‘Seraphina’: From Russia, To Dragon Con

With Russia often in the news in 2017, it’s no surprise that my recreational thoughts were also drifting across that cultural landscape. This effort included my own take on a traditional Russian kokoshnik headpiece, fur trim a la Ivan the Terrible, with garment cues and colors taken from Russian royal fashion (pre-Rasputin).

I’m happy with the silhouette of the project, but candid photographs revealed some color conflicts that I hope to resolve before submitting this project for collaboration with professional photography. I’m looking forward to posting the entire WIP story for this costume project inspired by Russian forms and color. But in the meantime, I’ll go ahead and share some preliminary images taken by various photographers at Dragon Con 2017.

All thanks to the folks who turned a lens toward ‘Seraphina’!


Photo by Courtney Crawford

Photo by Jen Yates of EPBOT

Photo by Ashley Strickland

Photo by Ashley Strickland

Photo by Carlos A Smith

Photo by Anita Sims



Darth Nihilus: Dim Horizon Studio Captures a Villian

Thank God my best friends at Dim Horizon Studio are also some dedicated gamers, y’all!  They totally said “Yes!” when I asked if they might be willing to help me document the Darth Nihilus (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) costume I originally built for my son.  These are some of my complete favorite Dim Horizon images from our afternoon together at Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham.

Costume Notes: The Nihilus mask was crafted with gauze tape, wire mesh and wall putty.  The costuming includes a layers of ladies circle skirt, a black graduation robe and a black bed sheet, all from the thrift store. The lightsaber is a legit Master Replica that is really bad-ass even though it doesn’t look like Nihilus’ particular saber. The sound effects compensate for the discrepancy.

Darth Nihilus (KOTR) costume by Paige Gardner | Photo by Dim Horizon Studio

Darth Nihilus (KOTOR) costume by Paige Gardner | Photo by Dim Horizon Studio


Darth Nihilus Star Wars Costume Paige Gardner  o

Darth Nihilus (KOTR) costume by Paige Gardner | Photo by Dim Horizon Studio

Darth Nihilus Star Wars Costume Paige Gardner  p

Darth Nihilus (KOTR) costume by Paige Gardner | Photo by Dim Horizon Studio

Darth Nihilus Star Wars Costume Paige Gardner  t

Darth Nihilus (KOTR) costume by Paige Gardner | Photo by Dim Horizon Studio

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Darth Nihilus (KOTR) costume by Paige Gardner | Photo by Dim Horizon Studio

H. R. Giger | Saying Goodbye to a Visionary

The Alien | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

The Alien | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

Waking up to the news that H.R. Giger has passed away … changes everything.

Introduced to his visionary work in the early 1980’s, my first impression of his art was a distinct combination of compelling attraction … followed by a visceral instinct to recoil.  His bio-mechanical aesthetic that blended the organic shapes of a human form with elements of hardware and xenomorphic signatures had the powerful effect of pulling the viewer in just as it was pushing them away. Attractive and repellant. And brilliant.

H R Giger RIP Art

When I turned toward costume crafting as a serious indulgence, both my son and immediately decided to take on building an Alien costume (inspired by Giger’s art, from the ‘Aliens’ movie). It wasn’t built from scratch, but rather the pieces were cast from an outside vendor and shipped to us. We spent many months working on the latex forms; trimming, sanding, patching holes, painting, finishing and finally, figuring out exactly how these pieces could be assembled in such a way to be inhabited. And inhabited is the word.

The Alien isn’t something you wear. It’s an art form that you inhabit.

'Alien' | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

‘Alien’ | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

Giger’s brilliant design brings some of the same cache along with it in the 3-D form of a costume. Its sinuous lines, its glossy patina, its shocking symmetry and phallic undertones all combine to draw people forward… even while disconcerting elements within the work are suggesting ‘step back’. That’s powerful art. It’s a powerful costume to inhabit, as well.

And every costume art project I have attempted since the ‘Alien’ has been informed by Giger’s style, always striving to emulate Giger’s power to create that same ebb and flow. Draw them in, push them away. Danger couched in beauty. A perfect organism.

Alien | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

Alien | Model: Kearney Smith | Photography: Dim Horizon Studio

The costume  images here of the ‘Alien’ were photographed by Dim Horizon Studios at Sloss Furnace in Birmingham, Alabama. As enormous fans of Giger’s work themselves, Dim Horizon’s  view through their lens is clearly influenced by their own deep respect and personal appreciation for H.R. Giger’s signature style. And I think it shows in their work. The photographs move today, from a celebration of fandom to a visual memorial celebrating uncompromising artistic genius.

The man is gone. The art remains. The legacy is forever.



BUILD: The “Siri” Mohawk Headpiece

The Mohawk Headpiece for the 'Siri' costume was a huge learning curve. While happy with the result, the journey was fraught with errors that demanded serious improvisation.

The Mohawk Headpiece for the ‘Siri’ costume was a huge learning curve. While happy with the result, the journey was fraught with errors that demanded serious improvisation.

I learned SO MUCH from my mistakes during the “Siri” build.  It was an ambitious project and my lack of crafting skills and aversion to measurement REALLY made themselves known along the way. But…I also discovered that improvisation, desperation and flexibility of vision can fill in many of those gaps.

These progress pics for the Siri costume’s headpiece really emphasize my lack of real crafting skills. Hopefully, they also highlight how flaws and mistakes can be hidden along the way; being willing to change and alter your design mid-stream is vital when you’re a mistake-maker like me.  There’s a LOT of re-purposing going on in this costume, many learn-as-you-go mistakes, and some poor planning errors, too.  Just the same, I’m happy with the end result.

Since no one is probably interested in duplicating this costume, rather than presenting it as a “how to”, the following images are intended to illustrate what kind of materials can be used for a project like this.  They may also illustrate a fair number of “what NOT to dos”.

All thumbs,


The phone/light cords were the perfect disguise to hide my measurement mistakes and provide support for the mohawk quills. AND it fit into the whole theme - so disaster averted!

The phone/light cords were the perfect disguise to hide my measurement mistakes and provide support for the mohawk quills. AND it fit into the whole theme – so disaster averted!

BUILD: All Hands on The Aiel Maiden

Aiel Maiden from Robert Jordan's 'Wheel of Time' book series. | Image by Dim Horizon Studios

Aiel Maiden from Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ book series. | Image by Dim Horizon Studios

My re-purposing passion only took me so far when I wanted to build an Aiel costume based on Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” book series.  This costume is the result of several friends pitching in to make it happen.

I was lamenting to my friend Jonathan over lunch that I wanted to make an Aiel costume, but hadn’t gotten my head around how to make the spears.  Jon started quizzing me on what kind of spears (how long, what type etc.) and finally said “I can do that”.  And true to his word, he went home and spent a couple of weeks woodworking and pondering to produce three excellent Aiel spears for me.  Best friend ever!

Now that I was gifted with swell spears, I was obligated to come up with the rest. I found the perfect (and I mean perfect) fabrics for the cadin’sor, but without sewing skills, I’m still sitting on go.  Happily, another friend joined me on the journey and together we found a simple pattern and together we cut it, she sewed the big bits, and I hand stitched the rest. Go team!

Using the left over fabric, a wire headband and some safety pins, I fashioned the cowl.  I ran part of a wire coat hanger through an old black cotton scarf to make a veil that would draped quickly and properly across my face.

I found some cheap boots, poked holes in them with an ice pick, and made some simple laces so they’d resemble Aiel boots described in the literature.

I still needed a hide buckler (shield) to complete the outfit.  I found a round wooden lazy susan platter at the thrift store and  a brass bowl. Using some suede from an old pair of pants, gorilla glue and some upholstery nails… I assembled a decent shield the night before DragonCon 2010. Sadly, when I was smacking the shield with a hammer – to give it some battle damage – I smote it in half.

Aiel spears hand-crafted by Jonathan Gardner

Aiel spears hand-crafted by Jonathan Gardner

Blood, and bloody ashes.

More Gorilla Glue and some tears bound it back together before the convention started the next day.  It was first time I wore the Aiel to a ‘Wheel of Time’ track event, it was my introduction to an army of fantastic fellow fans who have since become my dear friends – both in Wheel of Time fellowship and costuming clanship.

I’ve since been included in several fun Wheel of Time photo shoots which have only amplified my appreciation for the world. Every time I wear it, I think of the friends who helped me do/fix the parts I couldn’t. The Aiel Maiden has since been my “go-to” garb for the past few years whenever I want to celebrate my enthusiasm for the marvelous world that Robert Jordan created and Brandon Sanderson carried forth when Jordan died. Many hands touched this one costume along its journey – and I’m grateful for every one.

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)


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.


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)

The Thrift Store Belt and the Flask

306 - CopyWhen I was recently gifted with a flask, I pondered the best use for it.  While I move in circles where whisky and rye (and bourbon and rum) are familiar guests – I myself don’t drink distilled spirits.  I do tend to keep a nice single-malt, and a few other things to hand for my friends who partake. But I’ve never had a flask to port that hospitality with me. Until now.

I figured a flask holder that I could hang from a belt might be a cool project.

And it would be even cooler if I could make it using a thrift store leather belt.

And  after a fair amount of futzing around with the belt and the flask – and using my very rudimentary riveting skill (I’m ashamed to even call it a skill), I ended up with not only a decent flask holder, but ALSO — a pattern.  A real pattern – with tips! – that I made along the way for anyone else who’d like to try this out. I’m hoping I can scan it and get a good true scale PDF to post here later.

Of course, my pattern is whisky-stained. Which led to the tip “Make sure your flask is completely empty BEFORE attempting this project”. But still – a pattern, guys!

Below are the progress pictures I made along the way.  Since flasks vary in size and shape, these images may best serve as inspiration rather than any kind of “how-to” gospel. But the direction and goal should be sound for all – smile!

This was about a one-hour project for me – and fully half of that was “thinking” time.

I think I’m going to try this belt re-purposing to make a gun holster of sorts. This sounds like a really good or really terrible idea.  I’ll let you know.