DragonCon 2013, Continued

Before I start writing about the last half of my Dragon Con 2013 experiences, I forgot to mention one of the coolest parts of Friday evening. When I was talking with the trio about face casting, I noticed a Doctor Who-themed family, making some late-evening fixes to their Cassandra prop (which was absolutely fantastic). Most of the family were dressed as Cassandra’s attendants, but the youngest was dressed in circa-1940s style clothing, with a gas mask. She was walking around asking “Are you my mummy?” and basically scaring the bejeezus out of people. I goofed around a bit with her, running and hiding behind other people, as her mom called out “Look! You’ve scared the boogie man!” It was enormously fun and always makes me feel good about the future of cosplay.

Saturday

For the past few years, Saturday at DragonCon has involved hurriedly gathering together the day’s costumes, getting dressed, grabbing whatever granola bar or other baked item was handy, and running down to the staging grounds for the annual Dragon Con parade. The past few years have seen us in a He-Man/She-Ra group, cleaning up the end of the parade dressed as Sci-Fi Janitors, and high-kicking our way through Atlanta’s streets as the Three Ninjas. In fact, Heather’s only experience with the Dragon Con parade has been as a participant. She’s never had the opportunity to just be a casual observer.

As fun as it is to walk in the parade, I think it’s important to sit back and watch it from the sidelines, at least once. It’s a tremendous showing of all the many and varied arenas of geekdom. The parade is actually the reason Dragon Con first appeared on my radar. I was still new to conventions – I’d only been to two (FanExpo and Polaris – both in Toronto), when I found myself looking through pictures of the massive 501st turn out in the Dragon Con parade. Row upon row of stormtroopers, some of them in attire that was a little less “standard”, marched down the streets of Atlanta, followed by Rainbow Brites, and Spartans, and monsters and so on and so forth, and I found myself longing for that experience.

Cut to about six years later. This year, as Maggie and Heather set out to find a spot to watch the parade, I went about my new morning routine of slowly getting out of bed, gingerly stretching my back muscles, and hunting down my small sewing kit. I still had a few finishing touches to put on the darn dragon (adding claws and fixing one of the wings), so I hunkered down on my bed and got to it, while DCTV played in the background.

I could hear the bands in the parade playing, down below our balcony-that-doesn’t-open, and part of me longed to go see what I was missing out on, but I knew my back wouldn’t be all that fond of the jockeying for position that I’d have to do, just in order to catch a glimpse of the parade as it went by. So I stayed in the room like a shut-in, sewed my dragon hands and feet, and proceeded to get dressed.

When Heather and Maggie got back, we assembled our various How to Train Your Dragon costumes. Just getting in and out of Toothless requires help from a handler. We managed to get everything together. I made the decision to carry the wings, instead of putting them on, so we could get in and out of the elevator and through the halls a lot easier. That didn’t last long, though, as people saw a dragon walking through the hotels in search of food and everyone wanted pictures.

Eventually, we made our way to the Peachtree Center food court, and availed ourselves of the extremely delicious falafel and creamed spinach at Aviva by Kameel. Oh, the food there…I am so upset I can’t eat their falafel every day. It was SO GOOD! If you have a chance to go there, take it. Everything I had there was absolutely delicious, the service was fast and friendly, and the prices were probably the best of any of the places there. I am in awe of the hours they were open, too. It was something like 10am-2am. I’m sure they made a killing in business. The place was always packed and, by the end of the weekend, they were starting to run low on some items.

Anyway…what was I saying?

Ah, yes. We wandered around the food court seating for a few minutes, looking for a place to sit, when a man flagged us down to let us know they were leaving and we could have their seat. That’s one of the things I like about folks in the food court – we’re all kind of in the same boat, and we try our best to look out for each other. We settled in at the table, and I enjoyed getting to unzip the top of the costume and lay my giant dragon head down for a moment. Folks wandering by stopped to tell me the costume was awesome, and several folks asked if I was broiling inside it.

I’m actually surprised at how not-too-bad costumes like Toothless and Kowl are. When people learn that they are made out of felt, they assume they are going to be ridiculously hot, but the felt actually breathes a lot better than many other fabrics I’ve worked with. my biggest complaint is that it tends to be a little scratchy and stiff, and therefore isn’t as cuddly as I’d like to be when dressed as a character from a children’s show or movie.

After lunch, we started to head back towards the Marriott, where we would be meeting up with other members of our How to Train Your Dragon group. I heard a voice shouting behind us and, when I turned around, there was a young man dressed as Hiccup! We posed for a few pictures and told him where we would be around 1pm that day, and encouraged him to show up and pose with the rest of us. He had a friend who was dressed as Astrid that day, and we said to bring her along as well.

Wearing the extra viking helmet

Wearing the extra viking helmet

Back in the Marriott, Maggie split off to go back to the hotel, so Hunter could change into his costume (it was originally for Maggie’s cousin, Danny, but he was unable to make it this year), and hand out helmets to the other two folks who would be joining us. Heather acted as my handler during this point in time, and did an absolutely stellar job of making sure I had a place to sit, stayed hydrated, knew when pictures were being taken, and made sure no one ran into my wings.

When the group met back up together, we wandered around the different levels of the Marriott for pictures. We started up on the top level, near the back, and were set up there for a while. Eventually, we started moving more towards the bit of carpeted space that surrounds the block of elevators, though we did occasionally have some trouble with other groups taking over the same real estate. This happens. You get used to it. We did get stopped and asked to participate in the DragonCon music video.

I’m a little unsure of just how long we were in the hotel, taking pictures. Time does funny things when you’re in a giant costume head and have no access to your cell phone. I will say that, near the end, I might have started getting a little crabby with some adults. People had a tendency to lean on the costume head a bit more than they really needed to (HTTYD group and random con-goers alike), which gets kind of painful, when you are the individual whose head is being impaled by the wire skeleton of said costume head. Also, if you are acting as a handler for someone who can’t see (except out of a small hole, offset from where there actual eyes are), you might have to narrate what is in front of them. Tell them what might be around them, so they are aware of the people doing potentially jarring things, should they stumble into their circle of being. It’s also not all that fun to be grabbed and pulled into the right position for a picture. If the costumed person can’t see in the first place, they a) don’t necessarily know it’s their handler grabbing them and b) still need to know if they are about to be yanked from their original position. In my case, any movement that I wasn’t planning – being pushed on from behind as people posed, being pulled into place from any direction, etc. – aggravated my back.

Unfortunately, being a dragon made me a little fussy and grumpy, which I think is understandable. One of my favorite things about being in costume is the chance to interact with other costumers and the public…especially the little ones. It was difficult to do that in an event the size of DragonCon, with crowds pressing in on all sides, and an inability to hear any direction my handlers might have been giving me. When you’re encased in a costume like Toothless, your ability to have fun is going to be hampered a bit, unless the people around you are engaging with you, which is, again, all too hard to do in an environment like DragonCon. In the end, I felt more like a prop or a piece of scenery, which people were moving around, instead of the cute dragon I wanted to be.

All that being said, I did get to have some fun. There were no small number of people shouting “Toothless!” while I was in costume,

Double the dragons, double the fun!

Double the dragons, double the fun!

and there were several kids who came up and wanted to have pictures taken with me. I even stumbled across another Toothless cosplayer, and got to goof a little around them.

At some point, later in the afternoon, my back finally let me know that it had had enough, and I went back to the hotel room to change out of the dragon suit and ice my muscles for a bit. I pulled out my Kaylee jumpsuit, found my boots, and I was ready to go!

Comfortable and relaxed, I headed down to the first panel: Folklore in Fantasy. I was the only non-author on the panel (well, the only author who hasn’t been published in the genre of fantasy. I’ve had other things published), but I didn’t feel all that out of place. The discussion touched on the folklore of a number of cultures, not just the Germanic and Celtic literature that everyone is so familiar with, but also Yoruba, Japanese, Native American, Creole, etc. It really was a fantastic panel, and I was even asked – by the audience/panelists/facilitator – to tell the story of Skywoman. For a storyteller, that was a true high point of the evening. It is such a rarity to have people ask for a story that, when it happens, I sometimes feel like crying.

I took a short break after the folklore panel, and ran up to my hotel room to take my contacts out and change to glasses for the rest of the night. The trip upstairs and back down filled the time between my two events that evening and, before I knew it, it was time to head in for my second panel of the Con.

Me and JayneQuite honestly, I was a little surprised that I sounded like I knew what I was talking about in the Human Wave SciFi panel. Of course, I suppose I was still running off my endorphin high from earlier in the evening. I don’t read nearly as much sci-fi as many of the other folks in that room, but what I do read tend to fall more towards the optimistic side of the spectrum. When we introduced ourselves at the panel, we were encouraged to talk about why we read that. Why is it something that we are drawn to. I looked out on the audience (noticing a few familiar faces from the previous panel I had been in), and mentioned that, in addition to my usual biography – folklorist, traditional Native storyteller, etc. – I also happen to be an ordained minister. I like to read human wave scifi, when I read scifi, because I deal in ministry. I hear stories about people’s days, good and bad, and I try to be a steady, comforting presence when friends and family and complete strangers alike are going through rough times. I read to provide an escape, most times, and I wouldn’t really be escaping much if all I read was dystopian doom-and-gloom, now, would it? I am, at heart, an optimist. I like to believe in the better nature of people, and that good will, for the most part, win out over evil in this world.

That’s not to say I don’t recognize that there is bad in the world, or that things sometimes go to shit. I am a realistic optimist. I know very well that people can be awful to each other, and many times for no other reason than that they can or want to be. People look at non-dystopian literature and think it’ll be boring because…where’s the conflict? But non-dystopian literature doesn’t negate the possibility of conflict. It just means the conflict in a story will come from a different direction than being kept down by “the man,” a la Brave New World, or 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale. The author will just have to make an effort to create believable conflict from another arena. Which is entirely possible. After all, most of us, I would think, aren’t really living in an oppressive dystopian society (no matter what Fox News would have you believe), and we have plenty of conflict in our own lives. Human Wave scifi is all about how humanity can use its better traits (curiosity, intelligence, adaptability being among them) to deal with problems which might arise with interstellar travel, interspecies/alien interactions, and advancing technology.

After the panel, a number of people came up to chat, expanding on a few other topics we had all touched on during the discussion. One of the men had mentioned a book he had given his pastor to read, and suggested it to me. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced the paper I wrote the title down on. 😦 I believe it was an Ursala LeGuin book, but I’m not sure.

As we filtered out of the room, I met up with Maggie and Heather again. I proclaimed my desire for some celebratory pie (it had been a good night), and we went up stairs in search of delectable treats. It took asking around a bit, but I finally tracked down a miniature pecan pie in the convenience store in the corner of the Hyatt. It was super-sugary (and so I couldn’t eat the whole thing), but it was pie and I was happy. We wandered around a bit longer, chatting with random people and having a good time, before I decided I needed to head back to the room for a shower and some decompression time. I watched some DragonCon TV, and swiftly fell asleep.

Sunday

Several years ago, I made the costume worn by Alanis Morrissette, at the end of Dogma. You know the one. It’s got a fluffy white skirt, a shiny corset and jacket, boxer shorts and a pair of flip-flops. It is, hands down, the girliest costume I have ever made or worn. And I love it. I don’t wear many skirts (except for this summer, for reasons which don’t have anything to do with this post), and the ones I do wear tend to be pretty basic. Not this one – dubbed “the God skirt,” simply because it’s part of my God costume.

Since it was Sunday, I figured it was the perfect costume to wear around for the day. I didn’t have anything immediately on my schedule for the day, so Heather and I headed back over to the labyrinth that was this year’s Dealers’ Area. As we wandered into America’s Mart, I remarked to Heather that I like wearing the Dogma costume, because I don’t get stopped all the time. A lot of people just don’t recognize it. Of course, as soon as I said that, the woman behind us drew even with us, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, “Excuse me. Are you God, from Dogma?” Heather and I burst out laughing, and I told her that her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. She mentioned that she originally thought it might have been the shortened prom dress from the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but then she saw the flip-flops, and that I wasn’t wearing a leather jacket.

The best part of wearing that particular costume that day is that we could wander through the dealer area better, without having to worry about a costume head, and I could actually carry stuff. I picked up some cool makeup pens that glow under blacklight, and bought a Hufflepuff Quidditch sweater (Badgers, represent!), and just generally enjoyed spending some time with my sister. We went back to the Hyatt and Heather and I splurged on lunch at the in-house restaurant, “Sway.” It was absolutely delicious! They had the best iced tea, and the sandwiches we got were tasty and unique and well worth the visit.

My final panel was at 5:30pm, over in the Westin. I didn’t have anything else on the schedule for that day, so I headed over to the hotel a little early and found a nice soft spot to sit for a while. I noticed that there was a sizable group of furries present, so I sent Heather a text (which thankfully got through, despite the signal black hole that is DragonCon), to let her know. As I sat on my fuzzy cushioned seat, it soon became apparent why the people fully-encased in fuzzy, cumbersome costumes were hanging out in the Westin…the lobby area was FREEZING! My legs and flip-flop-attired feet were so cold! Thankfully, my Dogma costume comes complete with a jacket.

A lady passing by with a stroller spotted Heather and I as we sat and chatted, and asked if she could take our picture. She oohed and aahed over both of our dresses (Heather was wearing her TARDIS dress, which always gets a number of compliments), and wished us a good rest of the convention.

Shortly before my panel was scheduled to begin, I headed over to the furries to chat for a few moments. I talked to a gentleman dressed as a cheetah (who, when he learned that Robert grew up in Kenya, told me to pass on the greeting of “Asanta sana” to him), and one of the handlers, who was dressed in some absolutely wonderful steampunk gear.

Eventually, it was time to head to the last panel on my schedule. The room it was in was the complete opposite of the Westin lobby, and some people found it too warm. I was rather early to the room, and so was the second person to arrive. Deirdre Knight beat me to the front. I sat down next to her, we introduced ourselves, and swiftly fell into comfortable conversation that somehow managed to include the front few rows of the audience. As other panelists trickled in and assembled, the conversation became even weirder, wide-spread, and absolutely lovely. Leanna Renee Hieber happened to pick a chair down near my end of the table, and I want to thank her. I got to admire an absolutely beautiful costume. It seems many of us on the panel and folks in the audience came to the con just as much for the costumes, so I felt right at home. There were a few young women in the front who were admiring my costume. They, too, remembered it from Dogma. I remarked to them, Deirdre and Leanna that I had chosen it because I’m a minister and it was Sunday, so I felt it was appropriate. When Alethea Kontis (who had been one of the panelists at the folklore panel on Saturday) came in, Leanna told her the reasoning behind my costume choice. She turned to me and said “I knew I liked you, yesterday. That just clinches it!”

I honestly can’t tell you how much fun I had at that panel. There are no words to explain how comfortable and at ease and welcome I felt on that panel. We talked about the things from folklore that scare us (mine are things like the chindi, which I find scary because it’s all connected to how you treat the other people you interact with in this world, and holds you accountable for the horrible things you might do or say to people), and how urban legends reflect the societies and times they spring from, and how there are so many connecting themes between different cultures and their stories. What touched me most was that I was able to talk about folklore from a storyteller/scholar point of view – from the point of view of someone who knows the theory behind performance and story tropes, and enacts these same stories from a non-scholar point of view. I got to engage in some serious discussion about one of my first loves – the stories we tell, and why we tell them – and I was reminded why I chose to go into that field.

It’s wonderful to be reminded of the things I love and why I love them, and this year’s DragonCon gave me the opportunity to do that. I got to be a scholar! I got to be a storyteller! I got to sit in a room of people interested in the same things, and talk about things like liminal places, and the fear of the other as represented by tales of alien abduction. And, more importantly (from a storyteller’s point of view), people listened. There are so many times, every day, when I get frustrated by the inability of so much of the world to listen. And I’m not talking about just listening to me. I mean listening in general. Listening to the other side of an argument, and recognizing that they have a valid point of view. Listening to another personality type, in order to find out how they process tasks and ideas. Listening to each other talk about the mundane parts of our day – which, in the end, are generally a lot more important than they might at first seem.

At the end of the trip, this year, I found myself pondering many things. I reveled in the glow of three excellent panels for a few days, and wondered if, next year, I would be back at DragonCon.

That seems a gasp-inducing statement, I know. I love costumes and conventions and geeks and fandom and all of that. How could I even consider not going back to DragonCon next year? Quite honestly, the reason is how successful the event was for me this year. I was reminded of how much I love the research and writing (yes, scholarly writing) that I was so heavily involved with throughout my graduate studies. I’ve missed that, these few years. I’ve touched on a little of it through work, this year, as we ready an exhibit, but I miss working in the folklore field, and I think next year is time for a little change in my schedule.

The American Folklore Society will hold its annual meeting next November, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and it is my intention to attend…and possibly present. DragonCon will, naturally, be on hold, as I only have so much vacation time per year, as well as funds for travel to and from the conference. I think I’m okay with that, though. DragonCon has plenty of other people wanting to attend, and I think they’ll understand if I miss a year here and there.

I hope to include some DragonCon panel-spurred topics of discussion here in the future. I’ll do my best to keep updating, with a more regular schedule.

Hitting the Wall

It’s the day before we leave for DragonCon, and I, my friends, have hit a wall.

It is not necessarily the same wall that runners come up against. Obviously, I’m not a runner. It is not a wall standing in the way of costume progress. Well, yes, in some way it is. But it is not the same kind of wall I hit earlier this season, either, when I had the realization I had spent a good chunk of time working on something that was entirely too big and blocky to go with the rest of the costume.

No, good people, the wall I have hit is a relatively monolithic wall called “Back Pain.” It started on Saturday, with a few little twinges and aches as I cleaned up my corner of Robert’s workshop. I figured I might have stretched it a bit earlier, when I was cutting out patterns on Robert’s floor, but I didn’t think it would be much of an issue. A good night’s rest and I’d be right as rain, I thought. But Sunday morning brought no relief with it and, by the end of the evening I had dug out my Icy Hot and some of the leftover extra-extra strength anti-inflammatory pills leftover from my surgery in July. It was still hanging around Monday and Tuesday. Last night, as I climbed into bed, I could tell it was getting worse – I couldn’t sit up in bed.

This morning was agony.

I’ve thrown out my back this badly before, though – thankfully – it doesn’t happen too often. The last time it was this bad, I was also on the cusp of going to a convention. That time, Costume Con was in town (technically, it was just outside of Baltimore), and I spent the entire weekend wishing I had painkillers. That, by the way, is a big indicator of how bad the pain was. I don’t even like taking Tylenol or Advil. In that particular case, I actually lived with the pain for a month before I asked someone to help with it. I didn’t have health insurance at the time, so a doctor was out of the question. However, I knew someone who was a Reiki practitioner. I had never done Reiki, and really wasn’t expecting it to do anything to help, but I was to a point that, if someone had suggested smashing my back with a bag full of hammers would work, I would have tried it. To my tremendous joy, the treatment worked. I am seriously considering calling this individual up today, after I get off work.

With luck, the excruciating pain of this morning will not set the tone of the coming trip to Atlanta. Quite honestly, I am worried about sitting in the car for the long drive down to DragonCon. I really can’t see how I can go through an entire weekend feeling like this. Especially since I couldn’t even put my shoes on by myself this morning. All I can say is, thank goodness for Robert. That man deserves a medal. He said goodbye this morning with the admonition to take it easy and try not to stress out. I’m pretty sure he’s correct in thinking this might be related to stress. After all, it’s the last day in the “real world,” before we escape to geek heaven, and the day is, naturally, full of stress. Do I have all my costumes finished? Is everything packed? Where did I put my registration postcard? Do we have enough gas to get out of town and make it to the station with the cheap gas? Et cetera, et cetera.

I will admit, of course, that I am stressed. I still have some things to finish on Toothless and, due to tending to the important task of messing with the fuse box yesterday (as well as not being able to lift some of the stuff I needed out of the back of my closet), I am still not packed. Today’s “whilst at work” task is actually not necessarily costume-related. Instead, I will be creating my packing checklist, to make sure I have everything in order tonight.

And, lest you think I got no work done yesterday, I managed to do the following: made the wing harness for Toothless; finished the ends of the front paws for Toothless; finished the collar on the Toothless suit; stuffed Oogie Boogie’s head, so it hides the wire; added more velcro to the back closure on Oogie Boogie; cut and painted the eyes for Toothless.

After I pack and get my stuff to Maggie’s we all generally work on a few little tasks here and there. Tonight, my list includes: sewing the spikes and claws on Toothless; gluing the eyes to the head; adding a small opening in Oogie’s hands, so I can do things like use my phone, or get myself in and out of the costume by myself. I think that should be it. We might possibly add a few scales to Toothless, to tie the head and body together a bit more, but that’s not absolutely necessary.

Come Fly With Me

Shoe covers, dragon horns, and a few other flotsam and jetsam…that’s what’s on my list of things-still-yet-to-do, at the moment. Yesterdaydragon claws was quite productive. I finished sewing all the little dragon claws while at work, but didn’t get a chance to sew them onto the hands and feet for Toothless. Much of yesterday was spent working on the wings. Mom was kind enough to go out and pick up some extra felt for me, so I could get right to work on making things, instead of spending important time out at the store, running errands.

First, I set Oogie’s dice out in the yard, so I could paint them and leave them to dry. Tonight, they will get a coat of reddish-brown paint, and maybe a coat of clear acrylic, to protect them.

The wings came together pretty nicely, once I figured out what shape I wanted to do. I was originally going to make wings that looked a little more “folded up,” but I ended up going with a design that looks more like “pre-flight.” I figure they will work better in pictures. Plus, what good are wings, unless they actually spread out like wings? I was also originally thinking of making them all black, but Mom picked up some charcoal gray, in addition to plain black, and I decided to make use of the difference. It’s not completely accurate, but I figure the contrast will help in pictures, instead of everything reading black. Have to think about how things will present in film/digital format.

Outlining the wing

Outlining the wing

Wing construction began with laying out the felt, and determining my desired shape and size. I pinned some binding I had sitting around to the felt, to make the outline visible while cutting, as my usual chalk pencil doesn’t mark on felt as well. After I cut the gray, I laid the felt template on top of the black felt, and cut the same shape. I lined the bottom edges of the wings up, but cut the black felt a little larger than the gray along the top of the wing. This would provide the pocket for the wire support of the wing, later.

I pinned the gray to the black and took the pieces over to the sewing machine, stitching the inner part of the wing to the back along the top edge. As I sewed the bottom edge of the wings together, I left strategic spaces open, at the tips of wings, and stitched in some boning channels. When everything was stitched together, I inserted 1/2″ plastic cable ties in the channels. They mimic the bone structure beneath wing membrane nicely.

Inserting the wire

Inserting the wire

I straightened two coat hangers (of the last four in my current stash!) for use as the wing supports along the top. The top 1/2″ of black felt was folded over and stitched close to the wire support inside. I wish I had planned for two hangers per wing – the weight of the felt is more than I expected, and they are weighed down a little more than I’d like, but it will have to do. Each wing includes a little extra wire at the end, so the wings can be inserted into the harness.

Finished wings!

Finished wings!

I went ahead and straightened the remaining two wire hangers, in preparation of making the harness tonight, as well as pulling out the hard plastic tubing which will be used as part of the internal support for the wings. I’m still unsure whether I’m going to create a harness that will be worn on the inside, or on the outside of the suit. I’m leaning towards inside, so less of it is visible. Robert is planning to be over tonight, and I plan to make use of his engineering skills to rig the harness.

Today’s “whilst at work” task has been spikes. I knew I needed to add some spikes to the head for Toothless, and down the center of the back. I forgot about the ones on the tail, and a few for the arms and legs. Thankfully, I packed along enough felt to make a couple of strands of spikes, that I can later stuff and stitch to the costume. I also finished the second boot cover for Oogie Boogie (the other one is on my sewing table at home).

Apart from constructing the wing harness, the other important task tonight is finishing the head for Toothless. The poor dragon is still in need of a pair of eyes!

All Work and No Play

painting the scalesThis week and weekend have been so busy! And not just with sewing and furiously trying to complete everything in time for Atlanta. As I mentioned before, I had been working on Toothless over at Robert’s house most of last week – meaning I’ve seen little of my own house (and my cat) for the past few days. I did, however, manage to get a number of things on my list knocked out. So, here’s an update:

The head for Toothless is almost finished. It took about two and a half days of work, but I finally finished painting all the daggone scales on the head. I started on the scales that ran down the center front on the same day I finished sewing all of the seams, but I hadn’t yet posted pictures of it. I wanted to make sure they still looked acceptable when all the paint dried. Upon my return to the workspace the next day, I was pleased that they stood out just enough from the black felt of the rest of the head.

the splotches, after being attacked by a wooden stick

the splotches, after being attacked by a wooden stick

Originally, I was going through the paint job, trying to paint each individual scale with the miniscule tip on the bottle of fabric paint. Keep in mind, of course, that each scale is a mix of two types of paint: slick and metallic black. This was obviously going to take way too long, so I came up with a much simpler way of covering a large amount of dragon head at a time. I took the bottle of slick black and just started making random splotches and dots in the general area where I wanted a scale. Then I went through with the bottle of metallic black, and added a little squiggle or dot of it to each “scale.” Then, I took my handy dandy paint-spreading stick (which was just a really short wooden tongue depressor-like stick), and smoothed out the splotches into something more closely resembling a dragon scale. This method really cut down on the time it would have taken me to paint the scales, and it was a lot easier to mix the two types of paint and get even coverage.

Finished paint job!

Finished paint job!

The rest of the painting took two additional days, as I had to paint all of the “top” scales and let them dry overnight before I could go back, flip the head upside down, and complete the “bottom” half of the head. I only managed to glue my hair together with fabric paint (by inadvertently leaning against some of the scales while painting) on the first night, and didn’t get any paint on my clothes (though Robert’s table might have seen a few drops here and there), so I consider the paint job a win!

The head still needs eyes and some foam inserts inside to make it fit a little more snugly to my head, but it is, for the large part, done. I had it safely stowed in my trunk on Sunday, and pulled it out to show one of the kids after church. As I pulled it out, another car with some more of the youth population passed by, and everyone easily recognized it as Toothless. Again, another win! Also, I feel like I get bonus points for being the cool priesthood member who makes giant costume heads of cartoon characters.

Sunday afternoon was spent working on the body of Toothless. I had availed myself of the giant empty floor space at Robert’s house earlier that weekend, when it came time to cut the patterns out. The pieces went together swiftly when I was back in the sewing corner in my house, but, upon trying on the suit, it soon became apparent that there was a bit of a problem…

The sleeves were HUGE! It was really quite ridiculous. I used that pattern for the basis of both Kowl and my Popple costume, and I don’t remember the sleeves coming out that enormous. I might have thought it was because of the fabric I was using, but Kowl was also made out of felt, and the arms just weren’t that big. Or at least, I don’t remember them being quite as large. suit pieces

I hopped upstairs in the costume (turned inside out, for ease of adjusting seams, of course), and enlisted the help of my Mom. This meant standing in the living room, holding my arms up and out for what felt like eternity – but was, in reality, probably only 20 minutes – as she pinned and adjusted and generally tried to make the arms look less silly and more dragonesque. Eventually, we wound up with something more closely resembling the shape of Toothless’ arms, and I skipped back downstairs, where I then had to deal with the unique costuming challenge of getting out of a zippered costume where the zipper is on the inside (it was inside-out, remember?), and there are a bunch of pins along the arms. Miraculously, I managed to not gouge a million holes in my arm, and eventually wiggled out of the suit. Alterations were made, things were turned right side out, and I moved on to the next challenge.

The tail.

underside of the tail fin

underside of the tail fin

The tail actually wasn’t as difficult as I was anticipating. I had set aside some scraps that were plenty long enough to create the tail, back when I cut out the jumpsuit pattern, and just sort of eyeballed the right shape and length. The thing that I figured would be the trickiest was the tail fin. I decided I was just going to make the original, scarred tail, and wouldn’t worry about also creating the tail extension that Hiccup creates. That can come later, if I decide it’s needed. I wanted the tail fin to stand out a little more from the rest of the tail, so I didn’t want to use more of the same black felt. I remembered seeing some felt back in a section of my stash, left over from an original Halloween costume I had made years earlier. I had later used some of the same material on the handle of my homemade lightsaber, and I thought “Might as well continue the trend.”

Of course, when I pulled the fabric out, I found that it had become a very popular place for mice. They had chewed a number of holes in it.

finished tail

finished tail

Because of the way it was folded, these holes were pretty evenly spaced through the whole scrap, and I was worried there wasn’t enough unmarred fabric to make the fin. After it was cleaned, and I took a better look at it, I was able to figure out a cutting pattern that would give me two pieces for the tail. I sewed them together, and stitched in boning channels, which would look like the bones of a bat/dragon wing. I inserted two pieces of thin cable tie plastic in each channel (one in each was too flimsy), and made little channel “anchors” on the bottom strip of the tail. I then inserted the fin into the opening I had left in the side of the tail, and stitched everything together and closed. I stuffed the tail with fiberfill, and attached it to the back of the jumpsuit. I think I’m going to add some waist tape to the inside of the suit and anchor it to the back of the tail, so that the weight of the tail won’t make it pull out and away from the back of the suit.

I’ve already started making the little dragon claws for the hands and feet. I started them in church on Sunday, and have brought them to work with me today, in case I find myself with some free time on my hands. Tonight, I’ll finish closing up the ends of the front “paws,” and work on finishing the feet for Toothless.

Before (left) and after (right)

Before (left) and after (right)

I’m also going to be spray-painting the dice for Oogie Boogie. I wasn’t originally going to bother with the dice, but I found myself with some extra time on Saturday night, while I waited for the paint on the dragon head to dry, and I started carving out the designs on some foam dice I had purchased from the Dollar Store. The dice turned out to be the perfect size for what I needed, and the carving has been coming along quite nicely, for not having the best idea of what I was doing.

Here There Be Dragons

Setting up the work space

Setting up the work space

I can thankfully say that this weekend has been a very productive. After fretting and agonizing over Toothless for months, I finally sat down and started working on the costume again. As you might remember, I had a bit of a snafu with the original legs I built, and I felt overwhelmed and out of sorts afterwards, meaning I wanted nothing to do with dragons for a little while.

We’re less than a month away from Dragon Con now, though, so I figured it was about time I set to work on creating an actual dragon. I’m still playing around a bit with how I’m going to do the body, tail and wings for Toothless, but I started working on one of the most important pieces today: the head.

Usually, I work on a small square table (and I mean small) in a cramped corner of my

Dual work space

Dual work space

basement. Today, I had the luxury of working in Robert’s work space, in the newly “refinished” garage. You might remember we had a wee little fire in the original garage workshop, back in the early hours of Valentine’s Day. The ceiling has since been rebuilt, the windows and garage doors replaced, and the walls and floor painted. Much of the garage is still in the process of being put back to order – there are boxes and shelves and various power tools in a bit of disarray – but Robert cleared one of the tables and set up some space for me to spread out. He had work to do on a new quad copter, in preparation for his sister’s wedding in Maine next month, so the two of us happily spent the entire day tooling about in the garage.

I started by pulling up the file of reference shots I had amassed during my earlier costume research, and sketched the head a couple of times. Now, since I had the pictures on my computer and can refer to them at any time, I didn’t really have to sketch them, but I’ve found that I tend to have a better understanding of the shapes I ultimately need to form, and how everything is going to come together if I do a little bit of fiddling about with pencil and paper first.

Sketches done, I set about straightening my pile of wire coat hangers, and laying out the other supplies I’d need nearby: heavy gauge floral wire, duct tape, wire cutters, pliers (needle nose and blunt nose). This time, since I was going to be cutting some of the thick coat hangers, instead of leaving them their original length, I made a little addition to my original tool list. I got to use bolt cutters today!

Notice the bolt cutters!

Notice the bolt cutters!

As usual, work on the head began with construction of a coat hanger and floral wire skeleton, joined together with my old friend, duct tape. I think I really need to take a video of this part of the process, so you can see exactly how I figure out this aspect of the head. You build the coat hangers up, level by level, creating stabilizing and supporting vertical “beams” with the floral wire. I generally start with four supporting vertical beams between each level, until I have the basic shape. Then, I go back and add extra supports where I can see they’ll be needed.

So much duct tape and wire!

So much duct tape and wire!

Toothless provided a little bit of a challenge, when creating the head, as the head needs to slope up and back more than, say, my Potter Puppet Pals or Wise Man head did. Even Kowl’s head was relatively close to human shape. Not so much with Toothless. I also knew that I was going to have to contend with the challenge of the “horns” that needed to extend from the back and sides. I happened to have a lighter weight coat hanger that worked quite well to form the supports for the horns.

The back of the wire structure, showing the horns.

The back of the wire structure, showing the horns.

By the end of Saturday, I had a completed wire skeleton for Toothless’ head. The next day, I went to JoAnn’s after church, to look for foam. I had already gone out a few months earlier and stocked up on my usual ½” foam, in addition to buying two small slabs of 4” foam, but I went looking for something a little thinner. I basically wanted ¼” inch green foam, but they don’t stock any. I finally decided on what was listed as “rug foam,” or something similar. It’s rather thin foam, with a flannel backing on one side. As I carried it around the shop, I tried to figure out what it reminded me of. Later that day, I finally realized – it feels like the material that makes up the inside of the roof of the minivan.

I think this is the worst foam job I've done. :(

I think this is the worst foam job I’ve done. 😦

Anyway, foam purchased, I headed back to Robert’s house, were my work space was still set up from Saturday. I plugged the glue gun in and set about cutting and fitting foam. Knowing how the material works now, I would have done things a LOT differently if I had to cover the head again. The thin foam is a lot less forgiving and manageable than the green foam is, and I don’t know that I’ll be using it for costume heads again, any time soon. I finally got the head covered with the gray foam, and set about cutting green foam for the shaping.shaping foam work front

Making sure the two sides of the head are symmetrical is proving to be one of the big challenges of this head. After I took a picture of the front of the head, I noticed that the eye on one side was going to be bigger than the other. Thankfully, I tend to save the little shavings and scraps that I cut off the big chunks of foam, so I was able to just add a few thin pieces to even things out.foam work side

After I took this picture, I ended up ripping off a section of foam, because the little ridge above Toothless’ nose went too high up the head. I like the placement a little better now, though I still need to play with the shaping a little more before I’m completely happy. I need to finish adding foam to the other side of the face, and smooth out some of the seams on the horns, and then it will be on to creating the felt “skin” for the head.

An arm and a leg

Well, really, it’s just pieces of two legs that will go on my arm…but coming up with catchy titles can be tricky sometimes. (Pictures to come soon)

Work has finally begun on the front arm extensions for Toothless! Huzzah! After a few days of sketching and researching and fretting, I decided to just get down to working on things, and trying things out. Today’s work began with a little bit of a treasure hunt through Robert’s garage. There’s wood everywhere! All kinds of boards and dowels, of varying widths and lengths and wood types. A wood wonderland, if you would (haha, see what I did there?).

I pulled out a couple of long boards that I could see forming the sides of the front arm extensions, and sorted through a small container of wooden dowels and rods. I found one that I’m pretty sure was part of a rod from a custom-built closet. It’s a nice solid weight thickness – enough to hold some weight without splitting – and fits my hand easily enough. That’s actually the main thing I wanted to keep in mind when looking for the wood that would form the handle of the arm extensions. My hands are rather small – petite, you might say – and I wanted something I could grip comfortably.

If you look closely, you can see the sketch of how it'll all look, on the square board.

If you look closely, you can see the sketch of how it’ll all look, on the square board.

Once I picked the wood, I scrounged around a bit more in the basement til I found something circular that was about the size I wanted for the bottom of the footpads. In this case, they were little planter pads made out of cork. Traced the shape out on the board I pulled for the bottom of the arms, and sketched a little design of how I wanted everything to go together on the top of one of the boards (mainly because I couldn’t find paper, but it’s also less likely that my sketch will disappear…it’s much harder for wood to blow off your workspace than paper). Then, I got out a yard stick and played around a little, trying to figure out about how high I wanted to build the extensions. I measured out about 26 inches at first, but after making the cuts in the first arm boards and took another look, I decided I wanted them to hit a little lower on my arms – perhaps about an inch below the inner bend of my elbow, and a little lower to the ground. I also realized that the board on the bottom of the foot was going to add about 1/2″, so I went back to the table and cut off another 4″ from each board.

Since the wood splintered ever so slightly as the saw cut it, and was a little rough on the edges to begin with, I went ahead and attacked it with some sandpaper, just to smooth the corners and sides a bit. Believe me, it was actually needed. I got more than a few splinters just from handling the edges of the boards. Looking at the boards, I decided the ends that would be up by my elbow needed a little bit of contouring. Although I’m going to be adding foam and padding to the boards to create the shape of the legs, I didn’t want to start out the leg construction with sharp corners. So Robert brought out the belt sander, and I went at it!

By the way, I believe this is going to be known in the annals of my mind as the power tool costume.

After rounding the edges a little (not perfectly, but that’s not what I was going for anyway), I enlisted Robert’s help in figuring out the angle I needed to cut the bottom of the boards, totoothless 2 attach them to the bottom footpads. Now, I’ve already mentioned that I’m not going to have the sort of hinged front paw one typically sees in animal-based quad suits. It doesn’t fit the natural movement of Toothless’ front legs. However, there is an ever so slight amount of movement in the front legs, right at the base of the foot – really only seen when Toothless mimics Hiccup and sits up on his back legs. Ideally, I would have a ball and socket type joint at the point where the “legs” attach to the foot pad. Not having ready access to something like that, however, I’m going to have to make do with relatively stationary front legs. Robert seems to think we can still add that type of joint later on. We’re going to keep an eye open for that type of thing, but for the time being, I’m moving forward with this version.

toothless 3At this point, the sides of the extensions have all been cut, as well as the handles. I’ve got the foot pads blocked out. Unfortunately, none of the saws in Robert’s garage are all that suited to cutting a circular piece, so the construction of all the pieces will probably have to wait until tomorrow evening, when I can get to the coping saw from my own work area.

“But Meg,” I hear. “Why tomorrow evening? Why not tomorrow afternoon?”

Because, fellow costumers…tomorrow afternoon I’ll be doing a head-casting session! Don’t worry. There will be pictures of that, too. Robert has generously agreed to document me sealing Maggie into a skin-tight casing of plaster.