Building Armor with Worbla

This post was written by Caroline Couch, a second-year double majoring in Public Policy and History & winner of our monthly MakerSpace Mini Grant.

I used moldable thermoplastic along with raw materials like plastic and fabric to fabricate a completely new garment in harmony with one another!


I am a big opera fan, so with Halloween coming up, I knew I wanted to do my own spin on one of the luxurious costumes I am used to seeing on stage. So for my project, I decided to design my own Valkyrie costume for Halloween, inspired by Wagner’s Die Walküre. While the design follows conventions found in previous costumes, mine was built from the ground up.

Process, Materials Used, & Final Outcome

The materials that I used to create the garment included the following: three yards of raw yellow silk; five yards of a gold, sheer pleated stretch jersey; several bottles of Rit Dye in various colors; and a small amount of moldable thermoplastic, kindly provided by the Makerspace as a part of my grant!

The process took multiple stages of sketching, sewing, dyeing, sculpting, and lots of trial and error. In the initial stages of the project, I came to the Makerspace and sewed the dress. When I brainstormed more about the colors of my fabric and how I would incorporate the plastic– it took an entirely different direction.

With this new direction in mind, the second stage after the initial sewing was to dye the garment. I turned the dress from a butter yellow to a lovely blue color. The pleated jersey was originally a deep gold, which I dyed into an ombre from light pink to dark blue. To achieve this, I turned my apartment’s stove and shower into a dyeing operation. I somehow managed to not stain anything!

After I had the new color scheme set, I moved to a marathon session at the Makerspace. I gathered all five yards of the ombre fabric into an overskirt, using a trick where you sew a top channel and then run a ribbon the length of your new desired measurement. You pull the ribbon to gather the fabric. I then stitched that to the dress, added a zipper, hemmed, and tailored the dress to fit me better. I knew I had a corset I had previously sewn that would look great with the dress, so I kept that in mind as I finished the details.

I then moved to my first attempt at sculpting the breastplate, the centerpiece of my grant. I discuss it more in the lessons learned section, but my initial pass at molding the plastic was difficult. 

With the plastic not forming how I desired, I started to get frustrated. To prevent making tired mistakes, I decided to take a break from the project, which at this point, I would estimate had around 15-20 hours of work already in it. 

I let the project rest for a few days and then returned to it, using a hair dryer to mold the thermoplastic. After a few more hours, I formed the plastic how I wanted it. I also had enough thermoplastic to make an additional headpiece. I primed, painted, then shaded the plastic pieces. The next evening I was able to throw the whole look together.

Lessons Learned

If we are being honest, I struggled a lot with the thermoplastic! It took a lot of experimenting to figure out the perfect point to melt the plastic, making it soft enough to form but not gooey enough to lose moldable form. I found the heat gun, even on its low setting, was way too powerful for the thickness of my plastic. 

Additionally, the plastic took too long to cool down when warmed with the heat gun. So I was not only losing time, but I also was not getting the results I wanted. I had to completely re-do the hours spent at the Makerspace with a hair dryer in my apartment. Though, I was happier with these results.

Next Steps with this Project

Now that I have the experience and knowledge, I would love to try over one day with more material. I was limited in what I could do – but I think that one day with more thermoplastic, I will be able to create something even more substantive!

Learn more about the MakerSpace Mini Grant on our Funding page. To begin designing and prototyping your own project, please visit the MakerSpace Training and Reservations page to learn more about how you can utilize the MakerSpace. If you need advice or guidance for your project, visit the Mentoring page to reserve time with an expert!