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Sam Tarly’s dagger

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.

Dagger template on graph 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.

The traced template

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.

Muslin pieces for strengthening

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.

The flat dagger pieces being cut out

Once I had removed the paper and surplus clay, this is what I had left.

The flat dagger pieces fully cut out from the clay

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.

Flat clay pieces sandwiched between layers of muslin

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 two dagger flats

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.

Cardboard support to allow even building

That allowed me to build up one side of the daggers with more DAS.

Building up one side of the daggers

Once that was dry, it was pretty straightforward to build up the opposite sides to match without damaging anything I had already done.

The finished clay bases

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.

Layers of muslin and green putty

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 daggers being painted

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.

The finished daggers, with the sheath being designed

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.

Finished dagger in sheath

And Bob’s your uncle.  Now Mole can patrol the Wall with perfect confidence! 🙂


An angle on the Doctor’s fez

And now for a little diversion from the waistcoat.

Last weekend, a friend asked me if I could make a Dr Who fez for his cuddly orang-utan.  (Yes, I know.  I have some really interesting friends!)  I said that would be no problem, but I would need to know what it looked like, as I’m not a Whovian myself.  He obligingly linked me to some screencaps, and told me that the hat needed to be about 6 cm in diameter at the base to fit the orang-utan.  From the pictures, that suggested it needed to be about 5 cm in diameter at the top and 5 cm high along the slope (not vertically).

Now this requires a little bit of maths, but for the sake of the maths-phobic I won’t go into the details here.  Suffice it to say that what you need is a cone with the top cut off (the fancy mathematical word for this is a frustum of a cone), and with some fairly basic algebra and geometry – you don’t even need any trigonometry – it’s possible to work out how to construct it.  The best thing, though, is that the same basic drawing works for a fez of any size, up to and including a large adult.  In this post I’m going to show you how.

The first thing you need is a very large sheet of paper, or, ideally, thin card.  I’m using thin card here because it just so happened that I had bought a large polythene artist’s bag for the purpose of carrying my embroidery around, and it had a large piece of card inside it that was perfect for what I needed.  A piece of paper 110 x 80 cm will be large enough for a fez to fit any adult human being I’ve ever seen; for a child, you can get away with a smaller piece.  If you need to stick two pieces together to get the right size, start working from one of the sides opposite the join – the aim is, if possible, to avoid any joins on the finished pattern piece.

Take your piece of paper and measure halfway along one of the shorter edges, and then draw a point just inside the edge from there.  If it helps, draw a short line perpendicular to the edge through that point, though depending on what sort of protractor you’re using, you may not need to.  Now draw a line on either side of the point angled at 18 degrees from the vertical, so that the total angle between the lines is 36 degrees.  Measure this as carefully as you can, because any error in the angle will alter the size of the hat and may cause it to fit badly.  You should end up with something that looks like this:

Two lines drawn at an angle of 36 degrees

The next thing to do is to find a hat that fits you well and measure the internal diameter.  If it’s not quite circular, pull it gently into as circular a shape as possible before you measure.

Measuring the internal diameter of a hat

This is just an example, since I’m making the fez for the orang-utan here and I already know that the diameter I need is 6 cm.  However, if I had wanted to make one for myself, the diameter of my hat is 18 cm, so I will also give the figures that I would use to make a fez that fitted me.  If you don’t have a hat, or you do but it’s stretchy and can’t be measured, then measure around your head, get your calculator, and divide by pi.  If you’re not quite sure about that, you can do this instead: tie a piece of string round your head so it fits snugly but not too tightly, lift the loop off your head, arrange it into the best circle you can make, and then measure the distance across it.

Once you’ve got your diameter, then all you do is multiply it by 5.  It doesn’t matter whether you work in centimetres, inches, or for that matter Gallifreyan… er… what do they have on Gallifrey again?, provided you’re consistent.  For the orang-utan’s fez, that gives me 30 cm, and if I were making one for myself it would be 90 cm.  Using the point where the lines meet as the centre, draw an arc of a circle at that distance.  You can do this either by measuring a series of points between the two lines at the same distance from the point where they meet and then connecting those points up into an arc, or by tying a piece of sewing thread to a pencil at one end and a pin at the other, adjusting till you have the right length, putting the pin through the point where the lines meet, and using this arrangement like a very large pair of compasses.  This gives you the line which will form the base of the side piece.

The first arc (shown here at 30 cm from the origin)

Now you want to draw the arc for the top of the pattern piece.  Do this in exactly the same way as before, but this time the distance from the point where the lines meet is 5/6 of the distance you used for the first arc.  For the orang-utan, that is 5/6 of 30 cm, which is 25 cm.  For my hat, it would be 5/6 of 90 cm, which is 75 cm.  Here’s what it looks like for the orang-utan, and I’ve airbrushed the photograph so you can clearly see the area between the two arcs, which we are going to be using as the side piece.

The side piece is the area between the two arcs.

Trace this pattern on a piece of greaseproof paper.  Also draw two circles with diameter equal to the length of one of the straight sides; for the orang-utan that is 5 cm, and for me it would be 15 cm.  Draw seam allowances round the pieces.  You’ll see that the seam allowance I have used for one of the circles is smaller than the one I have used for the other two pieces.  That is because felt doesn’t fray, so you don’t need so much seam allowance on it as you do for the lining.  The pieces with the wider seam allowances are for the lining, so you may be wondering why I haven’t bothered to trace a piece for the felt side of the hat.  The reason is simple: I’m going to use the original cardboard pattern for that in a few moments.

The pattern pieces on greaseproof paper

Just like this, in fact.  Cut out the pattern piece that you constructed; if you used paper rather than card, stick it onto thin card now.  It will make it easier to draw round it, and you will need it to be fairly stiff in order to firm up the fez.

The cardboard pattern used to construct the side piece from felt

Remember to draw a seam allowance round it, as you see in the photo.  Cut out this piece and the circle with the smaller seam allowance from felt.

The felt pieces that make the outer shell of the fez

Fold the side piece so that the short edges match and the marked side faces outwards, and then stitch the side seam.  (Sorry about the blurred picture, and one or two others that follow.)

The side seam

Now open it out, press the seam open, and pin the circle into place at the top with the marked side facing out.  Stitch the top of the fez into position and clip notches along the seam to stop it from bunching up when you turn it the right way out.  When you have finished, you should have something like this:

The shell of the fez, still inside out

Turn it the right way out, and, behold, you have the shell of your fez!

The shell of the fez, the right way out

Take the two pieces with the wider seam allowances, and pin them to the lining fabric.  The centre line of the side piece should run along the grain of the fabric.  Cut them out.

The lining pieces

Make up the lining exactly as you did for the shell of the fez, but don’t turn it the right way out when it’s finished.  Instead, take the original cardboard side piece and tape it together at the edges (you can see I’ve gone a little bit wild with the parcel tape here), and push the lining up through the middle so that the seam meets the top of the cardboard, like this:

The lining inside the cardboard stiffener

Turn the edge of the lining up over the bottom of the cardboard – you will need to do this carefully to avoid pulling down the lining inside the  card – and tape it in place.  If you’re not sure you can do this easily, you can always put a few small stitches in to hold the top seam to the upper edge of the cardboard before you start.

Now push the whole arrangement inside the felt shell, matching the seams, and stitch together at the edge.  There are various ways of doing this, and the one you choose will depend on the size of your hat as well as your sewing skill.  I’m just oversewing here – nothing fancy.  Make sure you pull the felt firmly over the cardboard and lining so that there is a little bit of overlap at the bottom, so that you can keep your stitching on the inside rather than right on the edge.

Stitching the fez together at the lower edge

Congratulations – you have now very nearly finished!  All you need to do now for complete authenticity is to cut a short strip of felt and sew one end of it to the centre of the top of the hat so that it sticks up.  If you find this difficult, cut two identical short strips, sew them together down the centre line with just a little bit left over at one end, open out these short ends like an angled bracket, and sew each of them to the top of the hat close to the join between the pieces.

Here is my glamorous assistant, Wilfred the penguin, who kindly agreed to model the finished fez before it went off to its new owner.

Wilfred the penguin models the finished fez

All he needs now is a TARDIS, and he’s hot to trot. 😀