For Masked Ball AS XXV, it was announced that the costume theme was going to be mythological figures. I originally decided that I didn't want to make a costume that I would only be able to wear once. If I was going to do any sewing at all, I'd make something more practical, like a cloak... like a nice, big, full circle cloak... an idea blossomed.
First, I needed a mask. I made a large quantity of paper-mache, threw an old towel across a pillow on the couch and lay on my back with a double-layer of cheesecloth over my face while my wife made a death-mask by applying strips of paper-mache to my face. A pair of soda straws in my mouth allowed me to breathe. In about half an hour, it dried enough for me to peel it off my face. We added another layer of paper-mache strips to make it thicker and stronger. Then we started adding paper-mache like clay to shape the outer-side of the mask, building up the cheekbones and jaw. When it had dried, it was painted, first a primer layer of white, followed by a layer of antique ivory overall, thin black lines to indicate teeth and fractures, and tan to brown along the fracture lines to indicate extreme age. It looked like a skull unearthed from an archeological dig. A long, wide strip of white cloth was glued to the inside top of the mask. To wear the mask, I placed it against my face and let the cloth drape down my back where I tucked it into my belt. Because it was molded to my face, it was one of the most comfortable masks I've ever worn.
I made the cloak. A full-circle cloak from seven and a half yards of heavy black wool. With a deep hood that hid my entire head. From the scraps, I made a large belt pouch that I could wear on my belt.
We attended a farmer's auction. I bought an old-fashioned scythe. As a farm tool it was worthless, the blade was too old and rusty to keep an edge. I sanded the rust off the blade and painted it silver. The handle was sanded and painted jet-black.
The rest of the outfit was simple, black hose, black china flat shoes, my wife's full length black skirt, black turtleneck sweater and black winter gloves. I was the Grim Reaper!
For my other outfit, I wore a flowing blue and yellow houpalonde that I already owned. (Think giant T-shirt with hem to floor and long flowing sleeves.) A liripipe hat was rolled turban-style as a nobleman's hat and pinned in place with hair-pins and straight-pins. It could now be put on and taken off like a hat without having to re-roll it each time. I painted a domino mask in blue and yellow to match the outfit. A long belt completed the garb.
At the time I was driving a van. I cleared all the junk out of the van, made curtains for all the windows and installed a large mirror behind the driver's seat. My van was now a dressing room on wheels. I practiced changing from one costume to the other inside the van. It was actually fairly simple as the turtleneck, hose and skirt could be worn under the houpelonde. I just needed to remove the mask and cloak and throw on the houpelonde, belt it and put on the hat. I got the change down to ninety seconds each way.
On the day of the event, my wife wore her costume while I drove down in mundane clothing because I didn't want yards of fabric between me and the gas and brake pedals. I parked the car around the corner from the event site, changed into the blue and gold houpelonde and walked in. I registered with troll and proceeded into the main hall where I greeted folks by name. After about half an hour of establishing my identity, I wandered outside, walked back to the van and changed. As the Grim Reaper I drifted past Troll. "Hold it you!" I turned to the troll table. "Are you pre-registered?" I nodded, realized that my mask and garb masked my movements and bowed from the waist. "I have your word on that?" I crossed my heart, clasped my hands together as if in prayer and mimed a noose around my neck, cross my heart and hope to die. The troll thought about this for a moment and then said, "Okay, I'm going trust you." I walked in. I wandered about, utterly silent because I knew my voice would give me away.
For the rest of the night, I alternated between the two costumes changing approximately every half hour or so. A few incidents:
I walked up to Lady Marian Loresinger as the Grim Reaper. I pulled a clothes brush out of my belt pouch and started brushing her garb. She looked at me and said "I'm being given the brush-off?" I turned at the hip from side to side to indicate no, since a head shake would be lost in the mask. "Can I have a hint?" I held out the brush in front of her for a moment and then went back to brushing her garb. "I'm having a clothes brush with Death." I bowed at the waist to indicate yes. She thought for a moment and said "I can only think of two people who could come up with a pun that bad without speaking and my husband is over there. Hello, Dagonell." Busted! I mimed a face-palm and tip-toeing away. She said "Relax. I'll keep your secret."
My closest friend in the SCA, Lord (now Master) Otfrid Ammerthaler, the person I dragged with me to my first SCA event, because I didn't want to go to a gathering of weird people alone, approached me when I was dressed in the blue and gold houpelonde. "Did you see the person walking around in the Grim Reaper outfit?" "Ummm, er, ah, yeah, why?" "He's got my vote for Best Death." "Hey, good one!" I was stunned that he didn't recognize me, I thought he would.
One of the competitions was a backgammon tournament. I decided I could play without speaking, so I signed up... as Death. It was a minor mistake. Lord Richard Tyler of Swiftwater later told me, he realized who I was when he recognized the way I formed the letter 'D'. He kept silent about who I was. The finals came down to myself vs. Lord (now Master) Brian of Leicester who had also come dressed as Death. This amused the heralds sufficiently that they announced to the hall that the final round of backgammon was Death vs Death. Death won. :)
I needed to use the facilities. I changed back into Dagonell with the blue and yellow houpelonde and headed towards the bathroom. I saw a lord standing there watching the bathroom doors intently. "May I ask what you're doing?" "Sooner or later, the Grim Reaper has to use the can, and then I'll know if it's a man or a woman." I wished him the best of luck on his quest and walked into the men's room as Dagonell. There was no way to tell him he was wasting his time without revealing my identity.
When I was dressed as the Grim Reaper, several people brought Lady Aelis from Thescorre up to me. She is blind and recognizes her friends by sound. I remained still as not to make any sound. "Lady Aelis, who is this standing in front of you?" "It's Dagonell, why?" Busted! "No, no, no. Dagonell's at the other end of the room."
I was??? They walked away disappointed. I quickly left the hall, changed into my other persona and approached her as Dagonell. "My lady, I'm here in two different costumes and they're trying to figure out who is in the second costume. If I don't speak to you, don't recognize me, okay?" She agreed to keep my secret.
A number of people kept bumping into me. I was starting to wonder if someone had spiked the punch when I realized what was going on. They were trying to figure out who I was and 'accidentally' bumping into me to see if I had breasts under the costume. When the next one occurred, I blocked with my arm, grabbed his wrist, slapped his hand and waved my index finger in his face. "Sorry" he mumbled and slipped away. That was the last time anyone tried that technique.
One lord upon seeing me, jokingly began to tremble and cry “No, no, I’m not ready. Take my wife!” and pretended to shove her towards me. I did a magician’s sweep with the cape and she ducked under and behind me. From the side, we looked like a centaur, but from straight on, it appeared that she had been swallowed by cape. His eyes bugged out. I flourished the cape again and stepped aside, his wife had ‘reappeared’.
In addition to the clothes brush, I had numerous other objects in my belt pouch. I had fastened it to the small of my back. To get something out, I reached under the cloak for it. Several people later commented that since everything was black on black on black, it looked like I was pulling out whatever I needed out of my own substance. The other items included a Halloween pez dispenser with a skull on top, and a pack of cigarettes.
I’d offer a cigarette to people (no smoking in the hall) and when they turned it down, I’d offer a pez. I think I cured a few people of smoking. I had a date book and a pen. Since this was a mid-December event, if I wrote your name down, it meant you had about two weeks to live.
Finally, it was time for court. I was Dagonell up to the last minute, then I slipped away and came back as the Grim Reaper. Baron Bedawyr gave out several awards and then the herald announced the next scroll was for Best Death. I walked up the center aisle with my hands clasped overhead like a prize-fighter. The herald said, "Um, no, sorry, Best Death in the list." I let my hands drop and skulked back down the aisle like a disappointed child. The herald announced Lord (now Syr) Callidus to come forth. He was sitting in an aisle seat. I stopped, faced him, put my left fist on my hip and with my right arm pointed to the stage like a teacher sending a child to the principal's office. As he walked toward stage, I followed behind him. He knelt and I stood behind him with my arms crossed. It was an alliteration scroll with most of the wording starting with the letter 'D'. The herald read the line "for daring to dance with death..." We acted as one mind, Callidus got up, I stepped into his arms and we went waltzing down the aisle. The crowd laughed so hard, they drowned out the herald who looked up to see what was happening. We reached the end of the aisle, turned around and tangoed back. My mask slipped, I was totally blind and had to let him lead.
After several more awards were given out, the herald called out, "The Brave Baron Bedawyr summons Death itself into his court!" I came up and knelt before him. "Greetings my lord Death!" I pantomined an hour-glass shape in front of me and pointed to myself to indicate I was a woman, just to see what he would do. “Hmmmm, no we'll stick with Lord for now. You have won the prize for Best Costume." I bowed from the waist. "But now you need to unmask." I shook my body from side to side for no. "But we need to put your name on the scroll." I pointed to myself and pantomined signing a scroll in mid-air with a flourish. "You're not going to tell us who you are." I drew my hand across the lower portion of my mask to indicate my lips were sealed. "You don't even have lips!" He thought for a long moment, "You know, I'm sitting here having a perfectly lucid conversation with someone who is not only not speaking, but using any facial expression. I can only think of one person who's that good a mime... DAGONELL, YOU ARE INCORRIGABLE!" I pulled off the mask, "So, don't incorriage me!" There were gasps from the audience. I glanced back, people were looking around, certain they had just seen me at the back of the court. P.S. They awarded me the backgammon scroll too!