Saturday, December 31, 2011

A year full of costumes and conventions

The end of the year is closing in and nine costumes, few projects and four conventions later I can look back to 2011 surprised, astonished and bit puzzled too. I really enjoyed last year even if there were struggles and setbacks. One single thing I’m really pleased with is our character choices. It feels like during the past year we have found characters that we can pull it off well and balanced. We have also polished skills with props and construction techniques.

Our first huge cosplay project reached a milestone in February, when we got our Snowtrooper costumes ready for a photoshoot. Before Tampere Kuplii we constructed the backpacks and were ready to participate in our first cosplay competition as freshly recruited soldiers. At Tampere Kuplii we were selected to the group of ten candidates, who got through to the second stage of the competition, which was an open voting on a website of a local newspaper. In the final battle our troopers carried us to third place.

We continued with Star Wars theme with female characters. For our first Desucon we arrived as Luminara Unduli and Barriss Offee and spend the weekend hanging around and enjoying the seats at the main concert hall. I think we have never sat as much at any convention before.

The next costumes to build were supposed to be Ivy and Yoshimitsu, but instead I found myself complying with Yoki's wish to construct “something new” for Kawacon. That something new was femme gijinka Decepticons; Princess Megs and Lady Star. While at the convention we got recruited for the cosplay competition and won, for our amazement. With the bot ladies we had our first real photoshoot with a real, live photographer!

The big project was still ahead. After WCS preliminaries back in 2010 I stated to Yoki that next year we are going to compete. And we did so with Ivy and Yoshimitsu from Soul Calibur III. And came second! That was the crown for our sixth year we have cosplayed together.

But the year wasn’t all about successful costumes and fun conventions. Starting from spring, around the time we started to print the fabrics for our Jedi Knights, I felt like something was wrong with me. My condition developed so that July and August passed by in a haze of pain and drugs. Even if some days crafting costumes or even getting out of bed was almost impossible, I think that working gave me something else to think about, than continually worrying and doubting on my sick leave. I could say that cosplay became my lifeline for a period of time.

Only two weeks before Tracon and WCS preliminaries I got diagnosed with a chronic illness. A week before Tracon I started my medication and without it I think that I couldn’t have been able to step on the stage back in September. Coming second in WCS preliminaries was a huge thing for us. For me just being able to participate was really important.

Photos of Ivy and Yoshimitsu: Emilia Lahtinen.

This year cosplay gave me little more that new techniques and garments to fill the closet. For a short time I thought that I might have to drop the hobby, but now that my health has improved I couldn't think more opposite! I'm really proud of what we have accomplished this year and wait eagerly for the next year and new challenges.

What I wish for next year next to straight seams and sharp scissors is health and opportunities to connect with other enthusiastic costumers. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"I don't wanna be a real boy"

The end of the year is closing in with rabid speed, so I thought it would be good to look back in time and see what has been done. However, my pendulum faced a critical malfunction and tossed me all the way back to the year 2007 and our second pair cosplay.
The first armour, or more likely body, we ever made, belonged to a redheaded puppet master, whose peculiar frame has raised many questions. My new mission was to retrieve the armor from the depths of a wardrobe and make a short briefing about it, answering the scattered questions.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cosplay memoirs: Mayuri Kurotsuchi and Akon from Bleach

After browsing through old folders I had to make a post about our third cosplay together. We did quite many things with these costumes that we had never done: Yoki worked with insulation foam and I had a lesson from make-up and prosthetics, if Akon’s horns can be called that way. We attended to two different conventions with the costumes. Mayuri and Akon was our second day duo. The first day we wore Sasori and Deidara. The order was everything, because otherwise Sasori would have had weird dark smudges on his face.

What we learned from Mauyri and Akon was that always try out full face make-up beforehand. The morning was one of the most hectic ones we have ever had. Curses, oh the curses. Of course it took few years to rub in, because about year later the morning we got ready with Jasdero and Debitto could not be called calm in any way. In my opinion we survived quite well with Luminara and Barriss this year. Ho-ho, that's four years later...

The photos are taken from Ropecon, 2007.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Characters for Desucon Frostbite

I have been so good! I actually managed to organize and pack our costumes more or less properly out from Yoki’s old room. Not few of them, but every single costume we have worn this year had been shoved there. But that is not the reason I’m writing a post, even if I feel that my effort is worth to mention. The true meaning of this is upcoming Desucon Frostbite, which is only seven weeks away. I think our convention season has never started this early!

To fit the time of the year we are trying to finish our Snowtroopers to be the primary costumes. But because of certain restrictions the costumes have, we thought to have secondary costumes as well. We haven’t had ones since 2007, when we wore Sasori and Deidara for the first day of convention and Mayuri and Akon for the second.

There are at least two reasons for this rare event. We are going to Lahti by car, so we can stuff it full of boxes and suits. The other is the program. Usually there are just few things we want to see, but Desucon Frostbite seems to keep its promise of interesting and high quality content. Snowtroopers aren’t the most convenient costumes. It’s hard to sit comfortably and you get tired rather easily. And then there is the thing that you don’t see too well or hear much either. To avoid utter exhaustion we reasoned that changing during the day would solve some problems.

We have toyed around an idea of making Disney cosplay at some point. Even if Desucon Frostbite is anime convention, we decided that now that we had the opportunity, we would use it. The duo we are going to construct is from Beauty and the Beast with big personalities; Lumiere and Cogsworth.

We are going to make the costumes based on their human forms. I’m going to exercise artistic freedom to make the costumes look interesting and for the sake of my sanity, to bring them to the same century. Really, I don’t know what they have been thinking while designing the look for the character. It’s like Lumiere is partially from 1500s as Cogsworth is from the late 1700s.

Even if I mentioned of bringing them to the same century, I’m not going to pinpoint the costumes to any era. I’m just going to balance the pieces of the costumes to coherent look. This week I tried styling the wigs for the characters. They still need some attention, but I'm getting there. I’ve also have drawn the patterns and bought fabrics for the costumes. I also have the shoes and some accessories ready. Now I’m going to sew… And sing “Be our guest” all along.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Yoshimitsu- The human squid

Yoki has always had some sort of weird habit to sympathize and pick characters who don’t look, act or anyhow resemble normal, so I wasn’t that surprised when we ended up brainstorming a human squid. What I really like about Yoshi and Ivy is that as a project it took place after we had become familiar with different kind of techniques. It didn’t take long before we had chosen the methods to use and how everything would be constructed.

With Yoshimitsu’s mask it was quite clear that we would vacuum form it. The only thing that caused some unnecessary work was preparing the mold. We had started to carve it from insulation foam with Yoshimitsu’s shoulder armor. Then we realized that we couldn’t fit it before it was vacuum formed from plastic, so it was very possible that it would not fit or that the proportions would be off. Excess work didn’t sound too appealing. Carving a block of material while visualizing a form inside of it, is lot harder than actually building the shape little by little.

We took a shortcut from making a cast from Yoki’s face, we bought a plastic mask from Punanaamio. Actually we bought two different models. After trying those on we would see which one fitted Yoki better. Having options is never bad, especially when you work with objects that don’t apparently go through quality control. The other masks had eye holes with one centimeter height difference.

After choosing the mask and making some sketches I sat down and started sculpting. I used DAS modeling clay and four days to get the mold done. It took some swearing, confrontations and almost two packages of clay to finish, but it was all good. The mold looked nice and after Yoki finished it with putty, it was ready to be vacuum formed. And that, if something was stressful! We really wanted the mold to work, but with different levels and details we were really worried that we would get wrinkles or holes. To add to the stress, I finished the mask mold just a week before our costume debut, so there weren’t too much time to redo it.

The first take… it was perfect! I might have yelled one well-known Finnish curse word pretty loud when the plastic got sucked into the mold. Later Yoki told me that she first misunderstood my expression of joy. She thought that we had failed based on the volume. Last thing for me to do was to get the mold out of its plastic pocket. I think I used about thirty minutes to an hour to that alone. Then I happily realized that my work with the mask was done and handed it to Yoki to paint.

Yoki painted the mask with the same color as the mechanical arm, but probably because of different base material the tone wasn’t quite the same. The mask turned out lot darker than we would have wanted, but because of the limited time we decided to roll with it.

We had to get the mask done before I could finish the headpart with the decorative panels. Earlier Yoki had printed the pieces for me. The five days I had left to work with the costumes, while Yoki was back at school I struggled to get the whole thing together! I say that it’s pretty hard to make fitting alterations by yourself. With pieces of clothing it still works somehow as long as you have flexible arms, but with a huge blob covering your head and face… It’s a different story.

With the head it was pretty much trial and error method both in patterning and construction. I had to seam rip a lot and many pieces, but in the end Yoshimitsu had a head.

The mask is attached with Velcro to the pouch thing. Inside the pouch there is a foam crest on top of the head to give it more height. To the foam crest I sewed a piece of rubber band that goes below the ears and behind the neck. The tightness is the only thing that keeps the head in place. The pouch itself has two layers. The first one is the inside, which is sheet cotton with plastic boning. The outer crest is made from craftfoam and metal studs.

If you are sharp-sighted you might have noticed that we left out the ear-parts. We made them, but because they were done in a hurry and they didn’t quite fit on the first try, we decided to skip them.

We chose foam to be the main material on Yoshimitsu’s tentacles. It looks solid, but is soft and flexible to allow movement. I started by making a sketch of the tentacles opened based on references. Then I purchased a piece of foam from Etola, where you can get any shaped or sized piece you like. And if you are lucky, you might find a suitable piece with many cut outs and get discount, because they are just happy to get rid of it!

After I had determined which tentacle overlaps the other, I drew the shapes on the foam and cut them out. I rounded the edges and carved the curls on the tentacles. Then I assembled the pieces and glued few seams together. The red fabric is interlock tricot I found from my fabric storage. I stitched it on the foam by hand, because it would have never fit under the presser foot. The first layer of fabric pulls the foam down and smoothes down irregularities.

The second layer… or actually three, gave me a nice rollercoaster ride of madness. I first started covering the tentacles with the same material as the head pouch. Then I realized that it didn’t stretch enough. I seam ripped. I decided that I need tricot. So I purchased some in light beige and dyed it. I knew it was little off, but decided to stitch it on. This was two or three weeks before the debut. After we had finished all the other pieces of Yoshimitsu’s costume, we laid them on the floor to see how they matched. The tentacles didn’t.

I still had to do the mask and the head pouch, so I kind of pushed the tentacle issue aside. Even Yoki settled with it, because she also realized that it was more important to get the costumes to presentable condition. I had gone through the local fabric stores few times already and hadn’t found anything that would be suitable, but then our mother made a discovery in form of pale colored interlock! Somewhere in between I dyed the fabric orange and finally finished the tentacles in the car on the way to Tampere.

The tentacles attaches to the vest with Velcro, hiding the support structures of the sashimono as well as Yoki’s waist line. The studs on the swirls are fabric covered buttons. The opening under the right arm is closed with small hooks and rubber bands, which I rolled in orange yarn. In the future we have planned using silicone or latex to give the tentacles more squid-like surface. Also airbrushing them to resemble the references more has crossed our minds.

Huge post! And I even left some things out. If you’d like to know more about a certain part of the construction, feel free to ask. Next I’m going to write a post about all the miscellaneous stuff from shoes to Ivy’s pretty hat.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

One or two stencils...

I asked Yoki to send me photos from the making process of our Ivy and Yoshimitsu costumes, so that I could refresh my memory before writing any construction posts I’ve been planning. While I went through them, I found myself huffing! Boy, what a workload we survived!

If I calculated correctly, our Soul Calibur III cosplay project required at least twenty different stencils for printed details. Only four were used on Ivy’s garments. The rest decorate Yoshimitsu’s pants, shirt, vest, head and also the flag or sashimono. For printing we used products from EMO-tuotanto. For the stencils we ended up using a clear plastic fabric, which you would use to make toilet bags. The stencil method has it limits, but we are pleased of what we were able to achieve with it.

Printing was actually one of the first things we started after I had finished patterning the garments. I think that drawing the stencils, cutting them and finally printing wouldn't have taken more than a week if we had worked continuously. Yoshimitsu's head part was actually done only five days before the debut of the costumes.

First little something about fabric printing: When you are printing with light color on a darker fabric, you need to have a opaque color which means a paste based covering color (peittoväri). When you are printing on light fabrics you will be using sheer colors (kuultoväri), which are mixed with emulsion base. Naturally the covering colors will set little stiffer than the emulsion based ones, because they are thicker in consistency. The colors we used are set with heat by ironing them, usually from the wrong side.

I'm not sure if the terms I'm using are the right ones, so if you see a obvious mistake here then please, feel free to correct me.

We started with Yoshimitsu's vest, which has different twirls and flower and leaf themes. We basically composed the print for the vest ourselves, but took some notes from the reference. It would have been almost impossible to make a exact copy with the given time. We just made sure that the flowers where on right places and then started to add the twirls. The color we used was ready mixed covering gold.

While Yoki worked on her vest, I moved to Ivy’s weird tailcoat corset. I started with the middle panels and then moved to the pink parts. The edges I printed using tape. First I had thought about sewing ribbon on the side, but then I ended up with printing because it would have looked bit confusing to have two different techniques in black in one garment. I mixed black pigment and base emulsion to strong, full color and added few extra drops because satin isn't really the most optimal fabric to print on.

Next I printed Yoshimitsu’s shirt and pants for which we had prepared five different stencils. One was a vine grid, two were flowers and the other two were leaves. I used the same stencils to print the base on the sashimono. For both of them I mixed covering and sheer colors in yellow to get slightly translucent outcome.

Yoki continued working on the sashimono by printing the crisscross pattern on the tentacle shape. She created the crisscross by making a stencil out of tape and printing with the same gold we used on the vest. Surprisingly, the gold ended up looking rather pale. This was because of the different fabrics; the vest was wool mix while the tentacles were synthetic. The colors we were using are meant to cotton and cotton mixes.

Yoki also drew the stencils for the squid head and the… stringy-parts. She printed them with gold with a tiny bit of yellow covering color to avoid the washed out result of the sashimono.

I don’t know does the hilt of Yoshimitsu’s sword count as printing project, but it was “painted” still. I made the figures by freehand with markers based on reference and under Yoki’s watchful eyes. Yoki embroidered the yellow parts after I was done.

That was all I had in mind about fabric printing on Yoshi and Ivy. Next I think I will move to the interesting pieces, like Yoshimitsu's squiddy waist tentacles and mask!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Baby Jane made her first appearance

Even if my Halloween didn’t go quite as I planned, I got my Baby Jane costume ready for a test shoot. Yesterday I scraped together the accessories for the costume; a corsage that I happened to find from my drawer and a black stay-up.

I couldn’t force myself to buy a proper pair of stay-ups just to ruin them. Instead I took a ridiculously cheap pair of stockings I had lying around. I cut the legs and made the wide top panel from the upper part of the pantyhose. Then I just sew the pieces together with a serger. I haven’t weathered the dress aside from cutting and tearing the hem, so there is still some smearing, ripping and burning ahead.

For the make-up I used different eye-shadows, some grey crème make-up, red lipstick, fake blood and 3D-gel. This was my second time working with the gel and I think I made some progress with it. The only down side this time was that the gel didn’t stick. It started to peel away especially around the mouth. While teasing my hair I came to a conclusion that I might buy a wig for this particular cosplay even if I didn’t originally plan to. I’m trying to decide whether to go with the concept art style or the dark bob. The bob is actually starting to intrigue me more and more.

By the way, is it just me or does anyone else get a questionable 80’s vibe from the dress?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Meat hook for Spider Splicer

Oh, Halloween. What a great excuse to make a costume. Three years ago I made a version of Bubblehead Nurse and last year Miss Samara “Well” Morgan. This year by project is Baby Jane Splicer from Bioshock. I’m doing an early concept art version from the character, because I just find the messy red hair more appealing that the black bob.

Because I’m constantly looking for different ways to make hard props, I thought to try something new when building the meat hooks for Baby Jane. The basic construction method is pretty common, pulp board skeleton with foam cover, but the finishing is slightly different. (Read: constantly looking for ways to eliminate sanding.)

First thing to do before the build is to define the shape of the hooks. I could have studied the references before cutting the skeleton, but I trusted my memory, which again proved to be little off. My handles are like 0 when they should be like D. But I chose to let it pass this time, because the costume is not for competition purposes, only for fun.

1: The pulp board

I made the skeleton from two parts; hook and handle. The design of the hooks is pretty bulky, so I chose the width to be about 1,7 cm. One centimeter diameter would have made the hook look too frail and 1,5 was not enough, but with two centimeters it would have been just huge, at least for a lady character. I don't really know why I ended up with 1,7, it just worked.

Before gluing the pieces together, the shapes are traced on insulation foam. Both parts two times.

After I had cut the pieces, I sliced a slit on the hook and glued it to the handle. The structure may seem floppy at this point, but when the foam is added there will be more support on the cross part.

2: The foam

I used 2 cm thick insulation foam. The traced pieces are cut out. First the handle parts are glued. Then small slits are cut so that the crossing parts are sealed underneath. The sandwich is taped together. The glue needs to dry before anything else can be done.

Then it’s time to start cutting away the excess foam. I used a carpet knife and naturally cut myself during the first few minutes. So use gloves to protect your precious fingers, because sharper the knife is the neater the result will be. With dull blade you just end up ripping the foam.

The pulp board works as a guideline when the foam is cut round from the both sides. Some of the height needs to be taken away, because the hook should be 1,7 cm diameter all around. It’s better to cut less than more. The shape is finished with fine sand paper.

3: Paper Mache

You can use any adhesive you like for this. I just simply mixed together glue and water until I got the consistence I was happy with. It’s always best to start with glue and add water little by little. Ripped pieces of newspaper are dipped in the adhesive and laid on the foam. On curves the pieces need to be small so that they sit properly. Two to three layers will do.

I normally avoid this enforcement technique, because I never seem to get the surface as smooth as I would like to. But because the meat hook can look rough, the few bumps I was able to create didn’t bother me.

4: Coating

For the coating I used water, glue and wood putty in form of a goo. Goo in this case means a spread that is liquid enough to be applied with a brush, but also pasty enough so that it doesn’t drip. I went with gut feeling and didn’t measure anything. I still have to do the other hook, so I try to take notes and add information later about the amounts. The goo will last for few days under plastic.

The goo is spread thinly on the hook. Each layer should be dry before the next. I think I made three to four layers in total. And then it’s done; a meat hook to be painted and weathered.


I’m going to paint my hooks with acrylics and will post photos of them when they are done. For the construction; you could use expanding foam instead of insulation foam. The finish could be just putty, but you would probably need to sand it. And if you hate sanding and refuse to do it, you could skip it with the insulation foam; your hook might only look rougher in that case.