Creating A LARP Blog

So, this is it – the Black Raven Armoury Blog.

It’s been a while coming, forty years in the making to be precise. The coming articles will be a cocktail of how-to guides, personal experiences, musings and streaming of consciousness and we thank you in advance for taking this journey with us.

So, why blog now?

We‘ve asked ourselves this question a lot lately and we believe the correct answer is this… it’s all Jim’s fault.

We all know a Jim… Jim’s a mate, he’s the kind of mate that gives you dead arms first thing in the morning and will fill your salt shaker with sugar. He’ll slip a shot of tequila into every pint he buys you, but is the same guy that would scrub your sick from the hotel carpet at the crack of dawn. Jim may or not be his real name, but we know that when Jim says jump… we should probably jump. It might not make sense at the time, but when looking back at the moment our feet left the ground, we’ll know that it was one the defining moments of your life. Jim said we should write a blog and we think he’s right.

Oddly, Jim also tells us that we are the Gok Wan of LARP Fashion… At this point, we have to admit we weren’t sure whether to thank him or thump him…to be fair we probably did both.

We understand what he is trying to say though. Personally, we’re very flattered and of course, we could never even begin to compare ourselves to the uber-talented Gok, but we know what Jim meant. We, the Black Raven Team, are no Coco Chanels or Alexander McQueens. However, we do have a sense of style – but then again, most of us do.

The thing is, larping can all too often be more about accuracy than fashion and we think that’s a shame. There are some great outfits out there. The difference between looking right and looking good can often be as simple as taking a step back and maybe taking some advice. We’re not saying we’re always right, any more than we’re saying that we’re better than anyone else. All we’re trying to say is, we’ve been around for a long time and have a good eye for detail. Functionality and accuracy will always be amongst the most important elements of larping and re-enactment, but there is also room for a little flair, style and personality. Our creations have featured in countless photo-shoots and graced all manner of shiny surfaces. From posh magazines to the silver screen, Black Raven Armoury has appeared in lots of prestigious affairs.

Just pointing out, we’ve no desire to turn larping events into weird Zoolander freakshows, any more than we expect Kate Moss to rock up to the Baftas in my Sigrun leather armour. We simply believe there is no harm in looking our best when we are two feet in the mud. If your armour can be made to turn a claymore, then what’s the harm in having it turn the odd head.

So, the idea is to share what we’ve learned over the years and the journey that took us here. Personally, we’d love to hear all of your adventures too. We’re hoping for comments, ideas, feedback and critique and we would expect no less from you all.

So – before we begin our scribblings, please feel free to pitch in with ideas on what we should be writing.

Do you want to hear about how we bring out detail in leather? Or would you rather hear about what it’s like to be on the set of a big screen production? Or… do you want to hear about the night Sir Jim and the team drank all the mead in the village and woke up in the wrong castle?

Our web designer also says that SEO is important for a blog, but all we can say is… if we have to sneak the phrase: “This is the best place to find LARP, SCA, HEMA armour costumes, outfits, garb and kit online…” into our blog just for SEO purposes… then we’re just not going to do it… we have integrity… (and sizes to fit all!)

On a serious note, we’ve learned a lot over the years and we took the long road. We know from experience how hard it is to find honest and reliable advice on how to make quality leather armour and accessories. We can’t remember how many times we’ve caught ourselves wishing there was an easier way or a simple guide. So, this blog is also partially for a younger Alex and all those like him, who want to make amazing kit and are tired of spending weeks looking for answers in all the wrong places. Consider this blog an A-to-Z of armour, larping and the collected thoughts of Alex Agricola and the Black Raven team.




LARP Essentials For Men

We’d all love to be King for a day and while in the LARP and re-enactment worlds that’s technically possible, it takes time, money and dedication before you’re likely to get that call.

Meanwhile, for the rest of us mere mortals, just what do you wear to the ball/battle? There are plenty of guides for the ladies and indeed a LARP Fashion/Black Raven Armoury LARP essentials for ladies is next on my agenda. There doesn’t seem to be much about for us blokes though… it’s not really surprising, ladies are so much better at organising this sort of thing than we are, but it’s about time that changed.

It is with great pleasure that we present our guide about LARP essentials for men… Or as my SEO consultant would say… the best medieval costume accessories, re-enactment and LARP accessories for men…

The key to enjoying LARP-ing is comfort. Sure, there are moments when that ‘to die for’ piece or outfit needs an airing, but for the most part, you want to be comfortable and that means dressing to suit the climate as much as the event. Remember, if you are going to throw yourself into the character, you’re not looking for a costume… you’re looking for a wardrobe like you have at home.

The most important thing to consider for your weekend away is footwear. You’ll want something comfortable, that will go with multiple outfits and even if they’re not straight from the British Museum, you don’t want them to give the game away. If you’re going to throw yourself in, or are a larper already then you’ll be doing a lot of running around and that is always done best in shoes that fit.

LARP Fashion have a number of options but there are others. If you can’t find anything that works, an alternative is to make your own boot covers/sabatons. The benefit of wearing boot covers is that you can wear whatever shoes you like and choose comfort 100% over accuracy or attention to detail. Covers can be made from leather, fur or whatever takes your fancy. The other important thing to remember when it comes to choosing LARP shoes is safety. Bespoke designer medieval turn shoes may look amazing, but if you’re going to end up in A&E after slipping on flagstones, maybe it’s best to just cover your trainers in Faux Fur and be done with it.

Materials: 

What you wear is very much dependant on what the climate’s like. In summer, linen and cotton is king, whereas in the autumn and winter, wool or felted wool is preferable. For the anoraks amongst us, it’s worth pointing out that cotton wasn’t really on the radar in Northern Europe until much later than you’d find it around the Persian states. But if you prefer being comfy to being ‘accurate’ then it’s definitely the way to go.

Tunic:

A good wool or cotton tunic is the male larper equivalent of a little black dress. What I mean by that, is it’s perfect for almost any occasion and with the right accessories, it can be equally at home on the deck of a pirate ship, in the Halls of Valhalla, or your daughter’s wedding.

Colour is important, so choose something hand dyed and if possible fairly neutral. Woad blue, grey or plum was pretty common in most villages across Northern Europe for centuries and would be a good place to start. White is also an option if you don’t mind if getting covered in mud, which is inevitable. If you do opt for white, try and avoid the saccharine bleached whites that look like they came from an Arial Ad. There’s nothing like looking too clean to ruin a perfectly good larp outfit.
 
Accessories: 

Here’s where you can really make your outfit shine. A good set of accessories can turn a few garments into a wardrobe of opportunities. Whatever kit or garb you decide on, it’s worth investing a bit of time and money in your accessories. You may not be able to afford or be ready to invest in a full set of armour, but you can accomplish a lot with a decent bandoleer, a bag or even just a good belt. Bear in mind, working with leather is a skill and good leather won’t necessarily be cheap, but remember you can wear your accessories with almost every outfit and that alone makes them worth investing in. If there’s one place to avoid skimping on, it’s accessories.
 
If you do want to make more of an impact then Black Raven Armoury has a series of excellent DIY kits if you don’t mind putting in a bit of effort.

Cloak or a cowl/hood.

A solid wool cloak can not only be a stunning additional to any larp outfit, it can also double as a duvet or blanket or a makeshift roof for a bivouac to keep you warm on chilly nights.

A cowl or hood is a simpler less expensive option and while it won’t keep you warm at night, it will keep out the rain and can be worn up or down for different looks.

So there you have it, a very simple guide to dressing for your next LARP/Renn Faire or Pirate ball. For the sake of clarity and because frankly, Reddit does not need more controversy, the LARPs we’re referring to, are those of a fantasy/medieval style event. Although to be fair, this simple guide would work no matter what system or theme the event you’re attending has.

 

Author – Neil Campbell.




60 Things I’ve learned from two decades of Larping and making Leather Armour


1. I could have been so much kinder to my hands.

2. There are better ways to age leather than running over it in a Ford Fiesta.

3. Larpers are the best, most welcoming and loveliest people on Earth.

4. There is such a thing as too much mead.

5. I need a bigger kitchen.

6. Earl Grey is very forgiving.

7. Leather is not forgiving.

8. Art should be seen.

9. I would have made a great blacksmith.

10. I would have made a terrible plumber.

11. Getting leather stain off your hands takes three weeks and 20 hours of scrubbing.

12. Gaffa tape holds the universe together, but we’d be safer it if was held by rivets.

13. There are 2000 shades of brown.

14. Creating a good Oxblood dye is harder than actual alchemy.

15. My skin is at least part wire/part wool now.

16. There are some weird people on the internet.

17. Leather is easier to work with than most ‘film stars’.

18. Someone always thinks things can be gotten cheaper online.

19. Things are not always cheaper online.

20. Exposure appears to be a form of currency, but I can’t seem to find anywhere that takes it.

21. I have a lot of empathy for people who did what I do before electricity, the internet and Earl Grey.

22. I need better light in my kitchen.

23. I hate shiny new armour.

24. I need to get out more.

25. I enjoy being invited to events and panels.

26. I am a low maintenance guest.

27. My contact details are on my website… OK, OK I’ll stop now.

28. Facebook has a lot of experts.

29. Airport security love inspecting my armour, especially if I am very late for my flight.

30. Vulfpeck is the perfect band to make armour too.

31. I’ve signed more NDAs than half of MI6.

32. I wouldn’t do anything else.

33. I often try and work out how I would have done something a hundred years ago.

34. There is nothing better than a good job well done.

35. I take pride in every piece I make.

36. I am always pleased when I see people wearing my designs at events.

37. My 5mm leather armour will stop a claymore.

38. I miss being deep in character and knee deep in the mud.

39. There’s no party like a LARP party.

40. My friends have no idea what I do.

41. I’m sure my friends think that I think I live in Middle Earth.

42. My armour in on your screen more often than I am allowed to tell you.

43. I’ve dyed my hands and arms so often, I think my skin colour is a shade darker than it is.

44. Wire wool is worse than glitter for getting everywhere.

45. I sometimes think I would have made a great rogue.

46. I love it when people show me their own embellishments and personal touches on my kits and designs.

47. There are far too many acronyms and abbreviations in my life… HEMA, SCA, LARP? I often wonder what they all mean (…except not really).

48. SEO sucks – I know we’re supposed to put statements like ‘Black Raven Armoury make the best LARP Armour for re-enactment events and Renn Faires’ into our website, but every time I try and do that, it just sounds contrived.

49. I owe my life to coffee.

50. I do my best work at midnight.

51. If I had a time machine and could go back and tell my teenage self what I do for a living, he’d be really pleased, but sad I wasn’t in Star Wars.

52. There are actually 28 hours in a day. At least that’s what it feels like when I pull all-nighters.

53. Actors are generally smaller in real life… except Gwendoline Christie and Peter Dinklage. They are actually taller and shorter respectfully.

54. I can’t watch shows like Game of Thrones or Vikings without freeze-framing on the outfits and trying to catch the details.

55. There is a secret story behind each and every Black Raven Armour. It could be in the art, it might be the journey behind it, but buy me a pint if you meet me and maybe I’ll share them.

56. You’ll never believe where we get our finest leather from.

57. I don’t even own my own set of armour because I am too busy making it for other people. =(

58. My first real work began 27 years ago with a sheepskin Jacket I found in a flea market.

59. I have begun recording the first of my proper tutorial videos where I’ll teach anyone interested how to make their own exceptional leather armour and accessories.

60. My beard is real.

 

Author – Neil Campbell.




Armour: The Finishing Touches

This blog is going to cover the process of finishing armour – also often referred to as ”antiquing”. The end process might seem like an odd place to start, but hold fire because there’s method in my madness.

The key to making a proper leather armour is making it look real. Real armour isn’t made to make you look good, it’s not made to keep up with fashion – real armour has a singular and important role. Real armour is designed to make sure you go home after the battle. Real armour saves your life.

Ask your self what would an armour designed to take scrapes and cuts and bolts and slashes and gouges and all manner of abuse look like after even a single battle?

Real armour is battle-worn, only a coward would wear armour without a single blemish.

Much of what I do is trial and error. I began my adventure into leather-working long before the internet and even now, I find it hard to source honest advice and guidance online. So my journey has involved many dead ends, u-turns and a whole lot of swearing at the moon. I want to make it clear I am not complaining and I wouldn’t change a thing about where I am now or how I got here. I am merely pointing out that every eggshell step has been hard fought and every inch gained, has taken time.

It’s taken time to refine my art and it’s fun sometimes to look back and revisiting some of the crazy things we used to do. Finishing is my favourite example. Nowadays, I have developed an entire antiquing/tarnishing process which can be done in the comfort of my kitchen accompanied by many cups of tea and iTunes. A few years ago, however, I had a different strategy.

Armour needs to look dirty and worn right? And how would one accomplish that? Yep, you guessed it – I’d literally go put and kick it about the yard.

How do you make armour look like it’s been run through by a charging knight? Well, you take it out into the car park and you run it over with your car.

Armour needs slashes and gouges, right? How about beating it with swords and axes and generally kicking nine bells of hell out of it?

It works and it can be fun, but trust me, a little bit of mood music and some earl grey in the kitchen is so much better.  

Before you start doing anything! Make sure you have a safe and clean work surface to work on and make sure you have a large supply of rubber gloves to hand. Remember you are working with leather and essentially your hands are also leather. Trust me, you don’t want to be dyeing your hands with leather stain. To be fair, you probably will anyway – but at least I tried to warn you.

So, how do you achieve a worn look without treating your armour like you hate it? Good question! The first stage in making good-looking authentic battle-worn armour for LARP, SCA and re-enactment events is getting the stain right.

I have experimented over the years with many dyes and solutions and I share a lot more of my specific experiments in my leather-working course videos, which are available free on my website. I won’t go into too much detail about that now, because the next step is much more important.

How you apply your dye or stain is as important as what it’s made from. What you are trying to do is make the armour look like it has had some life. Remember, armour was always expensive and it would have been handed down through the family. To achieve the worn look simply apply your solution with a kitchen sponge. Take care to add more on the edges, on the bottom and at the sides. Remember leather armour is always going to be darker round the edges and the bottom. I would also recommend staining both sides of your armour, even though you’ll seldom see the reverse. You’ll want to make the coating as thorough as possible and build it up layer by layer. After you’ve fully coated the armour fully and left it to dry. You can begin the final process of finishing it.

My armours and most good armours include details, embossing and other embellishments and the best way to bring out that detail is by scuffing it gently. To bring those little touches out, I use a very fine wire wool. I begin by tearing little clumps of wire wool and then I use my index finger to rub lightly over any details I want to bring out. Now remember, the key to making your armour look good is to make it look as if it has aged naturally and nothing ages naturally in a uniform fashion. So take care to spread the process around and try not to be too symmetrical. The dye I use has a built in sealant, but if you need to, you can add a final coat after you’ve finished your detailing.  Once it dries and you’ve tidied up, you should end up with an armour that looks like it’s done the rounds… which is exactly what armour should look like.

 

Author – Neil Campbell.




Viking Themed Weddings

Weddings are truly unique to each couple and a having Viking themed wedding has surged in popularity in recent years. This could be due to a rise in themed weddings and cosplay in general, a love for the hugely popular TV show ‘Vikings’, or even as a homage to a couple’s upbringing and Scandinavian ancestors. Whatever any couple’s reasons for wanting a Viking themed wedding, a wedding shout out to Norse culture is fun, unique and will have guests raving about the big day in the years to come.  

Viking weddings typically lasted a week and were traditionally held on a Friday due to Norse religion, where Fridays were sacred days for Frigga, the Norse goddess of marriage. You won’t be able to have a week long wedding unfortunately and it will be tricky to have your wedding on a Friday due to work commitments of the wedding party and guests. However, there are still plenty of other ways for you and your partner to have a Viking themed wedding!

 

Viking Wedding Outfits:

 

You can show the spirit of the Vikings through your wedding attire! Viking brides didn’t traditionally wear white dresses unless their best dress was white. They tended to wear a dramatic flowing dress with ruffles and plenty of layers, on top of an under-dress. On top of their Viking wedding dress, Viking brides wore a fur cloak and a headdress. However, the emphasis was on their hair, rather than on the dress – the longer the hair, the better! Viking wedding hair was braided in all elaborate and voluminous styles, before finishing with a floral crown.

 

Viking grooms on the other hand, wore intricate leather Norse vambraces and greaves, alongside their traditional Viking tunics that was worn underneath armour. Animal skin and fur was also worn too and it wasn’t uncommon for Viking grooms to be holding a hammer, axe or a shield too.

 

Viking Wedding Decorations:

 

Decorating the wedding venue is a brilliant idea to really encapsulate upon the Viking wedding theme. There’s plenty that you can do as part of your Viking wedding decorations.

For your Viking wedding venue, you should have decorations of fake animal skins and furs, natural wood and Viking decorative motifs, and especially the use of runes too.  

 

Viking Decoration Ideas:

 

  • Wooden beer mugs
  • Wooden runic drink coasters
  • Long wooden tables and wooden chairs
  • Wheat – this is important in Viking culture
  • Wooden or pewter bowls and plates
  • Carved horns
  • Candle sticks
  • Viking gold boats
  • Runes – perfect for Viking wedding invitations too!
  • Thor’s Hammer
  • Gold coins and necklaces – these would be brilliant for Viking wedding favours!

 

Viking Wedding Food and Drink:

 

The Viking diet was very similar to a medieval menu; they ate and drank in a banqueting hall, and food consisted of fish (mainly salmon and herring), meat, offal, vegetables, fruit (berries), nuts, grain, stew, bread, herbs and eggs. The Vikings were avid hunters and there was a huge abundance of meat and fish in their diet. Due to harsh winter climates, they had to make the most out of very limited ingredients at their disposal. Overall, it was an extremely healthy diet and Viking wedding food should be similar and fresh. As for drink, honey-based mead was popular amongst Vikings and was made by fermenting honey and water.

 

Viking Wedding Music:

 

The Vikings were pagans and they worshipped a pantheon of countless gods such as Thor, Freyr and Odin. In pagan culture, singing and music were important and songs commonly referenced the gods, Midgardr (Earth) and Valhalla (the home of warriors who died in battle). For a Viking musical touch at your wedding, you could have instrumental music played by wooden flutes, lyre and harps.

Viking Wedding Entertainment:

 

Whilst the Vikings did not have the resources and technology for the entertainment that we have nowadays, they were avid lovers of board games! A hugely popular Viking board game played was ‘Hnefatafl’ (neffa-taffel), a cross between chess and draughts and this would be a great game to play at Viking themed weddings. Outdoor games such as swimming and archery were widespread with the Vikings and children played wrestling and rough ball games, including with child-sized replicas of wooden swords, shields, spears and axes.

 

Finally, no Viking themed wedding will be complete without Viking wedding drinking horns and Viking hats for the guests! Don’t forget to exchange your Viking wedding rings on the tips of Viking swords when taking your vows.

 

Looking for Viking wedding clothes? Look no further than Black Raven Armoury, with over 20 years experience in creating bespoke LARP leather armour and costume, in all styles and finishes. Outfits are produced to the highest quality, with attention to detail.




All’s Faire in LARP and War

Whether you’re a die-hard SCA aficionado, a part-time reenactor or you’re simply wondering what to wear for your first LARP event, the important thing is you want to be involved and be making friends at LARPs and Renn Faires. Now, some folks take these events very seriously, whilst to others they are just a bit of fun. Someone much wiser than us once said you can’t please everybody all of the time or something like that. The point is, if you’re more in one camp than the other, you’re unlikely to feel the full grace from either side.

We’re not trying to marginalise or pigeonhole LARPS or re-enactment events. There’s plenty enough of that sort going already. We’re merely offering up some hard-fought advice for anyone who doesn’t want people muttering unpleasantries under their breath as you go by.

We have painted a poor image of these events. Larping can include the best adventures, the most life-affirming moments and will fill your life with a joy seldom encountered outside a field of like-minded individuals… all we’re offering is a way to do it without looking like a noob.


Rule one – Research.

Researching the event you’re intending to attend (even if it’s one you’ve attended before) will give you all the ammunition you need to make your entrance go with a bang. Event websites often include friendly etiquette guides which are an invaluable resource for anyone looking to join in the fun. Don’t forget to look on social media too. Many larger LARP, historical re-enactment events and Renn Faires will have numerous guilds, factions, nations or whatever name they give them and each of those will have social media groups full of style guides, pet hates posts and general whines.  It’s worth mentioning that most of these groups will frown upon any in-character discussions and are usually more about sourcing props, logistics and that sort of thing.


Rule two – Be yourself.

We were harsh at the head of this article. LARP events are very welcoming, at the end of the day – no-one should ever have to adhere to, or conform exactly to another’s idea of dress or social structure. So, if you want to be an eight-foot unicorn warrior with green hair, leather armour and fairy wings, then do it… just don’t expect to be invited to have tea with the queen. Conversely, if you see an eight-foot unicorn warrior it’s perfectly acceptable to throw them a sneaky smile, even if you are the queen herself… just don’t invite it to tea.

Rule 3 – Details details details.

Often folks can spend a lot of time and money on the perfect outfit and then wonder why they never really felt part of the event. Dressing to impress is one thing, but often it’s the simplest of details that can make ALL the difference. You might be able to find a stunning gown on the high street that looks perfect for the period. This is indeed quite likely, as many of the fashions through the ages are truly timeless, but have you considered colour and fabric? There are reasons LARP stores, makers and sites are often a little bit more expensive than the high street and it’s not just because the likelihood of your clothes being made by infants in the third world is considerably lessened. True LARP specialists know their market. They know how to make clothes as they would have been made at the time. The fabrics will also be from the appropriate period and then these, often handmade, garments will be hand-dyed using traditional methods and traditional ingredients like woad, indigo and mussel shells.

Rule 4 – Cover your head.

It’s pretty much a given that no matter what period in history or indeed fantasy you’re aiming for, no-one wants to see your hair. Hair was generally pretty rank back in the day and lice were common right up to the Victorian era. Also, at most renaissance fairs, ladies without hats are seen as bawdy and loose. Additionally, it gives the multiple hat vendors a perfectly rational excuse to harass you to death. In the UK, covering your head is less of a thing, but owning a hat can save you from severe sunlight, hailstones, bad hair days and torrential rain. Be smart, get a hat or a scarf or a wig.

Rule 5 – Enjoy yourself.

Larping, re-enactment and all forms of historical and fantasy events, no matter how seriously we take them, are essentially dressing up for fun. So, whilst it’s a good call to follow steps one to four, it’s pointless if you ignore the most fundamental of tenets. Most importantly of all, we attend these events because they are fun. We get to hang out with our friends, fight with daggers, drink mead and whatever else that floats your boat. So, if your outfit offends some stiff-shirted wannabe noble because of its anachronistic failings, then let that be their failing and don’t let it dampen your spirits.

 

Author – Neil Campbell.

 




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