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April 17, 2024

Have you ever considered making a costume out of paper?  I did.

*dusts off blog*

Obligatory backstory:

There I was, stuck in rural Pennsylvania, where shopping was hard enough in normal times, so when the pandemic hit, I became a regular stop for package deliverers. The cardboard boxes and packing supplies started to pile up, because I knew we were going to move again when things settled down, and I knew I would need them.  

In my defense, I had no adult supervision and a house full of cardboard and kraft packing paper.  Things happened.  Things like this tree shelf:  

It was a fun time, full of creativity, but I was looking forward to getting back to wearable art.

I'd been wanting to do a wood elf costume for years now.  I wanted it to be organic looking, comfortable and practical.  If you've ever tromped through the woods, there are millions of tiny branches and brambles and leaf debris to trip you and snag your clothes.  It's often cold and damp and things drip on you, so gauzy gowns are out. Boots and tight leggings and tunic for the win.

I also wanted a project where I could use worbla or similar thermoplastic sheets, and I was excited when I finally envisioned a way to use one goal to achieve another.  Bark bracers!  It would be perfect!

This post is not about Worbla.  I saw the price per sheet and stopped short. But there were rolls and rolls of brown kraft paper just sitting in the corner of the kitchen, waiting for . . . what?  Me to make another tree?

What better material to use to make bark than paper?

Nah, it'd never hold up.

On the other hand, that pirate hat I'd recently made for Maxwell out of packing paper and Mod Podge was surprisingly hard and sturdy.

I was intrigued. What did I have to lose but time?

I searched around online, but couldn't really find tutorials for exactly what I had in mind. But I knew how to make duct tape dummies, so I started with that.

Next, I cut out (but failed to photograph) a bracer base from frozen pizza boxes, and dampened and wrapped those around my duct tape forms, and let it dry to its new shape.  Then I slathered them with Mod Podge and began applying a torn sheet of kraft paper to each bracer form.

I added more wet glue to the top of the paper, which made it easy to wrinkle up into barklike formation.  If it tore, it didn't matter, I could easily hide it with more paper.  If the edges got rough, great! It made it look more realistic.  Eventually it looked like this.

Then I had to wait for it to dry.  Meanwhile, I began to wonder, what color IS bark, anyway?  I ended up doing image searches and questioning everything.  Bark was grey, or sometimes orange, and look, covered in moss! Ooh, moss!

So I grabbed a bunch of acrylic paints and once again delighted in sloppy work as I painted over the kraft paper.  I even found some dried moss left over from another craft project and glued it in.  Eventually it started to look like bark.

I cut a slit down the inside and punched holes through the paper and cardboard, then added lacing.  I used elastic cording so I didn't have to attempt to lace them up one handed every time.  They pull on and off pretty easily.  I also labeled them L and R on the interior, since arms are apparently not as symmetrical as you'd think they are.

Let me tell you, I was pretty pleased with myself by the time I finished.  These things were hard and sturdy, and the holes didn't tear when I pulled on the laces.  Even if I did damage them, well, it's bark, it just made it even more authentic.  

But this wasn't the end. Creative juices and bravery were flowing strong, and I was so excited by my success, that I decided I needed more.

I needed a bark corset.

No, no, too ambitious. Arms are one thing, torsos are complicated. 

Let's settle for a breastplate.  For now.

Back to the duct tape dummy.  It wasn't exactly easy doing this by myself, but it's possible, and probably would have been highly entertaining to watch.

I stuffed a pillow inside a plastic bag, and then stuffed that inside the form, using crumbled up paper to fill out the various curves.  Then I drew on a rough sketch of the shape I wanted on the duct tape.  

I didn't use cardboard for the front, but I did do several layers of kraft paper as flat as I could while following the shape of the form.

While I waited for it to dry, I tested out whether or not you could install grommets into posterboard.  Turns out the answer is yes!  So I made the back pieces.  I did not shape these to the form, just made them flat.  Body heat will warm them up and they soon curve and fit nicely to my body.

Honestly I was shocked, and am still shocked, that this worked.  I cut a second strip of posterboard and glued it to the shape to give it more thickness and sturdiness where the grommets go.  Then I installed the grommets, an adventure in its own right. Luckily I had plenty of them and a big sheet of posterboard on which to practice. 

When I tried everything on, it cooperated. It felt like an actual corset, not quite the solid sturdiness of a Damsel in this Dress corset, but not a cheap costume shop one, either. Cue squeals of delight.  Back to work I went, adding the bark detailing.  Glue and squish, glue and squish, wait impatiently for it to dry, so I could begin painting.  

There was no real logic to painting.  I let the bark tell me how it should look.  I used black acrylic inside the crevices to add depth, shades of grey and brown and white and even a little green out of curiosity. I didn't have too many colors, so sometimes I just mixed them all randomly and tried not to overthink things.

I used suede laces for the back and sides, but regular ribbon would probably be better.  I have to have help getting laced in to this, and my husband pulled so hard once that the lacing broke.  Not the grommet, not the paper, the lacing!

I have worn it to three events now, stuffing it inside suitcases, and even taking it on a plane!  It's comfortable, almost like a real corset, and has survived surprisingly well. The texture is hard, and I love encouraging people to knock on my bracers to experience it for themselves.  I don't expect it to last forever, but so far, so good!

(I am assuming when someone else laces it, it lines up properly in the back.)

I store the back pieces in a bubble mailer envelope to protect them.

I am happy to answer any and all questions!  I see now I need to take some interior shots.  I'll be back with those.

January 5, 2021

It's me again.  

Well, ok. 'us.'

It's time I introduced Maxwell.  Maxwell Overlooking Pearl, to be exact.

Maxwell is my shoulder dragon.  I made him from Simplicity pattern 8715, an amazing design by BeeZee Art.  Seriously, check out her website, she has a ton of amazing stuffed animals and plushy patterns!

I'd wanted a shoulder dragon for a while.  To be more specific, I wanted a gargoyle perched on my shoulder.  For cosplay reasons.  It seemed appropriate?  And fun?  I just had a really hard time finding a pattern I liked, and wasn't secure enough in my sewing skills to design one.  So when this pattern came out in 2018, I pounced on it.

Then I had to decide on fabric.  I went to Joann's, hoping to find something that looked like stone.  The original pattern calls for fleece or minky, but I thought it would make up just as well with cotton.  Ideally, I wanted a reversible sequin fabric, but there was very little in the stores and I wanted to be able to see it in person to make sure the sequins were to scale. (hah!)   

Eventually I settled on a Keepsake Calico cotton called metallic galaxy . . . brown?  It was mottled grey, but it also had little dots of crusty, glittery spots that looked like bird droppings, and it made me laugh.  I found a dark grey fabric to match, and then a plain grey for his horns, and home I went to tackle the pattern.

This post is mainly about how I made him, in case you've tackled the project yourself and are getting frustrated.  I've never had a project go so fast, start to finish.  Usually I put it off for months, but he wanted to be made.  

So, firstly, gargoyle vs grotesque.  He is technically not a gargoyle, because water cannot actually pass through him.  DO NOT THINK I DID NOT FIGURE OUT HOW TO DO THIS.  I just figured other cosplayers would not appreciate their own costumes/projects being spat upon.  

I did try to make him with an open mouth.  It didn't go well. It looked like he got stung by a bee, actually.  I probably could have tried harder, but the next head I made was so perfect I no longer cared about accuracy.  

He is a well behaved gargoyle.  He does not spit on people, nor indoors.

All right, so, the pattern was pretty straightforward, but here are some tips you might want that were either not in the pattern, or I neglected to read the pattern fully.

**Please note my notes are based on working with plain cotton fabric!**

  1. You need a tiny bit of iron-on interfacing for behind the eyes.  I'd recommend it for the spikes, too, if you want them to be particularly spiky.
  2. A washable fabric marker and Fray Chek will come in handy, too.  Draw out your sewing lines and go slow!
  3. Increase your sewing tension.  I used 6.
  4. I used a 1/4" quilting foot.  It made it easier to guide.
  5. Decrease your stitch length, especially on the head.  I shortened it to 1.5.  I found it easier to navigate the curves this way, and it kept my stitches from showing after I stuffed it.
  6. The iron is your friend.  The iron is your friend.  Obey the details, don't rush, it will show in your work on a piece this small and detailed. Iron and clip.  
  7. Stuffing tools (i.e, a pencil or chopstick) will come in handy.  Do not skimp on the stuffing.
  8. I stuffed him with rice and cotton.  I thought the extra weight would help keep him in place on my shoulder, so I focused on filling the tail and front with the rice.
  9. I ignored the instructions about cutting holes in the legs and body and sewing them on that way.  I just hand stitched them on, according to instructions for making plushes found on other websites. There are numerous ways to do this.  Do a web search and pick your favorite.
  10. I used 12mm eyes, mostly because I couldn't read when I was in the store.  I thought the 15 mm were too big with the cotton fabric.  It's also possible the pattern on the fabric played a role in how he looked.
  11. I twisted together a number of chenille stems/pipecleaners and used them to reinforce his neck.  See below for more details.

Maxwell, obviously, ended up being adorable.  He was more so once I made him his first hat - a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, because his debut was at Disney World.  I am not making this up.  He had a fantastic time.  He even got to meet several Disney Princesses, and they were gracious enough to pose with them.  (I also spent several minutes stalking Gaston, but he was gone before I worked up the nerve to talk to him, and beg for a photo. Next time?)

Next I took him to a local Colorado con, and he was also a huge hit.  I loved having him with me, because, well, I have social anxiety, and knowing what people were likely to say to me first (OMG YOUR FRIEND IS SO CUTE CAN I BOOP HIS NOSE) helped a lot.    He greatly enjoyed the attention, and even more so when he was in costume and everyone wanted to know what he would wear next.

However, can you see the problem?  Check out that neck droop.  This was his first outing.  It got worse.  His neck couldn't support the weight of his head, even with just a felt hat, and I had plans for many more hats.  I tried to avoid it, but  eventually had to make the difficult decision to operate.  I took his head off, reinforced his neck by stuffing a thick bundle of chenille stems twisted together into his neck area, then restuffed him and sewed his head back on.  Since then, he can wear any hat with his head held high.  

I didn't give him wings initially, because I had vague ideas of giving him steampunk style wings.  Then my mom randomly sent me an adorable embroidery link for bat wings, designed to be laced to your shoes, asking if I needed them.  Yes, please!  We spent a few evenings making him two pairs of removable wings to wear.  

I have plans for even more wings in the future.

You're still wondering about the name, aren't you?  I used Sir Terry Pratchett's method of  naming gargoyles in his Discworld novels, based on their location.  I was living on Pearl Street in Boulder when I made him, so that part seemed obvious.  I was considering Allistair, Third Stair, and Stairwell Overlooking Pearl, but Maxwell seemed to suit him best.  

Yes, I might have an obsession now, but really, he's a great pet, with a ton of personality, and does not need feeding or vet visits.

He has his own twitter feed now, too.  We'll see how that goes.  

Here's some photo collages, too.

February 10, 2020

Without further ado - the finished 1:144 scale Willowcrest.

Here's the exterior:

And the interior:

And here are some final interior details that I haven't discussed yet!

I found the artwork on Pinterest, but I'm not sure who the artist is.  Yes, I made books.  It was easier than it looks.  

I cut thin strips of cardstock in multiple colors, thin enough to fit on the shelves, folded and glued one end over, roughly the depth of the shelf, and then glued those folded ends together.  Then I glued them to the shelf, and cut off the excess.

The flower arrangement on the top is a seed bead and some flocking glued to a tiny strip of cardstock.  The coat hanging on the (cardstock) wall hook is a basic coat form (shaped like a T) cut out of red tissue paper and shaped/glued to look like it's hanging.  

The coffee table and shelf were from kits by Diminutive Details, who also made the bathroom kit.  The rug is cut out from a bit of lace.  Everything else was made by me!

I am excited enough to have this finished that I also made a video, because it's hard to see all the details without moving the house around.  I apologize for the shaky-cam phone camera quality.

Thank you for following along on my creative journey!  I had a lot of fun with this scale, and am shocked to realize that this is the first dollhouse I've ever completed AND furnished.  

Now it's time to move on to the next project!

February 9, 2020

I wanted to add just a bit more detail to the exterior, since there was a base for the house to sit on and the batteries to hide in.  I kept it simple, though I had plans of flowers.  I couldn't get the flocking to stick to the foam!

I used green floral foam (you don't need much at all!) and shaped it carefully.  I thought it would require a knife, but in the end, I pulled off chunks and carefully rolled it between my hands like it was clay.  I had one piece dissolve in my hands, but I probably still could have used that if I'd had a bigger yard.  
Next I took green and black markers and dabbed extra color on until I was satisfied with the look, and glued in place.  The grassy area is green cardstock.  

February 8, 2020

I blame the kitchen for most of my frustration and inability to finish this project.  Or, more accurately, the big windows that prevented me from putting in a kitchen in the first place.  It took me until last week to finally figure out how I could do it.  I ended up blocking up one of the windows, and put half of the kitchen on an interior wall.

I have a kitchen set, but they're made out of some sort of heavy resin, and it made the house much heavier than I wanted, so I went ahead and designed my own out of cardstock,  with a bit of wire for the faucet.

I ran into a problem, my Cameo didn't want to accurately cut the pieces out, even when I slowed it down to its lowest cut speed!  My oven window is a little lopsided, but since I got most of the rest worked out, I'm not overly concerned.  I had grand plans for a range hood, but decided not to overdo things.

The kitchen didn't give me nearly the trouble that the table and chairs did.  Fortunately, they're way in the back and hard to see once the kitchen is put in place.

Yes, I admit I traded quality for speed, but I knew what I was prepared to accept.  It says 'kitchen' and I'm happy with that.

The interior of the house is done!  On to the exterior.

January 31, 2020

After verifying that yes, my sofa pattern works, I set out to test paper.  What would happen if I used something thinner?  Something thicker?  Something patterned?  Something textured?  At this scale, every tiny bit counts.

I went through my paper stash and picked three pieces of paper that I thought might look good as a sofa.  It was easy to test, I simply held the page I had cut my test sofas from over the potential pages and looked through the holes left behind.

I looked at all the tiny print pages, but also the ones with big, busy prints.  Sometimes, something can be so big that the little bits will work, too.

Things I discovered:

Thicker papers work better.  Thinner papers don't fold as well (I don't know why?) and tend to mash around the edges more quickly. However, there's hope!  Since there's three layers of paper, you can use two layers made out of plain cardstock, and then glue your preferred pattern to the exterior, cutting off the tabs first.
Papers with the same color core are also better, but with a narrow brush and a tiny bit of matching paint, the problem is easily solved.  In fact, the brown one I painted is currently my favorite.  This was one of the textured papers, and it ended up needing paint, because the colored texture had a tendency to scrape off in tiny bits.  It has a white core, so it really needed the help.  Fortunately the paper was quite sturdy and the paint didn't warp the paper.  

I haven't yet attempted to print my own, but it seems perfectly reasonable to do so, if your printer can do the fine work on cardstock.  Both the chair and sofa fit in a 1" x 2" block, so you don't need much!