Monday, December 20, 2010

Vivandiere - Making the Top Hat

I was costing out my various Napoleonic figures for the rules Song of Drums and Shakos, and I thought it would be interesting to try and comes up with the stats and figure for a French Vivandiere.

A vivandiere is a woman employed by the unit "as sutleresses to sell food, alcohol, tobacco, etc. to all members of the regiment, frequently accompanying their unit into action where it was not unknown for them to become casualties whilst tending the wounded." (Text and photo from Uniforms of the Retreat from Moscow 1812 by Philip Haythornthwaite and Mike Chappell.) It goes on: "They often wore 'uniforms' resembling that of their regiment and usually with features of their own design; the braided jacket and shortish skirt worn over breeches and gaiters were typical, as was the 'round hat', frequently decorated with long coloured scarves (that illustrated taken from Faber du Faur). A universal item was the barrel worn on a shoulder strap, often gaily painted with regimental devices, with attached measuring-beaker and cup, from which alcohol could be sold on the march."

My interest in this figure is purely from a uniform perspective; I love the top hat. From a gaming perspective, it would allow me to add the Combat (Medic) attribute from Flying Lead (if it is not already present in Song of Drums and Shakos, that is) and have some figure as a useful 'objective'. I envision a scenario in which she is selling goods to the troops in a picquet (picket) when they come under attack in one of the numerous actions of le petite guerre (the outpost wars). She will not only act as a loss of VP if captured or killed, but she can drag wounded soldiers to safety and possibly patch them up.

So the first step is replicating the top hat. This is the distinctive element to the piece, in my opinion. For this I simply took a 3/16" thick square of balsa wood, cut a hole in the center, and glued in onto the head of the pawn. I then drew the boundaries of outer brim of the hat and used a Dremel sander to shape it. With that complete I needed to create the 'dip' in the front and back of the top hat, so using a round sanding drum I sanded away, including the top of the head, until I got the proper depression (see the three figures on the left, below).

After that I drew the curved up sides on the left and right with a pen, and then carefully sanded away the thickness of the balsa until I got the proper shape I was looking for. Picture 3 shows this the best.

Adding a dowel on top (picture 4) shows what the basic shape will be, but as you can see, there is a gap to fill. I could have used a longer dowel and sanded it to fit in, but making perfect fits like that are not easy. Unfortunately this is not precise machining, but rather artistic hand carving with power sanders. As always I use the Crayola Modeling Magic Fusion, mostly because I still have three tubs of it. I put a generous dollop on top of the brim, mash the down dowel, and let it dry over night. Once dry, I used an X-Acto knife to trim off the excess (the right two figures). I really like it! The last step is to cover it all with white glue so it stays together. I do this in thin layers to prevent pooling. It is tedious, but you can do this while doing something else. In my case it was painting other figures.

Next time it I will focus on the skirt.

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