Client Spotlight: Matt & Shirley

Tattoos and costuming have a lot in common.  You get your first one and you think you’re done.  Next thing you know the itch for yet another coat, or hat, or patch, or whatever creeps in.  Add LARP into the mix, where you are always on the lookout for a new costume piece for an existing character, or for a brand new character, and every day is a new opportunity for another costume piece.

roach's first larp costume
My first ever LARP costume. I made a T-tunic out of an old linen and lace tablecloth. Not shown, the final product splattered with paint to look like blood.

And like tattoos, if you are lucky you find someone who you can trust to add to your collection.  It can make for a beautiful, and creative, relationship.  As a costumer/seamstress, I love those relationships.  Not only because it means regular income, but because the collaboration can take me to interesting and inventive places.

Matt and Shirley are two such clients.  I met them through LARP, and have been lucky to call them friends over the years.  When the approached me for costumes for a Byzantium based vampire LARP I did a little victory dance.  The last time I worked anywhere near the BCE was back when I first started LARP in a Constantinople by Night game.  There was a lot of room for inventive costuming just waiting to be investigated.

Matt and Shirley are great examples of costuming clients.  They had a good idea of what they wanted and were open to suggestions.  Matt’s costume request was simple: a sarong with a Poseidon themed border print and a cape.  He provided me with pictures of sample garments and knew what colors he wanted.  My only input was to offer up a few designs for him to pick from for the border.

The design was accomplished with fabric paint and a stencil.  I used a linen-look fabric for the sarong and cape for a period-esque look without the drawbacks (wrinkles and a high price point).  For the cloak I added a black and white key trim ribbon and chain clasp.

Stencil This
The most time consuming part of all this was cutting out the stencils. If I were to do this more often I would invest in on of those home laser cutter machines. I feel particularly proud of remembering to put down a garbage bag liner before I started painting.

I had never done stencil work before, so this gave me a valuable opportunity to pick up a new skill, and then think about other ways I could accomplish the same task.  If I had had the time and budget I would have gone with a 100% linen and used a bleach or batik technique for the design.  That said, no matter where you stand on the whole “LARP requires costuming“, (and equivalencies to tattoos aside), I advocate going with what your budget allows.  Getting the look for your character doesn’t have to cost a ton.

Shirley had a vague idea of what she wanted and with some back and forth we settled on a linen chiton with a fur capelet. This led to my favorite moment in the idea process where I mentioned I had a sheepskin in the workshop much to Matt’s disbelief*.

The chiton was, again, made from a linen-look material.  Much like Matt’s sarong and cloak I was just dealing with two long rectangles of cloth.  That was actually the most difficult part of putting the costuming together.  Dealing with yards and yards of cloth can be hard.  I ended up spending a lot of time standing in front of Kenny with fabric draped over my shoulder as I hemmed it.

The capelet was the most difficult piece to put together, mostly due to the fact that I was dealing not with a cut of cloth, but an entire piece that had ragged and awkward edges.  I spent a lot of time with it hung on Mildred, adjusting it this way and that to find the best drape.  The fastenings came from thrifted belts and metal hardware procured from Textile Discount Outlet.

Since neither of these costumes included pockets, and I am a proponent of hands-free gaming, I made up simple drawstring pouches for both out of left over fabric.  At the very least they would be able to store their character sheets out of the way when they weren’t throwing chops.

My other philosophy when it comes to LARP costuming, is that you have a better RP experience when your costuming is comfortable and fits.  I think these two pieces hit both those marks, if I am to judge from the pictures Matt sent me of Shirley in her outfit.

A Fierce and Wise Woman
Shirley in her completed costume. I love how fierce she looks.

*Over the years various and sundry items have materialized in the workshop.  I suspect the house gnomes secret them there.  In this case, however, a friend and client had gifted me the sheepskin after a thrifting trip.

Snippet: The Slope

(A piece of fiction written about a LARP character.)

The rats screech and squeak in fear as Alice tosses them into the web. They struggle, clawing and biting, tiny nails scratching the air in a vain attempt to escape. Alice notes that the monstrous spider waits before skittering along the web, dancing to her dinner. Perhaps the thrashing tenderizes the meat, or maybe terror is a succulent marinade.

Alice watches the spider quickly wrap each rat in silk. They make neat, lozenge shaped packages. They are tiny compared to the massive bulk of the spider. Pet store rats can’t be all that satisfying.

Alice tilts her head, considering. Cats would be only slightly more difficult to obtain. The same goes for dogs. But they could be gotten, and would provide better fare. Alice imagines the struggles of a tabby or mutt. She calculates the size of a mummified retriever.

Of course there are even larger prey she could obtain.

Little tow-headed toddlers, lured from the playground or bright-eyed teen-age girls promised a chance at modeling. With the start of the school year there are plenty of freshmen hanging out in parking lots stoned or drunk. The streets are full of homeless men, unemployed and desperate for money who could be overpowered with a taser.

Alice imagines all of them wriggling and crying, pleading to be released. The glamour to be reaped would be oh so delicious.

The spider has withdrawn to its hole at the roots of the dead and withered oak. All that remains of the rats is the cardboard box in which Alice transported them. Alice gives herself a shake, slightly disgusted by the fantasies she entertained, mostly saddened by them.

There’s so much talk of the slippery slopes, of destroying fetches leading to the wholesale murder of humans, she thinks. But it’s not a slope. It’s a drop off.

An unmarked drop off.

And so one must occasionally feel one’s way to the edge, moving slowly, and with deliberation to mark where the ground falls away, or else one risks imitating the cartoon coyote, running on air, solid ground just out of reach. At that point one must remember not to look down.

They hardly ever remember.

Alice backs away from the ledge. The way is clearly marked, the lines apparent. A rat is a rat. A human is a human. The former is for eating, the latter not.

Alice picks up the box and leaves. She’ll not revisit the pet store any time soon. The spider can catch its own meals.

Border Patrol

Last night I went to the local Changeling LARP*.  It had been a high anxiety day, and I almost stayed home.  Even the first half hour I was there I contemplated bolting to the car.  But it was cold out there, and I had gone through the effort to put on a corset, and my hair was looking particularly cute.  By the end of the evening I was glad I had gone.  I had a good time.  I ate cupcakes and meatballs.  And I got lots of good role play in.  Being able to be someone other than myself for a few hours has always been helpful in ways that I can expound upon later. Today, though, I’m spending time reflecting on two incidents that happened at game that highlight one of the issues I’ve been dealing with lately.

My social anxiety fluctuates.  Sometimes it is high, and I have a hard time leaving the house, or even letting people I don’t know into it.  Sometimes it has eased up enough that I can run errands and attend events with little stress.  But there is another aspect to it that involves touching.  I am physically demonstrative in ways: I talk with my hands, I am affectionate with Stephan out in public, I love to cuddle with my kids.  But I find touch with anyone outside of a small circle of people to be uncomfortable.

This goes beyond sexually motivated touching.  The pat on the ass, or the shoulder massage that creepers use as an excuse to touch targets.  Those bad touches are universally uncomfortable for the recipient.  I mean the personal space invasions that are part of our culture, most specifically hugging.  With the group of gamers we played with last night this is a regular form of physical contact.  And none of the huggers first ask permission before they swoop in, arms wide, for some physically enhanced social contact.   And thanks to social conditioning, people go along with it because it would be rude to not.**

The first half an hour of game, I was approached for a hug from a regular.  Previously I have acquiesced to his embrace, but I couldn’t this time.  The game room was small and crowded and I knew I would have issues if I didn’t firmly establish my boundaries.  As he came at me, I spoke up.  “I’m not really a hugging person,” I told him.  He seemed to understand and offered a high-five instead, which I found reasonable.  Of course later my words came back to bite me in the rear.

Later, as I was leaving game, I gave my friend Chrissy a hug.  Reasonable Regular saw this and I found myself having to explain to him that there are exceptions to my no-hugging.  An awkward situation was made worse when he took it to the place of “Oh, I get it, you just don’t like me.”  Even though he was joking, I found it infuriating that 1) I felt I had to explain myself, and 2) he seemed unable to accept that there are distinctions and levels when it comes to social interactions.  If I say I’m not a hugging person surely that might not apply, say, to my husband or children.  So why is it unreasonable that I might have different levels of touch when it comes to others?

Later, I had to deal with another regular.  While sitting in a circle during mass combat, he tried to cut in front of me.  When informed that, actually, it was my turn, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Okay, you can take your turn.”  Around the circle of gamers I heard snickers and laughter.  Oh how funny!  How cute!

The shoulder pat is the snot-nosed, sagging-diaper baby brother of the head pat.  Insecure men—and it is always men—use it to get their patronizing misogynism on but still maintain plausible deniability.  Having been on the receiving end of such I knew exactly what had just happened.  As did the regular.  As did all the others in the room.

My feet firmly planted on the ground of “You Fucking Did Not,” I looked down at my shoulder, swiveled my eyes to his face and stared at him for a long, uncomfortable second.  Then I turned my back to him and addressed the storyteller.   Suddenly it wasn’t cute anymore.  The circle of others acted like our personal live audience and provided a collective “Oooooohhhhh!”  Once I had finished my conversation with the storyteller I turned once again to my would be belittler.  “Okay, you can have your turn now.”  I patted his shoulder and turned away from him again.

Like my social anxiety, my ability to maintain my boundaries is ever changing.  Tomorrow I may find myself unable to speak up.  I might feel obligated to accept another hug.  I might find my borders crumbling again under enforced niceness.  However, there are at least two gamers who now know where they stand with me.


*LARP = Live Action Role Play. Where you dress up as your character, only to end the evening standing around in a crowd to resolve mass combat.

**Oddly enough, in game, if a character refuses to shake hands, no one bats an eye and accepts it, no questions asked.  Of course game has rules about touching.  Go figure.