How We Made That: “Hobbit Hole” Cat Shelter Tutorial

In every aspect of our life, my husband and I are very “If you give a mouse a cookie”. A small idea snowballs really quickly, basically… “If we’re going to do X, we should probably go ahead and do Y… and Z… and OMG wouldn’t it be cool if ….?”

That’s basically my explanation for this tutorial, and the project that spawned it. A little background…

Back in 2011, the tornado smashed out one of our garage windows. It’s right by the ground, and totally useless – there’s a weirdly placed fireplace behind it, so no human is getting in or out of it – so it’s been pretty low on our priority list of things to fix. We’d see a cat or two go in and out of it, not a huge deal.

Then last year, my husband heard some noises in the wall when he was in the garage… and discovered a litter of kittens! We socialized them and their mama, and found homes for each of them. Shortly after that, Mama (now “Artemis”, per her new family!)’s sister also had a litter of kittens in there. We were able to hold the kittens once, before she hid them away from us. They all became feral, and lived in and around our garage/yard.

Flash forward to now. We have about 10 ferals living in our yard. They’ve all been named – Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Fili, Kili, Galadriel, Arwen, Celeborn, Beorn – and have their own Facebook fan page: The Feral fellowship. We’ve trapped, neutered, and released MOST of them so far, and are currently raising a small litter of kittens from them (Celebrian, Elladan, and Elrohir) in my husband’s office, and will soon adopt them out.

ANYWAY.

In the course of trapping, neutering, and releasing, we decided that we should clean up a part of the backyard, near the window they use, and put a small crate out there as a shelter. Maybe we’d plant some catnip. Actually, maybe that crate should be one of these homemade ones that are insulated? If we’re going to go to THAT trouble, why not build one from scratch? What if we make it look like a Hobbit hole? With cat grass growing on top!

… If we’re going to do THAT, maybe we should make a little “patio” of mulch around it – with a little border – so that we don’t have to use the lawnmower up against it. Actually, if we make that area a little bigger, we can surround the little apple tree so that we don’t have to mow around that. A little bigger yet, and we can do the same with the compost bins. Hell, at this point, that whole section of yard may as well be done in mulch, there’s no point bothering to mow the thin little strip that’ll be left… that’s a lot of mulch. Maybe we can sink some pots of catnip into the ground, to look like bushes in their little shire? And add some stepping stones! You know, we may as well add a little pond, so they have a constant source of drinking water…

… and here we are. Proud caretakers of a little feral “Shire”. Here is how we did it:

Materials

– 1 round egress Well with matching cover. Ours was about 36″ diameter, and 2′ deep.
– 6′ plank of solid composite decking, in brown. Don’t use the hollow kind!
– Large tube of construction adhesive. (We used Loctite PL 3X Premium Construction Adhesive)
– Outdoor latex paints, tinted yellow and green
– “Cedar” coloured silicone caulking
– Pipe hanging strap
– Screws, bolts, etc
– Soil
– Cat grass seed

How We Did it

Being careful to line up / center everything, I used a sharpie and a couple of plates to trace circles onto the egress cover for the openings

Then, I drew a rough guide for the “brickwork” around each. I wanted to get an idea of how many bricks I’d need, and what sizes. I ended up needing 24 1.5″ x 2″ bricks for the main door, and 40 1″ x 1.5″ smaller bricks for the two windows.

I had my husband cut the bricks from the plank of decking, using his table saw. He used his jigsaw to cut the holes out of the egress cover. He was careful to get the door out in one solid piece, as I’d be using it.

As he presented me his perfectly cut bricks, he informed me:

“You know what you need to put between each of the brick pieces? MORDOR. I mean MORTAR.”

… what a dork 🙂

Once the holes were all cut, I slathered the whole front facade with a thick layer of construction adhesive. I used a painting sponge to spread and texture it, kind of smacking and pulling it upwards to resemble stucco.

As I finished spreading and texturing around a window, I carefully placed the appropriate sized “bricks” into place around the edge, pushing in to secure in the adhesive.

Once the whole thing was coated, textured, and had all of the bricks placed, I let it dry (cure?) for a couple days.

In the meantime, I spread the door piece with more adhesive, using the sponge and an old paintbrush to streak it into more of a “wooden door” texture.

Once everything was dried/cured, I painted the “stucco” yellow, and the door green.


As I was being artsy in the comfort of our house, my husband slaved out in the yard to clean debris, strip the sod, and level the whole thing. Getting the ground level where the Hobbit Whole would go was important, so it would be stable and fit snuggly against the garage.

I piped the cedar toned silicone caulking around the edge of the windows/door, and in between each brick.

Once it was all piped, I used a wet finger to smooth it all down

Once everything was all cured and dried, it was time to assemble it all.

First, Porter fit the egress cover to the egress well, and marked spots on the egress cover to indicate where the holes on the well would line up. He then drilled these holes, so he could bolt the cover on.

Next, with the cover on to hold the well into the correct curve, he attached two 2×4 planks across what would become the bottom of the structure, to hold it all into place. (Not pictured)

Next, he attached the door. He took the facade off the well to do this. Due to the ridges going on in the back of the facade / door, he had to get creative. He ended up … ah, let me just quote him…

“I used pipe hanging strap (like this ), which is easily bendable and has holes for screwing into things. I used one piece near the center of the door and one strap near the top. It’s just bolted on, I drilled holes in the support strips to mount it.”

He then replaced the facade onto the well, and attached it with 3 or 4 small bolts.
Finally! Time to install the Hobbit Hole into our little feral shire!

We had already completely landscaped the “Shire” by this point – covered the entire area in landscape fabric, installed a small pond, dug holes and sunk 5 little pots for catnip “shrubs”, spread mulch, and laid stepping stones.

We had left a small spot of unmulched area on the fabric, right about where the Hobbit hole would be going. We placed it where we wanted it, then packed some more mulch down into it as a bit of a floor, and to hide the beams underneath.

Then, we mounded a bunch of dirt over it. You really want to pack it in well, and it’ll want to slide a bit. Take your time!

Then, plant a ton of cat grass seeds. I think we ended up using 8 packets, over a few weeks, just getting ridiculous with it. They tend to grow in small clumps, rather than an all-over sod like consistency.

Didn’t manage to get a close up of the soil covered structure, so here’s a view of the whole Feral Shire..


… and then we waited, keeping the soil moist while we let nature take its course. MADDENING!

Once the grass started sprouting, the ferals started to indicate their approval 🙂

Pippin got up there and caused a bit of sliding, which we later repaired:

I think Frodo may have been a little jealous…

… and then Sam wanted to know what was up…

.. and the Kili decided to come hang out with them all…

A patched dirt slide, a few more seeds and a couple weeks later, and voila … one proper feral shelter Hobbit Hole! It was a lot of work, but totally worth it!


It’s been nice to see them hang out in the back yard, fairly carefree. They get along well, have access to fresh water and food, and seem to know thay’re safe here, and free to be cats:




(Bonus: There’s video of Arwen enjoying that catnip.. SO cute! Click here to view it on their Facebook page!)

Be sure to follow The Feral Fellowship on Facebook for tons of cat photos and updates on their lives out back!

By the way, if you’re here because you’re a big fan of Middle Earth… I highly recommend checking out Tol-Con, a Middle Earth themed fan convention coming to Minneapolis in 2016. My husband and I are both involved with it, along with a great team – it’s a fan run convention, and featured themed BANQUETS as part of the ticket! Here is the Facebook page for it. Won’t you join us on our adventure?

How I Did That: Ronan The Accuser Makeup Tutorial

Ever since making my husband’s Ronan the Accuser costume, I’ve had a ton of questions about how I did the makeup… so, tutorial time!

When we first saw Guardians of the Galaxy, I KNEW I’d be making that costume for Porter. A day or two later, we did a quick makeup test – using my “Beast” blue makeup, and a tube of really cheap black Halloween makeup to look goopy. It looked good enough to convince me to go ahead with the costume, but was a far cry from what his final makeup would be.

After a couple tweaks to my process since that point, I’ve finally hit on the products and procedures needed for Ronan makeup that stays PUT – not peeling up, etc. There are probably a million different ways to do this makeup – I am NOT a makeup artist, and this is just what works for us.

Big thanks to Josh from ChaManLeon Fx, who filled in a couple missing puzzle pieces for me. I’d originally planned to use crushed up rolled oats, but he told me that “Ash Powder” exists.

Apologies for the crappy cell phone photography – I didn’t want to get makeup all over the good camera while shooting for this tutorial!

First things first… here’s my husband in his Ronan The Accuser costume:


Getting something to eat after a long day in costume… with none of the latex peeling off!

If you’re interested in seeing how the costume came together, I have an album up on my costuming Facebook page, here. That album is the closest thing you’ll get to a tutorial, from me – that costume cost me some sanity 🙂

Now, on to the makeup tutorial!

What you need:

Purple Contacts
Glue stick
Scar wax
Blue nail polish
Makeup sponges
Prosaid
Disposable plates / bowls
Ash Powder
Liquid Latex
Castor Sealer
Paper Towels or cotton balls
2 shades of blue cream makeup (I used Paradise brand)
Super White face powder (optional)
Stipple sponge
Sealing powder
Red lip liner
black cream makeup
Makeup brushes
Black eyeliner, mascara (optional)
Black food colouring
Southern Comfort or other nicely flavoured spirit.

I like to lay everything out in the order I’ll use it – which is how I wrote them, above. All that experience writing recipes, right? 🙂

First things first: Have your Ronan wash his/her hands and face VERY well, making sure to get rid of any oils that may be present. Dry everything well.

1. Have them put in the contacts – you don’t want them fussing with that after getting the makeup on!

2. Apply a few coats of glue stick to the eyebrows. I like to gently use a back and forth motion the first time, to get the hair completely coated. Allow that to dry, then run another coat on top, going in the same direction as the eyebrow hair.

Once that is dry, block the eyebrows with eyebrow / scar wax. Make sure the hair is completely covered, with as thin a layer as possible. I like to smooth it over with a wet finger to ensure there are no loose edges that can pull up

3. Paint the nails blue. Aim for a blue that’s as close to the finished skin makeup colour as possible.

4. Using a cosmetic sponge, apply a thin layer of Prosaide to anywhere that the black makeup will be – including the line down the front of the neck. Also. carefully brush a thin coat of it over the (dried!) nailpolish. Allow to dry completely.

5. In a disposable plate, bowl, or cup (At conventions, I’ll usually use hotel room paper coffee cups!), mix together some Ash Powder with liquid latex. I usually just eyeball it – a Tablespoon or two of powder, and as much latex as it takes to makee it goopy – almost like oatmeal.

Using a makeup sponge, dab globs of the latex goop all over the area that will be black – across the eyebrows, under the eyes, the streaks down the cheeks, below the mouth, and the streak down the middle of the neck. Take care to not get it in the eyelashes! Allow to dry COMPLETELY.

6. While I’m waiting for that to dry, I like to get started on the blue makeup, because that takes forever. I’ll start with the ears, neck, sides of face… leaving a fair amount of space around the clumpy stuff. I use water based “Paradise” makeup, a lightish blue.

It’s actually not light ENOUGH, but it’s what I could find locally / what I use for my Beast makeup, so we make do and just use white powder later, to dull it down. Ideally, you want something very light, like a periwinkle blue.

7. Once the goop has dried, carefully sponge castor sealer all over the goopy parts, making sure to get it in the little crevices and everything. Use a paper towel or cotton balls to blot excess castor sealer.

8. Continue painting the entire face, ears, hands, and neck area with the lighter blue colour. Check under different lighting to make sure there are no blotchy/ lighter spots.

Optional: If the light blue is too dark/vibrant, use the Super White powder to powder over the whole thing now. (Image on right, below.)

9. Wet the stiple sponge, shake it off, and get just a small amount of the darker blue cream makeup on it, lightly sponge over the entire face and neck area. You’re going for a very subtle texturing effect here. If you get too much makeup on the sponge, or it’s runny… reapply the light blue and start over.

10. Once you’re happy with how it looks, use a big kabuki type brush to apply sealing powder all over everything.

11. Use the red lip liner to draw thin, jagged “veins” in a few places.

12. Carefully apply black makeup to all of the areas that it needs to go, carefully working it into any bumps and crevices in the “goop” application. I keep a printout of Lee Pace’s makeup on hand, and consult it fairly frequently to make sure I keep it looking right.

(At this point, I stopped taking progress photos of the black makeup, whoops!

13. Once you’re happy with the black makeup, apply eye liner and mascara, if desired.

14. For a shinier appearance on the black areas, gently brush on some more castor sealer. Don’t use too much!

15. For the black mouth, I mix together some cake decorator grade black food colouring, with Southern Comfort. (Wilton pictured, because I have it on hand… but Americolor is stronger!).

This kind of food colouring mixes into alcohol better than water (it’s why all my cakes that were hand painted or airbrushed were done so with vodka!). I chose Southern Comfort because it’s sweet and tastes good, and that combats the nasty taste of the food colouring.

Have your Ronan swish this mixture in the mouth for a minute or two, and spit. I like to have extra on hand in a water bottle, for refreshing the colour during the day.

… and that’s it! Now your Ronan is free to cleanse the universe of Zandarians…

… or fist-bump adorable little fans on Free Comic Book Day…

..or just go twerk on stage!

.. with makeup that stays on and looks great all day. Even when ending that long day with a bowl of pho!

Gluten Free Sauerkraut Buns Recipe (Pyrizhky)

Yikes, it’s been over a month since my last post! Sorry about that. We’ve been super busy with 3 conventions, Pi Day, AND a long road trip in that time. Back now, and it’s about a month til our next convention, so… here I am!

Growing up, I loved Sauerkraut buns… soft little bready balls of joy that would show up at family gatherings. Though we’re not Ukrainian ourselves, growing up in Winnipeg meant that many of the traditional foods from other cultures – Especially Ukrainian – were pretty… ubiquitous. Bacon, onion, and sauerkraut is a pretty genius filling, so it’s no wonder that these were super popular back home.

I’m kind of surprised that it seems like no one I know here in Minneapolis has ever heard of them!

While preparing for Pi Day, I decided that it was time to develop a recipe for a gluten-free version. These aren’t QUITE as soft as the original – and the technique is different for putting them together… but they are full of flavour, inside and out. The bread has a great texture, and they’re easy to make.

Enjoy!

Gluten Free Sauerkraut Buns (Pyrizhky)
Makes about 35 buns

Dough:
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 envelope yeast
1 1/2 cup+ Brown rice flour
3/4 cup gluten-free oat flour
1/2 cup Amaranth flour
1/2 cup Millet flour
1/4 cup Corn starch
1/3 cup Potato starch
2 Tbsp Tapioca starch
3 tsp Xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream

Filling:
1 lb bacon, chopped
1 bag saurkraut (about 19 oz), well drained
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt
Pepper

Melted butter

Prepare the dough:

Gently mix together warm water, sugar, and yeast. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together 1 cup of the brown rice flour, remaining flours, starches, xanthan gum and salt. Form a well in the middle, and pour oil, eggs, and sour cream into it. Mix well, then add the yeasty water. Mix until everything is well incorporated, then knead lightly for 1 minute – it will be a bit wet. Place dough in a large, greased bowl. Cover and allow to rise somewhere warm for 1 hour.

As you are waiting for the dough to rise, prepare the filling:

Cook bacon & onions until bacon is almost cooked, but not crispy. Add saurkraut to the pan, cook and stir well until bacon fat is absorbed and everything is heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool.

One the hour rise is up, mix remaining 1/2 cup rice flour into the dough. Pinch off a walnut sized piece of dough, and work into a circle. If dough is too wet to work with, add a little more flour. You want it more wet than normal dough. Let stand for another 10 minutes.

Assemble the sauerkraut balls:

Note: I like to wear latex gloves for assembly:

Divide dough into a bunch of walnut sized pieces – about 35 of them.

One at a time, flatten a piece of dough into a circle approximately 3″ across – I like to do this in the palm of one hand. Place a 1 Tbsp mound of filling in the center of the circle. Carefully pull up the edge of the circle up and around the filling, sealing the filling in (like a drawstring bag). Roll around between your hands a bit to get a uniform spherical shape, and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough/filling, leaving at least 2″ between dough balls.

Loosely cover cookie sheets with plastic wrap, and allow to rise another hour.

Heat oven to 375F. Remove pastic wrap from cookie sheets, bake for 25 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and brush liberally with melted butter.

Great served hot, fresh out of the oven, cold, or even reheated. IF they last that long.

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Gluten-Free Lembas Recipe

With just a few short days til TheOneRing.Net‘s “One Last Party”, I decided that it was finally time to develop my own Lembas recipe. I think it would be fun to bring it along on our journey (along with our Miruvor!): Cheaper than airport food, healthier – especially in light of the travel, looong hours, etc we are about to subject ourselves to – and, you know.. themeatic. Also, it involved creative problem solving, so a good way to keep me distracted while waiting!

The facts are these…

Lembas is a type of Elvish bread / cake / biscuit from Tolkien’s writings. First made by Yavanna from a special Elvish corn, it was nutritious, and known to be ridiculously sustaining – that “One small bite will fill the stomach of a grown man”, etc. It’s generally theorized that Lembas was based on hard tack – a very dry and bland bread product used for military rations and some traditional Newfoundland cooking.

“”Eat little at a time, and only at need. For these things are given to serve you when all else fails. The cakes will keep sweet for many many days, if they are unbroken and left in their leaf-wrappings, as we have brought them. One will keep a traveler on his feet for a day of long labour, even if he be one of the tall men of Minas Tirith.” – Fellowship of the Rings

“The food was mostly in the form of very thin cakes, made of meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream.” – Fellowship of the Ring

In the movies, Lembas was shown to be a crumbly white biscuit type food. Apparently they used an unsweetened shortbread that tasted awful. They were presented wrapped in leaves, and tied up with twine.

Tolkien has said that they contain honey, and the “fruit of the Mallorn tree”, which was described as ” Its fruit was a nut with a silver shale” in Unfinished Tales.

Oh, and as one other challenge to this little exercise? Half of our little fellowship is allergic to gluten.

So.. lots of random information to work with, in addition to my own assumptions… and nutritional goals for the finished product.

To me, I picture this as a sweet thing, but not a DESSERT thing. They straight up mention its sweetness, afterall. I picture some of the sweetness coming from the (canon!) honey, but also from dried fruit, which would contribute to the nutrition of it. I think dried apples would work best given the colour description of the interior, but I think apricots are more in line with the complexity of flavour I’m picturing. I decided that there should be a small amount of spice for complexity, and a pinch of herbs to bring it back from being too desserty. In terms of “fruit of the mallorn tree”, I am choosing to interpret that as almonds.

Now, in terms of the nutritious / sustenance properties of Lembas… I wouldn’t have used white flour even if we weren’t working around gluten issues. There’s just no real nutrition there. I decided to use a small amount of masa flour, due to the original Lembas being corn based. Because I have no elven magical corn, it’ll have to do 🙂 Also, I’m supplementing it with protein powder and ground flax to contribute to nutrition. Non-magical, non-valar corn is only slightly more nutritious than wheat flour, after all.

Gluten-Free Lembas
Makes about 8 3″ Lembas biscuits

1 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp milk
1/2 cup masa flour
1/2 cup gluten-free oat flour (can use millet instead)
1/2 cup vanilla protein powder*
1/2 cup Sliced almonds
1/2 cup Thinly sliced dried apricots
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup Ground flax seed (flax meal)
1 Tbsp tapioca starch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 tsp Cardamom
1/4 Rosemary, finely crumbled/chopped

corn starch, for rolling

Mix butter and honey together just until combined – do not cream it or over beat it. Add milk, gently mix until combined amd smooth

In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Add dry mix to butter and honey, mix until combined. Wrap dough in plastic film, chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Generously sprinkle clean work surface with corn starch, roll dough to 1/2″ thick. Cut into 3″ squares, and carefully transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheets, leaving 2″ between each. Cut a shallow “X” into each cake, if desired.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly golden. Allow cakes (biscuits?) to cool on cookie sheets for at least 5 minutes before moving, cool completely before serving.

If you want to get fancy with it, wrap them in leaves, and tie with twine. (I used collard greens). Oh, and be sure to “like” our Facebook page to see all of the crazy photos we’ll take when out in LA! Marie Porter, Cosplay Costumer!

* Choose your protein powder wisely! If it’s something you don’t like to drink, it’ll make the bread taste weird.

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Miruvor Recipe

Well, this is fun. As I started to blog this recipe, I realized that I probably need an “Elvish” category. 🙂 I nested it under my Ethnic Foods category, LOL!

Anyway. A couple months ago, I started work on a recipe for as-legit-as-possible Miruvor. I’d seen recipes out there for cocktails called Miruvor, but nothing that seemed really canon. So…

Miruvor (or MiruvĂłrĂ«) is an elvish drink, from Tolkien’s writings. “Miruvor” was mentioned in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, as “Cordial of Imladris”. Made by the Rivendell elves, its purpose in the stories is to revive those who drink it… sort of an elvish energy drink.

“As soon as Frodo had swallowed a little of the warm and fragrant liquor he felt a new strength of heart, and the heavy drowsiness left his limbs. The others also revived and found fresh hope and vigor.” – Fellowship of the Ring

Elrond gave it to Gandalf, who shared it with the Fellowship – in small doses – explaining it to be precious.

Miruvor was based, in-world, on MiruvĂłrĂ« – a drink created and imbibed by the Valar, in Valinor. MiruvĂłrĂ« was made from flowers grown in Yavanna’s gardens, and has been referred to as “A kind of nectar” by Tolkien, and as a sweet mead by Galadriel. So, enough information to use and build on, but still fairly vague.

While my *serious* Miruvor is indeed a mead recipe, next week’s “One Last Party” seemed like an ideal occasion to break out a bottle of Miruvor… but my brewing batch will not be ready for several more months. I decided to do a “quick” version: liqueur, rather than mead. So… Miruvor, rather than MiruvĂłrĂ«. As with the in-world beverages, my Miruvor will similarly be inspired by my upcoming MiruvĂłrĂ« 🙂

So, as I do not personally have access to flowers from Yavanna’s gardens in Valinor – and because pretty much no information was ever created in terms of the actual FLAVOUR of said flowers, I had to get imaginative. In my mind, it would be a light floral flavour, almost fruity. I didn’t picture it as anything heavy, like rose or lavender, for instance.

In running through my knowledge of edible flowers that were also readily accessible, and deciding whether any were suitable as what I was picturing, it hit me: ELDERFLOWERS. Not only is their flavour pretty much exactly what I was picturing, the name is perfect. Elder flowers… Eldar flowers!

Ok, yeah, Rivendell elves aren’t technically “Eldar” elves, but Elrond WAS captured and raised by Maedhros and Maglor, who WERE Noldor, and therefore “Eldar”, so … Whatever, it’s headcanon now. Elderflowers = elvish.

For this recipe, I decided to use elderflower syrup, as it’s available year round and just a few clicks away on Amazon. You can use IKEA’s Elderflower syrup for a budget version, but I find the D’Arbo White Elderflower Syrup to be vastly superior in taste. Plus, you know… it’s SUPPOSED to be a precious drink, go ahead and spend the extra money to get the really good stuff!

Miruvor

500 ml Elderflower syrup (IKEA or D’Arbo)
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
Peel of 1/2 lemon
peel of 1 orange
1 vanilla bean, split
Pinch salt
2-3 cups (500-750 ml) GOOD vodka

In a large pot, combine Elderflower syrup, honey, water, citrus peels, vanilla bean, and salt, whisking until well combined. Bring JUST to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Stir about 2 cups of vodka into the cooled syrup mixture, and taste. Continue adding vodka, to taste, until desired flavour / alcohol level is reached.

Strain through fine cheesecloth or a coffee filter, discarding peels. Funnel into clean wine or liqueur bottles.

After bottling, you should let it age for about a week in a cool place before drinking it – IF you have that kind of patience! Aging results in a smoother, more mellow flavor.

How I Made That: Maleficent’s Horns / Headpiece

Back in October, I posted a Cosplay Tutorial: Maleficent’s Staff. As Maleficent has been one of the costumes that generates the most email questions for me, seemed like a good idea!

I have been meaning to post a tutorial on how to make the headpiece, but – as it turns out – I didn’t take any photos of the earlier steps. So, here we are with a “How I Made That”, instead!

So, let me first detail what all went on before I thought to start taking photos 🙂

1 – I had a cement casting of my Maleficent model’s head. I greased it up with vaseline, and laid down some wet plaster tape in a rough shape of the base head cap. I did about 3 layers, and let it harden fully before removing it and trimming it to the right shape.

2 – I made the horns. For things like this, I like to start with a base of crunched up aluminium foil – it’s lightweight, easy to form, and holds shape well. I took the time to make two symmetrical horns.

3 – Using thin strips of plaster tape, I wet, wrapped, and smoothed a couple layers of plaster from the tip down towards the base of each horn.

4 – With the cap part centered on the head casting, I used mroe strips of plaster tape to securely affix the horns to the cap base, taking care to keep them symmetrical. Then, I let that harden completely.

5 – Using some “Fast Mache” paperclay, I filled out and smoothed over the horns. Let that dry completely.

6 – I sprayed the horns with Super 77 spray adhesive, and wrapped them with twine. Let that dry completely.

7 – Once the whole thing had dried *completely*, I coated it all with a layer of black Plasti-Dip. This would protect the plaster from outside moisture. Once that was dry, I painted it with black PAX paint, for a nicer finish.

8 – I draped a small piece of textured black fabric (stretchy) over the headpiece, trimming it and cutting holes out for the horns. Once I was satified with how it looked, I sprayed the back of it with Super 77, and glued it down to the headpiece, smoothing out all the wrinkles, etc.

9 – I draped a piece of shiny metallic black lycra over it, trimming to form the “V” trim. Once I was satisifed with the shape and fit, I glued it into place with Super 77, folding edges to the underside of the cap.

10 – Using a larger piece of black metallic lycra, I draped one side of the … I don’t know what I’d call it. Skull cap? Cowl? Sort of? Anyway, draped that on one side, pinning in place.

11 – Used another large piece of black metallic lycra to drape the other side, overlapping the first. Once I was happy with it, I hand stitched the pieces together, sewing right up to the horns to secure everything in place.

aaaaand finished!

For more photos of this stunning costume, head on over to our Facebook page. We have an album for it HERE.

Be sure to “like” my costuming page on Facebook for more progress pics, tips, and other fun stuff: Marie Porter, Cosplay Costumer.

Note: If you’re looking for a quote on custom costuming, please contact me through my costuming page, www.evilcostumeoverlord.com.

How I Made That: Dwarf Wig Part 2 – Sewing and Styling

As I’d mentioned in Part 1 of this series, Dwarf wigs for Tolkien cosplay have a unique set of challenges when it comes to obtaining them: commercially available wigs don’t have right texture, as they’re smooth and silky, not rough and with a bit of kink/frizz. Additionally, when making dwarf wigs, you need them very full, and you want extra hair available for making extra wefts, braids, beards, etc. It just makes sense to make the wig from scratch.

While a standard way of making wigs from scratch is to build on a weave cap, that doesn’t work for me – I have a LOT of hair to hide under the wig, so weave caps never fit me.

Instead of using the wig cap as-is, I decided that I would use the outer edge/border of it (which would fit, if not for the main body of the cap not being full enough), with straps of elastic sewn onto it, Arda-style (rather than a full mesh base). I’d never done anything like it before, and winged it the whole way.

It was a ton of work – and my finger tips were raw for days afterward – but now I have the best fitting wig I’ve ever owned! Here is how I did it:

First, I tried on the weaving cap that would serve as the (partial) base for this new wig, and determined how much size I was missing, and where. I needed about 3″ of extra fullness front to back, and 1.5″ from side to side.

I checked an Arda wig we had on hand to get an idea of how many front-to-back strips are usually used, and sewed a few strips of elastic in place to the front of the weave cap, situating the ends of elastic / seam on the reinforced section of the cap. I pinned them in place on the back, fussing with the lengths, until I had something symmetrical that looked like it would fit. (That is, I measured the middle elastic to be 3″ longer than the section of wig cap it would be over, then tapered down the lengths of the strips on either side to create a decent shape). O

Once I was satisfied with the size/shaping of this new base, I sewed the ends to the back of the weaving cap.

I placed the cap on a wig head. Note – This is WAY too small for any human head, so I was careful to stretch it over, pin it in place, and be mindful of the fact that I was basically *freehanding* it the whole way.

Starting at the very back of the wig, I sewed a short piece of weft to the back flap of the wave cap, and another one just under 1″ higher than that one.

I kept sewing wefts, aiming to keep them about 3/4-1″ apart at the center of the wig cap. As I began each weft, I measured across the section it would be coving, taking care to not squish down the vertical strips of elastic that they would be sewn to. The ends of each weft were sewn down very close to the previous weft ends.

As I sewed each weft, I would stitch it down to the first inch or so of weave cap, then knot it off before only sewing the weft to the vertical strips, distributing the length of weft evenly across the strips, holding the strips in place, not pulling them off to either side.

Once I got about 1/3 of the way up, I took the cap/partial wig off the wig head, pulled all of the pins out, and trimmed out the excess wig cap from under my strips. I had enough wefts sewn on to hold everything in place, so it was time to try it on.

Here is what it looked like on the inside:

I tried it on, with my hair under a wig cap, as I would when wearing the wig. As it turned out, one side was a little long, so I pinched the difference on those pieces and pinned them down in the front. I would later sew them down, as I got closer to it. (Wasn’t in the mood to sew them when I pinned them, so I procrastinated. )

I continued sewing wefts to the strips, trying to keey the curves of the wefts consistent with the shape of the remaining wig cap.

Eventually, I came to the front flap of the wig cap. Based on my design, I sewed one last weft, and cut it off there. This would be where there would be a very obvious part, which I would be covering with a braid.

I cut the elastic down on a few remaining wefts to be about 1/2 the width they started with, to remove some bulk when sewing the “bangs” in. Starting at the front edge of the wig cap, I sewed these down, much closer together than the main wefts had been.

The final bangs weft was sewn so that the edge of it touched the edge of the final weft from the main body of the wig.

Now that the wig was completely done, I gave it a quick brushing to remove any loose hairs, and got started with styling it. I wanted a combination of two strand twists, and 3 strand small braids coming from the front, which would start just under the braid across the bangs. As I braided and twisted, I was careful to not take too much hair from any location – I didn’t want wefts / cap to show from underneath, as bald spots.

Additionally, there would be a large, thick braid from the center of the wig, extending down the back. Inspiration struck, and I taught myself how to do a 4 strand braid. This was the first I’ve ever done – i didn’t even have to take it out and redo! Was very proud of that.

After braiding the larg braid and typing it off with a strip of elastic (more on that later), I started looping the mini braids around the back, and over/under each other and the main braid, sewing everything in place.

I was careful to keep both sides symmetrical to each other – brad length, size of the loop, where it laid, etc.

The fat main braid was much too short for the actual wig (as I suspected it would be), so I made a separate braid from additional braiding hair, with a clear elastic holding it together at the beginning of the braid. I love how it formed brown and black diagonal stripes. Should I say “I meant to do that”? LOL. I have no idea how it happened. That is literally the second 4 strand braid I’d ever made.

I inserted the top of this loose braid into the main body braid, right under some of the mini braid looping, and sewed it down thoughout the length of the remaining end of that original braid, if that makes sense. Aside from being slightly bigger than the original braid, you totally can’t see the transition. Kinda shocked myself!

I didn’t take progress shots of this next part, so I’ll describe.

The bangs were to be separated with a part up the center. I didn’t worry about the wefts showing / bald spot, as I intended to have a chain and large fake sapphire jewel sewn down in it.

I twisted the hair on either side of the part backwards, and out/back towards the ear. I tied each side off and sewed it back behind where the ear was, allowing the remaining ends to hang down as ponytails.

Then I braided some additional loose hair into yet ANOTHER 4 strand braid, tied the ends off with small, clear elastics, and sewed that across the bangs/main hair part, and over the tied-off sections of the bangs, behind the ears. The ends of the braid were sen down a bit behind the ears, completely hidden by the main hair.

Then, I divided those two ponytails into 3 equal sections anbd braided them. Not only wasthis a handy way to deal with that excess hair, it’s a bit of a nod to Thorin’s design – he had one such braid on each side, each pulled forward with a bead on the end.

Though not shown in this pic, I ordered 6 “Kili” beads from Dwarvendom on Etsy. (I also ordered one “Fili” bead at the same time, for the beard)

Finally, I attached the jewel to a chunky chain that I liked, and worked the ends of the chain up under the “headband” braid, and around the back, to be secured together with a jump ring under the thick main braid.

…. and done! Tomorrow, I’ll post a “How I Made That” for the beard that accompanied this.

In the meantime, be sure to “like” my costuming page on Facebook for more progress pics, tips, and other fun stuff: Marie Porter, Cosplay Costumer.

Note: If you’re looking for a quote on custom costuming, please contact me through my costuming page, www.evilcostumeoverlord.com.

I am Fire! I am FRUITY! – Smaug Watermelon Bowl

Back in 2012, I got it in my head that I’d try carving a watermelon for the first time. I had a neat idea – Caladium leaves – and just kind of winged it. I posted a bit of a tutorial from it here.

Within the following two months, I’d carve two more watermelons – one Canadian themed for Canada Day, and one “Stars and Stripes” themed, for the 4th of July. Then, I put down my paring knife and basically forgot that I’d ever carved a watermelon… until a week and a half ago.

We were looking forward to going to a friend’s house for NYE, and planned to make some fancy cheese balls.

Then, all the talk of making cheese balls prompted us to make a batch of cheeseball as a “I don’t feel like cooking” dinner… and just snarf the whole thing for supper the night before NYE. The resulting gut rot led us to agree that maybe we should bring something healthier.

So, NYE morning we went and bought a bunch of fruit for a fruit salad. As with pretty much everything we do, it “If You Give A Mouse a Cookie”-ed from that, to “we should scoop out a watermelon so it at least looks nice” to “Maybe I’ll just scallop the edges on the watermelon or something”, to “HEY, I carved watermelons before! I should do something fancy!”.

I was googling for ideas just a couple hours before we had to leave for the event, and not feeling inspired. I kind of joked to myself that I should just carve Smaug, as Smaug had been SO on my mind lately with costumey stuff.

well.. the joke quickly turned to reality, and I decided that yes, I would carve Smaug. Nevermind that I’d only carved fairly basic stuff 3 times, and that was 2.5 years earlier. I’m all about ridiculous challenges, right? Some day, my tombstone will say “Because I CAN!”, I swear.

So.. here is the result. Ignore the crappy cell phone photography for the progress shots!

First, I scrawled the basic idea all over the watermelon:

Then, I cut off the top of the melon, scooped it out, and started doing detail work on what would be the wings:

Everything kind of turned out a mess because this was by far the THINNEST watermelon I’d ever seen. Kind of mushy, too. Ugh!

First wing carved. I was kind of making it up as I went along. Probably not the best idea, but whatever:

Carved the back as a tail winding around one side. In hindsight, that should have been a bit higher – it didn’t contain the fruit very well!

Carved the shoulders and front legs:

Drew on some kind of head at the last minute. Yeah, drawing’s not really my thing, sorry! :

… but holy crap, when I washed the marker off, it really kinda looked like Smaug! I was pretty proud!

…and finally – after carving the face – we had to fill him position him on top of a pile of ‘gold’ – mango and pineapple!

Dragon Bodice – A Giveaway!

If you’re in the Tolkien fandom, you’ve NO DOUBT heard about The One Last Party, hosted by TheOneRing.net. It’s to be the final in their series of crowd funded parties to celebrate the LOTR and Hobbit movies.

Well, this time around, we’ve joined their fellowship, and have donated one of our Smaug shirts to the cause. For those who donate between the time they made the announcement this morning (11am GMT Thurs 8th) , and 11pm GMT Sunday 11th, each pledge made in that time will be entered in a random draw to win the second of these tops ever to exist, bypassing the wait list that’s been accumulating for when I start to produce these again! (Beyond that first prototype!)

It’s a high quality latex bodice, sculpted and hand painted by me, featuring a wired “skeleton” to allow for wearer customization of size, shape, and cup shape/coverage – it’s a highly adjustable top, and will fit anywhere between a ladies XS to Medium, and up to a DD cup size. (DDD for those in the XS size range). Includes adjustable clear bra straps.

So… let’s take a closer look at what’s up for grabs, shall we?

This shirt started off as a crazy idea. As you may know, I’m a big fan of Eurodance music. Several years ago Daisy Dee – one of my favourites – put out a song and video called “Open Sesame” (Click here to see the video). In it, she was wearing this really cool dragon top. At some points, it was animated with CG, but there did appear to be an actual, non-CG top. It’s been there, in the back of my mind for a while… some day, I wanted to make a dragon top. When I started dabbling in sculpting and casting for costuming last year, I realized that I’m finally in a position to do it! I decided to make a top inspired by not only that music video, but my favourite dragon – Smaug.

So, I asked my friend Sylus – the gorgeous model you see pictured above – if she’d be down for wearing such a thing, were I to make it. Being a huge Tolkien geek herself, she was ALL OVER the idea, so… it happened 🙂

First, I sculpted:

Then I made a mold:

Then I cast that sucker in latex:


… and finally, I painted it.

Voila!

We actually have 2 whole albums of progress AND photoshoot pics up on our Facebook Page. The direct link to the progress album is here, and the photoshoot album is here.

So, if you’d like to get your name in the draw, head on over to the The One Last Party IndieGoGo Campaign, and pledge something before Sunday night! Good luck!

If you end up missing out and would like to get on the wait list for one of these tops, contact me through my costuming page!)

How I Made That: Katniss’s “Catching Fire” Wedding Gown Wings

So, I’m going to start a new category here on the blog: “How I made that”. Not QUITE a costuming tutorial, but with enough information, photos, etc to help you on your way!

So, let’s start this off: The wings on Katniss’s wedding gown in “Catching Fire”. You all remember my adorable Mini Katniss, right? That’s her over to the right – Great kid! She rocked that costume all the way to a “Best Workmanship” win at Convergence this past summer. The wings on that gown is one of the costume elements I’ve been asked about the most, and it was actually quite easy to do!

The first thing I had to do was to gather reference images. This was easy for the front – there were some gorgeous, hi-res images online, including the magazine photo that Mini Katniss’s portrait was based on. The back was not so easy – I ended up having to put the Blu-Ray on, and pause/photograph my TV screen when it came to the perfect, clear view of the back of the gown:

From there, I opened the front and back images up in Photoshop, and sized them to a printing size that would reflect my Mini-Katniss’s actual size. That is, I used Mini Katniss’s backwaist measurement to determine the print size of the photo, by using markers on that original photo – where Jennifer Lawrence’s waist and prominent vertebra in her neck is. I tweaked it slightly to work with Mini Katniss’s shoulder measurement: She has the build of an 11 year old girl, after all: the proportions are a little different than from a grown woman!

Once I had it properly sized, I set the file to print at a lighter opacity – probably 60%? – and divided each file up into 8×10 sized sections. I printed them all out, and assembled them together with tape. This created the template for the two wings.

Using a thick black marker, I traced over all of the lines on the wing in each template. Combined with the less vibrant printing, this would allow the pattern to easily show through the parchment paper I’d use in the next step.

One wing at a time, I taped the template down to my work surface, and covered with a large piece of parchment paper. Using Instamorph (The stuff I got into more detail about in my Thranduil Crown Tutorial), I stretched hot strips of Instamorph into long “snakes”, and laid them out following the pattern I’d made. I continued this until the entire wing design was laid out, then let it cool.

Then, I went back over it with a heat gun. At every intersection of pieces, I heated the area up and gently pressed the pieces together to form a lasting bond. This is important! When laying the design out, the pieces cool too fast to bond with each other, and you really want that security.

Once everything was bonded and cooled, I had to shape it. I started with the bending at the points above the shoulder of the dress, by heating the whole area with a heat gun, and propping it up til it cooled:

As it turned out, the sizing/shaping of my dress form was pretty similar to Mini Katniss, so I covered it in foil to protect it, and used the heat gun to mold the pieces to shape:

From there, both sides of each wing were hit with grey primer:

A mirror-finish shiny metallic spray paint (that I ended up not liking):

… and, finally, with a white glitter spray that I used to tone down the obnoxious shine of the metallic silver:

At that point, the outward-facing sides of the wings were accented with crystals. Use the GOOD, Swarovski ones for maximum shine! I used E-6000 to glue them down:

At this point, the wings themselves were finished, and all that remained was attaching them to the gown. Early on, I had decided that they would need to be easily removable – we were talking about an 11 year old girl, after all. Had to keep logistics in mind!

I also knew that she intended to spend most of her time in the gown SPINNING (who could blame her?), so I knew the attachment would have to withstand that force. The solution? Ribbon ties!

I pinned the wings into place on the dress, which had been sewn and fit, but not FINISHED (feathers). I took great care to make sure everything was in place where I’d want it to be, and this would provide the guide not only for where the ribbons would be sewn on, but where the feathers would be stitched as well:

So I pinned along where the edges of the wings were, as a guide, and made note of where ribbons should go – I think I sewed 3 each on the front and back. On the front, this was up near the top of the left side of the bodice (her left), one at the right side of her waist, and one at her left hip. This held it in place well.

I machine sewed the middle of each length of ribbon right to the bodice, then pinned the ribbons up and out of the way for sewing all of those feathers down:

To wear it, she put the gown on. A wing was positioned where it was to go, and the ends of one ribbon were pulled through to the front of the wing, one end on each side of a line of wing. A bow was tied over that dividing line of wing, and the loops and ends were carefully pulled back through to be hidden and secured behind the wing. It was a beautiful thing!

The finished product: