I volunteered to build the Fili vest for Nina, a friend who's costuming this Hobbit dwarf, mainly because I wanted to make the scales trim using polymer clay. Much like what I did for the Thorin scalemail shirt for Oneal.
Looking at the official Fili image, I figured I’d have to make roughly 150 scales. I estimated I would need 7-10 pieces of 2-oz brown/copper/beige polymer clay bricks. I also figured I’d require about a yard of 54-inch wide material, preferably faux leather or costume suede. I found everything I needed at a crafts and fabric store and bought them with discount coupons.
I worked on the scales first. I had made a positive and a negative mold of the four different forms, so it was just a matter of pulling 150 positives. Bake, then paint, and done!
It was my first time to sew a vest, and my first time to work with suede (definitely more manageable than marine vinyl). So, I was learning as I went along. More like winging it.
Guided by the measurements Nina sent me, I cut a paper pattern. I thought I had it right but after I had cut the fabric, I realized I could’ve done a Dolman sleeve instead of a regular sleeve. That would have been easier to sew, and would’ve looked closer to the Fili original. But, with no extra material to revise my design, I went ahead with what I had already cut.
It was nice working with the costume suede because it doesn’t fray (didn't have to do any serging). And the fabric surface, while feeling a bit plastic-y, does not get tacky under the sewing machine’s pressure foot. I just had to guide the material so that it wouldn’t swerve too much.
As soon as I finished sewing, I laid out the scales to check if I had enough. It turned out that I had made too many because I had counted the scales on the real Fili, without thinking that Nina’s measurements are certainly much smaller.
Using super glue, I attached all the scales very carefully. No major mishaps aside from the three times that I tore off a piece of finger skin that had bonded with a clay scale.
|Fili Vest with natural light.|
|Fili Vest with camera flash.|
Overall, it was an easy project – a couple hours for measuring and cutting the pattern and material, maybe three to four hours sewing the vest, and an hour gluing the scales. Preparing the 150 clay scales -- conditioning, shaping, baking, and painting -- probably took the longest in terms of manhours. But you really don’t bother counting the hours when you’re having fun!
The best part of all: bragging rights!