How to Make Your Own Battle Jacket
At the behest of Joe Thrashnkill I’ve decided to create a handy guide for newbies to the battle jacket (cut-off, patch vest, kutte, battlevest, etc). Those of you already in the game may not agree with all of my points, but this is what works best for me. Everyone seems to have their own sets of rules about making these things so here’s mine:
- Do not wear patches on your vest for bands that you don’t know. Someone will ask you about them at some point, and you will feel like a knob when you admit you just thought it looked cool and you have no idea what Venom even sounds like.
- Official and embroidered is cool and all, but honestly, if a bootleg looks good or you like doin’ it DIY, then I say go for it. In fact I think DIY just makes your vest that much more of a personal statement.
- Ripped sleeves look best. This is fucking metal here; ripped denim is a part of our heritage.
- Do not be afraid to let your thread show, go ahead and use white. It gives it that extra crusty look.
- You don’t need to be able to button up the front of the vest (it looks kinda dumb when you do anyway). In fact, slightly smaller than your usual jacket size tends to look better. Allow thy mighty beer gut to flow out from the front of your open vest like a true metal warrior.
- Finally, the battle jacket should be about who you are as a person. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you’re doing is wrong. They are fucking wrong.
Feel free to slag me off in the comments if you think the above is horseshit.
Part I: Getting Your Shit Together
OK, so you’ve decided it’s time to start repping your musical tastes and armoring up for that next big metal show you plan to attend. First things first, you’re going to need some basic shit to get started:
A Denim Jacket or Vest
You need something to sew those patches on, pin those pins on, puke that puke on, you get the idea. Alternately, you can use a leather vest, but they are a lot harder to sew on, so you’ll need to make sure you get a leather sewing needle for that, and a thimble will be a must (more on that later). I don’t think you want to cut the arms off of a leather jacket as that might come out looking kinda crap, but it’s your fucking vest, so you decide for yourself! In my opinion, cheaper is better. So if you can nab something for peanuts from a thrift shop or liquidation store or something, then go for it. Otherwise, in my neck of the woods, the cheapest I could find (without hitting thrift stores over and over hoping for one to turn up) was at shitty Ballsmart (Walmart) for a Levis jacket for $40 Canadian. Color isn’t critical as you can always bleach/dye it should you desire. I would recommend something as plain as possible. If it’s got a bunch of flowery cowboy embroidery or it comes pre-studded (you will look like a tool with a pre-studded vest from a department store) it’ll just be more work for you to cover up.
I do not recommend trying to use the wimpy standard thread. It tangles and knots up when you’re sewing and it’s harder to thread in the needle. I find it a lot easier using a heavier gauge thread. Something like Guttermans’ Heavy Duty will work fine. You can also use dental floss, however you want to make sure it is non-waxed as the waxy stuff tends to want stick to itself and can be a bit of a pain to work with. That said, I have sewed some patches on my pants with mint flavored, waxed dental floss and they’re still holding up, and also smelled minty fresh for a good long while. You can find thread either at a fabric/sewing store, or pretty much any department store.
I like to work with a slightly larger needle with a decent size eye so it’s easy to thread. If you don’t have elf fingers it’s just plain easier to use a bigger needle. You just don’t want to go too big because it’ll punch bigger ass holes in your creation than you need for your gauge of thread. Again, you can get various sizes in packs from a fabric/sewing store or pretty much any department store.
Should you want your denim to be a different color than what you could find you may need to dye your vest before you begin work on it. I recommend using Rit Dye. I’ve seen other brands around, and they are a bit cheaper, but from what I’ve read, most of them don’t work very well at all, so pony up and stop being a cheap ass and buy the good shit in this case. The dye will have all of the instructions, so I’m not going into it here. One thing I will mention though is you will want to get yourself some rubber kitchen gloves because that shit will dye your fingers for weeks (speaking from experience here).
You can’t have a patched up vest without patches to put on it! You can get these things from all sorts of places:
- music stores (should any happen to still exist in your area)
- cub scouts
- the army
- police officer’s uniforms
- music distros (eg: Hell’s Headbangers, F.O.A.D. Records, Earache Records)
- other merch related websites (eg: Crustpunks, Rockabilia, CVLT Nation Bizarre)
- mailmanbro your dog slayed while he was delivering your swag
Sometimes you simply will not be able to find an officially licensed patch for that rare bedroom pornogrind band you want to adorn your semen encrusted denim with, so in that case you’ve got two options: custom bootleg or DIY. If you’re looking for high quality, custom bootleg patches, a good place to look is in the various battle jacket groups found on Facebook. One such group is the BATTLE JACKET GALLERY & PATCH TRADING POST (you’ll find some of us toileters lurking there). Many of the members make custom patches, and you can get anything ranging from a simple silkscreen, a screenprinted bootleg or even embroidered patches. It’s also a good place to look for official patches too if you can’t find any at any of the places listed above.
If you want to go the DIY route, you can hand paint it on a piece of scrap fabric, silkscreen it, hand embroider it, use iron on transfers, or you can even use a pre-existing T-shirt and cut it up into a patch or patches should you want (good for big designs that you can’t find as a back patch for example). For some of my DIY patches I couldn’t find/afford official embroidered patches, so I made up an 8½ X 12” image with various patches I designed in Photoshop and then brought it to a local custom t-shirt place and had them make a shirt of it. Then I cut it up, and voila, I had around 10 patches! My zombie backpatch on my death metal vest, and the Carpenter Brut patch on my synth vest are both T-shirts I cut into backpatches.
Fabric Glue (optional)
Many people simply pin the patch to the vest and then sew. I found I had a lot of difficulty using this method with the patch shifting around or the pins getting in the way. Not only that but you multiply the number of things that can stab you and I get enough stabbing done with just the one pointed object being involved. Instead, what I do is I pre-glue the patch down with fabric glue. I generally prefer the Speed Sew brand, but any fabric glue will work. One thing to keep in mind, is this will leave gooey residue on the back of your patch and your vest should you decide to remove the patch at some point, so consider that before you use the pre-glue down method. For me, it makes sewing the patch on about 20 times easier, and I don’t usually move shit around once it’s sewed on, so residue is a non-issue. Besides, the filthier your vest is, the more TRVE you are.
Pins and Studs and other Accoutrements
Like patches, you can find pins at pretty much the same places. If you’re looking for studs and the like I’d recommend Studs & Spikes or Crustpunks.com. Charged up jackets look fucking rad, so I say stud those fuckers up!
Part II: Prepping Your New Vest
OK, you got all of your shit together. Now you may need to do a little bit of prep work before you can dive in and start sewing:
1. If you like your vest to have that clean look, you’ll need to either buy it as a vest from the get-go, or learn how to hem in the fabric when you cut the sleeves off (which I will not cover here as I haven’t ever done this). Either way, you can skip the rest of this step if that’s the case. Personally, I like the ragged, cut-off look. To achieve this you want to cut the arms off of your vest about a half inch or so away from the seam that goes around the armpit. If you want to do further weathering to your vest, now is the time. You can cut/rip holes in it, rub it with a cheese grater to break up some of the fabric, stain it, bleach it, spray paint it or even burn it in spots with a torch. If you want that full on German style Kutte look, cut off the collar as well. I haven’t done this yet, though I imagine that style would work better for doubling up over a leather jacket since you wouldn’t have two collars. If you need to dye it, now is the time. One thing that’s cool about Rit Dye and denim vests is that you have to mix the dye differently to color cotton vs polyester, so when you use the cotton mix to do the denim, the threading on the vest will likely remain undyed, so you’ll still have those stitching details when you’re finished. Once you’re satisfied that it has been distressed or dyed enough, you throw it into the washing machine. This should be the last time you ever do this if you want to remain in good standing with the dark lords of the kutte. What this will do is cause that extra bit of fabric around the arm holes (and any other rips or tears you did) to fray up nicely (and it will wash out any excess dye in the vest so you don’t stain your t-shirt and/or torso when you put it on).
2. If you plan to do any painting on your vest, you might find it’s easiest to do this first, and then start adding all of the “flair” later. I hand painted the logos along the top part of the backs of all of my vests for example. For a couple of them, I wanted a two-tone look to the back of the vest, so I have a blue vest with a black top, and a black vest with a red top. You may not even want to actually paint a logo on this, and instead patch or stud it, but it can add an extra wow element to a standard vest. I recommend you use a decent quality acrylic paint as they have decent flexibility (as long as you don’t go crazy thick) and it bonds well with denim. For leather, I believe there is leather specific acrylic, although I imagine standard acrylic will bond as well. I did use interior latex paint for the red and that seemed to work ok too. Avoid oil based paints, and do not use enamel paints on leather as it will actually eat away at the leather.
3. If you have a lot of patches saved up right from the get go, it’s a good idea to try a few different layouts on the vest before you dive in and start sewing only to find out you done fucked up and have to rip everything off and start over. Literally, just lay the vest out on the floor or on a table and start placing the patches on it to see what it looks like. Do this until you’re happy. If you have a shitty, drug-addled brain like mine that’s lacking on the short term memory front, it might even be a good idea to snap a photo of the front and back with your desired layout, so you can reference back to it once you get going. You want to install the patches one at a time (especially if you’re using my pre-glue method) so this can be helpful.
4. Prep any canvas or raw edge patches. While the frayed look for sleeves and whatnot is cool, fraying edges of patches can be problematic. This is because they will continue to fray right past your stich line, and then they will fall off. To avoid this, you want to fold over the edges of the patch so that when you sew it down, the fraying edge will be underneath the patch. I find using the fabric glue to hold the folded over edges in place makes this much easier and allows you to pre-prep all of your patches before you even begin, otherwise you have to try and struggle with pinning down each edge as you fold over and lemme tell you it’s a real fuck around. Dab the glue on the back of the patch along one edge, smear it with your finger and fold over the edge (being careful not to fold over the image on the patch):
Now repeat the process for the other three edges:
Part III: Sewing on Those Mother Fucking Patches
First, pre-glue the patch. If you don’t wanna pre-glue, skip this and look up a guide for pinning it in place. To prevent the glue from showing through to the front of the patch (especially on those canvas screen printed ones) you want to follow the same methodology as described in step 4 above. Only put little tiny dabs all over the back of the patch leaving a bit of room around the outside edge of the patch. Have a piece of Kleenex or paper towel handy, then smear the dabs all over the back, dragging it outward to the outer edges of the patch. Immediately apply the patch to your desired location and press in place, smoothing over with your hand like you would when applying a sticker. Let it sit for around 5 or ten minutes before you begin sewing.
Get your needle and thread. What follows is my method for stitching. This is probably not the correct way of doing things, but it’s what works for me and it’s how I get my “crusty/mental asylum stitched” look. If you want to learn how to do it properly, there’s all sorts of guides online like this one. Rather than try and explain it, it’ll be easier to show you, so check out these videos that cover off the rest of my steps:
Part IV: Adding the Extras
1. I like studs on my vests. They make your vest look that much more mean. Most studs have two prongs on the back of the stud. What you want to do is either get a piece of scrap wood, or work at a table you don’t care about getting scratched up. Get yourself a piece of cardboard or foam and put it on top of the board/table. Put the jacket on top of the cardboard/foam. From here, you can press the stud through the denim. Turn the jacket over, and using a small pair of needle noise pliers, bend each of the prongs inward to hold the stud in place. To make this easier on your thumbs you can get yourself a studding tool from one of the aforementioned sites where you obtained the studs. You can also get yourself an awl, which basically looks like a little ice pic. My studding tool broke after not much time, so buyer beware I guess, but the awl is good to go. Pre-punch holes where the prongs will go through the vest, this way you don’t end up with a week’s worth of thumb bruises after you install hundreds of studs. To make sure my studs never come off, I use two part epoxy to glue the prongs in place on the back of the jacket. This also has the added benefit of covering over the points of the prongs that can snag on your shirt under your vest.
2. While I’m not crazy about buttons (or pins or badges or whatever the fuck you wanna call ‘em), many people are. They always tend to fall off on me. Some tips I’ve found are:
- If you’re using the kind with the safety pin backs, you can solder the pin shut (which I have done in the past). This might be a bit extreme, and you may not have a soldering iron.
- Use a 2 step process to keep the button secure, put a dab or 2 of hot glue inside the collect rim to keep the two parts attached, then once you’ve put it on your vest, sew a couple of loops of thread through the clasp. This way, even if the safety pin comes loose, the button will stay in place because of the thread.
- For the type with the straight pins with backings you can buy kits with replacement backs that have set screws to hold the pin in place. I haven’t used these myself but they’re supposedly pretty slick.
Good luck with your new battle vest! Hit me up in the comments if you want more details or if something doesn’t make sense (or if you wish to mock my feeble skills with your professional sewing talents)!!
Want inspiration for your own battle jacket? Take a look at some of of the cuts of your fellow Flushers: