Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fit for a Queen?

So today, continuing my preparations for the Game of Thrones costume party, I decided to make my own circlet. A circlet is a crown that sits down on the forehead rather than on top of the head; you’ve seen them in Lord of the Rings, etc. They are extremely popular for the ladies, but as Hugo Weaving showed, men can rock them too. They can be very simple, or very ornate. Arwen’s circlet at the end of Return of the King, for example, had a huge gemstone butterfly in the back, and beads and chains hanging from it.

Mine, obviously, is much more basic. I picked up thick beading wire from Wal*Mart (5 ft for $1!). It took me one 5 ft roll to make my circlet, so for something more decorative, I’d buy two or three. I’d also recommend getting some kind of mannequin head, probably the foam kind for latex face building or wig holding. It’ll be easier to round the wire on that than on your own head, trust me.

I started with a very long strand that wrapped completely around my head. I borrowed my roommate’s pliers to get a nice downward point in the middle.

Now, even this single piece looked lovely on and definitely would have sufficed, but I decided to keep going. I cut a shorter piece of wire and made a second arc with a shallower point. I curled the ends by wrapping them around a pencil.

Easy enough, right? I was super pumped. Then came the absurd part. I decided to glue the pieces together with this Elmer’s Krazy Glue pen that I had. Here we ran into some trouble. The glue is just as crazy sticky as advertised, but it was more interested in sticking to my fingers than to the wire. Another problem is simply holding the wire together. With a mannequin head some of this problem would be eliminated, but I did not have one, and I certainly wasn’t going to try and glue them together ON my head. I put on a yellow dish glove and tried to glue and pinch them together that way. No dice. Sans mannequin head, this is a two person job!

Finally I decided to just bind them together with more wire. I cut another piece of wire and wrapped it around the spot where the two pieces joined, using the pliers to clamp down and secure it. I then took the extra wire and weaved it between the two pieces. When I reached the other side I wrapped and clamped like before.

I then had to re-shape the circlet almost completely. The wire is easy to manipulate, which is nice when you’re initially shaping it, but not so nice when you try to work with other parts of it. This wire is also hard to smooth with your hands, so it retains a lot of little bumps even after you’ve unbent them. BUT in the end I triumphed.

I had bought a little charm at the Wal*Mart, which I contemplated adding, but then I remembered a silver maple leaf pin my grandmother had given me. I love it, but I don’t wear it anywhere because people don’t really wear pins anymore. It was the perfect size, however, to fit on the front of my circlet. Cue another ridiculous fight with the Krazy Glue.

In the end, I succeeded. If you try something like this, let it sit. Seriously, don’t touch it. You will have to glue it again. And again. Just squeeze out a ton of glue and DON’T TOUCH IT.

Okay, now you can touch it.

I did a little bit of reshaping (it's still pretty rough). I curved the sides up and then down to a point in the back and added another piece to balance out the weight a little bit. And, voila!

This was fun, although the trouble with the wire and the glue was unanticipated. I'm going to investigate other ways of making them short of forging them out of steel or some such, and try again! I may make another one, since I bought a second spool of wire, so we'll see what happens! All in all though, the wire only works for really simple, single-piece circlets. Trying to attach more wire is more bother than anything else.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grow Your Own Weirwood

I'm a huge nerd. Let's get that out of the way first. And my newfound nerdy obsession is George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, otherwise known as Game of Thrones thanks to the new HBO series based on it. You've probs heard of it.
Anyway, in the books there are these trees called weirwoods. They are described as having bone white bark and blood red leaves. They also have faces carved into them, something done by ancient inhabitants of Westeros called the children of the forest. These faces are supposedly the faces of the old, nameless gods who are still worshiped in the northern part of the country, where Ned Stark comes from. Most castles in Westeros have a godswood, with a weirwood called the heart tree in the center, and it is there that servants of the old gods go to pray. In the south all weirwoods outside of a godswood were cut down, but there are still some wild in the far north.

Oh yeah, and these faces cry tears of blood-red sap.

Anyway, about two weeks ago my fingers started itchin' to be crafty. I was also thinking that since almost all of my friends are also Game of Thrones fans, wouldn't it be fun to have a GoT party? And what would be better as a centerpiece than a paper mache weirwood?

So my boyfriend and I went to the craft store. I had all kinds of ideas--I was going to make the frame of the tree with wire, cover it with chicken wire, etc., like we did in art class in middle school when we made giant paper mache fish and stuff. More wire for the branches! I could cut leaves out of construction paper and--

Yada yada yada. As Andrew pointed out to me, most of my ideas worked in theory, but there were better ways to do it. So what we ended up getting was this:

One tall foam cone (we used the kind you get to do faux floral arrangements)
Plaster wrap (We used the Rigid Wrap brand. This really gives it a barky texture)
Fake fall leaves
Paint (white and red. I also added a bit of grey)

The only really tricky part is the fake fall leaves. As you'll see in the photos, Andrew managed to find one that was perfect: several stems with small red maple leaves. It was one of the last ones there, marked down because it was a fall decoration. It may very well be that it will never be found again, and then making weirwoods will be extra hard work because you'll have to cut leaves and glue them on instead of just shoving stems into the foam.

Another option in lieu of pre-made plastic branches is to use real sticks, which is what Andrew tried to get me to do. I thought the fake ones would be sufficient enough, but that's because the ones we got were so perfect. If, next time, they're gone (as I suspect they will be), real twigs become a very suitable alternative, and require no texturing at all!

From here on out I will try to have process photos for you, but alas, you only get two, and only because I had to go before I finished.

Before you begin, put a layer or three of newspaper down on your working surface, and make sure you have scissors, paint brushes, a bowl of warm water and any other tools you'll need. You don't want to go wandering through your house once you get plaster all over your hands!

Step One: Cut smaller "branches" off of the main stem of fake floral decoration. How small depends on what size cone you got. Ours was the largest, about fifteen inches tall.

Step Two: Attach branches to the foam cone trunk. For us, this meant just shoving them in.

Step Three: Cut plaster wrap into strips of varying lengths and widths. You want some big strips to cover open areas like the base, but for the upper parts, working around the branches, I found that an inch by three inch strip worked best (that's width by length). Two inch by three inch strips also worked well when I had larger spaces to cover between branches.

Step Four: Apply plaster wrap. (Wear a smock--it gets messy!) Wet each strip in a bowl of water (instructions come with it), squeeze excess water off, and press onto the tree skeleton. This will require several layers; the first layer should be simply to get as much covered as possible, so it's okay to lay the strips flat. Once you get to the second layer, have fun with it! Bunch it up, twist it around to make knots, etc. This is where you really add a lot of the texture. Wrapping strips around the base of your branches will help to tie them into the trunk.

This is also where you "carve" the weirwood's face. Eyes and a gaping mouth is really all that's needed. I bunched a strip of plaster wrap up and then dug my nail into it to hollow out the features. I also added another bunched strip over the eyes to give him a heavy brow, and added a couple more bunched strips under the mouth to give him a kind of beard.

After you're done with the plaster, give it some time to dry completely before you start painting.

Step Five: Paint! The white paint is mostly to cover anything that wasn't covered by the plaster wrap. I used it mainly to paint the plastic branches white. I used the grey to paint under folds left in the dried plaster to create more depth on the tree. Below is a picture of the partially painted weirwood:

And the final product:
All in all, this was super fun! And very messy, just the way I like my crafts. Nevertheless, I'm extremely proud of my weirwood, and he will be an excellent centerpiece for my Game of Thrones party.


Blogs are tricky things. Everyone's doing it now, so it's hard to gain the kind of internet celebrity garnered by early bloggers. Then again, if you're doing it for celebrity, you're probably pretty desperate and slightly crazy. You have to be to get famous on the internet anymore.

But the reason most people start blogging is because they have something to say that they think other people, more people than they know in real life, should hear. This is my third blog. The first is defunct; it was started after I watched Julie and Julia, and I just wanted to blog about anything--but I didn't really cook, didn't really travel, etc. So I blogged every day about something beautiful that I saw in the world or in myself. Nice concept, but not interesting to many people.

My second blog, Sexed, was for my independent study, a feminist study of sex in literature. Not Harlequin, not racy romance books, but legitimate, in-the-literary-canon literature. Now that I'm graduated, it's on hiatus until I start reading sexy literature again.

But now, I'm a graduate with a job of variable hours where most days, I have hours to kill at home. Now that I'm an adult, it's unacceptable to me to sleep half my day away, but that leaves so much time to kill!

So lately I've found myself experimenting with different hobbies. Some, like drawing and painting, used to be big hobbies of mine until college and a part-time job sucked all the time out of my life. Others, like baking, are completely new, because I need to throw in new things every now and then so that I don't get tired of the old.

And that's when it hit me.

I will be, for the foreseeable future, be constantly on the hunt for new ways to occupy my time. Writing about those things would take up even more time. I would always have something to write about, and any readers I got could get involved by trying the things that I'm doing, or offering me suggestions. It would be random enough to be interesting!

And so, a blog.