the future or are you pretty set on bags?
Aww, thank you! I have so many ideas to be honest, but nowhere near enough time to bring them all to life. I would love to work on some of my apparel designs eventually, but I need to find time between bag commissions. I also feel that I need to do a little more “soul searching” as far as what direction I want to take when it comes to apparel.
"I’ve been consistently underwhelmed in the past with mass production quality, and I don’t think it represents me as an artist."
That being said, I have thought about expanding my printed designs as a cheaper alternative for my customers to support me, as I know my handmade pieces are expensive. So, while I’m not “set” on bags necessarily, I’m not yet sure what other avenues I want to expand my art into.
If you could collaborate with any artist in the world to make a bag, who would it be and why?
I don’t think I could pick just one, but I would most love to collaborate with my favorite small independent artists! Three I can think of off the top of my head that I’m really into right now would be @plastiboo, @goatpierrot, and @mandiie.pandiie (all on Instagram). I adore their OCs and hope to one day use them as inspiration for my work.
What fandoms would you say have had the biggest impact on you as a creative?
Definitely the Monster Hunter community! I follow a lot of MonHun cosplayers on Instagram who are incredible foam smiths. I often find myself thinking, “could I do something like this in fabric?”, or “can I translate this foam technique to faux leather?”
"I am incredibly inspired by cosplayers in general, but the Monster Hunter community is really something else. Seeing their work motivates me to incorporate more texture and 3D shapes into my designs."
What advice would you give for someone looking into making their own bags and accessories?
My first bit of advice applies to anyone looking to start sewing in general: buy quality tools and lots of cheap materials. I believe it’s important to learn a new skill with tools that won’t break on you, and if you try out sewing and end up hating it, you can resell your nice tools to get some of your invested money back.
Part of the reason I recommend buying cheaper fabrics though is when you attempt to sew something for the third or fourth time, or you just want to play around with shapes and textures, you don’t have to feel as bad about wasting crappy fabric.
Another reason is so you can try sewing with lots of different types of fabric without having to drop so much money. I personally prefer faux leather, but I know many people hate it. You may prefer working with canvas, linen, knits, wovens, fur, fleece, lace, gauze, ripstop, latex, minky, etc. There’s a lot of materials out there, and even if you hate working with one, you might jive with another.
My last bit of advice is to be ambitious and okay with failure. I know it gets said a lot, but failure really is an awesome learning opportunity.
"The biggest reason I’ve improved so quickly in my craft is because I take on a lot of projects I 'think' I can make instead of projects I 'know' I can make."
This means, especially early on, I end up with a lot of half finished pieces, never to be touched again. It’s hella frustrating sometimes, and I take lots of breaks when I have to remake parts of my bags, but I wouldn’t enjoy my work nearly as much if it was just mindless construction.
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