BUILD: The Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Mask and Gauntlet)

The costume elements were my first real attempt at basic leather-working.  The results were:

1) I absolutely love wet-leather molding

2) I absolutely suck at anything else leather-related

Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Image | Dim Horizon)

Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Image | Dim Horizon)

The HEADPIECE and MASK:

I’d collected a moldering old sequence (the feather panel from a Vegas showgirl-type of costume), a brass lampshade, two cheap half-beaks from Party City, and a feathery little girl’s headband from the Dollar Store and some earrings from the China import $1 jewelry store that reminded me of bird talons. The whole collection of oddments kind of coalesced into a plan to build a big bird costume. But not the Sesame Street kind. I wanted to build big, beautiful, dark and bothersome.

I has a Spotlight Fashion skull cap (these are ideal for attaching things to when building a headpiece). I just needed a strong, flexible and durable way to attach all the bird-face bits.  Leather seemed ideal…but how?  I’ve never used leather before.

My friend, Drew (Tandy Leather in Birmingham) suggested that I might try wet leather molding to build a mask, or at least a framework to connect the items I wanted to use with my Bird mask and headpiece. He showed me how to wet the leather and then press and stroke and push it repeatedly in the shape and direction I wanted it to go. Sounded legit. I was definitely going to try this at home.

Using raw leather, I sort of pressed it to my face (dry) to get an idea of how to cut it before wetting and shaping it. I could do finer cutting after it was shaped. Once I wet the leather, I pressed it over my neck and face, sculpting the folds and striations that I hoped would hold as it hardened.  What I didn’t realize is how LONG it takes for leather to dry into its shape.

Claude Rains, "The Invisible Man" (1933)

Claude Rains, “The Invisible Man”

Without a head and neck mold, I only had me for it to dry on. So I grabbed some thin scarves and tied the damp, shaped leather tightly to my neck and face. I looked just like Claude Rains in the 1933 film, “The Invisible Man”. I stayed like that for 3 hours. My kids were terrified. But it worked.

When it dried and hardened I had a flexible yet sturdy face piece to affix the beak and face bits to. Experimenting with leather dye was also cool. I used brown. It was too brown.  I covered it with black…which was too black.  I tried rubbing off the black, which left me with a really cool blend of the two. Accidental awesome.

The leather face piece need to affix to the headpiece, so I asked my friend Drew to show me how to put snaps in leather.  He did. But after watching me futz through the first snap, hovering on the edge of snap disaster…he quickly stepped in and did the other three snaps for me. I realize that it’s nerve-wracking to watch me teeter on the edge of ‘fail’ when crafting…but it’s important that I do it myself.  I’ve since found a hack for snaps – so my crafty friends won’t cringe so much when I pick up a leather tool – smile!

While I can’t sew in the traditional sense, I can hand-tack the hell out of stuff.  Using an icepick, I poked holes in the Spotlight Fashion skull cap, used the holes to tack the ancient feather piece on it. I also tacked a fabric remnant along with it to hang down the back and hide my hair, and the clumsy leather working I did in the back of the neck.

THE GAUNTLET:

While hanging around as The Invisible Man, I was playing with the leather scraps left from my earlier cutting. As I wrapped them around my fingers, it occurred that I could use wet-leather molding to craft a scary bird hand (with earring talons) while I waited for my face to dry.

I cut the leather scraps into long triangles, wet the leather and wrapped it around my fingers.  Then I ran right into the same problem I had with my currently drying face and neck.  How to keep this leather in its shape long enough to dry and harden?  Further, I’ve only got one hand, and no helpers (the kids are still hiding from my scary head at this point).

Noticing scraps of tulle netting on the floor from another project, I picked them up with my toes, tossed the scraps on the table, and used my free two fingers and my teeth to wrap and tie the tulle around each leather encased finger.  The tulle was strong and ventilated, so I merely slipped my fingers out and let the leather “fingers” wrapped in tulle dry overnight.

When I unwrapped them in the morning, I realized I had tied the tulle too tight ( <- alliteration bomb!)…and the tulle had left its netting impression in the leather’s surface. Oh no!  But after looking at it for a while, I realized it was another case of accidental awesome.  The pattern left my the tulle looked exactly like bird flesh!  When it was dyed, it really popped and added a cool element to the bird claw. The $1 earrings with the dangling hearts made excellent talons – simply bent around the “finger” tips.  A cocktail strainer with a claw-like handle worked out for the thumb. I used the last scrap of leather to wet mold an arm gauntlet – just used two screw posts and two holes to fasten it on and off with ease.

These costume pieces are wrought with errors and rough work — but I’m very happy with the overall outcome.  The clumsy stitching, the mistakes, the unevenness are all largely hidden from view.  That’s what a costume is – it hides what’s underneath. By that measure, this totally succeeds.

Miss Ava Fortune, Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Image - Dim Horizon)

Miss Ava Fortune, Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Image – Dim Horizon)

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2 thoughts on “BUILD: The Steampunk Bird Hybrid (Mask and Gauntlet)

    • Hey Grant! Thank you! I was nice meeting you at the flea market! So cool to find another kindred spirit in the re-purposing Tribe! The “Spider” toaster has the best new home ever, BTW (Thanks!)

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