Intro: Puzzle Mascots
After creating many mascot masks I wanted to challenge myself by utilizing the same techniques to create a series of interactive mascots.
This idea came together as a submission for a festival in Montreal called Chromatic.
The theme of the festival was 'Elevation', so my costumes were representative of both a bird and a mountain.
The activity here is 3 part, in that participants can assemble the puzzle together, wear it as a costume, and then disassemble it.
Foam - I used extruded polystyrene but regretted not using ethafoam as some of my shapes would snap if handled the wrong way.
- I would recommend using something that is at least 2 inches thick.
Fabric - As always I chose polar fleece as it comes in a huge variety of colours, can stretch easily over organic shapes, is easy to sew by hand, and is really affordable.
Glues - Hot glue and a cement bond (I prefer Lepage pres tite green, as there is no odour.)
Chicken wire and screen material - Used for the vision screens. In these two examples they would be the black of the bird eyes and the black of the mountain mouth.
Velcro - Lots of velcro for the sides of each shape to make sure they stick together well enough to support the pieces as a wearable costume but also not so much as to make you struggle to pull them apart.
Marker, Large Olga knife, Gaffer tape, T pins, Fabric scissors, Glue gun, Metal sheers
Step 1: Creating the Form
Draw out the form or character you want to create. Plan ahead to know where you will put the vision screen and the arm holes.
For my characters I decided to make two geometric forms: a triangle and a rectangle. The latter having a bit of a taper near the bottom.
Basically I made two big boxes, giving myself a width of 12 inches of empty space on the inside so that people could fit in.
I formed the basic box shapes by drawing out how each plane would be measured then cutting those pieces out of foam. I assembled the pieces together with a strong cement bond.
For an added detail I also rounded out all of the edges once the box was formed. I did this with just an Olfa blade.
Next was to determine where the vision and arm holes would be placed. T-pins come in handy for this as you can put the box on you and stick a T pin roughly where your eyes would look out. Using that point you could then design your vision screen and cut that shape out of the foam using an Olfa blade.
I use a mix of chicken wire painted black and screen material for the vision. This is shown in the last picture here. I fit the chicken wire shape into the hole and add bits of hot glue to secure it. I then cut and lay the screen material over the hole, making sure that it's bigger than the initial shape. You can glue the edges of it to the foam. It will be covered by fabric later on so it's ok if it's messy.
The arm holes can be made by placing the box back on you, line your eyes up with your vision screen, and place a T pin roughly where your elbow is when you make contact with the inside of the box. You can make a cicular or oval pattern big enough to allow people of different proportions the ability to get their arms out comfortably. Trace your pattern on one side by sticking the middle of the pattern into the T pin. Use a ruler to determine how far the pattern should be from the bottom edge on the opposite side and trace that as well.
A safety measure before cutting the arm holes out would be to make register marks on your traced arm holes. This way, if you feel like they are inaccurately placed, you can glue the foam off cuts back into place and start over.
Step 2: Drawing and Cutting the Puzzle Shapes
This is sort of the fun part.
For my design, I made my puzzle pieces drippy looking. Although I think it looks cool, they weren't all that practical as puzzle pieces. You can choose to do more geometric shapes or a mix of many different styles.
To help my process I began drawing on the boxes with a red marker as a rough draft, and when I was sure of the design I finessed it with a black marker.
The next step was to carefully cut out each piece with a sharp blade. A tricky part was when a piece would contain elements from two different sides. You will need to be confident with the angle of your blade when hitting those edges.
I will note here that my final result, after adding the fabric and Velcro, was not a perfectly air tight design. There were small cracks everywhere that exposed the interior a little, but not enough to ruin the effect I was going for.
As you're cutting away the pieces, it's best to take pictures of your progress as you may need reminders of how it fits back together.
Once I finished cutting away every piece, I assembled it back together as a test, using small pieces of duct tape to temporarily hold them together.
Step 3: Adding Fabric and Velcro
I used multiple colours of polar fleece for each costume. I had a vague idea of the palette beforehand but made slight changes before covering them.
To begin with I cut little squares of the fabric I was using and pinned them to each separate puzzle piece as it was held together with the tape. This allowed me to verify that no colours were repeated side by side.
After this test I took all the tape off and began to cover each piece.
Fleece is fortunately a bit stretchy so it was easy to get around the oddest of shapes. Some sewing needed to be done on the corner pieces as they were a bit complicated to cover.
The bird's beak was a more complex form that I wouldn't recommend trying if you have no hand sewing or costume experience.
All the fabric was stretched over the forms and hot glued to the sides or parts of the shapes that would be hidden in the interior of the costume. When you are covering the shapes that have your vision screen inside them you'll want to carefully cut out your vision screen pattern from the fleece covering the form, making sure that you are staying within the boundaries of it.
After that was completed, I assembled the puzzle again to see how well they fit together.
Adding the velcro was a bit time consuming as I had to make sure that the strips of soft velcro on one shape lined up with the hard velcro on the adjacent side.
I would note here that I originally used hot glue to speedily apply the velcro, but that I regret not taking the time to hand sew each velcro strip to the fabric glued onto the sides of each shape.
Step 4: Test Your Puzzle Mascot
After you've added all the velcro it's time to play with your piece. Ask family and friends to join in.
The following are links to videos on my instagram account of these costumes in use at my studio and in the public.