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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.