My first event here in the East Kingdom was A Market Day at Birka in January 2023. Once I decided to go, I knew I had to do something to make a little bit of a splash, if only for my own brain – a sort of arrival moment, not unlike Vivacious.
Quick note: WordPress didn’t want to play nice with images, so all my process photos are in a slideshow toward the end of the post.
I’d been watching Rise of the Phoenixes again and was falling in love with big hair. Inspired, I dug back through my notes and scanned pages of old inter-library loans and landed on this representation of a carving on Princess Yongtai’s tomb1.
Because of the height and potential weight issues, I knew I didn’t want to try to create this piece with hair. This would need an under-structure, and adding hair on top of that could potentially add too much weight and make the piece difficult to wear. We have an example of a wooden hairpiece from the Tang Dynasty2, so I knew that I had some options. I decided to use a combination of wire armature and paper-mache for my headpiece.
I used a styrofoam head to model my headpiece on. These heads aren’t the same size as actual human heads, so I removed the headpiece from time to time to check it on my own head.
Once I had the wire armature, I used cardstock and masking tape to do the initial side and back forms. I then used newspaper and more masking tape to do the form the front sections. Once I had a form I liked, I started covering it with paper-mache.
For my paper-mache, I used brown kraft paper and diluted woodglue. I tore the paper so that the edges would blend and used a combination of my fingers and an old paintbrush to apply the glue to the paper and then the paper to the headpiece. I did one layer of paper-mache, then went back and added another layer in the areas where the forms were more complicated (the front, around the top edge, the inside edge, and the back) to add strength and ensure smoothness.
After the paper-mache had dried, I added a layer of a white glue and joint compound mixture to once again smooth out the forms. Once that was dry, I sanded it to remove my tool marks and fingerprints.
With the form complete, I mixed up acrylic paint to try and match my hair color. I did several coats, starting with a base layer of darker red and then doing washes and dry-brushing to get as close as I could to my hair color.
The headpiece in the engraving is decorated with stones and flowers. I initially intended to use brass stampings for the floral embellishments, but I couldn’t find what I wanted from a supplier. I ended up doing a quick 3D model of two different flowers and printed them in PLA on our Ender-3. I then painted them with gold spray paint. I used faux half-pearl cabochons for the stones. I attached everything to the headpiece with E6000 glue. Lastly, I braided some kanekalon hair and attached it on the bottom and inside edge with hot glue so that I would have something to pin into to secure the headpiece.
I’m incredibly thankful to Dame Katerinka Lvovicha for her time and skill in styling my hair with this headpiece for Birka. She did a fantastic job. I made a new hair rat using kanekalon hair I purchased in a color close to mine, which we used to beef up the back of my head, and another to help give body to the front and side.
The headpiece isn’t heavy, but given that I wore it slightly back on my head, it made me very aware of my posture. If I slouched, it would strain my neck and shoulders.
I’m really happy with how the headpiece came out. It’s a great option to have for my early Tang Dynasty wardrobe, which I’ve been reaching for more and more. I love the big, swoopy sleeves, but I also like the modesty that the banhi provides.