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Wonderflex Armour

(Stupidly Ambitious project no. 3)

Making female armour from wonderflex

Basic info:

Cost and materials - I did a load of research online and decided to go with Wonderflex which I imported in from Dani's cosplay supplies in the states (local suppliers such as Flint were stupidly expensive). It cost £77 (inc postage) for 2 sheets measuring 1m x 1.45m, which I figured would be plenty. Gesso, large tub £18. Black enamel paint, chrome enamel paint, brush, £9.70. Bits of leather, a few rivets, £1ish. Sandpaper and sanding sponge £3. Polyfiller, £1.

Effort - LOTS!

Equipment - heat gun (borrowed, very cheap apparently), sharp scissors and craft knife

Many of my research links are available through

picSo, I started by cutting out a front piece and trying to form it to my body, with the help of a close friend. This proved somewhat difficult. It is also against all the advice given online - ooh you'll burn yourself etc. I didn't burn myself because the heat gun couldn't seem to get large enough areas of it warm enough to be wobbly enough to shape. Really, you're supposed to get a solid mould, get the stuff really really hot, then form it around that. But I didn't think that a gaffer-tape dummy would either be solid enough or heat-resistant enough to work. So my friend and I got a whole lot closer trying to form boob shapes out of only slightly pliable plastic on the squishy bits of my body. I did have the idea of making a torso-mould out of mod rock. That probably would have worked really well. Dunno why we didn't do that... didn't want to wait I guess.

So, plan A = fail. (But I thought the pattern for the front piece might be useful anyway - that's how I made my moulded hardened leather armour).

Plan B, courtesy of my excellent dressmaker chum, was to make it up like a corset, with smaller pieces which are inherently more manageable (and more to the point, fit in my oven). So we made a gaffer-tape torso (well half of one) for the corset pattern. Google it yourself, I'm not covering corset patterns here. If you're a man or have a rigid mould you probably needn't bother. Don't be afraid to stick the pieces in the oven - they don't drip through the wire rack or anything and become WAY more pliable than when heated with an air gun. They do go wobbly quite fast though - at least in my fan-assisted oven so keep checking them. So, we stuck our corset pieces together along the seams we'd made, joined up the shoulders, and then did a bit of final shaping while I wore the result. Then rejoined up the shoulders when it became apparent they were too big. The beauty of Wonderflex is that it goes back to almost new when you reheat it so mistakes can be altered or ironed out. In my friend's words "There's a reason they make them like that, it really is the only way to do it..." (I speculate that if we'd crammed the whole single piece into the oven somehow, or used a modrock mould, then we'd possibly have been able to shape it in one piece without serious creasing... but the corset plan worked a treat too). When shaping BEWARE OF CREASES! If you don't heat up a much bigger area than just the bit you're planning to shape, it simply transfers the 'extra' along to somewhere else forming creases or bulges. On women this is especially likely to happen on the rib section below the breasts or in the shoulder above them.

pic picAt the bottom, because we'd cut it deliberately large, it protruded down lower than my hip bones so we folded a section up into a little skirt. (You seriously do not want it as low as you think - bend at the hips and see where the creases are - that's where your armour should stop. I seriously advise a mockup with cardboard first.) Now, up until this point I had been pretty depressed - it was a lot less easy to work with than I'd thought and it looked plasticky and shit. When you've spent that much on materials and what you're producing looks like a 5 year old made it, it's pretty annoying. But once the skirt bend went in, it started to actually look a bit like armour. This goes to show that it's the DETAILS that matter - obviously you have to get the shape right first but it's all the little extras that will make or break the project.

You can just about see the seams of the corset under-shape in the above pics.

pic picOne thickness of Wonderflex is really far too flexible for use as larp armour, so I cut pieces to reinforce, and to start adding design detail. One 'nearly a circle' piece for each breast, one stomach panel, one back panel, a folded-over straightish piece for the little skirt at the bottom (front and back) and four for the sides where it will eventually have attachment bits to keep it on. It had become very apparent early on that every little join will show in the finished product (probably) so take care with adding sections - make sure they tie in with your concept of how it will eventually look or you'll spend ages wishing you'd done it differently. For this reason, I cut all the reinforcements in line with the body shape and started to add ridges/flutes in the reinforcement pieces both to strengthen and provide nice detail.

pic picMy initial design ideas were to make something really unusual - there's no point making all this effort if you just make something that looks mass-produced. Actually, there is in the case of small women like myself, as there's really nowhere (at least that I've found on the Web, and believe me I've spent hours looking) that will make armour that is a)fitted and b)unique for less than £sillymoney. The closest I've found is Atelier du Heaume or Norton Armouries. But why pay a large amount of money for something that's not exactly what you want? Anyway, the point is, I wanted the armour to be pretty flash so I had a look at a load of scrollwork patterns on the web and did some designs for adding detail which gelled with the lines of the armour.

pic picInitially I cut them flat as you can see, but decided that they would look better built up in 3D. WARNING - this takes a freakin' age, probably about five hours in total for design and implementation of the front and back decoration. Also plenty burned fingers, should have used leather gloves like the Web recommends but don't have any.

pic pic

picClose up of the texture of the wonderflex:


Several months later -

I made leather tabs and rivetted them to the sides, with large rivets acting as fastenings on the front piece. These work pretty well as a fastening mechanism although sometimes I just can't reach one of them and need squired out of the armour! Should have put this on after all the painting really, but I wanted to check that it worked first.

So, once the body piece was finished I started trying to get rid of the texture of the wonderflex. The trouble is if you intend to eventually dry brush metallic paint on that every tiny little texture will be exaggerated and the grid texture of the wonderflex is exactly what you DON'T want for medieval armour. The Web recommends using gesso (a special kind of thick white paint) and then sanding it (or that magic plastic stuff, but that was a bit expensive for me...). Coat 1, texture is still completely visible. Web recommends you should sand after each coat. 10 minutes effort showed that this is a LOT harder than you think, especially for such a complex surface. Coat 2, blobbed on really thick. Texture visible. Remains visible until the fourth or fifth coat (I can't remember) when I decided the time was right to put the effort in sanding the whole thing. A few tries with sandpaper didn't work too well (use the larger grained stuff or you'll be there all year) so in the end I used the tiny sanding tool on my sister's Dremel engraving set (fairly cheap from Woolies or similar). This worked better but left its own little texture that needed sanded off.

Now, I think that sanding it between coats would have made a real difference here and needed fewer coats overall, but sanding it is such a hassle, I really can't emphasise enough how difficult this was.

At this point I lost interest for a while.


The greaves pattern I used was made up by looking at online suggestions and measuring my leg.

The newspaper show the shape of the greaves before they were bent round my leg.

pic pic


picI designed and added a detail pattern to tie it in with the breastplate. Which is nearly sanded.

I have been told about some hammerite paint which gives a hammered metal finish - I will let everyone know how this goes as doing it with gesso is just too much work.

Later, paint tests

I decided against the Hammerite hammered metal finish paint as it's designed for metal and I didn't want it to melt the plastic. But after a bit more sanding I got so annoyed that I decided to paint up the breastplate to cheer myself up.

Here are some paint tests, sort-of-dry brushing the black onto the gesso-ed and sanded wonderflex. YOu can see in these pics the texture still coming through a bit, a lot more on the bit that hadn't been sanded much, just had 6 coats of gesso and a go over with the sanding sponge (after giving up in rage on the little dremel as it was making no difference! The left hand one is fairly acceptable, the right hand image is the back of the breastplate and not really acceptable. But I'm hoping that the black gloss paint I'm using will help to mask the remaining texture as I simply can't be arsed sanding any more.

pic  picThese two images show the paint painted direct onto the wonderflex, useless unless you want the grid to really show. The first image shows the black enamel gloss and the chrome enamel paint (mixed with black a bit, then pure chrome on top). The second image shows acrylic paint, not very good at covering the plastic surface.

picHere is the breastplate coated in the black gloss enamel, looks better already. The good news is that even a tiny pot of enamel paint happily covered the whole thing. Hopefully what remains will do the inside...

Here are three tests with varying amounts of paint and less black mixed with the chrome paint. The dryer the brushing the better it looks I think.

I painted half the armour with the pure chrome and the other half with chrome mixed with black (about half and half maybe)? Whilst the pure chrome does look really cool and silvery, it makes it look more like tinfoil and less like actual metal... so I painted over the really silvery side with black again. Once it's dry and I've drybrushed the whole thing with a duller silver I'll let you know how the texture shows through on the back and how the whole thing looks. Quite pleased with the effect on the front though.pic

So, I drybrushed the whole breastplate and here's how it looks: pretty freakin' cool I think.pic


pic As you can see, there are still some places where the grid texture shows through, but overall I think it looks great and these only notice if you get close.

A breakthrough!

So, last night I decided to try polyfiller instead of gesso on the greaves which as yet had nothing at all on them to get rid of this thrice-accursed texture. I mixed up a batch and smeared it on with my finger, very thinly. I then went over it again and removed all but the thinnest of layers. It dried quickly and was sanded down to a smooth (if slightly 'fine sandstone') texture in hardly any time at all. Messy though! I was a bit concerned about the paint finish as it's much more absorbent than gesso, also fragility as it sanded off so incredibly easily. So I sealed it with a single coat of gesso on top. Hopefully this will give me the same glossy finish as on the breastplate once the black goes on. I also tested it for cracking by bending the greaves as far as they'd go (not far as they're quite sturdy) and it didn't crack, even before the gesso went on top. So I think I'll use this method from now on, the amount of effort involved in 6 coats of gesso and sanding it with a tiny sander all over makes it simply unfeasible to continue like that. EDIT - this solution turned out to be too fragile. See below for compromise that worked.

Here are the greaves, half painted up, painted up, and in close up.pic


I think this looks fine, although the grid did show through in some places where the polyfiller was too thin but I managed to disguise most of them with the paint job.

Later... woe is me, the polyfiller has proven to be too fragile for the rough and tumble of larp (or even for being stowed in my cupboard, grrrr). It has chipped off in a couple of places... my new plan is to use a mixture of polyfiller and gesso. See below.


A sketch: pic

Pity that's as far as they went, given I couldn't think of a design that would look good.

So instead I made:


picI'm not sure these exist in reality. All the pics I've seen hang the tassets off the fauld of the breastplate, not a belt, but hey. I got my inspiration from an old watercolour, itself inspired by something in the d&d manual!

pic I made 6 identical lames which hang off the belt. Each is double thickness of wonderflex - this is the most practical thickness to use for larp, it gives the result just enough bendiness but is essentially rigid when you want it to be (i.e. when fastened in place). Then the plate detail goes on the top.

pic picI painted these up with a mixture of polyfiller and gesso. I was concerned about the robustness of the polyfiller given that some chips have appeared on the greaves so I mixed it with gesso, then with pva to try to reduce any chipping. I also decided at this stage that it definitely needed a coat of varnish for protection.

I also made up the belt, using a keyhole fastening like on the breastplate. It works a lot better here as you can reach it more easily. The belt section was decorated in a similar way to the breastplate and I added a character-specific design at the fastening, the beauty of it is I can simply stick something else over it when I get killed.

Then I painted up the whole lot with a coat of gloss enamel black and a mixture of chrome and black, as above, making sure to match the shade to the other pieces. I also painted over the tiny chips in the greaves, and the brass rivets I'd used to attach the straps so they were silver like the rest of it.


 All that remains is to make holes in the lames, rivet them to a strap of leather, and hang them in a stable and symmetrical way (hah!) off the belt piece... Then I'll need to touch up the brass rivets with silver paint.

Later... hmm I said "all that remains" but this bit was actually quite hard. To line up all the lames so that the flutes were all straight and I could mark the holes for the leather needed a ruler, a lot of patience, and some duct tape. I made the holes with a leather hole punch (another good thing about wonderflex is that a leather hole punch is adequate to make rivet holes), cut leather strips and marked the holes on those THROUGH the holes in the lames (to ensure they line up perfectly). Then I riveted it together with tiny rivets which turned out to be too small to fasten properly through that depth of leather+wonderflex. Which was annoying because then I had to do them all again with larger rivets - except of course some wouldn't come out so I now have an unintentional mixture of large and small rivet heads! Oh well. Lesson learned, use the larger rivets if in ANY DOUBT at all about whether the small ones are long enough.

To hang them off the belt needed more experimentation about how they would best fit and look best, and move without stabbing me in the groin with plasticky corners. In the end I managed it and it does look pretty cool, although I actually wanted the flutes to be more around the front of the body - I suspect that the lames attached on the opposite side from which I'd designed them to, but they just looked better in testing so ended up more around the side.

picA nice idea might have been to use silver rivets instead of brass ones then I wouldn't need to paint them, but hey. At least painting over them covers the damage done to the existing paint job by putting too-small ones in and then having to prise them out again. I expect a bit of chipping of the paint and may need to repaint/revarnish after a bit of use.

So that's basically it. With fully a week to spare!

I have actually purchased some textureless Plasti-card (see links below) which I will try to make a helm or pauldrons out of once I get it from the bloody post office... (and that was now about a year ago!)

So, how did it hold up?

wonderflex armour

Well, the polyfiller plan wasn't such a great idea... it chips off way too easily. The best finish I got on this was actually the half polyfiller half gesso combination which took 3 layers iirc, and then a load of sanding. This was used on the lames of the tassets and is pretty robust. That's what I'd do it like now if starting from scratch. It's the best finish/effort ratio.

I sprayed over the wood varnish with something designed for protecting minatures, Games Workshop 'Purity Seal' satin varnish. It didn't do much for protecting the polyfiller surfaces but takes the plasticky shine off the surface making it look much more like beaten iron, so was a bit hit for me.

The design itself was actually very comfy in the leg parts, I hardly noticed them. The breastplate does slightly bruise my shoulders and comes over the shoulder too far (I cut it as if it was a flexible material but of course it isn't so it restricts arm movement, but I'll have to live with that.)

This year (2011), I made a shield to match!

Useful Links Formetal, sounds intriguing as an alternative. Flint also does tons of other interesting materials. Sintra, a smooth, heat activated foam, apparently known better as Plasti-Card in the UK (Google it for lots of results). Would solve all my accursed texture problems... Info on working with Sintra:, some more advice:, and a place to get it (US):