I had never constructed a garment before. I’d done some sewing in the past, so I knew my way around a sewing machine, and I’d done quite a bit of research online, so I was intimidated but felt as prepared as you can for your first time (wait, what are we talking about again?).
I had my fabric. It was dyed to a reasonable color. I had a fairly well-matched gray cotton for the back and my muslin for the lining, as well as an interfacing (I decided to go with fusible, for a few reasons: One, the fabric was a stretch fabric and I didn’t want to attempt my first hand-sewn canvas waistcoat on a stretch piqué meant for upholstry. Two, I was NOT confident about how to hand-stitch a canvas interfacing. Three, the fusible would help stabilize the fabric. Four, the waistcoat doesn’t have a lapel, so I didn’t need the perfect roll line that canvas provides. And five, it was cheap and readily available).
I was ready to begin.
I had been stressing over the welt pockets. I was confident I could cut them on the proper grain (being angled pockets, that can actually prove to be a challenge), but in researching welt pockets online I came across a wealth of conflicting information on how best to construct them. The general structure was always the same, but everyone had their own little quirks and ideas on the details that altered the final product. Eventually, I found a tutorial on YouTube outlining a method that I liked and could follow. I did many mock-ups in muslin.
I did the easy stuff first. I cut the belt. I sewed the belt. I cut the back panels. I sewed the back panels together. This was actually a bit more challenging than anticipated, as it turned out the cotton I bought had 2% spandex in it so it stretched one-way (joy). So I had to make some executive decisions on which direction the stretch should go. I was confident about that.
It was nerve-wracking as hell to make that first cut into the main fabric, especially knowing how much work I’d put into dyeing the fabric by hand. But, as carefully as I possibly could, I traced the pattern onto the fabric and cut out my panels. And my welt pockets. Things started to look like they had shape!
(If you’re wondering, yes, I was constructing this garment on my coffee table. I live in a small one-bedroom apartment with practically no room for anything (and I didn’t even have a dinner table at the time), so the coffee table was the only option. Also, the sewing machine was set up on my counter, meaning that I couldn’t sit in front of it to sew. Hooray for being an artist who spends all of his money on cosplay and not on adult stuff like furniture!)
But it was moving forward. Next came constructing that actual welt pockets, which took MUCH longer than I anticipated. I wanted to make sure all the pockets were real, fully-functioning pockets, and welt pockets are time consuming. But I powered through. I sewed the belt to the back. I then realized that the belt wasn’t long enough so I altered it. I cut my facing and my lining, I sewed them all together. I sewed the side seams down. Then I sewed my back piece to the front piece. Then I spent over an hour trying to figure out how the hell to flip it right-side out. Then I unpicked my side seams up to the armholes. Then I properly flipped it. Then sewed them all back down again. And hand-stitched the lining closed. So much pressing (it’s AMAZING how much more professional a garment looks when it has been properly pressed). My poor little cheap-o ironing board got such a workout. And I got to use my button-hole foot on my sewing machine! It was very exciting. And I just couldn’t wait so I sewed my buttons on! Voilà! I had made a thing!
I was stoked about the fit, too. And just a few days before Gally!
But I couldn’t bear looking at those white buttons, so against my better judgement I went to dye them. I decided to shoot for a warm gray. They dyed MUCH easier than the fabric, I learned, as I dropped them in the pot and they almost instantly turned jet black. Obviously I wasn’t going to walk around with those so I used a dye remover – which turned them a bright gold. Intrigued, I tried a few other dye tests, but couldn’t get the dyes to not turn them too dark (especially knowing that my fabric was a little too light, I couldn’t justify the very dark results I was getting), so instead I used the dye remover to bring the color back to a place I wanted. They ended up a warm gold. I sewed them on and let the project rest.
Gallifrey One was exciting. This was my first cosplay of the weekend and while I was there I picked up another addition to my 7b wardrobe that I was been beside myself about: My SCREEN ACCURATE BOOTS!
I had these commissioned from the company that made them for the show, made to my feet, and they came with my name inside! With these two new acquisitions, the boots and the waistcoat, I was stoked to run around as the madman with a box!
After its debut, I got a lot of inquiries from friends of mine and fellow cosplayers, wondering all about the waistcoat I made! But I was a little loathe to really talk too much about it, because the more I saw it properly together in photographs, the more things stuck out to me as problems.
Initially, I thought the fabric was a good color but a little too light. As I was finishing it up I kept thinking that it looked like a wedding vest. That bugged me. Not to mention that I wasn’t super thrilled with the welt pockets. They bunched on the sides and it always looked like the pocket bag was going to pop out. The buttons obviously needed a recoloring as well. And there were a few angles that could have been tweaked.
You’ll notice that Christel and I also took that photo with Steve Ricks – Steve brought me my shoes from London and we talked at length, though largely I asked him about my waistcoat project and he helped me troubleshoot some of the issues I’d had, as well as generally encouraging me to keep up the good work. Chief among the issues I chatted with him about were the welt pockets, and he gave me a lot of good advice. Shortly after Gally, I attended the Edwardian Ball and wore my Hide outfit.
The photos taken there solidified my need to upgrade my waistcoat. You can see where the pockets pulled on the fabric, and you can see the mesh marks from my silly ironing board. The color was just so light. I loved this waistcoat, so I needed it to fit a higher standard.
First, I went home and practiced more welt pockets. With the information I’d learned from Steve and the new things I’d found on the internet, my welt pockets improved exponentially. I opened the waistcoat, unpicked the old pockets, and started fresh (well, as fresh as you can with the pocket openings already cut into your fabric). One by one I made brand new welt pockets where the old ones used to be, with the waistcoat still mostly assembled. It was much harder than doing them brand new but I wanted to salvage this waistcoat, not just make a new one. But eventually, it was done, and my hard work really felt like it’d paid off.
The next thing to do was to dye it darker. The purple was an easy fix, as a higher concentration of my purple dye would make it darker and richer, but my gray needed to be replaced. Luckily for me, a brand new dark gray poly dye had just been released by the company I was using, so I picked it up. The result was a MASSIVE improvement over the old color.
I bought myself a bigger tub (though all I could find for cheap was plastic), took the muslin lining out of the waistcoat, and dyed the whole thing.
I stitched the lining back into place when it was all done. And WOW, what a difference it made!
Suddenly, the waistcoat was transformed from groomsman to haute couture. The cotton back had dyed to a nice dark purple, there were no blotches, the mesh marks had soaked out, and the new pockets were damn fine considering they were a patch job. And the buttons? I had an idea: To keep that warm undertone the screen-worn ones occasionally had, but to get them to match the waistcoat, I would use the gold color as a base and then slowly introduce the gray polyester dye to it – being silk, they won’t go to the extreme black they did before (since it’s a synthetic fiber dye) and it will need a long enough soak that I can determine exactly how dark I want them to get.
They had the perfect combination of cool gray and warm gold in them that they would change color in different lighting, just like the real ones seem to onscreen. With no originals to compare with, I can only guess as their true accuracy, but I was more than happy with the result.
I was very excited about the waistcoat. It got it’s new debut at WonderCon, where I once again got many compliments and inquiries.
But now that I had gone through revising it so dramatically, I wanted to rebuild the whole thing from scratch. Brand new, straight out of the box perfect. I couldn’t afford to go through the whole process again, though, so I found someone about my size to sell it to.
While going to sell it, I wanted to know EXACTLY where it stopped being screen accurate, so I asked around to those who would know. I was nervous about having to explain that it had a purple cotton back instead of a dark gray charmeuse. It had its upsides (it’s very comfortable at a hot con!) but the name of the game here is screen accuracy. What I learned upon researching this was that the original is actually made of purple cotton! Suddenly, it went from something to gloss over to a major selling point!
All was going well, I had my buyer lined up, and here I was about to finish the deal when…
Oh yeah, no big deal or anything. Those are just expensive, discontinued silk buttons from the UK that I dyed by hand.
I frantically searched for the missing button, but no dice. Wherever it had fallen off, it was lost forever. I couldn’t believe my bad luck. What the hell was I going to do now?
A search ensued, which finally ended with me finding some end-stock of these buttons (though made by a different company) in ivory (THANK GOD), which I then promptly ordered and dyed to match (see the image at right, where the middle button in the flower formation is off my old waistcoat, and it’s surrounded by newly dyed buttons).
(Also, worth noting: Yes, all the buttons you’ve seen pictured since the photo of the redyed waistcoat have all been the same color. See what I mean about the color changing dramatically in different lighting conditions? I don’t know why it does this, but I’m stoked about it. The above-right photo is probably the most accurate representation of their color; it was taken under an OttLite.)
After the dyeing was done, I super glued the back of all the buttons as a security measure and sent the v.1 off to its new owner.
With so many details about this waistcoat swimming in my mind, I was too stoked for v.2 to wait. I went out and purchased some nicer muslin (to give a little polish to it) and picked up some nice gray cotton (in lieu of dark purple, which they did not have) and more piqué fabric.
Dyeing the piqué fabric was an even bigger headache than before. I went through easily over $100 worth of bottles of dye trying to get even reasonably close to what I had previously achieved. Even the 100% cotton gave me some trouble, though not nearly as much. When I finally made a match, my fabric was blotchy and uneven. I had picked up a second set of each fabric for a friend of mine, and unfortunately his piqué fabric came out unusable (see right). Luckily for me, I could cut around the blotches on my own length of fabric.
I sat down and got to work. What had previously taken me 5 straight days of working 8-10 hours at a time I whipped up in 3 days of working on it sporadically. The entire construction process was SO much simpler the second time, now that I knew what I was doing, and being so confident in every little detail was extremely satisfying.
The last little detail that needed attending to was something I could barely confirm the existence of. It did appear to show up on the high res photos but I could never get a high enough resolution to actually prove it was there.
My friend was convinced that there was a line of hand-stitching around the neck, like a permanent basting stitch. Why would this be? To keep the lining from poking out? To shape the neck so it acts like a collar? I’m sure my ignorance is simply because I’m new to this, but after ascertaining that this really did exist, I made myself a little decorative neckline to match.
Overall, I consider this to be a very successful first project. Is it perfect? No. Even now, there are still details about it that I want to tweak. But overall I’m extremely pleased. This feels like something I have the ability to pursue. Even beyond cosplay, I’d love to tailor my own clothes from scratch. I’m currently looking forward and I see many fantastic opportunities for me to turn this into something truly fulfilling. My goal will never be to make a living doing this, but to wear a piece like this waistcoat and know that I made it myself from scratch… there really isn’t another feeling like it. And making my own fancy clothes is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than commissioning them, and I get to make sure they’re as perfect as I want them to be.
Speaking of which, something I’d like to address here, as I will inevitably be questioned about it: No, I will not be offering these waistcoats on a commission basis. The pain of dyeing the fabric is both unbearable and cost prohibitive. It is possible that I may offer these once a fabric I don’t have to custom dye becomes available, but that’s not an option at the moment. Check back when it is. If you have your own fabric you would like to supply, I’d be more than happy to look into a commission for you. Feel free to send me an email: