Friday, July 20, 2012

A "Horrible" pattern!

So, I'd like to share part one of my tutorial on creating a Dr. Horrible lab coat.  This part will cover altering the pattern pieces, and part 2 will cover construction.

WARNING:  This blog may contain graphic images of horribly mangled pattern pieces.  If you have a weak constitution, please avert your eyes!

First of all, I'd like to talk a little bit about the history of the actual article worn in the short film.  I've read that this smock was originally created for the 1986 film Aliens, the sequel to Alien.  A number of them were made, both for men and women in the movie.  Joss Whedon used one of these on a single episode of his TV series, Firefly.  So if this info is correct, it has quite an interesting history of its own, Here is one of the female versions of this lab coat.  You'll note it looks pretty much the same, except it has a small bust dart.

Anyway, on to the instructions!
I started out using Simplicity 5386, a costume for the overcoats from the Matrix. This pattern will be heavily altered, so if you want to use it for it's original purpose, be prepared to do a lot of tracing.  I had no desire to keep the original intact, so I just altered the actual pieces as first. In the end, I made so many alterations that I traced the final pattern pieces out anyway.
There are also 2 pieces that you need to draft on your own, so in any case, you will need some tracing paper or news print.

Some resources I relied on were the film itself, with heavy use of the pause button.  Then I was lucky to find many structural pictures (inside, outside, back and front) of the the female version of the actual costume found here.
This was a really helpful look at the details that are hard to see on the film, such as the inner flap.    It's a good starting point, but it really only covers the basics, and I think would make a very rough, though passable, costume as is.

Here are instructions for creating each piece, using Simplicity 5386.
Meld pattern pieces 1 and 2 together, overlapping the seam allowance at shoulder and waistline (it will vary greatly elsewhere).  You won't need pieces 1a and 2a unless you are extremely tall, over 6'2.
Next, cut the pattern along the "Center front" marking, straight down all the way to the hemline. Then draw a straight line from the lower armscye point parallel to the center front line, all the way to the hemline to create a straight side seam. Next measure about 4" down from the waistline, and create a 1/2" wide tab extending down to the hem as shown.  These will form the hems of the side slits.  You can remove this extension from the RIGHT side of the front piece, where the front facing and buttons will be. Here is the altered pattern piece, and my finished  pattern tracing:

Optional fitting changes:
I also altered the neckline and the armscye, as you can see.  I brought the shoulder point in 1", and the bottom of the armscye up 1".  I curved the armscye in deeper, to keep the original seam length the same.  This prevented the sleeve from pulling up on the bicep when my husband lifted his arms, and gave a much better fit.
The neckline I lowered by 3/8", as my hubby has a large neck.

Meld pattern pieces pieces 3 and 4 together, again overlapping the seam allowance, Follow the same steps as for the front piece.

I made the same neck, shoulder, and armscye alterations here as I did on the front piece, again these are optional as they were made for fitting specifically to my husband..
The arm alterations were a result of fitting 3 muslins (yes, 3!) on my husband.  With the pattern as is, he couldn't raise his arms more than a few inches without getting pulling at the bicep and under the armpit, and I think this is a common problem, with costumes especially. Despite being a pretty broad shouldered man, the shoulder point was sitting at LEAST 1" too far out on him.  And then the neck was too tight, so I made that a bit larger for comfort.

Inner front flap:
Fold the center line of the front piece under 2", and just cut the front piece on a single layer (make sure you have the fabric facing so the right side will be facing out at the RIGHT shoulder!).  This piece will also need the 1/2" tab around 5" below the waist for side slit hem.

Front facing:
Lay your tracing paper or news print over your completely altered  front piece, and trace along the shoulder and armscythe and down the side (ignoring the 1/2" side slit hem flap).  At the shoulder, measure 3-1/2" down.  At the side, measure 6" in.  Connect these two lines with a gentle arc at the shoulder corner, as seen below. This is the same shape that can be seen on the original coat.  This piece will give your buttonholes stability, and also add a distinctive bit of top-stitching, just like the original coat!

The sleeve:
You can leave unaltered, if you wish, but the shoulder point will likely bee too long, and leave you with a poorly fitting sleeve.  I personally needed to lengthen it by 2" (the coat also has a very deep 2" sleeve hem).  I also widened it at the armscye about 1/2" on each side, and shortened the sleeve cap by 3/4" (to fit my newly changed armscye shapes on the front and back pieces).  Again, this allowed a much greater range of movement for my husband, but this will entirely depend on your body shape!  It isn't too difficult to make a muslin of the bodice and sleeves only, and test the fit of this on yourself, to see if you might want to make similar alterations.  Old sheets make great muslin material, as you'll see later in this post. :D

The collar:
I must admit that I followed this helpful tutorial.  But, it ended up making a piece that was about 1" too long, (even after including seam allowance), and the curve needs to be adjusted to stay equal, but it is a starting place. Make sure and measure it to your finished neckline!

I also found this collar to be far too tall, so I shortened it by 1/2" on my final version.

The Back Tie:

Make the width 3-1/4" (5/8" seam allowance).  The length should be the width of the back piece minus about 4"

The Pocket:
You can either embroider the caduceus yourself, or buy an iron on patch.  There are some on e-bay that are listed specifically for this costume.  My husband did not want the Caducus on his pocket at this time, so my pocket is blank.

I cut a piece 5x5 with a 1.5" point on the bottom, and ironed under 1/4" all around, 3/4" on the top, and eyeballed where to place it on his chest.

At this point, you should cut the bottom of the patterns at your estimated hem length. The length should hit 2" to 3" below the knee, and it has a deep 2" hem as well, so make sure you add 2-1/4" to your finished hem estimate.

About buttonhole placement;  the buttonholes on the shoulder and collar are perpendicular to the shoulder line (vertical), and approx 2" apart (this will vary depending on the size you cut, and if you alter the shoulder point, as I did .  The buttonholes down the side are also perpendicular to the edge, (horizontal), and approx 4" apart.  The bottom button should land about 2" below the top of the side slit.

Here is my finished full muslin with the sleeve tucked behind, showing how the buttonholes sit, and the nicely topstitched front facing.
Yeah yeah, I know it looks like a hospital gown....or maybe a really ugly mumu.  Old sheets I tell ya!  The collar on this is not yet shortened, and it is far too big for my little dress form (looks really long, too, but it hits my hubby correctly), but you get the idea.

So now you have your pattern ready to go!  Go out and get yourself the perfect fabric (a fine cotton twill is perfect), and remember, the coat is NOT white, it is cream colored, so try and find yourself a slightly off white if you want to be really authentic. :D

See my next blog post for cutting and construction instructions of the lab coat.


  1. Thanks for posting this! I know almost nothing about sewing but am going to attempt this for my husband's costume this year :)

    1. I hope it goes well for you! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me here, and I'll do my best to help. :)

  2. Great job Linda! This is my first big sewing project and your post has helped a bunch. I think the pictures have been the most helpful, so thanks for posting those!

    A few quick questions if you don't mind:
    1) did you create a new pattern for the inner front flap, or just use the front piece, and just remembered to cut off 2"?
    2)On the sleeve, it looked like you went (starting left to right) from the L circle, then to the XXL circle(pretending like one was there) halfway through the arc, and then to the XL line for the rest of the sleeve. Does that sound accurate?
    3) I think you're supposed to wash the fabric before cutting out the patters, correct? if so, what setting should i use for cotton twill?

    Thanks a bunch for this tutorial!

    1. Hi! I'm glad this blog has been a help. Congratz in advance on your first big sewing project!

      In answer to your questions:
      1) I just used the front piece and removed 2". A yardstick or other long ruler will really help with this pattern, as there are a lot of long, straight lines.

      2) I cut the entire sleeve L to start. Since it was too tight, I added width by marking about 1/2" out on each corner. I had to adjust the arc of the rest of the sleeve so there wouldn't be too much fabric, since I had just added 1" of fabric. So I changed the arcs UP to remove about 1". I admit, I don't own a french curve, so I just guessed on the new curves here, then measured to make sure it was the same "old" length after I'd made the adjustments. I hope that makes sense.

      You probably won't have to make all those alterations though, unless the person you are making it for has very big biceps. I DO recommend you raise the bottom of the armsythe 1/2" to 1" though. That's the bottom of the arc on the body of the coat (front and back) not on the sleeve itself.
      This will usually make the entire sleeve fit better without ANY other alterations. It's an easy alteration that does wonders.

      I hope that make sense. ?

      3) Yes, you should always pre-wash fabric (that isn't dry clean only! lol). For white cotton, you can wash with hot or warm water, heavy wash, and dry on your hottest setting. All cottons take heat very well, and should be washed like this. You'll want to shrink it up as much as you can before cutting.

      I really do hope I got back to you in time, and that you get your costume finished in time. Some of the instructions may seem confusing, but I hope it clears up as you go along. I find that true even of commercial patterns. I am thinking "huh?", until I get to that step, then looking at what I have done at that point, the lightbulb goes on.

      Good luck! I'd love to see pics when you get done! :D

  3. I'd really love to be able to make a Dr. Horrible coat like this, but there's one small problem. I've never sewn before in my life. I have no idea where to begin with anything related to making clothes. Are there any good resources on the internet that can help me make sense of what's going on?

    1. Hi Qwertitops,
      I am so sorry for not replying earlier. I have been insanely busy since early October.
      If you ever want to start sewing, my advice to you is to just do it. Most commercial patterns have very good instructions. And if you need help or tips from experienced sewers, or have questions about specific patterns, I HIGHLY recommend It is free, and there are hundreds of experienced sewers there posting pattern reviews, and participating in forum discussions daily.

      Get some old sheets or inexpensive fabric for your first few projects. But once you have sewn a few things, and feel more comfortable, you'll be amazed at how quickly you learn. :)