Last modified: Saturday, January 6, 2001 6:20 PM



The Jacket: I was hesitant about doing anything to the jacket (except fix the buttons), even though I didn't like the shade of green (too "limey"). The main reason is that it's a "no turning back" type of job, and I don't have any spare Dave jackets in case I really botch this. However, I reasoned that for your entertainment and enlightenment, someone needed to do this. "The entertainment of the many outweigh the risk of destroying the jacket of Jimbob's $40 figure..." How noble, huh?

One thing you don't want to find out after you commit is that the thread is a weird non-dyeable synthetic blend. And it helps to know if the fabric is too, but that's less of a problem because if it doesn't dye, no harm done. In either case, that's not too big of a deal here because the color won't change drastically (that's the idea, at least). Nevertheless, I tried to test this out by Q-tipping a bleach solution on an inconspicuous area (inside of front flap--careful to not let it bleed through). The results were inconclusive because the thread is so light, and a good match for the color. However, the effects of bleaching (I used X-14 Mildew Remover because we were out of bleach) were pretty dramatic: The surrounding material lightened and turned an even more sickly shade of lime green! I might have stopped there if I hadn't made the mistake of testing just a little too high up-- I forgot that the top of the front flap gets turned back, so part of that discoloration was visible from the front of the jacket. Things had already reached that "no turning back" point.

I would like to caution you that what follows is not a recipe or a formula for success. Since I only have one of these jackets, the strategy is to try something, see what happens and make corrections. I can't undo an action and try it a different way. Therefore, there are probably simpler ways to get the result you want, and I don't have any carefully measured dye blends (surprise!).

Another caution is that the Sargeant chevrons & 1st Infantry insignia get trashed. In my eyes that's not too big of a deal; it's just a different problem. It is unfortunate about the chevrons though because they're well made (albeit a bit too clean and pale), and I'm pretty sure that my homemade ones won't look as good. If you're thinking of replacing the decorations, I'd advise against it. The red "1" and stripes are heat & solvent sensitive and come off cleanly. The underlying OD and black backgrounds don't. While you can use a solvent like Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK-- a carcinogen, be careful!) to strip away some of it, you're still left with paint-impregnated fabric, which may well be impossible to remove completely. It's like getting a marker stain from a shirt. If I had the solution for that, I'd be a wealthy Suzy Homemaker patent holder.

Finally, bleaching weakens fabric so if you're one of those types who admires the CC body for the fact that you can pound it with a hammer (yup, it shore be durable! --sarcastic editorializing), don't try this.

As I mentioned, I didn't like the original color. I'm not a WWII guru, so I looked at photos in The World War II GI in Color Photographs (c 1993 Richard Windrow, Motorbooks International ISBN 0-87938-832-3) and reasoned that this was some type of M1941 jacket (even though the sleeves are cut differently). The biggest difference was the color, so I've tried to match the color in the book. It had a faded look, with less green: I'd call it a light tan khaki. Bear in mind that colors are difficult to talk about since they look different depending on the lighting, and relative differences are most apparent when compared side-by-side with other colors. Is the book's color accurate? What about the differences that lighting introduces in the film? On computers, there's no telling what's coming out of your monitors, since very few people have color calibration gizmos. In the real world (esp. during WWII), colors probably weren't completely uniform coming out of the factories, and the weathering played a big part in changing those colors. In the face of this big fat mess, all we can do is rely on our gut instinct. This is a good thing, since the process of dyeing is pretty imprecise anyway.

Here's what I did: I soaked the jacket in Rit's Color Remover for a very short while -- it bleached out to a light tan almost instantly. Unfortunately, the original X-14 bleach mark was even lighter, so I soaked the whole thing in X-14. This made the jacket far too light with a yellowish cast, so I dipped it in a small batch of Rit's Tan dye for a few seconds. Looks okay, but has a brownish cast to it. Fine. Iron a portion of it to see what the real color is. Looks okay. Experiment with MEK to remove the black goop underneath the chevrons. Cuts through to fabric, but fabric is stained black. Use X-14 to bleach out the remaining black; X-14 spreads to surrounding fabric. Dump jacket back in X-14 bath. Dye tan. Too brown. Remove color. Add green to tan dye. Too green. Remove color. Remix green + tan. Dye. Iron. Looks okay.

Like I said, there are probably more efficient ways of doing this... (grin).

Anyway, it's all pretty subtle in the photos. The top pic attempts to show the color difference, relative to the magazine bag (which I believe was the same color as the original jacket). I goosed the photo's tint slightly to match the pouch that I see in person, and even still the jacket is slightly browner in the pics than in real life.

The second pic shows the effect of the MEK on the stripe's background. I worked on the center because I didn't want to smear the thick & goopy black gunk to the surrounding fabric (I plan to reconstitute the stripes). Many Q-tips later, it does get lighter, but I doubt you'd ever get it to match the unpainted fabric. I invite someone who has nothing to lose to prove me wrong though (I'll only go so far with this "sacrifice" stuff).

Before I forget, let me give you a completely original (I'm pretty sure) customizing tip to impart an air of uncanny realism to your figure: Work out in the gym; wring sweat from gym suit and collect in jar; let it ripen; douse your figure; repeat periodically. Voila! Dirty & Stinky Dave. This "full sensory" approach to realistic customizing will undoubtedly please your spouse and result in many unexpected and joyous sexual couplings. Rrrrrrrrowrrrr!


Buttons: Maaaaaaaaan, I thought these would be a no-brainer, but once you dig in you get a whole new respect for those wizards at Dragon. Okay-- the buttons look out of place because they're so clean looking, they're gray and even though they're small by doll standards, they're still too big-- but as sewn-on buttons, they're a remarkable quality detail, nonetheless.

From the book's photos, they look like they probably should be a khaki-brown. The easiest thing to do would be to paint 'em brown. Move it up a notch, and make some smaller ones and glue 'em on. Since I don't want to give an inch of the original Dragon quality, I decide that I've got to sew 'em on-- all of 'em. If Dragon can do it, why can't I?

Wellllll, the first the you notice (hopefully) when you remove a button is that the button's threading holes are damn small. So small in fact that my thinnest needle won't go through! Ain't that a bitch? What this means is that I need to make a custom needle-- No big deal if you've got a carbide bit for your Dremel. However, I learn that the needle's threading hole won't fit through, even when grinded down super thin. The only solution I could come up with was to grind the needle's tail at an angle and superglue the thread to it. I knew from the start that this was going to be a single thread sewing job anyway...

Rather than remake the buttons, I decided to try recasting them, but using the backside without the lip. This should make them considerably smaller. Maybe even too small? This is the easiest kind of casting job though. I used molding putty and did six at a time (no special reason except that I'd cut six of the least conspicuous backside buttons off-- "wiggle room", so to speak); the trial-an-error part is getting your tint right because you have to precompensate for the fact that generic resins lighten the tint. Pic #2 shows the premix tint on the left, and the final cured color on the right.

It's a straightforward mix of black, red & yellow, but the trick is in getting the right proportions of each. As you can see in the poorly focused pic #3, I started with too much red and had to tone it down(left to right). The last two are more noticibly different than is apparent; the second to last one is too lavender, so I added yellow.

It's hard to get a good 1:1 mix when you're mixing up a miniscule batch for 6 buttons (even accepting the fact that 90% of your resin mix will be wasted). But it's important since it's one of the factors (besides age of your resin) which makes the castings funky. I cast many more of these than I actually need to be on the safe side. All the castings may not come out well and some may get lost or broken, and it's unlikely that I'd be able to match the premix tint a second time. It's better if they all come from the same batch.

Pic #4: I've sewn the front five buttons on, and it looks pretty good. However, it wasn't easy, and I may deviate from my original plan. Problem #1 is that the needle's superglued thread attachment is only good for about one and a half buttons. This contributes to problem #2: it takes forever! Therefore, I've decided to sew the button separately and glue the suckers on. That will reduce wear on the needle, eliminate knot tying and give the fragile buttons a little more reinforcement. I'm undecided as to whether I'm going to bother with the shirt, since he's always going to wear his jacket. Maybe I'll feel more motivated later on?

(later) If I'd gone to a cloth store I'd have seen that there are indeed needles small enough to sew the buttons (and saved myself a lot of pointless aggravation). "Quilting Betweens" are a tiny needle which look to be perfect for the job. Oh well, live & learn!


Insignia: (read revision at end) I'd vowed that I wasn't going to do a paper tag for this. It's true that you can get really fine detail, and how much more authentic can you get than a photograph of a actual patch? There's one major weakness though-- paper tags don't have depth or texture. They look like pictures glued on. Iron-on transfers get less detail, and they have only slightly more depth. This may be appropriate for some patches, but I felt that the stripes needed more. Like embroidery? Dave Tedesco (he's The Patch Guy; check my Joe index) is famous for his embroidery, and is highly recommended by customizing masters like Francis Tavares. But I'm a cheap S.O.B. and I crave instant gratification. Besides, the point of me doing this is for the gratification of doing it myself, not to create a custom showpiece. This wouldn't be much of an article if I told you to buy this here, buy that there, put it together and Voila! So instead, you get Jimbob's funky homebrew alternative experiment, lucky you.

Ignore the shortcomings of the top pic because it doesn't show what I'm trying to show. The insignia on the right is a raw printout of an image nabbed from Anderfront.com. From the scan, it looks pretty good. But in person it looks like a printout-- you can see the little dots that the printer makes. The insignia on the left (which looks funkier) is another copy, but with a lot of acrylic paint built up on it. This gives it a 3-D quality similar too, but less pronounced than Dave's original insignia. The coloration is continuous tone and simulates shading, highlights, and texture. You could say that this is like sculpting with paint. Acrylic can be impressed with some textures, and it's has the added benefit of being pretty flexible. Of course, it may be a little premature to recommend this as a viable alternative, since at this point it's just a painted tag on a piece of paper.

Pic #2 shows it Fabri-tac'd to the sleeve. Before applying it, I made vertical scores in the paint with an X-acto knife to simulate the embroidery grain. (I don't know the real direction of the grain of the embroidery since I don't have a real patch.) The patch was cut out, the back sanded and painted black to saturate the edges to lessen the likelihood of wear showing; white edges would look really tacky.

Pic #3 isn't very flattering, but what do you expect when the camera's lens is 5 millimeters from the surface? Have you ever looked at your pores under a magnifying glass??? Lighting was difficult, but at least the pic's in sharper focus. It shows you the shallow cloth texture impression in the paint. The engraved embroidery looks pretty crude, but the side lighting emphasizes the irregularities. It don't look so bad to the nekkid eye, honest! But the flat OD area is big enough to make the patch look like it's made of rubber instead of cloth, especially when applied to real cloth which has a coarser and deeper grain (because it's actually out of scale).

Objectively, I consider this home-brew technique to be...uh... quirky! It's fun to make, but if you're after something a little more professional or durable, go with an embroidered patch or a fabric iron-on. It isn't any less durable than a glued-on paper sticker though-- it's just a variation on doing a paper sticker.

I should mention that the print I've painted over came from a dry ink Alps printer. If you use an inkjet, you may have problems with the wet paint smearing the ink. In that case, you can probably use Dullcote to seal the print before painting.

Revision, 03/01/00: After some real world wear, I discovered that the paint on paper tags wasn't very durable. Despite staining the edges, it didn't permeate the paper very deep and wear caused the paper to delaminate, showing the white of the paper. I've since redone these on fabric, using a somewhat convoluted process: I spray-mounted white fabric to a sheet of paper and ran it through my printer. (I don't recommend this unless you're willing to live dangerously and possibly majorly screw up your printer.) Unfortunately, the print quality was terrible-- very light and faded. However, I was able to use this as a template for the painting process. The black thoroughly permeates the fiber at the edges and the spray mount holds the fabric together, so fraying shouldn't be a problem this time. I didn't paint the stripes thick enough to texture them, but they're raised higher than the black background. The texture comes from the cloth itself. Now that I have a sample of some WWII stripes, I was able to match the color fairly well. I added a thin mix of gold interference paint on top, which does an okay job of simulating the satiny reflectiveness of the actual embroidered patch. I used spray mounting to adhere the patch to the jacket. This version is noticibly thinner than the first ones I made, so it bends with the fabric better.


Miscellaneous Weathering: After most of the major areas had been taken care of, one thing stood out like a sore thumb: The ammo bag, which looked far too "new". It was put into a diluted mix of color remover (along with the trousers and shirt) for a couple of seconds just to lighten it a bit. The change is hardly noticible. A bigger problem was the strap ribbon, which looked too perfect and artificial. A few dabs of dark pastel chalk powder was brushed on and blended in to give it some shading variety. Next, the strap was sanded to fray the edges and make the fabric "fluff up". I also tried this on the pants, but the technique isn't as effective because they're made of a fairly relaxed fabric.


(Note: As a public service, the cigarettes have been moved to a separate area of the website, on the next page. It's hoped that the extra mouseclicks will make you give up looking at pictures of cigarettes.)