Vintage patchwork unisex jacket from thrift shop hobo shoulder bags

On occasions I have regrets about living in the middle of the French countryside where there is a dearth of theatre, museums, concerts, art galleries and the more prosaic antique, flea and rag markets. Outside of Bath, Cheltenham, London, Manchester and Paris, one of my favourites was Birmingham. It wasn't that this latter had a huge amount of 'stuff', it was just that it had a wonderful treasure trove of what could come under the loose banner of sari fabric. Imagine my delight therefore when I came across  several items made from such fabric and vintage to boot, at my local thrift shop.

hobo bag refashioned - vintage patchwork jacket tutorial

jacket from refashioned patchwork hobo bag
I made this jacket for the magician's costume for the film company I was working with. However, it is something I would wear, though possibly minus the feathers, bells and velvet appliqué and in fact I had a hard time convincing myself to send it off! These sort of fabrics are not the kind you often come across here and they cost me so little, just a couple of Euros for each item. I also found a miniskirt too in similar vintage fabric, made by Uttam of London, which I used in making the pantaloons. This same design would also make a great waistcoat.

Background & Influences

Grimaldi, the magician in the film's narrative is a shadowy, enigmatic figure. All good costume should carry and even enforce information about the character as well as advancing the storyline. I chose the midnight blue velours fabric to contrast the vibrancy of the Indian patchwork, for several reasons. As with Harlequin from the Commedia dell'arte, which I referenced for my costume, the definitions in early theatre of dark and light, good and evil, fool and king, servant and master are often very much blurred. In the theatrical symbol of the double masks of comedy and tragedy, they might be seen, as with the Roman god Janus, to be two sides of but one face. I also wanted to bring in a hint of Pan, with the solid wooden walnut buttons, to tie the mercurial Grimaldi to the Earth. The brash artificiality of the velvet fabric also contrasted strongly with the worn, naturally aged  cotton of the patchwork.

Magician's costume from refashioned hobo bagJester - Victor Nizovtsey Portrait by Pierre-Louis Pierson

For my mood board on, which you can find on Pinterest (link at end), I took an eclectic mix of images. Works from painters, such as Victor Nizovtsev, tarot cards, serviettes, jewellery and photography such as Pierre-Louis Pierson's amazingly contemporary-looking portrait La Castiglione taken circa 1863. For this costume as with the others, there was also a reference from nature, in this case I chose the peacock, a bird associated with the sun and the moon, which is said to have the look of an angel and the voice of a devil. I used actual peacock feather's for Grimaldi's mask (above right). The Peacock is also associated with Argos, the all seeing instrument of the Greek Goddess Hera. When he was slain, she took his hundred eyes and placed them in the tail of the peacock. For this reason perhaps in Europe, unlike within other cultures, peacock feathers are considered unlucky and associated with 'the evil eye' or bad fortune.

Design and Construction/Confection

Vintage indian patchwork hobo bag
I felt both these processes to be very organic because the actual shape of the hobo shoulder bag informed on the design. With its long shoulder strap, half moon opening at the top and square cut base, it cried out 'waistcoat' to me when I dug it out of the bottom of my wardrobe. In fact the jacket just seemed to grow out of the fabric as soon as I opened it up.

Vintage indian patchwork hobo bag
refashioning a waistcoat or jacket from patchwork hobo bag 

These patchwork shoulder bags were already lined with a thin dark blue cotton but as I wanted a strongly defined line to my jacket body I removed it. This revealed the interesting original sewing beneath and also gave me a better view of the fabric I had to work with. The actual shape of the shoulder bag, when completely undone and trimmed to size gave me a very close approximation to the shape I wanted, for my jacket front, as you will see from the photo. I also referenced the line of one of Andy's linen waistcoats, which I particularly liked and a 1930's gypsy waistcoat, this can be found on my Pinterest board. I used a thick red felt I bought as a remnant and had used on other projects, to line the front of the jacket. Not only did this reinforce the shape I wanted but also made the jacket exceedingly comfortable to wear.

vintage indian patchwork jacket tutorialOnce I'd decided on the shape of the patchwork piece for the front, I then used it as the pattern to cut the other pieces from Venice carnival the velours (right front and the single piece for the back). A word here about this velours fabric. Climb the Ivy Films is a new, small independent company with consequentially a very small budget. This suited me well, as I was intending to refashion most of the costumes and when I needed to buy I bought cheap. France is great for this because many of its fabric shops or should I say emporiums, are like Aladdin's caves. Fabric is often sold in cut lengths, some is end of line, bankruptcy or unwanted orders from other shops. There is also a big tradition of carnival in Europe, with the most famous being Venice. There is thus a wide choice of costume fabric, such as velours, sold in great widths (150cm or 60"), for around 5 Euros (5-ish dollars) a metre. If I was making this jacket again for myself, I would make it either in quality velvet or organic linen. It would also be easier to sew! For Grimaldi though who was a mercurial spirit and to be filmed in low light, the velours was perfect!

refashioning a patchwork waistcoat from a hobo bag
As I've explained before, with this set of film costumes, I was working at home in France and the actors/actresses were in Scotland. I had detailed measurements from which Andy had been able to design and make an adjustable dress form from pallet wood. In the case of Grimaldi, however, the actor's measurements were the same as Andy's. I therefore used him as my model, in particular for shaping the back of the jacket, positioning the front and sleeves, buttons, feathers, velvet diamond shapes and bells.

work in progress refashioned patchwork jacket
The sleeves I chose to cut from a pattern I already had to hand. It is so much easier if you have a dummy or model to fit this to.

home-made walnut buttonsSo, with the help of the dummy I set my sleeves and also worked out where to put the fastenings. The buttons were cut from a walnut branch from our tree, which had broken off in a storm, been left to dry naturally and then hand sawn into 'slices' and drilled.

refashioned jacket made from patchwork hobo bag
The velvet lozenges in contrasting turquoise to give that hint of the Harliquinade, were cut from some fabric remnants and lined with the same red felt as the jacket. They were then finished with gold bells cut from a rather garish inexpensive braid of bells which was sold in the carnival section of my haberdashers. Once cut off to make separate bells they worked well. It also meant that Grimaldi would have a faint sound as he approached, something I checked with the director before I sewed them on!

Influence of expressionism Expressionist Art CinemaAs you can see from the photos, the other important design criteria I used to convey narrative was that asymmetry should figure very strongly in the costumes. This again was to reinforce the concept that everything was not entirely as it seemed. This is a device you will often see used in film noir, with directors and writers influenced by the early 20th century German Expressionist Movement, in art and art cinema, as with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (film still left). It's also often quite subtle and you may not even notice it unless you are looking but it turns up in what you might think are the most unlikely places and gives you a nod of recognition.
Refashioned film costume for magician
Through the whole creative process of film costuming, you are ever aware that your work may only be on the screen for a few seconds. The piece you designed may be reused on other projects or refashioned for streetwear. Whatever, the joy of working in film, for me is that I know what I made, even if, albeit metaphorically, most of it was left on the cutting room floor!

King carnival playing card/tarotIf you have enjoyed this piece and found it useful think about sharing it and also about joining this blog to be assured of new posts. Please also feel free to ask questions or make comments in the section below.

All the very best,

© 2016 Sue Cross

Thanks for Pinterest board images - In order of appearance:, Monsieur R,,, Kickstarter

You can find them and more on two of my boards: Inspiration for Costume and Noir

Link for home-made dress form:

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