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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Working With Worbla: Olivia Bracelet Tutorial

For Katsucon this year, I cosplayed Olivia from Fire Emblem Awakening. My friend Emily got me into the game with the intention of getting me to cosplay, and...well...my love of belly dancing immediately drew me to Olivia. So I decided that not only would I cosplay her, I would doll up her design a bit to better resemble an Egyptian belly dancing costume. In particular, the bracelets and anklets took a bit of work, so I thought I would share my process.

craft foam sheets
spray adhesive
black, brown, gold paint
thick scrap fabric

X-acto knife
heat gun
eyebrow comb (or anything else with a small, sharp handle)
sand paper
paint brushes

Rather than just make plain old boring bracelets, I wanted to make my bracelets look like metal that had been embossed with arabic designs. I used two different designs-one for my bracelets and anklets, and one for my upper arm bracelets. Be careful when picking your design. Something too complicated will be difficult to cut and won't show up under the worbla.

First thing's first. You gotta cut your craft foam. It'll be the base for your embossed design and the padding between your worbla. Figure out how thick you want your bracelet to be. That's your width. Measure the circumference of your wrist. That's your length. Cut that foam.

On the computer, size your design to fit your foam-minus a border on the top and bottom. Print it. Then use the spray adhesive to stick it to the foam. This gives you a nice solid base that won't shift around while you cut. Then just cut the negative spaces in your design out with an x-acto knife.

The next step is to encase your cut foam in worbla. Cut two pieces of worbla. One piece is a base for the bottom, the other will encase the foam from the top. Use the heat gun to heat the worbla up and carefully cover it.

This is where things get a little complicated. Once the worbla is completely cool, you're ready to start embossing the design you cut. The problem is that its difficult to see or feel. I held my bracelets up to the light to see it as I went. The idea is that you'll be heating small parts of the bracelet as a time, using your eyebrow comb (or whatever you found that's sharp) to press the hot worbla into the negative spaces in the foam, revealing the design. This is what it looks like:

 The first time you do this, the design probaby won't be sharp enough. Just keep heating and pressing until you get the result you want. Be patient. Here's mine after doing the process twice. Also shadow hand. Oooooh. It haunts terrible photographyyyyyy,
Next up is to mold the bracelet to the shape of your wrist. The great thing about worbla is that you can form it right against your skin without burning yourself. So that's what I did. To get the raised edge, I just took strips of worbla, heated them, and attached them to the edges of the bracelet.
Yay! You have a bracelet! But now you need to paint it!

Worbla has a rough texture, so you won't get a smooth metal look without some priming. For these bracelets, I used gesso because I already had it lying around. If you have to go buy something, I'd stick with a spray primer instead. It gets into the nooks of the bracelet better.

If you are using gesso like me, just slather it on in layers. Use the thickest stuff you can get. It took me six layers of gesso to get the proper smoothness. Then SAND THE CRAP OUT OF IT. Use a rougher sand paper at first, then polish it up with a smoother one. No pictures of this process. Sorry. But once nyou're finished, you're ready to paint. Start with a layer of black paint.
We use black first for a reason. Light affects the way we see color, including paint. The black under layer gives a more thick and dark appearance to what will eventually be gold. It also helps us get the paint on in less layers than if it were still white-metallic paints tend to be kinda thin.

After the black is dry, we add the next layer of paint. Brown. This acts as the mid tone to our paint job. Just take a dry, round brash and dab it in. The black will still be visible in the cracks, but the brown will create light on all the flat surfaces.
Radtastic. Kinda looks like wood or leather. But we need metal, so now we add gold. I forgot to take a pic of this step with just the gold. Just gold can give a nice, brand new metal look, but I wanted something hammered and burnished looking, so I added more black. Just baaaaarely any black paint on the end of a dry, round brush is enough, and rub it into the crevices. You'll get this:
Yay! They're done! BUT WAIT! We have to problems left: how will these stay on? And will they be comfortable?

This is where your scrap fabric comes in. I found that my wrist cuffs fit very snuggly, but they scraped against the bone in my wrist and were uncomfortable. Similarly, my arm cuffs were comfortable, but worbla does..welll...warp....and over time they bent far back enough that they wouldn't hold up on their own anymore. I solved this problem by lining the insides of the bracelets with some scrap fabric I had lying around. The type doesn't matter. Just glue layers of it to the inside of the bracelets until they fit snug and comfortable.

And that's it. Now you have fancy worbla bracelets! Go cosplay!


  1. awesome using this for Laila :-)

  2. What type of Worbla did you use?

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