Introduction: Samurai Costume
A samurai costume I made using Sintra (PVC foam board). This costume did take about 3 weeks of construction to complete, and could be even more time consuming for some.
I had an interest in making this after running across the website sengokudaimyo.com. There is an armor manual on that website that shows traditional methods of real samurai armor construction. I did not follow every step because it probably would have taken more like a year to make. I did a few variations based on how real samurai armor is made. What is great about samurai armor is the variation in lacing color and decoration that you can do.
Through making this, I did not take as many pictures as I should have to make an Instructable, so there may be some pictures that dont look that great because the paint may be between coats or something like that. Feel free to ask any questions though, or to visit the Samurai Armor page.
Some items you will need to make a suit of samurai armor are:
4'x8' sheet of Sintra ~$40
3-4 cans of Rustoleum plastic paint ~$4.00 each
1 folkart paint for details ~$3.00
1 Mod Podge hard coat ~$5.00
Hot Glue gun
1 Pkg of glue sticks
A bunch of shoe laces
a box cutter or carpet knife
A drill and 1/8" drill bit
So the most expensive part is the sheet of Sintra that you will have to find from a plastic distributor found locally. Don't buy it from a sign store because they will mark it up a lot. Can sand the sintra if you want prior to the painting, but I found that with a few coats of the paint, it came pretty smooth.
I broke each step down by armor piece and the traditional Japanese name for the piece.
Things that should be noted about sintra. It is a thermoplastic, which means it has a low melting point so you can heat it, shape it, cool it, and it will hold that final shape. Some people have used their oven to heat it and some use near boiling or boiling water. I chose to use water because it heats it faster and I could get more pieces contoured faster because the sink was close to run a trickle of cold water over it to keep its shape. You may want to use some gloves that will keep some of the steam and heat away from your fingers. Also when cutting the sintra, be sure to score it a few times and take your time cutting it. it is easy to skew off your line and end up having to re cut or sand the error down after cutting. If you are going to cut on the floor (since it is a big sheet) be sure to use a piece of plywood under the sintra and sit or kneel out of the way of your cut. I cut myself twice on this project and I am lucky i didn't need stitches!
Diclaimer : Please read the directions on some of these paints and chemicals, and make sure you are using proper safety equipment for them. THIS IS NOT A KID PROJECT, parental help and or supervision is mandatory in my opinion. There is a lot of cutting, painting, and using hot things, like glue guns and hot water.
So on to the first piece......
Step 1: The Do (chest and Back Armor)
The Do has 4 parts to it, the abdominal section, the chest section, the lower back section, and the upper back section. All the strips( I will refer to the strips as lames though, as it distinguishes a piece form a section) for each section were made 2.5" wide, but the lengths are different for some sections. Before starting to cut, you need to make some measurements. The main measurement you need is the widest point on your waist. There are variations and more measurements to take, but I found it to be a little to complicated to make a "V" contour to the piece. Besides, my waist is not so small ! Ok, so measuring your waist. Once you have that add .5" to 1" to it to allow for under clothing, divide it by 2 so that the lower 2 sections(abdominal and lower back) equal the waist size plus our added inch.
Abdominal section: Once you have the needed length for this section, you have to cut it with one side straight, and the other side curved. This makes more of a rounded appearance for the abdominal section that most breastplates have. One way to do this is to use a poster board template the same dimension of the abdominal lames. Find the center point on the poster board piece and use a flexible ruler or something else to make a subtle curve out to the end of one side of the lame. You only want to take of about .5" on the outer end. Trace the curve on to your template and cut it out. Now you have a template that is half the length of the lame and you can just flip it to get both sides the same. I added a pic below to illustrate this, but its in MSpaint ! Also, you want to drill a series of holes along the sides of the abdominal section to add a 2" x 10" panel of sintra to overlap the lower back section. This is for velcro so the Do can be removed easily enough. Just try and make sure the holes on the abdominal section and the 2x10 panel match up in spacing. You can just send a lace through these 2 parts to attach it.
Chest section The chest section is done in the same way that the abdominal section is, only that the top 3 lames are only 12" across. The bottom lame of the chest section is made 2" longer to make a transition curve from the chest section to the abdominal section. It seems small, but it will give you room to move and it fits on me well at 6' tall. The top lame of the chest section was cut using a glass to trace the round parts and a straight edge to connect them. This adds a more decorative look to it and the curved sections left were bent forward for a better look. That is where your shoulder pieces will attach.
Lower and upper back sections These are fairly easier to make then the abdominal and chest section. The lower back section is 4 lames at 2.5" wide and half of the circumference that you calculated earlier. The upper back section I made 4 lames at 2.5" wide and 14" long. The upper back section should be wider then your chest section. Again, the lowest lame of the upper back section was made 2" longer at each end to make a transition cut to the lower section.
So that was the front and back Do construction, however, there is more. You have to shape the plastic to contour to your body.Try and do this forming before you drill the holes. With the holes i found it to be a weak spot and it wont form a smooth curve. You can flatten these pieces out to drill and it will spring back. It actually goes pretty fast once you get the hang of it. I used a big pot of near boiling water to heat up the sintra. I just ran the piece end from end through the water until I felt it getting loose. You may want to practice on a scrap piece, oh, and don't burn yourself.
Traditional samurai armor was contoured and laced (or riveted) together. It is best to consult the website on my intro page if you want to follow it to the "T". It is a lot more work and I could not justify it for this costume. The holes for the lacing also follow a certain pattern. I recommend cutting your lames, sanding if you want, shaping the sintra, then drilling the holes for the lacing. There are templates for the holes that can be printed out here. the best way to add the holes is find the center point (which all ready should be marked from your cutting) and measure out equal distances to the sides. I think I went every 3" for mine from the center of the lame.
For drilling these holes, I found it best to drill all the holes for an abdominal lame and then use that for the template. You can use this lame for drilling all of lames of the Do, just be sure to line up the center lines of the lames so your lacing matches up. You can stack 3-5 lames to drill at once as long as you have clamps to hold it in place while drilling.
After drilling, its time to paint ! I put around 3 coats of paint on all the armor sections but depending on how you spray, you will be able to tell when it looks uniform in color and has a semi-gloss look to it. Once paint is dry, you can tack all the lames together using the glue gun and see how it looks. Samurai armor usually had an overlap of the lames but I felt the sintra was to thick for that look, so I put them together edge to edge. It still turned out well, just need glue to hold them together instead of the lacing doing it.
Lacing If you used the lacing templates from that website, you might have had to modify the height of the pattern to fit your lame width. That's fine, just use the picture below to see how the lacing goes in. You can refer to the samurai armor website again if you have any problems.
This is the biggest and hardest part of this costume!
Step 2: The Sode (Shoulder Armor)
The Sode are constructed about the same way the back armor of the DO is. Only this time, the pieces are 2" wide and 9" long. The lacing holes still need to come off the center line of the lame, and the lame should have a steady curve to it.(not to much curve though) There is a top lame where all the other lames attach to, and on that piece i made a fin of sorts to use for connecting to the rest of the armor. To make the fin, take your top lame and sit it upright so you can trace the curvature of the lame lengthwise, then just move it down an inch and trace the curve again. Then you will have a piece to super glue onto the top lame that sits up 90 degrees to it. On the underside of the fin, I used hot glue to re-enforce the super glue.
The lacing for this piece allows for the lames to actually overlap 1/4-1/2".Look at my MSpaint design to show how the lacing goes with the overlap. This is how samurai armor was laced, and the option I didn't do on the Do. It makes it look and lay better though when worn. There is a special lacing at the bottom of the lowest lame called "Hishinui no ita". This lacing is a series of criss cross lacing that is decorative and should be at the bottom of the lowest lame.
The order for construction should be the same as the do. Cut, Form, Drill, Paint.
Step 3: The Kusazuri (upper Leg/groin Armor)
The Kusazuri is actually done the same manner that the Sode(shoulder) armor is. This time the lames are made 2" wide and 6" long. I used 5 lames for each kusazuri and some samurai armor had them going all the way around the do. I opted for a front one, and 2 side ones. It made it easier to sit ! They should suspend around 4" from the Do.
The cutting, drilling, and painting are the same as the Sode for these pieces.
Step 4: The Kabuto (Helmet)
There are 3 main pieces of the helmet. The bowl itself (kabuto), the "skirt" around the sides and back of the helmet (shikoro), and the decorative ornament on the front (maedate). I wish that I took some pictures of the helmet I bought before I made it. However, it was just a typical army style helmet that I bought from Halloween express for $10.00. It did have a curved out section all around it, but I cut it off around the sides and back so I could attach the shikoro. Note!...I left the front ridge on to serve as the visor of the helmet, since most samurai helmets had a visor of sorts. you just have to merge your cut the right way to maintain this.
After I cut the ridge off the helmet, I sanded it with a fine grit and used the same paint as the rest of the armor on it. We let that sit and dry until we finish the skirt for our helmet
The shikoro (skirt) was made almost the same as the shoulders and kusazuri. Only this time, we want the pieces a lot longer so they come around the helmet and just short of the visor. The top most lame of the skirt is going to have to have 3" extra on each side in order to have the curved back pieces that traditional samurai helmets have. As you make the lames , each will be longer then the last so to make up the difference in circumference since these will overlap. Ok, so you have all 4 lames curved after running your strips through the hot water and cooling them. (It helps to keep the helmet on the counter so you can judge how well it is going to fit) Before drilling these and painting these, you have to account for lacing space. The picture in MSpaint (yee-how!) shows how. After marking where your laces will be, you have to line up the marks for each line to drill them. Once you get your holes drilled, fit the top lame to your helmet and mark the helmet where the holes line up. Drill the holes in the helmet where the laces will attach the shikoro to the Kabuto. It laces in the same fashion as the Sode(shoulders)and Kusazuri(upper leg)I hot glued some of the top lame to the Kabuto so the laces didnt have to do all the work.
The Maedate you will have to find a shape for. There are some good ones online from real samurai armor or you can make one up. Just be sure to contour it to the front of the helmet and hot glue it on.
Step 5: Watagami (shoulder Straps)
This part got a little tricky. I settled on making 2 kidney bean shaped pieces. This is the piece that everything is attached to. The front and back of the Do, and the Sode(shoulders). I got some nice decorative gold lace from Wal-Mart to put these all together. You can see in the picture how I did it. I would recommend trying some shapes with poster board and seeing how it fits before committing to cutting and shaping this piece. The back part of the watagami attached directly to the back part of the do. The front piece had around 2" gap from the front of the Do to the watagami.
This was tricky, because I had to finish the Do and the Sode so I could try them on and find where to drill the watagami so it would look right. So before knotting down your pieces, see how they look hanging off the watagami!
There is another option though. Traditional samurai armor connected these pieces to the watagami by loops and frogs(wooden toggles). I didn't want to do all that though because it is easy enough to get on and off with out the extra attachments.
Step 6: The Kote (arm Armor)
For this I just went with the forearm and hand armor. Regular Kote have an entire sleeve to it, but again, its a costume. I went with 3 pieces of 2" wide sintra formed to fit my forearm. These were put in line to form the forearm armor. I made a plate to cover the back of my hand. After I formed these and painted them, I hot glued some fabric to the under surface along with some Velcro to take them on and off easy.
Step 7: The Suneate (leg Armor)
For this lower leg armor I designed a pattern that resembled an elongated fireman or policeman shield. It was all one piece and to big for the pot of water, so I did use the oven to heat this one. If you do use the oven, don't go above 250 degrees. Just keep checking it til its floppy and conform it to your shin. Oh, and wear some clothing that wont let the heat by. I just painted it, detailed it, then added some fabric strips with hot glue. Then I attached velcro to the fabric so they can come on and off easy.
Step 8: The Haidate(lower Thigh Armor)
The haidate was worn from the waste and hung under the Kusazuri. There are a lot of variations of haidate, and most had small armor plates all tied on together. I did not want to cut 36 small pieces of sintra so I settled on 36 painted rectangles! It worked fine. I made this by going to Goodwill and buying some fat pants. I cut the legs off and the knees, folded the waist line back over a shoelace, and there ya have it. A haidate apron! It wears like an original haidate and saved some time and money(cheapo pants!)
Step 9: The Under Armor
Under all this armor, I just wore a black button up shirt with the collar folded in and glued. It made a short collar like the ones you see on a lot of oriental shirts. It was black and contrasted well with my armor I thought. The pants i wore were just some dark grey cargo pants I had.
The Final piece I made was the sash. While at Goodwill, I found this great oriental style shirt with good texture and a nice color. I cut the shirt from armpit to armpit and removed the bottom half of the shirt. From there, I cut the bottom part of the shirt so it unfolded long ways and glued that to one of the sleeves that I cut off. It made a nice sash that went around my waist 2 times and knotted in the front.
Step 10: The Menpo (face Armor)
This was a pretty easy make also. I found a mask that was pretty cool at WalMart for $1.00 ! hehe, I cut the top part off, painted the part I kept, and put some Mod Podge hard coat on it to make it more like face armor. I saved the strap on the mask and reattached it to the part I saved so it would go around my head.
Step 11: Detailing
I used some gold paint that matched my attachment lacing for some details. It was all hand painted and I think it came out pretty good.
Step 12: Conclusion
All in all, this was very time consuming. I had a lot of fun making it and sharing it though. I took it to a Halloween party and I don't think anyone would have guessed that I made it all from scratch. Hope you enjoy the step by step and if there are any questions feel free to ask in the comments.