Thrift Fixes: LARP Camp Wicker Fish

Hello Thistledown Gang, and welcome to the very first instalment of Thrift Fixes, the part of my channel where I take thrifted, found, scavenged or already-there items and try to make them a bit more custom, comfy or pretty (your mileage may vary on that). Today: A strange wicker fish for our LARP camp!

I decided that for videos like this I might as well give you my voiceover notes, just in case you don’t feel like watching and want to read about the weird things I do for my hobby rather than watch. In the future (read: when I’ve acquired a decent camera again) I’ll try to document the projects by photograph, as well, but for now, this will have to suffice. But without further ado, here’s the weird fish!

First things first, I wanted the fish to have eyes, actual, cold, shimmery fish eyes. Thanks to a trip to the riverside a few days before I started this project I had the perfect material: river shells. I scrubbed them clean – dish soap and a toothbrush are your friend and look at how SHINY they got. Like, wow. So shiny. I estimated the size needed by putting a piece of paper over the eyes that were already there and hatching over them, just like you would do with inscriptions or engravings that you want to read better or take home. We did that in kindergarten, a lot. Was that just us? Let me know, I’m curious.

I then used chalk to get the size onto the actual shells and then… well, that first attempt wasn’t ideal, and neither was the second, and while sanding shells was interesting we will skip to the idea that actually works.

To save the shells from breaking and being completely wasted I glued them onto fabric scraps – this way they can break however they want but still stay in the desired shape. I justified this by telling myself that this – albeit with bone glue or birch tar or somesuch – would be an accessible method for the imaginary craftsperson who would have made this fish thing in-game. I’ve got priorities, okay? Anyway, after that, I could simply trim the shells with crafting scissors, which was incredibly satisfying.

Again estimating the probable materials I decided to paint the eyes with ink rather than a sharpie or acrylics – I’ve painted shell disks with ink before and it works beautifully. I use Windsor & Newton, who don’t sponsor me at all, by the way. I wish. I eyeballed the pupil and added a black ring around the iris to get more of a “cold, dead fish eye” stare and to visually even out the shape.

I ten decided that the whole wicker situation didn’t look sufficiently like it had been exposed to the elements for a while – far too shiny. I put the whole thing in the tub, doused it with bleach, left it overnight, rinsed it off and then set it out to dry in the heat for another day. Much better.

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The picture I sent to my LARP group from the thrift shop

Now  here’s the explanatory bit, namely the answer to “What the heck made you spend five Euros on that?!”: At LARP we play a group of coast guards. Medieval-renaissance-ish low fantasy coast guards. And we like maritime decor, of course. And this thing – the fish, that is – was so weird that, when I came across it at the thrift shop, I sent my group a text saying, “Hey, do we want this?” – and they said yes. I had already been out of the shop when I got their answers so I wasn’t sure if it would be there the next time I stopped by, but apparently, nobody wants a weird basket fish… except for me.

So the poor thing had dorsal fins and the tail, but no pectorals whatsoever, so I found myself a stick with enough forks to make some. Had I more patience I could have tried to find something closer to the original wicker, alas: I have none. It would be covered anyway. I sawed off the two most promising forks and whittled the ends flat so I could wedge them into the weave of the fish later.
I decided to make them a bit more fluttery and flowy as opposed to the stiff wicker fins that the fish already had, considering that it would be outside most of the time and silk makes the best streamers EVER, so I ripped up a thrifted silk scarf I had around anyway. I didn’t only want two fins to flutter, however, so I started be weaving strips of silk through the dorsal fins. It took a bit of twisting to get ends that would push through well enough and I needed to stab the whole affair with a knife at some points, but eh. *shrugs*
I secured the ends with a few drops of glue, but in the end, only knotting them would probably have sufficed.

The tail fin was a bit different as I needed to reattach it as well, but I decided to work with some more silk strips here, too. I was going for some sort of fancy goldfish tail that would look good in the breeze, and the colours of the silk remind me of seaweed, which is just so lovely.
A lot of maritime decor in LARP, or anything that centres around water or the sea, really, is only shades of blue (or grey if people are feeling experimental and maybe moody), but when you look toat places like Britanny or Northern Germany or the Netherlands, for example, there’s a lot of yellows and greens going on, and I love this palette very, very much.

I attached the eyes next because I wanted that done before the pectoals made things a bit more unwieldy. I used glue again and held the shells in place with wires as they dried, which worked surprisingly well – it was the same wire I’d used as a needle substitute to be-silk the tail fin.

I wedged in the pectoral fins and first tried to glue them down, but in the end that neither worked nor was it really necessary, because the silk strips were enough. This time I used an actual darning needle because I needed to be a bit more precise, working inside the fish and everything. I did a super simple – that’s not even a weave, is it – and then installed some more streaming potential along the sides. The silk weaving really took the most time in this project, the best part of the around four hours of footage that I gathered.

The eyes weren’t what I wanted them to be just yet, though, and were lacking structure. After some experiments, I re-used the wicker chain links of the original fastening of the fish for the ridges by cutting them open and wiring them into rings, and attatched them with more silk and again the biggest darning needle that I own. I might have to re-do these at some point, the knots loosened a bit, but other than that the thing held up fabulously.

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A picture of the fish in action, thanks to my favourite official ConQuest photographer. – by LiveAdventure

Anyway, in the end, I just added a rope handle and now we have a weird fish in our camp. We used it for some LED candles this year, which was strange, but in a cute way, and I think everyone just adopted this thing as a mascot.

I’m really looking forward to make more of these videos. Altering things, bending them to my aesthetic wishes, is one of my favourite pasttimes and I really like to share my trial-and-error experiences as well as the things I actually know.

Have a lovely day!

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