Becoming Shadowborn: costuming my Shadowvale character

As I promised back in Into the Shadowvale, I’m going to share the details of my character Melusina’s costuming. Mostly for the benefit of Fair Escape 😉

Costuming for this game was fairly simple, in that I made exactly nothing. I am coming to realize that while I enjoy putting together costumes, I rarely enjoy sewing. Thankfully I am at a point in my life where I can just throw money at the problem.

That said, there were a lot of moving pieces, and I’d like to give a nod to all the vendors who made it possible.

Here’s Melusina again, for visual reference. I realize that ALL BLACK ON BLACK is an aesthetic that’s hard to photograph, so I’ll add some pictures of individual items, too.

Let’s start from the top, shall we?

Headwrap: is a lightweight black scarf I found at Savers. I tie it behind my head, and roll one end into a turban (thanks, Shadows of Amun, for teaching me how to do that!), leaving the other to hang. I may do something different in hotter weather; we’ll see.

Hair: Shadowborn are said to have hair in colors of purple or red. I knew I didn’t want to wear a wig, so hair pieces and falls of various sorts seemed the best idea. Thus I opted for these deep purple/black bangs from Damnation Hair.

Credit: Damnation Hair

I was very pleased with this piece! (Although the matching hair falls I bought didn’t work out, for various reasons). It is human hair, which means it’s actually not unpleasant to have hanging in my face, like synthetic hair can sometimes be. The seam where the hair clips in is fairly obvious, and does need to be covered, however — hence the headwrap. I could probably make do with some sort of headband in hot weather.

Lipstick: is a matte lip paint in “Raine Fever” from Coloured Raine, the most enthusiastic cosmetics vendor I’ve ever encountered. (Putting in an order prompts a mailstorm of “wow, we’re so excited to serve you!” messages). Thanks to Abrihette, who plays Samaran priestess Azar, for turning me on to this company.

Credit: Coloured Raine Cosmetics

Elf ears: are custom-painted elf/hobbit/pixie ears from Etsy seller Elven Caravan. Their ears are available in a selection of colors, designed to be to matched your skin tone. They had many other ear options, too, should these ears not suit. I made a good choice as to color, if I do say so myself — I had at least one person tell me I had the “most matched elf ears” among the Faeborn. (In case you were curious, my shade of White Girl is “medium”).

Credit: Elven Caravan

Ear cuffs: are moon and star ear cuffs from Silver Palace, a Thai Etsy seller. Ear cuffs are helpful when wearing elf ears, I learned, to hide the seam where the elf ear meets human skin.

Credit: Silver PalaceTH

Contacts: Shadowborn are supposed to have violet or grey eyes. Problem: I have brown eyes. I could have just ignored this requirement, since I had other clear markers of my elf-ness, but I wanted to do something to nod in this direction. Unfortunately, since I wear prescription lenses, I found my options somewhat limited in terms of colors. (I may just not have been searching hard enough; Ashleigh, who plays Forestborn witch Lairel, had better luck finding weird prescription lenses).

I ended up ordering FreshLook Colors in Violet from 1-800-CONTACTS, which is a fairly normal sort of colored lens — you could probably get them from your optometrist. They definitely add a purple/grey cast to my eyes, but are not as dramatic as they could be. Notably, they also add a bit of a fog to my vision — not impairing, but definitely noticeable — and so required a bit of practice beforehand.

(I tried to take a picture of my purple eyes, but it’s really hard to photograph, folks!)

Here’s a headshot of Melusina, to focus on these details:

Tattoo: Melusina has, for Backstory Reasons ™, a tattoo of the letter ‘M’ on her neck. Given the armor I need to wear, this is rarely visible, but I wanted it to be there, nonetheless. Thankfully, there is such a thing as temporary tattoo printer paper. The biggest obstacle, after that, was the fact that I wanted to use was a PC-only font (Blackadder, a script font), but I needed some functions of Photoshop in order to make the sheet of tattoos, which I only have on my Mac. Much transferring of files was involved in bringing this to life.

Armor: It’s hard to see in the pic since it blends in with my clothes, but I’m wearing a leather tabard/jerkin as my required physrep for three points of armor. The tabard, in black, is from Larperlei, a German Etsy shop.

Credit: LarperLei

Shirt: In the pics I’m wearing a black shirt from The Pirate Dressing (I think it’s the Cap’n Quincy?), similar to one I already own, but which my husband stole for this event *looks meaningfully*. I ended up borrowing a larger size of the shirt from my friend Chris S, who conveniently plays one of the Veiled (a.k.a black-clad undead) in 5G Silverfire.

My other shirt for this event is a “Classic Renaissance Shirt” from Sofi’s Stitches via Medieval Collectibles.

Credit: Medieval Collectibles

Trousers: in the picture I’m wearing a pair of black breeches from Sofi’s Stitches via Medieval Collectibles.

Credit: Medieval Collectibles

I also have a pair of (voluminous!) Viking Linen Trousers from Armstreet, also in black.

Credit: Armstreet

Boots: Are my usual larp boots: Men’s Black Leather Knee High Renaissance Boots, from House of Andar.

Credit: House of Andar

Belt: This is my typical belt for larping, the 2.5″ Ladies Warrior Belt from Ravenswood Leather, with buckled pouch (something similar to the Corsair Satchel, though looped) and two Noble Jack Sword Frogs.

Credit: Ravenswood Leather

Swords: two 46″ longs from B3 Imagination Studio, i.e. Ben Becker’s company. I went for the custom sword design, opting for the angled tip, the flat sides, a round pommel, a wrap showing the phases of the moon, and a silver crossguard in the shape of the crescent moon.

How to construct an orc shaman costume

Or: It’s Not Easy Been Green

Or: A work in progress

As I wrote about earlier, I recently had cause to create an orc shaman costume for an NPC role in Madrigal 3. When staffer Griff contacted me to request I play this role, this might have gone through my head:

Original concept art for an shaman from the World of Warcraft boardgame. Maybe the game itself; I don’t recall and vanilla WoW was a long time ago.

Okay, okay, the orcs of Aerune are not Warcraft orcs. But let’s be real — there were gonna be some similarities. And I’d been wanting to make a costume like this for yeeeeears.

This is what I ended up with:


(Better pictures as I improve the costume and take more)

Let’s break it down by piece.


Most of my work went into this. I wanted something that looked like scraps of leather roughly hewn into a garment, and I had only a month to work, so I headed for my favorite place for fast and cheap costuming: Savers. I literally bought almost every piece of leather or pleather that seemed like it might work. This included:

  • a black pleather skirt with a faux snakeskin front panel
  • a grey pleather jacket, well-worn
  • a black suede skirt
  • a tan suedecloth skirt with interesting cutwork
  • a black leather jacket
  • a copper-and-blue leather-look vest

Not all of these made their way into the skirt. Mostly, what you see here is:

  • panels from the black suede skirt, decorated with strips cut from the cutwork suedecloth skirt,
  • the arms, and strips from the front of, the grey pleather jacket, some decorated with faux fur, and…
  • the snakeskin panel from the black pleather skirt, arranged over a suede panel and some faux fur to create an interesting centerpiece.


The belt was one with an interesting tie detail I purchased from Target. The faux fur is actually stuff I had lying around from an old cosplay. I put slits in each of the panels near the top, and slid them onto the belt. Once the belt was on my waist, I arranged them where I wanted them, tying the tie portion of the belt over the centerpiece.

I tried to hot-glue the panels into place once I had them where I wanted them, but hot glue doesn’t work so well on leather (and my husband leaving it in the hot car for a few hours probably didn’t help). Oh well! It doesn’t provide full coverage, of course, but I wasn’t expecting it to do that — I still wear shorts underneath.

The top

… was entirely improvised, because my first choice plan didn’t come together.

See the original orc lady picture? And her boobtastic leather jerkin? (Jerkin, heh). I wanted to do something like that. Short on time, I tasked my husband with removing the arms from the black leather jacket, and adding grommets so it could lace up the front.

Well, the result was cleavage-baring. It, uh, also looked more like fetish wear than it did something a hard-working orc shaman might wear. (The color probably didn’t help — tan leather = tribal, but black leather = motorcycle gang or dominatrix). The only Earth Shock involved would be my boobs exploding out of it.

(Since this blog is mostly PG-13, you won’t be getting picture of that).

So, in a pinch I found a white T-tunic I had once made that wasn’t doing me any good any longer. I cut most of the length off it, and cut off the arms, until I had something that looked like a sleeveless shirt. No hemming, because orcs don’t need hemming. It still looked entirely too clean, though, so I soaked it in coffee for about 6 hours and then washed it, which left it a nice off-white. The olive cake makeup I was wearing added further grime to it, which is all to the good, as far as I’m concerned.


The vest

… was actually a piece I made for the weekend-long game Once Upon a Time in Tombstone. You can see it on the Old West’s derpiest ranger here:


I considered using the copper-blue vest, which fit better, and sure didn’t look like fetish wear, but it still looked too modern to my eyes.

The teeth

I used this tutorial on using moldable plastic to make orc teeth.

This was my first time working with moldable plastic beads (I opted for InstaMorph, which was available on Amazon Prime in large quantities), and I didn’t know what to expect, so let me say just a few words about it as a lesson.

Moldable plastic (with brand names like InstaMorph or Friendly Plastic) is sold in bags of hard beads. When you drop the beads in hot water (~170 degrees Fahrenheit), they get soft and clear, and become moldable. The material dries white, but you can paint or dye it just like hard plastic at that point.

There was a lot of trial and error in this part of the costume — good thing I got a larger bag than I actually needed! Part of the problem is, the tutorial doesn’t really tell you how much material to use, and I kept using way too much. Protip: if the material smooshes over your palate when you try to make the mold of your front teeth, you’re using too much.

After I made a base I liked, I made the teeth. And then tried to attach them.

This is where I learned that bogglingly, the heat gun I own has a lower setting than my hair dryer. Trying to warm up the base with my hair dryer, I succeeded in nothing more than a) blowing all the materials around my work table, b) ruining the base. So if you’re going to do this, I recommend investing in a real heat gun.

Eventually I got a pair of teeth that I was happy… ish with, and dyed them with coffee overnight. I say “happy-ish” because these were far from perfect. They cover my palate too much, so I talk with a serious lisp. (It’s hard to be threatening with a lisp). Also the teeth need to be angled farther out, so that they don’t rub up against my lip.


Being green

Most of my green skin, as you can tell, is not paint. Thank god for that, because I did not want to spend all evening painting myself green.

Both my arms and legs are covered with opaque tights — these, in the “smeraldo” tone, which is a word I’d never heard before ordering these. It must be Italian for “orc-colored” 😉

(I’m someone’s Jade Princess, I guess)

For the arms, I used this Weeping Angel costume tutorial to make gloves out of opaque tights. I never got around to affixing nails to them, which is fine, because I was only ever seen in half-light. I also used Fray-Check instead of nail polish for securing the cut edges, as that was easier to find in my house and, I find, works better.

I ordered some Mehron cake makeup in “olive” to paint my face and exposed skin. As you can see, it’s not a great match. Flat green may have just been better. Or I could get a different shade of tights, I suppose, but there’s a lot more work in making a new pair of gloves.


The jewelry I wore came from my costume closet — a set of coral and blue beads, and an amulet-like piece.

Sandals were, alas, just my dress sandals.

I collected a bunch of chicken bones to do the “bone-threaded-through-dress” look of the inspiration picture, but never got around to doing anything with them. They’re still in my fridge, though 😉


As you can see, this costume could use a lot of improvements. Some of the things I hope to do to better it are:

  • Color match the paint and the tights/sleeves better
  • Adjust the sleeves to fit better (or make new ones — depends on how I decide to match colors)
  • Add details and accessories, i.e. chicken bones
  • Find better shoes
  • Make better-fitting teeth

I hope this was at least somewhat interesting/useful in its current state, however!

Things I learned about sewing while making my 5G costume

As always, I continue to be amazed how little I know about sewing. I’ve been doing this for over ten years, and I still am learning new things with every new project. I truly believe the only reason that sewing isn’t valued as a skill is because it’s classed as “women’s work.”

Mitering corners with ribbon. I used the video below to teach myself how to miter corners with ribbon. This is the treatment around the neckline of Ianthe’s underdress.

How to make a cloak. Believe it or not, I had never made a cloak before. For Reasons, it was important that it be a circle. I used this full circle cloak tutorial.

How to work with velvet(een). As my cloak was made of velveteen, I needed to learn how to work with fabric with pile and a nap. This article on Sewing with Velveteen helped. The main thing I learned? Don’t apply the iron directly to it, but steam from a short distance from the non-plush side, over another plush surface, like a towel.

More about full bust adjustments (FBAs). I had originally read how to do an FBA on Sewaholic and knew the basic theory, as well as when one should use an FBA. (I am the perfect candidate for one, as I am generally small-framed with a large-ish bust). Unfortunately I found the Sewaholic tutorial didn’t work for my particular case (I forget why — did it have darts?), but I found some other ones that did:

Narrow shoulder adjustment. This is an adjustment I did not do, and now I really wish I did. Having made a few of the Simplicity costume patterns, I must conclude that whoever the size 20 fit model is, she must have impressive shoulders. The next iteration of this dress that I make, I will take guidance from these articles:

The joys of Fray-Check. Not really much to say here, except that Fray-Check (or other seam treatments) is something I vaguely knew existed but had never used until this project. There were a lot of seams that I couldn’t hide with binding or double up material without adding unwanted bulk in this project. So I bought some Fray-Check, and holy hell is it awesome. How have I done without it before?

Iron-on studs. Another thing I knew existed but had not worked with before. They are basically bits of metal with a reservoir of something like hot glue in the base. You apply heat for 15 seconds to each side, and they’re on! No idea how well it will hold up in the dryer, tho. (I generally Dryel most of my larp garments).

Using large washers as pattern weights. I’ve dithered on buying pattern weights before, but keep not doing it because I find something wrong about spending money on unitaskers. However! The aforementioned Curvy Sewing Collective FBA tutorial uses plain ol’ hardware washers as pattern weights, and, as it turns out, pattern weights are essential to doing adjustments that pivot the pattern.