In May of last year, I got the harebrained idea to try to crank out a Marion Lavorre costume before the end of Critical Role's Campaign 2. Spoiler alert: That didn't happen. What did happen is that I reminded myself that blitz builds are not my preferred mode, and realized I've been veering away from accuracy-focused replication and into a "creative interpretation" phase of my cosplay career, in addition to gaining a lot of satisfaction from quality construction and finishing. I took my time and finished her in the fall.

So she wasn't intended as a competition costume at all, and in fact I didn't really consider her labor-intensive enough for a high-level cosplay competition. But then it was announced about six weeks out that C2E2's anomalous December 2021 edition -- which we already knew would be skipped as a Crown Championships of Cosplay qualifier due to pandemic-induced schedule shuffling -- would have a standalone "Cosplay Celebration" competition in that traditional Saturday evening Main Events slot. And I figured, hey, why not? The usual heavy hitters would probably be sitting this one out (or, like JediManda, judging), so it might be a chance for some new faces to get on the stage, and it could be fun to be one of them.

C2E22021Winners

And it was, And... then I placed third. *boggle*

What follows below is the original, wordy version of the text for my "build book," the packet of information given to the judges at pre-judging, where each entrant meets with them individually. You only have a few minutes to explain your process, and they have very limited time to review anything later. So my standard practice is to write it all out and then pare it down to the absolute essentials for brief, impactful photo captions. If you're curious, you can see the final version of my build book here. (I've developed a panel on creating a build book that I hope to present at cons in the near future; I'll be sure to announce if/when it's scheduled.) But the wordy version is just right for a blog post, so here we are!

Inspiration

Critical Role's player characters have official portraits for cosplayers to work from, but for NPCs like Marion Lavorre, the Ruby of the Sea, we take our cues from descriptive details provided by Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer and the wealth of fan art created by the Critter community.

Marion, mother of the Mighty Nein's beloved "little blue tiefling" cleric Jester, is a famous courtesan and singer in the colorful city of Nicodranas on the Menagerie Coast. The more Mercer described the city - a culturally rich and diverse seaport, known for its striking architecture, part of a confederation of autonomous city-states - the more I was reminded of Renaissance Venice.

dangerousbeauty1dangerousbeauty2

So my initial idea for a Marion cosplay was to go full Dangerous Beauty, drawing from the sumptuous and fanciful look created for the legendary Venetian courtesans of the 16th century by costume designer Gabriella Pescucci when director Marshall Herskovitz wanted them to be visually distinct from the wives of the aristocracy.

I was just starting to think about sketching ideas when I ran across Tough Tink's stunning Renaissance-inspired illustration of Marion, and from that moment on, that was what I had to make!MarionbyToughTink

Challenge

This wasn't intended to be a competition cosplay. In fact, I tried to blitz-build it over Memorial Day weekend, hoping to create and share it before the rapidly-approaching close of Campaign 2. I still used the full holiday weekend, but it quickly became apparent that, while I could probably pull out all my community theatre tricks to make something presentable by my self-imposed deadline, I wouldn't be satisfied with it. I had to do it right.


I would, however, stick with the challenge I set myself at the start of the pandemic: Any "unplanned" costume must come as much as possible from either my existing stash or thrifted materials. In the end I managed that with all the fabrics and much of the trim, as well as most of the jewelry components.

Horns

MarionbyKiriLeonardThe horns came first, for a makeup test before I decided for sure to do a proper cosplay. Starting with inexpensive black plastic costume horns, I initially tried out a beige/gold paint job (inspired by another fan portrait by Kiri Leonard). The horns came first, for a makeup test before I decided for sure to do a proper cosplay. Starting with inexpensive black plastic costume horns, I initially tried out a beige/gold paint job (inspired by another fan portrait by Kiri Leonard).

Once I committed to the Tough Tink design, I repainted them red, but kept the idea of the gold wash.

horns1   horns2

Products: Vallejo brush-on primer, acrylic craft paints, acrylic varnish

Techniques: dilute wash, dry brush

horns3   horns4   horns5

The wig is one I "rescued" from the Halloween shelf at a thrift store a few years ago - it was there with no bag or anything, and wouldn't have stayed looking this nice for very long! The metal split headband used to have a jeweled butterfly on it, but the solder broke several years ago and I've been holding onto it to use for something else. Now was the time!

I made craft foam bases on the horns and the headband to set the neodymium magnets into so they would be flush. Everything is attached with Barge cement.

Chemise

chemiseThe sheer white peeking from the neckline and draped over the leg slit in the illustration imply a sleeveless chemise, but I added sleeves for reasons of body paint practicality, providing a washable layer between painted skin  and decidedly-not-washable gown and oversleeves, as well as camouflaging the edge of the illusion gloves.

JesterbyAriOrnerAfter a couple weeks of hunting, I found the perfect fabric in a pair of curtains at a local thrift store - just the right amount of sheer with woven-in gold accents. Casings for the sleeve elastics and the neckline and leg drawstrings are made with soft lace hem tape to complement the sheer fabric. The base pattern was the blouse from Simplicity 7756 (out of print), modified for length, a narrow neckline ruffle, and trailing split sleeves. I didn't consciously plan for the sleeves to echo Jester's (official 2018 portrait by Ari Orner), and in fact was thinking more of some of the Dangerous Beauty costumes, but it was a happy outcome!

 

 

Gown

While the illustration suggests a solid purple silk lined in gold brocade, the choices that jumped out of my stash reversed that a bit. I bought the purple brocade with gold accents on eBay over 20 years ago with thoughts of an Elizabethan court gown that I eventually admitted was never going to happen, but I couldn't bring myself to let go of the fabric. Now I'm glad I didn't! I love it even better in this fantasy-inflected silhouette than I would have in a purely historical gown. For visible linings, I didn't have enough of either the moiré bengaline (left over from a long-ago theatre project) or the synthetic dupioni (thrifted about a year ago), but they worked side-by-side.

The base skirt pattern was McCall’s 3676 (out of print). redrafted to add a curved train and leaving the left front seam open. All skirt panels are flatlined, with the gold dupioni for the front and side front panels around the slit, and the rest in black broadcloth. The skirt is finished with French seams, bias bound hem (in the gold dupioni), side seam pocket on the right, and placket behind the back closure. Closure is two flat skirt hooks and a large snap. A crescent-shaped balayeuse attaches to the underside of the train with snap tape for easy laundering. The train can be bustled up and snapped to two twill tapes inside for an effect similar to an 18th century polonaise (and keeping the train safe on a con floor!).

skirtpattern   skirt   train   bustled
             
balayeuse   bustletapes   pocket   fastening

The base bodice pattern was Simplicity 8881 (out of print), redrafted for straight instead of curved seams for a more conical 16th century shape, as well as a slightly lowered neckline. Center back, diagonal side front, and center front boning channels were attached to the cotton twill lining before joining it to the fashion fabric. The base bodice pattern was Simplicity 8881 (out of print), redrafted for straight instead of curved seams for a more conical 16th century shape, as well as a slightly lowered neckline. Center back, diagonal side front, and center front boning channels were attached to the cotton twill lining before joining it to the fashion fabric. Recycled shoulder pads are handstitched inside the lining for optimum cleavage. Trims and embellishments are about 60% from stash. All embellishments are hand-stitched.

bodicepattern   bodicelining   bodiceconstruction   bustpads   bodiceembellishment

The partlet comes from the same pattern, with scrap cotton inner neck band and frog closure from stash, and attaches to the inside edge of the neckline with small snaps. Shoulder puffs drafted from scratch and hand-stitched to bodice after construction. Bodice connects to skirt waistband with a flat skirt hook on each side.

The sleeve pattern was Simplicity 7756 (out of print), redrafted to add length. The sleeves attach to the bodice with large snaps.

sleevepattern   partlet   insidebodice   sleevesnap

Shoes

I already had these historically-inspired gold brocade shoes, but the original plastic heel taps had shattered, so I replaced them with veg-tan leather attached with Barge cement.  Then I made clips with five-loop bows from stash ribbon and the "ruby" poly gems purchased for the bodice embellishment. (Mules are pretty, but I can't ever seem to keep them on my feet, so going with pumps instead was a deliberate departure from the design.) 

shoes   shoeheels   shoeclips

Tail

I briefly considered not making a tail, since it's not seen in the illustration. But that would imply that it was hidden under the heavy skirt, which I have to imagine would be terribly uncomfortable for a body part that extends from one's spine! That led me to thinking I wanted it to have a little more internal structure than just a stuffed tube, and after some aimless wandering around the hardware store, I settled on plastic split-flex tubing meant for organizing electronic cables. I had some red fleece-backed tablecloth vinyl in my stash (I honestly don't remember why!) with a faux leather texture, and the fleece gives just enough padding under the "skin." I patterned it from scratch, opting for a heart-shaped spade at the tip because it just seemed to suit her. It was a bit too shiny, so I toned it down with acrylic matte varnish and rubbing alcohol.

tailcore   tail   tailbase

Drawers

drawersdrawerspatternThere was a hilarious conversation among the player characters in which Jester was surprised to learn some of her friends not only didn't wear underwear, but didn't know what it was. Which means Marion raised her little girl to wear it, which means, although no such thing is seen in the illustration, clearly some fancy undies over the tights representing her red skin are called for! I decided on purple silk dupioni with a nice froth of off-white lace and purple ribbon trim, all from my stash, using Simplicity 3618. Bonus: Poofy drawers under an open(ish) skirt echo my original Dangerous Beauty idea, since the film has several instances of courtesans wearing feminized trunk hose under open overskirts.

Jewelry

The necklace was another deliberate variation from the illustration, because she has a sapphire choker in canon to represent  Jester, her "Little Sapphire," and I had purchased a vintage faux sapphire pendant on Etsy for my costest. The base pearl necklace was one I had with a broken clasp; I removed a few inches from the links and added a new clasp, as well as the additional details around the sapphire pendant.

The headdress is made from two filigree tassel caps, an old earring drop, a few bits of chain, small pearl garland, assorted individual pearl beads, and goldtone wire, all assembled pretty much by trial and error until it looked enough like the illustration. Then I put on the wig and horns, hooked everything up, and got very lucky that it turned out secure and balanced!

sapphirependant   headdress   valmarionheadshoulders

 

For more photos of the finished look, check out my Cosplay Gallery!

Our DM is under the weather, so no Titan's Dawn: Eberron stream tonight. We'll be back in May, but in the meantime, I had fun pulling together this character playlist for Flax. The sorcerer with the spindle is just beginning to find out what this world is all about...Our DM is under the weather, so no Titan's Dawn: Eberron stream this month. We'll be back in May, but in the meantime, I had fun pulling together this character playlist for Flax. The sorcerer with the spindle is just beginning to find out what this world is all about...


(A note on the cover image: I found it on Pinterest, and wanted to credit the artist, but a thorough Google Image search came up empty. :-/ )

New experience: Featured in the latest issue of Creative Cosplays with this fave Rey photo by Mary Jo Chrabasz of Gradh Photography.New experience: Featured in the latest issue of Creative Cosplays with this fave Rey photo by Mary Jo Chrabasz of Gradh Photography.

MidSeason No8 21      MidSeason No8 01

Don't have an ocean for Ahch-To? Lake Michigan will do just fine!

You can order your copy at https://www.creativecosplays.com/order.

 

And if you missed me guesting on the Cosplay Cafe podcast live on Friday evening, you can watch it on YouTube or get it in audio form from your favorite podcast source. Featuring me BABBLING AT HYPERSONIC SPEEDS OMG about accents, opera, Gregory Maguire's worldbuilding, and oh, yeah, some cosplay stuff in there too...

I'm playing in a new live-streamed D&D campaign! Click here to check out the recording of our first stream on the TItan's Dawn Twitch channel.

EberronParty

I’ve been going back and forth about promoting this session, because it’s “session 0.5″ and I actually thought we weren’t going to stream until the next one.
But it’s also the intro to all the characters, and I don’t know if we’ll be doing a full-description intro again.  We’ve assembled quite the collection of misfits (my character is the closest thing to a basic human, and she’s... well, there’s some stuff going on there) and I’m excited about where it’s going!

We have a couple brand-new players, so fair warning that a lot of this is intro to combat mechanics as well as people getting used to Roll20. (Which decided it didn’t want to show my camera to anyone but me that night, not even the DM, much to my annoyance when I looked at the recording later. I am One Of Those People who do a ton of nonverbal reaction, so it’s really irritating to spend 3 1/2 hours thinking people can see me when they can’t!)

[Reposted from my abandoned WordPress blog. Written in 2017.]

 When I first made my Rey costume, I hadn’t built anything new in a couple of years, and I found the standard one-piece method for her belt a bit intimidating in terms of both cost and leatherworking technique. Since I had pretty tight time constraints between when I decided to do it and C2E2, where I wore the first draft version, I came up with an approach using two ready-made belts, figuring I could do it properly later on if I wore the costume again. Little did I know I’d be wearing it a LOT, and that the belt would turn out so close to accurate that it would pass Rebel Legion approval and still be going strong a year and a half later!

Standard disclaimer here: I can’t guarantee that this belt will get Rebel Legion approval. Mine is approved for my Jakku Rey, but RL costume judges are human beings (even if it might not feel that way in the throes of the approval process) who volunteer their time, and standards are constantly evolving. I plan to use it when I submit my Resistance costume, but I have no idea whether it will be approved. I’ll keep you posted.  (We have a promo photo of Rey in her Jakku outfit where there is a clear line between the top and bottom strip of the belt, but we don’t have anything that concrete for the Resistance outfit.)

If you use thrifted belts (which is an investment of time in lieu of money; good leather belts can take a few visits to find, but it’s worth the hunt for the savings as well as the ready-weathered look if they’re well-used), your total cost using this method will be about $10. If you’re pressed for time and need to buy them new (Target is probably your best bet), you’re looking at about $40. (My frame of reference is all U.S.; if you live elsewhere and have sourcing insights to share, please comment!)

If you’re super pressed for time and not concerned about looking 100% accurate, you can skip to Step 7 below, and just use the original buckles on your belts. You can always go back and replace them later. If it doesn’t need to be durable, you can even just connect the two belts together with duct tape and then add the twine. It will hold together for one wearing with no prolbem.

A note on the example below: I took photos in the process of making a child’s belt, so I used the smaller width for both the top and bottom (I happened to find two identical belts in different sizes), and the proportions will look a little different if you’re working on an adult size belt. These belts were a great find because the two rows of holes mean you can make the narrow “tails” in the middle instead of at the side of the belt (you’ll see what I mean below.)

    

Materials:

  • One (1) brown leather belt about 1 inch wide (should fit your waist on the smallest hole, preferably with a couple inches to spare; this is a standard width for women’s belts)
  • One (1) brown leather belt about 1 1/2 inches wide (as long as you can find but should be at least 6 inches longer than the smaller belt; this is a standard width for men’s belts)
  • Four (4) 3/4-inch rectangle rings
  • Beige heavy-duty thread
  • Medium weight hemp twine
  • Scrap leather – one piece about 2 1/4 x 4 inches, or two pieces that add up to that (can be cut from another belt)
  • Brown duct tape

Tools:

  • Seam ripper
  • Strong scissors or utility shears (or rotary leather cutter if you prefer)
  • Hand sewing punch* OR thumbtack and point of a compass/nail/similar sharp pointy object
  • Medium sewing needle
  • Pencil or chalk
  • Leather punch*
  • Xacto knife* or utility knife
  • Spoon, fork, or knife (for handle)
  • Shoe Goo (or comparable glue suitable for leather)
  • Scissors

*Optional tools – might be expensive for one project, but make your life easier

Step by Step

Step 1: Remove buckles
 

Using a seam ripper (available in the notions section of any fabric store or the craft department of Walmart), remove the stitching holding the buckle on the belt. If there is a loop, you can slide it off the end when the stitching has been removed.

Step 2: Trim buckle end

 

My preferred tool for cutting leather is these utility shears I bought at American Science and Surplus for $2.25. I haven’t tested the claim that they can cut a penny, but they’re great for leather.

Trim off the end of the belt at the point where the hole(s) for the buckle claw(s) are. Trim along both sides of about the end 3″ of the belt so that section is about 3/4″ wide.

 Step 3: Punch holes for stitching

Punch 2 sets of 4 holes, each set in a square, for the X stitching. Once you have punched the first set of holes, you can use the point of a compass or similar sharp point to mark where the other set should be (matching the position with the end of the belt folded over) and then punch the matching set.

If you don’t have a hand sewing punch (mine is from Tandy Leather), you can start each hole with a thumbtack and then use the compass point to make it a little bigger.

     

     

Step 4: Attach rectangle rings

 

I use 3/4″ rectangle rings from Hobby Lobby(Note: These are VERY SHINY, and you may want to distress them a bit before attaching them to the belt. I did this with black spray paint on my own belt; you can also scuff them up with sandpaper. But I skipped the distressing in this case, so I don’t have any photos of that step.)

Loop two rings into each belt and stitch into place making an X shape with the thread on the outside. (Like sewing a button.) Starting the knot without blocking the holes is a little tricky; I do it by knotting it at the side next to one of the back holes. Stitch 3 or 4 times over the X for strength, and tie off the thread behind.

     

     

Step 5: Trim the tails

By “tails” I mean the narrow part at the end that will be buckled through the rings and tucked into slits in the back part of the belt.

If one or both of your belts has a double row of holes, trim along them to leave the narrow strip of leather in between. If there is only a single row (this is how my original belt is), first trim along the holes, then, if necessary, trim off a bit of the other edge. Finally, cut a gradual diagonal/curve from the wide part of the belt.

Only trim this much of the width at first, then try on the belt. If you pull it through the rings and find you need it to be tighter, you can always trim more narrow section so it will pull through the rings, but you can’t trim less! 

     

     

Step 6: Cut slits to tuck the tails into

First buckle the belt inside-out at the right size so any stray markings left over will be on the inside of the belt. Mark short lines for the slits across the width of the belt. The top belt should have two pairs of slits about 1/2″ apart and a fifth single slit to touch the end in. The bottom belt should have one pair of slits and a third single slit. The slits should be spaced to fit your measurements; mark with your chalk or pencil until it looks like it will work. (You may want to get an extra belt at the thrift store to experiment with; this could also serve as the source for your scrap piece(s) that will be used to connect the top and bottom belts.) The slits should be long enough to tuck the tails into, but still have enough leather left before the edge of the belt so it won’t break.

The easy way to cut the slits wide enough to tuck the tail through is to use a leather punch at each end of the slit and cut between them with an Xacto knife. If you don’t have a leather punch and don’t want to invest in one (I use one like this from Ace Hardware, you’ll need to work at it a bit more with the Xacto knife (again being careful not to cut too close to the edge of the belt).

     

 

Push the handle of a piece of silverware (or something else that is rigid and of similar width and thickness to the tails of the belt) through each slit a few times to push out any stray bits of leather and stretch it a little.

     

Step 7: Connect the two belts together

Cover a flat surface with newspaper to protect it from any stray glue. Lay the two belts flat right next to each other with the center points lined up, with the back side up. (In the example, I didn’t need to mark those points because I was using two of the same kind of belt with printing on the back at the center points.) The center point will be the left side of the belt when it is worn, and the point where it should look as much as possible like one piece. Place your scrap leather without gluing it first to make sure it won’t show on the outside of the belt. Glue the scrap piece in place with Shoe Goo (available in the shoe care section of many big box stores, with the adhesives in most hardware stores, or online). Place another piece of protective paper on top and place a stack of books or similar flat weight on top. Let dry overnight.

 

At the bottom here is the scrap piece from a belt I used for another project

 

Marking the scrap piece for cutting

 Back side after gluing

 

Outside after gluing

Step 8: Add the twine wrapping

Cut a piece of twine (available at the hardware store) about 2 yards long. Tape the beginning end to the inside of the belt. You can see several different configurations of the twine wrapping in different stills and promo photos of the Jakku costume. (My take on that is that in-story it’s there for functional purposes, i.e. so Rey has twine handy when she needs twine, and that when we see it differently it’s because she’s wrapped it back on differently as she goes about her day.) The “standard” configuration is to wrap it 4 or 5 times around just the bottom strip behind the join, and in front of it wrap it all the way around several times and then just the bottom strip a couple more times.

Pretty much any way you want to wrap and tie the twine will work. My photos below show how it works for me. When you’re all done, cut a piece of duct tape about the same size as the scrap piece of leather joining your belts, just to help keep the twine in place without being visible when you’re wearing the belt.

     

     

     

     

   

   

   

   

Step 8: Put on your belt, go forth, and scavenge!

Since I was making a child-size belt and don’t have a child handy to model it, I made do with this half-torso store display, which is a little too big for the belt. But it’ll give you an idea of how the thing goes on.

   

   

If this tutorial was useful to you and you incorporated it into your Rey costume, please share! Tips and tricks to alter the process that might be useful to other costumers are always welcome too. I’d love to hear from you!

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