In a time of ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero.
Or, to rephrase, last Halloween I made a Xena costume - here's how I did it!
This tutorial will talk about making a warrior princess dress and armour/accessories (but not her weapons - I talk about that on the last step). As of the published date for this Instructables, there are two months until Halloween - which is PLENTY of time for you to go make your own!
Step 1: *bonus* Print Patterns
Whatever you end up deciding to do - be it follow this tutorial to a T, or hand-stitch a leather dress and take up black-smithing to make armour, or make a duct-tape dress with the breastplate drawn on with a sharpie - I hope that you can use the following attached pdfs.
These are some patterns I made based on Xena patterns/blueprints from the show (as I found on Swords and Sandals). As they are, for pattern pieces that are spread out over multiple pages, there is about a half an inch overlap. They are 'not-to-size' and you will likely have to enlarge pieces (like the armbands) or shrink pieces (like the medallion) or draft your own pattern based off of them (like the dress/corset pattern - for my own dress I redrafted the pattern to work with my measurements). The corset pattern does not include a modesty panel or a lacing panel (both which would be rectangles, based around your measurements)
Step 2: Gather Supplies
For making the armour you will need:
- sulfur-free oil-based clay (plasticine)
- rubbing alcohol
- sculpting tools
- reference images
- body form/mannequin
- fencing cups
- duct tape
- craft foam
- ultra-cal 30
- burlap or cheesecloth
- silicone brush
- latex or vinyl gloves, eye-goggles, dust-mask
- RD-407 Latex/Slush Latex/Mask-Making Latex
- PAX paint (base)
- gold and black acrylic paints
For making the dress you will need:
- corset pattern
- measuring tape
- test/mock-up fabric
- dark brown pleather
- underwire for brassiere
- fabric scissors
- sewing machine
- needle and thimble
- spots (or rivets)
- cord (for lacing corset)
- 4 O-rings
- eyelets (and eyelet hole puncher)
And for joining everything together/finishing touches you're also going to need:
- E600 glue
- Armature Wire
- brown paint
Step 3: Sculpt Breastplate
I had held onto my old fencing cups from my épée university days "just in case" - and that case turned out to be Xena. I taped them onto a mannequin and covered the upper torso with oil-based sulfur-free clay (plasticine). I next roughly carved the breastplate design into the clay. I added more clay and began sculpting out shapes, fine line and details, trying to smooth pieces out as I went (using rubbing alcohol to help eliminate finger prints).
At this time I also sculpted the "corset medallion" that appears around the navel on the dress.
Step 4: Sculpt Backplate (and Any Other Armor)
The backplate consisted of lots of clay snakes all rolled and then blended together. I sculpted it on the ground, instead of on the mannequin, as it needed to rest 'flat' rather than be curved and fitted to a body. When making this I resized my backplate pattern to work with my proportions, printed out the pattern, and used it as a guide.
If you have the time, you can make the rest of the armour using the same method. I started doing this, but realized I was short on time, so then I switched to an alternate method. I traced and cut out the armour for the upper and lower arm-bands, the shoulders and the knee pads out of craft foam.
Step 5: Mold Armor
First I surrounded my sculpts with a high clay wall (to contain the mold material/prevent it from spilled over). Next I coated my sculpts with a release agent (vaseline), and cut up tons of little squares of cheesecloth (you could also use burlap) before finally "beginning".
I made rigid molds/negative copies of my breastplate, backplate and 'corset medallion' using Ultra-Cal 30. I mixed the UC30 with water, gradually adding it, until I got I got a mixture roughly the consistency of "river mud". I slosh a layer of this over the sculpts using a silicone brush, making sure there are no air-bubbles. Once the area is all covered I add another layer of the UC30 mix, this time immersing squares of cheesecloth in it; you need to reinforce your mold so slosh on Ultra-Cal coated squares of cheesecloth! (Or burlap. I find burlap to be messier.)
I let the mold cure overnight (it will heat up, cool down, and change in shade) then took it off of the sculpt and cleaned off any excess clay.
During the process I wore a dust-mask, gloves and eye-protection, as you really don't want to be inhaling it and should avoid getting this stuff on your skin; it can and will burn you. At the very least wearing gloves will prevent your hands from drying out!
(If you have any cracks you can try to repair/fill them in with a bit of ultra-cal or clay. In the picture of the molds above, my molds were not cracked like that; I remembered I still had them and pulled them out to take a picture of them for this tutorial...and I'm exactly with old molds as I usually just throw them out! In other words, your molds should not be that cracky, and I'm going to go destroy some molds.)
Step 6: Cast Armor in Latex
Once my molds were cured and cleaned, I poured slush latex into them. For the backplate and medallion, I filled the molds up with latex, sloshed them around to get ride of any air bubbles, and let the latex set. For the breastplate, I filled the mold up with as much latex as I could, turning the mold around in my hands to coat all the side, and let the latex sit for about 20 minutes. I repeated this process (as I wanted thick latex) and then poured the excess latex out.
After the latex had completely dried (the ultra-cal molds and the latex casts will change colour, and the latex was no longer liquid) I peeled the pieces away from the molds and trimmed any excess latex away.
For the other armour pieces - after cutting them out of foam, I coated them in latex; I painted 3 layers of latex onto each side, letting each layer dry in-between coats. This made the craft foam pieces far more durable than they previously were.
Step 7: Paint Armor
To prevent any paint I applied to the latex armor from cracking, I applied a base coat of, well, leftover paint base from my Rem costume; the key ingredient in this mix is PAX paint. It allows acrylic paints to stick and "meld" when painted over top (without this type of pros-aid paint base, acrylic paints will crack).
I then painted my latex armour black and then brushed and dabbed on gold. (Actually, I painted my armor black and spray-painted it gold, hated it, and redid it all hand-painting it). I added high-lights by going in with a small brush and a lighter, white gold and added shadows to areas with a dark brown-black paint.
Right, put all that stuff aside, onto the dress!
Step 8: Make Dress Prototype
Now, I had never made a corset before, and my method of pattern making is pretty hacky-slashy. For this project I look at a bunch of other Xena tutorials, but thesetwo were all about how to make the corset-dress so I referenced them frequently when making my own. So because of my inexperience and rough pattern abilities, I made a dress prototype. If you've never sewn before, I definitely recommend at the very least to make a mock-up!
I measured the "key points" of my torso (natural bust, underbust, waist, hips) and compared that to the measurements of the real Xena corset pattern (by measuring each piece at those points, adding them together and subtracting seam allowance). I then re-drew the pattern to match my measurements. I then cut the pattern out of a test fabric and sewed it all together. I tried it on, and it ACTUALLY FIT (I was pretty excited). But don't be discouraged if it takes some tweaking to get it to fit right. Based on this prototype I measured and cut out shoulder straps and a modesty panel. I also tested out adding the boning to the corset.
Step 9: Make Dress
If what you just read on the last step makes some sense...I'm going to recommend reading this tutorial about making a Xena warrior dress. It's lengthy, but is a good and needed read. I could turn this Instructable into how to make one step-by-step but so many others have done it in a far better and clearer fashion than I could ever do...
If you're completely overwhelmed and a bit lost, I'm going to recommend reading on Instructables about how to make a corset or to go buy a corset pattern from McCalls or Simplicity as a start.
So to summarize what I did...
After making a Xena dress prototype, I moved onto the real thing, making it out of pleather with a lining. I sewed together a corset-bodice, adding shoulder straps with O-rings connecting to the front and back. I added eyelets to the back I cut out 143 pleather petals to make 13 strips that consisted of 11 petals each for the skirt. Each petal was attached to another by a spot (cheaper and easier to set than real rivets). I then cut out 13 slighty rounded rectangles, as long as the finished petal strips. I sewed the petal strips and the rectangles to a pleather waistband; the waistband was sewn to the corset. I took a piece of armature wire and sewed a tube around it; I bent it into a U and stitched it to the side of the dress (to hang my chakram on).
Step 10: Make (Fabric) Armor Pieces
Using the "accessory armor" pieces as a guide, I cut out pleather fabric pieces for the shoulders, and arm bands (2 pieces for each item - 12 in total). I attached the latex-covered-armor to one piece of fabric with E600 glue and spots (standing in for rivets). Putting right-sided-fabric pieces together, I then sewed the armor together (leaving one section open) and turned each piece right-side-out before hand-sewing each piece completely closed. The upper arm bands were two long rectangles that were sewn together in this fashion; the ends were joined by thick elastic attached to either end, looped. The lower arm bands had eyelets added to close them. The shoulder armor had 3 pleather straps emerging them; one from the top, bottom, and inner side.
Each knee pad had three different sections, so I cut out 9 pieces for each knee (2 of the pleather for every piece, and one, slightly smaller, out of craft foam). I added spots and craft-foam latex "sun" design armour to half of the knee pieces. I then sandwiched the craft foam between 2 fabric pieces (all facing right-side in) before sewing them together, leaving one side open to turn a knee-pad section right-side out. All three knee-pad pieces were overlapped and sewn to a piece of thick black elastic that went around my knee.
I added a little bit of fabric to the breastplate too; I retrieved my protective fencing cups and sewed them to the inside of the breastplate. I added some spots to a pleather strap and then stitched it around where the cup and breastplate met.
Step 11: Join Armor Pieces Together
I added loops and straps and D-rings to everything, to put it all together! Hopefully this will make sense...
The shoulder pieces were attached to one-another at the back; one of them had a long strap, the other a strap with two d-rings on it (for adjusting, for when I needed a bit more wiggle-room when sword-fighting).
The shoulders attached to the backplate by more straps and d-rings.
The shoulders attached to the breastplate by swiggly armature wire running through two sets of pleather loops (one loop was stitched to the backplate,the other the shoulder).
And finally the backplate and breastplate were joined by, you guessed it, straps and d-rings.
All of the straps were glued AND stitched on, for both pleather and latex pieces.
Step 12: Modify Boots
When I first wore this costume I wore a pair of old black boots that zipped up the side. They worked fine. A few weeks before a convention, while trying on my new kneepads with the boots, the zippers came apart completely. So I decided to designated them 'purely Xena boots' and made a few changes to them. Footwear really does help bring a costume all together - a pair of tall (lace-up) boots from your closet will due but if you have old ones/can find cheap ones, a few modifications will really help bring them together.
If you don't have brown boots, get some - or paint them! I painted my black boots with watered-down acrylic paint and a paintbrush, followed by dabbing and wiping the paint with a paper-towel to get them look leatherish.
My boots laced up in the front, but lacked grommets, so I added them. If your boots don't lace up the front you can add grommets, but if you're working with a boot that just slips on and doesn't have a tongue, you likely will have trouble punching holes and setting the grommets.
Xena has studs on the back of her boots with a cord "wrapping" around them - so as I laid down spots I wove cord between them.
Step 13: Practice Your Battle Cry
Say "la la la"
Say "la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la" really fast. Now go outside and yell out "lalalalalaalalala" really fast, loud and high in falsetto. And that's how to do the Xena Battle Cry.
Step 14: But What About...
The Chakram and Sword?
I wore this costume for a sword-fighting academie skit, so I wanted ("real") metal weapons. If you're heading off to a halloween party at your neighbours filled with kids, you may want to get plastic toy weapons. If you're heading off to a halloween party with lots of spooky booOOoooze being offer, maybe you should just leave the weapons at home. There are multiple options.
In my case, I bought mine online - I somehow bought a chakram for cheap on ebay, and I bought the sword here. You can buy 'real' replicas of both but they are expensive. There are lots of other tutorials out there on how to make (Xena)weapons like herchakram.
Get a dark brown wig with bangs to complete your look! Or you can cut and dye your hair to look like Xena's. Yes, I went all out and took the plunge. I dyed my hair from brown...to a slightly darker shade of brown...with semi-perminant dye...and I already had bangs...
Complete the look with a braided headband (either using your own hair, or buying a fake one)
Xena isn't Xena without her Gabrielle! Rope Ask a friend to be your sidekick! Her costume can be as simply or detailed as you like - start with a brown-red skirt and green crop-top and go from there. Bonus if she has quarterstaff experience!
Don't stop at Gabrielle, rope ask your other friends to be part of the Xenaverse too! Xena had episodes set in the present day, in the near-past, far-past, in tons of different countries, with multiple people who looked like Xena...I mean, there was even an episode in a lagoon with mermaids and Hawaiian shirts...you can kind of find something for anything. I quickly made an Autolycus (Bruce Campbell as the King of Thieves) costume for my husband right before we took some photos (I made him a black "piratey" shirt and a green vest with grommets and we accessorized him with a belt and bracers).
And you don't need to have Xena just fight people from her realm; friends dressing up as other characters from other TV shows or books? Great. Xena always wins - even if pitted against The Mountain and The Red Viper. Just. Have. Fun.
Because I think that's what Xena was all about. (and kicking butt)