if hephaestus had duct tape…

March 23, 2011

…he might not have needed that forge.

This is Mr. T’s costume for our homeschool history fair. (More on the fair coming soon.)  Like any good fan of The Iliad, T wanted his own hoplite armor. Like any good bricoleurs, we figured we could make it.

We started talking duct tape, and suddenly I remembered some instructions in Custom Knits for making a personal mannequin from duct tape and an old T-shirt.  And no, this knitting book has nothing to do with armor-making, but I thought a similar technique might work for T’s project.

T put on an old T-shirt–with nothing underneath–and I began to wrap duct tape around him. Lots of duct tape. After I’d wrapped the shirt in two or three layers of tape, I loosed T from the contraption by cutting straight up the back, through both the shirt and the tape. I cut off the sleeves and shaped the neck, armholes and bottom a bit with scissors, and then added a smooth layer of duct tape around the edges. Here’s what it looks like from the inside:

It worked! It’s fairly lightweight, it has a soft T-shirt lining, and it forms to T’s shape perfectly, just as hoplite body armor would do.

We decided to try the same technique for the helmet. This time we used the hood from an old hoodie. Again, T wore the hood while I taped around his head. Once I’d built up a few layers, I added a duct tape nosepiece and cheek guards, and shaped the helmet around the eyes with scissors.

T wanted a “horsehair” crest, but our hardware store quest for attachable, flexible broom bristles was fruitless. Eventually crepe paper came to mind, and a Google search for “crepe paper fringe” pulled up some easy instructions for stitching together layers of crepe paper with a sewing machine. Perfect! I suppose I could have tried gluing the layers together but the sewing machine trick turned out to be incredibly simple and durable—and look at the cutesy-pie things you can make with crepe paper and a sewing machine!

For each bunch I stitched together six strips of cheap-o crepe paper streamers. I made six bunches, then glue-gunned them together into a single thick bunch, and attached them to the helmet with yet more duct tape.


Mr. T and I envisioned making a shield or hoplon from something like a garbage can lid, plus foam and duct tape, but alas, no surplus lids could be found. We decided instead to start with a small round of cardboard because we had it—and because the painted Cyclops was the part of the shield that mattered most to T anyway. Then we maximized it by adding—yup—more duct tape to the edges.

Of course the hoplite needed a spear. And yes, you can make a spearhead with duct tape. You just can’t kill a boar with it.

T is quite aware of the fact that hoplite armor would have likely been made from bronze, but our hardware store lacked bronze-colored duct tape. (No bronze duct tape, no flexible broom heads, no spare garbage can lids–and they call themselves a hardware store!) I Googled around for a type of spray paint that would stick to duct tape, but decided that any product with such an ability would probably not be a good thing to breathe. And anyway, when your helmet has a horsehair crest crafted from crepe paper, you aren’t really going for authentic.

This was definitely a shared project. I would have liked it better if the design and the carrying-out belonged more to T. But building armor from stuff you find lying around the house is no simple task. Nor is cutting through multiple layers of duct tape. Plus, much of the costume required T to stand unmoving and play mannequin. Still, it was T’s vision: he did the research on what the armor should look like, he sketched and painted that fearsome Cyclops, he made lots of the little decisions. And he is very pleased with his new Greek gear.

Achilles, there’s a new hero after your heel, and his name is Mr. T.

Look out!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela March 23, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Love it! It looks great. And it sounds like T was plenty involved to me. Nothing wrong with a partnership, in my mind.

And, by the way, I keep meaning to make myself one of those mannequins. Glad to have another reminder (I need so many!).


patricia March 23, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I think it would be pretty neat to have one of those mannequins too. Although I’m not sure I want to see an honest portrayal of my torso rendered in duct tape…


Just Peaches March 24, 2011 at 5:24 am

You’re brilliant Patricia! What mine would’ve done for that costume when he was 8!


patricia March 24, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Thank you!


Jennifer Ellis March 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

Super cute! I’m sharing your link. 🙂


patricia March 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Thanks so much, Jennifer! Whenever the Facebook referrals start coming in, I know they’re from you, and I appreciate it! Best of luck getting your blog updated–it’s looking good!


Rashmie March 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Brilliant idea for this costume. A duct tape could be used this way, I had never thought! And, love Mr. T’s photos in all the action and expressions!


patricia March 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I think the possibilities with duct tape are pretty limitless. I wonder what you and your daughter could come up with…


Chris March 25, 2011 at 3:01 pm

So that’s what happened to all of our duct tape. I was just looking for it in the garage.


patricia March 25, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Oh, and I’ll bet you were looking for the crepe paper too, for your special crafts! Wise guy…


Pedro March 27, 2011 at 7:10 am

Absolutely Fantastic! What I would have done for that creativity.


patricia March 28, 2011 at 7:59 am

It’s never too late to make yourself a suit of duct tape armor, Pedro. 😉


Kristin March 28, 2011 at 6:27 am

Isn’t it great that he’s still willing to dress up? In the photos, he seems totally “in character.” His duct tape armor rocks Tricia! It’s not that easy to work with that stuff.


patricia March 28, 2011 at 8:09 am

Oh, I’m a pro with duct tape now!

Yes, I loved that he enjoyed dressing up, and I was especially thrilled to see your C. dressed up too! I have a very cute photo of an Egyptian pharoah-ess chatting with a Greek hoplite.


Valarie April 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

You Rock! That is one great costume! Is what I would like to know is, how did we survive growing up without using duct tape? My kids go through it by the roll. I can honestly say we can’t live without it. I so enjoyed having a look at your creative talents. Thanks for sharing them with us.


patricia April 11, 2011 at 10:05 am

I recall that as a kid, I tried to use papier-mache and masking tape for everything. Duct tape usually works better!


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