December 22, 2007

Making a Plaster Belly Cast
Lima, Peru

Making a plaster cast of a pregnant belly… This isn't something people do in these parts, and I wonder just how crazy this gringo's proposal sounds to folks from Latin America.

The notion came to me while I was traveling in SE Asia with Tatiana. With as much time as she has spent with her pregnant belly, the thought of giving her a tangible keepsake from that period in her life—outside of photographs, and the child, of course—seemed like a good idea.

Now mind you, I've no idea where the knowledge of such things came from. I haven't really been around any friends while they've been pregnant, I've never seen a belly cast in person, nor had I ever made a mold out of plaster before. All I knew was that such a thing exists, and there is information about it out there on the Internet.

The process sounded simple enough: Oil up the mommy-to-be; apply gauze and plaster; let dry and detach; let cure for two or three days before sanding and/or decorating. In practice, I think the hardest part about the process was gathering/selecting the right materials.

Hybrid plaster and gauze roll

I wrote out the list of items needed for Tatiana, and one afternoon she came back to the house with a peculiar hybrid roll of plaster/gauze. Now, I didn't know much about belly casts or this material at this point, but I did know that it looked much too thin for what we intended to use it for. This stuff came across like it was great for making casts for arms or legs, but seemed unlikely to be sturdy enough without purchasing at least three or four more rolls—and at nearly US$7/roll, it wasn't that cheap.

We gave it a shot any ways, just to see what it would do. I only had enough material to cover her massive belly, and was actually surprised with how solid the material actually became—I figured for sure it would be a pliable mess.

In fact, there was little mess anywhere. The newspaper that I laid down was generally unsoiled. I simply swooshed each strip through a bowl of water, and applied it to Tatiana's belly.

But the cast needed to be much thicker if it was going to last. There just wasn't enough material to do her breasts and belly.

Together we ventured back to the small dental supply store that she originally popped into before picking up the hybrid stuff at a drugstore. We bought a kilo of plaster, which I'm assuming is the same stuff the dentists make molds of teeth out of, and some gauze. Total cost: US$2.

Wow—doing the whole bit with the plaster and the gauze individually is a whole lot different than with the hybrid stuff. The plaster we bought was manageable up until about 12 minutes after it was mixed with water; after that it dries into solid chunks that are of little use.

I mixed half the package, and madly tried to learn how to properly apply the gauze and the plaster while attempting to join the new upper part of Tatiana's torso with her belly cast from earlier in the afternoon. Droplets of white plaster were flying everywhere as I rushed to use the material before it solidified. Looking in the mirror afterward, I was certainly playing the part of longhaired artist, as I too was covered in the stuff.

Tatiana and I really had fun with this. She's so happy that she did it, and has a lasting memento of the end of her third trimester.

It's a little stressful when you're building up the base, but you eventually get into a playful rhythm of layering and smoothing that's quite amusing and enjoyable. It's neat to see something created from nothing in just a few minutes time.

If I were to do this over again, I'd use the hybrid stuff for the base, as it's the easiest to manipulate without a time limit, and then apply the heavier stuff to add strength. After a few days Tatiana will revisit her belly cast and sand down some of the rougher spots, and perhaps buy a little more plaster to cover gauze or fill in any indentations.

I'm going to share several of the photos from the 'while it's curing' shoot. I love the color contrast between the plaster and Tatiana's skin…

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