Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fly-by-Night Airship Jacket: Putting it together

Alright....this is part two of my posts on the Steampunk jacket, dubbed the "Fly-by-night" (no idea  why) Airship jacket.  Or, just airship jacket.  It was inspired by several things, the late Victorian military tunic or jacket, a particular image of Colonel Mostery (a Victorian era swordsman and fighter), and probably a couple other things I can't remember.

Part I, roughly covering the drafting, can be found HERE.

For those who haven't been following along on the Matsukaze Workshops FB page (which you totally should!), this project took much longer than it should have--a full year due to several setbacks.  Trouble sourcing enough nice buttons for a reasonable price (since I needed around 40 matching buttons!), lack of sleeve then lining materials (I later found my lining material in a pile of stuff), running out of leather dye....  And of course, because it is a steampunk project rather than a historical one, it was lower on the priority list--so it didn't get worked on as much.

Something to be noted was that the heavily structured elements of the jacket--they had a fair amount of chest padding and canvassing to help product that "military posture".  I wanted this in mine.  So, after I had the correctly fitting draft, I drew out the assorted layers.

The two blue outlines are both canvas--cotton duck, unwashed--, and the red ones were of either needled cotton batting.  The locations roughly follow my chest, in order to accentuate it somewhat (i.e. it helps the waist look slightly smaller, and the chest look a bit more muscular).

And the layers, all laid out.  Looking closely, you can see that the two layers of canvas look slightly different; this is because the main layer is unwashed, so it still has all the sizing to stiffen it.  The smaller chest piece was washed once or maybe twice to shrink and soften it.  Whenever I buy canvas, I keep some back from the wash for that reason--just in case I want something a bit stiffer (assuming a nonwashable garment).

Made things a little more complicated, adding a touch of padding in the shoulder--this was to help fill in the hollow there.  As you can see, the padding is sandwiched between the two layers of canvas.

Padstitching lines marked, and the layers basted into place--only semi-recommended, because for maximum effect, you want the layers to be able to shift as you padstitch.  I personally feel that I get enough effect, and any loss is made up for in the control on something like this.

You can see that I got plenty of curve for my chest.

And worn...since the jacket is so close over the chest, I had to make sure that the canvassing would actually fit under it, and I wouldn't have to make the fashion layer slightly larger.

About this point, I think I finally decided that I was going to go with a short jacket, rather than the frock coat.

The pieces prior to fitting.

And all laid out for cutting.  You can see that I cut the center back on the fold (and paid attention to the fabric pattern and making it even), rather than having a seam there.  The sidebody was likewise lined up to pattern match at the back-sidebody seam.  The forebody was /not/ cut at this point, since I decided I wanted a straight run of stripes at the shoulder.

Alright.  Run of stripes.  You can see here that the armscye seam cuts across on the partial bias, interrupting the run of stripes.  Something you can do with some wools, and you may occasionally see in extremely upper end suits is that the fabric is manipulated with a hot iron until the pattern lines up with the armscye seam.

Essentially, this is done by stretching the fabric with moisture and a hot iron until the grain of the fabric is shifted over by the desired amount.  You can see here how it was effected, and how much I had to shift it over, since the pattern was traced before and after manipulation.

Everybody (because I made the mistake of asking for advice) told me I shouldn't do it, it's not worth it, etc....to which I reply *pffft*.

Finally, all the body pieces were cut out, as you can see.

Back-sidebody seam.  I also achieve a fairly decent pattern matching here, keeping the run of stripes down the back.

Canvassing permanently basted into place (tiny stitches through the right side of the fashion layer) and fit being checked.  I was happy with it...except I felt that a little more body was needed--the sidebody seam kept collapsing.

So, I had two choices.  Either boning, or more canvas.  While the boning would have been fun and amusing, I went with the canvas to add more body.

I cut out the pieces (again), minus seam allowance.  They were laid in place....

And herringbone stitched to the seam allowances.

And the front canvassing.  You can see the difference between the washed and new canvas here.

Sleeves!  I think I did end up re-laying it out to pay more attention to the stripes.  The plaid pattern isn't nearly as visible as it appears in the camera flash--it is what is known as a shadow plaid. 

With the sleeves cut out, it was time to baste them together, baste into the armscye, and check the fit.  Yup...it fits.

There are one or two steps missing here, and that is the construction of the leather applique on the cuffs.  While you can't see it here, the applique is similar in shape and size to the ones on this Confederate uniform (not the only example, just the first clear one I found when writing this).

I lucked out at some point and found a large pigskin jacket at the thrift store...disassembled and dyed, this became the leather accents on the jacket.

Upon basting the finished sleeves into place, I remembered that I was going to do epaulets--which are sewn into the armscye seam at the shoulder.

They are made on a base of the heavy wool, with the leather wrapped over them.

...whipstitched into place, then topstitched.  And then seriously pressed.  Did you know you can sometimes press leather?  You want to keep the moisture down, but you can get a nice, polished appearance on the skin side.

The body lining was turned and sewn over the sleeve to give a closed sleeve.

I used a combination of drafting and draping for the collar, which is quite simple, since it's standing.  It was made the same way as the epaulets, and the lining felled over it to cover the collar seam.

The front closes with hooks and bars; because of the tensions on these, I used the large ones meant for trousers.  Three times my moronic self had to sew those on, because I kept getting it wrong.

Each button is about 3/4" diameter and hollow steel (or nickel).  Whatever.  They are metal.  When I asked for what people thought looked better--groups of 2 or of three--the answer was unanimously for groups of three.  Which I did end up doing.

The front plastron is, as you can see, pieced leather (since I had to take it from the back of the jacket, which was in four pieces), stiffened with canvas, and the backside covered with black flannel.  The construction was the same as that of the epaulets and collar.

Getting close to finishing at this point.  I used a chisel to cut the buttonholes, and a leather punch to do the keyhole. The actual stitching was accomplished with a glover's needle--I made sure to just barely place each stitch close enough to cover the edge, while keeping them far enough apart so that the leather wouldn't be weakened too much.  I had something like 19 buttonholes per side...

Interestingly, working them in the leather did give me good practice on getting my stitch spacing et al even--more so than fabric does, I think.

And this ends the progress photos--to be fair, all that was left was sewing a bunch of buttons on; still, I thought I had taken a photo of that.  This particular photo shows the second to last step on the front plastron--going over it with fresh dye, to cover up all the little dots of undyed leather from the buttonhole stitches.

After doing that, I pressed it heavily, until it was shiny.  I actually did take a picture, but it didn't turn out at all.

I did require a second person to mark the button locations, while I held the plastron to my body--amazingly, it worked.  Sewing the buttons on was basic, of course.

On the whole, I am quite happy with the garment.  It looks almost exactly like I wanted, the fit is decent (although I would like about 1" more width across the chest), and it makes me feel good to wear it.  But, now I need to make a matching pair of trousers one of these days.  And soon...just in case I get to go to Steamposium this year.

The only thing I would have changed is on the plastron--I should have given a slight curve to the center seam, to make it slightly longer than the edges.

© John Frey, 2017. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.  Photographs of my work may not be duplicated.


  1. It's beautiful! And looks like it fits very well.

    1. I am...almost...happy with the fit. I came so close, lol.

      But I do like how the garment looks. All those buttons are a pain, though!