I'm a slut for armour. I admit it. If I see a character I like, and they end up wearing armour at any point, no matter how brief, then I want to make it. I haven't even finished watching all of Twelve Kingdoms yet, but when I saw Youko wearing her battle armour in disk 3, I had to have it.
I started out by spending many days on the Nihon Katchû Seisakuben, or Online Japanese Armour Manual. (Definitely take your time looking through this site, it's wonderfully detailed and a great resource for anyone wanting to reproduce Japanese armour.) I wanted to make the armour with an eye for historical accuracy, even if it was supposed to be fantasy armour. I decided that the Môgami Dô was closest to what I had in mind. It's basically armour made in five plates - the front and back panels, one panel under the left arm, and two under the right where it opens. They were usually made of lamellar.
I, however, decided to cheat a bit. I decided to make each row of lames into one long strip. With the lacing, it is almost indistinguishable from Nuinobe dô, which seems to be the style they used for Tom Cruise's armour in The Last Samurai. They seem to have also faked the iyo zane look of Nuinobe do by creating strips instead of lacing together individual scales, so I feel justified. ^^
So, after spending a few days researching, planning things out, and taking notes, I decided to start working. Considering that this was an anime cosplay and not anything that would be used in combat, I decided to go for inexpensive as opposed to authentic. The material I chose for the scales was...posterboard! After reading armour making tutorials on Cosplay.com and Amethyst Angel and Featherweight's sites, I decided to give it a try. I bought a 16 oz bottle of Mod Podge, 7 sheets of posterboard, a can of beige spray paint, and a can of lacquer. I used one sheet to make the pattern. I really should have thought that process out more, drafted a body block and gone from there, but I was so excited about the project that I just started measuring and drawing, going off of pictures to see how wide the front and side panels should be an approximating it as best as I could. Yes, I was stupid, but it all worked out. ^^; I separated the panels into even numbers of lames and then separated those into five horizontal sections to create the look of the individual scales. The top design of each scale was freehanded after the design on the Last Samurai armour. Once the pattern was finished, I cut out the actual armour pieces from the posterboard, adding a 1/2" onto the bottom edge of each lame for the overlap (except for the bottom lame, where the "seam allowance" was added to the top edge). I cut out five of each lame and laminated them together with Mod Podge. After allowing them to dry, I sealed the top with a thin layer of Mod Podge. It added a nice laquer look to the finished pieces, and even if the shine doesn't show through the spray paint, it still seals off the paper so it won't absorb the paint and warp out of shape.
Once everything was sealed, I went and added dots to each piece with a sharpie to mark out where I wanted the lacing holes to go. I took one piece out to the garage and started hammering holes into it. I found that the dots I had marked were far too close together and much smaller that the actual holes were turning out to be, so I quickly adjusted so that they'd be a good distance from each other. I'm very happy with the holes on the one piece I decided to work on, so I'll probably end up disregarding the holes on all the other pieces as well. At least the paint will cover up the sharpie marks, so there's no worry of it messing up my final product. ^^
I made the other panels in exactly the same way...five layers of posterboard laminated together and sealed. I originally only did four panels - front, back, left and right sides, because I thought I had made the pattern too large and wouldn't be able to include the final panel. But, when I did a fitting, I discovered that with a little bit of adjusting and only a minimal amount of cutting down, I could actually include the proper left side panel! I was quite pleased. :D I moved the left panel I had to the right side back, trimmed everything down so it would fit, and then drafted and constructed the proper left side panel. (The four panel pic to the right is what I originally thought of doing before I actually did the fitting.)
During the course of all of this, I took a day long break to take a whack at making Youko's sword. As it's one of the relics of Kei and proves her right to the throne, I thought it would be an important prop to include. I had found a tutorial some time ago on how to make prop swords out of cardboard, a dowel rod, and aluminum waterproofing tape, and I had been dying to try it ever since. I hit the hardware store and bought all the supplies and came home to give it a go.
I used foamcore instead of actual cardboard to make the 'meat' of the blade. Let me now take the time to express how much I have come to despise and loathe foamcore. The stuff is a nightmare to cut. If you use scissors on it, it damages and crushes the foam. I don't have a craft knife or exact-o blade, so I had to use scissors to score the posterboard outer shell first, then I had to score the foam middle several times over, and only then could I finally cut through the bottom layer of posterboard and get the bloody thing cut out. Ugh. It was horrible.
I finally did manage to get the pieces cut out. I then spent the next two days applying, removing, cursing, and reapplying the aluminium tape. The stuff does NOT want to cooperate. No matter what you do, there always seem to be wrinkles and creases in the bloody stuff. The more layers you add, the worse it gets. I ended up ripping off my first few attempts and starting over. It didn't help that I had damaged the foamcore by trying to insert the dowel rod down the centre, so the tape wanted to show every minor warp that had occured because of it. I finally ended up ripping off all the aluminum tape, covering the foamcore with a layer of painter's masking tape (layering on several strips over the damaged section to make it level again), and then trying again with the aluminium tape. It still fails. I became so frustrated with it that I set it aside and attempted to make a sword out of craft foam, thinking that I had had such success with it before, it couldn't possibly fail me now! I made the blade shape in craft foam, covered it in layers of masking tape, and put on the aluminium tape. It was definitely smoother, and yet somehow not as good as the cardboard blade. -sigh- It just looks...squishy. So, I'm going to go with the cardboard sword and finish up the hilt. I started to draw out the pattern for the crossguard on foamcore, and I bought some paperclay to make the raised designs, but I'm so tired of working on this beast that I haven't touched it since. ^^; (Can you tell which blade is which in the pic?*)
When I talked to my dad about my prop-making woes he said he would help me try my hand at making a fibreglass blade. I've always wanted to try my hand at it, but have always been rather intimidated by it. But I think that with his help I can get a good final product. I don't really want to commission the sword, since the few quotes I've gotten range from $80-150, but if the fibreglass blade doesn't turn out I just might splurge and have Amethyst Angel make it.
Whew! So, that's where I am right now. Over the next week or so I'm going to drill all the holes into the lames, and paint and lacquer them. I had orignally thought of using shoelaces to lace all the pieces together, but someone said that you can buy the same sort of lacing by-the-yard at Joann's, so I'm going to check it out to see if they have what I need. I'm debating between dark blue lacing (very popular for samurai armour) or white. Considering the reference shot, I'm leaning more and more toward dark blue, since it's the colour of all the accents and what have you. I don't anticipate the actual clothing to take much time at all...it's basically a short kimono with a pair of blue pants and a white skirt (which may actually be an underlayer of some sort). She wears the same clothes throughout most of the first three disks of the show, while she's disguised as a boy, so there are plenty of reference shots of the underlayers that I'm not worried about figuring out the construction. Until next time!
*left is fun foam, right is cardboard