Our Shield Maiden: Living the ‘Bangarang’ cosplay life

Emilee Morehouse is best known for her elaborate, labor-intensive, often gender-bending cosplay, but she’s also an adventurous traveler, talented artist, and wildly prolific writer and blogger.

You’ve probably seen at least one of Emilee’s cosplays, which include gorgeous renditions of Rufio from Hook, Princess Tiana, Daenerys of Game of Thrones, Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Leta Lestrange, Aquaman, Moana’s Maui and, most recently, Pixie Hollow fairy Iridessa.  If you haven’t had the pleasure, you can find them all displayed @ourshieldmaiden on Instagram and Twitter

Raised in an unapologetically nerdy and artistic family, Emilee began exhibiting creative flair as early as 4, and grew up painting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and writing.  She later earned a degree in journalism (as well as one in Apparel Design). She’s also backpacked around more than a dozen countries and continues to add more to her list. 

While living in Paris, she fell hard for the geeky form of dress-up known as cosplay and discovered her “tribe.”  She’s now a competitive cosplayer who spends upwards of 200 hours on some of her creations, including her famed Rufio cosplay, which captured the attention of Dante Basco himself.

She’s condensed her knowledge and experience into an ebook for beginning cosplayers, handpaints amazing custom pop culture-themed shoes, and blogs prolifically about travel and all things geeky at darkkhorsetravel.com and ourshieldmaiden.com

An avowed Slytherin, Emilee once spent the day wandering around London in a Rococo ballgown, which — as you’ll learn below — pretty much sums up her travel/cosplay/life aesthetic. 

Aquaman cosplay. Photo by Aubrey Rebecca Photography.

You’re a veteran cosplayer known for your elaborate, handmade costumes, as well as a traveler, prolific blogger and writer, and designer celebrated for your custom, hand-painted, geeky sneakers. First of all, I must ask. How do you find time to do all these things and more?

I think there’s a huge misconception that time is going to be found … but it never is. If you want to do something, you have to make time to do things. That might mean sacrificing other things in order to do it. I give up things to save money to travel, I prioritize my art, and I use blogging as a type of therapy. Writing soothes me.

What’s your geek origin story? How did you first discover and embrace this side of yourself?

I was born into it! My mom is a huge nerd and so is my brother. We marathoned nerdy movies as our Christmas traditions, watched Star Trek every Tuesday night as a family, and were always encouraged to use our imaginations to think about sci-fi and fantasy.

Let’s talk about your cosplay. How did you become interested in this geeky pastime?

I started cosplaying when I used to live in Paris. It was hard to meet people with somewhat of a language barrier but when I started going to cons and cosplaying, people knew who I was and loved it. That was my first lesson in the power that geek culture can have globally.

Do you remember your very first cosplay?

For sure. It wasn’t that long ago, haha. I cosplayed River Song from Doctor Who.

Emilee as Lifeline from Apex Legends. Photo by Anthony Pena Photography.

I understand you’ve been painting, sewing, knitting, and crocheting for as long as you can remember, beginning at the age of 4. What sparked your interest in these crafts?

Again, I really come from a VERY artistic family. My mom had us in art classes every weekend for my entire childhood/teen life so that’s where I get a lot of my art knowledge from. I also have a degree in Apparel Design, which helped with some of my cosplay foundation. My mom is a seamstress, so she taught me to sew when I was around five. I’m just naturally an artsy person as well!

You’re a competitive cosplayer. What does that mean? How and when did you start competing?

A competitive cosplayer means that I go to competitions (and judge competitions!) as a cosplayer. A lot of people cosplay but have no interest in getting up on stage, which is totally fair, but for me that’s what makes cosplay something I love even more. I have a background in runway modeling and theatre so anything that gets me up on stage makes me happy. I love performing!

I don’t know much about the competitive cosplay scene. What’s it like? What kind of work, time, and effort goes into preparing to compete?

It’s pretty intense. Most cosplays that you see in a high level competition take at least 200 hours to build. You also have to have made 75% or more of your cosplay personally (although many people make all of theirs … one of my friends even made her underwear). You get judged by usually 3-4 judges individually and then also on your performance on stage (both are separate). It’s super fun! But also very intense (I’ve had to stay in a cosplay for 12 hours before just for first and second judging).

What do you enjoy about competing?

The audience! I love entertaining people and putting on a show. I always have and probably always will.

Russell Photography PNW

Your recently wowed the crowd at Emerald City Comic Con’s Western Cosplay Championship with your Rufio cosplay from Hook. What was that experience like?

It was pretty magnificent to be honest. I was so happy that the response from the crowd was even more than what I could have imagined. Rufio is a very special character to me. He was one of the first characters that made me think, “I want to be like that” when I was a kid and since he was introduced to me by my brother (classic ‘80s kid) it makes him even more special.

I read you spent 200 hours working on that cosplay. Tell me about the process of creating and putting it together. 

Rufio took three years of building and then rebuilding to get him to the level that I competed him in. While I say 200 hundred hours, the reality is that it was probably much more. Something to remember for a lot of cosplayers is that there are no patterns for much of what we do. Patterns are becoming more accessible now, but many of us make these up entirely on our own, which was the case with me and Rufio.

I heard that original Rufio Dante Basco gave you some appreciation for the cosplay on Twitter.

Yes! He tweeted “Bangerang” to me and liked my post! I started crying.

You also won in your category at Geek Girl Con in 2018 with your Beyonce-inspired Queen of Hearts costume. Tell me more about that cosplay and how you came up with the idea for it. 

I’ve always wanted to cosplay the Queen of Hearts because I’ve always loved Lewis Carroll and the characters from Alice in Wonderland. My design was more the idea I had of the Queen of Hearts in my head after reading the book, rather than the Disney versions of her. I also just love the power that Beyoncé throws, so it was a pretty natural marriage in my mind.

What are some of your other favorite cosplays that you’ve created?

Rufio is a given. I also love pretty much any cosplay that pushes me to try something new and to learn a new skill.

Emilee as Princess Tiana. Photo by Bone Rush Photography.

You’ve written an ebook for beginners titled “How to Start Cosplaying,” which is available in your Etsy store. I imagine you have quite a bit of knowledge to share. Why did you decide to write a book?

I wrote the ebook because I get a LOT of messages on social media from people who desperately want to get into cosplay, but just have no idea where to start. I’m pretty busy all the time so rather than giving a short answer, or not being able to answer, I have somewhere to point them to now.

Let’s talk about your Etsy shop, Darkk Horse Designs. One of your specialties is custom, hand-painted Converse and Toms shoes. You’ve made shoes themed after Hamilton, Harry Potter, Mulan, Wicked, Sherlock, Doctor Who, and more. What inspired you to start doing this unique design work?

Honestly, I saw someone else do it and thought, “I could do that.” I’ve been painting them for years now and I love seeing how much my art and design skills have grown since that first pair (which was Doctor Who!).

What are some of your favorite custom shoe designs that you’ve done?

I have a pair of Hamilton TOMS I designed that I was pretty in love with. I also love to paint Loki and really any fandom that’s just totally off my radar but that people want to see more from. Honestly, shoe painting is a labor of love. I don’t make that much money from it (at all) but I absolutely love how it stretches my mind creatively.

Your shop also features cosplay items, pins and, my personal favorite, cheeky and geeky embroidery themed after fandoms like Star Wars and Stranger Things. What do you enjoy about making these things?

Everything in my shop comes from the place in my mind that says, “I would want that.” I make what I love and am so happy when other people love it too.

Emilee as Maui from Moana. Photo by Andy Ahlstrom.

You’re also an extremely prolific writer and blogger. You’ve traveled extensively and document that on your blog, darkkhorsetravel.com. When did you first catch the travel bug?

I started my travel blog when I was getting ready to move to France, but I started travelling long before that. By the time I was 10 years old I had already been to 40 U.S. States and we were always going on trips when I was growing up.

Tell me about the countries you’ve traveled to and what’s still left on your bucket list.

I’ve solo backpacked to around 15 countries over the past few years and I’m about to visit two new ones (as well as visiting the UK again). I love to visit countries that have significance to me personally … whether that’s because of my family ties to that country or because of something like literary significance, artistic significance or somewhere I just find beautiful.

I don’t like hot climates so the warmest place I’ve been to was India and that was my first international trip. After that I’ve mostly been to Europe with some smaller trips to Africa and around North America.

When did you become interested in writing and what do you enjoy about it?

I’ve been writing since before I actually knew how to write. I use to scribble on paper to copy my mom who was writing long before I knew my ABC’s. I have a BA in Journalism and writing is extremely cathartic for me.

Royal Day Out

Tell me about the Royal Day Out experience you had on your birthday last year, which seemed to combine all your passions, from cosplay to travel. 

Yes! It was absolutely amazing. The minute I saw the experience (I found it through Airbnb) I knew it was something I HAD to do. I love getting photos when I travel and have a passion for history, so it really was the perfect way to spend my birthday and to travel. I hope to do more experiences like it in the future!

You also had the opportunity to do the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. Did that make all your Slytherin dreams come true?

I really loved the tour but I wish I hadn’t been so jet-lagged. The only day I could do the tour was the day after I landed in London and I was absolutely exhausted. Travel bloggers don’t talk about jetlag a lot but I get it REALLY bad on the way over to Europe for the first 1-3 days. Usually after that I’m good. But yes! I loved being in the heart of everything at the studios!

You also blog about cosplay, video gaming, and an impressive array of geeky subjects at ourshieldmaiden.com. Tell me about some of your favorite fandoms.  

Right now my top fandoms are:
1. Harry Potter
2. Sherlock Holmes
3. Anything Disney
4. Game of Thrones
5. Umbrella Academy
6. The Dragon Prince

And I’m just getting into Critical Role after having played D&D for about a year and a half!

You’ve written about the fact that you’ve found your “tribe” in the cosplay community. What do you like about being a part of it?

I really love the people who I know in the cosplay community. They’re just so like me. We’re creative perfectionists and artistic nerds. What’s not to love!? I’ve never felt so part of a tribe in my life and the deeper I get into the cosplay, the more I feel in my element.

Emilee as Aquaman. Photo by Aubrey Rebecca Photography.

You’re a supporter of the #cosplayisforeveryone movement. Why is that important to you?

I think a lot of people view cosplay as something other people do, but people who look like them don’t. I think representation is really important. Cosplay is about following your love for fandom and should never be restricted by other people’s expectations of you.

What future cosplays can we expect to see from you? 

I’m planning on building a Rococo Disney Princess dress and working on some armor but this is actually the slowest time of year for me so I’ll be concepting and learning new skills rather than building actual cosplays over the next few months. I am starting to take cosplay commissions from other people though and that’s making me really happy!

You have a very interactive cosplay Patreon. If readers were interested in supporting that, how would they go about it? 

I have a link to my Patreon in my bio on Instagram or you can find me here.

Patreon is a really awesome way people can support my art (for as little as $1/month) while getting access to content I’m not posting anywhere else! Oh, and special perks like getting double entries in giveaways!

With all you’ve accomplished, is there anything left on your geek bucket list?

Oh, SO MANY things on my bucket list. I want to start pattern making, write a book, start a podcast, maybe start a clothing line. The possibilities are endless. Stay tuned!

Queen of Hearts cosplay photo: Geek Girl Con. 

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