From promoting shows to creating your own punk vest one of the best things about the punk scene is its DIY mentality. Sometimes, however, doing it yourself is easier said than done and for this reason I’ve decided to write a series of articles here on Dying Scene to help you with your DIY undertakings. A sort of Punk Rock craft corner if you will, and this week’s lesson is to teach you how to create your own bad ass punk rock vest in 5 simple steps. Let’s get started below.
The key to vest making, as in any art form (fuck you, this is an art!) is to learn all of the rules that govern the subject and then immediately disregard them and do your own thing. In an effort to let you cultivate your own style, I’ll attempt to only add in practical tips and techniques and forgo as much style advice as possible.
Step 1: Choose Your Jacket Wisely
Yes, you can make a vest from any type of material, but why do anything that is so fucking time-consuming if you do not intend it to last for years. So I suggest denim. Yes, cotton works fine if need be or if you prefer something light-weight, but I guarantee you that within the first two years it will be in tatters. Denim holds its strength with age, when you add studs it holds up to its weight and the contraction caused by studding (more on that later), therefore for our purposes here, I’m going to heavily suggest the tough yet semi-lightweight fabric, denim.
I’ve bought two brands of denim jackets in my life, one style from Machete (Rancid owned merch company) and one from Levi. Now Machete’s was great quality, but the company stopped making them several years back, so Levi’s is my go-to of choice. They produce a trucker-jacket that when you cut the arms off, makes for a vest that will literally last you a lifetime if you care for it right.
Now when cutting the arms off of the vest, it is VERY important to cut the arm off OUTSIDE of the stitching. Yes, you will get what some consider cool fraying if you cut on the inside of the seam, but you can accomplish this (if you wish) by cutting on JUST the outside of the stitching. This allows the fabric to in essence be sealed to itself which is crucial in making sure that it doesn’t just devolve into a giant pile of thread.
Step 2: Learning To Sew
OK boys and girls stick with me on this one. I’m not great at sewing, but I am good enough. After all, this isn’t the type of sewing where an arm sleeve is dependent on structural integrity, this is merely affixing one piece of fabric onto another. So stick with me as we go through this one and I’ll provide the least complicated instructions I can on this.
First, you need a needle and thread, duh. But don’t cheap out here, go to a real fabric store or search on amazon for a high strength thread and a pack of needles that come in a variety of sizes. The bigger the needle, the easier it is to work on the jacket, but it also leaves a bigger hole in the jacket which allows the thread to slip out. Therefore I usually choose the medium of the pack.
1: Take your thread and unspool about two feet of thread. Take your needle and put the thread through the eye of it. Do NOT cut the thread.
2: Pull out another two feet of thread and line the thread up against the already pulled thread. At this point, you should effectively have 2, 2-foot sections of thread parallel to one another, one with a loose end, and one attached to the spool.
3: Cut the thread so that the thread is equi-distant to itself.
4: Line up two ends of the tread together.
5: Now, take the two loose ends and tie a knot at the end of the thread.
6: Repeat this knot tying process again and again until at the end of it is a sizeable knot much bigger than any part of the needle. This will allow the knot to get stuck in the fabric and keep it in the jacket.
7: Cut excess thread.
Place the patch where you want it on the jacket. Now you can either use safety pins to temporarily affix a screen-printed patch where you’d like it, or attempt to go at it freehand. Freehand will produce better results after practice as it leads to less bunching up of the patch, but until you get used to this process, I’d suggest safety pins to hold it in place.
8: Insert the needle in the corner of the patch about a quarter of an inch in from the edge, but be sure to pay attention to where pockets are on the jacket, as I have many times learned it is easy to accidentally sew a pocket inoperable.
9: Pull the string all the way through until the knot catches on the material.
10: Now begin stitching, going in and out in quarter inch intervals. Needle in, pull string through until slack is removed, then back through the fabric again going the opposite way. While doing this you may miss the patch a few times for not being able to see where you’re at on the fabric. To avoid this, push your needle halfway through to see its location, but don’t pull the thread through until you like its location. Continue this until you have sewn the entire border of the patch.
11: When you notice you are down to the final 4-5 inches of thread it is time to “seal” the thread so it doesn’t slip out. Simply grab a SUPER-SMALL bit of fabric on the vest, put your needle through it until you form a hoop, put your needle through the hoop and pull tight making sure the knot is on the fabric.
12: Repeat this process several times until you are sure that the string will not slip out. Cut the thread, and repeat the entire process until finishing the perimeter.
To ensure that the patch stays, repeat this entire process one more time going the opposite way with stitching, ensuring that all parts of the patch are held down, the results should look like this:
Step 3: Selecting The Patches
Doesn’t this seem easy? In some ways it is, just choose the patches you like and go from there. Embroidered and silk-screened will both be covered here but which is right for you and where should you put them for maximum longevity?
Backpatch: The reason of its importance? Well it’s two-fold. One, you REALLY want something in a heavy quality here. You want something that will last for years as the main centerpiece of your jacket. If you choose an embroidered one, place it well. If you choose a silkscreened one, put it in place with safety pins to decide on the location. Either way, I would suggest using one that feels as if the material is as strong as possible.
Silkscreen: These have the benefit of being not only cool looking, but they are cheap as fuck. Unfortunately, the problem with being cheap is that sometimes they are made cheap as well. My best advice is follow what I do, collect every patch that strikes my fancy (assuming you can afford it) and keep it in a shoebox. Aside from aesthetics, what I look for in a patch is a heavy weight with a thick amount of ink on it, as light weight patches tend to fade and tear quickly.
All silkscreen patches will wear away with age, that’s what they do by nature, but heavier weight patches printed on HEAVY black fabric with a HEAVY amount of ink will do this much slower than white and light-weight patches. Unfortunately, there are some companies that seem to be great at patch making (I fucking LOVE Machete and Rancid, but their patches in the past are lackluster quality) but honestly, the best way to judge is to go to your local store and touch them (haha) for yourself. If that is not an option, then my friend, you will be dealing with a crap shoot and it’s better to order more than you need just in case. Search sites like InterPunk.com, AngryYoungAndPoor.com, and MacheteMFG.com and you should find what you need.
Embroidered: These have the benefit of lasting more than the life of the jacket. I still have patches to this day that are from my first punk rock vest that I made at 15. But this is not an argument to use only them, as nearly-always is the case, it is best to have a “best of both worlds” situation. As you can never know the strength and longevity of your silk-screened patches, I choose to put embroidered patches above the breast pockets. Why? Because I choose to stud around them, and if I’m committing myself to a design of studs, I would like to make sure that the patches aren’t going to need replaced.
Most embroidered patches are iron on, which is nice, but you really shouldn’t depend on some melted plastic actually affixing itself to your jacket reliably. The best thing to do with these is again, stitch the corners where you want them, and then iron them on. Stitching is hard on embroidered patches as you are going not only through thick material, but also the un-melted plastic. The easiest way to deal with this is to use a very heavy gauge needle and as you push it through, use a pair of pliers to get a better grip. Poke the needle halfway through by pushing, then pull the needle out of the back with the pliers as well.
When you’re done stitching apply heat and let the patch “glue” itself to the jacket material beneath. Be sure to not apply heat directly to the patch itself. This will cause the nylon in it to singe and burn, moreover, it may also burn away the stitching you just worked so hard on and put you’re back to square one. Put a rag overtop of the patch, and apply the heat to it. Also give it a healthy dose of steam from the iron (if it’s possible), this will ensure the glue doesn’t dry out and burn.
Step 4: Studding
Studs come from a variety of sources. There are quite a few online retailers that will sell you studs from a variety of sources. As always, I suggest buying from a local store and supporting your local business if possible, but I grew up in the fucking boondocks of Ohio and know that’s not always an option, so I suggest StudsandSpikes.com. I’ve been ordering from them for years and can vouch for them being a reputable site. Now, there are two basic types of studs:
Pyramid: Comes in a variety of sizes. Small pyramids are great for lining the outside of the vest, for example if you wanted studs on the seams of your jacket while medium and large pyramid studs are more for the traditional patches and groupings of studs (big square-like blocks). The extra-large studs I have bought before, but they always are poor quality and look clownishly huge when attached. For me, small studs are too small, extra-large studs are too big, but medium and large studs are just right.
Cone: These come in round, cone, English 77, and English 77 large. The cones typically are used in lining (much like small pyramids), while the more aggressive ones are predominately used to be put in patches that aren’t touching one another creating a sort of anarchistic random pattern.
Puncturing the material: If you are using denim or a lighter material, the studs themselves will puncture right through the fabric with no issue whatsoever. If you are using a type of heavier fabric like a leather then you need to use something to puncture the material before insertion. Places will try and sell you owls (a metal device designed to puncture leather) that can be set apart in size and are sharp and can puncture through material easy. These are amazing if you are working with hard materials such as a thick leather belt or bracelet, but they are almost completely unnecessary for a jacket.
To puncture holes in a leather jacket or vest, simply buy or find an old dart and it will work perfectly. Push the stud where you want it hard against the surface leaving a small indent of where the holes should be, and then puncture the area with the dart. Push the stud through and ta-da! Super cheap, super easy, super effective.
Bending the teeth: Many people have told me in the past that it is best to simply fold the studs together creating a flush end. The benefit of this is that when you do it this way it does not pull the fabric in on itself creating a small wrinkle. The negative aspect of doing this is the stud can easily be caught on fabric underneath and ripped out.
I prefer to close the tooth into the inside of the stud completely with a set of pliers. This does cause a slight distortion in the fabric, but it also makes sure the stud will last forever. I prefer to do this and then pull at the surrounding fabric to free as much of it as possible and stretch out the surrounding area. After a few months of wear, the material will loosed and it will not look nearly as bad. If you are doing groups of studs, I suggest putting them in one row at a time and either working up or down on the material. When pushing through the fabric, allow the teeth of each one to touch the other tooth in a parallel line.
Seeding the stud: To me this is the most important aspect of the entire article, after all, why do any of this in the first place if it is only going to come out and disappear anyway? The clear, sure-fire method of making sure that your studs NEVER come out of your jacket is in a little tube that can be bought on Amazon or your local car-supply store, and it’s called Goop. It is an automotive adhesive/sealant that has the ability to survive heat, water, and years of abuse.
Once you’ve finished studding, simply open up the Goop and squeeze a gob in to each dimple left by the stud. When finished you should have a solidly flat texture of area. The Goop will bond with both the fabric and the metal and will sure as shit make certain that the two never separate save for you attempting to remove it yourself. Since implementing this in my jacket building I have never lost one stud off of anything I’ve made.
The stuff dries relatively quickly as well. It dries to the touch in about 5 minutes, but let it sit and cure overnight just for safety sake. Also, unless you want to catch a horrible buzz like Dee Dee Ramone, do this step in an open area and let it dry in the same. The chemical glue smell will wear off your jacket within a day’s wearing.
Step 5: Cleaning and Up-Keep
Last year at Punk Rock Bowling I was sitting at a bar with a gutterpunk and trying to make conversation. I asked her how she cleaned her vest without the studs falling out and she laughed in my face for washing my vest at all. Well, just because she is a disgusting toad with a jacket (or vag) that smells of fermenting pears doesn’t mean the rest of us have to have stinky jackets (plus, smell aside, sometimes clothes just get shit on them y’know?).
Washing: Never wash your jacket in a typical washer/dryer. Your silkscreened patches cannot take it more than a few times, trust me. What you should do instead is fill your sink up with warm water, and as you are doing so throw in a little laundry detergent (and a quarter cup white-vinegar if it’s really fucking gross). Let it soak for about 10 minutes and then compress the material, making it absorb the liquid and expelling it. If you’re like me, pretty soon the water will turn a disgusting shade of murky black, when it does? Empty the water out. Perform this task once or twice more WITHOUT the detergent in order to get the soap out of it. Simply hang it up to dry, or if you’re a real nutcase like me, wear it wet and it will form to you.
Upkeep: Silkscreen patches will wear with time, and occasionally the stitching will come loose. Whenever this gets too bad to handle, simply thread a needle and fix the damn thing using the previous steps. There’s no need to worry about the studs, they’re good for the life of the jacket.
And there you go. Follow these steps to make your own design. Or hell, don’t follow these steps and do whatever works for you. These are just one aging punk-rocker’s opinions. Vests are, at the end of the day, one way to set us apart from society as a cohesive group, but at the same time, within that is the ability to do whatever the fuck you want and express yourself as you see fit. No matter what you do, someone out there will tell you you’re doing it wrong. Flip them the bird, and go right back to what you were doing.