How It Was Made: Captain America (2014 edition)
September 15, 2014

Another Captain America project is under way and this one has a bit of a twist. It’s being made so that it’s convertible – the torso can be swapped out and the chest stripes can be removed so the costume can be work as either the “classic” Cap or the Commander Rogers “stealth suit” version. Here’s the concept rendering for the top.



The suit will also have the harness and belt. The pants will be modeled after basic BDU pants but will be made in the same blue Cordura as the top. I really worked with the client on the concept and design for this suit. He wanted something that had the feel of the movies but was unique and that could be worn as two different costumes. I thought his ideas were brilliant and I was very excited to work on the project.

To get started, I had the client (who is out of state from me) fill out his measurement card and send it back. It just so happens that he was almost exactly the same size as a friend of mine who was at the studio quite a bit while we worked on a costume for him. So, I decided to kidnap him one afternoon and make a duct tape dummy of his torso and one arm to use for drafting the patterns.



He looks thrilled, right? Once I cut it off, I used the side without the arm to make the torso pattern and reserved the side with the arm for the upper jacket.


I pinned the entire side to a form and used a sharpie to map out the seam lines for the jacket.


After cutting apart all the duct tape pieces, cleaning up the lines and tracing it all out on paper, I had patterns for my two upper body pieces.


The next step was to make a mock up to send to the client for fitting. I had some remnants of Cordura, jumbo spandex and headliner foam from other projects, so I raided those to create the fitting model. The upper picture is both pieces as they will fit together and the lower is just the torso. As I mentioned before, there will be two different torso pieces – one that’s all blue for the “stealth” version and one that’s red and silver for the “classic. The torso will fit like a tank top with athletic mesh on the top under the jacket to keep it as cool and breathable as possible.

upper-mockup torso-mockup

Once the client tried on the fitting pieces, sent me pics and we discussed alterations, the real construction could begin. The costume is being made in 500 Denier Cordura with stretch accents made of jumbo spandex. There are also areas of the costume that will be fitted with headliner foam to add structure and support and all of the non-stretch areas are being lined with cotton for comfort and to absorb moisture.

I began with the sleeves. I had to cut apart the shoulder bells to design in the stripes. I’m using an upholstery weight vinyl that has a stainless steel type finish for all the stripes. I built the blue and silver bells and then made the foam inner layer.



Here’s a pic of the upper arm with the shoulder attached. When using the jumbo spandex on costumes like this one, I like to use the wrong side of the fabric. It has a nice texture that reads like a really cool knit rather than the bright sheen of the spandex and it goes really nicely with the navy blue Cordura.


And here are the sleeves completed.

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With the sleeves done, the next step was to finish the jacket and under collar. The chest has a foam underlining to support the star as well as the stripe pieces that will attach with magnets. The back and side back are Cordura lined with cotton and the side front is made of the jumbo spandex to provide flexibility. Once everything is complete and all adjustments are final, the bottom edges of the jacket will be finished with matching bias.

jacket-1 jacket-2

Once the jacket was complete, I needed to draft the ‘shawl’ piece. This is the piece that covers the back and extends over the shoulders. It fits under the harness and has an outer collar.


I began by laying a piece of muslin over the jacket and sketching out the basic shape for the piece.


Once the basic size and shape were determined, I could add some detail. I intend for this piece to be worn with both versions of the costume, with or without the harness. So, I want this to be a nicely detailed addition to the costume and not just a ‘pad’ for the harness. I set out to work in some of the details from the movie costume to provide some depth and interest even if the harness is not there.

I decided to use 2mm craft foam to create the ‘padding’ effects in this piece. I wanted something with some structure but nothing that would be too stiff and restrict movement. I patterned out the sections of the ‘shawl’ and started with the front. The Cordura layers were lined with cotton and then the foam insert was placed inside them and I used a zipper foot to stitch around the edges of the foam.

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The back was made in a similar fashion.


I’ve completed one side of this piece so far. The other side will be completed, the piece finished down the center back and the outer collar added. There will then be an additional, decorative piece sewn onto the center back and the whole ‘shawl’ will attach to the jacket with snaps. I also need to complete the decorative ‘ribbing’ stitching detail over the shoulders of the jacket but there’s plenty of time for that to happen down the line… Here’s what the one side of the ‘shawl’ looks like pinned to the jacket.

shawl-5 shawl-6 shawl-7

Once the ‘shawl’ piece was complete, I began mapping out the variant torsos. I made a muslin copy from the base pattern and then drew the patterns for the red/silver version on one side and the ‘stealth’ version on the other.

torso-map-1 torso-map-2

Then, once again, it’s just a matter of cutting the pieces apart and transferring them to the actual fabrics. I decided to start with the red/silver torso – mainly just because I wanted a break from navy blue for a bit. 🙂 I mapped that torso to be striped all the way around. After looking at some reference from Avengers 2, I noticed that – like most of the other Cap movie costumes – the stripes only go to the sides and the back is all blue.

Avengers - Age of Ultron - new Captain America suit (2)

I’ve touched on this with the client and he’s open to either. Personally, I like them going all the way around, so I made a torso based on my first concept. I’ll send him images and see what he thinks and adjust as needed. Here are some images of the pieces of the torso laid out and the shell assembled with the top so far.

torso-layout-1 upper-body-1 upper-body-2

After conferring with the client, it was determined that we wanted to do this torso with the blue back. So, I adjusted the color blocking and got the torso ready for finishing.


With the lining assembled, I needed to add in the ‘padded’ details to the red stripes to represent the 3-dimensional design of the movie costumes. Once again, I used 2mm craft foam. I cut the pieces of foam, lightly sprayed them with Super 77 to keep them in place and pressed them onto the back of the red stripes. I then laid the lining over the back and, using the zipper foot (just like the ‘shawl’) I stitched around the foam pieces.

torso-2 torso-3

Once that was done, I finished the bottom edge and added the mesh top. Now, it just needs a zipper.

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Here’s what the finished torso looks like with the jacket.

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The variant ‘stealth’ torso gets under way! This was made using the same method as the ‘classic’ version: I used the mark up from the torso base patterns to cut the pieces. Then, the foam accents were sewn in just as they were in the above torso.

variant-torso-1 variant-torso-2 variant-torso-3

That last pic shows it with a canvas ammo belt I wanted to try out as an option. I’m not sure on that. No matter what it needs a dye job and some paint on the hardware. I’d like the belt, harness, gauntlets and boot covers to all match in (faux)leather, but we’ll see…

In the meantime, this torso will be finished with the top and zipper. I then began the template for the harness. I just started with some pattern paper pinned on the costume on the form. I roughed out the lines, cut it out, folded and taped it, traced it out, evened the curves and came out with a pattern that will serve as a start.

harness-draft-1 harness-draft-2 harness-draft-3 harness-draft-4

From here, I’ll need to test it in fabric and then work on making sure it will work with the back buckle (later on that). This, in the end, needs to match a number of other accessory pieces (see the belt question above) so it’s important to consider all pieces when making material decisions.

I got started on working out the chest stripes. These will magnet onto the costume and can be worn with the ‘stealth’ version or left off for the ‘classic’ version. The stripes themselves will be made of the same silver vinyl as the shoulder stripes and they will be fully finished with the blue Cordura.

When I made the initial pattern for the costume, I mapped this piece out and kept that bit in tact. I made a scan and 1:1 print of it so I can cut the print up to make the piece and use the template to place the final with the final star.


Since this was originally just drawn freehand, the next step on the stripes was to even up all the angles and straighten all the lines. I cut up the paper copy and transferred it some pattern paper and ruled all the lines out.


Then the entire piece was cut from the silver vinyl. I added the stripes to the silver piece and then edged it all the way around with blue Cordura.

chest-stripes-4 chest-stripes-5

This is the first test run on this piece. I’m not crazy about it. I think the border around the edges is much too large and distracting. I need to either make that edging about 1/2 – 1/4 that size or I need to cut the entire blue area as one piece and inset the silver into it (the way the shoulders are done).

After some deliberation, I decided to cut the entire stripe ‘patch’ from the Cordura and inset the stripes. I traced the piece out on the back (coated) side with silver sharpie and, leaving a large amount of space on the outside (making it much easier to handle), I cut out the stripe areas and the stripes and inset them one at a time. For a hint at the nerve-searing scale I was working with, the first pic is taken next to a sharpie.

new-stripes-1 new-stripes-2 new-stripes-3

The second image above is the bottom stripe from the back showing how the blue was cut to the corners through the seam allowance and the angles were sewn. When doing this kind of angle work (which I do quite often), it’s very helpful if you can trace the stitching lines onto the pieces. In the first image above, you can see the lines on the blue and the stripe where the corners and the finished lines should match up. This way you can carefully keep an eye on all of your points and lines as you’re constructing the piece.

When you don’t have the option of tracing out the lines or using chalk or markers to mark dots on the fabric, tailors’ tacks are invaluable. If you’re not familiar with that term, a tailors’ tack is a single hand stitch that marks a point on the fabric as a guide – then, you just take the thread out when you’re done. Here’s a pic to illustrate:


With the three stripe pieces inset into the blue, I then needed to finish the edges. I trimmed all the silver vinyl to an even 1/4″ around the edges and trimmed it across the internal stripe areas so it would lay flush and not overlap. Then, since I didn’t want any other stitching to show on these pieces, I turned to every costumers’ most trusted friend and the single item that no shop, whatever the size or budget, can function without.



Once the edges were glued and trimmed, I added the magnets. These are neodymium or ‘rare earth’ magnets and are wicked strong. I used Loctite to secure them to the back of the ‘patch’. The entire patch will be finished with Cordura contact cemented down to both finish the piece and also to make sure the magnets don’t pop off the back.


I lined up the ‘patch’ to the chest, pinned it on and turned it over so that I could match the magnets on the inside of the jacket. Here are a couple of images of the new & improved stripes on the chest. This version looks much more sleek and ‘seamless’ and matches the look of the shoulders much better than the first version. Yay progress!

new-stripes-7 new-stripes-8

Last week, I decided to do a test run of the pieces together to see how they moved and fit together. Overall, they fit together really well, move really well and are quite comfortable. However, I noticed that, if he tries to pose in certain ways (really extreme poses, like the shield-over-the-head), the mesh ‘tank’ top on the torso will show. Bad. So, I’m going to revamp this area with the blue spandex and make it more of a ‘t-shirt’ fit than a ‘tank’. That way, it will all blend together no matter how he moves or which torso he’s wearing.


I’ll address the upper part of both torsos at the same time. In the meantime, I wanted to get the pants complete. Originally, the client just wanted basic BDU pants to go with the uniform, so I began putting them together.


Though they looked fine, they just seemed too plain to go with the rest of the suit. So, I wanted to give them a little detail with the jumbo spandex to pull everything together. With the pants already cut and partially assembled, I decided to just add in some simple striping detail. To do this, I just needed to cut the pieces apart and create the striping. Since the front details were just straight lines down the front, I’m going to detail the back because it’s more interesting.



The first step is to draw out the cutting lines on the back side of the piece. The piece is then cut apart and the edge is traced on pattern paper. The trick here is that I always use a 1/2″ seam allowance – so, I can just create a 2″ inset based on the cut edge of my piece and, when sewn in, it will create a 1″ stripe detail. No fuss, no muss.


When the cut edge is traced, simply follow the line 1″ on either side. This creates the stripe detail and the seam allowance needed. In the above image, the line in the center of the paper piece is the cut edge of the Cordura piece next to it. By extending that line equally 1″ on either side, I have a piece that will fit perfectly into the Cordura pieces without having to cut or measure them any further. This is what the piece looks like after being sewn in and finished.


The second image above shows the pants laid out flat so you can compare the detail version to the version I started with. Here are the pants with the inseam done and the crotch sewn up (and the flaps added to the side pockets). Next are the waistband and the snaps on all the pocket flaps.

pants-6 pants-7

I put some of the pieces together to get an idea of the whole thing so far with the pants.

stealth-test-1 stealth-test-2

I finished the torsos – completed the variant ‘stealth’ version and revamped the ‘classic’ version with the new spandex top. The blue upper portion of the torsos will now ensure that the costume all blends together and there are no gaps in the suit no matter the pose.

torso-8 torso-9


With that complete, I moved on to the harness. I worked up a basic paper template for the harness earlier and continued on to refine that pattern. The upper part of the harness has a larger base strap, so began with that based on my template. I’m using an upholstery vinyl for these pieces. I wanted there to be a good amount of body to the upper harness, so I backed this under strap with headliner foam.


The actual strap was then cut out, the edges folded under and the strap was sewn to the base with the hardware included. Here’s a tip when doing this kind of piece – Super 77 is your friend. I gave the headliner a light spray to tack it down before sewing the edges of the under strap and I also sprayed the back sides of the top straps so that I could fold over the edges and have them tacked down while sewing them. In small doses, it’s a life saver to keep things in place so they don’t slip and shift while you’re working with them.


The lower straps (that go under the arms) were next. It just so happened that the same pattern for the upper straps worked for the lower – good curve and size – so I just cut another set. For these, I wanted extra thickness and I wanted the backs to be finished. So, I cut one set the finished size and (you guessed it) Super 77’d them down and cut the outer strap with an allowance. I then folded the allowance over, stitched it down and trimmed the excess.


The next step was to put the harness pieces together and set them on the suit (on the form) and begin the template for the back buckle. I worked it up in paper pinned to the form and then refined it in poster board for a good, traceable pattern. More on that to come.

harness-5 harness-6

While on an accessory role, I decided to go ahead and try to knock out part of the belt. The main pieces are made using the same technique as the lower harness straps above.


And I had to put it all together so far…


The next piece to address was the ‘buckle’ on the back of the harness. I considered a couple of different options on this and, with the time frame, I decided to go with foam for the base and some triangular plastic rings for the straps. I did consider casting it in resin but was afraid of the resin breaking. The first thing I needed to do was adjust the template slightly to accommodate the plastic rings.


Next I cut the new piece out of foam and beveled the lines into it. I also carved out the back and inset the triangles into the foam. The triangles will be strong enough to hold the straps without bending or breaking and the foam is flexible enough to contour slightly to his back.

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The piece was finished by heat sealing the foam, then 2 coats of Plasti-Dip (brush-on – I never use the spray), 2 coats of DuraClear, silver automotive paint and another 2 coats of DuraClear. Here’s how it ended up:

harness-buckle-5 harness-buckle-6

Once that was done, I moved on to the gauntlets. We had originally discussed 2 sets of gauntlets – one red, one blue – but, after we began looking at more pics (especially the A2 images), we decided to go with brown to match the other accessories and base them on that style. Here’s the reference I used:

gauntlet-reference-1 gauntlet-reference-2

And here are the ones I made (he is getting the gloves on his own, so they are not pictured here):

gauntlet-1 gauntlet-2

The belt was finished and the pouches needed to be made/finished:

belt-2 belt-3

At the very end, the client decided that he wanted to have some gaiters made because he was having a hard time finding boots that he liked. Being in the military already, it was an easy decision for him to wear the boots he already has and I made up a quick pair of gaiters.

I took some black vinyl and backed the brown with it to give them some more structure. The black was trimmed away from the seam allowances and, when the gaiter was sewn together, the edges of the black were bound underneath the finished edges. The gaiter (just set over a random shoe that I had on-hand) is at the bottom. There were some silver accents on the edges (similar to the ones on the gauntlets), but I didn’t get a photo of them after that was added.

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And, at long last, here’s the costume together showing both variations. Note, the pouches are not included here as they were not finished when I assembled the pieces on the form.

classic-full-1 classic-full-2 stealth-full-1 stealth-full-2

I’ve asked the client to send me some pictures once he suits up, so I’ll be sure to post some when I have them!