Li'l Knights in Shining Armor

Posted by jdg | Thursday, October 06, 2011 |

The people who sold my parents their house left behind a stack of gold cardboard in the attic. There were hundreds of massive sheets, and with a good pair of scissors and a few hundred brass fasteners, I spent years turning them into elaborate suits of armor that protected me on many adventures slaying the dragons in our backyard. I brought my kids back to that house a few weeks ago to see their grandparents, and while my mom kept them occupied I went down to my dad's auto body shop to convince him to let me make his grandson a suit of armor out of real steel. With my dad's incredible equipment and enough time, we probably could have made a jointed cuirass and ornately-scrolled spangenhelm out of heavy gauge steel. But I only had a few hours and my dad had to go somewhere, so I just bought a $5 sheet of thin-gauge steel and used tinner's snips to cut it and a mallet to shape it into armor. We had been planning to go to the Michigan Renaissance Festival ever since my wife finally started reading A Song of Ice and Fire and wanted to get her giant roasted turkey leg on (when she was halfway through A Game of Thrones she started talking like an overexcited high school Britlit teacher on a class trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, and I was all, Right on, wench! Get me to the smithy so I can hammer up some breastplates and halfhelms!!!) The results:

When my daughter saw her brother's armor in progress, she wanted a set for herself, so I bought another sheet of steel and made her breastplate and helmet without any of my dad's equipment: just the snips and a hammer. A few days later, I got a call from my next-door neighbor who works the third shift and he had some legitimate concerns about the amount of rivet-pounding going on in our living room.

I showed my daughter the youtube video of that blonde woman from the Lord of the Rings movies, [the one where the demon guy says "No man can kill me. . ." and she shakes off her helmet and says, "I am no man. . ."] and my daughter was all, Nice. So we incorporated some of the pieces from the Ancient Greek Hoplite costume and turned her into a fierce barbarian girl of the North (with Pegasus on her shield).

Both helmets are just $3 IKEA bowls that I bent and riveted some strips of leather along the edge. I cut a piece of steel out in a cool shape to make each one a Norman-style nasal helm, and also riveted on pieces of stiff leather to protect the cheeks. All the sharp edges are safely covered by a glued-on rubber trim molding.

I loved doing all the extras that make the costumes special. We found some rough fabric to make him a long cloak, and bought a rabbit skin (shhh, he thinks it's a wolf) to go around his shoulders. From the extra piece of steel leftover from his breastplate, I made a shield on which I painted our family crest (The Griffin).

My wife and daughter picked out a lush loden fabric for her cloak, and I found a white goatskin for her "wolf" fur. I tried to include some cool details, like the horse symbols on the shoulders, and I used lots of leather to pad each piece of armor and to connect everything together (a lot of it was just old belts I found at the thrift store or scraps of leather from furniture factory outlets). I really liked working with leather, even if most of it isn't visible on the surface. We found my son's bow at a garage sale and Ritchie from Busy Bee gave him the old quiver. I made the arrows out of bamboo stakes and feathers we picked up on Belle Isle. I bought the wooden swords on etsy. He named his sword "Dragon's Tooth" and she named hers "Trollsbane." My kids hate trolls.

The costumes were a big hit at the Renaissance Faire, where my son was very excited to meet a "real" knight.


He also has a lot more to say about boobs now (thanks, chain-mail bikini wenches). 

These aren't their Halloween costumes, just something I cooked up for imaginative play. I believe very strongly that children should be able to whack each other with wooden swords as safely as possible. The other day we went to an old church and pretended it was a real castle that Sir Gram needed to defend from stealthy Viking invaders (wearing polka-dot boots).

These were pretty easy costumes to create and much sturdier than the cardboard armor I made when I was a kid, so I hope they'll stand up to a lot more play. Other than the cutting and riveting, I tried to involve the kids in as much of the planning and actual making as possible. I may do a more elaborate how-to for anyone who wants to make their kids a real-steel knight costume for Halloween (let me know on the facebook page). In the meantime, I need to stop messing around and get to work on their actual Halloween costumes.