This is a full length craft foam armor tutorial to show how we went from concept to finished product for the Steampunk Banshee costume. There will be pictures of every step. Hopefully you can use these tips to make your own craft foam pieces, or just get a fun behind-the-scenes look at the creative process!
Steampunk Banshee corset:
When cosplayers are dressing up as super-heroes, video game characters and anime favorites, they often have to create armor at a low cost. It is wildly expensive to have custom armor forged for yourself, no matter what Skyrim teaches us, and using craft foam is a cheap and effective alternative. There are many craft foam armor tutorials, and I learned the technique from this site recreating Elvish Lord of the Rings armor. I also did a tutorial on my Mozart blog a few years back.
This Banshee corset is much more complex, and might interest people at all levels of crafting skill. I use this craft foam process on many pieces for “A Steampunk Guide to Hunting Monsters”.
Step 00. – Gather Supplies
- Craft Foam (Craft foam is available in many colors at craft stores like Michael’s and JoAnn’s Fabrics. It comes in squares or rolls. I like using white, because it’s easiest to prime and paint, but you can match the foam color to the color you want your final armor to be as well.)
- Light Weight Fabric for backing (You can use cheesecloth for small wearable projects, but this corset had to be laced up, so we used a lightweight cotton. Heavy fabrics will not glue well.)
- Large Gauge Wire (I used Anchor Wire Multi-Purpose Wire, 16 gauge.)
- Gesso (The best primer)
- Spraypaint (I used a textured gunmetal color, silver, and rock-textured for making a rust effect.)
- Acrylic Paint (I used metallic copper and black.)
- Rub-n-buff (This wax based paint has a very useful silver color)
- Metal Leafing Supplies (Leaf and Glue adhesive size)
- Accent pieces (I used a plastic baby face, film canister, brads and plastic chains. Sometimes I use jewelry.)
- Paper Clay (I used this on my baby face accent.)
- Hot Glue
- Mod Podge
- Scissors and Knives
- Pattern (Sometimes you will make your own, but we actually used Simplicity 1819)
- Sealant (The rub-n-buff and leafing can rub off on clothes if not sealed.)
Step 01. – Design
My friend Catey Lockhart was invaluable in this process. Hearing that we had requested participants for our “Monster House” portion of the book, she offered up her ghost costume. Our Monster house features numerous imprisoned monsters. Her ghost costume was all white, but we knew the costume would be better suited to a different monster than a ghost.
We settled on banshee!
Now, since Catey’s costume was not “steampunk” but was only a regular-type ghost, Catey and I discussed how you would imprison a banshee in a steampunk prison, and decided to cover the banshee’s mouth so it couldn’t scream and also to anchor it to the ground so it couldn’t fly away. I wanted the anchor to come out of the monster’s body. Below you will see Catey wearing her costume at Halloween and the design sketch for the banshee mask and corset.
Step 02. – Cutting the craft foam from a pattern
While you can create your own pattern, we found that Simplicity 1819 suited our needs, so we used it. This is a steampunk pattern which features and under-bust corset.
We traced through the pattern using thin sharpie, and drew directly onto the craft-foam below. The ink goes through the tissue paper of the pattern.
Next we cut out the pieces and drew on the seam allowance for ease of construction.
Step 03. – Fabric Backing
Some tutorials skip this step, and I usually do as well, unless the piece has to be manhandled. In this case, the corset had to be laced up which puts a lot of strain on the seams. It would have ripped right through craft foam, so we used more fabric backing on this piece than you will usually see.
I had some really lightweight cotton that we used for backing. You can use cheesecloth for less manhandled pieces, or no backing for things that are hardly or never touched on the costume.
My cotton was of a weight that you could rip it apart easily. It was just an old threadbare sheet.
I use Mod Podge to glue the fabric on to the craft foam. You will see many tutorials explaining how to mix Elmer’s glue or Tacky glue with water to get the right consistency, but Mod Podge has already done it for you and has a great hold and many varied options for finishes. I use matte finish, because glossy is super glossy and takes about five days to dry to the touch.
I paint the craft foam with Mod Podge, and then put the fabric over the pieces. Then I paint over the fabric with more Mod Podge to get it really sealed down. I do not skimp. I do saturate the cloth with Mod Podge.
Step 04. – Cut off the excess fabric backing
Once the glue is completely dry, you can cut off the excess fabric backing.
Step 05. – Glue the backed Craft Foam pieces together
We decided to cut off one edge of the seam allowance.
Then we matched the cut edge up with the drawn on seam-allowance line on the facing piece. This keeps the shape of the pattern without guessing how much seam to cover. This corset is curved, so this keeps the curve exactly as it is meant to be.
We then used a hot glue gun to glue the pieces together.
After the hot glue cooled, we also ran a thin line of hot glue down the seam on the front and the back of the corset. This adds a little extra strength.
Step 06. – Adding Base Accents
Once the corset pieces were all glued together, and bent into the general shape of the corset, it was time to add the lowest level of accents. Sometimes you need to build certain things into your project, rather than place them on top afterwards. We needed our banshee to have the anchor-winch built into the corset so it looks like the chain is coming out of a hole in the banshee herself.
I used an old film canister from my film-school days which I’d been keeping (for 13 years) for just such a purpose. There’s planning ahead.
We traced the circle of the canister on the center of the corset, then cut out the circle and set it in to the lip where the lid of the canister would stop.
The lid is set in, but not in a particularly sturdy way. Hot glue holds it from the front and from the back. The stability will be added through the next few steps.
Step 07. – Craft foam structure accents
Next, we cut out craft foam pieces to make the canister look more 3-D and bulky. We glued a craft foam circle on the top and craft foam strips on the side. The inner portion of these accents is simply filled with hot glue. Hot glue also fills in the gaps between the pieces.
Step 08. – More fabric backing
This step is exclusive to a piece that needs to take a lot of strain. We added the fabric backing to the front of the corset.
Using Mod Podge once again, we painted the whole corset in glue and added fabric over the top. Then we slathered the top of the fabric in Mod Podge to get it to stick to the weird curves and angles.
We tried to smooth the fabric out, but because we wanted it all to be done in one layer with minimal clipped edges, wrinkles and puckers gathered. We forced those to the bottom of the circle, where the anchor comes out.
Putting all of the wrinkles down at the base of the circle allowed us later to make that part of the costume look like rusted, corroding metal.
We then had to wait for the corset to dry to continue working. We trimmed off the excess fabric once again.
Step 09. – Adding structural support wire
On the wrong side of the corset (the side touching the torso), I glued 16 gauge wire to the bottom and top edges of the corset. If you notice in the picture above, the lower and upper edges are kind of wonky from the glue drying where the corset lay. I add this structure wire so that I can shape the armor corset if it goes wonky, and the wire is so strong, it holds this shape.
I use hot glue, and add it to where the wire touches the foam first. After it cools, I add a little over the top to hold it down, because sometimes the wire is so much stronger than the foam and glue that it pulls away.
During this step I also decided to add some strips of foam over every seam. I wanted it to look like metallic straps, and so these strips couldn’t be covered in the fabric backing from the previous step.
Step 10. – Craft Foam Bias Strip
To cover the wire, and finish the edges of the corset, I next cut craft foam strips wide enough to cover the wire on the back fully and come around the front attractively. Using hot glue I put these craft foam bias strips around the entire bottom of the corset. We also did this to the top, which is not shown in the pictures.
After the foam bias was on, I shaped the wire to take out the wonky.
Step 11. – Decorative Accents, Creepy Baby Face
Someone gave me this plastic-half-baby-face with crocheted hair, and I totally forget who gave it to me. I saw it and thought, “Yes, I will use that creepy baby face.”
And so I made it even creepier.
I didn’t take a picture of it before the process started, but I found this Etsy shop that sold something extremely similar.
I used one piece of craft foam to increase the jaw of the baby. I also added coyote claws for the teeth. I wanted it to look like a banshee screaming. Then I used Paper-clay to build up over it. I made a brow that looked angrier as well.
Creepy baby looks a bit like Predator.
I also built some wing accents and backed them with fabric using Mod Podge. I also used a lock finding and some brads on the creepy baby forehead. This is very steampunk.
Step 12. – Adding the accents to the corset
I used hot glue to attach the wing pieces on the front of the corset. Catey filled the creepy baby head with styrofoam so that it could be glued to the wings.
Step 13. – Priming and Painting
I used Gesso to prime all of the corset except for the inside of the metal circle, since it was already metal and we are preparing the rest to look more like it.
b. Base Coat
After it was dry, I used a 3-D rock texture spraypaint to add texture to the places I wanted to be rusted.
Then I used a textured gunmetal colored spraypaint and a silver spraypaint to give it a metal look.
After it was dry, I added rub-n-buff silver to give it highlights.
d. Brad Accents
We decided to add some brads to look like rivets at this point.
Step 14. – Metal Leafing
I also used Silver Leafing on top of the silver painted areas once it was dry.
Leafing is a technique where you put down a layer of special glue, wait for it to get tacky, and then apply thin sheets of metal over the top of the glue. Leafing is fairly difficult to learn how to do well and evenly, but the results look more like metal than any paint can. The result is worth the trouble.
I only roughly leafed this corset, cause I wanted it to look like it was in bad shape.
Step 15. – Buying and painting the plastic chain
Now this step is specific to this project. We bought some white plastic chain as well as some large Halloween Chain manacles for the corset. We had to paint the white plastic chain, which did not take to the paint very well, and still chips off.
I also bought two drawer handles and screwed them into the side of the corset to hold the chain on.
Step 16. – Acrylic paint
I actually started this process back at step 13. and just added and built up on top of it as I thought looked good.
What I do is I mix metallic copper and black acrylic paint, then paint a large section of the corset. Then, I wipe off the paint with a wet paper towel, leaving the dark accents in the cracks and crevices. I did this color wash before the metal leafing, but I did two more layers after the leafing.
I did a more copper layer over the rust areas.
Finally, I did a pure black layer over everything.
Step 17. – Varnish Sealing
Because the rub-n-buff and metal leafing tend to rub off, I sealed the corset with a clear spray polyurethane varnish.
Step 18. – Adding the Chains
I added the smaller chains to the side of the corset. These will attach to the models arms.
The big Halloween chain I built into the accent circle, to make it look like the chain was coming out of the hole in the center of the Banshee!
The back of the canister on the lining side of the corset has a lip. I drilled three hole in the top. In two of the holes I placed long screws. I cut one plastic chain link in half. Since it is hollow, I filled it with glue and ran the screws into the glue.
Before this, I wrapped some of the 16 gauge wire around the next lowest link, and I pulled the wire up through the center hole of the canister lip. The image below shows what this looks like.
Step 19. – Rub-n-buff the chain
Finally, I added rub-n-buff tot he chain to give it a more metallic presence. I also spray sealed the chains.
At some point we must have added eyelets to the back of the corset, but I have no pictures of it, nor do I recall where in the process we did that.
Anyway, Tutorial Achieved!
The banshee corset also has an anchor at the bottom of the chain. I did this part with only a few hours before the shoot, and so did not get any making-of pictures. But to explain it in simple terms, I bought two giant cardboard V’s of differing sizes, glued them together and painted them.
Below you will see some pictures of the model, Amber, portraying the creepy Steampunk Banshee! She also contacted us after seeing that we needed participants for our book!
If you have any questions about this tutorial, or any other craft foam related creations, please feel free to leave a comment!