Making a Hexcelite (Varaform) Thermoplastic Helmet for the Stage
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Note: This workbook was made in 1984-85 as part of my my MA Project at California State University Fresno. It was intended as a text workbook for the Advanced Costume Construction class to use in the costume properties portion of the class. Certain portions of the text now border on the antique because of the date at which it was written, for example under "Materials" in 1985 a hot glue gun was an unusual craft supply, only obtainable at hardware stores. I hope you will bear with these small oddities and look to the basics of this work, intended as an introduction to several basic costume crafts processes. --TM
"HEXALITE" HELMET "Hexalite" is a relatively new material for costume props building and may be difficult to get in certain areas. 2003 Note: "Hexcelite is now called Veraform, see at the end of this page about where to find it. However, it is definitely worth the effort to find it since it combines several of the best qualities of buckram and "Celastic" without the disadvantages of either. "Hexalite" can be formed and reformed, as many times as needed by applying high heat either in the form of a heat gun or hot water. When cool, it will not reform in the way buckram will when put in contact with water or sweat. It is extremely flexible yet will spring back into the formed shape even after being crushed. It is light and non-toxic even when it is being molded. Its only serious disadvantage is that its wide mesh texture usually needs to be covered for the right look on armor pieces. A "HEXALITE" HELMET P u r p o s e:
- To learn how to work with "Hexalite", to make a light strong helmet without toxic chemicals.
M a t e r i a l s :
- "Hexelite" (about 1 yard)
- Steel corset bones in various lengths
- Head form
- Hat wire
- "PAM" cooking spray
- Aluminum foil
- Scissors (for Hexalite and felt)
- Wire cutters (for hat wire)
- Ordinary "Flex" or "Sobo" glue
- A hot air gun or a pot of hot water at least 150 degrees
- wool felt
Procedure: A. On the head form build a simple helmet shape in plasticine. Make sure the shape and size matches your head measurements, or is larger if you wish to accommodate padding. Cover with foil, and spray with "PAM"
B . Cut a piece of "Hexalite" big enough to cover the helmet shape. Dip the "Hexalite" in the hot water or heat with a hot air gun until it is soft as a wet dishrag. If Hexalite will not go limp, you need more heat.
C. Carefully lift up "Hexalite" so that it will not stick to itself or you will have to carefully untangle it. Lay it over the helmet shape and mold it over the foil with your fingers. "Hexalite" may go over the edges of the form and be trimmed later.
D. If "Hexalite" cools too soon, and in the wrong shape, re-heat it with the gun or water until you have molded the right shape. Do this as many times as you need to get it right.
E .Measure across helmet from front to back and from side to side and subtract 1" from each measurement. Find or cut two plastic-covered corset bones these lengths. (See project#12. )
F. Cut two 1 1/2" wide strips of "Hexalite" to the two measurements without the 1" subtraction and heat them until soft. This will allow you to seal over the ends of the corset bones by 1/2" on each side in the next step.
G. Use the softened strips like tape to cover the bones and stick them to the helmet, as shown. If the strips won't stick, you need more heat on the helmet. Try pinning the strips in place and hit with the hot air gun or hot water until they stick.
H. Measure around the circumference of the helmet at the widest point. Add 2" to this measurement and choose a corset bone this length, then cut a 1&1/2" strip of "Hexalite" this same length and affix to helmet as in Step G.
I. Cut another piece of "Hexalite" big enough to cover helmet and heat. 'Stretch it over the form as with the first layer, sandwiching the bones and the strips between it and the first layer. Cool.
J. Pull the "Hexalite" helmet off the form gently, trying not to pull the plasticine out of shape. With scissors trim off excess edge pieces and save them.
K. Using a zigzag machine stitch or a hand whip stitch, sew hat wire to the edges of the "Hexalite" helmet, as shown. Make sure the wire has at least 2" of overlap at the joint.
L. Cut the discarded edges and other "Hexalite" scraps into 1 1/2" strips a few inches long. Heat them and use them like bias tape to seal on the hat wire along the edges, as shown.
M. Put the helmet back on the form. Cut felt pieces to cover the helmet' These pieces will vary in shape depending on your helmet design and need not look like the illustration.
N. Soak the felt pieces completely in "Flex" or "Sobo" glue. Lay the pieces on the helmet and pin them in place. Press the felt to the helmet and to the other pieces and smooth out any wrinkles. Dry.
O. Remove helmet from form Cut a 1" wide strip of felt long enough to go all around the bottom edge of the helmet. Soak in glue and use like a bias binding around the bottom edge. Dry.
P. If you plan to do project #14, save the helmet for this finishing technique. If you do not, use one of the techniques from project #1.
2003 Notes: "Hexcelite" is now called Veraform which is why you can't find it under the name Hexcelite. I don't know of the manufacturer, but I have bought it in the past from an outfit called "Unnatural Resources" (1-800-992-5540). It is also sold at:
There is also a very cheap thermoplastic that behaves in a similar fashion, although not identical (it shrinks when heated) Foss Wonderflex (PDF Catalog of Supplier), These companies also sell other related plastics you might find useful:
- Foam Coatings, Clear coats, Primers, Saturated Paints, Scenic Brushes by Sculptural Arts Coating, Inc.
- Rosco International
- Costume Armour & CristoVac
- The Foam Shop
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