Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Dark Side of the Force

Although I can pat myself on the back for being creative, resourceful and patient, there are definitely times when it would be NICE to call one person up and have everything taken care of.

Sort of like a personal shopping assistant for costume design.

This is NOT the private investigator story I talked about previously, but it is during the same time period when I was quite disillusioned with Reg and was experimenting with other vendors.

The story does have a happy ending, although I've come through the process with some bittersweet learnings.

I had always enjoyed Star Wars more than Star Trek. Part of it was that in the Trek universe, you get presented with a problem and everything is tickedy boo in 60 minutes. Star Wars was always a little darker, a little more unsure, a little more, well, nefarious. At least that was the case for Eps 4-6. Of the new prequels, I fell asleep during Ep1, kept looking at my watch in Ep2 and felt a sense of relief when the Ep3 credits rolled by.

Han Solo was my favorite character in the sagas and I figured that it shouldn't be too hard to get a Han Solo outfit. (Famous last words, as you'll see...) I sat down and watched "The Empire Strikes Back" and I figured out what I had and what I would need for an appropriate outfit...

  • blaster

  • blaster belt and holster

  • blaster belt accessories

  • white shirt

  • brown pants with gold bloodstripe

  • dark gray or light black jacket

  • pants belt with two rows of perforations

  • boots (which I had already from Joey)

The Blaster
I searched for the blaster on ebay, and I was not going to spend over $700 for a genuine broomhandle Mauser with all of the pieces machined onto it. Nor was I going to get one of the old toy plastic jobs. Yes, I could vinyl-dye it, but I was looking for a "ready to wear" (or "ready to blast") item at this point. I eventually found a beautiful replica available from Brian's Toys. Nicely balanced and looked great in the hand. About $220.

The Blaster Belt Accessories
Searching through Google had gotten me some promising leads on the other items. One of these was the blaster belt accessories from Corellian Exports. Vincent and Junie Sanchez are a pleasure to work with. I got some resin pieces from them and had the most fun time putting together my droid caller, and finishing it with Testor hobby paints. Testor makes these incredible "metal flake" aerosol paints. Spray it on, wait a while and rub vigorously. You get a near perfect metalized finish!!

Vincent had a link on this page to a person who did blaster belts. Did I contact this person? No. Stupid. Stupid. STUPID! I wanted someone who could make the belt and the costume. Did I contact Andrea? No again. At this point I should have put my head between a door and its frame and slammed repeatedly until I knocked some sense into myself.

The Asteroid Field

I came across Kathy Pillsbury on ebay (id of katarra8) who, according to her "About Me" bio:

I have been making costumes for friends and customers since 1977 [since Star Wars!] but I have been making costumes for 35+ years. I have been a member of the SCA [medieval costumes], a civil war re-enactor [Victorian age costumes & corsetry], and I enjoy Regency dancing [& costumes!] I attended my first science fiction convention in 1977 and have never stopped going! I have won numerous awards at the conventions for my reproductions of costumes from various shows and also for the workmanship and attention to detail. I am an experienced pattern-maker with an eye to details!
This was great! Very high positive feedbacks (+2000) I emailed her and she said she could do everything except the blaster. I asked about a sample of the leather. I got it. This was late August of 2006. I sent her a deposit and I was told I would have my outfit in about 6 weeks.

Except it didn't take 6 weeks. When I called her after 6 weeks, I was promised "the next week". Then it was "the Monday after Thanksgiving". Then she stopped returning emails and vmails. After the first 6 weeks went by, I was kicking myself every day for not going to Andrea.

Whenever I finally did manage to call and reach Kathy, it was the same, old, tired excuse - "I'm so busy right now, I'm trying to get everyone's pieces out!" - Yes, and the dog ate your patterns, too.

It turned out that Corey also knew of Kathy professionally, and when I told him of the travails with this outfit, he launched into a stream of invective that was as colorful as it was refreshing. Corey can cuss a blue streak and while it didn't do anything to ameliorate the situation, I did feel better. Corey knew someone who ordered a substantial amount of items from her, and promised to reach out to this person to try and get her off her butt.

And I'm planning on suing the witch.
JJ forged a complete set of plate armor in six months - and that was because he had other works in progress. Corey finished the muscle suit in four weeks. Andrea - well, Andrea works like the dickens and at times I blink and the stuff is done and in the mail. There's no excuse for a fabric costume to take this long.
The Endor Moon

I'm out my deposit, but I've learned my lesson. Things are getting back on track:

The Shirt, Pants and Jacket

Are all being done by Andrea. I'm not in a rush for the items, so we're shooting for completion as a birthday gift to myself. I have to get her a little bijou or something since I feel that I cheated on her... (I got her a book off her Amazon wish list ...)

The Pants Belt
Vincent was nice enough to point me in the right direction to get a belt. The original was a Dickies belt and I ordered one through the Zemsky's online catalog.

The Blaster Belt
I contacted Matt Poitras of MP Productions (the original person on Vincent's site listed for blaster belts) and I'll be getting this in 3-4 weeks.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blue Velvet - Part Deux !!

The Coronation Outfit

I kind of knew what to expect for the coronation shirt, but I was amazed when I finally got it in hand. Again, we used the same materials as the HOH shirt, but Andrea had couched gold cord around the collar and sleeve openings (the jury is out on whether or not Faramir's movie costume had silver or gold couching. We decided to go with the gold couching on the tunic) and had hand-sewed a gold sequin and a ruby glass bead at every intersection. Wow! The tunic itself was made of silk velvet (as opposed to the cotton velvet of the HOH outfit) and had the most incredible 3D embroidery and beadwork. I know she was looking high and low to get trim as close to the original as possible, and looking at the results, I think she did a stupendous job!


But what about the mantle???

This was a tricky bit of work (and this was done before the Phantom cloak, mind you) since the lining of the mantle was silk and it would literally slide off the armor. After considering sewing in pockets to place magnets in, we came up with sewing in a couple of d-rings and then attaching them via the leather laces on the pauldron connectors. This would require some very accurate placement of the mantle over the armor and marking the spots for the d-rings. I couldn't send the armor down to Virginia, but Andrea could send the unfinished mantle to me! There was quite a bit of gyration and double-stick tape involved, but I eventually marked off the appropriate spots and sent the cloak back to be completed. As with the couching on the sleeves, there was no consensus as to what the embroidery on the mantle was - gold and silver, or just silver. We decided for a "mithril looking" silver floral trim to complete the look. (For the curious, that's a wetsuit hanger...)

Blue Velvet

"What next?"

I asked myself that question a number of times. It was Andrea who suggested my next course of (costume) action.

"Since you have the armor already, what about Faramir's coronation outfit?"


For some reason, the other Aragorn outfits (the Black Gate and the coronation regalia) never really clicked with me the same way the original Ranger outfit did. I guess I have a soft spot for the slightly disheveled and grimy ...


I decided to do two outfits - the Houses of Healing outfit and the coronation outfit. Mainly because they were quite similar, atlthough the coronation outfit was a bit fancier. Doing the Faramir outfits was also going to give Andrea a chance to try some different techniques on the embroidery and sewing machines - mainly sewing with two needles at once!

We discussed the fabrics for this venture - silk dupioni for the sleeves, cotton velvet and silk velvet for the tunics and silk velvet for the mantle. As for the other details, I knew Andrea would produce something spectacular. And she did. Twice.

Again, the Alleycatscratch costume site was one of the best resources for researching the outfits. That, and the Extended Edition DVDs ...

The Houses of Healing Outfit

For this creation, Andrea used a sapphire blue dupioni silk for the sleeves and a lighter blue silk for the body - since the body portion is basically hidden by the tunic. The sleeves were double-stitched with gold thread and the cotton velvet tunic had some delicate gold embroidery around the mandarin collar. I used my plain black Boromir boots and got a embossed leather belt from Chip at Leatherlore.

Again, I can't quite believe the detail and the craftsmanship that I got from Andrea. Everything was perfect and comfortable. I wore this to a "office" Halloween party this year - the general rule was that if you had meetings or had to leave the floor, the outfit had to come OFF. Luckily for me, the tunic was long enough that I could just pull my pants legs over the boots when I had appointments.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Wizard's Pupil

"Here was one with an air of high nobility such as Aragorn at times revealed, less high perhaps, yet also less incalculable and remote: one of the Kings of Men born into a later time, but touched with the wisdom and sadness of the Elder Race. Pippin knew now why Beregond spoke his name with love. He was a captain that men would follow, even under the shadow of black wings."
With Aragorn and Boromir costumes out of the way, I decided to turn my attention to a Faramir Ithilien outfit. Thanks to Gryphonsmith's excellent website, I had a plethora of material to work with.

Again, my heart sank with the thought of handing the leatherwork pieces of the costume over to Reg, but at this point I didn't have anyone else who could do leather. I would also be starting nearly from scratch at this point, since I couldn't reuse any of the items from the other costumes, with the exception of the green cloak.

So I screwed my courage to the wall and started lining up my vendors:

  • Andrea - shirt and tunic
  • Reg - cuirass with quilted sleeves, pants, bracers and belt and sword
  • Toughgloves - gloves
  • Caboots - boots

I still wasn't sure from whom I was going to get the quiver; I had ordered an extra belt buckle and aglet from Doug Strong (just in case!).

Shirt and Tunic

Two of the easiest pieces first. One call to Andrea and we were all set. We decided on a cotton osnaburg fabric for the shirt and a sturdy cotton twill for the tunic. If you visit Andrea's LOTR portfolio, you'll see the pieces in their glory!


Again, an easy call. Or rather web order. Toughgloves had the same tight deerskin gloves that I used for Aragorn and Boromir, but in a neutral color. I knew I could Fiebing dye the gloves to the right color.


Again, an easy purchase. I gave a call to Joey Sanchez and we discussed the boot design. Since I was sort of a "trendsetter" for Joey, he was more than happy to take on the project. The boots took about 10 weeks to build and felt great when I put them on, but they were this nasty, butter-brickle color. Rather than wait another 10 weeks for corrected pair, I Fiebing dyed them along with the gloves. I'd say they turned out rather well...


I finally gave Reg a call and explained what I wanted. I also found out at that time that Larkin was expecting, so I thought, "Oh, crap ... it's gonna be a few years for this to get done..." At that point, Reg was also expanding into some related areas, like swords. And quivers. And arrows. He was particularly excited about the quiver. "I can make a really beautiful one! Just like the one he was wearing!!" I relented. Reg promised to have everything completed in 4 months.

He was almost on time - this time. It did take four months for the pants, quiver and arrows and sword. The quiver and arrows were beautiful. And he was right - the quiver and arrows did look just like the ones Faramir was using. The pants were made of this incredibly soft leather (I know it wasn't lambskin or deer, but I don't know what he used) and fit perfectly. The sword was nicely detailed and well-balanced. However, it did have a black pommel and black pleather scabbard. (I'll talk more about the Faramir sword in another post.)

It took another three months for the cuirass, bracers and belt. Reg was trying to convince me to leave the tree design a natural color, rather than silver. No. No. NO. Absolutely NOT. That's when I found out about Angelus Leather Paint from a theatrical supply store. I bought a bottle of silver and shipped it to Reg.

It took another month after that to get everything correct on the cuirass, bracers and belt.

The cuirass needed some leather behind the side lacing, which wasn't too bad an alteration. The belt and bracers, though, were an eye-blinding bright green. I very gently explained to him that the leather was a bit on the "vivid" side, and I was looking for a more muted, mossy green. Reg re-dyed the leather and I was happy with the deep muddy green that eventually was returned to me.

So ... another great-fitting and -feeling costume was done, albeit taking longer than I wanted.

What next?

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Captain of the White Tower

As I mentioned in a previous post, as my Aragorn costume was getting finished, I also started on my FOTR Boromir costume.

I really believe that I have as much fun researching how to duplicate the outfit as wearing it.

In some ways, this outfit was easier to recreate than the Aragorn one - mainly because it was mostly fabric and mainly because Andrea is such a pleasure to work with.

The main pieces of the outfit that I already had or could easily get were:

  • black leather pants (from the Aragorn outfit)
  • plain black riding boots (could get from Caboots)
  • vambraces and underbracers (from the Aragorn outfit)
  • black gloves (from Toughgloves)

The pieces I needed to get were:

  • wool, leather and maille undershirt
  • scarlet tunic with gold embroidery
  • blue leather surcoat with three silver clasps
  • belt with silver buckle
  • sword
  • horn
  • burned velvet cloak with silver lacers

For those of you who also wish to embark on this type of quest, I can't recommend the LOTR Weapons and Warfare book enough. This tome has really everything you could possibly ask for. Out of the seven items, only two (the surcoat and the belt) I knew would be seriously delayed because of Reg, but the other items I had discussed with Andrea (the undershirt, tunic and cloak) and I could rest assured that they would be done on time and be done perfectly. The other items (clasps, sword and horn) I discussed in another entry.

The undershirt was done first. Mainly because the materials needed for the project were readily available. Again, Andrea's attention to detail was amazing. The undershirt is made of boiled wool, leather and aluminum chain maille. The undersleeves beneath the chainmaille are quilted, and Andrea also embroidered stars onto the material since the W&W book indicated that was the design. The chain maille sleeves were made by Michael at Grove Maille - just before he shipped out to Iraq.

As this was getting done, I had been scouring sari stores in NYC looking for the right material. I eventually found some sari material on ebay, but wasn't happy with it once I got it. Then I found Rajesh Nahar at Rajesh was great working with, and I believe I found another LOTR fan when I explained what I was using the material for. The scarlet satin material was beautiful, and the embroidery was better than I had hoped for. I had the material shipped directly to Andrea. Andrea added the black velvet collar and also found some decorative beading that exactly matched the pictures of Boromir. She was also determined to find the exact buttons for the tunic. You can go here for a view of the tunic.

The burned velvet cloak has an exquisitely soft black satin lining and Andrea was able to dye the velvet to the same shade as the tunic. The fur trimming is rabbit - as opposed to opossum in the original outfit. I felt that that was something I could live with...

The most annoying thing with this outfit was the WAITING. To have so much done and have to wait for all the little pieces to come together was maddening. The clasps. The lacers.

But I'm patient.

Eventually, the clasps and lacers came from Doug - and they were amazing! Eventually, Reg got the clasps placed onto the surcoat and the buckle onto the belt.

(Reg had been telling me the surcoat was "almost done" for about 2-3 months. As I was looking at the web photo albums on his site, I see the completed surcoat prominently displayed at an event he was selling his wares at. Sheesh. I guess he knew what I would say if he asked to show it off after all the delays.)

Like my Aragorn costume, the Boromir outfit was extremely comfortable. I spent the better part of eight hours in the outfit and felt great! I was most surprised at the wool undershirt - it was like wearing a cashmere sweater - soft and very breathable. It's now a bit snug across the chest and the sleeves are now a little short, but since I'm wearing the bracers anyway, it gives me a bit more freedom of movement. The leather gloves are tight ... as they should be ... so I can manage keys, cellphone buttons, whatever. Although it was a bit odd to see the Captain of the White Tower, with his cloak draped back over his shoulders, with his horn and sword -- on a cellphone. It's a little like the (in)famous Brad Pitt/Troy candid shot. The cloak is the same way - warm, but not stiflingly so.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Mane Thing ...

Three very important items to be aware of if you don't have long enough hair and are using a wig:

- Don't skimp
- Choose a reasonable color
- Trim it!

Don't Skimp

Don't get the cheapie nylon ones - these look just like what they are - costume. And they're also hot and uncomfortable. Make sure you get a man's wig - they have an additional piece to cover the sideburns. You also want to get a monofilament wig with a skin top. My recommendation is the "Jordan" from International Wig. This goes for about $50.

Choose A Reasonable Color
Unless you are planning on shaving your head, don't go too much lighter or darker than your natural hair color, regardless of "who" you're currently dressed as. You WILL look stupid and everyone will laugh at you. I have golden brown hair, and fortunately for me, the "Jordan" has something almost exactly my color. (In fact, this particular wig has a very wide selection of colors.) This makes it much easier for me to hide the edges of the wig with my own hair. And, people will love to run their fingers through your "hair". At one event, one poor soul must have been convinced by his GF to dress up as Legolas. Now, this guy had a 9 o'clock shadow (think of a 5 o'clock shadow starting 8 hours earlier) and a cheap blond wig. Great outfit, though. And coming from me, that's a very substantial compliment! (His GF, on the other hand, was large enough to have her own event horizon. If I were to keep this metaphor in LOTR terms, when she sat around Lothlorien, she sat AROUND Lothlorien...) His dark sideburns were sticking out of the sides of the wig and he was terribly self-conscious. I spent a lot of time with Danny that night because I really felt for him - he perked up when we started talking since he didn't feel the total idiot. I explained what I did and he was rather surprised - "That's not your real hair?" and I can almost guarantee a dark brown wig was ordered and in the mail the next day.

Trim It
Lastly, faces are different shapes and sizes. Once you get the wig, go to your stylist/barber/etc and have them trim around the face and cut it to the proper length. If not, you will be brushing it out of your face every five minutes AND it will look fake! I use my wig for Aragorn, Boromir, Faramir and my generic Ithilien Ranger. It also works quite well for my generic pirate outfit! When you have something that blends in with your own hair, people don't really notice the subtle color differences. They just assume you have naturally long hair. The "Jordan" came to the middle of my back out of the box. If you're going the Rohirrim route, or possibly an Ithilien Ranger, you may not need to shorten it, but you will always need the trim around the face.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Mind Games

It's quite fun to mess with people's heads.

I don't mean "Gaslighting" - not by any means - but it's satisifes my rather odd sense of humor to see someone do a double- or triple-take when they see something and can't quite believe what they are seeing.

For instance, take the One Ring. Undoubtedly, you've seen the various incarnations of this - from the $2 version that came with a bookmark, to the Noble Collection edition, which looks much better, but for almost $400, doesn't really look like the movie version.

Most of the versions I had seen were links from other LOTR sites, and all of them were disappointing in one way or another - so I tried "one ring" replica in Google.


The very first link was exactly what I was looking for! Jens Hansen - Contemporary Gold & Silversmith of New Zealand was the jeweler who was commissioned to make the One Ring in all its guises for the movies and (drum roll, please) was offering replicas of the Movie Ring for sale. The business is now run by Jens' son Halfdan, who explained that these versions
don't have the Black Speech writing on them - just a plain gold band. Just a plain massively evil, fell-beast ruling, world-dominating gold band.

The first time I wore this, no one really noticed it; however, by the second day, I was getting stares. By the third day, I was getting multiple conversations like this:

"Umm ... you didn't get married, did you?"


"When I saw that on your finger, I thought it was, umm..."

"Was what?"

"You know, it looks sorta like a wedding band ..."

At that point I would pull the ring off my finger and drop it in their hand. Their responses were nearly identical:

"HOLY CRAP! It's the One Ring! Where did you get it?"

Which was exactly the response I was looking for. Hehehehe.

The only exception was my first boss - when he saw it, right off the bat he said, "Wow, that's a beautiful One Ring. Can I see it?"

Then again, Alex and I have spent a lot of time discussing M-Theory, so I'm not exactly surprised ...

After watching LOTR, I re-read the trilogy (and the Silmarillion) and I really wanted the type of ring that was described in the books as being given by Finrod to Barahir, but not a replica of the rings that were floating around on the internet (and which I have and wear with my costume!). I wanted something that I could wear every day.

So I called Halfdan.

We talked about the design, the materials (white gold, gold, Biron emeralds) and I left the rest to him. This is what I got:

(You can't quite make it out in the photo above, but there are golden blades of grass sweeping around the sides of the serpents and beneath the main jewel.) I get the same level of disbelief with this "canon" ring -- at first, the thought is that it is a claddagh ring, but a closer look usually brings a widening of eyes and another exclamation of amazement. I had one friend that didn't realize the snakes had emerald eyes until last week when the sun hit the ring and the eyes sparkled!

I'm having fun!