Klingon Costume Notes

HoDQIH YotlhtIr B’TraughH

The following are some of my notes from making my Klingon battle dress costume for Dragon*con. This is in no way intended to be a comprehensive guide to making a near-identical costume for yourself, but rather to augment the information that others have posted.

1. A WARNING
I think it is important to let anyone who is considering making a costume like this know that it is extremely hot to wear. If you have trouble with heat or dehydration, consider an alternative costume.

2. RESOURCES
Q’IDar has the most expansive advice I was able to find. Her tutorials include an excellent overview of materials and fabrics, as well as definitions of the basic parts of the uniform which I found very helpful. Though I deviated from her plan in many respects, I still found her pages a valuable resource.
Madwulf also has some good tips. Though again, I did not specifically follow his plan.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine  (DS9) seasons four through seven have the most Klingon-centric episodes of any of the Next Generation series (TNG).
This picture of Gowron was a constant reference.
Monster Makers for foam latex, and mold making supplies.
911 Buy Costumes / J&N Joke Shop Had the best price on the boots, and they’re local to me, so no shipping charge!
Hol’ampaS is a great online Klingon dictionary. Click the “pIqaD” tab to get a Klingon script generator.
Michaels Arts & Crafts
Joann Fabric & Crafts

3. DESIGN CHOICES & CONCESSIONS
There are basicaly 2½ types of battle dress uniforms in TNG and DS9. The command type fastens at the front, has a V-neck and is worn over a shirt of fine plate maille. The commander’s yoke has a front closure. Commanders usually wear a sash. The primary warrior type has a flat front, presumably fastening at the back or on the side. The yoke on the warrior’s uniform does not have a closure visible from the front (there’s a metal gizmo at the center front but it does not appear to be a working closure). Both are made of silver-gray armor stripes, sewn flat to the base with approximately ¼ inch of space between each stripe. The yoke does not have an attached collar.

A variation on the warrior’s uniform appears in several episodes of DS9, and is worn by Worf’s son, Alexander. This may have been intended to signifiy and enlisted crewman’s uniform, but this was never stated. A number of characters on Alexander’s ship are seen in this uniform. The basic design is the same as the more common warrior’s uniform with the following obvious differences: the armor stripes are slightly pillowed rather than flat, sewn to but up against each other, and are gray-green in color, rather than gray-silver; the corners of the yoke are squared, rather than curved; the plates bordering the yoke are a dull, almost olive-drab color; the collar appears to be attached to the yoke.

Major variations on the commander- and warrior type uniforms are seen with little consistency, and are associated with formal ritual or diplomatic attire, or certain women’s uniforms, such as Lursa and B’Etor.

The command-type uniform that I made ideally fastens at a single point in the front. The appearance is similar to a kimono being cinched at the waist. This effect is actually a bit of an optical illusion that requires the stripes to be curved rather than straight, and a diamond shaped piece to be placed in the back or along the sides. The curve in the stripes falls under the belt. I didn’t have the patience to do this, so I opted for straight stripes of uniform thickness (1¾ inch). My neckline cuts the stripes off at an angle, rather than the stripes following the neckline, as they do on Trek. This is mostly obscured by the yoke anyway.

The stripes on Trek uniforms are separated by about ¼ inch of space. It turns out this is pretty hard to do with any consistency. While I suspect that an accessory to the sewing machine would have helped, there is no honor in blaming my tools so I will simply acknowledge that it is beyond my skill level. The difficulty stems from the way the vinyl squishes when you sew it onto the base fabric making it very difficult to judge how close you are to the adjacent stripes. So I sewed the stripes butting up against each other. This gives me a thin space between stripes when wearing the costume.

Rather than trying to make split-toe Klingon boots from scratch, I modified a pair of costume boots to have the “metal” plates and spikes that most Klingons wear. My boots do not have a split toe.

I could not find the “plate maille” looking material that Gowron’s, and most other Klingon commanders’ shirts are made of. To be honest, I don’t even know what it’s properly called, so trying to find it online got me nowhere. I found a metallic-looking fabric at a local Joann which I used.

Pockets! TV and movie costumes don’t have pockets (actors complain about this all the time). But at a ‘con you need to keep some stuff with you. At a  minimum you need some Cash, your ID, phone and room key. What else? Do you smoke? Do you have cards or flyers you want to give out? Do you need a pen and paper? How about your camera and extra batteries and data card? Anything else? I added some pockets to the jacket, inside, approximately where the inside pockets are on a men’s suit. I also made a made a camera and battery holder to hang from the lanyard that would normally hold a disruptor pistol. My camera looks kinda like a tricorder, right? Ummm, well maybe. The pants came with pockets, which I kept rather than sewing over them and cutting them out when I tightened the pants up. I shortened the pockets on the inside so they wouldn’t bunch up, leaving a little more than credit-card depth. And I added Velcro to keep them shut.

4. MATERIALS
Q’IDar’s pages have a great overview of fabric and vinyl types. Most parts on my costume that look like metal, e.g., the spine plates and the trim on the yoke, are made of Creatology Fun Foam. I mostly used the thin one (2mm). It’s a nice material to work with that has a lot going for it. It’s easy to cut with scissors, Exacto knife or matte knife. However, it’s surface is porous, so painting it generally requires a minimum of 3-4 coats of paint, especially if you’re trying to get a smooth, metallic looking finish..

Paints: I used acrylic craft paints. They’re inexpensive and there’s several brands available in a huge variety of colors. I found the results to be superior to spray paint. Spray paint dries hard and it will crack when it is flexed, while the acrylic paint remains soft.

For adhesives, I primarily used Weldwood contact cement and 5 minute epoxy. Hot-melt glue was used for the boots. Superglue gel (cyanoacrylate) made an occasional appearance, but it is very brittle when dry and so not suitable for for parts that need to be flexible. It’s also very difficult to clean up excess without damaging the pieces being glued. Though onewould expect the gel version of 5 minute epoxy to have many advantages, I found it impossible to get equal amounts of the two parts out of the syringe for small batches due to the uneven distribution of air bubbles. The manufacturer makes the syringe opaque, possibly to obscure this fact. So I used the regular thick liquid epoxy in the double syringe. Stand the syringe up on end to get the bubbles to coalesce at the top.

5. MASK/FORHEAD
I will not get into an in-depth tutorial here. Your best bet is to go through the process with someone who has done it successfully before. Then do it yourself a few times and make a lot of mistakes until you figure out a way that works well for you. Barring that, do a lot of Google searching and reading, and experimenting.

The basic way I do it is: I make a mold of my forehead and top of my face with alginate. Doing this alone is nearly impossible, so have a mask making/cast making making party with your friends. Fill the alginate mold with Ultra cal (a fine gypsum concrete) to produce a lifecast. Set the lifecast in a large Tupperware container with enough Ultra cal to provide a base.

Mold the ridges out of plasticene. Fill the container with Ultra cal to get a negative for the ridges. After the concrete has set, remove it from the container, separate the mold halves and clean out all the plasticine. Fill the negative portion with latex foam, put the positive in and bake until the foam has cured.

After demolding and cleaning I paint the mask with acrylic paint as close to my skin tone as I can get. Use liquid latex to glue cloth tabs on the inside of the mask, around the top part where the wig will be attached. Cut the wig to match the mask and sew it onto the tabs. Cut eyebrows out of fur fabric and glue and/or sew onto the mask. You can fashion the portion you cut off the wig into a goatee. The eyebrows meet in the middle, and go all the way to were the wig is attached to the mask. The elastic on the wig makes the whole thing essentially “snap on,” with no need for spirit gum or adhesive to hold it down, or makeup to hide the edges.

Of course this is just the way I did it. There are lots of different ways to do it, and next time, I’m sure I’ll do at least some things differently. You can use a wig stand for the basic head shape instead of casting your own head. This won’t get you a precise fit, but a lot of people will think it’s close enough. Many people forgo the wig and make the ridges just cover their forehead. I’ve seen many people cut a costume moustache in half and use that for eyebrows. Some people use makeup instead of paint to color the mask.

A couple of mask making tips:

Spring for the Ultra cal. Plaster of Paris is too crumbly especially after the baking required to cure the latex.

Put a fillet of plasticine around the edge of the base, along the wall of the container before filling with Ultracal to make it easier to separate the mold halves.

I drill a hole through the base, to approximately half way into the lifecast. This is a “thermowell,” in which I put the probe of a digital thermometer to monitor the temperature while curing the latex in the oven.

Run the foam in half-batches. A half-batch will yield plenty of foam for even a deep-ridged mask. Unfortunately the foam formula is incredibly sensitive to temperature, humidity and other difficult to control variables. I’ve found that many times all seemed to be going well until it started gelling up before it was in the mold, meaning I had to clean up, start over with an adjustment to the formula, hoping it would come together correctly. Then, when you do get a good foam-run, sometimes the finer details of your mask don’t come out or you get an air bubble too big to fill in. It just takes patience and persistence. Running half-batches will conserve the ingredients.

6. JACKET & YOKE

Though I strongly encourage you to read through q’IDar’s pages referenced above, the gist of her technique is to start with a shirt that fits well and cut it apart to use as a pattern for the base. Then sew the stripes onto the base panels before sewing the jacket together. For the base you should choose a medium weight, non-stretchy fabric like denim. The stripes will concentrate stresses and light fabrics may rip just from being put on and taken off a few times.

Both the chest tube on the jacket and the tube on the yoke are black vinyl tubing painted silver. The paint doesn’t like to stick to the vinyl much, so clean the tubing with alcohol to help the paint to stick. Still there were a lot of chips and scratches that i needed to touch up after fixing them to the outfit. The closures on both the chest tube and the yoke tube use snaps that I scavenged from an old pair of cargo pants and epoxied to the closures. The tube on the yoke has a heavy wire (from a wire coat hanger) run through it to help it hold it’s shape. This is important to make sure the yoke lays flat against the back of the jacket. The yoke snaps to the jacket at the back and with a velcro tab on each shoulder at the neck.

7. SHIRT & PANTS

The pants are simply track pants that I took in to make them tight. Turn them inside out. Pin them. Take them off and put them back on a couple of times to make sure the fabric has enough stretch to allow you to do this. Then sew them.

Q’IDar advises that you can make the pants from sweatpants. In my opion this is a bad, possibly dangerous idea, unless you plan on wearing the costume in the snow. See my warning at the top of this article about how hot this costume is. To her credit, Q’IDar does concede that sweatpants-based pants would be hot, and it would be better to make them from spandex.

For the shirt I replaced the front of a t-shirt with the metallic material. Since the metallic fabric has no stretchiness whatsoever, this allowed me to take advantage of the t-shirt’s stretchiness, rather than try and get some sort of side closure to work simply and reliably – I experimented with that early on, but it just wasn’t happening. The shirt has a sort of turtleneck collar (Q’IDar calls it a “gorget”) made of Pleather sewn into the front part of the shirt collar. The back is not attached to the shirt and has Velcro to allow me to adjust how tight it is.

7. ACESSORIES

I found some nice black leather motorcycle gloves at an Army-Navy store and cut the fingers off. The fingerless gloves I saw all had vents in the back which I did not want. Klingon gloves on Trek have pointy spikes over the knuckles. I decided not to add these as they would have likely just broken off when reaching into a pocket. I would have made them from foam, epoxied onto the glove. If you pause the videos carefully you can see that some of the “spikes” on gloves in Trek are simply folded tabs of the glove leather. This would have been more durable, but would have required making the gloves from scratch.

The sash, or baldric, was made from rubber shelf liner and vinyl. They were both painted silver and the shelf liner was wrapped around the vinyl. The silver rings were made from a metallic card paper I found at Joann. I also used this paper on the closure at the bottom with the four black rivets. Everything else is foam.

EDIT 8/25/2013: I removed the section on the design and assembly of my original gauntlets. I completely redesigned them. A writeup of the new ones is here: http://orionbattlecruiser.net/?p=3108#more-3108

8. BOOTS

While the boots on TNG are pretty consistent, DS9 shows a surprising amount of variation in design. This is clearest in scenes in Quark’s or on the promenade where we see a dozen or more warriors. Some boots go up to the knee, some go over, some don’t have spikes or metal plates or split toes. So some license is permitted, in my opinion. Basically you want a tall, lace-less black boot to start.

I made a wire support bracket to go from the sole over the top of the boot. This is to support the spike. A “metal plate” looking piece of foam is attached to the wire. The plate does not go all the way around the top of the boot, but just slightly more than half way. This is a consistent feature of spiked and plated boots on Trek.  I glued two pieces of the thick (5mm) Creatology foam together and glued these to the sole with the wire bracket between the original sole and the new one. The “plates” are thin sheet foam painted silver, glued to the sole of the boot. The spike is made from Pluffy, an oven-hardened polymer clay material similar to Sculpey, but much lighter weight.

Note that I can undo all of the modifications to the boots without any damage. All of the gluing is to the sole of the boot with hot melt glue which can be removed with a little work.

9. SPINE ARMOR

I started with q’IDar’s patterns for the spine armor. Her patterns looked too big to me so I reduced the size by 25% and mirrored them in Photoshop to make sure they were symmetrical. Each plate is made of two pieces of thin (2mm) foam – the large base plate and the central wedge. They’re glued together with Weldwood cement before painting. After painting they were epoxied to a piece of one-inch nylon webbing to create the spine assembly. I put a pair of snaps at the top of the 1st plate to snap to the yoke. I also put a Velcro loop near the bottom to go loosely around the chest tube. This allows it to move naturally, but confines it’s movement enough that it won’t go completely stupid.

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