Costume Musings

Magnetic Wings Tutorial featuring Varaform

Tutorial by Vickybunnyangel

As someone who travels a lot and works at various events as a cosplayer, it’s important for me to create things to be durable and lightweight. The ability of fitting into a suitcase, and also causing the least amount of strain on my body after a long day of wear, are the main reasons I decided to test out Varaform to create a set of magnetic wings. The particular character these wings are for is Star Guardian Soraka from League of Legends (the most weird part is they attach down by the butt, instead of the back), but you can easily adapt this tutorial to suit your needs!

What is Varaform?

 

Varaform is a lightweight thermoplastic extruded into mesh form. Unlike Wonderflex or Worbla’s Mesh Art, it does not actually have any fabric in it. It is purely plastic. When heated, it becomes soft and pliable like a sticky fabric mesh. To see a full explanation of Varaform, please refer to this post: Potential new product: Varaform.

Wing Base

Materials:
Half sheet of Varaform Heavy
Quarter sheet of Varaform Light (Optional. It can all be made from Varaform Heavy)
Scissors
Heat Gun
Water
Parchment Paper

 

I covered my workspace with parchment paper and had a bowl of water on hand. Varaform is incredibly sticky when heated, and it will stick to almost everything. It can be easily peeled off of parchment paper once cooled, and you will need to constantly wet your fingers while working with it to avoid it sticking to you. An alternative method of heating up Varaform is in a bath of hot water, but I prefer using a heat-gun so my entire workspace doesn’t get wet.

  

I cut my Varaform into 6″ wide strips before rolling it into “bones”. Pro-tip: wear long sleeves when cutting the Varaform because the plastic mesh can be prickly on the skin. It’s not nearly as bad as trying to cut and work with chicken wire though.

Varaform’s lightweight quality is tied to it’s low density compared to other plastics. While this is great for making certain items like masks, for a set of 6 feet wide wings I needed my bone structure to be dense and durable. The middle image above shows a rolled piece of Varaform that has air pockets throughout inside. It felt nearly weightless. That thickness is not strong enough and will snap under pressure. In the third image above you can see my skeletal structure ended up being 4-5x that thickness and I also squeezed the varaform as I rolled it to make it as dense as possible. The trade off of course is weight and my wings ended up weighing about 2lbs, which is still reasonable.

After heating up my thick rolls of Varaform, I shaped them to create the main bone structure of the wing. I recommend looking at diagrams of real wings to get a sense of where the joints should be to make them look more realistic.

Using Varaform Light, I cut out rough feather shapes to create a base to glue my feathers on. I heat the feathers with a heat gun and stuck them onto the skeleton. Unlike Worbla, Varaform only requires one surface to be heated to stick. During this step I also shaped the 3D curvature of the wings. The curvature is much more noticeable in pictures later on after I’ve covered the mesh with feathers.

Residue from the glue in Varaform is to be expected. It looks kind of gross but once it is dried you can just rub it off your hands into a trashcan.

Covering the Wings & Harness

Materials:
5x 8×11 sheets of White Felt
36x packs of White Turkey Feathers
12x packs of White Goose Feathers
20x 1″ diameter Rare Earth Magnets (magnetic strength of 30lbs)
Scissors
Hot Glue
Medium sheet of Worbla’s Mesh Art
2x D Rings
Waistband Elastic
Velcro (optional)

 

I used 2 layers of Worbla’s Mesh Art to create a rigid base board the magnets would adhere to. Worbla adheres really well to the Varaform! This is great to know so you can get the best of both worlds by combining the materials together in a single build. I chose Mesh Art specifically because it is the strongest of the Worbla products and is very resistant to tearing thanks to the mesh embedded inside.

Then I covered the wings in felt to mask the texture of the Varaform mesh. Why? Because feathers (especially white) are actually a bit translucent when held up against light. The felt acts as a diffuser and prevents you from seeing that grid texture. I also made sure my lines were jagged and feathery looking because it blends better rather than looking like a solid straight line. If you ever buy those mass produced Halloween wings that are made with a base of cardboard or foam, you will notice the solid opaque outline of the base when you hold it up to light.

 

The most time consuming part of this build was hands down prepping the turkey feathers. After separating out feathers into left and right curvatures (this matters!), I shaped each one individually. This improves the overall look of the feathers and makes them look more like anime/fantasy wings.

It’s also advisable to categorize your feathers according to length as you tip them. It will make placing them much more efficient later on.

 

Cover the wings with feathers front and back. I did 2 rows of turkey feathers on each side.

 

This part is optional. To make the wings more compact for travel, the tips containing the longest feathers are removable. I glued these feathers to a scrap piece of white plastic (you can use Worbla, Sintra, styrene, piece of a plastic bucket etc.), then attached it to the wings with velcro. I slip it in under the feathers so it hides the separation point and looks blended. These feathers are generally the most fragile on wings because they stick out the most, so doing it this way allows me to continually replace them if needed.

 

Depending on how lazy or on a budget you are, this next part is also optional if you think the turkey feathers alone look good, but for me I like to cover my wings in a layer of goose plummage to soften the edges and hide where the turkey feathers are glued. It makes the wings look more polished and luxurious. Layer them front and back, and on the top. The felt should not be visible after you are done. You can see what this looks like in the photos at the end of the finished wings.

To attach the wings magnetically I used 1″ diameter rare earth magnets that have a rated pull strength of 30lbs. I had used smaller magnets previously with a strength of 9lbs, but found they were too weak to keep the wings up. Since the wings are not attached at their natural center of balance, and 3 feet of wing span has to be supported on such a small point, I decided the larger magnets were best. I would rather overkill with strength and know that the wings won’t fall off my back board.

I glued the magnets to the wings first, then used a slow drying paint to mark off their position. I pressed my backpiece into the paint so I had a perfect transfer of each magnet’s position to attach to the other side (as you can see in the picture above). The magnets are strong enough to rip each other off of the glue, so on my backpiece the magnets are then encased in a layer of Mesh Art.

The backboard is made from craft foam encased in 4 sheets of Worbla’s Mesh Art. I needed it to be rigid and hard as wood, because this piece is what supports the wings and holds them out at a 90 degree angle. Warping or breaking would be bad. You don’t have to do what I did. I just used what I had on hand, but wood or something that is rigid and strong will do the trick too.

I’m holding it up by gripping the back piece alone to show how strong the magnets are.

 

The magnetic back board is then attached to a curved piece so it sits on the contours of my bum better. The curved back piece if made from craft foam sandwiched between 2 pieces of Mesh Art. I attached D-Rings on either side with pieces of Mesh Art then tied elastic to it since we don’t have a sewing machine at the studio or else I would’ve sewn it properly to make it look cleaner. I heated the curved piece and the magnetic back board and attached them together. Mesh Art is very adhesive so no glue was required.

Finished!


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