Ages ago, when I was buffer, younger, and not falling apart, I used to play roller derby and LOVED it (I still love it). We lived in Alaska, I was on a team from North Pole, and I loved nothing more in my free time than being on my skates.
In derby, your best friend and derby partner is called your “derby wife,” and Jamie was mine (that’s me in the stripes and in the Captain America shirt, and Jamie in the NPBT team logo shirt that I designed)… Wonder Woman was our spirit animal, and we often paired up in our starry-bummed shorts.
(Ahhh, roller derby: where having a booty is actually an asset…and ALL body types have very important roles!)
So when Jamie told me (from miles away, and several years later) that she had signed up for the coming NOLA Running of the Bulls this July 8th, and asked if I’d make her helmet, I said HECK YES.
If you’re not familiar, New Orleans has an event similar to the infamous bull run in Pamplona, Spain–except minus blood, maiming, and actual BULLS. At the NOLA Bull Run, the “bulls” are all roller derby girls with horned helmets and plastic bats who skate around trying to bat-spank the runners, who all wear white shirts. It’s kind of a big deal, and sounds like a heck of a lot of fun.
Jamie showed me some photos for inspiration, and the main images I kept in my sights were this headpiece from MetamorphQC on Etsy, and the filigree on Lady Gaga’s Countess’ glove from American Horror Story. (You’ll see later that the end result looks nothing like either of these two, really, but that’s the great thing about inspiration–it inspires you to create your OWN thing…)
Jamie ordered the two main supplies and had them sent to my house. They included a set of 3D-printed bull-horns from MudandMajesty, and a Triple 8 derby helmet from Amazon.
I was super ready to get started when the horns came! I immediately dismantled them (so very sorry!!). They were well-made–screwed into the headband they came with. I unscrewed the horns from the headband, sanded them down a bit to fit the curve of the helmet, drilled holes in the helmet, and re-mounted the horns onto the helmet with screws, gluing them down for extra support.
I made a trip to the craft store, grabbing several things I thought might work: tassles from the upholstery section, strings of beads and flowered ribbon from the ribbon section, flowers from the wedding section…Anything that fit the look and feel I was going for from that first photo.
Granted, I probably should’ve done this part LAST, as I hadn’t painted the actual helmet yet, but I am a very impatient artist, and I do what I want.
Then, I just had fun painting! I painted a snurfling bull with flourishes (similar to the one in the inspiration photos) and roses on one side, Jamie’s derby name on the other, and the NOLA bull run logo on the front.
I was a bit worried it would be too much, but I think in this case, too much is GOOOOOOD.
So feeling finally finished, I carefully packaged it all up, crossed my fingers for luck that the postal gods would keep it in one piece–and mailed it to Jamie. When she got it a few days later, I was excited to hear the squee through her text message, and she happily sent me some photos:
She already looks pretty darn cool in it–I can’t wait til she gets all fully decked out for the event. I’m sure it’ll be awesome fun!
So if you happen to be anywhere near NOLA and aren’t hiding in your house from the bull run, keep an eye out for Jamie, smiling and skatin’ it up with the other bulls…. ❤
A Little Derby Detour…
I have a soft spot for Alaskan roller derby. Not long ago, I painted a helmet for a derby girl on the Rage City all-star team out of Anchorage, Alaska. (Have you seen my post about customizing derby helmets?) Since I used to play derby (on a much smaller team) in Alaska, I was super excited to hear that Rage City is raising money to travel to Texas to play in the heart of derby’s rebirth! And since we currently reside in Central Texas, I’m excited to see that happen.
Roller derby teams are almost always non-profit businesses, which means they have to raise all their money to play, to travel, to rent the practice space, to hold general insurance, and to hold bouts ALL by themselves, by hitting the pavement and asking for help. They have car washes, bake sales, make their own merch, all in their spare time, just to keep their team alive. What people get from derby is SO much more valuable. It’s strength from a quiet, shy girl who never really had a voice. It’s power from a bigger girl who always felt “in the way.” It’s determination from a geeky girl who never played a sport. These ladies work and train HARD, all while living everyday lives, working everyday jobs, being moms, wives, and students. Even if a team gets beat in a bout, there’s still so much love & respect for each other for actually having the nerve to get out and DO it that it doesn’t matter a whole lot. They know the work and dedication that goes into it. And there’s a fun bond in derby because there’s room for everyone–all shapes, all sizes, all ages, all walks of life.
SOOoooo if you’d like to help Rage City make their way to Texas, or support a fun, exciting sport at the same time, please go over to their GoFundMe page and help some sisters out!
I have this habit of customizing pretty much everything. I can’t stand a blank canvas, and I get even more excited to customize something FUNCTIONAL. So when I got a new pair of SCABS kneepads, they were not only awesome for my knees during falls (since an injury was jacking them up), with their white kneecaps, they were just begging do be doodled on….so I grabbed my trusty Sharpie markers and got to work.
Now this is one of those projects you do just for fun, because if you know anything about derby, you know those things are gonna get CREAMED. Point in fact: Here’s a picture of them in action:
And this is a pic of my newly customized kneepads after just one bout:
But you know, those doodles were fun while they lasted, and why not? I love to see people customize the things they own. To not accept them straight out of the box, to get creative and funky with them, even if it’s for a short time. What can YOU customize today?
I know I do a lot of posts about derby, but this one is pretty crafty, too…
With just a little tweaking and customizing, I can do a lot with a single pattern. I’ve bought a lot of patterns from MMMCrafts on Etsy, and the one I’ve had the most fun with is this Little Red pattern. I’ve never actually made Little Red, but I used the same doll pattern to make a sweet Princess Leia doll for my Star Wars-lovin’ daughter (separate Chewie found here, by the way).
But when my very good “derby wife,” Sunny (also the early founder of my derby team, NPBT), was moving out of state, I wanted to make her something cool & quirky & special.
Since she has short hair, I just left off the ponytails. I handpainted our team logo on her “shirt,” but I’ve done similar things where you can use iron-on transfers with computer paper and just iron on a logo.
Since our colors were red, white & green, I made the bottom half a different color to look like derby shorts. She has several tattoos, but I added several more to decorate her arms all up. I used acrylic paint for her face and tattoos, which (if you’ve ever gotten it on your clothes by accident you know) stays on fabric really well.
I put her number & name on back, made cute little wheels out of buttons and paint, and painted on the kneepads and wrist guards. The high socks are just a strip of fabric instead of doing one solid piece for the leg, as the pattern said.
I liked it so much, I had to make one for myself! Uh…I mean, for my daughter.
If I had a long, long time to spare, I’d maybe consider doing custom orders, but they sure do take awhile, and I might have to charge a bit for them. For now, give it a try it for yourself! It doesn’t even have to be derby-related. I think it’d be COOL to have a doll that looks like your friends or family….
Remember that time I tattooed myself? People have asked me about my leg tattoo, and I’m not TOO sad about how it turned out, so I’ll share.
(Let me put it out there that if you don’t have prior training in the art of tattooing, I would suggest to NOT try this at home. Go to a professional. They are paid BECAUSE of their experience, and a good artist is DEFINITELY worth it. I have some prior training, professional experience & equipment, and I STILL don’t always know what I’m doing.)
I wanted a derby tattoo. Not one that had allegiance to any certain team, but one that just represented a love for the sport and what it did for me. I joined derby in Alaska a few months before my husband’s deployment and it was a good distraction from the stresses and worries of life and a 2-year old. I worry about EVERYTHING, but once you get to practice, you pretty much have to leave it at the door and focus on your drills. I loved it, and put a lot of time, energy, and creative effort into it. So I wanted something to sort of mark that time. I found an old black & white retro photo of a girl skating with a pillow on her butt, which I found hilarious, because she’s all-out jumping at the same time. This is sort of my personality, too. And to top it off, the little girl in the pic had curly hair like my daughter. Taking time for myself away from my daughter, even for something I was passionate about, was very difficult for me, but I think it made the deployment a little softer a blow (we all know the key to a deployment is distraction, distraction, distraction)…
I made a couple of modifications to the original photo. First, I was initially hesitant to add my derby number, but it’s a number I associate with my husband, so I decided it was safe. He had always been so super supportive from the minute I joined.
Second, the girl in the original pic had old-school strap-on-your-shoes roller skates. I traded them out for a portrait of my favorite pair of skates…Reidell Minx 965s with Sure-Grip Avenger 45 degree angled plates. I’m cheap when it comes to clothes, and I’m not one for designer bags, so this was a BIG purchase for me. But, lemme tell you, those boots were MADE for flat-footed folks like myself and they were HEAVENLY. And the Avenger plates were like skating on butter. I LOVE them. They were so sweet & sassy, I called them my “Darth Skaters.” My Caddilacs. I have leather toecaps on the ends with cute little red skulls, so I added those, too.
As for the tattooing itself…..well, it could’ve been better. Tattoo artists have warned about tattooing yourself; you’ll be overly critical, you’ll obsess about it. As your work improves, you’ll regret your earlier work. But I thought if I was willing to tattoo on someone else, I should trust myself to tattoo myself.
Turns out the tattoo artists are right, in a way. The lines were QUITE wobbly because I was SOOO nervous about how it would turn out. There is a technique for artists where you draw something from a reference upside down, so it loses its preconceived shapes and becomes just the shading & shapes that you need to translate to your work. I have never been good at this technique, and despite my practicing drawing it several times, I wasn’t crazy with how it turned out. The face, more specifically. Looking back now, it’s such a smaller tattoo that the details (or lack thereof) of the face don’t matter much, but I was REALLY down about it at first. I thought I had butchered it.
All in all, though, I am pretty happy with the final piece! It means what I wanted it to mean, and I don’t think it turned out TOO bad for tattooing it upside down on my own leg.
DIY Customized Helmets
When I was in derby, my desire to customize pretty much everything I own found a nice snuggly spot in helmets. Derby girls often decorate their helmets in all kinds of awesome stickers and artwork, so I started making custom helmets for the ladies (and dudes) on my team. My favorite (and the quickest) way to decorate helmets is with paint pens, which you can get at any craft or art store. Get lots of them, because they run out of paint quickly, and sometimes you get duds that don’t work well. Thick point is best–fine-lines pens will take FOREVER. But don’t get those ones with the mega-marker tips, or you won’t be able to get ANY detail in there.
First off, if you’re working with an older helmet, clean off any dirt or residue from the helmet. No sticker goo. Rubbing alcohol works well for this. New helmet, no problem, just wipe it down a little and get started. Glossy helmets work best. You can paint on a matte helmet, just be warned that when you spray it with sealant at the final step, it will most likely turn a little glossy, so if you’ve got your heart set on a matte-looking helmet, you can choose to leave off the final spray…it’ll just not stay on as long and probably need some touch-ups. I usually like to print references to look at while I work, and doodle it on freehand. Sometimes I’ll find a fancy font and print out what I want, and then freehand it using the printout as a reference.
I’ve done lots of helmets this way, using simple color combos, varying shades of paint pens. Sometimes when they get older, pen paint changes color a little, and you can get two shades of the same color (as in the celtic clover above). Often, the person I’m doing it for will give me a rough idea of what they have in mind, but usually they just let me go crazy with ’em. Since skate helmets are around $35, and you have to replace them now & then, it allows players to have options in the helmets they wear. Some will wear certain ones to practice and others to bouts, etc.
If you mess up while you’re painting with the paint pens, you might be able to salvage it with a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol. Usually, it’ll wipe away oil-based paint pens pretty easily, and allow you to correct your mistake.
I usually put the players’ name on the right side of the helmet (facing the crowd, in a bout), and the fun design on the left, facing in. Sometimes I’ll put the number on there somewhere (back or side). Some ladies prefer the numbers off….not that it has anything to do with being less visible to the refs or anything. 🙂
I’ve also handpainted a few helmets, although this requires MUCH more work. I use acrylic paints for them, and go to town. Handpainting allows for much more detail and artistic license, but honestly, is a little too “fine” for derby, which can really bang up a helmet.
Whether you handpaint a helmet or use paint pens, your best bet for durability is to finish it with SEVERAL coats of acrylic gloss varnish, which you can get anywhere that sells spray paint. It’s a clear gloss spray that “seals” the helmet in a coat of varnish to protect it. Be warned: I have had some problems with spray paint underpainting or acrylic handpainting warping and bubbling with some sprays, and I’ve never found a rhyme or reason why (never had a problem spraying over paint pens, though). After you’ve sprayed your helmet evenly and completely, let it dry, then spray it again….and again…and again. Hopefully, that’ll be enough to protect it through at least one bout! But hey–they look good all scratched up, too…. 🙂
Facebook family already knows this, but I love roller derby. My good friend Sunny introduced me to it a few years back, and after getting the hang of being on skates for the first time since I was a little bugger, and slowly working my way to an awesome pair of new super awesome (albeit expensive) skates thanks to my Alaskan friend Shocker’s shop 2n1, I got pretty comfy on quad skates. Not enough to skate circles around anyone by any means, but I loved playing blocker. Shoulder hits. Plow stops. Smacking into a jammer on the run, sitting on a pack to slow them down. I love the aggression, I love the action. I love skating.
I started derby in Alaska, on a very small team called the North Pole Babes in Toyland (from North Pole, Alaska. No, really–it’s a real place. Santa lives there.). I’ll spare anyone the team’s history, as I’m sure every team has their high points and low, but one of the most wonderful and at the same time CHALLENGING things about derby is that it’s all self-run. The skaters run the team. That means logos, merch, websites, fundraising, sponsorship, you name it. They do it all. Since I got in at ground level, I was lucky enough to have been given full reins with graphics and web design. I designed NPBT’s logo (the Christmas girl in skates shown a few times in the quilt above), along with an alternate logo (the skullflake in the lower portion). I designed t-shirts and merch (along with other derby designs) for the team (which are still available here). Although drama surrounds any good group, I enjoyed myself, and I loved what we had created.
When we moved from Alaska, I had to leave the team. I had survived a bruised & torn collarbone, a badly sprained ankle, bruised jawbone, and tore some ligaments in my knee thanks to derby, and enjoyed nearly every minute of it. Now my ol’ bones are creaking, and whether I find another team and play again, or go zebra (referee), or forgo it altogether, I will never forget how awesome derby was for me. I loved it. I breathed it. I snuggled up in it.
Well, I wanted a way to commemorate my derby time in the frozen north, and you amass a HUGE amount of t-shirts in derby. So I decided to make a t-shirt quilt. I wasn’t crazy about the square, sterile blocky versions I’ve seen around. That’s just not derby. Derby is crazy and mixed-up and all over the place. So I gathered some of my favorite NPBT shirts (plus a Juneau shirt from my first away bout) that I was willing to transform, and cut out the best parts of them. I began by cutting the shirts to a roughly similar size, then I started piecing them together in random strips of regular fabric. Since our colors were mainly red & white and our theme was somewhat year-round Christmasy, I was a little worried about it looking like an ugly Christmas sweater, so I added other fabrics I thought were awesome.
And there you have it! A little wonky, a little crooked, and a whole lotta cool and snuggly. …And believe me, I still have TONS of derby shirts left over…. Not to mention a ton of patches on my skate bag and stickers on my helmet.