Time taken: 10 hours
Materials: Unbleached calico (3m), Cheesecloth (3m), navy thread, white velcro, Rit dye in royal blue and navy blue, salt, spray on fabric dye in purple, hot glue
Tools: Scissors, sewing machine, washing machine, large metal bowl, clothes hangers, clothes pegs, stirring stick, mannequin, a lot of newspaper
Techniques: Sewing, dyeing.
Difficulty level: Easy.
These books hang off Death’s ridiculously large belt. I suppose they are books of souls, or something. They are supposed to look like ancient tomes, but I wanted them to be super lightweight because the idea of having actual books hanging off my waist just sounds like too much effort.
Death’s robes are definitely not the largest part of his outfit, but they are fundamental to his look and they are FABULOUS! I love that Death wears purple.
You can see in the ref pic that they are quite ragged and also not all the same colour:
Making these would require gradation (or ombre) dyeing to get that faded-ends look, and I chose to use layers of calico and cheesecloth unhemmed and cut into jaggedy edges to make the ragged look. I didn’t like my chances of being able to achieve a good ombre look by dyeing the fabric first and then sewing it together because I wasn’t sure how much fabric would be needed, so I opted to make the pieces of the shroud first and then dye them.
This pic shows the hood before dyeing. One of the things that made this a little more complex was the fact that the clothing needed to go around the wings and cover up the backpack frame that supports them. However, I also wanted to be able to take the wings off so I could walk around a con floor without bumping into people, and it needed to be adjustable for that as well. And just for added fun, I wanted to make it able to fit more than one person.
I did this by making the shroud in 6 pieces. There’s a wraparound dress with adjustable shoulder straps, a shorter overskirt that wraps around the waist, a draping piece that covers the backpack parts and goes under the jacket, a jacket with holes that fasten with velcro to go around the wings (which can be closed when the wings aren’t being worn), a piece that is permanently attached that covers the wing stumps and hangs down the back, and the hood.
The dress was made with handkerchief shaped pieces sewn directly to a bodice and then cheesecloth draped and cut to shape over the top. All the other pieces were made by pinning them into place on a mannequin and then cutting to shape and sewing together, each with a layer of cheesecloth to add bulk and raggediness. I didn’t use a pattern for any of this because it’s supposed to look rough. The jacket is basically a huge t-shirt shape that opens at the front and has velcro fastenings.
Once the pieces were all made, it was time for dyeing. I’ve never done ombre dyeing before but I read a bunch of tutorials and had a fair idea what I needed to do. The dye I used was Rit machine dye (just follow the instructions, don’t forget salt!) because I’ve heard it’s very good. However, even though the packet said it was for natural fibres, I am not sure that was the case. The fabric came out powder blue instead of royal blue, but the synthetic velcro tabs came out royal blue. O.o
Regardless, I was happy with this colour as I’d intended it to come out paler than royal blue anyway and had used it at about half strength. One thing I learned here is that if you value your sanity, you probably shouldn’t put unhemmed cheesecloth in the washing machine. The frayed edges got all tangled up with each other and it took me 2 hours to get it untangled! But, the damage from that produced exactly the ragged look I was going for, so it’s a win really. Yes, really.
After that came the ombre part. This involved taking the parts I wanted to stay light coloured, which were the tips of all the pointy bits and edges, and pegging them up onto clothes hangars to keep them out of the darker-shaded dye I’d be using for the next colour.
Once the tips were pegged up I wet them with hot water to aid capillary action, then filled up a steel laundry tub with hot water. I mixed up the packet of navy dye with a cup of salt in a stainless bowl until all the grains were mixed in, and added it to the tub. Then, in went the fabric – but only to the depth that left the tips out of the bath. Luckily this tub has a tap over it that I could hang the hangers on so I didn’t have to hold them!
The idea with ombre is that you dip the fabric in and out of the bath every now and then, and capillary action will draw some of the dye up into the undipped part, and this dipping process creates a gradual shading from one dye colour into another. I left the fabric in the bath for 40 minutes, dipping up and down every 3-5 minutes or so, and also using a stirring stick to make sure the dye got through all the nooks and crannies in the submerged fabric. I also completely submerged the tips briefly right at the start, so there’d be a hint of dark in the powder blue.
Once out of the bath, the whole thing was rinsed and removed from the hangars, then back into the washing machine for a good rinse/spin cycle, and dried. I was really pleased with how these came out.
The next step was to hand-spray purple dye onto the various layers to create the overall purple look of the robes. I could have used ombre for this as well, but the only available purple dye would have to be shipped from overseas and was going to take too long, so I opted for spraypainting. This is more expensive, but has the bonus of being less of a hassle – and the dye sets and is washable after 72 hours without the need of rinsing or salting!
In the picture on the left you can see the arrangement for fitting the dress, with velcro and straps for adjustment. It’s done up very roughly here, but is neater when done properly. The picture on the right shows the finished effect on the dress/overskirt combo.
Then it was time to do the rest…
Once these were all set, it was time to add the permanently-attached bit which exists purely to cover the bottom of the wing bones. It’s glued to the wings themselves with hot glue, and has a couple of velcro tabs so when the hood goes on, it attaches firmly to those. The jacket goes under this part, with the velcro tabs around the wings to hold it in place.
And then it was time to put the whole lot on and see what it looks like! I am pleased!
Even though it’s not the biggest or most impressive part of this costume (that’d be the wings or the scythe I’d say), this is the part I’m most pleased with. Partly because it’s a new technique for me and it worked, but mostly just because I love the gradation effect of the three colours combined with the layering of the calico and cheesecloth to create the world’s most fabulous Death Shroud. 🙂