Introduction: Gimli the Dwarf - Lord of the Rings Halloween Costume
After the success of last year's Gene Simmons project, I was excited to see what RavingChild would come up with for Halloween this year. I had a feeling that whatever he decided, it would be interesting, fun to make, and challenge my prop-making skills. I was not disapppointed when he chose to be Gimli from Lord of the Rings.
The main challenge with this costume would be making a reasonably accurate-looking Gimli using the extremely limited resources at my disposal. This costume would have to use only pieces I found at Goodwill, some cheap materials from Hobby Lobby, and a few things I had laying around from other projects. Given the project's constraints, I am extremely pleased with the results, and so is the boy (which is really all that matters).
Step 1: Materials, Tools and Supplies
There are several pieces to this costume, some of which could qualify as a project of their own. I will list materials for each piece separately, although there is a bit of overlap, as you will see.
Batting helmet from Goodwill
One sheet of brown 3mm craft foam
Two sheets of black stiff craft felt (brown would have been better, but they don't carry it at my Hobby Lobby)
Scrap of 1x4 lumber - appox 18"
2" diameter wooden disc
Approx 20' of black yarn ( or leather lacing if you have it)
Hammered Bronze spray paint
Antique Gold Rub & Buff
Black acrylic craft paint
1.5 yards of burgundy fabric (I used an old fleece Snuggie - there are better fabics available if you spend some money on them)
1 package tan/gold quilt edge binding tape (or make your own out of fabric or leather)
18 eyelets and eyelet tool
Brown boot lace - 54"
2 flat-braided leather belts from Goodwill - the longest and widest you can find
1 long knitted sweater or sweater-dress from Goodwill
Silver spray paint
Scrap of fabric (if you need to lengthen the torso like I did)
Shoulder Armor (Pauldrons):
1 Sheet of 3mm brown craft foam
Antique Gold Rub & Buff
2 brown shoelaces (or leather lacing)
Black fabric marker or Sharpie
Two sheets brown 2mm craft foam
Two sheets stiff craft felt (brown or black)
20 eyelets and eyelet tool
3 brown shoelaces (or leather lacing)
Black and brown fabric markers or sharpies
I pair brown gardening gloves
1 wide brown leather belt from Goodwill
2 brown flat-braided leather belts from Goodwill (as wide as you can find, and preferably identical)
Cap rivets and rivet tool
1 Sheet brown craft foam (or use scrap from other pieces)
1 sheet black or brown stiff craft felt (or use scrap from other pieces)
Antique Gold Rub & Buff
Cap rivets and rivet tool
Black fabric marker or Sharpie
Beard, Hair and Makeup:
Long brown wig
Long brown fake beard
Scraps of embossing metal or old aluminum soda cans (to make braid wraps)
Latex prosthetic nose (we used a "Normal Nose" by Woochie)
1"x3/4" lumber - approx 4' long
10mm expanded foam sheet or Sintra - approx 12" square
Dark walnut wood stain
2mm craft foam scraps
Silver spray paint
Black spray paint
Antique Gold Rub & Buff
Baggy pants and boots from Goodwill
Step 2: Making the Helmet - Part 1
While doing my costume research, I found patterns for some of the helmet pieces online at www.alleycatscratch.com. These were immensely valuable to this process, as I was able to skip many of the pattern-making steps that I would have had to devote considerable time to. The patterns were created by a very talented cosplayer named Judy. I have attempted to contact Judy via email to get her permission to post her patterns here, but so far I have not heard back from her. Until such a time as I hear back from Judy, please use the link above for the patterns. If anyone knows how to contact Judy, please PM me.
The first step in making the helmet was to cut off the bill and the ear cups of an old batting helmet in order to reduce the profile a bit. As the helmet was a tight fit for my son, I removed all of the foam padding from the interior as well. I used the patterns and some eyeball measurements to make a cardboard mockup of the helmet, just to figure out how the pieces would need to be scaled. Once I had the scaling information, I scaled the patterns and printed them at the final size. I also cut-and-pasted pieces of the cheekguard patterns together in order to make a pattern for the headband decorations.
To make the final pieces, I cut the base shapes out of craft foam, and used spray adhesive to mount the foam shapes to pieces of stiff craft felt, just to provide a more rigid backing. I then cut out the shapes from the felt, leaving extra felt tabs at the locations where pieces would need to be attached to each other. See the photos for details. The base pieces were sandwiched between two layers of parchment paper and briefly ironed at a medium heat setting to heat-seal the surface of the foam and make it look less foamish.
I then used the patterns to mark out the ornamental details onto more craft foam. For some pieces, I transferred the designs to the foam using light-colored carbon paper (available at any well-stocked sewing/fabric shop), and for others I just taped the paper pattern directly to the foam. Either method will work.
For the more intricately detailed pieces, I spray-mounted the foam to a piece of construction paper before cutting, to reduce the amount of stretching while cutting out the details. This seemed to help a lot.
The detail pieces were then cut out from the foam sheets using a very sharp hobby knife. Fine lines in the design were simply scored partially through the foam. This part took a very long time, and I think I have carpal tunnel now. Also, I can't seem to focus my eyes anymore.
The base pieces were pre-colored using a black fabric marker that I smudged a bit with my finger. The idea was to darken the background and make the color less uniform, to simulate the tarnished-metal look I was going for, and to add a bit of visual interest.
The detail pieces were then glued to the base pieces with tacky glue (foam glue would also work). When the glue was dry, the assembled pieces were ironed as above, and then the raised details were colored with Rub & Buff, using my favorite painting tool.
Step 3: Making the Helmet - Part 2
Next, I made the fins for the top of the helmet. The patterns for these were determined by finding the curve of the batting helmet using an adjustable curve, marking the locations on the curve where the pieces would start and end, and then eyeballing the shape. Cardboard patterns were made to test the fit, and after several tries, the final versions of the pattern were transferred onto a scrap of 1x4 and cut out using a jigsaw and a fine-toothed blade. Decorative patterns were free-handed onto the fins using hot glue. I was not really going for an exact match to the original helmet, but a suggestion of the patterns. At the same time, I also glued four small squares of scrap felt onto a 2" wooden disc from the craft store.
The fins and the underside of the disc were painted with Hammered Bronze spray paint and allowed to dry. Holes were drilled into the helmet under where the fins would sit, to provide a mechanical connection for the glue that would hold the pieces on.
The scale helmet skirt was made by cutting a stiff felt base piece to wrap around the back of the base helmet. I left an extra 1/2 inch of felt at the top to provide an attachment point. Then several rows of escutcheon-shaped scales were cut from more felt, and attached to the base piece in overlapping layers, using hot glue. The assembled skirt was painted with a 50-50 PVA glue/water solution and allowed to dry. Approximately a gazillion tiny lacing holes were punched at the edges of the scales using a leather punch, and additional holes were punched in the tab at the top to use to attach the skirt later. Next, the skirt was painted front and back with Hammered Bronze spray paint. Once the paint had dried, I used some black yarn to lace through the gazillion lace holes.
The base helmet was well-sanded to remove all gloss, the fins and disc were glued into place using E-6000, any gaps between the fins and the helmet were filled with a bead of hot glue, and the whole thing was painted Hammered Bronze. Holes for pop rivets were marked using the pre-punched holes in the skirt tab, then drilled. Then the skirt piece was mounted to the base helmet with pop rivets.
The headband, cheekguards and medallion were simply glued into place with hot glue. The felt tabs at the tops of the cheekguards were simply tucked under the headband and secured with a bit of hot glue after the back of the headband was attached to the helmet. The cheekguards were also tacked to the skirt piece with hot glue.
Finally, the hot glue details on the fins were highlighted with a bit of Rub & Buff on a Q-Tip. and the appropriate "teardrop" areas on the cheekguards & medallion were painted with black acrylic craft paint.
Step 4: The Chainmaille Shirt (or Hauberk)
This was the easiest part of the whole costume. I bought a large knit sweater from Goodwill and dyed it black (it actually came out purplish-grey, which was fine). It didn't hang down quite low enough, so I ran two machine stitches widthwise across the chest (to prevent the sweater from unraveling), cut the sweater between the stitch lines, and inserted a wide scrap of fabric to lengthen the torso a bit. Using a sweater-dress instead would have made this alteration unnecessary.
Before reassembling the sweater, I used the same stitch-then-cut technique to shorten the sleeves and open a seam to make a slit in the front of the lower skirt. The pieces were then reassembled, and the whole thing was spray painted silver.
NOTE: I didn't use spray primer before painting the sweater, but I'd recommend it for anyone who tries this in the future. Also see Note 2.
NOTE 2: Or just ditch the sweater entirely, and make pop-tab chainmaille. That would be awesome and would look very similar to the hauberk in the movie. You really only need the sleeves and the skirt, as the rest would be covered up by the surcoat anyway. I just didn't have enough pop tabs or time to do it this time around.
NOTE 3: Gimli's hauberk from the movie was not chainmaille at all, but was made from thousand of silvery plastic "washers" wired together with brass wire staples. Serious cosplayers take note.
Step 5: The Surcoat
The base garment is basically a sleeveless burgundy bathrobe. I used a fleece Snuggie from Goodwill, because it was cheap and a decent approximation of the right color. I didn't use a pattern, I just laid one of my son's larger T-shirts onto the folded fabric and traced around it for the torso, flared the shape out from the waistline to the full width of the fabric, cut one of the pieces up the middle for the front opening, then stitched the sides and the shoulder seams together. After it was assembled, I put it on my son over the chainmaille hauberk and marked the length (it should be a few inches shorter than the hauberk), then cut it along the bottom. This gave me my sleeveless bathrobe.
The front opening was edged with quilt edging bias tape in a tannish-goldish color. Then I added trim details made from two braided leather belts. One belt was cut in half and the pieces were used to trim the arm openings. The other belt was simply attached to the base garment about three inches above the bottom hem. All of this was done on my 1954 Singer sewing machine, which protested vehemently the entire time, but did not fail me. After the Gene Simmons boots from last year, it gives me dirty looks every time I take it out of the closet anyway....
The surcoat was finished by adding eyelets in the bias tape trim from approximately waist-level to the neck, and using a long boot lace to lace it all up.
Step 6: The Shoulder Armor
The patterns were made by simply eyeballing stills from the movie and drawing them out on my computer in Paint.net. The base shape was then cut from 3mm craft foam, and the border pattern was scored into the foam with a craft knife. I chose to use a simpler border pattern (the same cross-hatch pattern from the gauntlets' border) rather than the more complicated pattern from the movie in order to save time. The base pieces were spray-mounted to stiff craft felt and ironed between layers of parchment, exactly like the helmet pieces. The border was then darkened with a black fabric marker and sealed with Mod Podge.
The armor scales were then cut from a second piece of craft foam. Rather than cut out each scale individually, I simply cut out the outline, then scored the scales most of the way through the foam. The decorative designs on each scale were simply pressed into the foam using a leather punch and the eraser collar (sans eraser) from a pencil. Some details were simply scored in with a hobby knife. To get a little closer to the film designs, I shaped the eraser collar into a rectangle by squeezing gently with pliers. The resulting scale designs are much simpler than the intricate ones from the movie, but are a fair approximation.
The scales were then ironed to set the impressions in the foam, and each piece was gilded with Rub & Buff.
Using my craft knife, I poked a couple of holes in each bottom corner of the base pieces and threaded a shoelace through the holes to make ties to secure the pieces around my son's arms. I added a short strip of velcro to the top of the armor to secure it to the hauberk. Because I was tired of sewing at this point, the velcro was attached to both the shoulder armor and the hauberk using hot glue (see also the previous step).
The scales were secured to the base pieces with tacky glue. I tied the shoelaces to bend the base pieces into their approximate final shape while the glue dried. This was to prevent the scales from popping off when the pieces were tied on later.
Step 7: Making the Gauntlets
More of Judy's patterns were used here.
I printed up the patterns and made paper models in order to approximate the scale. Once I had the scale I wanted, the patterns were transferred onto 2mm brown craft foam by tracing with light-colored carbon paper. The outlines of the designs were scored into the foam with a hobby knife, and the pieces were ironed between parchment sheets and spray mounted onto stiff craft felt exactly like the helmet and shoulder pieces.
The designs were colored in with black and brown fabric markers. The entire piece was then sealed with gloss finish Mod Podge to make it look more like leather.
When the Mod Podge dried, holes for eyelets were punched with a leather punch, along with smaller holes used to lace together the cuff and the hand plate, and to add a string to go across the palm of the hand.
Eyelets were installed along the cuff opening, and the gauntlets were assembled by lacing them together with shoelaces. The actual gloves are just brown jersey gardening gloves.
Step 8: The Harness/Bandoliers
The harness was very simple to make. Starting with a wide leather belt from Goodwill, I put it onto my son with the buckle in back (I was planning to make Gimli's belt buckle, but didn't want to bother with making it functional).
I took two more (reasonably matching) braided Goodwill belts and crossed them over his shoulders to be the bandoliers. I marked the belt and the bandoliers where they would need to attach to each other and punched holes with a leather punch. The belts were all attached together with cap rivets.
Step 9: The Belt Buckle
Another of Judy's patterns was used for this.
I made a base piece out of 3mm craft foam mounted to stiff felt, ironed it as for the other foam pieces, then smudged it with black fabric marker and Rub & Buff.
The background for the axe-shaped design, the detail for the axe design, and the border scrollwork were also cut from craft foam.
Rivet holes were punched in the base piece where the axe piece would cover them, and matching holes were punched in the harness belt. The buckle pieces were ironed on medium heat and colored with Rub & Buff.
The base was secured to the belt with cap rivets. The axe design and the borders were glued to the base with tacky glue and allowed to dry.
Step 10: Gimli's Battleaxe
I almost didn't make the axe because of time constraints, but I'm glad I did. I really does add an effective finishing touch. Here's how I did it.:
I found a flat-on photo of the axe used in the movie via Google, cropped it, and blew it up to the size I wanted. I printed the photo and used it to trace the shape of the axe blade onto 10mm expanded foam (I think this is similar to Sintra, but I found it at Hobby Lobby under the name Cellfoam 88).
I cut the shape of the axe blade out of the foam using a hobby knife, then sanded the edge down a bit to give it a better contour. I used a palm sander and medium grit sandpaper, but you could sand it by hand as well. I base-painted the blade black, then gave the whole thing a coat of silver. Finally, the edges of the blade were masked off with paper and the rest of the blade was dusted with black paint.
The handle was made from a scrap of yellow pine measuring 1"x3/4"x48". This was just a piece of cutoff that I found in the waste bin at the local university's theatre department scene shop. I cut a notch the same thickness as the axe blade in one end using a jig saw and a drill. I also made a finial piece from the same scrap, using a jig saw and my Dremel tool to shape the wood. The handle and the finial were then stained with dark walnut wood stain.
While waiting for the stain to dry, I made the decorative pieces out of 2mm craft foam using the same score-then-iron technique used for many of the other pieces in this Instructable. The patterns were scored into the foam using the same photo template that I had used for the axe blade. I also made a couple of 1/2" wide strips to use for various fittings on the handle. All the decorative bits were colored with Antique Gold Rub & Buff. The handle and finial were also colored with Rub & Buff at the top and bottom (see photos).
To assemble, the blade was slipped into its slot and secured with hot glue. The finial was likewise secured. The decorative pieces were glued into place on the blade and the handle. The handle was wrapped with leather (graciously donated by my friend Scubabubba), and then the foam "fittings" were glued into place. I think it turned out looking quite nice, as afterthought-projects go.
Step 11: Makeup and Hair
First, I made metal wraps for Gimli's braids out of brass embossing metal (craft foam would also have worked). I freehanded the pseudo-Celtic designs into the metal using a spent ballpoint pen.
The beard and wig were purchased from the Halloween sections of our local shops, and braided appropriately. We wound up using a brown wig and beard, because more accurate auburn-colored pieces were simply not available. (I do wish we had gotten a higher-quality beard, though). The braids were secured using the braid wraps. The metal was simply crimped around the braids at the ends. Also, the nose was purchased from a costume shop (it's a Woochie "Normal Nose"). This was all done well in advance of Halloween.
On the big day, first the nose was attached to RavingChild's face using spirit gum. The edges of the nose were blended in by stippling with liquid latex, then theatrical makeup was used to make the nose and the boy's face the same "Natural Tan" color. Theatrical makeup techniques were used to simulate brow wrinkles, laugh lines, etc.
A line of spirit gum was painted above the boy's natural eyebrows and wisps of beard hair (the cheapo beard shed all over the Fn house) were pressed into the gum to make enormous bushy eyebrows.
At this point, RavingChild had to put on his pants, surcoat, hauberk and harness, as getting all that stuff on after the beard and wig would have been a nightmare.
After he was dressed in the base costume, strips of toupee tape were used to hold the beard in position, and the wig was anchored using bobby pins.
Step 12: Final Assembly
After the beard and wig, all that was left was to add the boots, shoulder armor, gauntlets, helmet and axe. Pretty much in that order.
Step 13: The Results
Here are a few shots of the costume in action. Once again, RavingChild entered the local downtown festival's costume contest, and once again, he won first prize. Last year's prize was a trophy (which was cool), but this year's prize was even better: a gift certificate to our local game/comic book shop. If I'm lucky, maybe he'll share it with me....