Rachel E. Pollock - La Bricoleuse (labricoleuse) wrote,
Rachel E. Pollock - La Bricoleuse

Yet more armor! An annotated photoessay

I've been photographing elements of the armor we've got in the building right now, to discuss the pros and cons of various construction choices made. As i said yesterday, sometimes it's great to see how other artisans have made things, to see how they've already stood up to theatrical performance, and to think about what works when and why.

So, today's post is a collection of those photos with some thoughts on each.

"Hammered brass" gorget from Oregon Shakespeare Festival

I love this surface treatment! This gorget is actually largely made from vegetable-tanned leather, which I'm guessing they saturated with some warm water, shaped it over the shoulders of a form, and then embossed those divots into it to create this great surface texture. Or, maybe they did it in the opposite order, embossing the divots and then shaping the shoulder curves. Then the edges have been bound with a chrome-tanned leather, much in the same way i demonstrated in my bracer-making post, except secured with glue instead of stitching. Then, the paint treatment went on. It looks great!

I'm not in love with the hinge closures at the shoulders--it makes the gorget unadjustable to accommodate different sized necks, and these are cabinetry hinges, which aren't designed to really withstand the kind of torquing that inevitably happens in dressing in armor. These are intact, but i've seen hinged armor that failed at the hinge for this reason, so unless a design specified hinges for aesthetics (which i'm guessing is the case with this piece, since the hinges are hammered as well), i wouldn't choose them as a connector. If you look at this with a wardrobe perspective and are wondering, how the heck does an actor get into this thing? The hinge pin comes out on one side and the hinge barrels separate.

Purchased gorget from Medieval Collectibles.

This is a gorget we bought new from a company that retails armor to reenactors and roleplayers and the like. It's made of a sturdy vegetable-tanned leather, and closes over each shoulder with a buckle and strap. It originally had two D-rings on the shoulders for attaching pauldrons (shoulder guards) but our performer won't be wearing those, so I removed them. The rivet holes are still there though in case in future we ever want to reinstall a pauldron attachment point.

What's going on in the picture though, is the shaping of the back portion of the gorget to fit a shoulder curve. When it arrived from the manufacturer, the two pieces were flat crescents of leather, and the back plate stood out from the body about 3" when buckled into place. I soaked it in water and used muslin strips to bind it to this form, then it was left to dry overnight. In the morning when i de-mummified it, the pieces were shaped into actual shoulder-curve shapes, much better fitting on our actor.

Is it cost-effective to buy a $60 gorget pre-made, that i then must modify? In this case, probably so. A bend of vegetable tanned leather in the weight used for this gorget is around $120-$150 from the local Tandy Leather Factory (a bend being a portion of a hide sold as a single piece). You can't buy part of a bend, so if all i were making were one gorget, we'd still have to buy the whole bend, which the excess would go into stock, but the cost would go fully into this budget. And, adding onto that the cost of the particular studs and hardware desired, the time it would take me to cut/assemble/dye/install all of it, this is a case where buying this item made good sense. All i had to do to it was shape it, pop off the pauldron straps, and label it with the actor's name.

Then again, if we wanted six of these, it might be worth evaluating what it would take to make them. It's almost just as easy to make six of something as it is to make one of something, since you can assembly-line them and chunk them out faster than doing one at a time start-to-finish. If all six could tessellate to come out of one large bend of armor-weight leather, $150 plus the cost of a bag of studs and a dozen buckles is cheaper than $360 for the retail items. Of course, i'm not counting the labor in the cost, since i'm salaried and whether i'm making a half-dozen gorgets or dyeing the arras, it's all the same to me. This would be a case where the management would consult with me about whether it looked like i could add six gorgets to my made-to-order list, and we'd weigh that against the cost of purchase.

Vacuformed breastplate from our own stock.

Breastplate of molded leather and stiffened felt from Utah Shakespeare Festival.

These two images illustrate clearly how a crafts artisan's choice of media makes a difference in the look of a piece. Both of these breastplates have very similar style lines--the pointed center front edge, the peaked ridge down the center, the silver tone to the finish. One could imagine the same costume rendering resulting in either of these. But, the first one, our vacuformed piece, has such a smooth, clean surface texture and an almost feminine shape, whereas the second one has such a different crudely textural look to it. I could imagine a designer having strong feelings about one vs the other--the man who'd wear the first one is a very different soldier than the man who'd wear the second, you know?

If you bought the first one and then looked at it in a fitting and the designer communicated that s/he wanted it to look like the second, you could cut down the hipspring and layer stiffened felt over the vacuform base, and get it to look more like the second fairly easily. It's much harder to go the opposite direction! (It involves a lot of vinyl spackle and elbow grease, as evidenced by this helmet made by second year graduate student Candy McClernan.)

Molded leather pauldrons and breastplate from Oregon Shakespeare Festival

These are a set i've been working on. The breastplate was made for a portly figure and had no matching backplate--it arrived with a belt laced onto it with a quick-release buckle in the back. Our designer wanted to make it work for our fight captain, an actor with a much more athletic figure than the piece was originally intended to accommodate. Luckily, the molded leather it's made from still retains quite a bit of flexibility, so all we needed to do was replace the belt it came with, with something more shapely and constricting. Essentially, turn the back of it into a leather man-corset, if you will. I took a bunch of measurements on the actor in the fitting and then my assistant Whitney and I made this:

Back view of previous armor with corset back.

Side view of same.

Right now we've got leather lacing at center back, with elastic lacing down both sides. This allows for control of the distance between the panels at center back, and for some "give" down both sides for athletic requirements. Our theatre's stage is a very deep thrust, so it's a given that the audience will see the back of this armor during fights and we want it to look good. And, there's one other thing worth mentioning about this armor, with respect to the pauldrons.

Interior view of pauldron bands.

I really appreciate how the original armorer chose to attach the bands of the pauldron at the outer hinge points using Chicago screws. This way, if something happens inside that needs repair--one of the support straps tears out or pops a rivet, or the connector clips need to be replaced or adjusted, etc.--all you have to do to access it fully is to remove a Chicago screw, instead of drilling out a rivet. Really smart move on the original maker's behalf, with great forethought as to how the piece will need to be worked on over its life as a costume in many shows.

That concludes my armor survey, and might conclude my posting for a while. We're about to start teching these shows next weekend, and the techs run for a couple of weeks--so, my January blogging might be down for the count. I guess if that's the case, at least i'm leaving you with an armored man-corset as my farewell-til-February, and what's not to love about that?
Tags: armor, leatherworking, playmakers

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