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!

The Goose Girl: Scarves and Aprons

All the elements of the Goose Girl garment were complete and wearable, but a couple final touches were left. Apologies are in order for how late this is in getting out for when I finished it, and honestly, lack of photos in this post. Here is a lot more of my musings, and not too much process to be shown.

Way back in August, at the start of this project, I had found a beautifully embroidered dresser scarf and vintage jacquard ribbon from the vintage shop, Studio RicRac.  These two pieces were the inspiration for the original design and I was determined to incorporate them into the final garment, though I had found other fabrics to use for their intended purpose in the stays.  

The jacquard ribbon had been used in the skirt thus far, but the dresser scarf still remained and it was the perfect size for a small apron.  After some quick plotting, I decided to make the apron double sided with a pocket that Izi could ideally be collecting goose feathers in while in the field with her charges.  This was especially exciting to decide upon since it would mean I wouldn’t have to cut the dresser scarf and could use it in its entirety.

I folded the scarf in half widthwise and whip stitched from about half way from the fold to the end of the fabric, around the bottom curve, and up to the same point on the other side. The whip stitching was done on the fashion side using cream silk thread that I was able to bury in the preexisting lace trim.  

Once set, the pocket apron was whip stitched to the remaining 2 yards of jacquard ribbon that would tie in the back.  


The headscarf was the next accessory for the final garment.  Shannon Hale’s retelling of the classic tale describes Princess Ani as having yellow (blonde) hair that was extremely distinctive from her fellow palace workers and Bayerns who all had dark brown, brunette, or black hair.  It was a defining feature throughout the book that Ani had to keep hidden to protect herself from discovery. It was also an identity that would later come back when she would go with the workers to the king to reveal herself: they called her the Yellow Lady. 

Fortunately for Ani, Shannon Hale’s culture of Bayern women wore headscarves when working in the fields or forest.  In the novel, Ani takes advantage of this cultural garb by wearing her headscarf whenever not alone in her room.  I wanted to be careful when portraying this element as accurate to my chosen interpretation of Bayern as Bavarian.  In researching, I found that headscarves are common in Central and Eastern Europe, but are typically worn by married women.  

I returned to the drawing board at a bit of a loss, unable to find good inspiration.  Then, I stumbled upon the wonderful ladies at Wrapunzel Blog who simply explained any and all kinds of head wraps that they wore as part of their daily dress.  The best and most inspiring part was from Naiomi in her video “Is it Offensive if I Wear a Head Wrap”.  I had stumbled upon the video when I felt at a loss of if my design was wrong to proceed with since I was not wearing it for religious purposes.  But her explanation was beautiful and exactly what I needed to hear to have the confidence to move forward with the concept as fashion and following with cultural inspiration rather than a gimmicky costume. 

Their videos and discussions on dressing modestly are quite lovely, and I recommend them to anyone looking for a calming practice.  After looking more in depth at their discussions and inspiration, I decided to go very simply with their “Royal Wrap” where a single scarf is wrapped twice around the crown of the head. 

To make my wrap, I used one yard of light green cotton quilting fabric I had previously purchased to make bias tape for another project.  I used a store bought scarf I wear in the winter and tested the Royal Wrap method as a template for size of material to cut.  The cotton was a bit stiffer than the soft kits the Wrapunzel ladies use, but I loved the complementary green color to the overall Goose Girl garment and the nod to the character’s green eyes from the novel.

The edges were finished simply with a tiny rolled hem and I left the piece unpressed to leave in the wrinkles and crinkles for added texture.  

On the day of our professional photoshoot of the full garment, I modified the wrap slightly by shifting the length to one side which was wrapped around the crown of the head and leaving the short tail loose.  I felt this gave a nice return to the original inspiration of the Eastern European head scarves which are tied simply at the nape of the neck and left hanging loose. 

A huge thank you to the wonderful resources and ladies at Wrapunzel for the knowledge and confidence to finish the look in this way. 

The Goose Girl: Bodice Finishings to Flare

Now that I had completed the structure and fit (See The Goose Girl: Bodice Beginnings to Boning), I could line the stays, finish with binding, and add eyelets and cording.

For my lining, I use the same pattern as with the fashion fabric. I decided to use a pale yellow fabric I had found at a vintage sale in downtown Milwaukee. I honestly do not think it is pure silk, though it has a similar look and feel. I tested a couple swatches using the burning method and bleach test and got mixed results. When burnt, the material turned to very light ash rather than melting. When placed in the bleach, the material broke apart and some of the fibers broke down fully after hours, but not all. So I think it is a silk-poly mix. It also has a lovely color, texture, and is far too small of a piece to use for anything substantial (though it has amazing drape).

The fabric was also a sweet nod to “The Yellow Lady” portion of Shannon’s novel. Isi is described in the book as having yellow-blonde hair that is distinctly Kildendrean (her home) versus the local dark brown or black hair colors of the Bayern people. Throughout the novel, the Bayern workers she grows close with and the other locals describe the princess as “The Yellow Lady”. I liked the idea that this tell-tale color would not be visible to the outside, much like the character’s hair.

The lining was stitched at the seams, like the fashion side, and pressed open. The wrong sides of the lining and structured outer layers were pinned and then basted together on the stitching lines. I had to be careful around the tab areas at the bottom since I had stupidly slashed these open for the outer layers. Rather than risk missing the corners of these with the machine, I hand basted the bottom edge to have more control.

Now that the garment was all in one piece, I planned to finish the edges with a very narrow bias tape binding.

I had a few choices in selecting my binding and the choice primarily came down to color. It would have been best to match the fashion fabric and make bias tape from the original material, but I had not dyed enough initially to do that and worried I would not be able to exactly reproduce the shade.

My second thought was to use a contrast color: green.

Green would tie into the screened color in the stay fabric pattern and would complement the Bavarian landscape inspiration nicely. However, small, double fold ,1/4″ bias tape is difficult to find commercially in anything other than the staple white, black, and cream. I would be making the bias tape by hand.

To make bias tape you need:

  • Fabric
  • Meter stick
  • Right angle ruler
  • Fabric pen
  • Bias tape maker (plastic or metal)
  • Iron
  • Thread

I found some green cotton with gold thread in the warp on clearance at Joann’s and purchased 1 yard. I pulled the material from opposite corners a couple times to keep the grain of the material in line before cutting.

Lines are marked using a right angle ruler at the farthest corner of the fabric. I cheated here and used the selvage as my straight edge rather than pulling a thread to make a proper straight line.

I then use my meter stick to mark parallel lines offset from the right angle based on the size of the bias tape needed. In my case, I was making 1/4″ double fold which equates to 1″ overall to be cut. Luckily, my meter stick is exactly 1″ wide.

A cat is obviously necessary to supervise this sort of work.

If I were making larger or smaller bias tape, I would mark the width needed along the selvage and then draw lines upward using the right angle ruler and meter stick. You can also cut an exact square up from the selvage, mark the necessary width on both the cut edge and selvage, and connect the dots. Any method works, as long as your strips are always on the bias.

I check my angle with my right angle ruler every 5 strips or so to ensure I’m still on track.

These strips are then cut and prepped for stitching. I cut way more than I ended up needing, but if I’m putting in the effort and have plenty of raw material, I like to make extra.

To stitch, the strips are placed fashion sides together perpendicularly and stitched at a 45-degree angle. It takes a time or two to line up just right, so take a couple scrap pieces to test the method first. Always use thread that is either an exact or close match since the thread may show ever so slightly after ironing. This depends primarily on the strength of the fabric.

The tails are trimmed back, pressed open, and the full length of strip is ran through the bias tape maker, ironing as you go. I like to use stainless steel bias tape makers since I can get right up close to the maker with the iron on full steam. But 3-D printed bias tape makers are quite common and cheap. They’re also more customizable for sizing and often have attachments to make double fold all on one iron pass.

My bias tape maker generates single fold bias tape at 1/2″ that I then fold over and iron again for double fold.

The bias tape can then either be applied by hand or machine. I’m attaching by hand because of all my crazy corners with the tabs. I start by folding open the bias tape and pinning the right side along the edge of the stay. This is back stitched in place using the ironed crease as a guide.

This continues all around the garment with care taken along the curved sections and tucks due to the tab inner corners.

After finishing with my tiny backstitches on the front, the bias tape is folded over the edges, pinned on the inside, and felled in place with tiny whip stitches. Since this was facing toward the body, visible stitches was not an issue. The process of tightly folding and stitching the bias tape was a bit tricky at the top of the tab slashes. I had to wiggle the fabric and wham it down a bit more than I would have liked. Though, again, the important part is the outside where the bias tape needed to be straight and tight; the inside could be as messy as needed.

As you might see in the prior photos, I had taken a break from hand stitching to create the structure for my eyelets. I use a cheater method for eyelets that is no where near historically accurate, but makes my eyelets stronger with use of metal grommets.

For my cheater method of stitched eyelets, you’ll need:

  • 1/4″ metal grommets
  • Tailors awl
  • grommet pliers or shank and hammer
  • embroidery floss
  • sharp, fine embroidery needle

The first step is to mark the locations of the eyelet using the pattern or calculating equal distances based on how many eyelets to be applied. Here, I made an error that is probably by greatest regret of the project. I used the eyelet locations as indicated by the original pattern which are located mirror image of each other from left to right rather than an offset or staggered pattern that would have allowed the stays to have spiral lacing. Spiral lacing would have been more period specific, but what is done is done.

After marking the eyelet locations, you can use the tailor’s awl to create eyelet holes without breaking the threads. By doing this, the surrounding material stays structurally sound and there is less likelihood of breakage, fraying, or stretching due to the tension the lacing will create. My tailor’s awl is about 1/4″ just below the grip and thus creates the exact size I need. If you were to make eyelets without grommets, you would begin stitching at this point.

A small tailors awl that creates 1/4-1/2″ eyelets. I purchased a 2 pack of these online for $9.

Since I am hard on my lacing and the stays do not have a busk to support the eyelets, I am opting to use metal grommets under my stitches. I had 1/4″ gold eyelets on hand from a previous bulk order and applied them using a shank and hammer. I have a grommet pliers but was unable to get a nice, clean finish with these because of the surrounding fabric thickness. The pliers didn’t give me as much control and caused me to catch the fabric in the metal teeth a few times. Not a great use of $35….. thanks Dritz…..

Now that all the neat metal grommets are in place, they can be covered by embroidery floss to give a great historical finish look. I use two strands of floss at a time which is faster than using thread, but gives a smooth finish to the stitches. The eyelets are covered simply by large whip stitches around the ring by starting from the back and stitching down through the fashion side of the fabric around the outer edge of the metal grommet.

This can take a LOT of time, especially if your thread knots. When I first started with this method, it could take up to a half hour per eyelet to fully cover the metal grommet. Once I am into a rhythm though, I can complete one per 5-10 minutes. I’ve found that using 3 strands of floss (or even 4 if you have the right sized needle) can seriously reduce the time to stitch them, but will also make the eyelets have a “coarser” look. I also noticed that using more stands makes hole itself smaller due to the excess bulk when the additional strands wind around each other rather than lying flat as you can achieve with only 2 strands.

A lot of time and attention, but it sure looks nice when it’s done.

With the eyelets done, the garment is complete and wearable! All that was left was to remove any baste stitches still visible from the front. I used green and white thread when baste stitching (both on the machine and by hand) so that I could easily find and remove them later.

Finally, it was time to replace the cotton twill tape that I had been using as lacing for the fit tests. Though strong, the bright white cotton clashed horridly. Since I had made so much excess green bias tape, I was able to repurpose the tiny tape as lacing. All I had to do was slip stitch the folded edges of the bias tape and finish the ends.

Poof! Yards and yards of beautiful coordinating lacing

And there it is, in all its wonderful finished glory! Now, time to wrap up the other garment elements.

The Goose Girl: Bodice Beginnings to Boning

In deciding on the Bavarian styling as my rooted inspiration and wanting to build a 17th century stay as the main structured garment, I couldn’t help but pull from those ever so darling drindls. (See The Goose Girl – Intro to get caught up on the inspiration story).

The colors, the embroidery, the trims. Ugh! To dye for!!

I’m most frequently inspired by the fabric I select and I knew I needed to select the right fabric for my stays first, with the drindl thought in mind. Usually, once I have my concept fabric, I’m and running! However, this fabric I struggled to find.

I initially thought of using some embroidered linen I had inherited from my grandmother to imitate the patterns typical to Bavaria, but it wasn’t quite right. So I began scouring Etsy and vintage shops for larger, more heavily embroidered pieces. I found a lot of pieces I loved, but none were heavily embroidered enough for the rich Bavarian colors I had in my mind. Anything I could find with enough embroidery was pastel, pastel, pastel. The pastel against the cream or white linen was pretty but didn’t quite match the Bavarian theme I had my heart set on.

No! There would be no pastel on this stay.

However, in perusing Studio Ric Rac, my local vintage shop, I found the PERFECT piece to inspire. A lovely dresser scarf embroidered with a swan on water and perfect little flowers. And! To top it off, the shop also had a length of vintage jacquard ribbon that complemented perfectly.

Yes, I know, it was swans, not a goose. However, in the novel by Shannon Hale that I was originally inspired by, the Princess learns to speak to the birds by speaking to swans.

Here was a lovely piece that could tie to the contrasting styles of her home and her secret identity against her new world of Bayern. It was perfect, but it was not enough and none of the other pieces I had gathered were the right shade or style to complement the swan.

So I was back to square one.

I thought Etsy would be my friend, but all the beautiful Bavarian embroidery I found was either too expensive for the project or so lovely I couldn’t bear needing to cut it up into pieces. I wanted to put unwanted embroidered pieces to a new use, but not at the expense of someone’s heirloom.

Then, destiny arrived. In the form of a costume shop overhaul sale.

The Racine Theatre Guild was holding a rummage sale after deep cleaning their costume stock and shop storage. There, I found the most beautiful cotton fabric, embossed with stripes of red velvet.

It was gorgeous, it was authentic, it was luxurious, and I could get 6 yards of it for $6 (way more than I needed, but extra is always amazing).

However….it was almost too vivid! I shouldn’t complain since that’s what I had spent essentially the entire summer looking for: vivid, Bavarian inspired, textured fabric. But it was just such a bright red.

So I decided to dye it.

Like what I did for distressing fabric in my Lost Labs of Dr. Z post, I prepped my dye pot and got to work. The major difference here was that I was doing a full dye rather than toning with color. This means I used the full strength quantity of Taupe dye I had on hand rather than the diluted version for distressing.

Its a good idea to always do a test piece and this was especially critical since I had prepped my dye for cotton (base fabric) but wasn’t sure how the embossed velvet would take the dye or react. I’m pleased to say, it dyed perfectly!

Before and after dying the main stay fabric

Now that I had my fabric, I could begin the process of patterning and stitching my structured bodice.

I decided to use Butterick Pattern B4254 since I had not made a stay or true corset before and wanted a bit of guidance initially. Since it was a commercial pattern, I selected the size that fit my measurements closest, which for me usually is between two or even three pattern sizes. I opted to start with the size that would match my bust measurements and adjust from there. Since my bust includes my rib cage, it would be the least “squishy” measurement and needed to be perfect without help of lacing to fit well.

The fitting process began with the first toulie, made from mock-up fabric of clearance outdoor fabric. The fabric is ugly as sin and has a terrible hand, but it is stiff and doesn’t stretch in any direction.

I marked all of my boning channels and began piecing it together, matching stitching lines precisely. I have a short torso and was nervous the stay wouldn’t accentuate my natural waist correctly or have odd bunching because of my hips, so the fitting process made me nervous. After piecing them together, I was able to do a first fitting without bones. A less than helpful experience. It was time to add mock up boning.

To save on time and budget, I stitched every other boning channel, used gross grained ribbon I had on hand, and 12″ zip ties to test the boning channels. I would not use the gross-grained ribbon in the final garment though since it stretches in the center and can fray easily. But it is a great cheap and fast method to test.

The initial toulie did it’s job and showed just how poor of a fit it was. I could tell that the back would not lace straight due to too much material at the bust and not nearly enough at the hips. This however, was actually a sorta easy fix in the pattern. I essentially needed to reduce the bust by 1″ and add 1″ at the hips.

I copied the back piece to paper, slashed it at the shoulder line along one of the existing boning channel lines, and pivoted it equal amounts closed along the bust line and open along the hip line.

Now, I made the second toulie and again added half of the bones. To save time, and my sanity, I reused the sides and front panels since no changes were made to these pieces.

Here, my fit issues were almost solved and I decided to move forward to the real deal. These are all the materials I would need for the final construction:

  • 1 1/2 yards Fashion fabric (red and tan striped cotton)
  • 1 1/2 yards heavyweight herringbone coutil
  • 1 1/2 yard lining fabric (yellow silk)
  • 15 yards 100% cotton twill tape
  • 15 yards synthetic whale bone
  • 24 metal eyelets
  • 8 yards double fold bias tape
  • linen thread

The first step was to cut out all of my pattern pieces from the coutil and dyed fabric. The strong coutil layer would prevent the other two semi-delicate layers (cotton fashion fabric, silk lining) from stretching. My plan was to baste the fashion fabric and coutil together, add the boning channels, and then flat line with the yellow silk.

After cutting, I was able to painstakingly mark all of my boning channels and stitching lines onto the coutil which would back the fashion fabric and be visible for channel sewing before adding the lining later. This was a process…

In marking the channels, I numbered them based on the order to stitch them. The order keeps the top of the channels open while closing the bottoms of many of the channels where they meet with other channels.

I had made a few additions and adjustments to the boning scheme of the original pattern from Butterick, mostly to the back panels, and with this I ended up with 56 boning channels. Since there are a few gaps between channel sections, this would be considered a half boned stay that was typical of the later portion of the 17th century.

This marked piece was then baste stitched to my dyed fashion fabric before completing all the seams. I stitched the seams as a generous 5/8″ since I would be attempting to use the seams for a few of my boning channels. This is a practice used a lot in Victorian style corsets which have more panels and thus more seams than my simple stay.

I wanted to press my seams open so badly, but would have to wait for that satisfying moment until I had my channels sewn. All of my markings were done with pens I have with which the ink vanishes with ironing. I love them, but they make sequencing difficult sometimes.

A decision I hadn’t anticipated needing to make was the thread color for the boning channels. Since my stitching would be visible on the outside, the color was a bit more critical than I had anticipated, especially since I was using a patterned fashion fabric. I pulled every thread I had on hand that was either a matching color to the pattern or complemented.

I then stitched straight lines on a scrap piece of the dyed material running both parallel and perpendicular to the lines of the pattern. This would allow me to see how the colors would either blend or pop against the base fabric and the red velvet embossing.

Of the five options I whittled down to, I was between burgundy and tan since they blended best. In the end, I opted for the tan since it matched the base fabric almost perfectly.

Now, I could start the tedious, though satisfying process of adding the channel casings. I opted to use 1/2″ 100% cotton twill tape rather than the two layer method since I had so many channels and it was easy to work with. I initially bought a few rolls from Hobby Lobby but kept running out and instead ordered some for quick delivery from Amazon (*gasp*, it was a tragedy to do and I feel dirty doing so, but I was on a roll and could get 1-day shipping). The original tape from Hobby Lobby was decent, though it had a bit more give than I would have liked. It was much better in comparison to the Amazon twill tape, which was strong but a bit thin and warped.

Please enjoy a satisfying time-lapse of stitching the boning channels (my apologies for the pajamas, but there are cats at the end!)

After completing the channels, I carefully cut my synthetic whalebone to length for each channel. Each length needed to be pressed into submission since they were wrapped tightly in shipping. To do this, I used an iron on high heat with medium steam and covered each piece with scrap coutil. The straightened pieces were then easily slipped into their channels and closed with prick stitches.

Keep reading on The Goose Girl Part 3: Bodice Finishings and Flare for the final steps in the stay construction:

  • Lining
  • Binding
  • Eyelets
  • Lacing