Clothes make the Marine

I sit here basking in the knowledge I’ve finished the toughest sewing project I’ve ever undertaken. Let me tell you, it’s a good feeling!
It started on a whim, which means I didn’t photograph the making of the pants. But if you’ve watched me on Facebook and Instagram, you’ve seen the stream of update photos taken with my cell phone. Going back over those photos was something else, so I decided to put them all in one post and talk about each step of the project. If you’re not interested in sewing or dolls, this probably won’t spark your fancy, but I had a great deal of fun with it.

So how did I decide that one of my dolls needed a military uniform?
I dunno, I just did. And if any of my characters were to be plunked into an Earth setting and end up in the military, it’d be Rune. I think there’s several alternate-universe stories floating around in my head where exactly that happened, actually… but I digress!
I’ve always liked the snazzy dress blues Marines get, even before I got myself a Marine and got to fawn over him lookin’ stylin’ in his uniform at our wedding. So when I decided to make a uniform, it seemed like the best idea would be to make my favorite. And not just because I had the uniform on hand to reference! Still, it came in handy for matching colors and fabrics and drawing the patterns. Those things, of course, came first.

I started the way I always do, taking a look at what I want to make and trying to draw a pattern. I had the benefit of studying Joe’s uniform, which meant all the seams ended up in perfect placement, something I’m ridiculously proud of. The pattern for the jacket also worked on the first try, which is pretty much amazing. And really fortunate for me, since I’m a lazy bum who didn’t make a muslin first to see if it would work. NOPE, I just went straight to chopping up the pricey fabric I picked.

Since realism and accuracy was the goal, I used gabardine–the same stuff real dress blues are made of. I decided to line the jacket, too, though I didn’t line the sleeves to cut down on bulk and preserve mobility. Dolls are stiff enough as it is without super-thick sleeves.

If you’ve never seen one of my dolls in person, here’s a great example of how big Rune is. He’s the biggest of my collection and I don’t think I could handle a doll any bigger than him. I’m sort of glad I got a huge doll as my first, because it makes the later ones just seem so manageable. I wouldn’t trade him for the world, but he’s definitely the upper limit of doll-ness I can take. At 70cm tall, he’s huge, and comparing him to my husband’s jacket really drives that home.

Fortunately for me, the pretty flap on the sleeve covers an imaginary lap on the real dress blues, so it’s for decoration and nothing else. Thank goodness! It was hard enough getting a show flap to work, and after trying to trim it 3 or 4 times, I gave up and used felt instead of gabardine. The end result was good enough that I did the same thing for the shoulder straps. They weren’t perfect, but they turned out pretty well.

The collar, however, was a nightmare. Despite pinking shears and a zigzag stitch to prevent it, the gabardine frayed so badly that I had to cut the collar edge WAY back to have anything to even sew to. It means the collar isn’t as close-fitting as I wanted, but it’s the best I could do. Getting the red edging in proved a nightmare, too. You see the pins on top? There’s just as many on the underneath, holding trim in place. But sewing very slowly helped it turn out okay in the end. Even if it’s not the exact fit I hoped for.

Turning the jacket right side out for the first time was a moment of utter triumph. Every seam, every dart was as close to accurate as I could get, and once I ironed it after this shot, I couldn’t have been happier with how  it came together. The darts on the top are slightly closer together on one side than the other, despite how many times I pinned and basted and re-pinned and re-basted, but I decided to let it slide. All in all, that was a pretty minor flaw.

After that, I had to start considering buttons and insignia. I spent weeks trying to find buttons online, and while you can apparently get miniature Army or Navy buttons anywhere, you couldn’t get miniature USMC buttons ANYWHERE. The solution to the problem was in our room, in the form of the teddy bear Joe gave me while he was in Okinawa. Though they weren’t in perfect scale, they were good enough.

I used a 2-part mold putty left over from another project to cast copies. I used Sculpey first, but then switched to epoxy clay once I was pleased with the result. My gold acrylic paint, however, left a lot to be desired. I cleaned it off and tried again with gold enamel. I loved the color, but that caused me problems, too. The epoxy and enamel suffered a reaction due to the high humidity of this region, meaning the enamel never cured, staying sticky and gross. Ultimately, I just put a clear coat of acrylic over the top and called it a day. There was nothing else I could do. I can’t change the weather, after all.

Putting in the pockets required a lot of pinning, basting and ironing. It also meant the first two pockets came out perfect, and the second two had to be removed four times before they matched.

For smaller buttons, I had a heck of a time finding anything I could use. I ultimately chose scrapbooking brads in a bright, brassy gold finish. A little wiggling pushed them through the fabric without having to cut anything, meaning it’ll last better and I can change them out if I need to later. I added snaps under the brads on the pockets, so they’d still be able to function.

After buttonholes were made, it was time to work on the patches. My great-grandmother was amazing at embroidery. According to my mom, Grandma tried to teach me, but I just sewed my embroidery to my pants. I’m glad these attempts went slightly better, even if they’re not perfect. Gold floss over felt made the patches, then a bit of fabric glue put them in place, one and one-thirds of an inch from the shoulder seam. That’s mathematically correct for the placement, you know.

Gluing the pins to the collar was nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time. This pin turned out better than the other, for whatever reason. The other is lacking detail, but it’s still pretty, and much more accurate than if I’d tried to sculpt them both by myself. I wasn’t happy to have to use the same size casting on the belt and cover, but you work with what you got. The copies I cast from my husband’s uniform  for those two pieces were way too big.

Putting everything together at the end was absolutely thrilling. The buttons took some experimentation. The first time I made shanks for the back, they popped right off as soon as I tried to sew the buttons on. I needed something bigger than just rings glued in place, so I took posts with pads for making post earrings and bent the post into a loop, then glued the pad to the back of the button to make a shank. The end result was perfect, and way sturdier than anything else I could have done.

After the jacket was finished, it meant there were just a few little details left. One was making gloves, which proved to be a horrific experience in doll scale. Trying to manage all those little strips and bits and fingers is like trying to shove an octopus into a jar, and I had to redo my seams several times before they went together. In spite of all my careful measurements, the pinky finger ended up about a quarter of an inch too long. Turns out the EID dolls have weirdly disproportionate fingers.

While I wanted to make replicas of my husband’s medals, I shopped for several months without finding something that was going to work, so I decided to just make the ribbons instead. I glued grosgrain ribbon to a strip of cardboard for a base, then used primary colors to mix all the paints I needed.

Painting those hair-thin lines wasn’t fun, but it turned out pretty well in the end, even if the paint dried a little shiny. They aren’t perfect but they definitely give the right impression. Glued to a felt backing, the ribbons are easy to pin in place, so I can replace them with medals someday! The little star-pin (which represents having 2 of a ribbon, for those who don’t know) was harder to figure out. I ended up running a ball-headed pin for jewelry through the ribbon, painting some shadows on it and then smacking it with a hammer to make it lay flat. It ended up flattening in a downward direction (oops) but still looks pretty good for how small it is.

The last two things to finish were the hat (SORRY, I meant cover) and the belt for the jacket. Both ended up being easier than I expected. The belt buckle was made with sheet aluminum I cut and filed and bent, then I glued the emblem on top and enameled the whole thing. A hook for a hook and eye closure was glued to the back, and the ribbon was glued on, too. The cover took a lot less time to make than I expected. I wanted to make it out of vinyl, but I couldn’t find any thin enough to use, so I used white gabardine, black vinyl and satin ribbon instead. To make it keep its shape, I put a disk and band of craft foam inside. They’re not sewn or glued in, just stuck in place, in case I ever need to wash or iron the cover.

So how does it look all together?

Pretty darn amazing. But I’ll post non-cell phone and non-Instagram pictures of the finished product after I get the doll’s head back from having some modifications done.
Happy Thanksgiving, and a huge thank you to all the full-sized Marines and other service members out there!

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