What Will She Be This Year?

With Halloween approaching we asked Freja what she wanted to be. We always try to create her costume at home. My wife actually startled me when she created a Red-kneed Tarantula, as Freja called it, "ah Wed-knead Tawantuwa," for the kid when she was three. I always knew she could sew clothing, but having been married for only four years I didn't know she could do costumes as well.

At that time we were in transition from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, so I had no hand in helping out. I was still back in our old home, renovating it so we could sell it. I would much rather have been with my family, creating the mask for the outfit, but that's life.

Since then we've been working together as a team to create whatever the kid wants to be. We never know what she'll imagine. Over the years we've come to expect the unusual from her. This years request was not something specific.
  • Wed-knead Tawantuwa

    My wife sewed up this costume for my daughter when she was three years old. Freja wanted to be a Red-kneed Tarantula. Why? We have no clue. At the time I was still tying up loose ends in our home state, so wasn't around to see the creation. I also missed out on creating the mask for it.

  • You Want What??

    I once stood in line with her as we waited for our turn to meet the balloon artist. He was handing out custom creations. After seeing lots of balloon horses, bunnies, and plenty of swords I wondered what the kid would ask for. The startled look on his face as he responded to her request was priceless. She wanted a "Wed Skoy-pee-on." He told me it was the first red scorpion request he's had in the 20+ years of creating balloon art. Where she got the idea? I haven't a clue.

  • Leopard Girl

    Freja pretends she's a leopard for another Halloween party. It takes me about 10 minutes to paint her face. If she held still, it would go fast. The funniest thing is that our real cat is afraid of her when she sees her all painted up.

White Wolf Princess?

When she first told I she wanted to be a "White Wolf Princess" I have to admit we were befuddled. What did that mean? What was that supposed to be? My first thought was perhaps she meant Princess Mononoke, only she'd never seen that movie. We're all huge fans of the animated movies produced by Studio Ghibli, owning just about everything they've created. This particular one I've been holding back, waiting for her to get a little older.

After a few days of scratching our heads we finally learned her choice was influenced by a little logo. On her school book bag, which she selected herself, is a sewn wolf logo. According to my wife, it was Freja's deciding factor in choosing the bag. Because of it, she wanted to be a "White Wolf Princess." So we set about defining that.

Princess Mononoke

The three of us finally watched Princess Mononoke together. After seeing it, my daughter said she wanted her princess to be a warrior princess like Mononoke, but she didn't want to BE Mononoke. She wanted to be her own character. Ok.

Mouth Guard In & Ready to Rumble

Freja prepares to demonstrate Muay Thai punching and kicking during her belt advancement test. Her favorite part? Getting to wear her mouth guard.

A Fearless Toddler

One of the defining personality traits Freja has is her fearlessness. I know most kids are apt to do "crazy things," but even as far back as when she was two years old she was doing stuff I didn't think was completely normal. Take this playground thing, she used to climb all over it. Did she fall? Yes, but she wouldn't cry. She'd just go right back and climb all over it. I'm not going to lie, at first it would make me nervous.

A Starting Point

Even before we had a firm idea as what to make I had an inkling of a direction. So she wanted to be a "white wolf princess" who was also a warrior? It was easy to see why such a costume would be fitting. She's always been a bold, very active child with a hearty desire for adventure, and a love of martial arts.

I knew I wanted to make her a helmet of some sort. Something unique only to her. Teri would design the costume based on my lead, so I had to get started right quick. She'd need time to sew. The first step then, was to make a base to work off of. To that end I created a plaster gauze skull cap.

Basic Supplies

Using basic supplies I tried to keep the process simple. Plaster gauze, extra gauze, release agent, some tape, and water. The only tool I needed were a pair of scissors.

Step One

Step One

Step one was preparing the kid. A plastic garbage bag for a bib, shower chap, and she was all set.

Go With What You Know

Now it was time to begin designing the costume. With Halloween fast approaching we choose to go with a Viking Age theme. It seemed perfect for fleshing out a "White Wolf Princess." It would also be easy to create due to having past experiences that related to the Viking Age, at least through reenactments.

I used to go photograph an annual event called Pennsic War. You can learn all about that elsewhere on my site. There I had learned a lot of about Norse culture as it once existed between early 800 AD and 1066 AD. So I began looking through reference material related to Scandinavian history from a thousand years ago.

It also made things a lot simpler for my wife. She's already made historically related Viking garb for when we attended Pennsic. We'd just need an apron dress made, and a few accessories. We already had a number of items we could use as details, and it seemed like an easy project to crank out.

Play Like a Viking!

Three year old Freja in a Viking Age apron dress. I'd taken her on day trips to Pennsic War 39. She had fun just running around, playing and exploring. The bells helped me keep track of her!

Playing in the Summer Rains

This is our Freja. She was 4 years old.

I've always felt this is one of the photos that best captures our daughter's personality. It was taken on a warm, wet summer day during Pennsic War 40. Running around, covered in mud, just being a high energy goofball, the kid was in heaven.

A Viking Apron Dress

For this year's costume Teri sewed up this Viking apron dress. We only needed the actual outside layer. Instead of a dress underneath it, Freja would wear warm clothing. It can get mighty cold on Halloween here in Wisconsin!

Bronze Brooches

Bronze Brooches

I once happened upon a nice, unusual pair of "Smokkr," which were typically bronze brooches worn by Viking Age women. They'd also hang additional jewelry off of them. I'm not sure what these two specifically represent, but they appear to be in the shape of some sort of animal. I guess they could be wolves?

Keep it Simple

I needed to keep the creation of this helmet as simple as possible. When I began making this all of my art supplies were either in crates, or piled up in spots throughout our basement. I had to spend a lot of time just sorting things out, find my tools, and set up a space in our home for me to work. The previous owner had built a small woodworking shop in one corner in the basement. Since moving it two years ago, it's been used as a storage room. I'd have to say that over 80% of the effort that went into this costume was spent in just setting up the space to work.

The next step was to create a visor. For that, I felt I needed a template to speed things up.

Rough Template

Using some scrap, thin cardboard I created a blank template. The holes correspond to where the hinges are, and also where Freja's eye line up in relation to the visor. I used some thick, but short bolts to hold this onto the plaster shell. I'd embedded large washers in the plaster gauze when I first created the shell. For test fitting when the kid would wear it I would use old pipe cleaners to attach it to the shell.

Intial Sketches

I did a little initial work on the template, tying to get a feel for what sort of design I wanted to do. Originally I had thought of doing a 3D visor, with the snout of the wolf jutting straight ahead. Now I have in mind doing something along the lines of the Sutton Hoo helmet. Only, not so intricate.

Reference Material

A quick bit of image searching and I had all the reference material I needed. She wants to be a "White Wolf Princess." So while I think I know what a wolf looks like, I felt I needed to have some samples of work to flesh out what I see in my mind. The drawings on the lower left are mostly from old Nordic jewelry, with a few modern samples tossed in. While I liked the B&W graphic image, it seemed overly aggressive.

A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet produced for the British Museum by the Royal Armouries

Cutting Template

Using the initial template to get my dimensions I then created a second template. This one is from thicker, scrap cardboard. I'll design the face plate outline, and embellishments using this. I can then cut it up and use the cardboard pieces to layout my final cuts on the material used for the actual face plate.

  • Cutting Template

    Using the initial template to get my dimensions I then created a second template. This one is from thicker, scrap cardboard. I'll design the face plate outline, and embellishments using this. I can then cut it up and use the cardboard pieces to layout my final cuts on the material used for the actual face plate.

  • Pattern Template

    I used an X-Acto blade to cut out all my patterns from one piece of old cardboard. I'll use this custom template as a tool for tracing my pattern onto better material. As long as you take your time, and don't try to cut through on your first pass, it's pretty easy.

  • Pattern Laid Out

    The template tool I created made it very simple to lay out my pattern on the cold press board I decided to use for the final mask. Note the little eye insert. I used that to center the template because I always knew where my eye holes fit into the pattern. On the template you can see just the hole on the left hand side. You just had to trace the outside, and the eye holes using that side of the template, and then use the right side to draw in the details.

  • Laid Out

    The pattern is now laid out and ready to glue together.

  • Clean Up Edges

    This is the plaster shell I created as a base to work from. I wanted it to fit her head like a modern bike helmet. You can sort of see where the large washers lie just under the plaster gauze. I carefully cleaned up the edges, burning away excess gauze string using a grill lighter.

  • An Intial Sanding

    I sanded down the plastic wood, making it easier for me to find the spots that needed more fill added. I hate sanding...

  • Built Up Surface

    Plastic Wood was used to build up the outer layer of the shell. Easy to work with, and wearing latex gloves, it didn't take too long to spread an even layer over the shell. My plan is to then sand it down, mostly smoothing it out. I want to create a "helmet" that looks to be cast in bronze.

A Quick Coat of Paint

With only a couple of days to go, it's time to do a quick coat of paint. I used some "bronze" spray paint. Nothing super detailed, and I am not planning on "weathering" it by adding washes of other colors, which helps give it that aged look. I'm also not going to dry brush in highlights. Most of my painting stuff is still in crates. I also want to finish the studio space before setting up all my equipment.

Note the big wooden hammer also getting a little paint. I really can't recall where I acquired that, but the earliest photo I have of it is from 1990. It all made of wood and for the life of me, I really don't know what it's purpose is. Regardless, I have been lugging it around for 24 years, and in all that time I always wanted to paint the wooden head bronze. I just happened to find it again as I was setting up the new studio.

Have Fan, Will Dry Faster

Just a quick coat of paint on the inside. With Halloween happening tomorrow, it's time to speed up the process.

Simple Assembly

Simple Assembly

It only took minutes to glue the pattern onto the base.


The helmet is almost completed in this photo. I added the strips of fake fur, and attached the face plate. The face plate was attached by using a couple of galvanized carriage bolts running through the brass tube hinges. The fur was attached using small, black electric ties. I took this photo before adding a single feather that hangs from the round ball, and a some beaded brass chains on the sides.

Today is Halloween, soon it'll be show time!

  • Apron Dress

    After donning some warm under clothing Freja is helped into her Viking apron dress.

  • Time for Details

    My wife Teri helps Freja with the adornments to her Viking Age dress.

  • Gauntlets

    The kid slips on one of the gauntlets my wife created for her. They're made from a fake leather material, with fake fur sewn on, and laced up with white leather straps. I placed a brass split pin through the wrist end of each. When opened the pins help conform the wrist end to her fore arm. You can see the brass circle on the outside of one, and the opened pin on the inside of the one on the table.

  • The Helmet

    Finally the helmet is placed on her head. It fits perfectly, and I lined the inside with thin pieces of felt. It also has a chin strap that connects in four places, like her bike helmet. As you can see, she really likes it!

Setting Up Shop

Aside from the fun we had as a family doing this, one of the best things to come out of it is my new workspace. I haven't had an actual workspace since I graduated from art school back in 1989! Since then I've always had access to workshops because I worked at professional studios that created a variety of things. Doing this project seems to have awakened an aspect of myself I'd let slumber for a long while.

I should also mention that the town we moved to, Mount Horeb, is a very Nordic town. In fact, we're also apparently the "Troll Capital of the World!" I'm guess they got here by stowing away in the goods brought over by the early Norwegian settlers? Anyway, there's a strong cultural influence here, and it just seems fitting that we ended up living here.
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