Wednesday, 24 February 2010

More Sketches, including one of Rose Coat

The weather has been utterly foul: patchy snow on the ground and dark grey skies. The photoshoot scheduled of a silk-lined frock coat and the buckled gambeson has thus been postponed with hope that next week will yield some more photogenic weather.

Thus, the Costume Mercenary has been busy with her paints (and quite taken over the dining table with her sketching)  and here are the better looking results of all that endeavouring. I've been somewhat heartened by the fact that utterly splendid Sandy Powell (responsible for all the gorgeous costumes in The Young Victoria, Interview with a Vampire, the Other Boleyn Girl, Shakespeare in Love, etc...) isn't particularly good at drawing faces. I've also been perusing John Peacock's Men's Fashion: The Complete Sourcebook, and I have to say he's not excessively good with faces either.

My collection of watercolours could hardly be described as sophisticated and up until quite recently, I didn't have purple. Whilst the theoretical possibility of mixing colours was possible, it seemed a daring and rather daunting prospect, especially since all colours are mixed on the plastic lid of my colours box (and there they remain - one squidge of colour last seemingly forever, I'm not sure I've ever been halfway through a box before). What this was rambling towards is an excuse for why everything is grey and red.

(Most of the buttons have been coloured in with metallic pens, but it's not something that really shows in the scans.)

Hence it is very likely that none of this would be done up in the colours as pictured, especially as the military-esque ensemble to the right is terrifyingly patriotic (with regard to the fictional nation of Flambard, of Maelstrom). Though really, I should probably be sketching chitons and stolas and togas for the upcoming Odyssey event.

I can't say the pastel shades allegedly fashionable during the late eighteenth century (so John Peacock is trying to convince me) would find market with the modern live roleplayer, but I have this odd itch to attempt some sketches.

The Red Rose Coat was the first practice sketch, drawn from the coat itself rather than the other way around. I'm curiously proud of it.

Due to the fact there isn't much more to say, cue inconsequential and irrelevant anecdote:

The Designer, myself and another gentleman were locked out of the house the other day after a photoshoot. The Designer found some die at the bottom of the pocket (a d6 and a d10) and thus began the game in which we played telepathic radioactive dinosaurs in an apocalyptic future..... 

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Some Sketches from the Drawing Board

No, they're not particularly good sketches.

The Designer and I was playing around with new designs and I fancied actually doing some concept art of the things we were discussing in watercolours and all that.

To the left is a sort of highwayman's coat. It certainly isn't original (inspired heavily by a page in Jack Cassin-Scott's The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Costume and Fashion) and the Costume Mercenary has the vaguest of recollections of seeing a version in shiny black leather at a live roleplay event.

The rather elongated nature of the fashion figure is making the perspective of two collars a little strange, but the principle of the coat is that the second collar can sit flat and collar-like as well as become a button-up mask.

It is likely to be made in charcoal wool with dark silver buttons, or another similarly dark colour that isn't black. (I'm developing an odd aversion to plain black coats.)

The mess of buckles and straps and lacing that is masquerading as a padded jacket to the right is our new design. It owes a lot the fact that our two most popular items so far is the Steampunk Coat and the laced gambeson. The Designer and myself have nicknamed it "sausage wrapped in bacon" (the idea of combining two good things to make one, theoretically better, thing.)

The Designer had intended to draw out both sleeves on the same diagram (so as to save himself some future effort) but I was rather taken with the idea of an asymmetrical garment. (I can't say I'm taking fashion cues from Arya's baffling cloak in the Eragon film, but it's the only example of asymmetrical fantasy clothing I can think of right now.) Of course, the problem is that you'd want the right side to have a shorter sleeve (for greater mobility- assuming most people to be right handed) and the left side with the longer sleeve. However, due to the way it fastens, it would actually look more balanced if the sleeves were the other way around.

So, what do you think?

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Shades of Red

Just had a rather Ffordian moment: as all the men of the household gathered around the computer screen squinting at the colour swatches on wikipedia and trying to determine precisely which shade of red the Red Rose Coat is.

Our enigmatic Designer was reading my post on the Red Rose Coat and told me in no uncertain terms, that no matter how much I liked the idea of the coat being rose-coloured and possessing rose-buttons, the former simply wasn't true. There followed a long and vehement debate around the exact colour of the coat, halfway through which, the Designer stormed off to retrieve said garment.

After more squinting, more pointing and lots of holding-things-to-the-light, we have concluded that the garment is maroon.


The Red Rose Coat

The Red Rose Coat is made from a thick purple/red-coloured wool-linen. The small metal buttons are rose-shaped and there are three of them down the cuffs and around the back. The slit is also buttoned all the way down the back. It was briefly considered that the buttons around the front should be larger, but the Designer feels that it works the way it is.

The design was inspired by the spate of double-breasted military jackets that have been flooding mainstream fashion and various historical riding habits, but instead of a black-and-brass jacket, it was made in this striking red with silver rose buttons and with a much longer back.

Due to a misplacing of the silver eyelets, the entirely decorative eyelets are in brass - an unfortunate error, but it doesn't seem to negatively impact the coat hugely.

The sleeves are roughly three quarters in length, a design decision made when I was in the warm winter of Hong Kong. It allows one to show off the large sleeves and cuffs of a shirt or long gloves worn under, but it unfortunately does lead to cold wrists when not wearing gloves.

For all the Alice-in-Wonderland-esque nature of the photos, the red rose coat pictured has nothing to do with any of the beautiful costumes from the upcoming Tim Burton film. The Designer and myself were doing the photoshoot behind Durham Cathedral and we came across a building with an unusually small door. Inspiration (the quality of which is questionable) struck and a series of photos with a vaguely Alice's Adventures in Wonderland feel to them, due to the coincidence of pocket watch, glass-bottle-on-silver-chain and smaller than average door.

The Red Rose Coat is worn with a black brocade underskirt (about three petticoats) and the white linen shirt with brass screw-adorned buttons (previously seen under the Steampunk Dress).

To commission a similar coat from the Costume Mercenary would cost in the region of £120.

Due to positive feedback, a male version of this coat is on the drawing board.

Many more photos under the cut.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Human Interest Post (and the Rose Coat)

Here follows, among hopefully more interesting things, the Costume Mercenary's long and rather repetitive whining about her cold.

I probably caught it at Foreign Fields, that great melting pot of southern plague rats and attractive lrp merchandise. Or maybe this is me not wanting to blame the beautiful, dreaming spires of Oxford for my current state. It seems to have gotten worse since my outing this morning, so wah! 

The first fluttering flakes of snow were probably a sign that we should have stopped, but despite the sensible urgings of the Designer, an unwise stubbornness kept me going ("it can't that that long"). We never got through the backpack full of clothes to be photographed (mostly early elven coat and robe prototypes, including a particularly interesting article in satin) and the snow-clouds obscuring the sun meant a much lower success rate and much blurriness.

All in all, not a successful day.

But a chaplain did tell me he coveted my coat (pictured to the right), which I could but take as an immense compliment.

That said, taking posing in front of a camera even with a cold is still easier than twirling in front of a live audience for the fantasy fashion show at Foreign Fields. I was offered pre-catwalk chocolate, which I was too nervous for. Everyone else seemed to be much more experienced and had such beautiful, beautiful items, including from what I remember a suit of amazing red-and-gold armour, this fantastically 40k-esque dwarven armour and an incredibly adorable hobbit cloak.

The photos were taken in the cloisters at Durham Cathedral (next to last piece of the Harry Potter set still standing - there's an amusing story about that - I"ll tell when more coherence is with me) and by a fascinating monolith of a modern art structure near Prebends Bridge (and not made by Prebends Bridge, as my earlier attempt at sentence construction implied).

Now, I'm going to fall over.

Apologies for inconsistencies, half-finished sentences and other things caused by brain-melting.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Oxford's Steampunk Exhibition

On the Costume Mercenary's meandering way to the rather distant and southern Bristol (I needed to be there at ten in the morning, so travelling the day before was a necessity), she stopped by Museum of the History of Science's steampunk exhibition in Oxford.

Suffice to say, it was utterly brilliant.

There are moments when it almost feels as though one has stepped sideways in time to an alternative world where history played out differently and the technological fantasy is indeed true, perhaps it's because the exhibition is housed in the Museum of the History of Science and placed alongside the beautiful steampunk pieces, such as the complete mechanical womb and the Anglo-Parisian Barnstormer, were clockwork bird scarers, intricate astrolabes and pieces from Babbage's Difference Engine from our own very real, very solid history. It was transporting.

It was almost strange, almost surreal to be seeing all the familiar names from the internet, including work from Datamancer (maker of the famous Steampunk Laptop) and Herr Döktor (the beautiful Celestial Sphere).

Incidentally, Oxford is also a beautiful city. The density of very large, very old, very pretty buildings over a really rather large area is almost to the point of overwhelming. I had thought that, coming from Durham, I'd well acclimatised to being around historical buildings, but I was rather reduced to state of squeeing and pointing with the occasional coherent word being pretty! said in an unnecessarily high-pitched voice.

More photos of the exhibition behind the cut.

Just a note, the photos seen here are the ones that turned out well. There were many beautiful things of which I  only have eye-wrenchingly blurry photos of.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Foreign Fields Kit Fair

Character Kit and I was there, it was brilliant and we even managed to maintain sanity throughout the quieter hours. There was a great deal of incredibly shiny things, even more friendly people, a zombie makeup demonstration and frothing of many varieties.

I learnt many things, including that trying to break into the cloak market was probably a poor idea (almost all makers of larp kit sell cloaks, of many fine varieties - including an excellent cloak specialist - arguably our brocade lining is unique, but I'm not sure that's enough of a defining feature) and that people really, really like the steampunk coat in blue. Indoor lighting is bad for the firebird cloak (and Sean's shields - see above photo) because instead of a bright, flame red, it becomes the dull orange of tomato soup. I learnt that wooden hangers are truly superior to plastic ones (and have greater structural integrity) and that posing to a crowd is even more difficult than posing in front of a camera (and that it's even possible to be too nervous for chocolate).

Photos from my detour to Oxford's steampunk Exhibition forthcoming, as well as various sketches of impending prototypes.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Forlorn Wardrobe: The Mercenary Travels Again

As mentioned previously, the Mercenary is leaving her Durham lair and will be on the road again to the Foreign Fields Southern LRP Kit Fair, in Bristol. If you're in the area, do drop by.

The photo to the left shows the wardrobe now devoid of kit, most of it all packed and ready to be taken down to Bristol.

If all goes according to plan, I'll also be peering into the Oxford's Steampunk Exhibition on the way down. I'm really rather exited about it, despite having been warned it's as extensive as it may sound.

The Viking Conference is also on this weekend and I am still unspeakably irritated at the universe about this anti-serendipity (the incredibly awesome Alaric Hall is going to be speaking).

Monday, 8 February 2010

Really Easy Beer Goggles, Part II

This is part two of the how-to-make-cheap-brass-goggles-from-stuff-in-the-kitchen chronicle. The first part of that is here.

Yes, that is Claw of the Gods, for those who attend Profound Decisions' lrp event, Maelstrom. There was some belief that we were spawning some sort of motivational poster fodder for the forums, but that's another story.

Caveats and Warnings:

Incidentally, a housemate of mine is embarking on similar goggle-making adventure (whilst eyeing the two other cans of guinness - we had bought a four-pack) and it seems prudent to note that if you decide against making stew, it is inadvisable that you drink your cans of beer immediately before making the goggles.

Yes, these goggles are a bit primitive compared to the much more exciting stuff being made out there. If it's looking like kitchen-alchemy to you, that's because it is. I'm not selling these goggles and I don't presume anyone out there wants to buy them. This is simply a chronicle of how I made of decent-looking prop goggles and since I suck at this sort of crafting, I thought others might benefit (or enjoy mocking) these efforts.

6) Cut out some Lenses

Cut out some lenses out of the plastic ginger beer bottle. If you want clear goggles, use the plastic off a lemonade or similarly uncoloured bottles. Any 2 litre plastic soft drink bottle will do, though it is likely that cheaper drinks will have thinner plastic and is thus easier to shape.

I drew around the larger end of the eyepiece, cut that out and then carefully shaved it down to size. Too big and it'll curve and too small it will slip out (and the gaffer/glue used to attach it will be visible) so whilst there is a margin of error, it is smaller.

7) Gaffer Lens to Eyepiece

I used small pieces of gaffer stick down the lens to the inside of the eyepiece. Check to make sure the gaffer isn't showing too much on the other side. The whole process if fairly forgiving, but I was pedantic. If the lens was cut to fit well, this part would be insanely easier. Otherwise, well, y'know.

You could really use any other tape. I believe Emily used parcel tape. A glue gun would probably also work (though careful of it oozing everywhere). Superglue less so since you need to hold it down whilst it dries.

Rest of tutorial under the cut.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Brass Goggles from Ginger Beer Bottle, Part I


The original and utterly awesome goggles (aka "beer goggles") were made by a friend of mine named Emily for her character at the local larp system (on of the many offshoots of the orignal Treasure Trap). They can be seen into the steampunk skirt and steampunk dress photos. Here is simply a chronicle of my terribly exciting adventure of trying to make something similar (so as not to run off hers and fail to ever give them back).

A word of warning to those who wish to attempt to follow this recipe. These goggles They Do Nothing. Actually, they do even less than nothing. They are prop-quality only and you should avoid wearing them over your eyes in sunglight as the coloured plastic would dilate your pupils, but not protect them from ultraviolet light.

  • 2 beer cans (note the colour of the top rim and its shape)
  • 1 ginger beer bottle (or any large plastic brown-ish coloured bottle)
  • some leather scraps (or suede or fake suede)
  • 1 buckle, two studs, two (or more) eyelets
  • lots of gaffer tape (black)
Notable tools:
  • bull-nosed pliers and tin snips
  • glue gun and glue sticks (or superglue)
  • a pair of scissors (you'll probably want a whetstone at some point to sharpen them)
  • leatherworking tools (if you're using leather; much easier with fake suede where you could just use normal needle and thread)
The Mercenary's goggle-making adventures with many photographs and of dubious excitement value under the cut.

The Gothic Coat in a Ruined Chapel

The Gothic Coat is utterly, impractically enormous. It is, ironically, longer and larger than the coat from Elizabeth that was, in part, the inspiration for it.

The coat is made of a heavy dark grey (almost silver in parts) brocade patterned with huge flowers (some of them roses if you squint enough). It is unlined (which is somewhat unwise in retrospect, due to the way the fabric falls). There are some beautiful pleats around the back which become rather lovely folds in train.

The coat is fastened with hooks and eyes around the front (see photos under the cut for more detail).

I have to add that these photos show the coat-dress in a rather flattering light. It is somewhat less sweepingly majestic in reality and more unwieldy. It does encourage feelings of gothic grandeur, however, just as the Steampunk Coat induces feelings of mad scientist cackling.

The Gothic Coat is worn over a black-and red cotton brocade dress and a black brocade underskirt. The rather exquisite Dragon Katana is borrowed from Character Kit, where it is available.

The Designer and myself have been talking about improvements, perhaps adding a detachable black velvet collar (to give it all some more feature) or a bit of detailing around the back of the waist.

The entire photoshoot makes me want to break my ban on photoshopping and caption everything with ridiculously pretentious quotes, such as "I am half sick of shadows" (ala Lord Tennyson's The Lady of Shalott). Perhaps it's simply because brown stone just isn't very gothic and slapping a monochrome filter on would totally make it moreson. The results of that 'shooping binge will posted at some point, when I feel like I can live it down.

To commission a similar coat from the Costume Mercenary would cost in the region of £110-120. You could also buy this one off the Mercenary at a reduced cost. Email her for more details.

More photos under the cut.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Prototype: Laced Gambeson

The Laced Gambeson is made from brown faux suede, padded with two layers of cotton and lined with black linen. It's laced up down the front and the sleeves are also laced on. The cotton padding means it very warm (in fact, cotton-padded jackets, usually sandwiched between silk, is the main winter garment in China - it also happens to be a major plot point of War and Beauty).

Being a prototype, there are a number of immediately evident flaws, such as the fact that there are one too few eyelets (brass-coloured) on the sleeve than on the body. This means the lacing can get a little messy (largely negatable through having the bow tied over the extra eyelet - as in the photos). The waist is also a little high and the sleeves a little long on most who have tried it on.

It's difficult to say much more about the Laced Gambeson because it's one of those very functional layer items. It can be worn as padded armour in some systems and unlike the buckled one, it can be comfortably worn under armour.

The Laced Gambeson almost didn't get made and oddly enough is also one of the first items the Mercenary has sold (in a very subtle shade of purple - not pictured - the sleeves of it is just visible in this photo of Jericho Zeal taken by Dan Osbaldeston at a Lions Faction player event of the Lorian Trust larp system), which is probably a lesson in something.

The Laced Gambeson is currently only available in Large brown (as pictured) at Character Kit for £60. The Gambeson is worn over a cream tunic and dark brown trousers that were once available.

The weapons and shields pictured are also available at Character Kit. The man pictured is, indeed, the Proprietor of Character Kit. This was meant to be less gratuitous product placement and more one of those cunning two-birds-one-stone manoeuvres. The Proprietor needed some photos of his shields in action and we needed his large manly frame.

More pictures under the cut.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Prototype: The Steampunk Dress

The Steampunk Dress is something of a bastard-hybrid between an apron, a dress, dungarees and a skirt. The Designer (shadowy, elusive and refusing to be photographed) was playing around with ideas from the Steampunk Coat and the consequent rather gothic-seeming skirt, when he came up with this.

The model (and now owner of the dress), Gracewing said that she felt "very Girl Genius", referring of course, to the gaslamp fantasy comic of the same name. The colours are decidedly reminiscent and by pure chance, Gracewing's current hair colour is also correct.

The Steampunk Dress is made from brown faux suede (the apron and all the straps) and a thick green wool (the skirt part). The Dress is actually missing one buttonhole (its only buttonhole, in fact) on the left pocket.

Like the Steampunk Coat, there are brass d-rings and pockets and test-tube holders aplenty. Unlike the Steampunk Skirt prototype, the straps to bustle up the skirt works.

The Steampunk Dress has a number of fastenings, including a hidden zip under the arm and a row of small brass buckles down the back. The shoulder straps are also adjustable.

The Steampunk Dress is pictured worn over a mildly-frilly white linen shirt with brass buttons with have mock-screws on them (a prototype in its own right, but not really exciting enough to merit its own post currently).

Gracewing is also wearing Emily's goggles (made from beer cans - more about them in an upcoming post) and bracelets made from brass chaimail links.

These photos were among the last to be taken on that light-lacking day, which means they are less attractive than the rest. The cold was starting to get to us all and the dwindling light meant longer exposure times (and a greater chance of the photographer's hands shaking.)

The Steampunk Dress has already been sold, but you can commission a similar one from the Mercenary for £130.

Incidentally (and perhaps unsurprisingly), the daggers glimpsed in the photos are the Elven Daggers, available at Character Kit.

More photos under the cut.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Preview: Chapel of the Hospital of St. Mary Magdalene

After a run of beautifully sunny days (otherwise known as missed opportunities), the Costume Mercenary and company meandered down the hill, through the mist and haze, to the chapel ruins that squat at the bottom of the hill (behind a conveniently climbable fence and next to a rather forlorn-looking vegetable patch).

Several hundred photos later, the light was fading and we left just before the fog coalesced into light rain. As always the sorting of the results and the posting thereof will happen over the course of the next few days.

We had some hope that the overcast skies and mist could be said to be evocative of the heavy, yellow London fog rubs its muzzle on the windowpanes and licked its tongue on the corners of the evening. Or perhaps the incredibly gothic coat-dress will negate the need for good sunlight to bring out colour. Of course, such optimism was largely misplaced, but I do think we've gotten some reasonably pretty shots.

(The shot opposite is, incidentally, the apron-dress incarnation of the steampunk coat that the Mercenary can't seem to stop talking about. It is rather more elaborate than the other steampunk skirt prototype.)

The hospital, in its early middle ages heyday, used to house a priest and up to thirteen brethren and sisters who had fallen upon hard times. They shared between them every week twenty-three and a half loaves of white bread. Three days a week, they had broth. The hospital was founded either by a Sir John le Fitz Alisaundre or a John de Hameldun - who may or may not be the same person - in one of those historical mysteries that fascinate only the pedantic.*

The first chapel of the hospital was built on boggy ground and by the mid-fifteenth there was need to entirely rebuild it  (and it is the remains of this particular incarnation that we were clambering all over). All who contributed to the construction were granted a whole forty days of indulgence (there were, admittedly, short prayers that granted far, far more days, but that is hardly the point).

In Other News: the Costume Mercenary will again be trekking up and down the country. The Proprietor of Character Kit and myself will be at Foreign Fields Southern LRP Kit Fair, in Bristol during the 13th-14th of this month (clashing - and I'm really, terribly bitter about this - with the annual Viking Conference).


* Information garnered from British History Online and McAuley's Miscellany (the latter of which has some lovely photos of the chapel in the summer, when everything was overgrown with ivy.)

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Prototype: Steampunk Skirt

Finally, the factors of daylight (well, some), reasonable weather and a photographer have sufficiently aligned to allow the taking of some photos of the prototype steampunk skirts.

Two were done up, though only the violet (it has come out on the blue side in the pictures) one was taken with us this trip by the river.

The skirts are made of a faux silk that mimics the rough grain of hand-woven silk. It has a rather nice dull sheen and washes very well. There are two layers, one blue and one black underneath it. The black faux suede belt with the brass buckle is inbuilt.

The skirts have six long straps of fake suede that end in brass buckles around it. It was designed to be gathered up but various miscalculations means that it isn't really functional.

As evidenced by the digagrams, there were a few changes between the drawing board and actual execution.

This is technically the first draft of the steampunk skirt, inspired partly by a goth skirt that had a whole string of non-functioning buckles. Perhaps ironically, this too has useless decorative buckles. The second draft of the steampunk dress is much more complex - it shares with the steampunk coat a love buckles and pen-holders and d-rings; it also has an apron and we went from silk to wool as materials go. Photos of that should hopefully happen in the near future.

However, I do still think it looks good with the buckles down. It'll be up on Character Kit in a few days (website overhaul, many complications) along with its red twin for £40.

With some borrowed goggles (homemade by a friend of mine from ginger beer bottles. She wears them for her larp character in the local system we play. I know she wrote a tutorial some time ago, but no amount of searching would unearth it) and a telescope, the Designer was trying to prove that it's the accessories that make an outfit. There are two sets of photos, one in which we were going for steampunk and the other pirate, mostly by changing various trinkets and hats around. Whether or not that succeeded is a mater of some debate.

So what do you think? Steampunk or Pirate?

The photos are taken by the giant cogs which are by the giant cow statue (the Dun Cow is by one Andrew Burton and is, of course, of the cow that led Bishop Aldhun to the site of the future Durham Cathedral; it is also the same cow statue, that incidentally inspired the prize-winning Durham cow blue cheese). There is a fantastic panorama of it on Britain360.

We ran out of time and light gave out (as evidenced in some of the photos). Probably not the best photos ever done for this blog, especially the pirate ones in which the twilight sun bathed everything in a yellow light and overexposed all the photos.

Any other complaints?

More photos under the cut.

Update: Both skirt have now been sold.

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