This tutorial won’t be quite as much of a step-by-step tutorial, because I used a reasonably traditional approach for creating a quilted jacket and just added the design lines and some EL wire.
A lot of people have been asking me which commercial pattern I used to make Mei’s jacket, and the answer to that is: I didn’t use one. I wish I could recommend one, but I drafted my own using flat pattern making techniques. Luckily, I have a three year costume degree behind me (and a graduate diploma in costume design), and part of that was studying pattern cutting for screen and stage, so I don’t ever work from commercial patterns at all. That said, I’m absolutely certain there are commercial coat patterns that could be modified to work for Mei’s coat, should you choose to go that route. Have a flip through the commercial pattern websites and pay attention to the design lines and you’ll undoubtedly find something that’s perfectly adaptable for Mei (and while doing this you’ll probably get ideas for about a bajillion other projects too, if you’re anything like me).
That said, if you’re keen to venture into flat pattern making and you haven’t done so before, you can absolutely teach yourself the basics with some good reference books and some YouTube searching. If I had to pick one set of texts to absolutely recommend for everyone (yes, even those where the dirty Imperial system is still being used – I use both systems of measurement reasonably well, and knowing both helps me use a variety of resources from a variety of eras), I’d pick Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting books. I’ve been consistently using these for years, and they are absolutely magnificent primers for drafting modern pattern blocks and manipulating those to draft patterns of all kinds.
My process for drafting a pattern always starts with a basic modern block – I have one well-looked after block that was drafted to my exact measurements that I’ve been using since the second year of my degree, where we all made costumes for each other. This is probably the most useful item in my entire workshop, since I also use it for drafting foam armor (which is probably a subject for a whole other post – someday!). You can also buy basic bodice/skirt sloper commercial patterns and alter those to your measurements, too.
For the Mei coat, I took my block and modified it – removing the waist shaping, inserting a waistband, dropping the sleeve head, widening and shaping the sleeves, widening the neck and adding the design lines like the cheongsam style front, sleeve designs, hood, and fur trim.
One important thing to note about Mei’s coat is that the front opening is mostly decorative, since it doesn’t extend beyond the waistline to the hem like it would in a jacket with a functional opening:
Not to matter – I figured that if I elasticated the waist, I could just pull the whole thing over my head. Hoorah!
Once I had my pattern finalized, I started by constructing the sleeves. In this close up, you can get a pretty decent idea of the fabrics I used – an off white matte PVC for the main sleeve (and the bulk of the jacket – this fabric proved really difficult to find, and when I found it I bought the last of the roll), a short pile pale blue fur for the head of the sleeve (I used this for the jacket hem trim, too) a shiny white PVC for the chevron detailing, and a bright blue leather-look PVC upholstery fabric for the spirals. I used double sided tape to hold them in place while I stitched them down. This isn’t something I’d recommend doing in garments you’re going to wash a lot, but since this is a jacket (and it has electrical components, so there’s no washing allowed anyhow), it’s totally A-OK.
Next up, I cut my EL wire to length and soldered the ends. I’d post exactly how I did this, but Adafruit already have this pre-prepared tutorial that is pretty much the greatest primer on EL wire in the history of all things ever. Read it, go forth, and make with the shiny! Some pointers I can recommend are to solder the connected ends of your EL wire first, then cut the rest to the length you want it and seal the end with a little hot glue. The reason for doing it this way is you’re not wasting much EL wire if you accidentally cut through the ultra thin halo wires; you can just snip that piece off and try again.
Once I had my EL wire cut to length, I punched a tiny hole in the blue PVC in the center of the spiral (so I could run the wiring back to a central battery in the jacket) on the sleeve and threaded the EL wire through. Then I took a length of clear plastic sheeting (this is often sold as furniture protection, or it was where I bought it, because I guess Patrick Bateman shops there or something), I cut it into strips, and I stitched it in place close to the wire with a zipper foot then trimmed back the edges. It turned out like so …
… and after stitching the sleeve closed, I was done.
As you can see from this next image, I did the same with the EL wire trim around the bottom of the coat. Remember not to put kinks in the EL wire, or you risk destroying the circuit inside. A gentle curve is best. The entry point for my wiring is a small hole punched at the back, which is eventually hidden by the cryo pack. The other trims were cut to shape, and I used fusible hemming tape to iron the edges of the blue fur under before topstitching that down. The rest of the trim is a pewter colored leather look PVC. Finally, I added my faux fur trim, which I managed to find on sale – which was a good thing, as it was normally $89 a meter. I’m not big on using ridiculously expensive fabrics, but when it comes to faux fur the difference in quality is really noticeable – $12 “fun fur” lasts about as long as a tuna sandwich in the sun, and if I’m putting several weeks worth of work into something, I want it to last. Plus the longer, nicer fur has a really beautiful movement to it – used around the hem of the boots, it makes a delightful “FWOOMPH” with every footstep, which I felt was really Mei. And it gave the hood the perfect volume and body.
Once I had finished adding the trims, I stitched the lining to the top and bottom halves. I made a quilted lining myself, because I find my quilting more durable, but you can buy pre-quilted lining that would work just as well. To thread the cables for the EL wire through, I sewed a buttonhole in the lower back of the top half and the center back of the lower half – I made sure I had finalized all of my wiring first, and added a good long length on the inside to allow for any movement while wearing the jacket. Then I sewed a little pouch for the battery pack and inverter on the inside of the skirt, basically to sit just above my butt. I can feel the on/off switch on the alternator through the fabric, so it’s really easy to turn on and off.
And then the jacket was almost finished! I still needed to finish the front of the jacket. I made some really chunky piping from some window sash cord and the main fabric from the coat. I stitched that to the front, then stitched the hood in place (the hood is quite literally a simple square of fabric that I trimmed with faux fur and then lined with the same quilting technique I used for the rest of the jacket) then stitched the lining in place.
I also made a frog closure after I was finished and added that to the front, too:
Then the only step left was to stitch the top and bottom sections onto a waistband, add elastic to the waist (I used 60mm wide belt elastic) and then add elasticated cuffs. I went with elastic cuffs mainly because they’re extremely easy to do, and the cuffs weren’t going to be visible anyhow, as they’re hidden in the gauntlet section of the gloves. I know, this photo doesn’t show the frog closure and elasticated cuffs (I didn’t grab a photo of those while I was making the jacket because I was too busy dancing around celebrating the fact that it was finished!), but you get the idea.
All in all, the jacket took about a week to make. And it was a pretty full-on week of work, too – I was working on another cosplay commission at the same time as this, so I was pulling 14-hour days in my studio while I was working on them both.
Overall, I was really happy with how the jacket turned out. The only downside is that even in winter I was pretty blisteringly warm, but the bright side to that was that when everyone at the convention asked me “Aren’t you warm wearing all that?” (and just about everyone I met asked that) I was able to respond in character with “Yes. But it’s too late to change.”
And I also won Best Cosplay in the Sunday cosplay competition at Sydney Supanova, which was unexpected but a really nice surprise.
So, hopefully some of the information here is helpful to those making their own versions of this cosplay – if you have any more questions about this, feel free to hit me up on Facebook and ask questions. And stay tuned for the final part (or it might be two parts), where I’ll talk about the other components of the cosplay – the freeze gun (which I 3D printed), the cryo pack, the leggings, and the hair stick.