F Yer Worbla

cosplay materials

F Yer Worbla

With another cosplay competition show glamorizing cosplay, there’s sure to be another batch of fresh faces wanting to try out cosplay.  That’s great!  Cosplay is a fun, frustrating, and sometimes-almost-kind-of-maybe rewarding hobby.

In the name of supporting new cosplayers, I even have a how-to for you!

How to Make Armor with Worbla:


Okay, I’m joking.  (Kind of.)

I really struggle with trying not to be an asshole about Worbla, and I do want to stress how important it is to respect each other’s work in cosplay — this includes choices for materials.   (Don’t be jerks.  Support each other.)  Worbla, foam, cardboard, metal, plastic, whatever; use what you want.  My problem lies in the assumption that Worbla is the only way to do things, and the perpetuation of that myth.

For a person new on the scene, just learning the craft, maybe a little scared to get started because you don’t want to do things “wrong”, it’s easy to take everything at face value.  You see a nice prop or costume piece get made with Worbla and you want to replicate that, so you think that you have to use Worbla to do it, because you don’t see any alternatives being presented or you aren’t shown the full picture of how much work goes into getting it to that finished point.

The very first time I decided I wanted to make a costume, I needed to sew a dress.  And because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing (not much has changed), I found a sewing pattern and made it from that.  I followed everything to the letter.  It came out fine, but nowadays I could turn out a better result from scratch (even with my crappy pattern drafting skills) because I’ve learned that the “right” way is just a starting point.  The “right” way is the foundation: you need to know what an armscye is or to be able to sew a straight line without balling up your thread and breaking your needle before you can move on to more complicated materials and techniques.

And that’s the way it should work: you start by learning the “right” way to do something.   You learn the names for things and the basics of doing them.  You do that for a while and you start to learn what does and doesn’t work.  You learn little tricks that only experience will teach you.  Then you add on and innovate, and soon you’re ready for bigger and better things.

But here’s the problem: there IS NO RIGHT WAY in armor and prop building.

Foam is not the “right” way.  Fiberglass is not the “right” way.  Vacuumforming is not the “right” way.  Molding and casting is not the “right” way.  And no, Worbla is not the “right” way either.

Worbla is goddamned expensive.  And, as you may know from my other various ramblings, I don’t like expensive.  Cosplay is for everyone, not just the rich kids.

The “right” way in armor building — the foundational knowledge you need — lies in skill with proportions/scaling, painting, manual dexterity, and like all art, seeing.  Knowing what rust looks like, how light would look on a metal piece, or how to get colors right.  You don’t need Worbla to get these skills.  You can be using the most expensive materials on the planet, but if your headpiece is 40% too big and your paint job looks like a kid fingerpainted it, it’s not going to look good.

As you may also know from my various other ramblings, I’m a huge fan of Adam Savage.  Adam Savage has a nice workshop with a bunch of expensive tools, huge space to work, and can use whatever materials he damn well pleases, but he had to start somewhere too.  His advice stands true here: start with the cheapest materials you have access to.

I guarantee you have access to a material that is cheaper than $86.00 for a 39.25″ wide x 59″ piece.

(And just a side note: it’s not sour grapes that makes me dislike Worbla.  We budget $100/costume and often spend far less.  So yes, I could buy a sheet of Worba and make something out of it and still be within our budget.  But for me personally, I would much rather drop $86.00 on a gallon of resin or 4 bigass sheets of foam, both of which would get me more costume mileage per dollar.  Also, as someone who is still learning, it makes more sense to continue to use lower cost materials rather than start over in an unfamiliar medium I’m 95% certain I don’t even like, just from watching videos of other people working it.)

So again, this is not to disparage people who use Worbla.  It’s a material with pros and cons like any other.  Just recognize that if you’re just getting started, there is NO RIGHT WAY TO DO THINGS.  I really can’t stress that enough.  You don’t have to run out and buy a boatload of Worbla and a workshop full of specialized tools.  Get on YouTube or Google, watch videos, ask friends, do research, beg for samples, and figure out what will work for you, not what’s worked for someone else.  Learn those foundational skills so that when you do spend money for a sheet of material, you’re not wasting it because you never learned what type of flat shape becomes a spheroid, or how to cut a clean line with an x-acto blade.

Now go forth and make stuff!

…just not out of Worbla!