Working with Worbla

This is a review/general advice post detailing my experiences working on the Lich King cosplay which took the better part of a year in order to complete, and was made primarily with worbla. First of all, here is the finished product on stage.





Before I begin; if you like, can afford, and enjoy working with worbla - that is fantastic. If you have only had good experiences, I am not disputing them.
Let me just lay it out that, this is simply my opinion (which I'm free to express on my blog). I would have genuinely appreciated a different viewpoint, before I made the decision to commit to worbla being the primary material for this build. So hopefully this will be helpful to some folk.

The whole process of making this outfit has proved to be more rewarding than not, as I'm really proud of the finished look, and everyone was so lovely about it! It took a lot longer than anticipated to complete; I really thought that this would be wrapped up in August (har har). The important lesson is; always sort out the structural and attachment aspects first. It will cause problems of nightmare proportion if you don't.

Most people were incredibly kind and supportive about everything I posted, even though there were a couple of wiseacres. I got in touch and started up friendships with some fantastic cosplayers through sharing my WIP pictures, just as a lot of people have been supporting me along the way before I even started The Lich King. I am super grateful for you all!

This was my first time working with worbla, and while I've grown to enjoy working with it, it's super pricey and not something I would recommend as a primary material, particularly not for cosplayer beginners as it is frequently aimed at.

Following the general hype of purchasing all Kamui's armour books, and worbla as the most 'cosplayer-friendly' material to work with, the first thing I started with back in December of last year was the breastplate.

 


Now, initially this looked ok, but I was working with single layers of worbla and it soon completely messed up Frankenstein style. I had to use silicone sealant to smooth out all the problems, warping and roughness. What I'm going to follow on with here is bullet points of everything I learned over 9 months of working with Worbla, post Breastplate Disaster.



After it had been sanded back to normality.

  • What didn't seem to be made clear outright, is it's incredibly difficult to work with single sheets of worbla - to cut costs or otherwise. You have to use doubled up layers of worbla with or without foam, for it to be workable. Double layers = doubled price. I've since heard about the folding method which might be useful to people still working with worbla. 
  • Worbla warps and tears easily because it's so thin. Once you've heated worbla up, it becomes compromised and the whole structure of it changes (thins & weakens, very little give for stretching it). 


  • There is little to no detailed guidance in Kamui's books how to mould or attach armour, it's mostly just pictures of her armour pieces in refined stages. The two patterns I tried out didn't work  (despite trying to watch what tutorials she had available, and being faced with her saying that "getting the shape right will take practise" and we will "get there eventually"). 

I ended up just winging all of the patterns with no reference, it was all done & proportioned by eye. 

In relation to that, I don't really think it's fair to expect people to 'practise' with getting Worbla right. A £30 sheet of material which is less than a metre is not something anyone is going to want to chance screwing up on. If you're going to promote using such an expensive material as 'cosplayer-friendly', and ask people to pay for your tutorials, it's fair to expect very detailed how-to's.

  • So, now I've since moved onto making a different cosplay; in regards to patterns, you will have to improvise shapes and make your own patterns, so you know it fits you. It will involve lots of trial and error, so make sure to do test runs first and see how they look/sit on your body. 
  • Keep all your successful patterns for future builds.
  • Another tip is, always make sure once you've figured out one pattern piece that you mirror it so it looks symmetrical, do not try and cut out the whole pattern without mirroring one side.
  • Always make sure you cut matching pattern pieces out at the same time, so you don't end up totally mystified how you constructed the one side you've already done. (My bracers below have slight design differences, which are mostly due to an increase in my confidence using worbla in the second one :p but the main issue which you can't see here was the first bracer I moulded was too tight on my wrist and could have been resolved earlier) 



  • In terms of moulding, I suggest you invest in making or buying moulds. You will potentially need a tailor's dummy/mannequin (unless you want to make your own full body mould), polystyrene shapes (for things like spikes, skulls, bra cups etc.) and plenty of things with curved surfaces. 
  • Worbla is not reliably adherent, even sometimes with serious kneading (as in, literally rolling heated up worbla out with a pen/brush handle). Even then, I did not trust it after so many of my details just snapped off, so I used sealant and PVA as secondary adhesives. 
  • Unlike foam, you can heat worbla succesfully with a hairdryer. I did the entire thing with a travel hairdryer (and it still caused bubbles).  
  • Worbla is super hot to work with.  Particularly if you do not use moulds. The material seems to fundamentally have to get too hot, for you to use it. I found heating up worbla bits when making detailing particularly notorious for burning, and I got blisters on my hands a number of times (although it is nothing compared to some of the burns I have seen from people accidentally touching heat gun nozzles). Air bubbles are a well established problem in working with worbla and foam - because the sandwiched material has to become so unsuitably hot before it is malleable. I remedied these, as you will see suggested very commonly, by pricking the bubbles with a pin and then smoothing the worbla out.


  • The weight of my helmet is around 5 pounds (need to re-weigh) yet the majority of the base is foam, and then mostly made with Worbla. Worbla is heavy once you build it up. If I could go back to earlier construction stages, I would have done the upper body armour in a completely different material.

  • The heaviness contributes to the difficulty of figuring out attachments with worbla. It took a whole month to successfully attach everything (which included riveting, bolts, drilling right through the pieces to create secure attachments) and even then I had issues with things snapping off. I shall repeat - always, *always* figure out your attachments and structural stuff first. Trying to suss out attachments weeks before con is not fun. Below are pictures of the back of my knee plate which has been bolted to the thigh plate, and also the circular skull which has a bolt attaching it to the pauldron. 

               

  • D-rings seem to be the most commonly suggested attachment (and featured in Kamui's book). I've also seen people saying that they pop off. I can confirm that is a problem I also found, even though I thought, since my sabatons and fingerless gauntlets did not have much weight that the worbla strips holding the d-rings would be fine with lightly fastened velcro. Wrong! One popped off before I got out of the hotel. 




  • Another factor to consider is the roughness of the surface of worbla once you've moulded/thinned it out, it becomes gritty. Which then opens up a whole other area of being encouraged to acquire  necessary tools (dremels) and pricey good quality gesso to avoid your armour surfaces looking "terrible" as one cosplay page stated. In the end I sanded, used multiple layers of acrylic Gesso from the Works (which was like watered down acrylic, never use it), glue, good quality acrylic paint, and some of the surfaces still were not as smooth as I wanted them.



The only pros of worbla is that it's a mouldable shape which can be cooled/hardened quickly, useful for reinforcements, (particularly for spikes etc) and has proved to be pretty sturdy when I dropped some of my heavier pieces by accident. However, I think the price, priming effort and weight really makes this something to reconsider for a cheaper & lighter material, as it caused a lot of issues with attachments and overall weight.

I see a lot of misleading posts where cosplayers are insisting they can make complex Worbla costumes alone within a week or two, with no mention of pre-made moulds or having any help. Realistically, as a first timer with this product, this took me 9 months (which could have been shortened by a few months I imagine, but I am very busy and juggling work/exams a lot of the time).

In light of all this, I am currently experimenting with something very cheap. If it works out I will show it to you all hopefully in the near future, as ideally I want people to feel they don't have to spend hundreds to create a cosplay that looks professional.

If you guys have any more questions then please feel free to leave a comment here or contact me on my page :)


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for your honest thoughts. I also see worbla marketed to newbie costumers, and the cost is definitely prohibitive in some cases. LK turned out great from what I can see, so I'll be keeping an eye on whatever you share next.

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    1. Thank you - I really appreciate your support :)

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