I've always had great love and respect for the religious art and architecture from eastern cultures, but especially for the Hindu Shakti (divine mother) goddess'. There is one goddess; Kali (she has several manifestations and names) who I took special notice of. She is the representation of life through death. The frightening, deadly destroyer aspect of female nature. I decided to pay tribute to her this year by constructing an elaborate costume featuring realistic, movable arms.
Step 1: Tools!
3m 77 spray adhesive
Various hot wire carving tools
White Latex primer
Spandex blue fabric
1/4 wooden dowel
drywall/ wood screws
old school packaged fake nails
Step 2: Arms, Arms, Arms!
I made a decision to have three sets of arms even though true Hindu representations always have either two, four or eight sets of arms. I decided on three sets because I wanted the visual impact of many arms, but felt that I would loose my mind trying to wear any more. So my idea was to have a set above my actual arms and a set below.
I wanted arms with movable joints that would move and snap like they had tendons.
I've been working with blue foam lately. Mostly because I get a crazy supply for free. The only thing that is a concern is the toxic fumes released by the foam, so I've had to get used to wearing a gas mask. I should have been wearing one when working with aerosols all these years anyway.
So basically, I get a supply of blue foam sheets and glue them together with 3M Super 77 spray adhesive. This particular adhesive was included with the foam, I believe it's the only spay adhesive that doesn't eat it.
I use hot wire band saw to cut out the basic shape of the upper and lower arms Using a rough template based loosely on my own arm size.
I need to create a elbow joint, so I thought about action figures and toys and how they make movable joints. The idea is to create an interlocking joint held by a central pivot. The black lined areas on the foam indicate the negative space that needs to be cut out.
The lower arm needs to lose a significant section of foam above and below the section of the interlocking joint. This creates the perfect shape for them to fit together like a door hinge.
Once they fit together, I used a 1/4 inch circular drill bit to drill a hole through both pieces at once.
I used a short section of 1/4 wooden dowel, wrapped in wire to plug the hole. I used a long length of wire to wrap around the end of the dowel once it was thread to create a "stopper", so the wooden peg would stay put inside the hole. Now the arms swing freely at the elbow!
Now it's the fun part! I used my various hot wire carving tool to shape the arms in a more realistic manner. I didn't put a whole lot of care into making sure they were identical or even accurate - I know I'm covering them later. I just wanted them to be similar in shape and size to my own. Sand paper helps smooth down rough areas and gives a nice shape and texture.
Finally, I needed a way to simultaneously hold the arm in a bent position, and for it move around smoothly.
Elastic was the answer, I tried stapling a piece with the tension pulled tight, but it just popped out. This is when I discovered that you can treat the foam like wood. Not only can you cut and sand it, you can screw into it and it works great.
So just repeat 3 times and you have 4 completed arms.
Step 3: Accesories!
So basically, this was made using the same process as the arms. A rough shape cut out and carved down using various tools. My butane torch cane in handy to smooth down the grooves and areas where it's hard to sand. I also hollowed out the back of the head to reduce weight. He was primed and painted as well.
I modified a "mullet" wig to imitated his hairstyle with the ponytail on the top, added eyebrows and the moustache. I used spray foam at the base of the neck, with a little stub of wooden dowel for bone, to make the bloody entrails.
The crown, sword and trident were all the same. More detail was needed in the crown obviously. I think that if I was to recreate this headpiece I would go back to the casting methods I've used in the past to produce a flexible crown.
Queen of Hearts crown
Kali is usually blue or black with skirt of severed arms, and a garland of skulls or severed heads.
The skirt of severed arms was made from white fabric and gloves spray painted flesh coloured.
I cut the fabric into strips and sewed them into sleeves. I stuffed the gloves with cotton batting and hand sewed them to the sleeves. I covered the wrist seam with a cuff made from gold vinyl. I painted dead -style veins and bruises and fingernails on the gloves.
Step 4: Outfit!
I found a funny home-made blue spandex "majorette" costume at Value Village, and significantly modified it to have a shredded tiger skirt. These were attached together. My girl Tempie know how to make spandex tights so we whipped up a pair with some matching fabric i found. I used this fabric to make the sleeves for the arms as well. I was unhappy with the bright "superwoman" blue colour of the spandex - so I gave it a dusting of white spray paint to de-saturated the colour.
A really big deal for me was to make the costume practical. I knew I would have to get into a car at some point, and I had to work with that idea in mind.
I attached the arms to the back of outfit with Velcro. I screwed Velcro strips onto the base of the arms, and sewed corresponding strips onto the fabric. This alone was not enough to hold the arms on though. I made elastic edged pockets out of the same fabric that stretched over each arm and Velcro-ed securely to my back. I found this more than adequate. Even if I bumped into something, there was enough "give" to not affect it. I took these photos several days after I wore this costume twice. Luckily - I made this costume knowing that the entire back was covered with a huge wig. Any small imperfections were of out site and out of mind.
The arms moved around with me and I could individual move each one in a fairly real way. If you wanted more control, you could add small handles to move it like a puppet.
I had originally intended to have the arms attached together vertically, so I could control them together. As I started piecing it together (the night before I needed it) I realized that wasn't going to work. That would be the main addition I would make after wearing it. Thin sticks hanging from the forearm, disguised in gold.
Step 5: Party in Style!
I really love it when a project comes together in the end. This was a lot of work and a lot of trial and error. But the end result was different and fun. Most people thought I was Shiva, but quite a few girls actually recognized me as Kali. This costume worked great at the large social we went to, I was able to move around and dance with enough space.
A pretty obvious variation on this costume would be some sort of spider or insect. I think that would be cool to see. I realize being a Hindu Goddess may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I really enjoyed not being something super obvious. Basically everyone's reaction is "WTF?", and I like that.
Big ups to Andy Bart & Temperance McDonald, my go-to people.
Love Bone Design