Sky Captain And The World of Tomorrow - Creating a Costume for Commodore Franky Cook
Introduction - 4/2/05
I've got a history of costuming insanity so, after talking about it for months and with an opportunity looming to attend Costume Con, it's put-up or shut-up time at my end of the world. I've been wanting to make a copy of Commodore Franky Cook's costume since I saw Sky Captain And The World of Tomorrow in the theaters, so now I'm finally getting to it.
Conclusion - 5/5/05
WOOT! It's done. Well, er, almost. I have to get a patch in the correct colors for my sleeve, but the costume made its first appearance at Costume Con 23 in Ogden, Utah and won me a Hall Award (as it's technically not finished, I decided not to compete with it) and I'm pretty darnhappy with how it all turned out. Scroll to the bottom of this document to see some pix!
The place to start is always the reference photos.
To see the full-sized picture, click on the thumbnails.
Breaking Down The Elements - What's What and Ohmigod, How Do I Make That?
I'm not one of those super duper people who can draft their own patterns from scratch. When I want to make something, I usually buy a commercial pattern and kitbash into an approximation of what I want. Fortunately, a pattern for the jacket was easily found.
The pattern on the left - follow the link to the retailer - is almost perfect, except for the matter of length - it's cut to just below the waist - and an issue with the arm-seam, which I will go into, below.
In terms of materials, the entire thing is black leather, with the exception of the front panel, which looks like wool, also black. The piping seemed to vary from white to slivery gray in the movie. I've taken the expeditious route and chosen white piping.
-- I heartily recommend investing in a "rolling foot" for your sewing machine before tackling pleather. It's cheaper than fixing your machine when you've busted the timing, or buying more pleather because it got stuck in your machine and the seam went all wonky.
-- Unless you've got some seriously heavy stuff - or you're using real leather, in which case I doubt you need this web page - flat-line your pleather with the medium weight denim. Handle the resultant fusion as a single piece of fabric.
-- Lengthenyour stitch when sewing flat-lined pleather. Too-short a stitch will 'perforate' your fabric. I set my machine to something one-step short of a basting stitch, and it came out looking like my regular default stitch length, which surprised me.
-- The arm seams in back will throw you off a bit. Despite the way the illustration looks, the seam of the sleeve does not precisely match up with the seam on the back. At least the pattern instructions made a point of mentioning that, lest you go mad trying to make them match. For a solution, I took the lazy way around of taking my assembled muslin sleeve, marking where I wanted the seam to be (you have to move it up about a half inch), cut the muslin and drew new pattern pieces from there. Don't forget to include your seam allowance!
-- As you assemble the jacket, you must finish the lower edge before you add the front panel. I forgot to do this, and it set me back quite a way - do-overs in pleather are hard to arrange. Pay attention to the pattern's instructions.
-- I find piping to be a pain in the ass. Practice with a spare packet and some muslin, first, to get the hang of it. I lay down my piping on one piece of the fabric with a basting stitch, having first measured to make sure that the inside edge of the piping lands smack-dab 1/2" (the seam allowance) away from the edge of the fabric. Then I pin the other piece of fabric to it, and feel for where the edge of the piping is and, with a contrasting color pen, draw where my ideal sewing line will be and use that as a guide. If you can use your zipper foot to lay down that seam, so much the better, as that will get you much closer to the edge of the piping. Again, it's better to err by not sewing close enough, than sewing too close and possibly going over the piping and hiding it. There's no unpicking of seams with a non-woven fabric like pleather, sigh.
-- Instead of buttons, I laid down velcro to close the inside of the jacket, all along the outer edge of the top panel, and a bit on the inside opposite corner, to make putting it on a little easier. Be careful! You can machine sew the velcro that goes on your inside panel, but you'll want to hand-sew the upper layer of velcro just to the inside of the jacket facing, so that it doesn't show through.
-- Since making the jacket, I've been told by someone who saw the original costume at FIDM in Los Angeles that the piping on the sleeve does not extend all the way down, but stops about three inches short, because there is a zipper in the sleeve at that point. Hm, that explains the snug fit of the original...
-- I tried a mockup with a single layer of felt and, honestly, it was a bit flimsy. I tried again with two layers of felt, and it was a lot better.
-- Cut your felt to match your buckram. This is a lot easier than cutting an exact copy of the paper pattern in felt and then messing about with 'matching' it to the buckram base.
-- The felt adds bulk and heft to the gorget (you could probably use any extra flat-lining denim if you've got it, I just used what I had) and stops the texture of the buckram from showing through on the vinyl.
-- Put your favorite steam kettle (borrow one if you must) on to boil. Steam your buckram frame into the shape you want it to assume over your shoulders. This won't be perfect or precise, but it will make your life easier once you're done. The buckram will get pretty severely abused as you continue, but it will remember at least some of the shape you've forced it into. Keep it in that shape until the buckram has cooled and the glue/starch has re-set.
-- Test fit this fabric-and-buckram form over the jacket. That pleather collar is bulky, so you want to make sure that you've got enough room at the neck of the gorget for it to still close and fit. Having a friend to help with this is invaluable. Trim neckhole as needed - it will almost certainly need it. Don't forget that the pleather on the gorget itself will add bulk and make it fit more snugly, too. My first run at the gorget was way too small at the neck.
-- Cut a big square of pleather. Glue it on top of the felt, as you did the felt to the buckram.
-- Again, don't use hot glue! It can melt the pleather, burn your fingers and generally isn't worth the aggravation. Trust me.
-- A note on Fabri-Tac brand glue: I love this stuff, and I go through a couple of pints of it every year. However, today (4/5/05) I just suffered a nasty lesson. Fabri-tac is an acetone based glue. Pleather, for all intents and purposes, is plastic. We all know what happens when acetone meets plastic: one dissolves the other.
-- All has not been lost. The pleather's texture has changed a bit - it stretched and the grain became a bit more obvious as it stretched - but I stuck with it because a) I don't think it's that noticeable from more than a foot away and b) I just don't have time to start over from scratch. Maybe after Costume Con, I can make another version for BayCon, but at the moment, my time is limited. Gah! My point is, I don't know much about the proper adhesives, but if you've got the time, look into alternatives and, for heavens sake, test your glue first! A friend has suggested whatever is used to glue/patch automotive upholstery, which is often pleather/plastic in nature, but I don't know of any specific brands to suggest.
-- In the end: I used Elmer's brand Craft Bond spray glue for the large area gluing - such as putting the big bit of felt onto the buckram and ditto the pleather on to the felt, with careful use of the fabri-tac when gluing the underside down, because you have to move quick with the Elmer's stuff if you want a permanent bond - read the instructions on the can.
-- Trim your pleather, leaving at least one inch allowance around the edges. It's going to be a lot less at the inside corner of the collar. Just be careful!
-- Glue the underside of the pleather to the buckram. You'll probably have to clip here and there along the curves to create a flatter edge. Take your time. Make a practice one, first. :)
Click on the picture for a larger view.Attaching Straps To the Gorget
I got these rivets and the tool at Michael's Craft Store - and couldn't find hide nor hair of them at either of my local JoAnn's , so be prepared to hunt around for them. The rivets are $5 per pack, and if you're careful, you need exactly 24 (one package) for the gorget. So don't lose any!
Set the rivets WRONG SIDE OUT.
The wrong side is almost-flat, and quite plain. You don't want the textured 'decorator' side showing.
An attempt to describe how I mucked about with measurements, bits of paper and the reference pictures in order to rivet the gorget would bore you to tears. Suffice it to say that, after mucking up one (too small) the second one came out fine (see ../../pix, below - when it's not far too late for me to be mucking about online, I'll get better ../../pix of the gorget up)
-- Cut some strips of buckram, long enough for the shoulder strapping, and then some. (again, better too much than too little) and glue fabric to them, as per the felt on the gorget above. Cover with pleather. These, with the buckles, will become the shoulder straps on the gorget.
-- If I come up with a better way to close the gorget, I'll let you know. For now... Get a friend, put the gorget on over the jacket and have the friend mark where the top and bottom of the center-back (the closure) is, with chalk. (this is one of those times that having a fitting mannequin is really nice)
-- Take the fuzzy side of your two-inch velcro, and cut a piece a bit shorter than the length of the opening slit in the back of the gorget. Sew it to the back of your jacket, between the marks. The intention is for the gorget to hide this, entirely..
-- Take the other half of the velcro - the prickly bit - and cut it in half lengthwise. Glue it to the underside of your gorget, one length to each side of the closure.
-- When you put the gorget on, anchor the velcro on the underside of the gorget to that on the back of your jacket. That, and the strapping (see below) and the steaming of the buckram should suffice to hold its shape whilst on you. You might need to strategically add a bit more velcro, here and there. I'll post more when I know it myself.
-- Take some of your rivets and your practice gorget, and practice setting the rivets. You want to set the little dears wrong side out. The bottom side of the rivet is a flat silver, whereas the top is all textured - at least, the package I got are that way. You want the flat silver disk to be facing outwards on the final garment. You might want to hit the rivets with some dulling spray if you have it (test on one, compare) but my husband says he thinks I'm going too far at this point. :)
-- Rivet the back of the gorget, as per the picture.
-- Place the shoulder straps on your gorget. Again, having a friend to help hold things down (or a mannequin to do it on) will help a lot. Glue the straps front and back, and follow up with rivets, as in the reference pictures. This is why you want functional buckles, because once those rivets are on, you're not going to be able to get the item on, otherwise.
-- With luck, you've now got a wearable gorget. I'm only halfway through construction myself, right now, so I'll keep you posted.
I have no idea how to do those bolts on the shoulders. I'm hoping inspiration will strike, soon.
I took a bottle of RIT black and diluted it with a gallon and a half of water and a "container" of salt (the whole little round cardboard thing, I think 1 lb), then submerged the hat and boiled it for about 7 hours. Then I was tired, so I turned off the heat, covered it with foil to keep the roommates out, and went to bed. I forgot about it the next day, so it was in the cool water for about 36 hours after the boiling before I took it out, rinsed it really well in the sink with dishsoap, washed it in the washer and dried it in the drier.
This whole submerge forever and boil a while method is the only thing I've found that makes polyester somewhat take dye. It only works on small projects that can fit on the stove, though. However, if you just use cold water and submerge at least overnight, you can use it to give bold tints to synthetic wigs without frizzing them out, like make a brown wig henna-coppery (mix red and burgundy for henna).
My only comment on this is that you might not want to put the cap in the drier, but let it air-dry. If you must throw it in the dryer, put it on the delicate setting, as polyester ain't too fond of hot dryers, either.
Another option is to buy a regular USAF cap in your size, take it apart, make a pattern from it, and then make your own in black twill. Labor intensive, but viable.
Belt pouch: As evinced by the photos, Franky wore a black pouch on her belt, on her left side. Me, I don't have anything ready to hand, and I'm running out of time and money, so I'm going without. If you've got the time and the wherewithal, play about with your buckram and pleather, or visit your local thrift store for a clutch-type purse that you could kitbash.
Eye patch: I don't want to use a medical eyepatch for this costume, as they're large an unwieldly. I'm going to kitbash a patch with a bit of buckram, fabric and pleather again, so it's the right size and shape.Unfortunately, I'll have to wear it over my left eye, because if I wore it over the right (as per the character) I'd bump into walls and hurt myself in very short order. The dubious delight of severe astigmatism... Unfortunately, my costume wonkiness must bow to safety issues.
And finally... me in the costume!
Costume Con 23.
Again, click on thumbnail for larger view.
Fabric, piping and buckram: $60 (I bought all my fabric at a discount place during a sale. Full retail cost would have been much more)
Rolling foot for sewing machine: $35 (more of a long-term investment really, and I love it!)
Rivets, the silly little tool to set the rivets and a can of dull-coat: $17
Boots: $7 (thrift store find)
Cap: $0 (a gift from a friend)
Thrift store shoes (scavenged for buckles): $7
Bottle of silver spray paint (for belt buckle): $5
Can of Elmer's Craft Tack: $5
Patches: traded for two yards of fabric from my horde.
Total: $161 + bartered goods.