Ready to make some easy, inexpensive, and versatile costume skirts that can cover multiple time-periods? Then this is the tutorial for you! Plus, these costumes are easy to customize (Say that fast five times!) and can be easily altered to grow with your child. *Disclaimer* These skirts are intended to achieve the effect of historical clothing, but I “cheated” a lot. I used elastic in the waistbands, and the fiber contents of these particular pillowcases were cotton and a polycotton blend, which would not have been used in Stuart times. They would have used wool or linen. However, the main goal in my projects is to achieve the correct silhouette and to use historically accurate colors for a time period. Exact reproductions are beyond my scope and budget, at this point.
*Want the skinny? Scroll to the bottom of the DIY Pilgrim Skirts from Pillowcases – Part 2 post for a bullet-point list of directions to make these skirts.*
Speaking of period-appropriate colors, The Tudor Tailor is a fabulous resource to learn the historical context for the colors and materials used in this period and much, much more! Well, technically, the Tudor dynasty ended with the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, and the Pilgrims came to America in 1620. These dates are so close together that much of the information in The Tudor Tailor is still appropriate for events that happened during the reign of the first monarch of the Stuart dynasty, James I. *Disclaimer* I am an Amazon Services LLC Associates Program member. Any purchases made through my Amazon links will earn me a small commission. I am careful to only promote products that I have personally used and love!
I hope I didn’t lose you during the history lesson! I could talk about that stuff all day. Okay, back to the skirts! First, you’re going to need two, matching pillowcases. You might already have some in your linen closet that could be sacrificed for this project. It’s okay if they’re a bit dingy or stained. Consider it added realism! In the biz, we sometimes “distress” costumes on purpose. Plus, you may decide to dye your pillowcases, anyway. Dye can cover a multitude of flaws! Of course, you could also use regular fabric instead of pillowcase material, but I find that it often saves time on planning and cutting to use materials that are already the needed shape(s). You also end up with less waste at the end of a project.
I found these pillowcase sets at my favorite thrift store. The pink, king-size ones were $1 each and the red, standard-size ones were 50 cents each. I used the longer, pink pillowcases for Emma’s skirt and the standard-size red ones for Eliza. (Red is Eliza’s favorite color.) Emma’s pillowcases were a bit too ’90s pastel “dusty rose” for me, so decided to make them a bit more mauve. I was already planning on dying another dress and pillowcase purple for Eliza’s Maid Marian Halloween costume. So, I threw all four items in our washer to dye them at the same time. All of these items were polycotton blends, so I knew it would take more dye to achieve the desired effect than if the items were made of more absorbent, all-natural fibers, like cotton. Where do you find Rit Dye? Many grocery stores carry at least a few, basic colors. I find the widest selection of colors at JoAnn (their physical stores have way more than what is represented on their website). However, Rit Dye is cheapest at Walmart. Their color selection in their physical stores isn’t as good as Joann’s, but I buy dye there as often as I can, since I use a lot of it!
This purple is a strong, dark color, so I decided to start with using half the bottle. I reasoned that I could always do another cycle with more dye if my items turned out too light during my first go-around. I set our washer to fill with hot water and then set a timer to come back in seven minutes. (That’s about how long it takes for our washer to fill before it begins the wash part of its cycle.) Once the washer finished filling, I paused the machine, opened the lid, and added a splash of detergent and half of the bottle of dye to the water.
Then, I added about 1 cup (or about half of a 26-oz container) of salt to the dye bath. Salt is cheap everywhere, but the best deal I’ve found are the 26-oz containers of salt that you can get for 50 cents at the Dollar Tree!
I closed the lid and resumed the wash cycle for a couple of minutes, to allow the detergent, dye, and salt to mix. In the meanwhile, I soaked all the items I planned to dye until they were wet through. I wrung them out, unfolded them, opened the washer, and lay them on top of the purple suds. I closed the machine and waited for the magic to happen. Okay, I didn’t actually wait. I did 43 things, and then came back when the cycle was done.
I just love opening the washer lid after dying something! I feel excitement and suspense, as if I’ve been conducting a magical science experiment. So, as you can see, below, the dyed pillowcases turned out only a little darker than their original color (above). However, this was dark enough for me. I ended up dying Eliza’s Maid Marian costumes pieces, again, using the remaining half of the purple dye in the bottle.
Next, per Rit Dye‘s instructions, I immediately washed my newly-dyed items in cold water with just a bit of detergent and about a cup of white, distilled vinegar. (Vinegar, as well as the salt I added to the initial dye bath, act as mordants to bind the dye to the fabric fibers.) Then, I tossed the dyed and washed pillowcases into the dryer. At this point, I will sometimes wash an empty load with hot water, a bit of detergent, and bleach to clean out the washer. I will especially make a point of doing this if I used a very dark, strong dye color, like a red or a black. A red sock in a load of whites is nothing compared to washing a load of clothes in a washer that still has dye in it! I also *always* wash dyed items separately from other items. Just in case!
Speaking of dyeing accidents, do you see some of the flaws and darker splotches on the pillowcase, below? At first, I was dismayed that this happened during the dyeing process. Then, I decided that the imperfections added to the authenticity of the skirt (or could probably be covered with an apron if they really bothered me). Using dye is rather like painting with watercolors. It’s a difficult medium to control, but the end results are often better and more natural than I could achieve if I tried to do certain effects on purpose. Take a deep breath and embrace the unknown!
Whew! This got long. I am going to break this tutorial into two blog posts. Hop over to DIY Pilgrim Skirts from Pillowcases – Part 2 when you’re ready or if you want to just scroll down to the bullet list of steps at the end of that post.