There are a lot of projects I dream of making but this is high up among them. The Fifth Element is one of my favorite films and Misty is one of my favorite people. As she was planning on resurrecting her Leeloo cosplay for San Diego Comic Con 2017, I knew I wanted a shot at refreshing her Leeloo Harness.
This particular piece is so iconic of one of my favorite characters in one of my favorite movies that I had to try. She made her own for this cosplay years ago, impressively out of Safety Orange duct tape. She apparently met and impressed Wil Wheaton in the same. Still that was a ways back, and it was due for repair or replacement.
Looking into it, I found several methods but was short on time and wanted to keep it within a reasonable budget. I will absolutely one day pour the silicone needed to make a true to life set of the suspenders but as price creeps up towards $100+ and I haven’t learned that yet, this was not the time.
So what was I to do? I cast about for a good while hoping to find a solid sheet of rubber or silicone ready made for cutting (at hopefully a reasonable price) but no luck. I even went so far as to contact Grainger Industrial Supply in my search and on explaining the project had apparently contacted the head of the Phoenix Comic Con Cosplay forums. We chatted for a bit and he was super excited about the idea but no luck on the materials front.
I needed a flexible material that I could cut up from a pattern that would fit the look once painted.
Got this baby for $5 at Five Below. Turns out you get what you pay for, but more on that later. For now, this totally worked!
This was going to be a good project for a number of reasons. I had procured a really excellent pattern from Jiajem.com That link is broken currently, but you can google other folks’ results well enough. Until her site is back up, you’re welcome to get that pattern here: LEELOOSUSPENDERS I printed this large and cheap from Fedex/Kinkos and went to town drawing and cutting it out.
This part took a bit. Enjoy a timelapse of a small part of that process:
A marker and scissors made easy, if not quick, work of that process. Since the pattern was printed in two pieces I had to figure out how to join them seamlessly and then go to paint.
The yoga mat was a blessing and a curse. It was the perfect size for the perfect price, but it was not the perfect material. It’s construction was two-ply rubber connected through with adhesive. This proved a huge advantage for the joins as you can see in the gallery above. I was able to extend the pattern with tabs at each juncture and cut away one ply on each tab so that they joined flat. I was So Excited when I figured all that out. Problem solver–ME.
I was less excited with the way the material held up in use. On this project I wanted to test a spray paint I hadn’t used before. Specifically Plasti-Dip. My Hope was that it would essentially form a flexible rubberized coating over the whole piece and that it would help secure the joins as well.
Nope. While it did not dry hard and rigid, neither did it help the joins, and in fact curled the yoga mat material after the first application. When it dried it contracted a bit and screwed up my corners. You can see them turning up a bit in the white-painted picture above.
While this was mildly ameliorated on coating the opposite side, the one true saving grace of the substance was that it provided a stark white primer coat for the Safety Orange spray paint. This laid on beautifully as you can see. In fact, everything was going more or less to plan and the harness looked amazing.
There was a problem however in that the mat material had approaching Zero vertical stretch. When I originally thought yoga mat, that was not my expectation. So it turned out that I had a pretty gorgeous harness that may or may not fit at all.
Originally, Misty had given me her prior set on which I based the printing scale of the pattern. Got it pretty damned close too. She mentioned that her original was tight by about an inch, so I compensated for that in print and even built in another couple inches in the bottom join to be sure.
Once the piece was fully painted, the cheap yoga mat material started to crack at certain bends and around some of the holes where the distance to the edge was thin. This, as you might imagine, was a problem. Biiiig bada boom.
So I was stressed. I put some hours into this and while it was fun and a lovely materials test, clearly I wanted the damned thing to fit and work for her. I was able to get together with Misty for first and final fitting a couple days before she left for SDCC. I had left the very bottom join open and took several different options with me to complete the piece.
Getting in it was interesting. I thought the harness was going to tear multiple times in a span of about 30 seconds. Turns out that once on, it fit pretty wonderfully. Without stretch however, there was no way I could glue the bottom join. So we went with snaps! Another process I hadn’t done in years, but I had the materials to finish it up. Went out to the garage cause hammering stuff gets loud, obviously.
Aaaaaaaand then I screwed up. Bad.
The top snaps went in quite lovely. I measured everything out and hammered in the bottom pieces and boom. Done. Done on the wrong side of the join.
So here’s the thing. The snaps went in fine. They would bind the garment fine. It would fit fine. Instead of wrapping around smoothly like there was no join at all, they jutted out into a big squarish point at the very bottom of the harness. At the crotch. Uh Uh.
I’ve had a couple moments like this. You put time and effort and some $$ into a project and everything is going pretty great all told. You’re happy with your work. Then, last second you get careless and the entire thing-all of it-is wasted because of the smallest error. You ever been there? That’s a Dark Night of the Soul moment.
Bet you’ll never guess the happy ending though.
During those extremely depressing five minutes or so, that I attempted to remove the freshly pounded snaps with a hammer and wire cutters (I may have been panicking) at least one part of my brain was still working. The A Ha! moment was viscerally satisfying and also a massive relief. Turns out that the Safety Orange duct tape she had on hand to repair her old harness matched absolutely perfectly with the Safety Orange spray paint I had used for the piece which conveniently had to be that color to match the Safety Orange of the silicone of the official costume.
This was yoga mat material. I’d been cutting it up all weekend. I cut one last time about an inch above my misaligned snaps, flipped the tab, reinforced it with a bit of extra material and taped the whole damned thing back together. She ended up covering the entire thing in duct tape, which took about two hours and an exacto knife.
It was seamless. It was perfect. It was still a bit tight. Misty made that work though and quite spectacularly!
Misty makes for a damned fine Leeloo.
Ok, so if you want to make these:
The pattern worked out beautifully, and I still think a yoga mat is pretty perfect material if you’re on a budget or don’t want to mess with pouring silicone. I would compensate for the lack of stretch by giving the fit an extra inch or two and letting it be a little loose when on. If you fully bind it, you may have trouble getting into the harness. On the other hand, maybe get a better quality yoga mat in the first place that has a little more give. The one I found was cheap, and I got what I paid for.
The snaps worked out great and are a very secure and easy way to get in and out of the harness. Also kits are pretty cheap. I used two medium sized snaps and covered the external caps on the join with duct tape. You could also paint these if you’re able to place them before that step.
The Plasti-Dip was useless. It didn’t provide a different finish to the material like I hoped and merely served as a primer for the spray paint. I went through two cans of that and two cans of spray paint for this. You can save yourself a good $12 if you skip this step. Two cans of the Safety Orange spray should be more than enough even without the primer coat.
I’m not completely sure how long I spent on this. Consider 6-12 hours all told depending on your process. I think I took a good bit more than that but a lot of it was wasted painting and figuring things out. Now I’ve saved you those steps. You’re welcome!
I had a blast making this and am really proud of how it turned out, all considered. Misty looked fantastic!
The pièce de résistance however was not the harness.
I pulled this from Amazon and got it just in time for her final fitting. What is Leeloo after all without her Chicken Dinner?