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For the love of monsters: The creative mind of a UNCW sophomore

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For the love of monsters: The creative mind of a UNCW sophomore

Photo Credit: Rachel Cash

Photo Credit: Rachel Cash

Photo Credit: Rachel Cash

Photo Credit: Rachel Cash

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Jules Miller has sewn enough that he knows the pros and cons of each kind of fabric.

He recommends minky for stuffed plushies. Fleece gets pilly. Plush sheds flakes of fabric when you cut along the edges. Felt is too stiff.

Minky is perfect because although it sheds, it is not fuzzy on both sides. Its backing makes it easy to see thread against the fabric.

“Definitely have a lint roller all the time,” Miller adds, using one to pick up loose fibers from his purple bedspread.

Miller has been sewing plushies since he was in middle school. His first collection was stuffed bunnies and cats made from socks. While he still uses socks in projects sometimes—like for the beady eyes of a stuffed gray frog—he has graduated to other kinds of fabrics for the bodies of his stuffed animals.

Moths are Miller’s favorite animals to sew. Two stuffed moths are displayed on his desk, and other sewing projects—some complete and others in-progress—sit on the dresser.

Miller’s bedroom is like its own craft store. Plastic drawers are bursting with art supplies and fabric scraps. There is every kind of fabric in each color and pattern imaginable, including his personal favorite: a plush double-sided galaxy pattern in primary colors.

His current sewing project is an alien named Aki. Aki has a red body made of minky and hair made of the galaxy plush. Miller found the pattern for her body online and made some alterations to get it the way he wanted. Aki is one of the biggest plushies he has ever tried to sew and is about the size of a small Build-A-Bear.

Photo Credit: Rachel Cash

Another one of the in-progress pieces is made from purple fleece. Miller says these puzzle pieces of fabric will assemble to be Gengar, his best friend Reid’s favorite Pokémon.

Gengar will be a difficult project, because he is going to be round. Miller is unsure how to attach the legs but plans to sew all the parts of the feet together first and then sew each foot to the body.

When sewing, it does not matter what order you sew things in. People only see the finished project.

“Who’s going to know how I put this together?” Miller asks. “No one!”

The hardest sewing project he has ever tackled was a creature named Rune. Rune has legs like a deer and ears like a bunny, and his limbs are posable. His top half is white, his bottom half is dark blue, and there is a zig-zag line where the colors meet. Rune’s species has been named “Moonwalker” by Miller, and he made the pattern for Rune himself.

“Basically,” Miller says while showing me the homemade patterns, “you have to complete all of the separate pieces before you can put them together.”

Sewing—especially when making your own patterns—is a 3D brain teaser. The problem-solving aspect of sewing interests Miller a lot; he likes being given a challenge and having to figure things out as he goes. Once he has a finished project, it just sits there. It is much more interesting to start a new project and figure out how to make it work.

Sewing is not Miller’s only medium, however. He likes all kinds of art; he draws, writes, acts, sings, cross-stitches, and paints nails.

***

Art in its many forms is how Miller has expressed himself since he was young. He likes to create things, and once he gets inspired for a new project, he won’t stop thinking about it until it’s done.

“It’s this compulsion almost,” he said. “Like, I really want this to be in the world, and no one else is going to make it. Why not me, because I know what I want.”

Suzanne Miller—Jules’s mom—says that since she is a creative type, art supplies were always available to Jules. The first medium Jules became interested in was writing and illustrating stories.

Even before he started writing, Miller created stories with action figures. He would act out scenes with them, and different places in his room were different locations for them to visit.

When he got older, he started to draw. He often drew monsters or monster-human hybrids. Each character he’s drawn has a name and a story.

Miller’s current sketchbook has the start date commemorated on the inside cover: January 5th, 2017. The sketchbook cover is plastered in stickers emblazoned with some of his favorite things—including an X-Men sticker.

“Basically,” Miller says before showing me his drawings, “all you need to know is I’m very gay and I love drawing men and dudes.”

The first drawing in the sketchbook is a boy named Miles. Miles has red hair, freckles, and fangs.

“I wrote a whole short story about him and this guy,” Miller says, pointing to the drawing on the other side of the page, “Terrence, falling in love!”

“Oh, are they both vampires?” I ask, looking at the beautiful drawings.

“No.”

“Oh, that’s cute!” I say. “So, it’s like Twilight, but better?”

“Twilight but gay, and they’re also in college.”

Miller loves all kinds of monsters and the mechanics of how they work. Seeing creatures function in different ways makes him wonder, “What could we be?”

When asked what his favorite monster is, he says, “All!”

He wonders if his connection to monsters has to do with the fact that he’s transgender.

“I really connect with sort of the outcast idea of monsters,” Miller adds, “and sort of the grotesqueness, but like embracing—the embracement of crazy forms and figures and body types and stuff, and all the crazy powers.”

He is toying with the idea of giving his stuffed alien Aki two extra arms. The proportions of the head to the shoulders and body are a little off, but Aki doesn’t have to conform to earthly standards; she isn’t human, after all.

***

Miller met his best friend of four years, Reid, online on a writing website.

The two of them would write back and forth, and after a while, they exchanged Snapchat usernames. One day while talking about the dreary weather, they commented on the irony that it was raining at both of their hometowns. Reid and Miller discovered that they both lived in North Carolina—Miller in Greensboro and Reid in Chapel Hill—and Miller lived near Reid’s aunt.

When Reid came to Miller’s house to meet in-person, it was exciting but nerve-wracking.

“We were both intensely nervous and the whole thing felt very surreal,” Reid says, “but it was a very good day overall.”

Miller didn’t want to tell his parents that he met Reid online, so he said they met at a choral festival in Mars Hill, North Carolina.

“He doesn’t even sing!” Miller adds with a laugh.

Miller and Reid are very close and talk all the time. Miller customized his ringtone so when Reid texts, his phone buzzes three times.

One of their favorite pastimes is writing together. They’ve written about 20 short pieces overall.

Writing with others and by himself has been a way for Miller to escape the real world and learn more about himself. Because of a Catholic education up through middle school, he says he didn’t know gay people existed until eighth grade.

Miller has always been drawn to writing and acting as male characters. Writing as a male character helped him discover more about his identity. It was a way he could test the waters without having to do anything.

“I used my writing a lot as a way to experiment with being the other gender,” he said, “and, like, experiencing same-sex attraction, but through characters.”

He always writes and draws gay characters. He hopes to write a book one day about a monster and human falling in love, and he describes his aesthetic as “Big monsters being in love.”

Seeing the world from a more creative lens and believing in things like monsters and magic allows him to express his true self through his art.

***

As Miller sits on his bed sewing Aki the stuffed alien, his Spotify playlist of disco music plays. He sews Aki’s eyes while humming along. Aki’s body is separated from her head and draped under a piece of white felt, looking like a covered corpse at a crime scene on an episode of “Law & Order.” Today, however, she is coming to life.

Miller cuts out pieces for the eyes and continues cutting out different kinds of eyes until he decides what he wants: white eyes with black irises and a yellow X for each pupil. They almost look like stars in the night sky and match her galaxy hair.

Aki is given tiny black dots for eyebrows, and her mouth is shaped like a tiny u.

While sewing Aki’s facial features on her head with a whipstitch, Miller says, “I hate when I get knots in my thread.”

“How do you get them out?” I ask.

“You don’t,” he says. “You work through it.”

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