These photos of the Steampunk Bird Hybrid by photographer Chase Lawrence of Affliction Cosplay Photography are some of my favorites – especially for the colors that bloom in his images! We had a great afternoon at Sloss Furnace capturing some cool photos together. I’m especially grateful to Chase for tapping me for these Steampunk images which were later featured in “We Rise” magazine. It was an honor to be included and I hope that I’ll have the chance to work with him again!
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”.
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
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.
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.
When 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.