On paper, it sounded like quick project: buy Worbla, cover a mannequin torso in it, add some embellishments and call it a day. It was a little more work than that, so here's the steps I went through to make some pieces for my friend's Saint Michael outfit.
This project was the first time I used Worbla (here's my second!) - I was in the midst of moving and took less photos (and notes!) than I thought. Luckily there's lots of more indepth Worbla tutorials out there - both on the official Worbla site and Instructables too!
Onto the first step - which is, as always, about what you're going to need: gather your supplies!
Step 1: Gather Supplies/Create Your Design
Neat tip: You can laser-cut Worbla, which would have been perfect for some of the details!
You will need:
Reference Images - I looked at pictures of statues, paintings, reproductions and costumes before drawing out several designs. I regularly consulted with my friend about the design and he had great overall input on the final version, from the colour scheme to elements such as the latin phrase across the top of the cuirass. (Here you can see some of the designs I drew.)
Mannequin body - find one online or at a display store (like where we got ours)
Worbla (aka 'Worbla's Finest Art) - I used about a 19x22 shape for the final piece
Worbla's Black Art - it has a longer working time, picks up fine details better and is naturally smoothier. But I do find it to be more delicate.
(Cling-Wrap and Duct Tape, if you want a pattern copy of your mannequin)
Scissors (some heavy duty ones!)
D-rings (for a cape to go through, if you add one!)
Metal Stylus/Pointed Sculpting Tool
Blue Spray Paint
White, Gold Acrylic Paint
fabric for lining
Concho - or other ornamentation of your choice. You just need one to make a mold from
(Slush) Latex - to make the mold
White fabric for lining
Grommets and grommet tool
Step 2: Prep the Mannequin
I took the torso mannequin (that was of a similar size to my friend) and outlines what needed to go; the neck, shoulders and parts of the hip all had to go to get that ideal muscle-cuirass shape. I easily dremeled off the pieces (and kept them for future projects, because you never know when you'll need a plastic neck). This mannequin was pretty sturdy so I wasn't worried about having to do multiple layers of worbla on it or having to add foam. I also did a heat test on it to make sure it wouldn't instantly melt under a heat gun.
After cutting into it I roughly sanded it it down to prepare adding the Worbla to it.
I also took this time to make a rough duct-tape copy of the mannequin, to base my gambeson pattern on. I wanted the gambeson to fit right under the breastplate and not be seen, save for the pteruges (the little individual petal pieces - like Xena). I covered the mannequin in cling-wrap, wrapped it all in duct-tape, then cut away the cling wrap on the back of the mannequin. The cling-wrap/duct-tape part was a bit more frustrating than expected, as things kept slipping. But whoo boy, not as frustrating as using a giant piece of Worbla!...
Step 3: Cover Mannequin in Worbla
This is what I did: Heat up Worbla's Finest Art and wrap it around the mannequin. Rip it off when it doesn't work. Heat up Worbla and wrap it around the mannequin. Rip it off when it doesn't work. Heat up Worbla...
You will notice that the majority of Worbla projects are all made up of nice manageable-sized-pieces of Worbla. I think there's a reason for that - it's hard to heat it up to a place where you can work with it, but it's not flopping all over the place, and that heat is even distributed. This was impossible for me to achieve. I tried using multiple heat guns on one piece. I tried dosing it in hot water in the bathtub. I tried putting it in the oven but it didn't fit! So my idea of evenly-heating-up-and-draping the Worbla over the torso became an experiment with various types of Worbla that led to multiple warped bubbly discarded bodies.
Eventually what I did was cut out a piece of Worbla roughly the same shape as the torso (plus a bit bigger). I then placed the big piece of cold regular Worbla over the mannequin, heated up a section, starting in a corner, and slowly worked my way up the body. I pressed the Worbla down as I went, working out air bubbles as best I could and commanding it to stick to the mannequin (note: Worbla does not like sticking to some plastics like that torso!)
The end results were 'ok' - there was still some puckering on the pecs, but a lot of embellishments would be added in that section so I wasn't too concerned about it.
Yes, I did have some unwanted headless Worbla bodies leftover - what could have been an expensive disaster - BUT since I was planning on making another costume out of Worbla (and one that was grungy, dirty, and made up of tiny pieces) I was able to completely salvage all those failed attempts! And all the scraps I had left over from cutting out Worbla torso shapes I was able to use in my other projects AND further in this one; save those Worbla scraps, no matter how small!!
Step 4: Add Details - Filigree, Trim, Cape Ring
The decision was made to have a cape be attached to the cuirass, so I took several small-but-long layered pieces of Worbla, heated them up, wrapped them around some D-rings, and stuck them to the Worbla breastplate. Worbla sticks to itself *wonderfully.*
I sized up the designs I had drawn for the breastplate and printed them out on regular paper. Earlier I had set aside either several layered pieces of Worbla Black or merged scraps of Worbla Black - I placed these paper designs over these and heated up the two (carefully). I used a metal sculpting stylus and while the Worbla was still hot, I firmly traced over the paper design (and it showed up on the Worbla). I went over some of the pieces to add a bit more detail or depth to them, then cut them out. I took care of any paper stuck to the Worbla by soaking it in water and removing it with my fingers.
Once dry, the Worbla Black peices got a little zap of heat and were stuck onto the breastplate. (Worbla sticks to itself just by using heat. Which is great because it was really hard getting the Worbla to stick to the plastic mannequin). I used Worbla Black for the filigree pieces because I found it to be more flexible and delicate and takes detail really well (and it didn't need to be prepped as much).
Edges of the cuirass were covered with pieces of regular (Worbla) and further 3D details were added with Apoxie Sculpt.
Step 5: Prep for Paint
The entire breastplate was coated in wood-glue - as a primer and sealer. Then sanded. Then coated in glue. Sand. Glue. Sand glue. There were... I think 7 or 8 layers (it's been a while!) of wood-glue added. The Apoxie Sculpt and Worbla Black sanded really lovely but I think I could have added more layers to the breastplate - there's one mark on it that I still really want sanded down!
After all those glue layers, a coat of white primer was sprayed on (after covering the cape D-rings in tape, of course).
It's strange to have a step just about paint-prep, BUT I want to express that it's very important especially in trying to achieve a smooth surface! Everything gets coated in glue! And sanded! And glued! Sanded! Glued!!! Sanded!!! Look there's pictures of things that have been glued and sanded and primed that I haven't even addressed yet, that's how important it is!
Step 6: Paint!
I coated the whole breastplate in blue - and when I first saw it I freaked out. Though I had seen lots of imagery of Saint Michael in blue (in skin-tight-blue-armour-shirts?) and not only does it have a representational meaning it also looks fantastic (...once you got over invention of mesh workout gear during the Renaissance) it still was very BLUE. But we were set on a blue base, with white and gold accents.
After giving the cuirass a couple of coats with blue spray paint I went back in with a paintbrush and added white and gold paint to all the Worbla Black and Apoxie Sculpt pieces. The breastplate really came together once those details started to be added in. Some of the gold was dry-brushed on to help it transition to white sections.
Step 7: Make Conchos (Mold and Worbla Positives)
A lot of conchos (decorative metal bits) were needed to add to the pteruges, but buying them would have been expensive, and heavy!
Instead, I did a test (always do tests!) and made a latex mold of a faux cameo. I put the plastic piece on a jar lid, right ride up, coated the entire thing in latex, and let it cured. When it had dried I easily popped the cameo out. I heated Worbla Black and pressed it into the mold. Once it cooled, I took it out - and had a pretty great copy. I also tried it with the regular Worbla, because, Art? It didn't absorb the detail as well (as I suspected) so for the 'real' ones I only used Worbla Black.
And made over 50+ cameos.
The same steps for wood-glue-coating, sanding, repeating, priming and painting apply!
Step 8: Sew Gambeson
I used the duct-tape-mannequin-copy to make a pattern for the front of the gambeson, combined with a basic t-tunic shape for the back (and sliced down the middle so it could be laced up). I made a mock-up first and tested it on my friend; I also cut long strips to stand in for the pteruges and pined them onto the mock-up. After a fitting I made the 'real' one out of white pleather, lined in white. The back of the gambeson was split was two rows of grommets that allowed the wearer to be laced in-and-out of it. All the pteruges were sewn the same way (good-sides of pleather and lining together, stitch, turn inside out, attach to front and back) and then were top-stitched in gold. This also made them a little less puffy.
The conchos were all glued onto the pteruges with e6000, my go-to glue. I sanded down a bit of the pleather before gluing to give them a little more grip.
Step 9: Put It All Together
A few drill-holes later, leather straps and rivets were added to the muscle-cuirass (and a pair of bracers I had also made). Fabric was glued to the inside of the mannequin to add a bit of comfort in wearing. The gambeson was laced all up the back and thrown over a tunic of blue linen with gold trim that I had made. My friend bought gladiator-styled sandals and also a pair of giant, beautiful wings from The Crooked Feather. (We had discussed making them, but given that I was moving away, plus the research involved, and finding supplies, and buying supplies, and having no experience wing-making...it just made sense to buy them! Maybe for another project).
...at the end of the day, I don't recommend trying to make something out of large Worbla pieces. There's lots of fantastic, intricate breastplates made out of Worbla out there - and I think they're made by piecing smaller sections together. That's the easier, less-frustrating, far-more-happier way to go.
(Nope, I couldn't have just painted the mannequin torso! Worbla! Need Worbla!!)