Tips, Technique and Tools

The over-dyeing of the Vicar’s Cassock



Meet the “Reverend Vicar Theodocius Playfaire”. His cassock and other accouterments, were made for him with the same fabric as the first pirate costumes we made, back in 2010. We  got a really good deal on this fabric. We found it at a discount store where all fabric was $.99 a yard. Not knowing how much we needed, and we ended up taking about 70 yards of the grey heather fabric, of unknown fiber content, alone.

The fabric was dyed over with Black RIT dye, for used with natural fibers. The faire it debuted, we had an unexpected deluge at our home faire.  Everything got soaked in a warm summer rain, which is almost unheard of on California’s, Central Coast. The dye bled out into the Vicar’s smock a blueish purple, and the band of his ruff to fuchsia. The robe and accessories faded to a dark grey. You could also see the heather effect through the over dye. At the end of our home event, this year, I offered to re-dye the pieces of the costume that needed it.41rjpAE9nYL

When we purchased the fabric, I think we did a burn test we, and we thought it was all cotton. With that in mind, I ordered 2 packets of  Black iDye. I then used the Washing Machine Method, to dye the vestments.

imag1039I used both packets, and doubled up the salt to the the dye into the fiber. I then set my timer to go off to in 7 minutes to reset the washer.  The pieces I was dyeing needed to turn black. After an hour in the dye bath, they had turned a Dark Brown instead, and you could still see the heather effect through the dye.

After discussing with A and others, who also make their own costumes, we determined that I should try again, using 2 more packets of Dye, and the Stove Top Method of Dying. As a test to see if this would work better I also lessened the amount of fabric. I left out the Cassock, and dyed just the Scholars Cap and Stole. Less Fabric and more concentrated dye solution should equal better results. Right?? Well, I got a darker a darker brown, so better yes, but not what the client payed for, nor what is required to be, as historically accurate as possible.

The discussions began again. I was frustrated, and ready to light things on fire. (My go to


My garden

thought when a deadline is looming, and things are not going the way they should.) I did not burn anything, Instead I took a day to do dirt therapy. My garden, or part of it, (image to the right). It has saved several projects and my sanity on more than one occasion.


After a day off from all things fabric related, the discussions began again. We came to the conclusion that, the fabric must be mostly synthetic. The heather effect of the original fabric showing through the multiple dye baths was a clue, I should have payed more attention to.

41L07knYNGLAs time was running out, I ended up going to our local Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, and bought all but one of their black iDye Poly.I think it was 3 out of the 4 available. As mentioned in, Adventures in Dying 2017 Part 1, iDye Poly must be done by the Stove Top Method.

I first tried with just the Stole and the Scholar’s cap.  Using my Tamale Pot used only for dyeing. I followed the directions on the packet, and worked in the kitchen so I could stir the pot. Shakespearean comments like, “Bubble, bubble toil and trouble” were appropriately made. Once done, I poured the garments out of the pot into the washer to cool. I then ran the garments, in a cold water cycle.


Result of 3rd dye bath, 1st time with dye for synthetics.

The good news is, the heather effect  was no longer visible. But the fabric was another even darker brown. Once again the expletives flew…


On the left, my tamale pot, to the right A’s largest cooking pot

I decided that I needed more dye than I had used at one time, up to this point. I went to our local Jo-Ann and bout 3 bottles of Graphite RIT DyeMore Synthetic Dye. I also bought a bottle of RIT Fixative.  I asked A, if I could use her largest cooking pot, for one more attempt to dye the all of the vestment pieces. I was ready to be done.  

For this attempt I went to the web site I read the directions all the way through, then set up to dye the garments on my front porch.

Step one was to gather all the Items I needed onto the porch. I grabbed one of my plant imag1045benches, a few marble tiles we had on the porch, the camping stove, and a few small tanks of propane, salt and the water hose, 3 bottles of  dye, metal tongs we were never going to use in cooking again, rubber gloves, and dish soap. I also grabbed a cooking/candy thermometer.

It takes a lot of water to fill the pot i was using. I poured in 3 imag1046cups of salt as it is used in dying cotton and linen fabric, it also helps to get the water boiling. I also added 1 teaspoon of dish soap to the water. The water needs to be 200 F° or greater. This took a very long time, about 2 hours, with both burners going full boar.

I lost patience and added the dye to the water at 180 F°.  Shortly after putting in the dye the water did come to a boil. The dye bath does have to be at almost a boil for the whole process. The instructions on the page state that the first 10 minute are critical to a an even dye process. The vat and its contents have to be continuously stirred for that 10 min. It also states that the fabric imag1047could be in the dye from 10 min to 1 hour. The color is black I used 3 bottles of dye, and the full hour. I sat in my chair on the porch an read a chapter at a time in a short book. Between each chapter I stirred for a few minutes. I even broke the wooden spoon I’ve been using for the last 5 years to dye fabric. I then got a 1 inch dowel from the garage.

In addition to breaking the spoon I went through 3 canisters of propane. 1 canister per hour with both burners fully open. The rubber gloves saved my fingers from some serious burns. The solution was very hot and and my finger got into the bath as I stirred.

Once the hour was up. I turned off the stove and disconnected the canisters. The instruction stated, that you let the dye solution and the garments cool slowly. I left it to cool over night, with the pot lid on. I stirred it periodically, until I went to bed. (It was still warm at midnight, when I stirred it for the last time.

In the morning, after 2 cups of coffee, I used a glass bowl and a plastic measuring cup I keep in the garage, to remove some of the excess dye solution. Then my husband poured out the rest, without dumping the garments.

I ran the garments through a warm rinse cycle and and them through a cold wash cycle. I hung them up to air dry. Once dry, the vestments were BLACK.




Full Color Concept Drawing of Demetrius the Merchant

The Robe was an interesting challenge. Originally I was going to base it on a Victorian Santa Clause Costume, which I already had, but seems to be out of print now.

In shopping for some of the sewing notions for the costume, however, I found a Costume Pattern for the Dwarves in “The Hobbit”. This would require fewer modifications to match the image to the left and would require less fabric.

The Chosen Mock Up

Because the robe had to fit both Demetrius, and the person wearing the suit, I had taken the full measurements of both. As some of the measurements between the two varied as much as two inches, I made mock ups in two sizes, using old bed sheets for the material.

The smaller size was chosen, as it fit both my client and the Demetrius. I did have to shorten it as the mock up length reached below the mid-calf, and he wanted it to be about knee length. Another mock up was designed then fitted. The vents for the wings and the slit in the back seam were also added at this time. The sleeves were also shortened.

Lining of Robe

Demetrius wanted inside pockets to hold items like his phone and wallet and key cards for events like Conventions and Renaissance Faires. As he did not want to ruin the lines of the robe, I added lining to the facing  the at front of the robe.

We had another fitting to make sure the length was right and that the vents for the wings, the slit in the for the tail and sleeve length was correct. More modifications were made and applied to the the lining.

The lining was then pined to the shell with the seams, vent,

shell and lining pinned and ready for binding

edges, and arm holes carefully matched up.  The edges and hem were then pinned together. I then attached the contrasting gold fabric to bind the edges except at the hem.

The wing vents were an interesting challenge. I could bind them or something else. I chose some thing else. I attached a facing on the inside of the garment. It was partially interfaced. Once sewn on, I pulled it through the vent and carefully ironed it to lay flat then tucked under the edges.


Wing Vents with Pinned Facing

. I ironed it down again and pinned it. Then has stitches the folded edges down. I should have made the facings a bit longer as you can see in the picture to the right the tops and bottoms pucker a bit. I will keep that in mind for the next project he commissions. Yes, we have plans to add more pieces.

The next step were the sleeves. I stitched the lining and the sleeves together, and added the binding. I then attached the sleeves to the robe. We has one final fitting before sewing the binding onto the hem, to complete the Robe.

Greist Automatic Decorator

Here is an attachment that you can use on your vintage straight stitch sewing machine for zigzagging and hemming. It has gears inside that function like the cams in other machines to stitch a pattern like a scallop or blind hem stitch.

Top view, showing 8 stitch selectors

The above view gives you an idea of how big it is: about 4″ x 7″. Yes, that’s pretty huge for a thing that attaches where the presser foot normally goes. The stranger thing is that the entire unit moves back and forth as it works. It’s definitely something to get used to. The dial selects the stitch and levers change the stitch length and width. The lever on the lower left changes between straight and zigzag, just in case you need to stitch straight while the attachment is on the machine.

Note the direction of the fork and the length of the presser foot portion. The fork tells you it won’t fit in rotary hook machines. It’s not as easy to tell that the length of the presser foot means it won’t fit in some machines. The difference is only a couple millimeters.

Here’s how it looks attached. This really doesn’t do the size justice.

Bonus: like other mechanical attachments, such as buttonholers, you can see how it works by taking off the cover and you can clean and oil it yourself.

It turns out there are at least two versions of this unit. This one is considered grey, white or silver and is intended for White or other similar brand machines. There is also a gold unit that is for Singer and Kenmore. The difference is in the length of the presser foot, which doesn’t allow the needle hole to line up with the machine.

I have the wrong attachment for the brand of machines I have. If anyone in interested in this one let me know. I believe I paid $13-$15 + shipping for it. It comes with detailed instruction manual and original box (which closes but no longer clasps).

I was recently given a group of vintage sewing machine attachments. They are a little different than modern sewing machine feet, but were pretty standard for several decades.

Griest attachments. Top left: four sizes of hemmer, a five stitch ruffler. Middle: a binder, edge stitcher and adjustable tucker. Bottom: a gauge, narrow hemmer (rolled hem foot) and lint brush.

Greist attachments are basically the same as old Singer versions. They can be used interchangeably. The great news is that they are also useful on modern machines as long as the shank is right (high, low, slant) or you have the correct adapter (ankle) for snap on feet (snap ons are more modern). One other thing to watch out for is the direction of the fork that connects to the machine. The ones in the above image are for a rotary hook machine, as opposed to an oscillating one. Note the horizontal fork attachment.

Here is a discussion about how oscillating and rotary machines function and the pros and cons of each. At this time I don’t know why feet for a rotary hook machine would attach differently when the difference in machines is in the mechanism surrounding the bobbin, so if you know, please share in the comments.

Different types attachments for different machines.

On the above image you can see a snap on foot for a modern machine (top left) and it’s low shank ankle (top right). Below that we have a low shank binder foot (left) and one for a rotary machine (right). Note how the one on the left wraps around the presser foot bar, just like the ankle, while the rotary foot has a horizontal fork. The rotary attachments will not fit any of my machines unless there is some clever adapter I don’t know about.

To further complicate sewing machine feet, there can be differences between needle hole placement in general, as well as between brands. Era of machine is also a factor. With some feet you can use your needle position adjustment to move the needle side to side so the needle does not strike the foot. Some machines, however, have the needle position father forward or backward. For example, a complicated Automatic Decorator foot for a vintage White will not fit a vintage Singer or Kenmore (or a modern Huskvarna, I tried for giggles). The needle position is wrong on the back to front axis. There is no adjustment for this. The same could be true of a foot that has only a hole opening. I will discuss that Automatic Decorator in another post this week.

Sewing attachments of unknown origin

Additionally I got these other pieces that I think are three different sheering feet, a zipper foot (upper right), second from the top left is for a straight stich machine most likely, but I’m not sure why it’s hinged (it moves up and down about 1/4″). The plate on the bottom looks like it’s for attaching trim, but who knows what machine it goes to.

Newly cute metallic blue shoes!

Man, I can be terrible about posting in a timely manner. This post is about shoes I transformed from dull taupe to fabulous metallic blue for a late 50s-ish blue dress I made in 2016.

I loved this project. The shoes are great, comfortable and inexpensive.

Several years back I found a cute but boring colored pair of shoes at the thrift store, clearly barely worn. I thought I’d use them for a Tweed Ride inspired semi-steampunk outfit that never came to fruition. I didn’t care at the time, but the shoes are pleather (non-breathable, not great for your feet).

Boring color thrift store find

When it came time to get shoes for the blue dress I looked online, but nothing caught my eye. I considered painting these taupe ones, but what would I use? Spray paint and acrylic tend to flake where the shoes bend and stress. To online research I went! and found Jacquard Lumiere paints.

They also have solid colors (the Neopaque) and the two are supposed to mix well. I bought the 570 Pearlescent Blue for my shoes and the 562 Metallic Olive Green because it’s beautiful. There are useful instructions in both the Jacquard and Dharma Trading websites.

First you need to prep your surface. Remove all the dust and debris. Next, if the shoes are leather, you wipe them down with rubbing alcohol. If pleather, with acetone. Mine were pleather, so acetone it was. I found that a quick wipe wasn’t enough, as the layers of paint started to come off while I worked. I spent probably 45 minutes getting them down to a consistent taupe color.

No, I didn’t leave the sandals part brown. I finished and donated them. In retrospect that wasn’t the color for that type of shoe. But I do love the color.

Once dry you use a fan bush to hand apply the paint (for a solid area). 2 – 3 coats are recommended, if I recall correctly, drying between. I didn’t apply a solid color under my blue since I’d gotten a consistent base shade during cleaning, but it’s something to consider. I also tested some leather sandals that had become uncomfortable and I’d never wear again. After drying and touching up, apply some sort of sealer. I used 2 coats of spray on Modge Podge Hi-Shine sealant. It says to dry for 24 hours. After wearing the blue shoes show no wear and no cracking!

Modern Pattern Design, Harriet Pepin, 1942

Modern Pattern Design, Harriet Pepin, 1942

Modern Pattern Design, Harriet Pepin, 1942

We probably don’t think too much about types of darts in our clothing. Either they are present or not, short or long, narrow or wide.

When looking at historical sewing you sometimes see darts in groups, such as at the shoulder or waist, darts in odd to a modern eye places, such as near the hip or back of the neck, darts in multiple places, like the armscye and shoulder, or darts that are really more like vertical tucks, which let the fabric ease out at the top and or bottom (this can be especially nice at the ribcage, ending at the bottom of the bust, or top of the hip).

Modern Pattern Design, Harriet Pepin, 1942

Alterations for a prominent abdomen, Art of Dressmaking, Butterick, 1927

What you see in those cases are either straight line darts or those that jog in the middle, reducing the garment by a little wedge shape of fabric.

Clothing Construction, Clara Brown Arny, 1934

But they’re straight. Usually even when they transect the back waist.

Modern Pattern Design, Harriet Pepin, 1942

There are other cases where you see a curved seam in a standard dart location, but that is usually either used to gather in fullness above or below or as a design choice.

And then there are curved darts. I can’t believe I’ve only just discovered them. I guarantee that I’ve used them before, either as lazy sewing or to adjust fit, but I’ve only just realized that they can be a design intention, meant to solve a problem. Don’t laugh at me. I’m working with a pant pattern that has a long, slightly inward curving waist dart. The paint is high waisted and if the dart didn’t curve in, it wouldn’t fit the small of the back. But of course such darts can also be used for specific figures: inward curving for a flatter bum, outward curving for a rounder bum.

Straight dart at bust, 1970s pattern

Slightly inward curving dart, 2017 high waisted pant pattern

Alter Years Pattern Multiple sizes Sm - XXlg

Alter Years Pattern
Multiple sizes Sm – XXlg


This summer, our guild recruited two fine young men to join us in our Renaissance Shenanigans.  As a result they both need a full costume. These costumes will consist of a shirt, jerkin, and trousers.

For the Jerkin I have a copy of the “Easy Peasants / Servants Jerkin”, by Alter Years Patterns. This is a basic pattern, and as the title implies, it is easy.

The pieces fit together well. There is no need to trim edges off, because the seam edges were off, or any other funny business. I find these flaws in many more commercial patterns. Once the pieces are all cut out and sewn together, it looks beautifully tailored and finished. P1020325

There is one thing to keep in mind. Make a mock up. For the two that I have recently finished, I skipped this step. As a result, they do not close all the way in the front. If I had taken the time to make a mock up, for the Medium size, I would have know that the front needed to be adjusted.


As you can see to the right the jerkin looks very nice, but it does not close in the front. I am debating on whether to make eyelets down the front. I still may, if I have the time before our next faire in July. (more…)

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