Fullmetal Alchemist Military Uniform Pattern Tutorial

FMA uniforms -- Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye; photo by Elemental

(originally posted on the Cosplay.com forums)

This tutorial covers pattern design for the FMA military uniforms, as worn by Roy Mustang, Riza Hawkeye, Maes Hughes, et al., and as seen at right. It includes design instruction for pants, butt-cape and military jacket. It does NOT include step-by-step assembly instructions (“ease from notch A to circle D and gather the whosit with a whatsit stitch”), because you really, really don’t want me to talk about sewing. Why not, you ask?

Our FMA costume set — Ed, Roy, Riza, Hughes, Sciezka — were the first things we had ever made from scratch, save for the follow-the-lines home economics projects that my sister and I were forced to do in school many, many years ago. We have since gone on to make many other costumes and win many awards (for whatever that’s worth), but the fact still remains that I have had NO formal sewing instruction, so my costume assembly might not make sense from a practical sewing standpoint; I’m still trying to learn the correct sewing terminology, rather than “stitch the thing to that other thing.”

I do, however, have something of a grasp on 3-D design and pattern invention. Go figure. ^_^

Okay. Disclaimer over. Now, on to the costumes.

UPDATE 02/2011 РInspired by our tutorial, Panda Majik has created lovely downloadable patterns to help you create your FMA uniform!  Check them out here.

FABRIC CHOICE

This is critical — for a military uniform to look like a military uniform, you will want to choose an appropriate and functional fabric. You’ll want a fabric that breathes, that holds its shape well, and that looks like something a uniform would be made from (i.e., probably not satin or pleather, unless you’re doing a distinct variant). I used trigger poplin, which worked nicely, though the blue color can wash out a bit under flash, as you can see in the photos. (Always check your fabric under camera before you buy!)

Also keep in mind that you’re trying to match the look of the anime. Match your colors and fabric textures. Some cosplayers choose to use a darker navy blue fabric for their uniforms, which is absolutely fine if that’s the look you want, but if you’re entering in craftsmanship you might want to think about those accuracy points. ^_^ This also applies to the uniform trim, which is grey, not silver, in the source material. It is never represented as being shiny.

So, all that to say, choose your materials wisely.

PANTS

The military pants have a high waistband, are fitted at the top, and blouse dramatically in the legs. To me, they resemble nothing so much as M.C. Hammer pants… ^_^

The easiest method is to start with an existing pants pattern and alter it. Choose a cut that will fit your figure nicely through the hips and butt. The pants should be fitted; you don’t want any extra fabric making wrinkles under your butt-cape. Look at suit pants, jeans, etc.

What you’re looking for: The pants should have a high, fitted waist, NO PLEATS, and jeans-style pockets in front. (I do not have a pattern number to share, because I modeled my pants on a pair of khakis: I tried on pants until I found the right fit, then cut them apart and traced them to make a pattern. I don’t necessarily recommend this method, as it’s messy and confusing for a total neophyte.) ^_^ If anyone finds The Perfect Pants Pattern, please share with the group!

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|flared legs|}images/stories/tutorial/FIG-A.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]
Pattern modification (see FIG. A, at left):

The military pants pants are bloused and floofy all the way down the legs. Because that is a singularly unflattering cut in real life, I chose to modify it slightly for my costume. I flared the legs gradually, starting from mid-thigh, so that they blouse out over my boots but do not make my hips and thighs look like any bigger than they are. This also has the effect of making me look taller (which was important at the time, as our Ed cosplayer was actually three inches taller than me — and that’s just not right!).

To flare your pants, hold a measuring tape in a wide loop around your calf to decide how poofy you want your pants to be. Using that measurement as a guide, add the appropriate number of inches to each side of the pattern at the widest part of the leg (mid-calf). Then trace a line from that new point back to the point where you want the flare to start (mid-thigh). To get the smooth, rounded look of the FMA pants, curve the line slightly so it bells out away from the leg. At the ankle, curve the line back in toward the leg.

I tapered the bottom 6-8″ of the legs in so that they are very narrow at the ankle. That way I can tuck them comfortably into my boots without getting blisters from excess fabric. It also helps keep the wide part of the pants bloused out properly over the boots.

The waistband of your pants pattern will probably need to be doubled in width, at least; the military waistbands should be at least 2.5″-3″ wide, depending on your own body type. Make sure the waistband hits your body at your natural waist, instead of low on your hips. The butt-cape belt must lie flat over the waistband, and if the pants sit too low, the butt-cape will not hang properly on your body.

BUTT-CAPE

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|flared legs|}images/stories/tutorial/FIG-B.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft]

The butt-cape is my favorite part of the costume — I drafted it as a long A-line, which is flattering to everyone’s figure. It also hides a multitude of sins (namely, the too-tight pants I’m wearing…).

There are two secrets to making a good butt-cape. First is the shape: An A-line angles out all the way down, making your figure taller, slimmer and more dynamic. The pattern for the butt-cape will look like a trapezoid cut in half (see FIG. B, at left). The center back line of the butt-cape will be straight up-and down, along the fabric grain. The outside (front) line will run at an angle, so the bottom edge is much longer than the top edge.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|flared legs|}images/stories/tutorial/PLATE-1.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft] When you sew the center back seam, you will end up with the full trapezoid shape. When wrapped around your body, the fabric will flare out at the bottom and give you the nice inverted funnel shape (see PLATE 1, at left).

Secret #2 of a good butt-cape: INTERFACING. Nobody wants a saggy, limp butt-cape! ^_^ Sandwich a layer of interfacing between your layers of blue fabric so that it holds its shape and does not fall straight down around your legs. Use at least a medium weight interfacing (about the stiffness of copy paper or heavier), so it stays crisp and smooth.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|flared legs|}images/stories/tutorial/FIG-C.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft] Butt-cape Waistbelt:

The waistbelt attaches to the top edge of the butt-cape and holds it in place. The waistbelt should be sized long enough to wrap once around your waist with the end of the belt reaching the start of the fabric panel on the opposite side of your body (see FIG. C, at left). The two silver buttons on the front of the belt hold the butt-cape on. Depending on the type of fabric you use for the belt, you can either make button-holes for these buttons and attach them properly to the belt that goes underneath, or you can fake the belt-fastening with hook-and-eye fasteners or snaps and just sew the silver buttons on the outside of the belt. (I did the latter, as I was using nylon web for the belt, and web does not handle buttonholes well…)

Leather belt:

The leather belt, on which hang the holster and ammo pouch (for Riza, Ross or any other character who carries a pistol), attaches over the silver buttons with overall fasteners. This is a separate piece that snaps on and off; it is not attached to the butt-cape.

JACKETS

The jackets are by far the most difficult and complicated costume piece. Making Riza’s sniper rifle took me two weeks; making the FMA jackets correctly took me five months. Much of that time was wasted trying to modify commercial patterns, such as the Civil War uniform pattern and various jacket patterns.

A word on commercial patterns: Do not use them for this piece. The FMA jackets are four-panel jackets with a very square cut, a single straight seam running down the back, and no tailoring to speak of. The patterns you find in stores are not built like this. Some have more than four panels, and almost all are designed with darts or princess seams to make them flattering to your body. The FMA jackets are not tailored; if you look at a picture of Roy Mustang, you’ll see that his coat is shaped more like a box than a suit coat.

ADDENDUM – I have been informed that it is possible to modify a Burda jacket pattern for this piece. I cannot give instructions on this, since I have never done it, but apparently there IS one pattern in the world that can be used for the FMA jackets.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|flared legs|}images/stories/tutorial/PLATE-2.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft] [alignleft]{rokbox title=|flared legs|}images/stories/tutorial/FIG-D.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft] PLATE 2, at far left, is a photo of my actual cobbled-together paper patterns, but as that is messy and hard to see, I have drawn out the rough shape of each piece, so refer to FIG. D for details. The proportions of these pieces will change depending on the size of the individual, so the best method is to draw them out, make a rough mock-up, and then measure on your body to determine exactly how wide each piece should be and where the sleeves, etc. should go.

The “center line” shown on the patterns is just a guide to help you in sizing and assembling the jacket; when the whole thing is sewn together, that point should be lined up on all of the pieces.

[alignleft]{rokbox title=|flared legs|}images/stories/tutorial/PLATE-3.jpg{/rokbox}[/alignleft] As stated above, I don’t trust my sewing terminology enough to give step-by-step sewing instructions; the assembly is not much different than any other kind of shirt or jacket, so if you read through a set of standard jacket pattern instructions you should be able to figure it out. ^_^ There are a few tricky places, though, so here are some pointers:

  • As with most patterns, you’re going to be cutting two of each piece, except for C and F — you’ll need four of each of those.
  • Use interfacing in between the layers of fabric, especially for the fold-back panel on the front, to keep the jacket looking smooth and flat. The collar and cuffs should also be interfaced.
  • Piece F (the sleeve cuff) should be cut on the fold of the fabric, as marked. After you have interfaced the cuff and sewn the short ends of the two pieces together, add bias tape around the upper edges (flat edge, two short angled edges). Then make the cuff into a circle and hand-sew the lower half half of the short ends together. This will produce the half-notch on the outside of the cuff. Line this seam up with the sleeve seam when you sew the cuffs to the sleeves.
  • Be sure to pin the epaulets into the sleeve hole before you attach the sleeves; they need to be sewn in with the sleeve (see PLATE 3, at left). The epaulet decoration will vary according to which character’s uniform you’re making, but make sure you sew any ribbons, etc. onto the epaulets BEFORE you assemble the jacket.

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