I cheated a little bit on my Top 5s of 2013 post by including in the successes section a project I hadn’t actually previously mentioned, from before I started the blog. So without further ado, here is the lowdown on possibly my favourite piece of LARP costume evar, the Eagle Cloak.
Way back in January of 2013, my then LARP character, Seren the rogue, had to make a quick exit from the game because everyone else was being entirely too Lawful. I had a bit of a sulk and a bit of a rant about people metagaming (translation: when a character makes a decision based on knowledge that the player has, but the character doesn’t – a big roleplaying no-no but hard to completely avoid). As you do. Then I settled down to build a new character, who arose more or less from the slightly bitter determination that if the group wanted law-abiding, I’d damn well give them law-abiding. Thus was created Alexa Pallister, the paladin, who made her debut in January 2013.
Pallister is a member of a militant religious order, the Order of the Eagle, dedicated to defending the realm and purging the land of darkness. The setting manual mentions that the Order are known for their distinctive red and black livery, giving me an excellent starting point for costume ideas.
As so often, the decision as to what to make was also affected by the rest of the costume. Pallister wears chainmail. I’ve fought in proper steel chain before and found it punishingly difficult – an adult-sized chain shirt weighs around four stone/25 kilos, about a third of my own bodyweight. So when I bought my own set, I went for aluminium, which is one-sixth the weight and also shiny.
Chainmail is hell for catching on cloth, as you might expect. (This is especially true of aluminium chain: steel will quite happily bend into a ring and stay there, but aluminium is soft, and has to be riveted to stay in shape.) I’ve found that anything close-fitting worn over chain is liable to get snagged on it, with the potential to tear up the cloth and indeed the chain if you yank too hard. Surcoat over chain is perfectly possible, but I elected not to in this case – a cloak seemed much the easier option for displaying Pallister’s colours.
So I wanted to make a big, bold, hard-wearing costume piece that wouldn’t tear or fray too badly and would stand up well to mud (Pallister is usually at the front of any battle and ends up on the floor a lot), aluminium (the gorgeous silver-white sheen on ally chain is actually a thin coating of aluminium oxide, which also comes off everywhere and has the added bonus of being mildly toxic – not enough to kill you, but enough to make it a bad idea to ingest or get too much on your skin), trees, and occasional vicious washing to clear the residue of all of the above. And it had to be character-appropriate, distinctive, and as awesome as possible. Hence … The Eagle Cloak.
I wanted a huge cloak with an eagle on it. First I considered appliqué. Then it occurred to me that you could get quite a good splayed-wing effect by alternating slices of a semicircular cloak, and the basic design was born. After wondering how to do the legs, I ended up revisiting the appliqué idea, and after consultation with the GM about in-game iconography I added in the lightning bolts to evoke the Roman Aquila standard – while the setting’s dominant flavour is medieval, the Order’s in-game reputation for discipline and fearsome battlefield efficiency deliberately recalls the Roman Legions.
The material is a lovely cotton drill from Leeds market; £5/m (I bought three metres each of the red and black, to be sure, and had a lot left over) and absolutely gorgeous – holds its colour, heavy, warm, and cuts and presses beautifully. The latter became important when I was appliquéing on the fiddly sections for the legs and lightning bolts, and making sure all the appliqué pieces had their edges properly turned under.
The stripes are broken up at the top by a wide mini-cape/over-collar with a zigzag edge, hinting at the distinctive zigzag line where an eagle’s white head-feathers show against its body.
The eagle-eyed (… sorry) will spot that the cloak has a different clasp in the photo above to the one that heads the post. The original super-fancy clasp came from a belt I found in a charity shop, which had to be levered out of position and broke not long after the pictures were taken. I replaced it with a smaller and, so far, sturdier one.
And the hood, because I could and in a discreet nod to Assassin’s Creed (in which eagles are a bit of a Thing), has a beaky point on it. It’s far too big to wear up all the time, but excellent in the rain. You can sort of see it in this picture, which also gives a better view of the alternating colours:
The Eagle Cloak is actually not perfectly semicircular; it’s more like ten-eighths of a semicircle, as I knew I’d lose a few inches of circumference to seam allowance and wanted to make extra sure that it went all the way around. This also worked better with the wing pattern I worked out.
This cloak was not the first large-sized costume piece I made, but I think of it as something of a milestone. Partly this is because of how impressed the rest of the group were – regardless of one’s higher motives for making a really good costume, I know of no LARPer who doesn’t preen a little bit when complimented on one – and partly because it was a big and unwieldy thing made entirely from scratch and not entirely out of straight lines.
It required a whole bunch of skills that I hadn’t really used before – things that I now don’t even think of as skills as such, but which I did definitely have to learn (and which I – and I don’t think I’m alone amongst no-longer-beginners here – tend to forget can still be terrifically daunting if you’ve never touched a sewing machine before):
- precisely marking and cutting curved pieces, without a paper pattern
- precisely marking and cutting small and fiddly-shaped pieces
- sewing curved seams and hems
- putting in a clasp
Difficulty level: I’d guess at Advanced Beginner. See above for the list of techniques. But it doesn’t have shaping, require altering a pattern (although it does require cutting fabric without one), or involve buttonholes, pockets or sleeves.
Construction time: Sixteen hours plus or minus a bit. I think. Done in a lot of one- and two-hour chunks in the evenings.
Cost: £35 – six metres of fabric (though I probably only used two-thirds of it) plus clasp. Not expensive as LARP gear goes, but not cheap. For LARP kit, though, especially on a combat character, I maintain that it can be worth pushing the boat out for good fabric because it takes a lot of punishment. This cloak is still going strong a year later with all its seams intact, which is not bad considering how often it’s been stood on, fallen on, used as a blanket, had swords caught in it, been tripped over …
And of course, last but not least, have another one of me posing in it because why not.