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05 December 2014 @ 08:28 am
Costume Quest: Babylon 5 Ranger  
At some point near the end of October, around the time we were going through Season 4 of Babylon 5, i got the idea that that perhaps i should create a Marcus-esque Ranger costume for LosCon. (Since the reason we were watching B5 at that particular time was because JMS was the guest of honor this year.)

So after Halloween i stopped shaving (and was quickly dismayed by how many more white hairs my face has since the last time i did that =P) to get the full Marcus effect. (Or at least as full as i can manage anyways.)

I (correctly) expected the hardest part of the costume would be getting a decent duster/trench coat I tried checking the place i got the brown duster i use for my steampunk pirate costume, but they didn't have any options in black, so i reluctantly went to Amazon and found some things that were close, but not a great match.

The long process of finding a good coat:

I've heard of people finding awesome things at second-hand stores, so despite never having had any luck that way myself i decided to give that a stab. I checked the nearby Goodwill and they had zero long coats. I then tried two other Goodwills and they also had zero long coats. (I suspect a big part of my lack of success with second hand shops is not knowing anywhere better to go than Goodwill.)

So i _should_ have gone back to Amazon immediately and ordered the closest match i could find, but instead i got sick(er). On saturday when i got around to checking the one coat that looked somewhat close on Amazon it informed me that A: Prime shipping was not an option and B: if i paid $20 for expedited shipping i could expect it sometime between Nov 25th and Dec 1st =P

At that point Avalyn had the great idea that we should go check out the Fashion district. Neither of us had ever been there, but we had heard stories about it from others. So around 3 or 3:30 we looked up some details and discovered that it closes at 5 pm, and on sundays 2/3rds of the stores are closed. We weren't going to rush out to try and catch the last hour on saturay, so we decided we'd try going on sunday.

The good news is that even just 1/3rd of the stores in the Fashion district is quite a lot, and in particular pretty much everything along the Alley was open. And if that was the light sunday crowd i can't imagine how packed it must be on the popular saturdays. We had two or three hours to shop before we had to get home again and we did not make it to everything. However we did at least a cursory scan of every shop in the Alley and a lot of the ones around it. Unfortunately long coats seem to have gone out of fashion. None of the shops in the Alley had anything remotely long enough. There were some medium-long coats, but in addition to not being long enough they were also mostly made out of leather.

We finally found one place with a number of coats which had one that was _close_. It wasn't _quite_ as long as i would have liked and it was a bit fancier than necessary. It would have been $120, and Avalyn informed me that it was some nice brand that i'd probably have to pay $400 for in a real store. However after debating for awhile we decided that we'd think about it some and i could just stop by after work next week if i decided i really want it.

(On the plus side we did pick up a new pair of scrubs and two new phone cases for Avalyn, so it wasn't a totally wasted trip =)

I finally decided to try ordering the coat off of Amazon, and if it didn't arrive in time i could use my brown duster. (It wasn't quite the right shape, but Marcus did wear a brown coat early on before switching to black later.)

So i went ahead and placed the order for the coat on Amazon, from a company called "Brassada", for $105 with the shipping. Thankfully the expected delivery time hadn't changed as i'd been expecting/hoping on the theory that no one was working on the weekend.

Monday morning i got an email from them asking to confirm the size (since apparently their actual sizes don't quite match the sizes listed on Amazon) which i quickly confirmed. But in the process they did tell me that with the expedited shipping i should expect the package on wednesday.

So the plan was get the package on wednesday, spend thursday morning doing some sewing before Thanksgiving, finish things up early on friday and go to the con in the evening.

So i got home wednesday to discover that "expedited shipping" = "USPS Priority 2-Day", which be default requires you to sign for the package. And since i wasn't home in the middle of the day they just left a note saying i could pick it up at the post office. On friday. @#$%%&*(%&@!!!!

Side-note: The Post Office, and every other shipping company, needs to differentiate their shipping methods better. "Priority" means very little in the way of specifics (even aside from the fact that it was called "Expedited" rather than "Priority" when i placed the order on Amazon.) They need to have a clearly labeled "Fast" option and a clearly labeled "Secure" option, and of course a "Fast & Secure" option. This is not the first time i've asked for some kind of "Expedited" option because i thought "Fast" but they thought "Secure" and refused to just leave the package for me.

In any case, after that disappointment we decided we ought to go pick up the supplies anyways, even if we didn't have the coat available to measure exactly how much fabric we'd need. We figured we'd just overestimate a little and everything would be fine.

Buying staff parts and fabric, sewing and painting:

I decided that we ought to stop by the Orchard hardware store first to get the items i wanted to make the staff (technically a "Denn'bok", as i'd learned while doing research) since that seemed like it would be less bulky to carry around and we could hit Mood on the way back for the fabric.

The first part of that went pretty well. I spent longer than was probably necessary looking though the PVC pipe and paint options before picking something out and then we headed back towards Mood. And realized when we got there at 6:53 that they closed at 7:00 =P Upon checking it seems that Orchards is open until 9, so i definitely choose poorly. But in any case there was nothing we could do about fabric until friday, so instead we went by Ralphs to get some soup for dinner, since we were both still feeling sick.

I slept in thursday morning and then spent the entire rest of the day doing Thanksgiving stuff. (I did embarrassingly little to help with the setup. I carried some chairs and mashed some potatoes. And unlike a number of other people i refrained from fingering the (fake) turkey. Most of the (non-literal) heavy lifting was done by Avalyn and inkbot.) I probably should have spent some time putting the staff together, but that was a relatively small project so it didn't end up mattering too much.

We got up somewhat early friday morning and were at the post office at about 9:00 or 9:15, just in case there was a line. There wasn't really and i was out of there with my package by 9:40. We stopped by the bank, and then by inkbot's place to pick up Avalyn's sewing machine. (We'd meant to grab that before heading home the night before, but in out post-Thanksgiving dinner stupor we totally forgot.)

We got home, unloaded the sewing machine, examined the coat and did some measurements, and had some Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch before i headed to Mood.

If you look at Marcus' coat closely, something that's hard to do since there's no HD video sources and most of the images online are not of particularly high quality either, the panels on his coat are a kind of check pattern. There are dark colored mostly square shapes with a lighter cross pattern. Technically it's a gingham check, except from what little research i've done it seems that not everyone agrees on whether there's a difference between "check" and "checkered" or on how exactly those relate to gingham.

The two unusual things about the pattern on Marcus' coat is that the squares are dark while the cross-pattern is light, while most ginghams do the opposite, and even finding on where the light part isn't white can be difficult. (Or at least it was at this particular store.) The other odd thing is that the edges of the squares seem soft and fuzzy, but it's hard to tell if that's an issue with the resolution of the image or an actual feature of the pattern itself.

But in any case i found a number of black and white checkered patterns, but no black and white check/gingham patterns. I did find a nice black and grey checkered pattern that i might have considered, except the squares were much too large. I did find a number of grey plaids, which seems to be an option that a number of cosplayers have gone with for lack of anything better, but none of them seemed quite right to me.

What i did eventually find was two different bolts of gingham/check with black squares of about the right size, but with a cross pattern of either bright blue or bright purple.

It was definitely a lot brighter that what Marcus wore, even in the pictures where his cloak has a blue/purple tinge to it, which we think was just the black/grey outfit under different lighting, but it did look very pretty. After agonizing over it for longer than was probably necessary i decided to go with it and picked the blue version. After all, we see Rangers wearing a variety of different costumes in the series, and even Marcus has at least two different versions, so clearly they don't have any specific kind of uniform requirement.

So i purchased some of that, some brown cloth to make a vest, and some black clock to make the belt and sash. (We had found a moderately wide black belt at Goodwill, but it wasn't quite wide enough by itself, and we needed something else for the sash anyways.) I also got a couple different kinds of trim for the top of the front panels, only one of which ended up getting used.

It was around 3 by the time i got home, and we reluctantly decided that if i was going to have everything done in time to wear on saturday that we'd have to skip the friday evening ice cream social and parties :(

I had a basic idea of what i wanted to do for the front panels, but Avalyn made some suggestions, than told me how to make the sleeve cuffs, the taught me how to use her sewing machine. Oh, and she taught me how to measure and pin the fabric before cutting it. And then while i started cutting and sewing that stuff she took the brown fabric and, basing it off of a peasant shirt i had, made me a vest. (And yet despite that she keeps insisting i made the costume all by myself =P)

She started dozing off around 10 or 11. I finally convinced her to actually go to bed around midnight. At that point i had the panels and cuffs cut and sewn up. I'd originally considered either pinning or taping the panels to the coat. (The Ranger coat turned out very nice, but it's quite possible i'll want a black duster for some other project at some point, so i don't want to permanently alter it yet.) However Avalyn suggesting tacking, which is something i kind of knew about in theory but didn't know the specific name for, and hadn't really considered the possibility of.

So sometime between midnight and one i started tacking the panels on. I believe i did eight or ten tacks for each of the front panels and two more for each of the cuffs. That comes out to 20-24 tacks total. A single tack doesn't seem like much, but it takes me a couple minutes to do each one, which means they add up to some serious time pretty quickly. After finishing all the tacks, interspersed with numerous pauses to try the coat on and make sure everything was hanging more or less properly, it was a little after 3 am before i decided to call it quits for the night and get at least some sleep.

(Avlayn happened to be awake at that point due to a coughing fit and wanted to get up and do some more work on the vest, but i convinced her to stay in bed and get some more sleep.)

I had my alarm set for 7:00, but it was probably 7:30 before i got out of bed, and close to 8:00 before i got back to work. The first thing i did was apply a coat of paint to the staff. Since the instructions claimed that it took 20 minutes to dry to the touch and an hour to dry completely i figured i could get two coats on with time to dry before we had to leave. Which was good because after applying the first coat some of the lettering was clearly still visible.

After doing that i quickly made two strips out of the black cloth to use as belt and sash. (Though looking at the pictures, the extra bit for the belt doesn't seem to be super noticeable.)

When i went to put the second coat on the staff i discovered that leaving it on its side was not the best idea, because there were a number of spots on the face-down side where the paint had chosen to stick to the paper i'd laid down rather than the staff itself. So for the second layer i propped it up on the edge of the balcony.

Then i ran off to trim my beard to something approximating the shape of Marcus', apply a little dye to get rid of the worst of the grey, and shower. When i got out i realized that i was definitely running later than intended. Since it seemed like we weren't going to be ready immediately when i went out and checked the staff and found there was still a spot that had gotten messed up where it was lying against the balcony, so i rotated it and applied a third coat to that part, figuring it ought to be at least mostly dry to the touch by the time we left.

We got ready and got dressed, me in my costume except for the coat. (So aside from the vest, belt and sash, just a black t-shirt, black cargo pants and black boots.) And i grabbed a garbage bag to stick the end of the staff in in case it hadn't finished drying and we headed off to the con.

We got there about 11:55, but the parking lot was full and we had to circle around to find someplace else on the block to park and walk down. We ended up getting to JMS' B5 panel a little after noon, about halfway through.

After the panel i did take the opportunity to go sit outside and draw some lines on the staff to make it look less like a simple grey stick. Then we went to the autograph signing session JMS was in. There were a couple people ahead of us but no real line.

I didn't have anything to sign (i could have brought the DVD boxes i suppose, but those are starting to fall apart) but i asked if i could get a picture with him. He said yes and after the picture was taken he complimented me on the costume! I think the words he used might have been "that's a great costume", but my brain wasn't really firing on all cylinders so i can't remember that clearly.

A couple other people asked for pictures of the costume later, which was also nice. On the other hand i don't think i saw any other B5 costumes there, though we didn't look that hard for them. I certainly didn't see any other Rangers. So i could have just shown up in a t-shirt and shorts with the Ranger pin attached and i still technically would have been the best Ranger cosplay there :)

And i did discover over the course of the day that although the _surface_ of the staff was dry, there were bubbles where the paint had collected and just filmed over. Every so often the heat and pressure from my hand would cause one of these to burst and smear my hand with paint. I had to go to the bathroom a couple times to wash the accumulation off.

I thought about wearing the costume again on sunday, but we were already running a little late and were only going to be there for 4-5 hours, so i decided to skip. And even though wearing the costume didn't feel that bad i've got to say that it was amazing how light and free it felt to just be walking around in shorts and t-shirt again after that.


Final costume price:

Ranger pin (off of Etsy) - $33 (with shipping)
Black duster - $105 (with shipping)
PVC pipe + paint - $20
Fabric - $75

Total: $233


Final costume time (very guestimatey):

Ranger pin: 2-3 hours researching and purchasing
Staff: 1 hour buying parts, 1-2 hours total constructing it.
Black duster: 6-7 hours researching, failing to find at Goodwill, buying online, and going to post office to pick up.
Fabric: 2-3 hours over two trips.
Cutting and sewing: 12 hours for me, 3-4 for Avalyn.

Total time: ~30 hours

A couple pictures will be following shortly in a friends-only post.
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