Sorry I’ve been so quiet lately. I’ve been busy doing a number of things, as a result of which the embroidery has rather had to go on the back burner. I did, however, find some time to do a little craft project for the birthday of my best friend, who is known to quite a lot of the world as Mole. There are several reasons why Mole is completely awesome, and one of them is that he, like me, is a huge fan of George R R Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. So I thought I would like to make him something out of the novels, and the thing that seemed most appropriate was Sam Tarly’s dragonglass dagger.
Now I would have no idea how to knap obsidian, and I probably physically couldn’t do it anyway, so this was clearly going to have to be an imitation. Designing in three dimensions is a bit beyond me unless it involves sewing, so I started off by making a very simple template on graph paper. You know me by now – I can do just about anything if I have enough squared paper.
The next step was to trace the template onto a piece of greaseproof paper. I did this twice, because I planned to make two daggers just in case one went wrong; after all, I had never done this before.
So far, so good. The next thing to do was to cut a couple of pieces of muslin, one on the straight grain and one on the bias, to strengthen the clay pieces I planned to make.
Since clay can be messy, I rolled it out on an old disposable chopping board which got thrown into the plastic recycling afterwards. This is DAS Original, rather than DAS Pronto. It’s cheaper, but it takes for ever to dry. I had to help it a bit in the oven a few times, but due to the muslin and the glue I had to be rather careful about how high a temperature I used.
Once I had the clay rolled out to about the right size, I laid it out on one of the pieces of muslin, put the template on top, and cut carefully round the template pieces with a sharp knife.
Once I had removed the paper and surplus clay, this is what I had left.
I then laid the other piece of muslin over the top. I had rather hoped it would stick to the clay as it was drying, but that proved to be too optimistic. I had to give it a little help with some glue.
Once the entire arrangement was thoroughly dry, I cut out the flat daggers with sharp embroidery scissors, giving them an independent existence for the first time.
The next step took a bit of thought. You see, I wanted to build up the daggers one side at a time and embed the flat pieces precisely in the centre, for accuracy. So I found some corrugated cardboard about half the thickness of the flat pieces, cut two holes the shape of the flat pieces, and covered the card with cling film so that the clay wouldn’t stick to it. I then inserted the flat pieces in the holes, ready to be built on.
That allowed me to build up one side of the daggers with more DAS.
Once that was dry, it was pretty straightforward to build up the opposite sides to match without damaging anything I had already done.
Once I had the finished clay bases, I wrapped them completely with more strips of muslin and a generous application of glue, to prevent the daggers from shattering as far as possible. Over this, I applied a layer of green putty.
Let me digress for a moment on the subject of green putty. This is the stuff professional model makers use to create gaming miniatures and the like. You have a blue strip and a yellow strip which you mix at the point of use, and then you’ve got about an hour to work it into the shape you want. It is flexible, it doesn’t crack when it dries (unlike the clay, as you saw), it takes detail brilliantly, and you can even carve it when it’s dry, which is how I got the (relatively) sharp points on the daggers. All told, it is pretty awesome stuff, but for one thing it is expensive, and for another thing you do have to be a little careful what sort you buy. The original is called Kneadatite, and it is best to get this if you can, despite the price. I bought a slightly cheaper imitation on eBay, which was actually being sold as Kneadatite; it wasn’t. It did everything I wanted it to do, so I can’t complain about that, but it came with a health warning. Kneadatite itself is apparently quite safe to work by hand. The putty I bought wasn’t. The label said it was likely to cause skin irritation, so I had to work in rubber gloves, which is not exactly an ideal way to use the stuff.
Anyway, here are the two daggers, one at the muslin stage and the other with its layer of green putty. I created the knapped effect using a child’s modelling tool.
Once the putty layer was dry, I had to paint and varnish the daggers to look like obsidian. I wasn’t quite convinced acrylic enamel would stick well to the putty, so I primed it first with white acrylic gesso (which, incidentally, smelt very odd). This was followed by several coats of black acrylic enamel. I had to make quite certain it was opaque.
The black acrylic was pretty glossy, but nonetheless I finished it with a few coats of high-gloss outdoor varnish to ensure it was waterproof. I didn’t know what water soaking into the internal clay might do, and I didn’t want Mole to have to find out if he accidentally dropped it in a puddle. Once that was done, I bound the hilt of each dagger with jute twine to give a good grip. The next photo shows what that looked like, and also my initial mock-up design for the sheath, stapled together quickly from bits cut out of an old plastic envelope. It didn’t quite work as I intended, so I had to adapt it.
That was the daggers themselves finished, but now I had to make sheaths for them. I first of all made a reasonably convincing imitation suede by sandwiching a layer of leatherette between two layers of brown moleskin fabric. The design of the sheath turned out to be pretty simple in the end, though even so I managed to get it wrong the first time. I cut a triangular piece for the front based on the measurements of the finished dagger, and then a piece for the back which consisted of an identical triangle topped by a high open arch. It was then just a question of oversewing the triangle edges together, gluing a suitable trim on the front to hide the stitching, and binding the loop with more of the jute twine. The sheath can then hang on a belt as shown in the photo below.
And Bob’s your uncle. Now Mole can patrol the Wall with perfect confidence!