Making a Sewing Holster for Renaissance Faire

As the summer moved into the heat of August and the relief of cooler autumn was on the horizon, ‘twas time for the push to be ready at a moment’s notice for the Renn Faire. I had enough costume pieces from other projects to sufficiently pull a full outfit, but I’ve been a tad lacking in accessories lately. I previously made a teacup holster and really enjoyed the process and results. So, ‘twas time to make another holster, this time for sewing.

At RennFaire, so many people have the standard dagger or sword holsters or loops for steins or potion bottles. But that’s just not quite my speed. Instead, I want to envision my character waiting on the sidelines of battle, ready with a needle and thread to repair the colors. A neat little vignette to channel a character through at the faire.

To start, I made a quick sketch of the general shape of the holster and gathered some of the items I would want to be attached or hung on it. I grabbed a few wooden thread spools, a pair of snips, a thimble, measuring tape, and my great-grandmother’s pinking shears. 

They became rusty and dull before coming to me and I haven’t had the chance to fix/clean them, so this seemed a great place to include them in an ensemble. I also decided the holster would stay on my hip by having a slot or loops for a belt to thread into.

I did a bit of sizing up of my hip of how wide and long the holster could be that it wouldn’t be too obnoxious while still being balanced. This ended up being about 4” x 8” for the overall holster. I added curved sides and marked out the center point.

Using the overall size, I arranged my tools onto the holster outline to find the best configuration that was balanced weight and look wise. I started with the pinking shears at the exact centerline due to their significant weight compared to the other tools, and then just fit the others in around it. I ended up adding a short pen and reducing the number of thread spools to help balance out the look.

I then marked the placement of each tool onto the outline. The thread was a bit tricky to figure out initially since I wanted them to sit horizontally, meaning that a vertical strap would be best. However, I didn’t have space for snaps for each individually. I opted to have one single strap that would be permanently fixed at the bottom, thread through slits next to each spool, and then snap in place at the top. The strap could be loosened to release any of the spools at a time. This took quite a bit of figuring to get the math perfect so each spool was evenly spaced and under enough tension to not fall out.

In the image here, each line is a slit. The coupled slits for the center and the top spool allow for the strap to be pulled taut around each individual spool rather than all three as a group.

To draft the holster for the shears, I laid the tool on its right face, traced the front face, turned 90 degrees, traced the bottom, turned another 90 degrees so it is sitting on its left face, and traced the front face again. This also could’ve been done by measuring the surface area of the three faces and straightening, but I wanted to be precise with the tapered angles of the shears.

The snips didn’t have much thickness to them, so I just traced around them at a small offset to allow for ease when slid in place.

The final two pieces to draft were the pen holster and tabs for the thimble and measuring tape snaps. The pen was done in a similar way as the pinking shears while the tabs are just a long and thin pentagon shape that would be attached on one end to the holster and have a snap on the point.

For the first attempt, I made the holster from faux leather I had on hand with a super cute floral etching. The faux leather is fabric-backed and wouldn’t need to be lined which was a nice step to skip. None of my pattern pieces had seam allowance, but I added this when cutting. The main holster would be seamed like a bag with stitching along the bottom and side curves. I planned to add a zipper at the top seam so that the holster could also be a wallet or pouch. So seam allowance was added to all sides and two pieces were cut.

The shears, pen, and snips pieces also needed seam allowance, but only on the sides since the bottoms would remain open. Finally, the tabs and thread loop would be cut without seam allowance.

Construction

All of the slots, tabs, and holsters would be affixed to the front of the holster body before adding the zipper or bag seams. I started with the pinking shears slot to ensure this was in the exact center. I marked on the fabric my stitching lines based on the original pattern pieces and carefully pinned and stitched. I used a matching brown thread and opted for a heavy-duty denim needle on my sewing machine since the material was a bit tough to work with.

Once stitched, I trimmed back the seam allowance to be a scant ¼”. I would’ve liked it to be even tighter, but couldn’t get my scissors any closer without scratching the holster body layer.

Next were the pen and snips which were added in the same way as the shears. For the snips, I pinned the piece flat to the main body layer and stitched it to a point at the bottom rather than leaving it open.

For the thread spools, I marked the location of each slit and cut them carefully with an Exacto-knife. The strap was stitched down at the bottom, threaded through the slits, and adjusted around the thread spools before affixing the snap. At the same time, I also stitched the thimble tab and added a snap.

And kaboom! The front was ready! I had forgotten to stitch the measuring tape tab to the snip’s pocket before it was stitched on and decided I would come back to it and sew it by hand later if I wanted to add it in the end.

With right sides together, the front and back main body panels were stitched together from 2” from the top on the curves. The gap would be left to allow for the belt to thread through at the end.

An 8” zipper in a matching color is stitched to the top seams. Any zipper technique can be used, but I opt for the invisible zipper method to get as close to the teeth as possible with as little seam ripping as possible. I had to be very careful when stitching the zipper to the front panel to make sure the pinking shears pocket and spools snap were not caught in the seam. In hindsight, I should not have stitched these as close to the seam allowance to make this easier.

Before turning the bag out, I reinforced the top of the belt slot with backstitches so that the weight of the holster wouldn’t strain on the zipper seam.

And there you go! The first iteration was completed. It wasn’t quite perfect, especially the thickness of the material, but the shape and fit were great.

Second Time around

Ok. The first go at it was pretty cool. But it just wasn’t quite right. First, faux leather was way too soft to hold its shape decently when worn. The snips were actually the first thing to fall out, but overall, it was buckling and floppy in a way I just wasn’t thrilled with. Also with turning the perimeter seam and not being able to iron faux leather, I just wasn’t keen on how bleh it looked. Last, the balance was a tad off without the measuring tape.

So, it was time for a second attempt. This time, I used a purse from a thrift haul that was a much more supple faux leather. The material would hold its shape much better. When I started taking the purse panels apart for cutting, I was able to scavenge some of the trimmings as well as the leather piping it had at the top and sides. I decided to add the piping into the seam to give structure. I also decided to lengthen the overall shape to be 6” x 8”.

Once the purse was deconstructed and pieces cut, I lined the holster body panels with cotton since the purse material wasn’t very smooth on the inside. I flatlined each piece with cotton using fabric glue.

In construction, the front pieces were added as explained for the first attempt, except with the addition of a tab for the measuring tape. Rather than cutting a strip of leather for the thread spool strap, some of the scavenged piping was used. Then, before stitching the body panels together, I added a black zipper.

For the body panels, they were initially glued with wrong sides together with the piping sandwiched between to avoid the look issues with turning the bag out. Once the glue had set (about 2 hours), I added a quick topstitch as much for the look as security of the seam.

Since it was a much stiffer material, I wasn’t too keen on hand stitching the snaps in place. I instead used fabric glue for these.

The final result of the second try was a much nicer product. It had a better weight and holds its shape when worn on the belt. I’ll keep both iterations in case I ever need two, but I DEFINITELY prefer the second.

I’ve included the pattern I drafted for my holster here if anyone would like to make their own. You can also follow this process to customize your holster for your favorite go-to tools for a more practical holster too!  

A few notes:

  1. The pattern does NOT include seam allowances. You must add these when cutting or copy the patterns to new paper and add the seam allowance before cutting fabric. I used a seam allowance of ½” on my tutorial.
  2. Make sure when you print the document, you change your printer settings to “Actual Size” rather than “print to fit” or “Scale” since these would change the printed dimensions. You can check that it was printed correctly by measuring the square on the page, it should measure exactly 1” x 1” to be correct.
  3. I highly recommend using a stiffer fabric, faux leather, or adding structure such as interfacing with lighter fabrics. It’s tougher to stitch and work with but truly gives the right look.
  4. Measure the belt you intend to wear with the pattern to make sure the slot is wide enough. My tutorial allows for a 2” belt.

Have fun with the pattern and be sure to share with me your versions!

Mrs. Juno: Edwardian Evening Gown, M7941 Pattern Review

As mentioned in my post on constructing an Edwardian corset and chemise, I had the opportunity to break out of COVID quarantine, post vaccination and under safe conditions, to participate in a bit of community theatre. I would portray Mrs. Juno in Overruled by Bernard Shaw. The play is set in 1911 at a seaside resort where Mrs. Juno and her lover are ending their trip around the world together, little do they know that their spouses are also at the same resort and are having an affair together also. It is a fun little farce poking fun at the constructs of marriage in proper society and the need for passion and danger for true enjoyment of what society expects.

The costume designer for the show graciously let me take on the challenge of constructing my own gown for the production. She supplied the initial materials and recommended to use McCall’s pattern M7941 from Angela Clayton’s collection. The provided materials threw me for a loop at the start, but became a good exercise in using every inch to its full potential. Reduce, reuse, recycle was the motto for this production costume design and boy did they make it lovely.

To start with, I had at my disposal a teal kimono and sapphire blue 80’s style dress. The designer suggested the kimono be used for the main dress and the sapphire for the overdress, focusing on the lace panels over the satin. Overall, the motif for the design was the peacock. This was apparent in the jewel tones of the color palette and would come back again as we added glitz and baubles to the final product.

The original tea-length prom dress had lace overlay on the bodice and high-low lace skirt panel at the back. I hoped to be able to salvage the lace for the overdress, but upon further inspection, there appeared to be very little usable yardage with how many panels are in the bodice and how quickly the lace shredded when I attempted to seam rip. There ended up being more blue satin than I expected once I removed the tacks creating the bustle effect. I’d use this for the overdress.

I began by taking apart the kimono to assess the amount of fabric I had on hand for the main gown. I was a bit worried it wouldn’t drape as nicely as a silk or charmeuse typical of period designs, but was hopeful. Thankfully, once the lining was removed, the material had a nice drape and was able to be worked. But there wasn’t nearly enough. The pattern called for 10 yards of material, and I had maybe 4.


The Main Gown

The skirt was the most essential portion to be cut from the kimono material, so I focused in on modifications to the fullness and train to reduce the necessary yardage. To start, I am about 6″ shorter than Angela (and the standard pattern finished length) and could reduce the length of all the skirt pieces as such. This reduction in length allowed for the pieces to fit lengthwise with the body of the kimono.

I then reduced the fullness of the skirt by pleating the pattern tissue along the grain line marker from about the hip line down. This would ensure a reduction of the excess volume without limiting the movement on the hips for final wear. I reduced the side front by 6″, side back by 4″, and back by 8″.

Spoiler alert: the changes were actually pretty perfect for the final garment proportions. It would’ve been so wonderful and extra to have the fullness and long train of the original design, but it would have been incredibly cumbersome on stage with our blocking. This is a trick I will remember in the future for theatrical costumes, sometimes less volume is more.

Laying out the modified pattern pieces, there still would not be quite enough material for the full skirt, though it would be close. To make it work, I took a full cut for the front panel since this would be most visible to the audience and pieced the other sections in various ways.

The side front panels were cut from the kimono sleeves since they were the best fit and the side back panels were cut to include a small section at the bottom with the seam of the original kimono. However, with the fullness of the skirt at the bottom, this would never be noticed.

In the end, the side back panels are cut upside down to allow for the most material when the back sections were to be cut (which would also be upside down and off grain). Everything seemed to be right.

So I cut.

And it was not.

I was unable to fully fit the back panels on the kimono material no matter how I laid them out. Instead of resorting to multiple piecing at odd angles, I opted to piece the top of the back panels from the blue satin of the 80’s dress. This area *should* be covered by the overgown which was to be made of the same blue satin, so I was not overly concerned about the piecing.

Since this piecing allowed for some kimono material to remain, I cut the front bodice pieces from the last bits of scrap. The back bodice and sleeves were salvaged from the 80’s dress to help with blending with the piecing on the skirt panels. I would later come to regret this decision.

With the main dress cut, I began to fret about the overdress. This was supposed to be made from the 80’s dress satin, but as I began to seam rip, it became apparent that there was not nearly enough material with the cuts taken for the main dress. There was certainly not enough to do so from the small panels of lace on the dress. After laying everything out, I made the overall decision to not do layering as the pattern instructs and would instead do single layers. This was except for the center panel and sleeves which I was able to fit on to the lace pieces.

Every scrap of this dress would need to be put to use including two gathered “wings” that were attached at the back of the dress to give the bustle added volume. In taking these apart, they were reinforced with crumbling mesh crinoline that had to be cut away at the stitching rather than seam ripped .

To make it work, I had to do significant reductions to the skirt length, beyond the 6″ reduction as made on the main dress. I worried that this would cause a bit of proportion issues since the hem line of the overdress would be higher than the design. I initially thought this could be solved with a bit of cream lace I had on hand to be added as a third, middle layer, but eventually nixed this (but only after cutting the pieces, hand gathering, and whip stitching to the skirt waistband….then did I realize it was far too busy with the extra layer and had to seam rip it back off).

With everything cut and organized, I began stitching. First was to stitch and finish all of my piecing work on the skirt. The kimono material also frayed almost instantly after being touched, so I surged all the skirt seams after stitching. With this discovery, I also surged all the bodice panels right away to make for quicker stitching later. The bodice was lined with a cream poly satin I had on hand and pressed for a clean finished neckline. This lined bodice is hand gathered at the front before stitching the waist seam to give the period appropriate pigeon breast style.

The instructions for constructing the main dress were easy enough to follow and I had no issues with construction. The most troublesome part was binding the back seam of the skirt and bodice separately which I understand, but also don’t. The troubles began with finding a binding material that was suitable. The pattern instructs to cut binding from the fashion material to make bias strips; however, this would have caused two issues for me: 1. There was no chance in HELL I would have enough material to cut anything on bias or grain, 2. The poly satin melted if I so much as wafted steam from the iron at it. I would never achieve decent bias tape without being able to press it. Luckily, I had some scrap blue taffeta from another project that I was able to scavenge into bias tape. The taffeta was much stiffer than the poly satin which lead to my main issue with binding the skirt and bodice separately. In doing this, the point where the center back seam is stitched together at the waistline is extremely bulky and has an odd lump. In hindsight, I should have bound the entire center back as one section.

Again in hindsight though, I didn’t even need to bind the center back. The pattern calls for hook and eye closures at the center back, which I knew I would struggle with to dress myself. I instead finished the back closure with a 22″ zipper.

Before I could apply the zipper, I had to work out a number of fit issues. The bodice was far too large for me, as always seems to happen to me with big four patterns. I had to get quite creative with darts at the back to help fix the excess at the waist, but also needed to remove the sleeves and take in the garment at the shoulders significantly, which of course caused major issues with the armholes that needed adjusting.

I am a small busted but average waist woman, which makes standard pattern sizes difficult and mock-ups essential. A step I skipped due to the timeline. Thankfully, the costume designer was able to help me fit the garment and find the precise locations to place darts to make it fit beautifully in the end.

After finishing the adjustments to the bodice, the faux pigeon breast style of the bodice is more visible. For more period accuracy, this fullness should have been greater and if I had more fabric and done a mockup, I would have done so.

However, this lovely fit would soon be covered by the disaster that is the overdress.

The Overdress

To start, the pattern instructs that the center panel of the overdress was to have boning applied which I cannot for the life of me understand why and regretted doing every second of this project. DO NOT APPLY BONING TO THIS GARMENT AS INSTRUCTED.

The VERY messy interior of the center panel of the overdress with six boning channels. Please ignore the terrible backstitches, I was rushing.

It makes absolutely no sense to add boning to an overwise unstructured garment which is to be worn over another dress with period appropriate gathering at the front. The boning made the fit beyond odd and I cannot fathom why this was added. If you know why this was added, please drop me a comment because I would love to understand.

Beyond the boning, the garment construction was very straightforward. I applied both the blue lace from the 80’s dress and a piece of beaded lace from a salvaged wedding gown to the front panel before stitching to the front side pieces which were finished with the same blue taffeta bias tape rather than a tiny hem. I felt the bias tape would add a clean finish line that I could quickly stitch on the machine. Again, this choice would come to haunt me.

The front bodice with lace overlay and bias bound side front panels to be stitched. Keeping the 20′ rule of theatre in mind and knowing I would be applying beading, I opted to top stitch the panels together along the bias tape for speed.

Between the layers of the center panel and bias tape, even stitching on my heavy duty machine was very difficult. The bias tape was simply too stiff. Luckily this helped to structure the neckline, but would not due for the hem. I very carefully hemmed the skirt edge with a narrow rolled hem using the lowest setting on my iron so as to not melt the fabric. Quilting clips were essential for this process.

With the overdress stitched, the fit issues returned, similar as was apparent with the main dress. Here, the costume designer again helped me with some creative dart applications in addition to another major alteration at the shoulder to compensate for the gapping at the front from the weight of the boning with no gathered pigeon breast style.

Fit issues aside, the skirt is slightly gathered since I removed volume in the cutting process and stitched to the bodice. The overdress was finished at the back with the bias tape and hook and eye closures from neck to waist line. The skirt portion is left open at the center back and finished with a tiny rolled hem.

With the garment constructed, I could begin the fun part of adding beading to hide the many, many mistakes and oddities of the overdress. I’ll admit, I went a bit overboard with beading, but had so much dang fun with it!

Just a few of the beads I started embellishing with

My beads consisted of a selection of copper, navy, turquoise, gold, green, black, and iridescent (in peacock jewel tones of course). I began by adding symmetrical lines of beads along the bias tape finish of the front side panels to hid the top stitching. I also added beaded lines to the light blue applique to mimic the curve of peacock feathers.

This then grew to include beading within the applique to give definition to the pattern and help with blending the bright, light blue with the sapphire of the bodice. I also added beads to the sapphire blue lace portion to give it just a bit more sparkle under the lights.

The one benefit of the added boning was that the beading got quite heavy and the boning kept it from falling forward. I guess I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt there…
Little star beading applied to the lower section of the front panel wasn’t visible to the audience, but caught the stage lights beautifully and helped to tack the lace in place so it wouldn’t bunch funny.

Since I still had a couple days until the show with all hems and closures finished, I also added two rows of beading to the hem of the overdress to hid the top stitching of the hemline (again). I almost ran out of the multicolored copper beads I began this work with, and had to use a mixture of the black, navy, and larger dark gold beads mixed with the copper to make it around the much larger hem than I anticipated. The lesson I learned here was to always have extra beads on hand. In all, the beading took about a week to complete and consisted of 14 different types of beads sourced from my stash, Joann’s, thrift stores, and Hobby Lobby. I kinda went overboard, but absolutely adored the glitter.

Because I was on a roll, I also added a row of blue, turquoise, and green beads to the neckline and sleeve hems of the main dress. All the sparkle!


The gown was complete and Mrs. Juno could come to life on stage. In total, the outfit consisted of the chemise, corset, gown, and overdress, trimmed with a belt, evening gloves, and more jewels than I care to count. It was absolutely exquisite and a good learning experience in using available materials on a tight timeline. I would never have been able to put that much time or effort into an entire production worth of costumes, but am more than pleased to have been able to do the single outfit for myself.

In the end, there are many things I love and many things I’d like another go at. Looking at the productions photos, the fit still wasn’t quite right in the bodice and proportions of the shortened overskirt weren’t quite right as I suspected they would be. The sleeves were too long and don’t drape as well as they should. But these are all lessons learned for the next project and mistakes I hope others can adjust for in their work. It’s a great pattern for a quick build, but in doing it quick I didn’t take the time to think through issues and period accuracy. I’d love to give this pattern another go and think I will in the future. Just have to finish a few other projects first!

And at the end of the day, a project that would have required at least 15 yards of raw materials was completed from a repurposed dress and theatrical kimono that otherwise would’ve never seen the light of day again. All that was left at when the dress was complete amounted to maybe a half yard of material in strips of remnants. A sustainable upcycling job done well!