After cosplaying Warden-Commander Mahariel for the fourth time last year, I realised my breastplate was starting to look a bit battered and the paint was beginning to flake on my scales, so I decided it was time for a rebuild.
I didn’t have a heatgun when I built my original breastplate and did the best I could with what I had available to me, but I always knew it was a part that I would want to make again later on.
I actually really liked the way it looked as plain, blue foam, and if it hadn’t been for my visible lines, I would have been sorely tempted to seal it and wear it like that! After sealing and priming, I could get on with my favourite part – painting and weathering.
I was so pleased with how my knitted scales turned out but, aside from cracking and flaking paint, they were bulky and not very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The more I looked at them and the more photographs I saw, the more I kept thinking about getting some decent hardware and seeing how much maille weaving I could remember from my time in re-enactment. Not only was it a much easier process but I’m completely in love with how these scales look against the blue.
The only thing that I’m keeping from version one is my velvet jacket, which has had the straps added to the sleeves and the griffon sigil to the left arm. Next to finish – gauntlets and greaves.
(Okay, I know I ramble when I write posts so if you’re just here for the video, scroll to the bottom!)
Back in January, Abi of Butthead and Pastry cosplay suggested a summer Dragon Age shoot at Warwick Castle and asked if anyone would be interested. I fired off my response with less than thirty seconds of consideration. At the time, I had Lavellan half finished and wasn’t sure whether my work would be anywhere near the quality of the more experienced cosplayers, but I was so eager to be part of it.
Warden-Commander Mahariel was next on my list of “Must-do Cosplays” and my experiments were already underway, so once the date was set for August I had less than eight months to get her finished, alongside all my other projects. In retrospect, I could have done with dropping a few things so that Mahariel could be a little more polished but, life being what it is, I made do.
I always pack more props than I’m likely to need, just in case, and The Gathering was definitely no exception! As well as my Antivan Fire grenade and Jar of Bees, I packed a few lyrium and health potions, my Warden’s codex , two plush nugs and a mabari. That was as close to “packing light” as I really get!
I also found a gorgeous label for Aggregio Pavali (by taye_x on Reddit), which inspired us to make some more based on Inquisition’s Bottles on the Wall collection! From left to right: Golden Scythe 4:90 Black; West Hill Brandy; Butterbile 7:84; Aggregio Pavali; Dragon Piss. Eventually, we may actually get around to doing the rest of the collection.
I tend to be an anxious person, especially in new situations. The Calling, held at Beverley Friary in June, was my first big non-MCM event. Aside from my husband and brother, who got dragged along, I had never met a single attendee before and not only survived living with everyone for a long weekend, I loved every minute of it. Although Warwick Castle is on a much grander scale than Beverley Friary (and utterly crammed with tourists!), I felt much less intimidated by the idea of meeting so many new people than I had on the way to The Calling. It helped that I’d already met Abi and Jay, who organised the shoot, as well as a few others, at conventions earlier in the year but I was so worried about whether my costume would look terribly gauche compared with the fantastic work I’d seen the others posting on Facebook in the months before.
On the morning of the shoot I realised that I’d neglected to pack the tiny invisible elastics I’d bought for Mahariel’s braids, so I ended up having to use a random hairband I found in my makeup bag to pull some of my hair back in an approximate style.
I had such anxiety over my hair that I wondered if I’d get away with hiding it under my hood…
I won’t drag out a blow-by-blow account of the day, but I really want to say how fantastic the day was. All the cosplayers, roped-in partners, photographers and The 86th Floor, who did all our professional shots and filmography were amazing. It was a real pleasure to hang out with them all day and the cosplayers looked absolutely incredible. Even though I’d seen photos of a few of the costumes on Facebook beforehand, the detail and designs were so impressive. I’ll put a full list of all the cosplayers involved at the bottom of this post – please go check out their work and give them some love!
The big surprise of the day was how much the tourists enjoyed us being there! We knew that the castle was going to be open to the public – we were all there on day tickets, after all, and I expected we would probably get some funny looks and possibly some derisive comments. Some thought we were employees of the castle, in all our fantasy regalia, and a lot of us were stopped regularly so that visitors and their kids could have photos taken with us. At one point, I was sitting in my wheelchair waiting with Ellie (our fabulous Zevran) for a turn in front of the camera and we had an almost constant stream of people come, one after another, to pose with us for the better part of about fifteen or twenty minutes. They were queuing. It was the most surreal thing I’ve experienced in cosplay, so far!
We didn’t manage to get as many photos as we would have liked, especially of the Inquisition crew (Warwick Castle itself is not very wheelchair friendly and a lot of their shoot was done indoors) and somehow completely failed to get any of Catbutt Cosplay’s fantastic Yavanna and Phil the Despair Demon. We did manage to get a few nice ‘behind the scenes’ pictures, though. Go and check out the professional photos at The Eighty-Sixth Floor Music and The Space In Between Photography!
We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get Alistair to pose with the ballista!
Merrill; Varric Tethras; Hawke; Tallis; Aveline Vallen; Anders
Varric Tethras and Bianca
I think this shot of Merrill might have to become another Kirkwall Office of Tourism postcard!
How amazing do these guys look?! Cole; Sera; Dorian; Solas; Inquisitor Lavellan; Cullen Rutherford; Cassandra Pentaghast; Vivienne; Varric Tethras; Lace Harding
Managed to catch Harding in her other role as photographer. I’m hoping she’ll be publishing a photo book in collaboration with Varric – “Scouting Thedas: Images from the Western Approach to the Brecilian Forest “
Photography by D. Allen
The Champion is wondering what she did to get stuck promoting Kirkwall’s Office of Tourism
Naturally, the Viscount got roped in to promote Kirkwall as a tourist destination…
Yavanna – Photography by The Eighty-Sixth Floor Music
Our thanks to Warwick Castle for letting us come and play on the site; Abi and Jay for organising everything; The Eighty-Sixth Floor Music for all their hard work; The WinnTeam and The Space In Between Photography for helping to capture the day; all the cosplayers and helpers for making the day so much fun. You’re all so amazingly talented and it was a real honour to be part of this project with you.
I spent years telling myself that cosplay wasn’t for me. Long before I joined my first cosplay group or forum, I was aware of the bullying that comes from offering images of your work and yourself up to the web. So every time I envied the amazing cosplayers that I came across, I would remind myself that I was too old, completely the wrong body type and that my wheelchair would “ruin” everything. Wheeling around a convention at eye-level with most people’s belt buckles could never look as impressive as striding across the floor, sword in hand. I was quite sure that I would be opening myself up to nothing but ridicule and negativity – after all, if a person can receive the sort of hate that I’d seen online, just because they are considered too thin, too fat, too tall or too short for the character they’re cosplaying, what hope was there for me?
By chance I came across a supportive and encouraging group in autumn 2015, and I took my first real cosplay out last November. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some incredibly creative and talented people, who have made me feel very welcome, and as a result I’ve had so much fun cosplaying these last ten months.
But although I’ve been fortunate to have experienced the best that the cosplay community has to offer, despite my fears, it saddens me that cosplay bullying is still such a problem. For every well-circulated incident that we see on social media, there are so many more that we never even hear about.
We’re all geeks in costume, celebrating our fandoms. We should be building each other up, offering encouragement and constructive feedback, sharing our skills and experiences, not ripping our comrades in arms to pieces.
I’ve already got several posts sitting in my drafts folder that need editing and finishing, but between the day job, events and costumes it’s been a busy month or so! As I’ve spent all of my free time over the last few weeks working on Mahariel, when I decided I needed something quick and easy to get me away from the sewing machine for half an hour, I thought I’d try my hand at the gift received by the Warden if Alistair is romanced.
If you want to make your own, there are loads of instructional vids on YouTube. This is the one I used in the end, and slightly modified the size and shape. My original plan was to paint it a darker shade of red but I quite like the shades of pink I’ve ended up with, and to fit it to a long bobby pin to wear in my hair, but it’s a bit heavier and bulkier than I imagined so I think I may just fit a chenille stem and a couple of foam leaves.
I was more than a little bit apprehensive about putting together Mahariel’s armour – other than the scale maille, I haven’t had very much experience crafting with and painting foam, so it’s something of a relief to now have the most complicated part finished.
The Regalia of Weisshaupt armour, from Dragon Age II, has three slightly different designs depending on Hawke’s class. A slightly updated version is seen in Inquisition – the armour worn by your Grey Warden contact looks like a cross between the rogue and warrior versions – but as my Mahariel is a rogue, I found it easier to screenshot reference pictures of the armour on Hawke.
The armour is listed as four separate components in game, which I broke down into the following pieces:
Since I’ve just finished painting the breastplate, that’s where we’ll start…
When I was putting together my references and writing up my shopping lists, I had planned to do all of the armoured pieces as Worbla over foam. As it happened, I’ve not had time to play with the pieces of Worbla I bought a few months back, and I ended up just bodging it together.
The first piece I actually made was the griffon insignia and built the rest of the breastplate around it. It wasn’t until I was ready to glue everything together that I found something I had missed in my reference pictures: the raised edge around the larger piece. After spending a good ten minutes cursing the pictures, the computer and myself, I cut the extra pieces and layered it all up to see whether I needed to either cut a smaller pair of griffons or a taller base. Then I decided I actually liked the effect of having the tips of the wings over the border, glued it all together and sealed it with a coat of clear glaze.
After gently heat-shaping the foam, I tied the corners together to support the shape and gave it another couple of coats of glaze. I have loads of silver PlatiKote left from the scales, so I decided to use the spray for the base colour.
Once it was dry I thought it was much too shiny and “new” looking, and all of the creases and marks on the foam were suddenly glaringly obvious. I made up a bucket of not-quite-gesso* and gave it two generous coats, which have left the breastplate pretty sturdy but it still has plenty of flex.
1 part casting powder (I use Scola, which sets really quickly so I recommend making lots of small batches rather than making a whole bowlful at once)
1 part PVA glue
1 part warm water
Once it had set, I sanded it down (I definitely need to get a rotary tool!) and painted the front with black acrylic and PVA…
Then layered on the first coat of silver acrylic.
I much preferred the acrylic paint to the PlastiKote. Yes, it took significantly longer than the spray but I think the matte finish really suits the piece and it made weathering much easier.
I may find myself adding a little to the weathering over the next couple of days, and I still can’t decide whether I want to risk going overboard on it to work in some darkspawn blood before I seal it. Other than that, the only job left for my breastplate is to fit all the straps and buckles!
I felt the need to take a night off from scales yesterday (38 days until the Calling!) so I decided to make a draft attempt at the Grey Wardens’ griffon insignia, which will go on Mahariel’s breastplate. It’s had a layer of glaze to give me a slightly firmer surface for scoring in the detail with my pyrography tool and then I’ll decide whether to build up a few more layers of glaze before painting it or whether to cover it in Worbla. I’m leaning towards Worbla at the moment but as I’ve not done much in the way of detailed work with it, I’m not too confident about how well it will turn out. But that’s the whole point of having a practise run – if it all goes horribly wrong, it’s not like I will have wasted a huge amount of resources on it.
I got a couple of pictures while the glaze was drying and I’m surprisingly pleased with how it looks. I’ve stocked up on old cardboard boxes from the stock room at work, so I can begin working up the pattern for the breastplate itself, so it’s full steam ahead on the Hero of Ferelden!
It’s been a while since I did an update about Mahariel’s maille, so here it is! I gave up a few weeks ago and decided to buy a plectrum punch, because cutting out individual scales was driving me round the bend and I lost count of the number of times I dislocated my thumb with the scissors. The punch has done a damned amazing job and is only now, some 500 scales later, starting to lose its clean edge.
So far I’ve got seven strips done, in pairs. I decided I didn’t want to run them all the way up to the shoulder from the hem because they would be incredibly bulky under my chest plate and jacket, hence the different lengths. There’s 107 scales to go on the final length and then I can get on with priming and painting the rest of them. If all goes well, I hope to have the bulk of the tabard done this week, so that I can spend some time sorting out the quilting and fitting pyramid studs for my jacket. Only six weeks to go!