Introduction: Captain America / US Agent Artificial Leather Jacket
In preparation for Infinity War, I felt it was time to make a new Captain America costume. I learned a lot from my previous costume and decided to take the next step and sew a proper jacket. My goals were to make a costume of one of my favorite characters, but also to produce a garment that was fashionable enough and durable enough that I could wear it as a normal jacket. This guide will cover the jacket. The accompanying shield harness and belt I wore to cosplay the Infinity War premier is available here.
This guide will cover how I designed and sewed a jacket from the perspective of someone who has some basic experience with textiles but has never sewed a proper article of clothing before. It took me six weeks to complete, and about 60 hours over that time. It cost $80 in materials, plus $90 if you need to buy a sewing machine.
It's not the most efficient way to get a jacket, but if you're looking to make something personal and satisfying, it's a very fun and satisfying way to do it, and the feeling I get wearing it makes it totally worth it.
Materials: (Links open in new tabs)
Pattern paper (I used parchment paper) - $3.89
- Artificial Leather (I didn't use this stretchable kind. I wish I knew about it) - $30
- Cotton, for liner - $10
- Burgundy vinyl - $8
- Grey vinyl - $8
Sew-on snaps - $3.50
Barge cement - $7
Fabric glue - $7
A sewing machine
Fabric markers (I used a silver sharpie)
Step 1: Plan Your Jacket
I love the uniforms that Captain America has worn -- particularly the Age of Ultron and Civil War costumes -- but I didn't connect with the Infinity War costume. It's a distressed version of the one from Civil War, darkened. In the comics, however, there is a costume Steve Rogers adopts when he renounces his title as Captain America.
Jesus, no, not that one
Yes, this one.
In 1988, a disaffected Steve Rogers renounces his ties to an American government he doesn't feel aligned with to go free agent as "The Captain". He adopted a black costume with a stylized red and white flag on the front. He only wore it for a year, after which the costume was adopted and worn since by U.S. Agent, and since Googling "The Captain" doesn't return much, it's easier to refer to this as the U.S. Agent costume, even though I'm imagining Steve Rogers in it instead of John Walker.
It's a very cheesy costume, but I would've loved to see it reimagined for the screen the way Rogers' classic costume was. I don't have the skill to do something THAT ambitious, but this was the driving idea behind my design.
If you've Googled Captain America costumes to get here, you might've noticed that several companies make costumes that are built as jackets, and they look amazing. I decided to make my costume as a jacket too. I decided to try and make a pretty standard black leather jacket, but to style the front off of the flag motif. I also made a shield harness and belt.
I looked for lots of leather jackets to get a clear idea of what I wanted mine to look like. The closest design is a Fencing Jacket, which unlike a biker jacket doesn't have a lot of snaps and other features. They're very basic, except that they have an asymmetrical zipper running up one side.
I watched some YouTube videos on copying jacket patterns and sewing your own jacket. They explained that a jacket is just panels of fabric cut out based on 'patterns'. When sewed correctly, the flat panels make curves in the right places. I wasn't able to find a jacket pattern for sale, so I decided to make my own. My husband has a really nice Marc Anthony leather jacket, and my brother has one he found at Goodwill for his Winter Soldier costume. These served as the templates that I traced to make my jacket..
Step 2: Trace the Pattern
This was surprisingly straightforward. I like to think of craft projects as falling along a spectrum I call the Lego-Clay spectrum. Lego sculptures are made by following a guide. If you follow the instructions faithfully, you WILL get the product pictured on the box. Clay requires skill. There's no easy way around the fact that you need practiced skills, which sucks. I like things on the Lego end, which is why I love 3D printing and laser cutting. Most of this costume, including the patterning, was much closer to the Lego end than I expected, which is great news.
How to make a Pattern
Lay the garment flat; cut off a suitably large piece of pattern paper; then trace. Bear in mind: your jacket is going to be symetrical in all places except for the front, so you only need one template for both sides of your body for most pieces.
I don't know if they make see-through pattern paper. That'd be great. I didn't have that, though, so I laid the paper on top and made a few marks, then placed the garment on top of the paper and made more. I connected the marks with a straightedge and repeated until I felt I'd faithfully copied the panel completely, as close to the actual seams as possible.
Before cutting out, enlarge the entire thing by 8 mm on all sides. This provides a margin to actually stitch. On my sewing machine, 8 mm is the distance from the edge of the foot to the needle. So by cutting my cloth 8 mm wider on all sides, I could just keep the edge lined up with the foot, and the stitches would end up just where they are in the initial trace, which should be exactly where they are in the jacket you're copying. If you want to play it safe, add an extra 2 mm for movement room. If you're precise, though, you'll be fine. Also, you'll see later that we're going to check the fit continually as you go, so you shouldn't get a surprise at the end.
Step 3: Copy the Pattern and Cut
Because the jacket has a liner, you're basically going to make the same jacket twice, once from artificial leather and once from a simple cotton. This is great, because it allows us to practice everything once on the liner before we do it with the part that actually gets seen.
If you're confident and bold like Captain America, you can go ahead and trace all the patterns onto all the cloth, then cut all the cloth out before you lay down a stitch. If you're cautious and like to plan for uncertainly -- like Captain America -- you should trace patterns for the sleeves onto cotton, sew them, then repeat with the leather and repeat for each part of the jacket. I did the latter.
Step 4: Sew Your Sleeves
To make a jacket, you place adjacent panels you've cut out back to back, with the sides of each panel that will face outward facing towards each other while you sew. You'll stitch a seam along the edge of the two pieces at a consistent distance from the edge. When you finish and unfold the two panels it should look awesome. Doing the liner for each step first is a great way to practice without any pressure, because it's just the liner.
I did the liner for one arm, then the liner for the other arm, then the exterior of each arm, and then I turned my attention to the body.
My exterior sleeves are different than the liner, because the exterior has a strip along the outside and a separate panel over the bicep. The strip was no problem. It was present on the original jacket I coped from. I left it out of the liner for convenience, but I definitely wanted it on the outside because I wanted to use it to add a flashy red stripe down the arms. I also wanted to have a separate panel over the bicep, though. I thought about splitting the three panels that make up each arm, and adding in another three small white pieces between the upper and lower half of each panel. But that seemed like a lot of sewing, and I thought the white piece over the bicep would look cooler unbroken. I also thought about attaching it to the outside of the sleeve with barge cement, but I worried that might look chunky or bad, so I decided to cut the sleeves I'd already sewn and stitch in a band of grey vinyl.
This made me anxious, because here we're veering recklessly into the "Clay" end of the spectrum. But the good news is that if you really mess up, you're just going to need to cut and sew a new sleeve. And it worked.
Step 5: Sew the Back and Sides
As we did with the sleeves, so we'll do with the panels that make up the back.
There are several designs for the backs of jackets, I found. Many are just two halves, although the one I worked off of had four: two big ones that covered the middle and two narrow ones that extended from just behind the shoulder to under the arms so as to make up most of the sides of the jacket. I opted to make these out of a stretchy cloth patterned with hexagons. I thought it would look cool, and having a stretchy material here would probably hide my mistakes a bit when it was all done. If the jacket had some creases or folds in the wrong place, this would bend a bit so the main panels of artificial leather didn't get distorted.
Step 6: Sew the Front Panels
Here, we're wading a bit towards 'Clay' territory, because I didn't have an example of an asymmetric jacket in front of me. So I just gave myself a lot of extra material. If we were reproducing the bomber jacket, we'd have each front panel meet in the middle. Instead, I made the left panel extend all the way to the far sleeve. I brought the right panel about a third of the way across the chest, which was plenty.
Sew the front panels of the liner to the back of the liner and the front of the exterior to the back of the exterior. You should now have a bunch of panels that wrap around you. If you're worried about having to redo a stitch, just set the sewing machine for long stitch lengths. These pull out easily if you need to realign. If it works out, just go over the stitch again with a tighter stitch length to make it permanent.
Step 7: Fit and Sew the Shoulders
After the main body panels are all attached to each other, we need to connect the tops of the front and back panels to make a vest. It's possible to do this by yourself, but I don't think I would've been able to make my jacket as properly fitted if I hadn't had a friend act as a mannequin.
I had my brother wrap the liner panels around himself in the right position. Where the front and back panels met on top of his shoulder, I pinned them with safety pins and drew a line where I wanted the stitch. I ran the stitch, then repeated this process with the exterior.
With the exterior, you'll want to continue to fit it while it's inside out to keep the extra material on the inside. You'll also need to do this process twice per shoulder. Whereas we sewed the front directly to the back for the liner, for the exterior the shoulders have a small bar between the front and back panels that connects them.
Step 8: Attach the Sleeves
Attaching the sleeves to the body seemed more complicated than it actually was. Put on the liner vest, and hold it shut with binder clips, safety pins, or a bit of tape if necessary. Slide the sleeves onto one arm and adjust it until you like it's position, then pin all the way around the seem and mark it with your marker. Sew the mark and confirm that fit.
Once you've got the hang of attaching the liner sleeves, repeat for the exterior. I am guessing that you could do this inside out again, but I didn't. At this point, I put the vest and the sleeve on my brother and lined them up. To my delight, the patterning worked the way it is supposed to, and the whole thing fit together surprisingly well. I used my marker to dot a line where I wanted to sew each, careful to place the line so it would not be exposed once the stitch was made. I took the jacket off my brother, pinned it along the stitching line with safety pins and had him put it back on. It looked alright, so I made my first pass with a long stitch. When sewing, the sleeve should be inside-in, while the body (currently a vest) should be inside-out, so you're sewing into the inner-facing side of the cloth that makes up the body. I used the maximum length setting so I'd be sure that I could pull the thread out if I wanted to redo it, but it came out fine, so I made a second pass using a stronger stitch.
Step 9: Make and Attach the Collar
The collar is a little thing, but it makes a big difference. The collar is made the same way as most of the jacket: trace the pattern and sew it inside out. It's got a few tricky bits, though. When you've sewn it inside-out, it can be a little tricky to reverse it so it's inside-in. I used a sharpie to push it through and a lot of patience. Once you've reversed it, stuff the ends back in and sew them to give it good ends.
To attach it, place it inside the collar of the jacket and pin it, then add a stitch. When I traced the collar pattern off of my template jacket, I was surprised that it curves upward. This actually makes sense, though: most panels are supposed to carry continuous, smooth curves from one panel to the next across seams that lay flat. But the collar is supposed to stand up, almost at a right angle to the fabric around it. So unlike the other panels, it isn't shaped to sit flush against the surrounding material. It is supposed to pull and shape that surrounding material, and to be pulled in return to give the collar shape.
Step 10: Cut and Stitch the Front Bars
We're past half way. We just need connect the liner to the exterior; hem the edges; cut the front panels to size; add the zipper; and attach the front panel. This is a good time to make the front panel, since it will help us decide how to cut the front panels of the jacket and where to put the zipper.
I used a piece of the pattern paper to make a few templates of the trapezoid that makes up the front, and when I found a height, width, and angle I liked, I tried a few different stripe widths. I made my top edge 32.5 cm across. I made this panel 43 cm tall. And I made my stripes 4.5 cm wide.
I cut them out by pressing a steel straight-edge on top and then running an X-acto knife along the edge. Then I laid the strips face-to-face and stitched them about a mm in from the edge. I used binder clips to hold them in position as I was sewing. Once sewed, unfold the stripes and lay them flat on a table. You'll find that they don't want to lay flat at all, but this can be corrected by ironing. I ironed the flag panel at a very low heat with pattern paper between the vinyl and the iron for a few minutes. I let the iron cool on top of the panel and used it as a weight on the seems for an hour or until the next time I worked on the bars. Be patient, this WILL flatten out the panel, but you've got to work stripe-by-stripe.
I decided after I started cutting the front panel to shape that I wanted to add a distinguishing feature to accentuate the bottom of the pectorals. I noticed that this is a common trait in costume design to evoke the musculature that appears in comic book costumes. To do this, I narrowed the horizontal distance of the stripes below the pectoral line. I also added a very narrow extra band, which I folded over so that the pectoral line has a bit of dimensionality.
Step 11: Cut the Front Bars to Size
After stitching the bars together, we need to cut the sides down to the right size. Trace the template onto the back, and add a centimeter to each side so you can fold it over and stitch it down. Only add a centimeter to the top half, though. The bottom half will be a cm narrower after the edges are folded down
Hem the sides.
Step 12: Cut Out the Star
I experimented with hemming the edges of the star, but they didn't fold and sew well. Instead, I traced a star onto the back and carefully cut it out, then colored the cut edges with black sharpie. This made a much more even edge.
I used this technique to draw my star with just a glass the size I wanted and a straightedge:
Step 13: Cut the Front Jacket Panels to Size
Now that we've got the front field of stripes, we can place it on top of the jacket and use it to inform where to place the zipper.
I decided to have the front panel line up with the right edge of the field of stripes along the upper half, and then continue straight when the field of stripes narrows below the pectoral line.
Step 14: Hem the Edges
Once he edges of the front jacket panels have been cut, we are done cutting and attaching jacket panels. In this step, hem the jacket edges to give it a clean and and even appearance. This is also the step where the liner gets fixed to the shell.
I thought a lot about the best way to do this. In professional garments, every edge is impeccably hidden. Honestly, this is hard to do, and I decided it was unnecessary. Starting with the bottom edge of the jacket, I folded the liner over from front-to-back, and then I folded the exterior over from back-to-front so that it overlapped with the fold of the liner. I then ran a strong stitch along this edge. The one downside is that this leaves the edge of the artificial leather visible on the inside of the jacket when you aren't wearing it. I think it looks fine, though. The important thing is that the liner is attached all the way along the edge, and the hem looks nice from the outside. And honestly, it doesn't look that bad even when you look at the inside.
Once you've hemmed the bottom, hem all the other edges besides the one that will sit above the right half of the zipper. Hem the collar, and the front panel that we're going to attach the flag to, and the cuffs of the sleeves. For the sleeves, I cut a slit to allow them to open a bit more freely, and then folded back the sides of the slit and hemmed them down too. The ends of the sleeves were the trickiest part. I had to fix a lot of little mistakes by trimming excess thread and applying fabric glue liberally. Just go slow, though, and it'll be fine.
Once hemming was done, I spread a thin coat of fabric cement over the inside of the hems to protect the thread and assure that it doesn't loosen or fall apart.
At the end of this step:
We have a complete jacket with an attached liner, fully cut to size. You should be able to pull the jacket on and off like any other. All that is left is to attach the zipper and the front flag panel.
Step 15: Add the Zipper
To add the zipper, first place the left side of the zipper beneath the front panel that we're going to attach the flag to, and pin it with safety pins or clip it with binder clips. I placed the zipper so it was just out of sight. I found this a little stressful. I worried that the visible zipper might look bad, and I worried that to hide it, I'd have an excess of material to the right of the zipper that would curl up when zipped. To solve this, I decided to add some snaps to ensure that the panel was held flat even in areas to the right of the zipper. This proved to be unnecessary, though. Just place the zipper along the right-most edge and secure it. Try the jacket on to make sure you're happy, then sew the left half of the zipper into place.
To place the right half of the zipper, put the jacket on or put it on a dummy or similarly-sized friend or twin brother. Lay the jacket as you'd like it to lay when zipped. Since you haven't hemmed this last edge yet, you should have some extra fabric. Fold that fabric inward so that it comes right to the right-most edge of the panel it's meeting. You'll then hem this edge as you did the other edges, then put the jacket back on to your dummy and lay it again as you want it to lay when zipped. Then pin the zipper in place. I did this several times, because I ultimately decided to sew it pretty tight. Since this is for a superhero costume, I wanted it to hug my profile and enhance a mesomorphic profile. To do so, I wanted the abdomen to be appropriately narrow, and to taper slowly from the armpits to the waist. Once I had it how I liked, I sewed the other half of the zipper on. Be sure to sew both zippers to the inside of the jacket so it's mostly hidden from view.
Step 16: Attach the Flag Panel to the Front Leather Panel
The front panel is glued on with Barge cement. I lined it up, then glued one edge and weighed it down with a tall stack of books. Once dried, I repeated on the middle, and then on the far edge, and then stitched the edges as well.
Step 17: Conclusion
You should expect to spend an hour finishing little things. Once I had the jacket on, I discovered that the jacket bunched at the clavicles, so I folded each over and sewed them down. I added a bit more fabric glue to seems. I added Barge cement around the cut edges of the star. And a returned to the cuffs several times to trim stray threads and apply fabric glue on messy edges. Besides that, though, we're done. Enjoy!
If you'd like to add a harness and belt to make it a proper costume, instructions can be found here:
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