Introduction: Sewn Captain America Costume
This guide explains the steps I took to make a Captain America costume. It took about 40 hours, spread out over the course of a month. This sounds like more time than it was, and a lot of that was experimentation, so don't let that scare you off. Although it was by no means easy, I actually started out with almost no sewing experience and learned how to sew over the course of this project. My point is that this project looks more challenging than it is. It's seventeen steps, but only because I tried to break it into steps which anyone with the necessary tools could probably do.
In the past, I've made costumes by looking for garments at Goodwill, but I decided early on that there was no way I would find something suitable, so I set about planning how to make it from raw materials.
After examining Cap's various suits, I concluded that the first requirement would be to find cloth in the right shades: vibrant, but not overly bright. Next, they had to have the right texture: fairly course. His more recent outfits look stiff and durable, like canvas. Third, I decided to work by attaching cloth to existing clothes. I thought I would cut all the way up the back of a shirt, then build the costume around this and velcro it shut. In the end, I never bother attaching the pieces to the undershirt. I still ended up using a tight black undershirt as the base layer, but I just put the rest of the costume on by slipping it over my head and velcroing the sides, then sliding on the sleeves and velcroing them to the shoulders.
The idea to use panels is what made this possible. I can't sew a fitted shirt around a body, but the panels don't need to bend too much. Much of the flexibility comes at the points where different panels meet and layer on top of each other. Plus, I think they provide the exact look I'm going for. Although I wasn't slavish to any movie costume, I decided to try to hew as close as possible because I never would've been able to visualize his current costume. I figured that if I lacked the ability to imagine how parts might look when finished, sticking as close as possible to something that existed would be the safest way to avoid it looking like a hot mess when I was finished.
Unfortunately, to make this costume you will need either a tailoring dummy or a best friend, preferably of a similar size to you. I used my twin brother.
~6 feet of yard-wide blue fabric - $20
~4 feet of red fabric - $8
~1 foot of white fabric - $2
1 sq foot of blue vinyl - $2
A long strip of brown vinyl - $10
A form-fitting, long-sleeve black undershirt, preferably with a high collar
Strong stick-on velcro - $3
1 foot of Stretchy black fabric - $2
A sewing machine
Hot glue gun
A dummy or partner
Step 1: Prepare the Undershirt and the Red 'field'
My plan was to avoid having to make a complete garment by attaching colored layers to an existing shirt. The lowest layer was the red band around the abdomen, so I started with that.
Just take a piece of red cloth and wrap it all the way around your midsection. Use the sticky velcro to fasten the two ends together.
Step 2: Cut Out and Hem the Center White Stripes
The next layers after the red are the white stripes. The easiest solution would be to just cut simple, even, strips of white cloth. You can see in pictures of the various costumes, though, that the modern, angular shapes represented in the recent movies look way cooler.
I think that it's important to remember that the goal isn't to perfectly recreate the costume, only to draw inspiration from it. That said, I tried to hew pretty close to the geometry. I made each stripe 3" wide. They are 2" apart at the top and 1.5" at the bottom. I sketched it out, then left a quarter inch around that when I cut so that I could fold it over. I tried using fabric glue, but it was messy, stiff, and discolored. The fabric glue I bought appeared to be a variety of rubber cement. Since it wasn't working out, I gave the sewing machine a try. It worked very well, and turned out to be way easier than I feared.
Once I'd hemmed the sides, I made a few squares slightly narrower than the band. I hemmed those and sewed them onto the stripes.
Some sewing tips from a complete non-expert:
- I primarily used nylon thread my brother got for sewing neoprene. It is nearly unbreakable. Regular thread is pretty easy to accidentally snap while sewing with the sewing machine, but the durable nylon thread sewed fine, but was nearly impossible to accidentally snap.
- Also, I never really learned how to finish stitches on a sewing machine, but I found a way that worked for me. There is a nob for changing the spacing of each stitch. Most of the time, I kept the spacing fairly large. This kept it a bit loose, so if I needed to undo something I could snip the thread a bit and pull it out. At the end of a stitch though, to keep it from coming out I would shorten the spacing to it's lowest setting for a centimeter or so. This made it tight, and especially if I overlapped stitches, it made it fairly permanent.
Step 3: Cut Out the Template for the Blue Chest Piece
Once the red field and the middle two stripes have been made, pin them together and set them in a good place. Then take a piece of blue cloth and lay it across the chest. Mark and cut to create the general desired shape.
In the end, I made the chest piece of seven pieces, none of which included this first piece. Still, it was crucial for laying everything out, so I still recommend making one. If you make it large enough, you can use this piece of fabric to make the back when the time comes.
Step 4: Make a Star and a Vinyl Panel
Everything about the layout of the chest is built around the central star, so I recommend buying or making the star at this point.
To make my star, I first drew one out using this guide. Once you have a symmetrical star you can move on to drawing and cutting out the panels which will surround the star, but I suggest finishing the star first to ensure that the costume is built around the star you're going to use.
You can use a flat star if you like, but I wanted mine to have depth, so I cut out five wedges, folded them along their axes, and glued them together.
The trick to adding depth is to shorten the short end of each diamond wedge so that when laid flat, they no longer interlock. When folded slightly, though, the wedges will once again meet in the center. I had to try four times to get the angles right. If you don't shorten the diamonds enough, you won't see any effect, but if you shorten too much, the diamond will stick out too far. I recommend shortening a 7 cm diamond by ~ 3 mm.
Once you have the shape you want and you've creased the diamonds, begin gluing them together. I used another piece of foam on the back to hold them all together. When dry, I painted the start silver.
With the star complete, cut out a piece of vinyl that will go underneath the star. The vinyl will provide a boarder around the star between its edges and the edges of the surrounding panels of cloth. This piece should be big enough to provide at least 2 cm all around the star and reach up to the collar of the shirt. I made mine wider than this because I wanted to create a gap between the upper left and upper right points of the star and the point where the fabric meets. If you look at Captain America's costume in Avengers 2, you can see that red rubber piping is used to subtly extend the points of the star all the way towards the shoulders. I didn't want to try to reproduce this exactly, but I wanted to do something similar so as to visually draw the star points outward.
As a final note on this step, be aware that the vinyl doesn't contour to curves nearly as well as cloth, so it's going to inhibit the process of shaping the chest piece until you can trim excess vinyl away and create a slice at the top. This will all be covered later, just know that it isn't a problem if the vinyl doesn't seem to be laying nicely against the chest at this point.
Step 5: Stencil, Cut, and Hem the Upper Left and Upper Right Panels
This can look daunting, but it really isn't. As you go, each panel will be made with the previous panels as a guide, so if your shape isn't identical to mine it isn't a problem.
Lay out the star where you want it, with a piece of paper under it.
Trace the star and then draw lines which are parallel but about one centimeter from the edge of the star.
At the top point of the star, trace a line that continues the right edge of the top point upwards and to the left.
Draw a line offset from the lower edge of the upper right star, and continue it about 7 cm past the tip of the point.
Draw a straight line connecting this point (~7 cm from the tip) back to edge of the star. On mine, I made this point about halfway between the tip of the left point and the spot where the left and upper points meet. I wouldn't overthink this, though. Just make sure that when you make the panel on the right side you mirror it to keep the symmetry.
Once you have your template, trace and cut a piece of blue cloth, being sure to leave overhang for the hem. In my first attempt, I cut a piece of cloth the same size as the template. When I laid it out, though, its edges were invisible, which undermines the whole point of building up layers. I tried highlighting the edges with a silver sharpie. I wouldn't call it a disaster, but by this point I'd realized that sewing hems wasn't actually hard, especially for long straight lines, so I just re-cut and hemmed the edges with the sewing machine. I then flipped the template over and repeated to make a mirror duplicate for the right side.
Step 6: Stencil, Cut, and Hem the Lower Left and Lower Right Panels
This process is nearly identical to the previous one. Using a piece of paper, trace and cut to make a paper template of the panel. It should sit offset from the star by about a centimeter. For the upper edge, draw it sow that it meets the upper panel at a pleasing angle.
If you want to keep it simple, you can just overlap these panels and sew them together. I traced the edge of the upper panel and folded and hemmed the edge of the lower panel so that it was parallel with the upper panel, then I laid them a centimeter apart with a strip of white in between. I really liked the effect, but it's optional. You can see here the effect I described on the previous step. The upper and lower panels don't create a consistent 1 cm margin around the star. Instead, they leave a wedge of vinyl visible that extends outwards from the tips of the two upper points to accentuate the geometry of the star outwards, towards the shoulders. In these images it is still subtle because the two panels are overlapping, but in the next step we're going to get fancy.
Step 7: Make Strips That Sit Where the Upper and Lower Panels Meet
This step is optional. If you are short on time or patience, just overlap the upper panel on the lower panel. Otherwise, prepare two strips that will each go underneath the upper and lower panels on each side.
If you were inclined to try and replicate the costume in Avengers 2, you'd probably want to make forked red vinyl strips with blue vinyl filling the space between the forks. My goal was to accentuate the joint in the two panels in the simplest way possible, so I just cut a strip of white cloth. I then cut a piece of red cloth and folded it over to make a neat edge. Looking back, I can't recall why I decided to make these strips white with end points instead of just strips of red, which would've been more faithful. As I've said before, my goal was never to reproduce the exact costume that Captain America wore in this particular movie, but I tried to hew as close to the design as possible based on the reasoning that the closer I stayed to a known product the more I minimized the chances of weird, unpredictable design features that might not look right in the final product.
Whatever you do, be sure to give yourself enough material to work with. I made my strips too narrow, so when it was time to sew everything together I ended up with an exposed edge I didn't want. It wasn't too noticeable, but it could've been avoided by using strips wider than an inch.
Step 8: Begin Assembling the Pieces of the Chest Piece
Now that we've got star, the vinyl layer, both upper panels, both lower panels, and the two white strips it's time to begin assembling the pieces so that they contour to a body. Pin the pieces together while they're laying flat, then drape the two upper panels over the shoulders of a similar sized friend of a tailor's dummy. Then readjust the pins so that the separate pieces sit comfortable and without creases. Feel free to pine items to the undershirt if it helps.
This was one of the most anxious steps for me. My advice is to sew the upper panels to the strips without sewing anything to the vinyl. I set the sewing machine to use loose stitches with big spacing so that they'd be easy to remove if necessary. Keep in mind that if something goes wrong, it shouldn't be too much work to replace either a strip, a panel, or even both.
After sewing, Lay the cloth on a body again to check that things are where they should be and readjust the pins. Then, sew the lower panels to the strips. Again, leave the vinyl unsewed. It should still be attached to the panels with pins. I kept a white paper star taped to the vinyl so I didn't risk damaging the foam one. In addition to the pins, you can see that i used masking tape to hold things in place.
Once things are placed where you like, sew the panels to the vinyl. After this, I had to cut a slit vertically in the vinyl from the collar to the star so that I could overlap the vinyl so that it laid flush.
When you're done with this step, the front chest piece should be more or less a single item.
Step 9: Make the Back Piece
The back piece consists of a large piece of blue fabric. With a permanent marker, indicate where to remove fabric for the necklines and shoulders. Cut the fabric, then drape it again over your assistant or dummy. The piece should be tall enough to go several inches over the shoulders and to extend down to the kidneys/bottom of the ribs. It should be wide enough to wrap around the sides.
To contour to the back, pinch a pleat of fabric underneath each shoulder blade. Fold them over and pin them. Lay a stitch along each of these folds of fabric and trim the excess from the inside.
Step 10: Assemble the Front and Back Pieces
Place the front chest piece and the back piece on at the same time. Pin the two together at the shoulders. Put on the red layer and adjust everything until it looks right. Then use the sticky-backed velcro to hold the from and back chest pieces together.
Step 11: Make the Layer That Sits Below the Star
We now need to make a blue layer that sits below the star and lays on top of the red field and the two center white stripes. As you've done before, cut a template from paper. Cut a cloth duplicate, with an extra centimeter to fold over and hem. Make the side bars. My brother cut these. He did a great job with them. Afterwards, I cut two blue strips, hemmed them, and sewed them to the tops of the side white stripes. I then positioned them where I thought that they looked good and laid the blue bands coming off the top behind the lower panels on each side.
Step 12: Cut and Glue the Shoulderpads
I'd originally planned to make detachable shoulder pads, then I decided to place them inside the sleeves. I considered decorating the shoulders on the outside, but never found a way to do so that looked good. So in the end, I left the shoulders alone. The shoulder pads are optional, but I think they help give the costume a slightly better shape. If you think of a cool way to make the shoulders, share it in the comments.
To make the shoulder pads, I cut circles of craft foam about 20 cm across, then cut out wedges and glued the edges together to make a dome in the shape of a shoulder.
Step 13: Make the Sleeves Pt. 1
The sleeves were made by stitching cloth and turning it inside out. First, though, I sewed two blue sections to a white section in order to create the white band. In my opinion, this made a big difference. If you're looking for more places to scale the project back, this is another one that is optional. That said, I think that the white bands are definitely worth it.
To make the sleeves, cut out a piece of cloth as long as your arm and wide enough to wrap all the way around the bicep with a margin for sewing. Cut out a white strip and sew it between two blue bands.
I messed up the sleeves because I made them too tight. There wasn't quite enough material to resew them, so I pulled out the stitching and sewed in a wedge of stretchy black fabric. I think it looked good, and it not only gave me the larger sleeves that I needed, it added a bit of give that was sorely lacking in the course cloth.
You can save yourself this trouble by just measuring twice and cutting once, but if you're nervous about this, adding a stretchy wedge can solve the problem.
Step 14: Making the Sleeves, Pt II
Once we have two big squares of cloth with a white stripe, wrap it around your arm or a friend's inside out and have the other person mark and pin along where the seem should go. Pull the sleeve off and sew along that edge. Turn the inside out sleeve inside out again and you'll have a sleeve that you can pull on.
Step 15: Attaching the Sleeves
The sleeves are attached to the shoulders with sticky velcro. This was the part of the costume that I had the most trouble with. I didn't make my sleeves quite long enough, and the right one in particular kept tearing loose.
Just give yourself plenty of room to work and then velcro the sleeves to the shoulders of the chest piece, with the foam shoulder pads underneath. Be sure to move your arms in big circles before you stick on the velcro to make sure you have sufficient range of motion. This was a serious problem for me. The act of scratching my head could cause the sleeves to tear off, as would the action of hooking and unhooking my shield.
Step 16: Sew the Harness
The harness is pretty straightforward. Cut a strip long enough to wrap around your shoulders and back. Fold it over and hem each edge. Then take that strip, loop it over each shoulder and around the back, as seen in the picture. Pin it, then stitch it. I then bent some wire to make a hook for the shield to hang on to.
Step 17: Put It All Together
Once all these steps are complete, put it on and adjust everything until it sits well. Then, pin and sew whatever you feel comfortable sewing. Trim what you can and make sure that it has comfortable range of motion. Wear it around for an hour around your house so you can find out if there are any spots that need adjustment. In my case, I sewed the front and back at the shoulders. To put it on, I stuck my head through the hole. I also added velcro to the back of the front vinyl piece so that the once it was on, I could overlap the two sides of the slit and velcro the top one firmly down.
After this, consider accessorizing. I got my shield on Amazon for $30, but there are plenty of instructions on Instructables for making nicer ones, and the difference is definitely noticeable.
I would also suggest making a belt and pants. For the belt, just glue brown vinyl onto boxes, perhaps the kind soap comes in or a box of floss, and then rivet them to a belt. The waistline where the shirt meets ordinary jeans diminishes the effect, so a utility belt would make a big difference.
For the pants, I would've liked to have just sewed patches of the same blue cloth used for the top as geometric shapes and false pockets on the pants, but I didn't have the time or patience.
For mine, I finished the look with a pair of hiking boots and black leather motorcycle gloves.