They just couldn’t go easy on us, could they?
The vest is by far the worst part of this costume. It will get easier as patterns are more fully developed, but it’s a made from scratch piece that doesn’t necessarily make much sense until you’re about halfway through assembly. Coincidentally, that’s right about when you realize you did at least one thing completely wrong and two things that would have been far easier had you used a different technique. It’s going to happen, just accept it.
Let’s start with the parts you need:
- White fabric
- The fabric content of the real vest isn’t completely certain yet, but it’s probably a lightweight nylon. It’s clear from pictures that it’s thin enough to be a little wrinkly in the curves of the vest collar and flexible enough to stretch over the rectangular pads leaving sharp angled edges. What we used in our build that worked very well was a cotton/spandex blend. You can find it at Jo-Ann or a very similar fabric from Amazon (Sonoma Stretch Cotton Shirting Fabric).
- Foam padding strips
- The rectangular strips were made using 6mm thick white craft foam sheets. You definitely want to use white foam as any other color will be visible through the thin fabric. I cut mine to be 0.75″ wide and spaced them 0.25″ apart. It will take at least two 9×12″ foam sheets for even the smallest pilot as the back vest panel requires most of a sheet itself. Most pilots will need to splice strips together or buy larger pieces of foam to make long enough strips for the back panel. When joining the ends of two strips, wrap the entire joint in a piece of Scotch tape. It will maintain the sharp edges and look continuous under the layer of fabric.
- Soft padding for the collar
- The collar is heavily padded and the sides of the vest may have a thinner layer. I used Warm & Natural Cotton Batting because it was the only kind of flat batting my local store had in stock. It was easy to sew in and gave the right effect. I used 3-4 layers of it to build up the collar to my desired level of fluffiness.
- Cording for the collar edge
- The outer edge of the collar has a nice rounded cord look. Our vests duplicated that with a channel containing 3/8″ cotton cording.
- Black mesh for the circle on the lower front
- Iron-on transfer paper
- Once you get your vest assembled, the lettering and bird can be added via iron-on transfer paper. Donna Keeley came up with a nice image here that you can print out on your home printer. Print out a test version on normal paper first to determine scale – smaller pilots might want to reduce it by 10% or so, larger ones might need to increase it a little. Print it out on the iron on, then trim as close to the design as you can without separating the letters or getting them crooked. The entire surface of the iron on paper will adhere to your vest, so get rid of as much excess white space as possible before ironing it on.
- 2″ wide white nylon webbing for the lower back strap
- 1″ wide white nylon webbing for the front straps