Introduction: Making a King Koopa Suit

A few weeks ago I was invited to a video game-themed party. Since I knew the hostess would provide so much more than your average run-of-the-mill-party I too wanted to come up with something extraordinary.

I was very inspired by that guy who made a MegaMan suit for his son and had all but decided to do a remake when a friend talked me into my second option; a King Koopa suit. Also, I couldn't find anyone who had made (a reasonable-looking) Koopa suit which made it a bit more fun.

There were parts that didn't come out quite as nice as I'd hoped, but on the whole I'm really satisfied.

All in all it took around two weeks of working non-stop in evening and weekends. Cost wasn't that high actually, maybe $50 or so.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

For this project you need a sewing machine (and some sewing machine chops, nothing spectacular, but if you had trouble in school, this project probably isn't for you). You also need all that goes with papier-mache. Heavy duty staplers, both one that bends the staples and one that just shoots them in. Sheet insulation to make the mouth out of and some sort of Dremel-like tool to shape it with. Several friends pointed out the goodness of just using a hot metal thread to cut with and that would probably be great, at least for rough cutting, but for the fine bits I would really go for the Dremel.

To paint and glue the sheet insulation you need water based glue and paint. This is very important since the usual solvents all make the sheet insulation turn into a sticky goo. I used about 5m of fleece fabric and just over a kilo's worth of teddy bear stuffing as well. Oh, and about a meter of velcro.

Okay, I know the pic sucks but I forgot to take a picture of all the stuff and had to settle for what I had left.

Step 2: The Shell - Making the Mold

The most distinguishing feature of King Koopa (or Bowser as his name seems to be) is his spiked shell, so I knew I had to get that juuust right.

A shell with so many spikes naturally has to be cuddly, which is one of the reasons for choosing fleece as the material. Another are that fleece is a breeze to work with since you don't have any running threads to keep track of, just cut'n sew! The third reason was that it's hard to find the strong colors I needed in any other kind of fabric.

Mary Robinett Kowal promises papier-mache technique "that will only need three layers and can be danced on" so I decided to use that for the base of the shell. But first I needed a mold to build it around. After looking high and low for thin, bendable plastic sheets I stumbled on these great disposable serving trays made out of thick aluminum foil.

The trays were almost too good to be true, just by taping four of them together I got just the right shape and size for the shell! Just add a couple of slaughtered milk cartons to fill in the gaps and I was good to go. A detail that I was really satisfied to be able to add just because of the trays was the extra curving around the shoulders and neck.

Step 3: The Shell - Papier-mache Time

With the mold done it was time to make the shell base. The wallpaper glue I got claimed that it was sufficient to pour a little glue powder into cold water and wait 20 minutes. They lie. What you need to do is to use an electric hand mixer and mix it on and off for closer to 30 minutes. Other than that just follow the instructions on Mary's site.

After a couple of hours I had three layers of stickiness that I left to dry until the next evening. I started to smell trouble the morning after when large puddles of glue had formed at the bottom while the edges had dried rather quickly and warped. I decided to give it until the evening to see how it turned out and left for work.

Back home again in the evening I realized that I would have to do it all over. The puddles had hardly gotten any smaller and when I took it out of the mold it more or less collapsed. So what had I done wrong? I'm guessing several things: Too wet glue, thicker glue would dry faster, using regular carton instead of the plastic covered kind that's in milk cartons for the bottom piece which made it retain water and by using a mold that is really nothing more than a large bowl.

Not much to do about the last item, but at least I made thicker glue and replaced the carton in the bottom for the next attempt. This time I also made it five layers thick as it didn't seem stable enough at three layers. I also made much smaller paper shreds this time. At somewhere between two and three am I was done and the morning after I could verify that all the work had at least paid off. Only minor puddles and a lot less warping (I blame the long shreds for the warping).

While the result wouldn't hold up for dancing it certainly is light and strong enough

Step 4: The Shell - Pattern Time

Looking closely at Koopas shell you notice that the hexagons are all irregular, he doesn't look like a honeycomb back there. So the pattern-making turns out to be a bit of work. I started out by making a rough outline of how big the shell should be (this was before I'd made the shell-mold) to see how large the hexagons should be. From the three pictures I had I counted around ten spikes which gave me the number of entirely visible hexes I needed (near the edges some of the hexes turn into four- and five cornered polygons, just like on the real Koopa! =P).

Then it was just a matter of cranking out all the necessary hexes, carefully measuring and numbering all edges since they would only fit together in that certain way and I had no intention of having to figure that out after the fact.

I taped them all together and draped them over the almost dry shell to see how the size was coming along. It was rather tricky when it came to the edges since the shell is rather steeply curved, but I more or less blissfully ignored that, hoping that the shell stuffing would take care of that.

Step 5: The Shell - Cutting and Prototyping

When the shell pattern seemed to be about the right size I cut it apart and placed the hexes out on the fabric. Here you should be careful as to what side of the fleece you put the pattern on since fleece has an front- and backside that can be pretty difficult to tell apart (and the hexes only fit one way, so it's no good turning them over).

I used exactly 1 cm seam allowance around each piece so not to ruin all my previous careful measuring and cut out the five center hexes. Then I took one of them to make a prototype spike out of.

For the actual spike I used a pair of compasses to make a few circles that I cut pieces out of until I had a cone of about the right size (sorry, forgot to take a picture of that piece). Then I needed an orange circle as all of Koopas spikes are raised up on some sort of orange base. That circle needs to be a bit smaller than the diameter of the cone for sake of the seam allowance. Just do your best, it's not that critical that it's just right. Same goes for the outer rim of the orange circle and the hole in the hexagon (just check the pictures, it's kinda hard to put into words). Also, since the orange stuff is supposed to serve as a foundation to the spikes it means that the hole in the hex needs to be a bit smaller than the orange bit in order for it to "bulge" slightly. This means that if you do it right it will look like you've made a horrible mistake once you get to the needling part (see pic for explanation).

Also be careful when sewing circular stuff as it's really easy to accidentally sew through a crease on the bottom, forcing you to unstitch (happened to me roughly 20 times in this project, there's a lot of spikes...)

Step 6: The Shell - Quilting

Once the prototype seemed to turn out okay it was time to industrialize the process. Nothing special about that, just some perseverance and attention to detail will get you through. I made only the spikes at first and then later attached them to hexes.

I started out doing the five center hexes, I had an idea that by starting with the middle ones I would eventually be able to figure out how to handle the curving of the shell so that there wouldn't be any creases when stapling. This proved rather hard in practice and I'm still unsure of how one should go about getting it right. In the end I just made all the hexes the same size as they'd been on paper and hoped that it would magically work out once I put the stuffing in.

Step 7: The Shell - Stuffing and Stapling

The fabric part of the shell done we just needed to attach it. I had kinda hoped all along that regular staples would work (can you tell I'm just making this up as I go along? =P). I used a heavy duty stapler (the kind that bends the legs on the other side) to fasten the shell fabric all around, leaving a few "holes" around so that I could put in the stuffing. At this stage I discovered that the stuffing wouldn't be enough to resolve the creasing, but it turned out rather okay anyway.

To complete the shell it needs a nice, fluffy, white rim as well. The first part is easy, just staple it like the shell fabric. But when fastening the back side it won't do to have the bendy legs showing so the other kind of stapler is called for. I had problems putting them all the way through the papier mache though, especially since I didn't have anything inelastic to put on the other side that takes up the force of the staple (what's that called anyway?).

After mulling it over some I realized that the blue sheet insulation I planned to use on the jaw parts probably would be perfect, and it was! I cut a little piece and with that on the opposite side stapling was a breeze. I also used a thimble to bend the legs on the other side to ensure that the staples stayed in place.

Finally there needs to be a way of wearing the shell. I used velcro for this as I wanted it to look as "real" as possible, I put it on the most protruding places so that I wouldn't have to walk around bent like a cheese doodle and also to minimize the strain on the velcro. I figured it might be at problem to get the shell to stay on as it was. I used regular contact glue and staples for the velcro and finished off by spraypainting the inside stylishly black.

Step 8: The Head - Making the Cap

Time for the head. I started by looking at how a regular beanie cap is made and it's basically nothing more than a cylinder with four seams closing it at the top. So I made a detailed drawing (see the pics) and proceeded to make a paper template.

With the template done it's pretty easy sewing to get a cap. Just remember to make it sufficiently long so that it will cover the neck as well. Koopa stops being green at the neck bling he's wearing so it has to be at least that long.

He also sports curved horns which are made in much the same way as the ones on the shell except that you need to make them in two pieces to be able to curve them. And also since the base is much smaller it's a lot harder to sew.

The hair and eyebrows I actually ended up just needling as I didn't have time to hand sew (machine sewing would have been even trickier).

Step 9: The Head - Making the Mouth

The mouth was a big problem that I couldn't figure out how to make until late in the project. I toyed around with the thought of using mattress foam but it would probably have been really hard both to shape, fasten and paint so I was glad I finally remembered the MAKE sheet goods roundup talking about the marvelous blue sheet insulation stuff. It turned out to be ideal for this sort of thing; it's easy to shape and extremely light. The only problem with it that most common solvents will turn it into a gooey mess (perfect for making napalm I'm told, but I guess that's a different instructable), so no contact glue or spraypaint (see pics).

As for the shaping of the mouth there are no special tricks to it. Cut the first rough shape with a regular kitchen knife, or if you have a hot wire cutter, that's probably even better (I didn't). Once you have the rough shape you just grind away with the Dremel until you have something resembling a mouth. I made circles the size of the base of the base of the teeth and then ground my way around them until I had a row of desert-esque mesas before making them pointy. It helps if you have a bunch of different grinding pins but it isn't a must.

Use fine sandpaper to finish it but be careful as the surface tends to flake if you go in certain directions. I almost made a critical mistake when it came to painting it. I had forgotten that spraypaint uses rather aggressive solvents and when I started spraying I wondered why the paint didn't stick. I sprayed some more before looking closer and realized that my precious Koopa jaw was melting! Naturally I panicked (the party was less than a day away at that time, no chance of a do-over), but I decided it best to leave it be for a while and hope for the best. It proved a good decision as the solvent soon evaporated, leaving the surface only slightly frayed (see pics). I got some water based acrylic paint instead and it all ended happily.

The last problem was how to fasten the mouth to the cap. I initially thought I'd use staples and glue (water based!) but the staples turned out a fiasco as they just fell out, so I settled for just the glue, envisioning the jaw falling of 10 minutes into the party. Lying in bed that night had an epiphany, I would use screws and washers! It worked like a charm, just be careful not to keep screwing when they're all the way in as that will seriously impair the grip (turns out that the glue would probably have been sufficient, but there's no harm in having both belt and suspenders I guess).

Step 10: Making the Bling

A king need his bling and Koopa's no different. He has studded leather bands around his neck, both biceps as well as wrists. Initially I thought I'd make regular leather bands with studs, but an online search revealed that they really don't make studs that size. So I had to rethink this and decided to make them in fleece just like the rest, it also tied in better style-wise with the rest of the suit.

First off were the studs, they needed to be really shallow and as a result they ended up looking like at bunch of pacmans. The rest was much like making all the other spikes, except a lot harder since they were so small. There was so much of unstitching that after a while I started using the opposite color of thread for the fabric so that it would be easier to see the thread when unstitching (the color doesn't really matter look-wise since fleece is sufficiently furry not to show the thread).

I used velcro on the ends to hold it together and put a little piece in the middle as well so that they wouldn't move around. I filled them with teddy bear stuffing as well as the ones Koopa wears look really thick.

It turned out to be really tedious and in the end took two full evenings to complete them (~15h). Check the pictures for more details.

Step 11: Pants and Shirt

Nearing D-Day (one day left to the party) it was time to make pants and shirt. Something I long considered was the fact that Koopa's limbs are much thicker than my puny man-limbs, but in the end I couldn't figure out anything that would look even remotely good so I ditched that idea.

You might think it's pretty hard to make pants but it really isn't. Just grab a pair of well fitting jeans and put them on the fabric (I actually made a paper template from the pants first since it's easier to needle). Make sure you make the waist much higher than you think you need though, I didn't and ended up having to extend it. Good thing most sewing screwups are very fixable even after you've cut the fabric. The waist is folded over to the inside to make a canal to put a cord in so that you can keep your pants up when running from crazed fans.

Sewing is dead easy since it's only long un-fiddly seams. On to the shirt! Just grab a nice-fitting tshirt (not those hideous XXXXXL ones that americans seem so fond of wearing) and use it as a template. Skip cutting the arms for now though.

Koopa has some sort of beige belly thing making him look like that guy in baseball that catches the ball when the batter misses. I made yet another paper template (symmetrical along the middle) adding little bulges along the sides (see pic). Then I just sew the sideways canals and closing them off along one side. Then I filled the canals with more of the stuffing and finished by closing the remaining side. Just remember to do all this before sewing the shirt together.

On the back the velcro needed to be sewn and it's simply a matter of spreading the back out in the shell and figuring out where they need to go. With all that in place it's time to close the shirt making it a sleeveless shirt. Here I discovered that I'd screwed up some more and made the neck much to small. Luckily that's fixable as well, just put in a couple of wedges and you're good to go.

Time for the sleeves. The sleeves are simply trapeziums, be careful to take proper measurements though (I made the cuffs too small and can hardly get out of the thing as a result). Before sewing them together however I put the remaining four pieces of velcro used for keeping the bling in place.

I made the shirt really long, just past the butt, so that there was room for putting a tail on the end that could stick out from under the shell. The tail is slightly curves so it's made just like the horns on the head but in a larger scale. There are also two spikes on the tail (for those of you that's counting that makes 36 so far...) made just the same way as the rest only smaller. Fastening the tail wasn't trivial since this time there wasn't a circular hole to go after (it sits on the outside and uses the shirt to hold the stuffing in), so I put in the needles as circular as I could manage and then turned it over to determine how circular it was. Adjust and repeat until satisfied.

All done! Looking at the watch I realized I had a good three hours left until showtime. So I decided to make gloves as well.

Step 12: Gloves

The devil is in the details, but so is the divinity that separates a great suit from a merely good one. Too bad I botched the gloves, but the mere presence of gloves made the suit more complete and better even if they looked like a bundle of sausages.

I started by tracing my hand on a piece of paper, drawing the pinky and ring finger as one as Koopa only has four fingers. The fingers also have, you guessed it, claws (bringing the grand total to 44) so the fingers were cut off at the tip to allow for the claws. after cutting and sewing the sides I realized that they were way too small to be used as gloves. A quick course correction made them into something you put on the back of the hand instead (just as well since gloves would probably make me even hotter than I was). To accommodate this new solution the gloves needed straps on each of the fingers and around the wrist which luckily are rather easy to put in.

The claws however were way too small to fit into the sewing machine and I ended up having to sew them by hand. Finally I turned them inside out and filled them with scrap fabric (I'd used up all the stuffing for the tail). I ended up with half an hour to spare and even had time to do some cleaning!

Step 13: Partytime!

Assisted by my friend Mikael I donned the suit and biked off to the party to much bewilderment of passerbys. Needless to say the suit as well as the party was a roaring success. Extra fun was that almost all the other guests had gone to considerable lengths making suits and other accessories as well! Check out the pics for some of the neat costumes and the great details the our gracious hostess Z had sprinkled throughout her apartment!

I was surprised as to how functional the suit was, apart from being really hot and unable to sit down and lean back it wasn't a problem wearing it. The shell is really light and was never in any danger of falling off. I only wish it was sturdy enough so that I could hang things on the inside (like beer or something).

The way home also had a couple of incidents. We met a bunch of students and one girl delightedly cried "Koopa!" and a german guy exclaimed "Mein Gott!"

All in all the best evening I've had in a long while! =D

Step 14: Working Overtime

Yesterday we had to work some overtime and to liven things up I decided to wear Koopa to work. Right out of the door I got the thumbs up and a large grin from a guy driving by, so I was really psyked right away and rode my bike to work with big smile.

The guys and gals at work were delighted and it really wasn't all that uncomfortable walking around in it all day either. So I guess it's not only stylish but functional enough for work as well!

On my way home there was a little kid happily shouting "Hi Bowser". Hopefully I've managed to make the world a stranger and less predictable place for a bunch of people.

Until next time!
Bowser Koopa