Before She Became a Priest

I like to give costume design a lot of thought. This is especially true when I’m working on a costume I expect to wear repeatedly; it can become a long, detailed process for me. I’m especially enjoying designing costuming for Quill, the wind up doll turned priest of Cottington Woods (well, priest in training); I think the idea of a doll in a fairy tale setting inspires creativity in me. No need to stop at just one costume for this character, right?

i thought I’d share some thoughts on my process for designing my latest costuming project, an outfit Quill might have worn back when she was literally just a doll.

To provide some context, the first costume I designed for Quill, her basic outfit, was meant to reflect her monastic lifestyle as a postulant and paladin-in-training. I used a color scheme inspired by a deck of cards, which features as a theme in the setting. I created a look that was intended to be a blend of Eastern and Western austere religious garb, with a little extra Jedi thrown in because, man, do I love how the Jedi uniform looks. And then I added lettering to reflect the in-game religion (the Church of the Written Word) and included a monk’s belt with three knots to represent her three vows.  Once I had the basic design, I filled in details that reflected her existence as a wind-up doll- pale, porcelain doll make up, giant creepy black contacts to mimic soulless glass eyes, manicured nails, little gold studs in her ears, and silly eyelet bloomers to wear under her clothes. Her hairstyle , two little buns worn high with white ribbons, was chosen to look doll-like while still keeping my hair out of my face and, most importantly, not requiring an excessive amount of time, (The buns aren’t that easy and sometimes take a few tries, but at least I nixed the idea of full blown banana curls. That sort of time commitment would just be obscene.)

For cold weather, there’s a somewhat sinister looking scarf embroidered with the word TRUTH to remind her of her vows.

Oh, and then there’s the giant gold wind-up key on her back and the implanted magical heart on her chest.

But I wondered what Quill might have looked like before she started dressing in the official religious garb of her holy order. I had some vague ideas about a look that took a bit of classic porcelain doll mixed with some ballerina (when I think of wind-up dolls, I think of those little porcelain figurines that spin inside music boxes) and a bit of harlequin. Here is one early version of it that I sketched.

Excuse the colors. I was working with only a handful of random markers.

At some point, I stumbled across some images of European folk wear online. Possibly on pinterest. For some reason, it really struck me. I don’t know, it’s rustic yet also beautiful and elegant. And it fits in with my visual concept of fairy tales. I started pinning my favorite images on my pinterest board for Quill, and adjusting my idea of her pre-priesthood look in my mind accordingly.

Three Polish Dolls

In particular, I was seeing a lot of white aprons, black vests, and bright primary colors, especially in the Polish national costumes. They reminded me of these three Polish dolls my grandparents had sitting on a shelf. For the longest time I had no idea where they were from, but I always thought they looked very elegant. I only realized they were traditional Polish dolls after going on my European folk wear binge.

To blend the European folk wear aesthetics with a classic doll look, I decided I’d switch out the bright primary colors with pink, and include a giant ruffly petticoat to give it enough volume to evoke the ballerina sort of dolls ones sees in music-boxes.

I picked a pink striped silk fabric for the skirt, since I saw a lot of stripes in folk wear skirts. I tried to avoid truly bright pinks because I thought it might look a bit too garish and not rustic enough for the setting. The silk looked like a dusky rose color in the store… but against the rest of the outfit, which is largely black and white, it reads pretty bright.

At the Summer Fair

My mother made a black suede vest for the costume (she even did a bit of embroidery) but I didn’t think it would work with the gold key in Quill’s back, so I wound up replacing it with a black corset. My mother also made an apron, which worked quite well, though in the future, I might create a new one with more texture. I find that paying attention to texture can really help a costume, especially in this case, as a lot of the European styles had lace or eyelet aprons. I also would have liked to have made a new white shirt from scratch, but we didn’t have the time, so I pinned little pink bows to the sleeves of a shirt I already had. And I was fortunately able to borrow a petticoat right before the event.

Apologies for the blurry pictures below. I couldn’t seem to hold the camera steady enough. But at least the key is clearly visible in one shot.


Without the vest and with the more solid white apron, I think the outfit is very cute and doll-like… but doesn’t really reflect the European folk wear look I was going for. I probably could have relied more on the make-up and wind-up key and less on the color pink to convey Quill’s doll nature.

Perhaps with a black vest (maybe one that laces up in the front, like this sewing pattern), a new shirt, and new apron, it will look more European. Or maybe I will replace the skirt as well with something in the more traditional, primary colors. (Which… would be nearly starting from scratch, now that I think about it.) I will definitely need to find or make a petticoat. The one I borrowed is quite nice, but it took a bit of fiddling and tucking with the waist in order to make it short enough. It adds a fair amount of time to a costume that is already time consuming to get into in the mornings.

And who knows. Maybe I’ll add one of those flower crowns or kerchiefs I see on a lot of the folk costumes, if the in-game circumstances are suitable.

I do like it. But it’s still very much a work in progress. And I’ve already got some designs planned out for a third costume, of a more knightly design — ceremonial wear for the paladins of Quill’s holy order. I wonder how well velvet takes spray-on fabric paint?


About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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4 Responses to Before She Became a Priest

  1. Rick says:

    It’s cool to watch someone else’s costume design process. I’ve only seen the faire day costume live, but I thought everything about it said ‘doll’ to me.

    As to spray-on fabric paint on velvet, I’ve never tried it or seen it done for that matter, but with the cost of velvet, you probably want to buy some and try it in advance.

  2. Central European Folk Costumes are really elaborate. While I was living in the Czech Republic, I got a chance to see some close up at festivals in the Tatra Mountains and in the Western area. There is a lot of embroidery and panels on these outfits. They are gorgeous, but a full season project.

    I love the way your outfit turned out and I’m glad it wasn’t too crazy for fighting.

    The first picture of the Slavonic Dance of Marital Discomfort looks like she is strangling him and he is asking, “What have I done?” I could be wrong, but I would love to choreograph a silly folk dance based on this picture.

    • Fair Escape says:

      The embroidery is definitely the aspect I find most difficult to capture. I don’t expect to learn or do anything like the stuff I’ve seen in the pictures. For awhile I was debating picking up some patches that mimicked the look.

      I think her hands are on his shoulders, but I like your interpretation better.

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