The most magical time of year is nigh, my friends. The countdown to Halloween 2014 is in the single digits. Are you ready? Are you not ready, because you're a dedicated procrastinator? Do you want a costume that doubles as outerwear for fall and spring? Have you looked at Emily's list of feminist sexy Halloween costumes and thought, "Awesome, but I really want an outfit that implies that I spend my time kicking literal holes in the space time continuum and punching bad guys in the face"?
No worries, babe! I got you COVERED.
If you don't care about any of that but you just want to know how to make an awesome DIY punk-ish American flag jacket, I got you covered, too.
I will present to you a painfully detailed tutorial on how to DIY your way to a wicked cool jacket. You don't have to be a comic book person to dig it, because it's not obviously a costume piece. But I'm going to take a moment to explain the comic book background for anyone who wants to know.
There was a glorious but brief rebranding of the Young Avengers title in 2013, written by Kieron Gillen and drawn by Jamie McKelvie. It was stylish and fantastic and wonderful in a whole lot of ways. It's a really great little run, with a very diverse cast in terms of race and sexuality, but I only had eyes for one character.
In my previous xojane article, I note that things have gotten better in the pop culture female hero department since I was a kid, "but we don't have many female characters with strength and pride in their body that can legitimately throw down and cause some physical damage." I go on to note that this PHYSICAL power is the power fantasy I had as a child, and it's still kind of the one I have now. What I don't talk about in that article is that I'm also Colombian, and have spent all my life starved for a kick-butt Latina character in comic books.
America Chavez is both, and basically everything I've ever dreamed of. She isn't a light, agile, dexterous and wispy female hero who fights from range -- though that's cool, it's not what I crave. America is a bruiser. She's up in the action; she punches people and she gets punched. Of course, she also has super strength and can fly, but whatever, this is a comic book. America isn't even much of a tactician -- her great charm is that her "plan" in battle consists of punching stuff.
In short, America is gloriously lacking in nuance. This the stock character in comics that punches before asking questions; this is the big muscular bro with all the fun dumb lines. Except that she's female.
She's also the only time I've looked at a comic book character and gone "THAT LOOKS JUST LIKE MEEEE!"
This has a lot of steps, so I'm not going to number them individually, because that's intimidating. I'm going to break it down into stages, which sounds friendlier, and I'm going to give you suggested songs at the beginning and the end. This DIY doesn't require a high level of skill, but it does take a while. Besides a jacket, all you really need is tape, paint, and patience. A lot of patience.
STAGE ONE: FIND A JACKET
I'm not going to chirp, "Just go to any thrift store and pick one up!" For a lot of people, that's not an option. In all my thrifting life, I've rarely, if ever, seen a plus size denim jacket around, for starters. And even if you're a straight size, finding a jacket that fits you really well is a pain.
I thrifted literally for YEARS before I found one I liked, and, happily, it turned out to be an Old Navy jacket that I just picked up new dupe of when I needed one for my America costume -- because I have both a plain one and the America jacket. For this tutorial I went out to find a new jacket, and scored at the third thrift shop I tried. It's cropped, rendering it suitably different from my current jacket.
It cost $2. So it's possible, but you have to get lucky.
If you already have a jacket you like and are willing to paint over, congratulations! Skip directly ahead to Stage Two.
Suggested soundtrack: "Donde Voy?" by Go Betty Go. This is a defunct (OF COURSE) all-girl, all-Latina pop punk band I love. This song is titled "where am I going?" and it is a song of indecision and trepidation, which is fitting because you're about to devote hours of your life to this insane DIY project. "Nada es facil," the song notes. Yes, song. Nothing is easy.
STAGE TWO: PREP YOUR JACKET
Wash your jacket. Dude, I don't care that you're going to paint over it. Wash your jacket. If it's new, wash it to prep the fabric for paint. If you got it used? WASH YOUR JACKET WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.
If your jacket is dark denim and you want it lighter, bleach it. For this round, I didn't do this, so I don't have pictures. For my first jacket, I threw it in the bathtub, filled the tub, poured some bleach in, and anxiously checked on it every half hour until I was satisfied.
If your jacket is stiff, age it some by throwing it in the washer. Alison has written about this here, recommending trisodium phosphate powder. TSP really is the best, but if you don't have any on hand, hot water and a bunch of salt will age your jacket a little. I also find that nothing destroys clothes like OxiClean, so if you run your jacket through a cycle or two of OxiClean -- you know, while you're washing jeans or dog towels or something anyway -- it WILL be softer. Not full on vintage soft. But softer.
My thrift store jacket was already beat, so I also skipped it this time.
STAGE THREE: EXAMINE YOUR JACKET
"Haha," you're saying, "right."
No, for real. Take note, specifically, of where the seams hit on your body. This determines a lot of what we do later. How much of your back do you want done up in blue? Where do the side seams of the jacket hit you? Can you paint from seam to seam and have that look good, eliminating guess work? How do the sleeves fall on your arms?
Examine the jacket off your body, as well.
At this point, Management may come over to help
For me, I love using the existing seams of the jacket as a template, so I planned out my jacket like this:
We are going to be working in base layers: blue, then white, then the sleeves in blue. Then details. Okay? Okay.
STAGE FOUR: GATHER YOUR SUPPLIES
- a jacket
- paint brush(es)
- red, white, and blue paint (twice as much blue as anything else)
- painter's tape, or duct tape (SO MUCH TAPE)
OPTIONAL BUT HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:
- freezer paper (usually found in the grocery store by the tin foil)
- X-Acto knife
- cutting board
- ironing board
- a ruler
- access to a washing machine
- access to a printer
- fabric medium if working with acrylic paint
I recommend springing for fabric acrylic paint over just acrylic paint. Mixing your acrylic paint with fabric medium works, too. It helps with the longevity and gives a softer feel slightly faster. However, you don't have to, and for this jacket I didn't.
I was going to, mind. But then it turned out what I thought was fabric medium in my stash was actually gesso, so whatever.
You can buy bottles of acrylic paint at craft or big box stores for pretty cheap. I picked up two small bottles of blue for $.50 each, and already had the white and red.
If you wanted to go all luxe with this, I'd recommend using screen printing ink, instead -- but that doesn't behave exactly like paint, so be careful. If you go this route, do NOT rush the dry time, and, in fact, heat set between layers.
STAGE FIVE: THE BLUE BASE LAYER
So, here we are going to mark the boundaries of where the blue paint will go. Put tape all around the edges of where you want the blue to go, protecting all the places you DON'T want blue. Use the seams of your jacket as a guide if applicable.
PRESS YOUR TAPE DOWN FIRMLY, ALWAYS.
You need to protect the sleeves, too.
And the side seam -- use it as a guide of where the blue should end, IF you like how that looks on you.
Here's approximately what it should look like:
ALL RIGHT. Time to have some fun!
If you are fortunate to have an ironing board or other safe, jutting-out-kind-of-flat-surface, mount your jacket on that baby.
If you're just working on the ground, you'll have to do the front and/or back first, let dry, and then do the other side.
Get your painting supplies together.
I like the foam brushes.
I poured my paint onto a ripped up waffle box. I used one box for this entire project, and that empty box of waffles was, as they say, the real MVP.
Anyway, yeah. PAINT.
Don't worry about perfect saturation. I do like to make all my strokes go in the same direction, but it probably doesn't make much of a difference. If this looks kind of patchy and uneven, THAT'S OK. You'll see why later. That said, do make sure to get a solid, very blue base down.
Now, let this dry.
I HATE WAITING, so I have to go do something else or lose my mind. I also wait about 20-30 minutes, until the paint stops being tacky to the touch, and then I toss the jacket into the dryer for a couple of minutes to fully dry/heat set.
You do need the blue to be very dry before moving on to the next stage.
Once dry, PEEL THE TAPE OFF WITH WILD ABANDON. This is the most fun part of the process.
Admire your work.
That's definitely blue.
Okay, moving on.
STAGE SIX: THE WHITE LAYER
You can see here that working around the buttons was a pain. It takes some wrangling, but you can do it and ensure a straight line by putting the very edge of the tape down first, pressing down firmly before the button disrupts the fabric. Then just drape over the button.
Because the jacket is an object that goes over your three-dimensional body, there are curves and things. To make sure your tape is firmly applied in curvy areas, push the fabric almost inside out and make a concave surface.
Press down extra firmly when working around the seams.
Here's what you should get to:
Cool cool. Moving along.
Peel tape wildly.
Next, you want to lay down the base layer of blue on the sleeves
The reason you don't do all the taping at once is that every area of paint borders a different color, so you can't tape off the white without taping over something that also needs to be painted blue and therefore protected from white. So, in stages.
STAGE SEVEN: DEM SLEEVES
The sleeves are a little tricky; be sure to try on your jacket to see how the sleeves fall on your body. When you put your tape down --
-- take the time to try your jacket on again and picture the taped off areas in blue. IT TAKES LIKE TWO SECONDS; do it instead of just rushing through.
Work carefully around the buttons if you have 'em, the bastards.
CONGRATULATIONS! All your base layers of color are done! You're nearly there! Kind of! Let's do detail work.
We have to do stars and stripes. Stripes we're just going to use tape for -- easy. The stars -- the stars down the sleeves as well as the big star on the back -- are a little more fiddly. You can absolutely make the star stencils out of paint, but it makes me nervous for some reason. I did the stars with freezer paper. The freezer paper method will serve you well in all kinds of DIY situations, so it's worth learning.
But first --
STAGE EIGHT: STRIPES
Actually, I did these out of order, but whatever, explaining them separately makes more sense.
Tape off the areas that aren't painted white. The red stripes go ONLY over the existing white layer.
Now, I made the stripes the width of my tape, because I'm lazy and this process is tiring. If you want to do something fiddlier, go for it.
For me, I lay down a strip of tape where I want a white stripe to be.
I then use a second strip to measure out where the red stripe will be.
And then I apply another full line of tape to mask for the white, etc.
Dry, heat set, etc.
STAGE NINE: THE FREEZER PAPER PART
The freezer paper method is basically: you cut shapes out of freezer paper, iron the freezer paper down onto fabric, then paint and peel. It's really easy! It's also kind of tedious. The advantages of this method are the clean, crisp lines, and the low cost. Drawbacks: your stencil is strictly one use only, and for layering over already painted areas -- like we are here -- the adhesion of the freezer paper isn't as good, so you may lose the super clean lines.
Freezer paper is very easy to find in grocery stores, at least in the U.S. It's in the aisle with the tin foil and the Zip-loc bags and whatever. It comes in a big roll in a box with those little metal teeth for tearing, like tin foil. I have long since lost my box, and have been steadily working through the SAME roll of freezer paper for, oh my god, a decade? Obviously I don't use it for food. Wow. Maybe I should get a new roll? Anyway, my point is that a single roll of this stuff will last you a long time.
I googled "star stencil" and picked the first one that came up in Google's image search and caught my eye.
I printed it at full size and then ten more copies at the "wallet" size. If you're not working with Windows, IDK, do whatever fancy printing you Mac people do.
Or just draw some stars, man. It's not hard. I just have a working printer for once in my life and it excites me.
Let's walk through the big star first.
Print out your star and tape it to your cutting board.
Get some freezer paper, and tape it OVER your star print out.
Tape the freezer paper shiny/plastic side DOWN -- later on, you will put it shiny side down on the fabric and apply heat by ironing over it, and the shiny side is what sticks to the fabric.
Get your X-Acto knife, and, if you're a basket case with an unsteady hand like me, a ruler.
If you're me, you will somehow still manage to mess up, like so:
That's fine; don't start over. We can fix it.
When you're done, cut your stencil away from your cutting board, with some excess. It should look like this once free.
Bring it to your jacket; position carefully.
Those messed up areas? I fixed them with tape. Go you, tape, go you.
NOW -- paint inside the stencil. I like to paint away from the edges, towards the center, to reduce the potential bleeding of paint under the stencil. On unpainted fabric, this usually isn't an issue, because the freezer paper adheres like WHOA. But on the paint, at least, I find that there's some bleed through.
Don't be like me and glob paint on. Have the patience to do two thin coats instead of one thick one.
While that dries, go cut out your teensy stars the exact same way. I actually printed out two sheets of ten and cut out five from each, to make removal easier.
Guys. I eyeballed this. I have no useful advice for you. I am sorry.
Try to make sure your stars all stick up in the same direction, I guess? Sure. Let's go with that.
Dry, heat set, blah blah.
Peel carefully when done.
Yay! You're almost done!
"I'm so done," you are saying, "how am I not done? There are stars. There are stripes!"
But NO! Do you want this to look like a costume?! No! You want this to look like a worn jacket that you've been seen kicking the snot out of the universe in. This jacket must look like it has DONE BATTLE. This jacket must LOOK ANCIENT.
I never see other America cosplayers do this to their jackets, and it puzzles me because her jacket in the comics is clearly messed up and has holes in it and stuff. I am convinced a high def official illustration would have crumbling and cracked stripes.
STAGE TEN: DESTROY WHAT YOU LOVE
Suggested soundtrack: Go Betty Go again, with my favorite song, "Son mis locuras," because destroying hours of work is nuts, but I feel compelled to look like a character from a post-apocalyptic movie.
Take a deep breath. Meditate on the transient nature of all things.
I know. It's hard. You just spent probably two hours masking, painting, cutting. But trust me.
Throw that jacket into your washing machine at the roughest, baddest cycle you got.
Or, you know, do it gradually in stages. But if you're me, and you've done this before, you toss it in with the five other denim items that have been waiting for the next distressing session, so you pile on the OxiClean and trust in chaos.
But really, if this is your first rodeo with distressing denim, go slow.
Unfortunately, I forgot to paint the last red stripe (?!) so I'll have to fix this later.
The iconic America outfit we first see her in is this jacket, red boots, a red hoodie underneath her jacket, a blue shirt with a star on it, hoop earrings, and black shorts.
Even at cons, I just throw on yoga shorts and eyeliner and I'm like, "DONE."
But this is an every day jacket, too, so:
Wear it with everything!