Custom Steampunk Kilt Jacket

Photo of Finished Jacket buttoned closed

Finished Jacket based on Simplicity 2333

Projects have a way of percolating in my queue for a while before I get traction on them; it wasn’t long after making my first kilt several years ago that I started thinking about making a kilt jacket; Because traditional kilts have a much higher rise than modern trousers, jackets designed specifically for wearing with them are noticeably shorter than contemporary mens’ sports coats.  When you get into black tie or white tie traditional Scottish Highland dress, jackets take on very striking and rather old-fashioned appearances.

One such very formal kilt jacket is the Montrose Doublet, a double-breasted jacket that’s typically worn with lace cuffs and a jabot:

Vintage Advertisement for a Montrose Doublet

At the time I felt like making a dress jacket was beyond my abilities; a made-to-measure, traditionally tailored jacket is a pretty complex garment and made from a custom-drafted pattern.  In the case of kilt jackets, there are very few “off the shelf” patterns out there even if I had felt comfortable working from one.  Folkwear makes a Prince Charlie jacket pattern and there is the long out of print Simplicity 5029 (if you’re lucky enough to get hold of that one, throw the kilt half of the pattern in the trash, it’s terrible.  Get a copy of The Art of Kiltmaking instead,) but that’s about it.

I mentioned the idea of making a short-waisted kilt jacket to my friend E_____, who is a talented seamstress and keen observer of the way garments are constructed, and it was she who steered me to Simplicity 2333, which is actually a Mad Hatter/Pirate frock coat costume pattern:

Image of Simplicity 2333 pattern envelopePointing at the pirate version of the coat, she said “Leave the skirt off the frock and there’s your double-breasted kilt jacket.” I bought a copy (or perhaps she even bought it for me) during one of Jo-Ann Fabrics’ pattern blow-out sales, and it sat in my pattern drawer for several years.

I finally got around to it last winter, when I decided to make a steampunk kilt jacket for the Watch City Steampunk Festival; something traditionally styled but with a rugged/adventurous/quasi-military twist.  I settled on a tobacco-colored canvas, planning to wax it for that great patina you see on old-fashioned outdoor gear.  For the facings I used a plain maroon cotton.

When I looked at the pattern pieces and instructions, I was pleasantly surprised how straightforward the top half of the coat is; the basic outer shell consists of the two front panels, a two-piece back, and two-piece arms.  The lining is basically identical, but divides the front panels into two pieces; one for lining, one for facing.

The first major deviations I made from the pattern were:

  • Completely ignore both cuff options in favor of a simpler, plain sleeve with a decorative Braemar-style scalloped cuff flap sewn into the seam.
  • Replace the large floppy collar with a simpler mandarin-style one.
  • Add simple tab epaulets at the shoulders.
Photo of Steampunk Kilt Jacket - Sleeves and Outer Shell

Sleeves and bodice ready for assembly

I also lengthened the bodice by an inch or two.  The basic construction was pretty straightforward; even setting the sleeves wasn’t too terrible.  There is a small amount of ease to contend with, but it’s manageable and the finished seam looks great; no weird bunching or puffy shoulder effect.  I reached this stage and stalled; we did not wind up going to Watch City last year, and I set the jacket aside for a number of months.

When I came back to it, the first big gratifying step was assembling the shell and lining by stitching them together along the front, neck, and bottom (leaving a gap in the stitching at the bottom to turn it right-side out, and hand-stitching the gap closed.) The last step was to slip stitch the lining at the end of each sleeve.

Photo of Steampunk Kilt Jacket - Sewing lining to cuffs

Getting ready to sew the lining to the cuffs

From there it was all about the finishing details, like buttonholes:

Shell and lining assembled, buttonholes sewn on custom Braemar-style cuffs and epaulets

Shell and lining assembled, buttonholes sewn on custom Braemar-style cuffs and epaulets

I decided to wax the jacket before attaching the buttons so I wouldn’t have to work around them.  If you search online you’ll find numerous strong opinions about fabric waxing formulas involving all sorts of ingredients, including boiled linseed oil or turpentine.  I opted for a simple 50/50 blend (by weight) of paraffin and beeswax, which I melted in a double boiler and applied to the jacket with a cheap chip brush.

Photo of wax brushed onto canvas

Wax brushed onto canvas

The process seems to work best with multiple light applications versus a heavy application up-front; the first area I started with got a little waxier and stiffer than I intended and I used a lighter touch everywhere else.  After brushing on the wax, I used a hair dryer to re-melt it and wick it into the fabric.

Photo of melting the wax into the fabric with a hair dryer

Melting the wax into the fabric with a hair dryer

One alternate method I’ve seen suggested is to put the garment into a pillowcase or other large sack and throw it into a clothes dryer to thoroughly and evenly distribute of the wax.  The obvious danger here is getting molten wax all over the inside of your dryer which could ruin any clothes that follow and is probably not all that safe; I stuck with the hair dryer.  As this year’s steampunk festival approached I ran out of time to get as many coats of wax on the jacket as I would have liked; you can see the distribution is a bit uneven and it doesn’t quite have that distinctive rugged-but-not-exactly-leathery look, but it’s getting there.

I had to move on to figuring out the front button placement.  The original pattern only has a few buttons on each side of the front, and assumes that you’ll be using a couple of buttons in the inside of the left panel to fasten the right flap into place as you button the jacket up.  I figured I would probably wear the jacket buttoned closed, but I wanted to have the option of buttoning the facings to themselves for a nod to some older colonial/regency era coats, so I made buttonholes along the edges of both fronts:

Photos of Button placements marked, buttonholes stitched into front of jacket

Button placements marked, buttonholes stitched into front of jacket

I used some nice domed brass shank buttons from Pacific Trimming:

Photo of Cuff buttons sewn in place

Cuff buttons sewn in place

Photo detail of collar, epaulet button, and front facing buttoned back onto itself

Detail of collar, epaulet button, and front facing buttoned back onto itself

The last touch was to add some belt loops.  On Montrose doublets, belts are actually worn on the outside of the jacket.  Belts on a traditionally fit kilt are basically decorative anyway, serving more as a visual divider than a functional accessory.  I made loops from the same contrasting maroon fabric used for the facings; the canvas was just too heavy to manage in multiple layers at that scale.

Photo of contrasting color belt loop

Contrasting belt loop

Photo of inner buttons for wearing with front closed

Inner buttons for wearing with front closed

And suddenly it was finished!  I do want to go back and add more wax, which will hopefully make it look a little more leathery and a little less like a confederate shell jacket, but I am well-pleased with the results.  On a traditional Montrose doublet the front panels tend to be a little bit wider, reaching almost to the opposite shoulders, but that would be an easy enough alteration next time around.

On the day of the festival, I put the jacket on with the facings buttoned open, knowing I’d need the freedom of motion while loading in and getting set up, but I never got around to buttoning it up.  The look has really grown on me, but after seeing a couple of other fine kilt outfits that day I realized that even the most traditional ones have a somewhat fantastic look to them; I think most people assumed I was wearing some kind of ready-to-wear military or piper’s jacket.

A hand-knitted, felted Balmoral bonnet I made a couple of years ago and a last-minute Knights Templar style baldric completed my outfit for the day.

Photo of finished jacket with Knights Templar-style baldric at Watch City Steampunk Festival

Finished jacket with Knights Templar-style baldric at Watch City Steampunk Festival. Photo by Sally Gaffney