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Jack Sparrow

Jack’s Piece of Eight, & Other Beads and Coins

Although I haven’t yet purchased my wig (soon, very soon) I have collected a few of Jack’s trinkets to tie into it once it arrives.  Jack has numerous beads and coins dangling from his hair, one of the most prominent being his “piece of eight”, which is featured heavily in At World’s End.

Though not really a piece of eight (actual coins used during the Golden Age of Piracy that were often cut into eight pieces to make change), Jack’s is so called because it once belonged to one of the original 9 pirate lords of the Brethren Court.  When they first convened they didn’t have any actual pieces of eight on them and thus made due with what they had in there pockets at the time.

In reality the coin used in the movie is a Burmese 5 pya coin from the mid 20th century, and the beads are African trade beads.  Several vendors have offered versions of Jack’s piece of eight over the years, including a cheap plastic version from the now defunct Master Replicas.  These can still be found on eBay and Amazon.  I originally purchased one of these back in 2006, but when I finally decided to assemble a complete Jack Sparrow costume I knew I wanted something a bit more accurate.

(Master Replicas version)

The piece of eight I really wanted was from Swag Arts (I mentioned their kohl eye make-up in my last post), but for quite some time they were listed as Out of Stock on the website.  So being a bit impatient, and wanting to add something to my costume list, I asked the Jack’s over on facebook if any of them knew of a decent alternative.  One of them offered to make me one, and I took him up on his it.  What I received was quite passable, and given the lack of good pieces of eight available I was quite satisfied (a lot of attention has been shifted to Jack’s new “zombie finger” dangle worn in On Stranger Tides, so replicas of the original have become harder to find).

But, as luck would have it, shortly after the above piece of eight arrived Swag Arts relisted their pieces of eight, and I just couldn’t resist snagging up the one I’d really wanted all along.  Even it wasn’t 100% authentic, but for the money it was the best one I’ve seen.  The green and white beads looked closer to the Curse of the Black Pearl version, and the brown bead didn’t quite have the accurate barrel shape, but it was still a fantastic looking piece of eight, and most people would never notice.

As is usually the case with a maddening hobby like costuming though, I couldn’t leave well enough alone and eventually started perusing eBay to see if I might come upon some more accurate beads.  It wasn’t long before I found some brown barrel beads that were spot on, and a set of green padre beads that looked pretty darn close.  For good measure I also changed out the white bead with one from a set of beads I had lying around from the craft store that was a closer match size wise.  In addition to changing the beads I also switched out the small metal ring that holds the coin on with one that was a bit smaller, and repainted the white pips on the red skunk bead.  With all that done my piece of eight is now just about as screen accurate as I can get it!

Knowing that I will finally have my wig very soon I also picked up what is often called Jack’s African trade bead strand, or skunk bead strand.  This came from Swag Arts as well.  Jack has this string of beads tied to a dreadlock next to his right cheek.

Jack also has a couple more 5 pya coins tied into his wig, so I snagged a set from a vender on Etsy back a few months ago.

By “On Stranger Tides” Jack’s wig has changed quite a bit and now features several additional beads and coins, including one set made out of a couple of Chinese coins and often referred to as his “hidden Mickey” coin set (due to it’s resemblance to Mickey Mouse’s head and ears), and a pair of skull beads carved out of bone.  Back several months ago there was a seller on eBay offering these and I purchased a set even though I’m going for a “Dead Man’s Chest/At World’s End” look rather than “On Stranger Tides.”  I just like the look of them (I’ve got a bracelet made out of similar bone skull beads I wear all the time) so I think I might tie them in to my wig somewhere as a small personal touch.

I can’t believe it’s already been 2 years since I made the commitment to finally assemble a complete Captain Jack outfit, and I certainly never would have guessed that it would take quite so long to do it.  But if all goes well I might just have a complete outfit by the end of 2014!

Now I just need to hurry up and get that bloody wig…


Jack’s Compass

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“True enough, this compass does not point north….it points to the thing you want most in this world.” – Captain Jack Sparrow

Captain Jack’s compass is one of the most iconic props featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  In “Curse of the Black Pearl” the compass leads Jack and his crew across the Caribbean to the dreaded Isla de Muerta and to his precious ship, the Black Pearl.  In “Dead Man’s Chest” Jack can’t seem to make the compass work on his own and has to con others into using it so he can find the heart of Davy Jones.  And in “At World’s End” the compass is constantly changing hands from one character to another as the double-crosses and triple-crosses pile up.

While looking for a replica of the compass for my costume I have found everything from elaborate wooden replicas priced over $200, to cheap plastic toys that barely look like the original at all.  Forgotten Seas Trading Co.  offers a fantastic resin version of the compass that uses earth magnets to make the dial spin (hide one in your palm glove to make it point in whatever direction you desire).  It’s a version I certainly wouldn’t mind having at some point since a wooden replica might be a bit fragile, and if I got up to some crazy Captain Jack high jinks I’d hate for an expensive compass to get damaged.

But probably the most common compass that a lot of Jack Sparrows out there carry is a modified version of the Disney Store compass.  These have become a bit of a rarity, though, and as such are usually a bit pricey when they show up on eBay.  It wasn’t my first choice (naturally I’d prefer a wooden replica or the Forgotten Seas version), but when I found one on eBay that wasn’t outrageously priced I thought, “why not?”

The compass arrived looking every bit like the children’s toy it is, packaged with a vinyl replica of Sao Feng’s map, an eye patch, a pint-sized plastic skull ring, and a plastic clip-on hoop earring.  But what makes this particular compass such a favorite among Captain Jack cosplayers is that it’s a fairly accurate size and has a free spinning dial.

Of course the dial face is all wrong, as is the latch and the lack of a ring to attach a leather cord to for tying it onto your belt, but that’s why this compass is a modifying project and not a ready-to-use prop.

One of my Jack Sparrow pals over on the message boards and facebook offered to do the mod, so I sent the compass his way to be decked out and made to look more authentic.  First, he used a dremel to replicate the nicks and dings and make it look a bit beat up.  Then he gave it a new coat of paint and replaced the dial using a more accurate one from an image he printed off the internet.  Next, he replaced the flimsy plastic latch on the front with a metal one.  And lastly, he added a brass ring to the back and a leather cord, and the compass was complete.

Once the compass was returned to me I finished it up by giving it a bit more age and weathering using acrylic paint and a sponge.  And thus, the finish product looks something like this:

Is it a perfect replica of Jack’s compass?  Of course not.  But for an inexpensive plastic toy from the Disney Store I’d say it came out looking pretty darn great!  Eventually I hope to own a more accurate version of Jack’s compass, but for now this one looks really good and will work just fine.

One vendor’s site that I’ve browsed many, many times is called Swag Arts where Tia Jill offers up some fantastic replicas of Jack’s Piece ‘O Eight and other various beads and coins for his wig, as well as some other awesome trinkets for Jack’s gear.  I’ve recently been lucky enough to grab a couple of her items while they were in stock, and I’ll be discussing them in an upcoming post, but for now I just want to mention one small item I purchased from the site a few months ago.  Tia Jill had been going through a big move and most of her items were out of stock, but since I was on the site with a few extra doubloons to spend I ordered some kohl eye makeup because it was available.  Sure, any old black eye pencil could probably be used to achieve the same effect, but I like buying things within the Jack Sparrow costuming community whenever possible.  I’ve only played with the makeup once since it arrived, and (although I clearly need a lesson or two in applying eye makeup) it seems to work really well.  It was the middle of the night and I was bored, so I put on a silly Rastafarian beanie with dreads and my Jack Sparrow bandanna and snapped a selfie.

The checklist of things I need in order to finish my Captain Jack outfit is getting ever shorter, but the things still left on that list are also some of the biggest and most expensive parts of the costume.  Some things I can substitute with bits of my Captain McAnen costume for the time being, like the shirt, pants, and waistcoat.  But there is one item I need above all others in order to pull off even a passable Jack Sparrow look:  the wig.  Luckily I know exactly where I’m going to get it, and it’s going to be my Christmas present to myself this year.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been bumbling around mimicking everyone’s favorite wobbly-legged pirate for over 10 years, but it looks like 2014 will be the year I finally look the parts as well.  So until next time, here’s wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


The Costuming Adventures Continue….

Finally, the long awaited first video.  Sure. it’s just an introduction, but it’s the beginning of bigger things to come.  Check it out, and stick around, because more costuming adventures are on the way.


Cursed Aztec Gold

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My first item of 2013 has arrived, and it’s something I’ve wanted for almost 10 years now: the cursed Aztec gold medallion from “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

While technically not a part of Captain Jack’s costume, it is still an iconic prop and one that is instantly recognized by all who see it.  The one I recently acquired may just be the most accurate pirate medallion out there, but it certainly wasn’t my first.  In 2008 while attending the Texas Renaissance Festival I picked up a cheap but passable coin for like $5.  It isn’t made of gold and has a huge loop at the top for a necklace to go through.  It was also a bit too “shiny”, but I recently fixed that with some acrylic paint (one of my favorite things to use for weathering props).  For the past 4 years it has sat inside a treasure chest with other assorted doubloons, but after my new gold coin arrived I decided the old one would make a great keychain, so now I carry it with me all the time.

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Years ago I also bought my kid sister the Master Replicas Elizabeth Swann necklace, but I never purchase one for myself because the “gold” finish quickly wore off of hers and left the necklace and medallion looking like copper instead of gold.  She eventually gave it too a friend.  Then last year we found a 24 karat gold plated version of the necklace on eBay from a seller in China, and my sister now has one of them and is quite happy with it.  I also aged it with some acrylic paint to make the designs stand out more, but it is a decent enough copy of the pirate medallion necklace.

But the version of the coin I’ve wanted for years was the Master Replicas Cursed Aztec Gold Coin Set.  It features two 24 karat gold plated versions of the famous medallion: one with the skull and Aztec calendar design on the front and a maze-like pattern on the back (like most versions of the coin that are available), and the other with the skull and calendar design on both sides.

And now I finally have it!

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The detail on the coins is fantastic, and they came in a collectible box with a Certificate of Authenticity.  Master Replicas went out of business years ago, and as such this set hasn’t been available for a long time so they are incredibly hard to come by.  I stumbled upon mine by luck on eBay.  A seller had it listed as part of a lot that included 4 Master Replicas .45 scale lightsabers, and I won the auction for just $45!  After it arrived I put the lightsabers up on eBay as individual auctions, so once they sold I had the pirate coins and even turned a profit!

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I am truly convinced that these are the best versions of the Aztec gold coins that have ever been available, and I’ve been searching the internet for them for a very long time.  I even had a minor fiasco a few years ago when I found them on a website and placed an order, only they never arrived and the merchant told me they’d been out of stock for years.  Then the merchant tried to refuse me a refund by claiming it was my own fault for ordering a discontinued product from their website.  Luckily I had placed the order via Paypal so I was eventually able to file a claim and get my money back.  I later found out that the merchant had a lot of bad reviews.  It turned out that many other customers had had similar problems placing orders from them only to find their items never arrived. and having little luck getting responses when they would message the seller to  check on their orders.  Unfortunately I no longer remember the name of the website, so I can only hope they’ve since gone out of business and are no longer mistreating customers.

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Anyway, I am absolutely thrilled to finally have my hands on these amazing props, and they are proudly displayed on a shelf in my room.  There was a time when Master Replicas was a leader in movie prop replicas, and this is quite possibly one of the greatest items they ever produced.  I definitely won’t be letting these go.

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I may only now be getting off to a slow start with my costuming adventures for 2013, but I still have several items to share with you that I acquired toward the end of 2012.  Some, like the ones below, are relatively small and insignificant, and yet they are still an integral part in making a completed Jack Sparrow costume come to life.

One of these is Jack’s trophy lace, a long strip of lace that Jack has worn tied around his left wrist since “Dead Man’s Chest.”  We find out in “On Stranger Tides” that Jack took this memento from Angelica while to two were on the island of La Martinique.  This would be an easy enough piece of the costume to make myself as a strip from any old off-white lace would do, but I took the lazy way out and bought mine from a seller on eBay.  It still needs to be weathered, but it looks pretty good.

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The reason I decided to buy this particular bit of lace on eBay was because the seller had it listed with another small item: Jack’s black spot wrap from “Dead Man’s Chest”.  In the movie Jack grabs a bit of old cloth to wrap around his left hand after Bootstrap Bill places the dreaded black spot upon Jack’s palm.

I’m not really blown away by this particular piece, it really should be longer and was definitely a case of something looking much better in the photo, but once I dirty it up a bit and weather it it’ll work fine.  After all. it’s not a necessary piece for the costume, and really I purchased it more for the trophy lace than for the black spot wrap.  In the end I feel like I helped out a fellow Captain Jack by buying from him, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.

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Now I really need to get busy and make more stuff to list on eBay and Etsy because I’m ready to start adding the bigger, more expensive pieces to my Jack Sparrow costume, and that takes money.  Lots and lots of money.  Costuming definitely isn’t a cheap hobby, but it sure is a lot of fun.

So I’m curious:  what fun creative ways have you come up with for making extra money to spend on your costume?

Leave your answers in the comments section below, and I will see you all next time!


Jack’s Belt Trinkets and Manky Pelts

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Belts.  Buckles.  Sash.  It seems like I’ve used the above photo cropped to Captain Jack’s waistline about a dozen times already in this blog.  But now this may very well be the last time because I’ve finally completely my belts by adding all the little trinkets that dangle from them.  Sure, I still need a pistol and compass, but I would consider those more props than costume accessories.  All in due time.

Dangling from Jack’s belts you will find two manky pelts, a chicken foot, a snake vertebra, and a mermaid charm.  It is these little “greeblies” that add a fun look to the costume and give it texture.

First up, we have a netsuke mermaid charm.  Netsuke are miniature sculptures invented in Japan in the 1600’s to hold small boxes and pouches onto obi sashes.  Jack wears his mermaid charm hanging from his Anna Maria buckle on a length of cord that also has the snake vertebra tied to it.  It serves no real purpose on Jack’s costume, but adds a neat little visual touch and hints that Jack has probably had some adventures in the Orient.  The mermaid charm is actually quite tiny, but is a great detail that has been a part of Jack’s garb since “Dead Man’s Chest.”

Mermaid charms similar to Jack’s can be found on eBay and various websites that sell decorative Asian cafts, but many of these are actually a bit bigger than the one used on Jack’s screen costume.  I lucked out by finding my mermaid charm on Etsy as part of a beaded bookmark.

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Tied to the same cord as the mermaid charm is a single snake vertebra.  For my costume I went for a large python vertebra as it is what several Jack Sparrow costumers had recommended.  After looking at several hi-res photos of Jack’s gear and behind-the-scenes video from a costume featurette on the “Dead Man’s Chest” blu-ray it is clear to me that this is not exactly the same type of vertebra used for Jack’s costume, although it does appear to be accurate for the one used on the “On Stranger Tides” version of the outfit.  The snake bone also came from seller on Etsy.

SnakeVertebrae

Together, the snake bone and mermaid charm make up what Johnny Depp called a “fertility symbol” which Jack wears “just ’cause.”  For the cord I used some brown bamboo cord that I found at a Michael’s arts and crafts store.  It looks thick in the these photos, but only because they are extreme close ups to show off the charms which are both less than 2 inches long.  The cord is actually quite thin and a great match for what is used on the actual screen used costume.

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Since I already had a chicken foot all I had to do was tie my new charms onto my Anna Maria buckle and my Anna Maria belt was complete!

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Well, almost complete anyway.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, weathering and distressing is an important part of what makes a costume look lived in and real.  And that pearly white snake bone dangling from my brand new Anna Maria belt just didn’t have the right amount of character yet.  So what did I do?  I aged them up.

For the snake vertebra I used very thin, watered down acrylic paint which I dabbed on with a brush and immediately rubbed off with a sheet of paper towel.  The snake bone is very porous so it actually held a bit more paint than I would have liked, but the effect is still pretty awesome.

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I didn’t worry too much about weathering the mermaid charm.  Rubbing it with my fingers seemed to lighten it up in spots, and later on I may take a bit of fine sandpaper to it, but I don’t want to lose any of the detail to the carving, just fade the stain.

  As for the cord, I applied a thin coating of Elmer’s Washable School Glue Gel (It looks blue in the bottle) to “fuse” the two strands together and effectively waterproof it and keep it from fraying.  This also stiffened the cord slightly which helps it dangle the way I want it to without the bone and charm flopping around all over the place.

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  For the belt I got the leather soaking wet and then proceeded to beat the hell out of it, twisting and bending it all over and banging it against the floor.  Then I took a blow dryer to it to get most of the moisture out of it, and finally I applied Pecard Leather Dressing to keep the leather soft.  Next I used a bit of fine sandpaper and a wire brush in a few spots to add some wear, and finally I used acrylic craft paint to make it look dirty and dingy.  I mixed gray, black, brown, and tan paint, applied it in light splotches with a medium brush, then spread it really thin with a thicker clean brush.  The result was fantastic!

Now everything looks great and my Anna Maria belt really is complete.

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The last items I added before the end of 2012 were the manky pelts.  With my Anna Maria belt complete it only seemed natural to finish my sun belt, too.  Many Jack Sparrow costumers use bits of rabbit fur found in craft stores for their manky pelts, but Jack’s pelts are actually the hide of animal legs with the claws still attached to the paws!

For the “Dead Man’s Chest”/”At World’s End” look the paws appear to be a red fox paw and the paw of a fisher (a large member of the weasel family found in North America).  I’d been watching both eBay and Etsy for quite some time before I stumbled upon a fox paw that was long enough and looked right for the costume.  The pelt measures about 10 inches long and is a tan color with a black stripe going down the front.  A seller on eBay was selling a fox face and had the leg included, but I was lucky enough to talk him into selling me the leg and relisting the face separately.

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Next I found the fisher paw after many exhaustive Google searches and hours of looking through furrier websites.  I can definitely see why many Captain Jack’s out there opt to make their pelts out of scrap hide rather than searching for “the real deal” so to speak.  I ordered three fisher paws to make sure I got one that was just right, and was able to flip the spares relatively easily on eBay to make my money back.  My fisher paw is about 12 inches long, and like the the fox paw it too has the claws and paw pads.

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Normally I make no secret of where I obtain the items for my costume, but I’m actually thinking very seriously about offering manky pelt sets for sale myself on my Ebay and Etsy stores.  I’ve been thinking for a while now about what costume item I could offer to the Jack Sparrow community, and I think the manky pelts might just be it.  I’ve found a reliable supplier for fisher paws that will work great, all I need now is to find a reliable supplier for accurate red fox paws.  But I digress.

After I had both paws I poked a couple of small holes at the tops and ran a length of some black cord I had lying around through them, then tied it around to make them easy to tie to the belt.  Since the cord is something you don’t really see the black cord I used works fine for now, but I will most likely switch it out for some dark brown leather cord later on, and if I do eventually offer manky pelts for sale they will definitely include leather cord.

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After that all that was left was to tie them onto my sun belt and it was complete!

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  Well, not quite complete actually.  Much like with the Anna Maria belt I decided there was still some tweaking to do before I was completely satisfied.  My sun buckle was a bit too blue with patina, and when I took the photos I noticed that the pelts seemed too fluffy.  Jack’s pelts look thin, stiff, and dingy, and here mine looked all soft and plush like something from a stuffed animal.

  Here’s another photo of the two belts together and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

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  In order for the manky pelts to look right they really can’t be all soft and fluffy.  They need to be, well…manky!

  It’s the reason I went to great lengths to find fox and fisher paws in the first place.  I didn’t want them to look pretty like an adornment you might find on a Native American costume, I wanted them to look like Jack’s manky pelts.  So for a solution I decided to revisit the “Jack Sparrow: From Head to Toe” featurette found on the “Dead Man’s Chest” blu-ray bonus disc.  What I discovered actually surprised me a little bit and yet at the same time made perfect sense.

  When Pirates of the Caribbean costume designer Penny Rose picks up Jack’s belts and talks about the manky pelts in the video (this video is actually where the term “manky pelts” likely comes from, by the way) the pelts don’t hang loosely like soft fur, they stick straight out, almost like the leg bones are still inside!  It not only explained why they hang from the belt the way they do, but why they look stiff and thin rather than fluffy and plush.  I’ve actually seen deer legs tanned with the bone inside and used as Native American ceremonial rattle handles, so it makes sense that things like fox legs could be tanned with the bones still in place, too.  So in the name of perfection I set about making my manky pelts as accurate as possible to simulate the stiff look of the ones worn by Captain Jack.

  For convenience I’ve attached the video below so you can see exactly what I’m talking about.  Skip to 4:50 on the video to see Penny Rose and Johnny Depp discuss the pelts as well as Jack’s other belt trinkets.

  To achieve the stiff look of the screen used pelts I used some slender strips of dowel rod and glued them into place in the legs, then glued and stitched the loose leg fur around them.  You’ll have to forgive me for not knowing the exact diameter of the dowel rods I used as they were some I had just lying around, but I can tell you they are small, not much bigger around than a soda straw.  It worked perfectly!  Again, this is something I will do to pelts if I do end up offering them for sale later on.  They look so much better than rabbit fur, and people will get a kick out of the fact that they still have claws!

  Finally, I used some Got2b Spiked-Up hair styling gel to give them that proper manky look.  They really do look fantastic, if I may say so myself.  The fox paw could stand to be a shade darker and look a bit dirtier, but that’s something I can easily accomplish later on.

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  To take some of the blue patina off the sun buckle I held it over low head on my kitchen stove.  This toned down the blue while still leaving the buckle with a dull finish.  After looking at the previous photos I decided the Anna Maria buckle looked a bit too blue and dark, too, so I lightened it up using a wire brush.  I had previously suspended it in a jar over ammonia to let the fumes add the patina, but in the end I felt it just made the buckle too dark, and in the films Jack’s buckle almost looks nickel colored and shiny in the light.

  So now my belts really are essentially finished.  Like most cosplayers I will no doubt continue to tweak with them as time goes on, but I am generally quite pleased with the way they look now.

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  If a set of accurate pelts like these is something you would be interested in for your costume feel free to leave a comment below and I will get the ball rolling as soon as possible to make them available on eBay and on my Etsy store.

  My Jack Sparrow costuming adventures are still far from over, but I’m actually thrilled with what I’ve acquired so far since starting with the Anna Maria buckle one year ago.  Sure, I already had a bandanna and skull ring before that, but the Anna Maria buckle was the first item I bought with the full intention of putting together a complete costume.  If I had more money I would have no doubt rushed to put it all together much faster, but really I think assembling it one piece at a time has actually made the experience a lot more rewarding.  It’s turned this into a true journey rather than an easily obtainable goal, and some fantastic new items have even become available in recent months that I would be no doubt be trying to upgrading to if I had rushed and just assembled the outfit in one fell swoop.  Buying things one piece at a time has forced me to be much more selective and to make sure I get each piece right the first time rather than wasting money on things I would just be using to get buy with until I could get something better.

  I still have a long way to go and many major items to get before I’m running around in full gear with my arms flapping about shouting “why is the rum gone?”, but that’s okay.  Sharing my costuming adventures with all of you through this blog has taught me a great deal of patience and allowed me to savor the joy each new item brings without jumping off into the deep end and trying to snag all the pieces at once (something I cannot currently afford to do anyway).

  I’m not completely sure what my next item will be; maybe the wig, a compass, or the waistcoat.  But in the mean time I still have plenty of new pieces I haven’t even shared with you yet like the stolen ring and my tattoos.  So stick around, because new posts are coming real soon.

  Plus, I very recently obtained a brand new laptop computer, so I’m no longer trapped in the past using Windows XP on a 10 year old desktop.  What does this mean for the blog?  VIDEOS!!!  I’ve only had the new laptop a few days so I’m still learning my way around Windows 8 (which is a bit of a pain in the ass, by the way, but that’s a rant for another time), but it won’t be long before I’m posting video reviews of my costume pieces so you can get an even better look at them to help with your own costuming adventures.  Videos will include weathering tips, product reviews, and probably a lot of goofing around, too.

  Anyway, that’s enough carrying on for now, so until next time, keep a weather eye on that horizon!