Hello Instructable-keteers! - I've had WAY too much coffee and not enough sleep, of course, that means I'm going to start writing up my instructable for this years Halloween Costume.
It should come as no surprise that I am once again going the "hero" route with my costume. (apparently I have a type) So come along on the wild, sleepless, and expletive filled journey as I become The Rocketeer.
I keep a file of costumes I want to try in the future, this one has been languishing in said file for years. Originally, I wanted to do this as a couples costume with the hubby, he would be the Rocketeer and I would be Jenny in her famous white gown. (yes, it's the film version) But then I thought, nah, I wanna do it! And so I began my creation quest.
As usual I watched the film a number of times (and repurchased it on BluRay), sketching as I went, making notes on things to look for, little details, etc. I also scoured the interwebs for pictures and read up on others who had made their own Rocketeer costumes. I found a few sites that sold the coat (holy crap that's expensive!) and a few people who put thousands into their rockets (ummm . . . I have no words). Armed with all that info I set out a plan (ha ha, I always start with a plan and then it goes off the rails) on how I would go about making my costume. As you know, I am not a trained costumer or seamstress. I screw up all the time and freely claim I have no idea what I am doing, I simply go ahead into the unknown.
After last year's Batgirl nearly made me run amok (haven't read it yet, check it out) I was determined to start early and figured the best thing to get done first was all the sewing. . .
Step 1: Dear Ebay Gods . . .
Leather is expensive so I knew right off that I was not making this jacket from scratch. (Yes, you can use pleather but you have to find the right kind and in the end it will start peeling and cracking after a few years. I wanted mine to last so I knew it had to be real leather)
I went searching on the handy ebay for jackets. At first I was looking at Moto styles, good cuts but nothing had that doublet/bib front I needed so, I changed up my search knowing I was going to have to make the front piece myself. Trench coats were the answer. The bottom of the coat offered the remnants I would need to make the bib and ensure a perfect color/fabric match. I scored a vintage leather trench for under $20 with shipping. The ebay gods were smiling for sure, it was the perfect shade of brown too, yay!! No painting necessary.
Upon its arrival I went straight to Joann's and purchased 5 leather needles for my machine, coat thread (as close a match as I could get, it's a vintage coat after all), a metal separating zipper, buttons, etc. Once back at home I took another look at my reference items and watched the film, again. (can you tell I like this film)
I knew I was only going to get one shot at this, cut wrong once and I was up a creek . . . I admit I was nervous about cutting up the coat. I tested out the cuts I knew I would have to make by folding and taping, adjusting my design as I went. One obstacle I had to overcome right off was the placement of the pockets. The darn things were too high up for me to have a long enough torso for the coat and they were an over designed welt pocket too, totally unusable for my needs. The only thing to do was cut the coat off just above the pockets and then add a piece back in to extend the torso length to where I needed it.
Once I made my first cut, there was no going back. After I cut off the bottom portion of the coat I separated the pieces I knew I would need for the doublet/bib portion and set them aside. I re-fit the jacket to my body, measured how much length I needed and cut strips from the remaining leather. Again I went back to folding and taping, mapping out what I would use and how. Then it was time to pull out my machine and get to work . . .
Step 2: Pop Go the Needles or How I Learned to Love My Thimble
As previously mentioned, I purchased 5 leather needles and I'll tell you now, I broke 5 leather needles. Do I get an award for this feat?
I was able to get some of the stitch work done on my machine. I had removed the buttons and the cut off the button hole section of the coat so I could add a zipper. --- Did this need to be done? Not really. The doublet covers the front part so I didn't really need to do it. This comes down totally to my desire to be as accurate in my creation as possible, thus making a lot more work for myself. --- I also had to trim the collar to make it fit the new cut of the coat with a zipper. I was able to stitch in the zipper, partly, but after breaking 3 needles in under an hour I realized I was at the point where this had to be done by hand. I love my machine but trying to sew through 4 layers of leather and a coat zipper is just too much for a non-industrial unit. Out came the upholstery needles the hubby had and I set to work.
Hand sewing this was HELL!!!!!!!!!!!! My fingers were sore and mad at me, hello blisters! I went through all my thimbles trying to find the ones that would help me shove a needle through and save my fingers. I resorted to using needle nose pliers to force the needle through all the layers. Once I completed the zipper I was able to to re-examine the work left to do. I pulled up my body form from the garage and adjusted it to my measurements for the continued duration of the project. (I love this thing, got it on sale shortly after Batgirl last year.)
I decided to cheat a bit when it came to the collar. I machine stitched the internal and external pieces separately then used an iron and fusing material to stick them together. I then stitched through the already existing seam (stitched in the ditch, I learned a new term!) in the back to re-enforce the connection. In the end it looked pretty good. I still had to do some finishing work by hand, you can see where my crappy hand stitches are, but by this time I was okay with it. It was starting to look like the coat I needed.
Next up was the Doublet. I made a mock up out of some of my left over Batgirl crap satin (high school grad gown crap quality) so I could get the sizing and placement of the button holes correct. There were lots of notes, cutting and re-cutting and math. Have I mentioned I suck at math? grrrrrr. Once I had it finally figured out I went back to my leather pieces and set to work cutting them to the right shape. I was excited about the doublet because it was a chance to use the button hole making feature on my machine. . . I need to take a moment here to explain how I should have done this, rather than how I did do it.
How it should have gone - I should have made the button holes on each side of the leather separately, that way I could have used my button hole feature and would have made this so much easier. Afterward, I should have stitched the pieces together flip it right side out and top stitched to lock the shape in place, finishing the bottom by folding in both sides and top stitching to match. I did none of this, learn from my stupidity.
What I did do - I thought I would do a variation of my collar cheat. I hemmed each piece individually then used fusing material to stick 'em together and then I went to try and put in my button holes. I got through one button hole before the needle broke, it was my last needle too. Thus all the rest of my button holes were made and stitched by hand. I am a moron!
Step 3: Wood, Nails, Hammer and Buttons
It's not called costume construction for nothing! It was time to add the buttons to the front of the coat for the doublet to attach. Much like the initial cutting, I was nervous, this was a point of no return. I screw up the placement and it was over.
The hubby knew I was worried so he came out and helped me with this portion. I used the button holes as a guide and the hubby's leather marker to make marks on the coat where they lined up. I needed to make small holes for where the buttons would need to punch through so we got a board, some nails, a hammer and set to work. Once we had the nails in we put the doublet on to make sure our lines were still in the right spot on the other side, and they were, so we repeated the nail step.
I bought the kind of buttons you would normally see on jeans, they are not quite screen accurate but they were the right color and the right size for my form. *Something to remember - when recreating a costume keep your size/frame in mind. The film jacket was made for a man with wider shoulders and chest so it had more buttons and of larger size. That wouldn't work on my frame so, I had to decide to go for the look rather than the fully accurate depiction of the coat. In the end I was very happy with what I did.
We were worried that we would have to hammer in these buttons and potentially damage them, I had no spares, but on a whim I tried pushing down with just my thumb and they snapped in like a dream. It was by far the easiest part of making this coat. Woo Hoo! finally, something that went right!!!
It was time to add the shoulder straps and the snaps. Stitching the straps to the shoulders was actually easy it was the snaps that were hard. Side Note: I totally forgot to add the decorative stitch work on the straps before sewing them in place. Remember to check your reference art before each step, you never know what you will miss. In the end I did it by hand, again.
Installing the snaps took time and more nails. I bought heavy duty snaps but they still could not poke through the layers of leather and slight padding in the shoulders. To deal with this the hubby took a piece of foam board, the pointy part of the snap we needed and pressed it in the foam making a template. We then used nails to make holes so the points would go through the layers properly. We then used some tools from a grommet set to hammer the snaps together.
The final step was to replace the loops on the wrist straps with metal ones and make two straps to fit on each side of the waist as well. In the end I decided to forgo the ones on the waist, they will be covered by the harness anyway, and I figured it would be uncomfortable to have metal loops pressing into my sides under the harness. (bruises from a costume, no thanks.) I went in search of 1' Antique Brass, Square Double Loops . . . no one had them. (seriously, no one, it was annoying) In the end I got them from a seller on ebay (of course). 10 minutes of unpicking stitches, taking out the old loops and adding the new ones, then restitching and it was done!!
Quick mention - The rest of the clothing:
I had a pair of vintage 1930's jodhpurs, they were a much darker brown than I needed but, I had planned to make do. They fit fine in the waist but what was odd was that they were way too tight in the calf (how is that possible? Its not like I have giant calves, I'm too lazy for that), these were not going to work. Back to (say it with me now) Ebay I went and scored a pair of new/old stock Ralph Lauren Jodhpurs for $20. The waist is a little big but I added two darts and presto! They fit. Pants - check! For the boots I looked around lots of sites and stores but could not find anything quite right. After a week I stumbled onto a pair on . . . Ebay! (It's an addiction, I know) They were $30 (I was not happy about the price) and made of pleather (groan) but, they were the best I had found so I bit the bullet and got em. Boots - check! I scored a vintage leather pair of leather gloves, they were lined in knit (yuck) so a ripped that out and they were perfect. Gloves - check!
With the clothing portion done we move on to the really hard stuff. But first, Intermission . . .
Step 4: Intermission (aka My First Vacation, Ever!)
It's true, I have never really had a vacation. I have always used my time off for other things like visiting in-laws, attending weddings, doctor's visits, helping people move, planning other peoples weddings . . . I didn't even take a honeymoon after my own wedding! So, when an opportunity to go to Hawaii for 10 days came our way, we went for it. It was amazing!!!!
That being said, do not plan a difficult costume, involving items you have never used before, when you are going to be going out of town. (insert Gif of person beating head against a wall)
The next portion of this constructing saga has been completed under self-inflicted duress, again I make the point that I am a stubborn moron! I owe my darling husband and pal David so many thanks for all their help.
Step 5: I Think We're Gonna Need a Helmet
In my research I found many people had used paper craft for making their helmet and rocket pack. (like paper, I know paper, I can fold and glue paper) I too thought this would be the thing to do and a chance to use some techniques I had not before. (this ain't no paper doll)
For the Helmet, my pal Dave printed out all the pieces on card stock then spray mounted the card stock to foam. It took an afternoon to piece it all together but it looked pretty darn cool. The rudder we cut from chipboard as the foam and card stock was too flimsy. Dave found a pair of over-sized costume sunglasses and used the lenses from it to fit in our helmet. It was step one in the process but it looked really cool. We used some caulking on the air vents to smooth them out, we used a damp brush to go over it. The next step was to coat it in mod podge, we did this because the mixture we were going to use to solidify the construction can be corrosive to foam. We found that out after we used the foam, of course. --- Doing this step may be partly why everything else got so wonky ---
Step 6: The Amazing Rondo!
Rondo! A mixture of Bondo and resin. The mixture ratio varies, some like a 1 to 1 with 3-5 drops of hardener but we found this ratio to be problematic. The 2 to1 ratio with 10 to 12 drops of hardener worked much better. Oh the fun of trial and error. (Grrrrrr)
In our research we found lots of people recommended reenforcing the structure from the inside with strips of fiberglass, unfortunately we didn't get the strips we got loose fibers and it made a mess. Honestly, at this point I should have chucked it and made a new one, but I didn't. Due to the toxic nature of Rondo my husband decided it was best I step out of this part and focus on making my second attempt at a rocket pack (Papercraft one didn't work out here, but more on that later.)
The hubby tried the first rondo mixture (1x1) and, as I said, it was a problem. It was way too thin and just didn't hold well, it wrinkled up too as it hardened but, we thought that might be because of the mod podge. (never did find out why it did that) The hubby then found the other mixture ratio (2x1) listed online and tried that over the old one, once it finally dried. The second mixture was much better, he lined the inside of the helmet with it to cover up all the fiberglass strands then layered it on the outside. Much sanding ensued to smooth it out over the next two nights after work. The hubby used plastadip to spray the inside of the helmet creating a rubber lining, it's really cool stuff. Then he used bondo to add the rudder to the top and let that dry. We added aquarium tubing & brad heads for the details and painted it gold.
This was all a learning experience for us, having never used these products. One big thing we learned, no stirring of the mixture, spread and blend at the same time, it will be smoother and you will do less sanding. Lesson learned.
Step 7: "It's a Rocket . . . Like in the Comic Books."
My number one problem with papercraft? A lack of instruction. Playing connect the dots (in this case connect the like numbers, when you can read them, soooo tiny) was a pain. In the end we scrapped the papercraft rocket because we couldn't make sense of some of the construction/pieces. Instructions would have been helpful. So, with papercraft nixed we had little time to come up with a plan B. Enter foam in all it's forms and plungers.
My pal Dave and I went on a shopping spree through WalMart (not my fav place to go but they have cheap stuff and lots of it). I found wacky tube ribbon at the craft store that worked for the wiring on the engines and we were ready to BS our way through making a rocket.
Dave did some of the construction while we were in Hawaii, I owe him big for that. Dave took a foam roller he had laying around and cut the sucker in half. He did the same to a foam football gluing them to the tops of the rolls and making rockets. The plunger handles were cut off and bottoms trimmed up, there are our engines. Styrofoam shapes (cone & dome) glued to each side of the rockets and a piece of foam board added stability to fill out the center section. I used paper to make a pattern of other pieces needed and we cut those out of the same foam we used for the helmet. To make the welding marks/rivets we used small brass brads and pressed them into place. (bonus for using foam, it made that part easier) We hot glued the crap out of this thing and then used caulking to go over it all, smoothing edges and trying to blend all the pieces together. Because of all the different textures we decided coating the thing in plastadip would be a way to unify the texture, however plastadip reacted corrosively to the Styrofoam pieces when we tested it. So, to combat that, we skim coated the thing with the caulking and once dry the Hubby sprayed it on both sides with the plastadip. Once that was dry we started the coats of silver paint and finished with a dusting of copper on the tops of the rockets. We screwed in the plungers and added the braided ribbon to look like the connection wires for the rocket engines.
(This all sounds so much faster and easier than the reality of the situation, it was multiple days and sleepless nights)
Dave used his graphic design skills to recreate the plate for the rocket and printed it on metallic paper.Yes, it is glued to the back side of the rocket pack, you can't see it but I know it's there. :)
It's not perfect by any means, I cut out some of the details that I wanted to do because I am crunched on time, being only 2 days before Halloween and 1 day before the company costume contest. (I don't think I'll place but I'll make a good show) The fins on the mid point of the cones are not being done, the flaps at the bottom of the rockets are not being done, the hand control button and cable will not be done and I didn't have time to make the overgloves that house said button/wiring. But it's darn close and, for a total noob at this kind of stuff, it's pretty good.
Step 8: R Is for Rocketeer
Harnessing the power . . .
I cut the back plate for my harness out of a UPS box I had at work. I kept it flat, never folding it into it's box shape, to help maintain it's natural rigidity. I was able to keep two parts of each side connected and slipped my leather straps between the pieces, held in place with duct tape until I had it fitted properly. We then used an epoxy glue to seal everything into place. We used spray mount to adhere the pleather to the cardboard, folding and gluing with hot glue until one side was covered. We then spray-mounted the other side and trimmed that piece of pleather to fit. We tacked the edges with hot glue too. For the waist buckle I put on the harness and fitted it on my body, using binder clips to adjust the fit until I had it just right. I then used hot glue to fold over and glue the strips into place around the buckle. I then used the same technique to fit the shoulder straps, creating a loop for the waist strap to slip through. I want it to be a little adjust able so it had some play when I needed to put my doublet on over it.
*** The distinctive (and super cool looking) aircraft buckle used in the film is from the 1930's and was made by a small German company (now defunct). Some "industrious" people have made replicas and sell them online. I have seen some of them sell for thousands. I sent pictures to a 3D modeler pal (bonus of working at an animation company, yay!) and he was working on a version I could then print myself but we just ran out of time. (There is someone who has done this and sells the pieces individually, it's still a couple hundred bucks) ***
Since I didn't have authentic buckles I went with what I did have and that included a vintage 1940's belt buckle with a gold R. I had to use it, it was too perfect! I put that one on the chest strap.
The rocket pack weighed in at 2.5 lbs so we knew Velcro was the way to go for attaching the harness. We used sticky backed Velcro too. To make sure it stayed stuck to the painted rockets we also pulled out the hubby's industrial stapler and went to town. Within a few minutes the harness was attached and we did a test fit.
At 12:42 am on October 30th, we were officially done.
Step 9: "How Do I Look? . . . Like a Hood Ornament"
We have two parties we are going to on Halloween & maybe a cameo at Comikazi, who knows?!
Delirious Post Op -
Sleep deprivation and 90+ degrees is not the best combo, but that was what I was working with today. I charged across the contest catwalk just so I could get to some shade. The cheers that went up were wonderful! The people who stopped to tell me how much they liked my costume or how it reminded them of the film they loved, was great. It was worth all the crazy, stupid late nights. I like to challenge myself with my costumes and learn new things, it's my creative outlet in a busy schedule that rarely leaves me any time otherwise to do so. But more than the silly contests, it's the smiles I see on other people and ones I have on my own face that really make it so much fun.
I could not have accomplished this enormous task with out my darling husband, Trevor, who works an even crazier job than I do but stayed up at night helping me build, glue and paint. He listened to my self-pity moments when I really thought this would not get done and then told me he didn't want to hear it and get on with it. He is the best. I also could not have done it all with out my pal Dave, who was working on his own rad UltraMan costume but took time out to help with mine. Thank you both so very much.
It's now post contest. If you're curious, I did not win, but I had fun. One of the highlights was a woman who came up and took my picture. She is friends with the original Rocketeer and she has sent him the picture of my costume. He loves to see them. The nostalgic looks in peoples eyes today was awesome and I'm very proud of all WE accomplished with this costume.
Happy Halloween Everyone!