Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tutorial: Fabric Over Foam Costuming (RAM Gauntlet)

This guide has been reformatted from its original presentation to better fit blogger. All the images and text are the same, the images are simply automatically resized. The original tutorial can be found here.

This is a fairly easy method to use and depending on the exact materials and design it can be incredibly durable. For this tutorial, I will be making the grey base of RAM’s gauntlet.

Caution: This method is not intended for children, high temperature hot glue can burn. If working with children consider using low temperature hot glue instead and also have adults helping.

The materials for this simple gauntlet are:
2 pieces of 12"x18" 3mm craft foam
Grey cotton jersey
"High temp" hot glue gun and glue sticks
A sewing machine
Container of ice water

Your first step is to make your pattern. For the first gauntlet I drew directly onto a piece of foam and worked with it until I had a shape I like. This gauntlet is incredibly easy as it consists only of two tubes. While you could save half a sheet of craft foam by only backing the cut out of the outer tube, doing a full second layer gives strength to this piece. If you are making a piece with very few seams or large stretches of foam that has no hot glue on it then you will want to back the item to give it support. Another layer of foam works well for something as small as a gauntlet but something like a large boot or chest plate is better off being backed with laminated card or poster board and a second layer of foam. To make a pattern for the second gauntlet I wrapped the first in tissue paper and marked the outline, then cut it out. Voila! New pattern! Remember in the case of multiple items to keep in mind whether they need to mirror each other instead of being exact replicas. After I finished with the pattern I wrote left on one side and right on the other so if I ever use it again I will know which way to set the pattern out.

Once you have your pieces cut out of foam use that as a pattern to cut the fabric. When cutting the fabric, leave a 1" allowance all around for stretchy materials and 1.5"-2" for cotton broadcloth or other materials that do not have give. For more complex pieces, like a chest plate with complex curves, glue the foam base together and then drape the fabric over it. A guide on working with complex curves will come at a later time.

Now that you have everything cut out, glue the bottom "insert" layer together. This is where having a high temp hot glue gun is important as is waiting for it to fully warm up. When the glue is at the highest range of heating it will melt into the foam itself which means the seam is much more sturdy than simply having been glued. This can cause a problem if you need to undo the seam but heating up your pair of scissors over the stove can make it a little easier. It is at this point you will also want to keep the dish of ice water near, high temperature hot glue can be painful, and since it sticks to your skin being able to dunk a finger with a glomp of glue on it in cold water shortens the burning time. You can burn yourself. Gloves are great for protection but I loose too much dexterity when wearing them.

Glue down the jersey where the cut out on the top layer will be. You may want to apply it with only faint dots of glue and hold the top layer over it to make sure everything is lined up correctly. If it isn't, rip it off and reposition it until it is good then glue it down. When using a woven material like cotton jersey or broadcloth the glue will sink into the weave, often permanently bonding to the fabric. This, combined with the high temp glue melting into the foam, leads to a costume which is highly durable. Arcee has been shipped parcel post twice and been left in a car in the summer a few times and suffered no ill effects when stored with supports.

This is after trimming the edges and gluing them down but before gluing the seam smooth.

Next you will want to glue the top layer down on one side, wrapping the foam around the bottom foam layer. Hold the top layer in place and trim the edges of the top to bottom seam so they will meet nicely. Once that is done solid glue down both sides and the seam itself. For this specific item you do need to sew the top to bottom seam of the fabric covering. If you did wish to sew it then you would need to not glue down the top layer in the previous step after trimming the ends to meet, you would wrap the fabric around it and then glue the top layer down, being careful to make it as even and discreet as possible. If you are not using a stretchy fabric then avoid sewing seams, getting a fabric with no give to fit the foam properly is much too time consuming.

To get a good fit, wrap the gauntlet in the fabric and pin it at the desired fit.

Slip off the fabric covering and measure the seam allowance you have just made. Unpin the fabric and turn it inside out, repinning so it has the same seam allowance as before.

Sew the fabric, using a straight stitch. This will not let the fabric stretch and will help keep the grain of the fabric straight. It is also quick to do and easy to take out if need be. I like to have my pins pointing the way I am sewing so I can aim for the tip of each one to make sure the seam is straight.

Slide the fabric tube over the foam and snip open the fabric where the insert hole is.

Glue down the fabric so the edges of the cut out are nice and smooth but do not glue down the top or bottom openings.

Glue down the edges of the cut out in the top layer, being careful to not glue directly next to the edge. Hold the edge down while it cools to dry.

Now glue the remaining fabric edges down.

Pull the fabric of the gauntlet taught but not so it strains the foam. Glue down the edges of the fabric, pulling them as straight and flat as possible. If you want you can line these with more of the jersey but unlined they are the perfect weight for me.

Hey look! We’ve got an unadorned Ram gauntlet now! I’ve actually got a pair.

The gauntlet on the left is the one I made for this tutorial, the one of the right was one I made previously which I chose to glue down instead of sewing the top to bottom seam. As you can see, sewing the seam is a much neater and prettier option.

When it comes to choosing how to decorate your fabric over foam armor just remember that you are decorating fabric. Iron on materials work, just be careful of hot glue seams. Fabric paint and things that are hot glued on also work well.
For Ram, I’m using reflective tape. It irons on and while a pain has had no peeling problems like the regular reflective tape.

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