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Jack’s Belt Trinkets and Manky Pelts

JacksBeltEffects

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.

NetsukeMermaidCharm.jpg NetsukeMermaidCharm

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.

SnakeVertebraeMermaidCharm

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.

AnnaMariaBeltweathered.jpg AnnaMariaBeltweathered

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.

MankyPelt-FoxPaw

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.

MankyPelt-FisherPaw

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.

MankyPelts

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

SunBelt-Complete

  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!

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