Polly Anderson has turned her expert sewing skills into something that's a continuing hit at regional science fiction and comic book conferences: the making of unique one-of-a-kind capes to fit with any costumed character.
The number of costumed characters at comic book conventions is considerable, so there's no shortage of potential customers. She has been sewing these special costume accessories for more than 50 years, taking orders on the first day of the convention, then working on them overnight and delivering them in the next day or two to appreciative participants.
Years ago Polly was working at Carol's Jahncke's bookstore in Covington, selling books, maps, and paperbacks, when a customer friend of hers walked in and found her hand sewing. "Oh, you sew," her friend said, and Polly showed her some of the hand-stitching she was doing.
Polly had quite a bit of material on hand, since she sewed quite often for her family. The offhand remark led to an invitation to attend an arts and crafts convention in Baton Rouge, and she hesitantly decided to attend, just to see what it was all about. However, that first effort didn't work out.
The Convention Circuit
Not long afterwards, another customer, someone who frequented the science fiction section of the bookstore, saw her sewing and also mentioned how she might want to go to one of those conventions. "I think you'll like it there," she was told. "It's all science fiction."
At that point, Polly explained that she specialized in making capes, and her friend thought that was a great thing to bring to the convention. So Polly made 20 capes to show at the event, and she also took her young son with her. Her first venture in the world of convention costuming got her hooked.
Polly gave each cape a different look, with different design and fabric flourishes, because she wanted her capes to be unique, one of a kind accessories, something that personalized it. "It was fantastic," she said. The first convention was Coast Con in Biloxi, and she loved it.
"Met a lot of weird people, and I do mean weird. From there I have gone to conventions in New Orleans, Houston, Lafayette, Gulfport and Hattiesburg.
She sets up her sewing machine in the booth in the trade show, brings a bunch of patterns, and stacks and stacks of material piled on her tables. "They would pick out what they wanted, decide on a size, and I would have it for them next day. It is so much fun," she said.
Over the years, she has met many well-known science fiction personalities at the conventions and even wound up making costumes for some of them. One of her favorite memories is the time she met two guys who had published a unique superhero comic book, and she has a signed first copy of their comic, something she treasures to this day.
She made a costume to go along with their superhero character, and it was a hit at the convention as well. In fact, over the years, she has put together numerous specialty costumes for her friends at the conventions, and many of those have won the various costume contests held as part of the festivities.
Her sewing skills have also caught the attention of local newspapers who attend the conventions, and she has been written up a few times for her fanciful work and creativity in costuming.
No Two Are Alike
She feels that a key to her success is that she never makes two capes or costumes alike. "Anyone who has one of my capes knows that," she says. When she's asked to make a cape for a young person, she gives them the best deal possible because she knows that at future conventions, that person will grow up and bring in repeat business, as well as their friends.
Some of her previous customers may even come to her and ask her to make changes in capes she made at earlier conventions for them. At some point, people started calling her and ask her for capes for upcoming special events, staged battles, and that ever more popular "cosplay" activities.
"It grew and grew," she said, noting that her son, the same one who went with her to the first one, got more and more involved. "He was a big help," she added. And he also took part in some of the costume contests, winning from time to time. This led to his friends also attending the events, and they started winning costume contests as well.
She's done pirate outfits for local Renaissance Festivals, and a never-ending variety of capes and costumes for the never-ending variety of costume-oriented special occasions. The CovID pandemic lockdowns put somewhat of a damper on the big events, but they are gradually returning.
Fitting The Cape To The Person
She shares the secret of her success. "The key is to find out what kind of costume fits a person's personality, not so much what they want to buy, but what's going to work for them," she explained. "I really enjoy matching the cape to the person," she said. Her photo scrapbook contains many pictures of very interesting people, very interesting costumes, and interesting conventions.
She was going to two or three conventions a year before CovID hit, so as the conventions were postponed/rescheduled/cancelled, she kept busy with the other components of the sewing world.
The growing number of local and regional Comic Cons, the world of comic books and graphic novels, has expanded her market as well, and the new Star Wars events, featuring battles between the good guys and bad guys, has kept her busy. She is well known for her unique designs, blending traditional costumes with new takes based on the expanding universe of fictional characters. Styles range from beautiful to startling, and sometimes a mixture of both.
The World Of Movie Characters
Each year new movies tap into existing comic book genres, and they also generate dedicated costume contests. It sometimes seems there's a costume demand for every new movie. The Disney flick "Frozen" generated a wealth of new costumes for female characters. "I had glitter everywhere," she said, after trying to produce a Frozen worthy costume.
She even offers "reversible" capes, one side with one kind of design and the other side, a different design, to better fit the mood and imagination of the person wearing it. That's another fun part of designing costumes, to see how people, especially kids, put them on and suddenly imagine themselves as the character, acting out the parts, speaking the more memorable lines.
She has made many friends going to these conventions. Even though these conventions can attract up to five thousands people (and up) she sees the same people over and over again, as they all attend the same conventions, as well as the new conventions, and the specialty events in-between conventions, not to mention the new all-consuming live action gaming.
They have adopted her as one of their own, a seamstress who helps them live their dreams in the costumes and capes of their dreams. "It's a little odd," she admits.