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Making Your Pattern


Pattern-making is a skill which requires practice. Lots of it. If you have experience tailoring or have sewn clothing from paper patterns, you'll probably have an easier time trying to figure out how to draft patterns for armor. (Just think of it as really stiff clothing.) If you haven't done anything like it before, well... then you're in for an interesting time. There are many websites which can teach you the basics of sewing and/or creating patterns. You could also check out the websites of professional armorers or The Armour Archive and see if they offer any tips for fitting and creating armor.

When making a pattern for a piece of armor, there are two things you have to do first:

1. Measure the part of the body that you want to cover with armor.
2. Create a form around which you can fit the armor pattern. (You can use your OWN body as a form or create one out of padding, fabric or tape.)

Taking Measurements

The type of measurements that you'll need to take will vary depending on the area(s) of the body that the armor needs to cover. A complex, full-body suit of armor will require a long list of measurements, whereas a simple circlet around the head might only require a simgle measurement. My book on armor has an entire chapter that deals with the art of measurement-taking, which is similar to what you'd have to do to measure yourself for a suit of clothing. (Armor is less forgiving than clothing, however, which is why you have to take great care to make sure your measurements are accurate. Also, if you're wearing any clothing underneath your armor, you'll have to take that extra bulk into account and perhaps add 1/2" to all of your measurements around the limbs and torso.)
A brief online search should point you in the direction of a measurement chart that will list the body measurements that you'll need for your project. Some charts are printable, so you'll be able to print them and fill them out as you go. (My armormaking book has a chart containing the measurements which I've found the most helpful in my projects, and I've made it so that it can be easily photocopied.)

Measurements should be taken using a soft measuring tape (which shouldn't be wrapped around the body too tightly, lest the final pattern become distorted and the armor not fit.) You do not need to use ALL of the measurements that you see listed in your chart,) just the ones that you think would be helpful to you in fitting your particular pattern. (As you gain experience in drafting patterns, you should get a better idea of which measurements are needed for a particular project and which are not.)

If you're fitting a piece of armor to your own body, measurements will help to give you a rough idea of the dimensions of your final pattern. If you're fitting the armor to someone else, (someone who may not always be present during the construction of the pattern and armor) then getting good, accurate measurements is crucial. You'll also need to build a form to fit your pattern around so you can get a good idea of how to shape it.

Making a Form
If you're planning on making a bracer (or some other kind of covering for your arm or your legs), you can make a form by wrapping a roll of cotton batting into a sort of cone shape, and wrapping tape around it at regular intervals. You must, of course, make sure the dimensions of the roll conform to the measurements that you have listed. Make sure also that the areas between the tape also conform to your limb's circumference measurements, leaving you with an accurate 3-D recreation of your limb.
If you're making a breastplate (or some other covering for your chest and/or torso), you'll want to get your hands on a dress form. Since dressforms are expensive, you might want to try your hand at making one instead of buying one, and there are many ways to go about doing this. My armormaking book has a whole chapter devoted to the buying and construction of dressforms, which includes a step-by-step picture tutorial on how you can make a rigid and inexpensive paper tape dressform--one that's ideal for armormaking. I've also included instructions on making a duct tape dressform, and links to online dressform-making tutorials as well.


So let's assume you've taken the proper measurements for your project and have constructed (or bought) an accurate form for fitting. Now it's time to dive into the actual construction of the pattern itself, but how should you go about it?...

Patternmaking

Well, first you get yourself some decent character reference pictures to work from. These can be found at many online anime galleries, fansites, and official production company sites. It can be difficult to find pictures that are of the suitable size and angle that one needs. Volume One of my Compendium has an entire chapter devoted to the finding and organization of reference pictures, as I feel these are important issues to deal with. My book also talks a bit about the problems one can have when trying to find accurate images of characters.

One irritating problem that many costumers face is the fact that sometimes, no two reference pictures of an anime character seem to be alike. When that happens, you're going to have to use your imagination, and either combine different designs or come up with your own design for the armor, prop, or costume that you want to create.

Let's say you've settled upon a design and are ready to begin the construction of your pattern...
For a project like this that involves a breastplate and armor that covers the full length of the arm, you'll have to take detailed torso and arm measurements, then make (or buy) forms that conform to those measurements. When making armor that covers the chest or torso, it's recommended (before you do anything else) that you make a sloper, that is, a pattern made from newspaper that conforms closely to the shape of the torso. (Yes, my book on armormaking devotes a lot of time to it *end of commercial* ) but if you've ever found yourself making a clothing pattern, you'll find the two processes remarkably similar.
Once your sloper is finished, you cut it into pieces so it will lay flat and then place it down onto a piece of tagboard to use as a guide to cutting your final armor pattern. (It's recommended that you make your final armor pattern or template out of a stiff material like tagboard, as that will give you an accurate idea of how your final armor materials--like craft foam and styrene--are going to behave once placed onto your form.)

For the purposes of this tutorial (which is meant to give you a general run-down of the pattern/armormaking process,) we'll spend the next few paragraphs describing how to make a pattern for an extremely simple project...

Here is a character from the Gaia Online MMORPG. As you can see, he's wearing just a pair of simple shoulder coverings (aka pauldrons).

The pauldrons just seem to stick to the shoulders of the character all by themselves. Obviously some way must be found to do that in the real-life, life-sized version of the costume. Laces and ties are a good method for connecting armor to clothing, as are giant sew-in snaps. However, a good attaching method for a simple project like this is velcro, which I'll discuss more in depth later on...


Project Step #1: Taking Measurements. Only a few are needed for this project: the (1) desired length of your pauldron (that is, the length of the part of your shoulder that you want the pauldron to cover from front to back,) the (2) distance around your shoulders at chest level, and the (3) distance from your neck to the edge of your shoulder.



If you're making the pauldron for someone else and need to pad a dressform, the "circumference around the shoulders" measurement will tell you how much padding to wrap around the dressform. (If you're making the pauldrons for yourself, then all you have to do is fit the pattern you're making to your own body.)

Project Step #2: Sketching Out the Pattern. I began my pauldron pattern project by using my pauldron length measurement and distance from neck to edge measurement to sketch out the general shape of the pauldron onto a piece of tagboard. While doing this, I tried to ensure that the width of the pauldron was proportional to its length, so it wouldn't look funny. (Making proportional patterns from chibi-style reference pictures is a deceptively difficult thing to do.)
To ensure that both ends of the pauldron were exactly the same shape, I folded the pattern down the middle and trimmed it so the ends' outer contours would match.
I fitted the pauldron to my dressform, and after a few more adjustments, I had the final shape.

Voila! That was easy enough. The next part of the process involves using the pattern to cut and shape the final materials for the armor, and that can be viewed in the next part of the tutorial: Project Construction.

When it comes to making props like swords, guns, etc., patternmaking is usually a much simpler process. Once you've determined how long you want your prop to be, all you have to do is (A) find a picture of the prop with a full-on view, (B) blow up the picture to your desired length using a graphics program, (C) print the resized image out onto several pages and (D) tape them together. (Okay maybe that's not so simple, especially if you can't find a full on picture of your item and don't have a graphics program, although you can find a free graphics program at http://www.gimp.org/. It should come in handy for blowing up patterns, manipulating reference pictures and editing photos of your cosplay work.)



My book on Propmaking contains a lot more detail about the process. (I also made and posted a quick and dirty prop proportioning tutorial on Youtube as well.)