I came out of Thor 2 with a mission in life: a steampunk version of Loki’s coat. (Even better if it came with Loki inside it, but that’s beyond my capabilities.)
This is easily my most complicated project to date, and, unlike most projects I’ve discussed (primarily at my costuming site Steaming Apparel, but also my Improvising Steampunk Fashion and Recycling Old Items posts), I’m totally not offering this up for beginners. This is a major personal project, but it does still highlight certain things to keep in mind, and its successes and fails might be instructional to others.
Know Your Goal
We steal ideas from all over the place, including each other. That doesn’t mean you should simply copy another person’s costume, but seeing how they structure a skirt or what kinds of garments they use are all really helpful parts of creating outfits.
This is not cosplay. The end result will not look like the coat from Thor 2. It will be a coat inspired by Loki’s costume in Thor 2. It will not look as nice as the original, because Loki had the benefit from a crack set of well-paid costumers, while I am starting at Goodwill. Not accepting this reality will set yourself up for crushing failure.
Getting away from the cosplay mentality also lets you be free with your own ideas. Loki’s coat is the start point, not the end point. I can add and subtract with abandon. So while I have reference images, they are absolutely suggestions, not rules.
Finding a Coat
I build very few things from scratch. I’m pretty much limited to skirts and other things I can create with straight lines and safety pins. I’m certainly not going to build my own coat anytime soon. Gods, that sounds tedious.
So, first step is to find a coat, and that means another trip to Goodwill.
While you need flexible expectations when shopping at Goodwill, you should also have some general goals in mind. Here, important things were:
- Length: Loki’s coat is long, longer than most coats.
- Size: This is always important. Things looks best when they fit. If you can’t find something your size, big is usually better than small, but it still has to be reasonably close. A size 10 person in a size 6 outfit is not sexy. Make sure you have range of motion. See if you can close it. Check if the shoulder seam is, in fact, on your shoulder. Ask yourself long and hard whether you look like a three year old wearing your parents’ clothes.
- Quality: Loki is not a scrub, nor is my in-character persona. I want this to look nice.
Notched lapels. This is the most common type of lapel, and it would assist me in making the top of the collar stand up behind the neck.
- Lack of pockets. Loki clearly has no pockets, and pockets look less formal. However, pockets are also really useful and coats are generally made to be practical. So the question really became how unobvious the pockets could be.
- Tailored fit. In laymen’s terms, how blobby does it make me look? Is there a chance of anyone figuring out where my waist is?
- Flow. Some coats are fairly straight up and down. I want the top to be more fitted but the bottom to have movement.
I find three potential coats, each about $20.
I end up with the longest of my three options. It’s real leather, but it’s kind of cheap. Cheap, however, also equate to thin here, which is actually helpful. The best quality coat had much thicker leather, and I had real fears about my sewing machine being able to handle it (fears that played out even with the thinner leather).
The coat’s a bit big, but I think I can deal with that…particularly since the leather is thin enough to potentially go through the sewing machine.
It also has shoulder pads, which I am not thrilled with. As it turns out, those will become the biggest problem of the entire project. However, I’m pretty sure if I cut them out, the coat will hang funny. They are also really securely integrated into the overall structure. Removal would have required the cutting of fabric and probably partial removal of the sleeve, since the stitching runs clear through the padding. That would have been it’s own disaster. Loki’s jacket has rigid shoulders, so I’m going to take a cue from my reference images on this one.
The lapel, curse my luck, is a shawl lapel rather than a notched one. However, it runs most of the length of the coat, which offers options. It also is not overly tall, which is a plus. I’m not going for the Ming the Merciless look.
One coat had really obvious pockets, one had really unobvious pockets, and this one was in the middle. Stitching them closed will go a long way in disguising them.
There’s also a troublesome seam running horizontally at hip level. If it was at the waist, I’d be fine with it. But it’s not. I’m going to have to keep that seam in mind.
Smoothing the Wrinkles
You know those sad-faced puppies animal-rights groups show to bring awareness to animal abuse? There are clothing equivalents of those puppies, and this coat was one of them. While it was displayed on a hangar, it has clearly been wadded up in a heap for some considerable time. Why did your owner treat you so cruelly?
There are two ways of smoothing leather. The first is to put it in your bathroom and run the shower. The steam will release wrinkles. Do not actually put the coat in the shower.
If that doesn’t work well enough, you can iron it on medium heat with a paper bag between the coat and the iron. At least, so I’ve been told. I don’t think I needed to.
Darts and Linings
I have way too much material in the upper portion of the coat, particularly at the waist, so I’m going to insert darts, which involves pinching off material and sewing, which takes up slack and creates a more tailored look.
This coat, like most leather garments, has a lining. Linings help your skin slide under the coat rather than stick to the leather. I’ve also been warned leather dye can transfer from the raw inner surface (it’s only smooth on the outside of the coat) to skin or clothes, but I’ve never seen it happen.
Linings are a pain in the ass to make. If I tear it out, I will not be putting another one in, so I need to be conservative. I can always cut more later, but I can’t uncut. I decide to cut the lining horizontally were that horizontal hip seem is. This means if I had to actually sew it to the coat (and I didn’t) it’d line up with already visible stitches.
Now I pin and try on approximately one zillion times. I create a long dart along the back center seam, fattest at the waist (be sure to know where your waist is!) but running well up the back. I also take fabric in along the seam under each arm, and insert an additional dart between the center and each arm, totaling five adjustments.
It takes me several tries for it to lay right. And, again, my expectations have to be reasonable. This will never fit like a tailored jacket. It’s just getting a bit closer.
Do not get lazy about trying things on. When in doubt, try it on again. Taking in too much fabric can make the garment unwearable.
I’ve now found a use for that horizontal hip seam: I run the bottom points of the darts to it, so I have a shaped upper portion, a flowing lower portion and a less arbitrary break between the two.