“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!
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.
When I set out to create my Captain McAnen costume back in 2008 one of the hardest items to come by was a sash. Sure, there are some websites that offer pirate sashes, but they usually tend to be really shiny, made of man-made fabric like rayon, and have tassels or fringe at the end. Depending on the look you’re going for these can work just fine, but I wanted something more beaten up and weathered. I really liked Jack Sparrow’s sash, so originally I set out to find some sort of fabric that would be similar to his but with blue or purple stripes instead of red. Most of the fabrics I found were calico prints so they only had the stripes on one side, and I wanted a cloth that had an older, more hand-woven feel. Eventually I settled on a greenish-tan checkered fabric that I felt was fitting for the Irish origins of the character. It wasn’t what I went searching for originally, but I got about 3 yards of the stuff for like $5 at Hobby Lobby, so I wasn’t complaining. My girlfriend at the time took on the task of making the sash for me. The sash is 12 feet long and about 9 inches wide, and the fabric is doubled over and sewn together to make the sash nice and durable. I had previously purchased a sash from an online vendor that wound up being a shiny blue rayon fabric with gold fringe (it didn’t match the photo on the website I ordered from), so we just used it as a template for making the new sash. Once the sewing was done I bleached it, beat it in dirt, and left it out in the sun for a nice aged look. I wore it for Halloween ’08 and to the Texas Renaissance Festival, and have been using it ever since. The older and more beaten up it gets the better it looks.
In 2010 I designed, built, and ran a haunted house called the Haunted Dungeon in Marble Falls, TX, and the day after Halloween we went shopping at all the Halloween stores in Austin to get a bunch of supplies at a great discount to use the following year. At one store I purchased a bunch of scrap material that had been a circus tent display inside the store. It was a ratty tan fabric with blue stripes, and I thought it would make a great sash. When our haunted house ended in 2011 and we were taking it down I cut a nice long strip out of the fabric and it became my second Captain McAnen sash. I still haven’t found that perfect fabric that I’ve been searching for, but it is fun to have a couple of different sashes so I can change up the look of my costume from time to time. It’s also handy to have multiples for when I need to dress up another pirate for a gig or event. Without a doubt I’ll probably stumble upon other fabrics I like and end up with a few more sashes along the way.
(Captain McAnen’s sashes – on the left is the circus tent sash, on the right is my original Captain McAnen sash)
When I started putting together my Jack Sparrow costume I knew the sash was one of the first items I wanted to check off my list. After reading about various available sashes on the message boards and searching the internet for the best possible version of Jack’s sash I went with one offered by eBay seller Empire-Worldwide. They offer several Jack Sparrow costume pieces. Some are really good, some are really bad, and some are just way over-priced pieces out of children’s dress up kits that can be found at costume stores. On the message boards at keeptothecode.com and brethrencourt.net there is quite a bit of mixed opinion about the business dealings of Empire-Worldwide, but it was agreed by many that their sash was one of the better items they offer. Since I didn’t see any better sashes offered by anyone else (many Jack Sparrow cosplayers actually make their sashes out of curtains from IKEA), I took the plunge and ordered from Empire-Worldwide on eBay. My sash shipped extremely fast and I had it in just a couple of days.
(Jack Sparrow sash – new)
The material is thinner than that of Jack’s sash, but I expected as much considering the movie sashes were made from handwoven textiles out of Turkey. The stripe pattern is a great match to that used in “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, which is the look I’m going for (the IKEA sashes generally work better for a “Curse of the Black Pearl” look), and the fabric seems to weather quite nicely without being a wrinkled mess. All in all I’m quite happy with the sash.
After it arrived I ran it through the washing machine to loosen up the fabric, then sat and cut off all the loose strings that unraveled along the edges in the wash. Unlike my Captain McAnen sash which is doubled over and has a finished seam Jack’s sash is simply cut straight from the fabric so the edges do fray, but that just adds to the rugged look of it. I also brewed a giant pot of extremely strong, dark black tea and soaked the sash in it over low heat on the stove for a couple of hours to give it a dingier, duller quality. After it dried I made a few rips in the ends and along the edges and poked it through with a pair of scissors in a few places to give it an even more worn out look. Somewhere down the line I may even give it a dye bath in some water with just a few drops of brown Rit dye to dingy it up a bit more, and I’ll likely beat it up and stain it even more as time goes by. My only real complaint is that the stripes are a paler red than those on the movie worn sash, but most people will never notice.
(Jack Sparrow sash – weathered)
Part of my plan for putting together my Jack Sparrow costume is to find the best items available and take my time buying them so that I don’t feel the need to change and upgrade them later on. This way I will save money in the long run because I’m not buying items just to “get by”, I’m buying ones I plan to keep for good. It’ll take a little longer to put the complete costume together this way, but in the end I will only have to put together one version of the finished outfit. The sash is no exception. It’s possible a better, more accurate sash will come along somewhere down the road, but out of all the ones available at the moment I feel like I snagged the best one for the look I’m going for.
The next item I grabbed was a little different story…
Jack wears an interesting little wrap around his right wrist throughout the movies. It’s one of those random items that adds to the unique and quirky look of what is otherwise a rather typical pirate costume. When you look at the basics of Jack’s outfit: the shirt, pants, sash, waistcoat, jacket, bandana, and hat, it’s all pretty standard pirate garb. But it’s the little flourishes like his rings and all those beads and coins in his dreadlocked hair that really give Jack his signature look and make him stand out amongst all the other buccaneers in the Pirates films. Exactly what the wrist wrap is made from and where it might have come from are a bit of a mystery, but no Jack Sparrow costume would be complete without it.
Many Jack Sparrow enthusiasts make their own out of black burlap and yarn, but I’m lazy enough that I just wanted to snag one that was ready to wear. There are plenty out there that are passable, and a few homemade ones I’ve seen look really good, but I was having a tough time finding one available that looked as accurate as I wanted. In the end I zeroed in on the wrist wrap offered by Yordreem Creations (yordreem.com). Yordreem makes many incredible Jack Sparrow items including his waistcoat, frock coat, and possibly the best wig on the market, so it naturally seemed like their wrist wrap would be pretty awesome, too. It certainly looked pretty sweet in the photograph on their website. I especially liked that it wasn’t made out of stiff burlap like so many of the ones I’d seen on eBay.
When it arrived I was a bit bummed to find that the weave pattern of the yarn isn’t quite as accurate as I had hoped, but I am still quite happy with it. Most people would never notice that there is anything wrong with it, but cosplayers tend to have a sharp eye for detail and are often irrationally bothered by little things that aren’t quite right. I modified the wrap ever so slightly and gave it a light tea-dye bath to dull it up a bit, but what you see below is pretty much what it looks like. I wish the yarn was a little darker so I’ll no doubt darken it with dye at some point, but I really like the look and feel of the black material. I’ve heard some Jack’s refer to a fabric called monk’s cloth, but I’m not sure if that’s what this is or not. Even though it is not as accurate as I’d hoped it would be I still think it looks pretty good and have even been wearing it with my street clothes.
This is an item I will likely replace if a better version comes along, but for now it’ll do just fine. It certainly saved me the trouble of trying to make something myself, and for the money it’s not a bad little item at all.
(Jack Sparrow wrist wrap)
I’ve got an Anna Maria belt on its way from Captain McCool, and I’ll likely be ordering the manky pelts to dangle from my sun belt very soon. It won’t be long and I’ll have to start ordering the bigger pieces of the costume. Sometime in the next couple of months I would like to order a waistcoat from Yordreem Creations, and I hope to have one of their wigs by the end of the year. It really all just comes down to when I have the extra money to spent at this point, but no matter what my Jack Sparrow costuming adventure will continue.
So until next time, “take what you can. Give nothing back!”