If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll know that a few months ago I managed to acquire about a meter of genuine Anniversary waistcoat fabric, which I eventually managed to turn into a replica waistcoat that I am extremely pleased with.
I wore this waistcoat to Gallifrey One, with the explicit intention of meeting Series 7b Costume Designer Howard Burden, who was attending. I had also brought along my screen accurate Season 18 Tom Baker scarf, with the intention of meeting Season 18 Costume Designer June Hudson in it, as she was also attending.
I managed to meet June without much fuss, but had a difficult time locating Howard for some reason. I ended up wearing my Anniversary waistcoat for a majority of the time, just in case, but seemed to just miss him at every turn.
Until the very last day.
I was wearing my Anniversary outfit around the lobby when suddenly, Howard and June came waltzing through! I wasn’t going to miss my opportunity, so I paused my conversation with my friend Daniel and raced over to say hello. He put on his spectacles and examined my outfit as I explained to him that I made the waistcoat myself. He commented on the fact that it was the genuine fabric, remarking “You must have picked up the last half-metre or so I left on the bolt!” (I didn’t, and he left more than a half meter, but I didn’t want to be contrarian, so I didn’t say anything.) He also complimented my welt pockets and pattern matching (squee!!) and, after noticing that I had on a pair of genuine 7b boots, sheepishly asked me how much I’d spent on the whole look. After I told him, he apologized profusely for having created such an expensive outfit but complimented me on a job well done. Dan had joined me by that point, and while June chatted with me about how nice my scarf was and how rewarding it is to be approached by fans, Dan went about questioning Burden with the things I had intended to ask him but forgot to from all the internal squeeing.
We (mostly him) had just recently completed a silk reweave of Matt Smith’s scales waistcoat (pictured left), and while we were pleased with the result, we knew it had flaws. The warp was black (the company refused to change it without us ordering 10x the amount of fabric), and we needed it to be the same silver as the jacquard scales pattern – as a result, the overall look was a bit dark and didn’t quite hit that gray tone the screen used fabric did. But largely, we were pleased with the result and proudly wore our waistcoats around Gallifrey One.
Dan wanted to ask Howard for pointers on our next reweave, which Dan had already begun planning. He pulled out his phone and showed Howard the photos of the custom fabric, told him about the issues we had, and remarked, “We know the real fabric is long gone, but we were hoping you could tell us about how the original was woven, to help us out.”
“It’s not gone!”
“It’s still available to order! Here, let me show you where.”
Within two minutes, Howard had left, and a stunned Daniel and I were jumping up and down, screaming with excitement.
Within the day we had gained access to the company, to peruse their inventory.
“You’re going to shit yourself,” said Daniel.
And shit myself I did.
Long believed to be extinct, we were amazed to find that not only is the scales fabric alive and well (“Scaley,” it’s officially called), it comes in THIRTEEN COLORS.
The fabric itself is 50% wool and 50% silk. The weft, the purple colored yarn, is a 2-ply wool. The warp, the silver yarn, is silk. The wool yarn is significantly thicker than the silk threads, so when the weave is tightened, the silk pulls strangely on the wool, giving it that unique, non-uniform texture. You’ll also notice that the above swatches have been stapled upside-down… as that is the direction that scales would normally point. While it’s clear that the fabric was turned upside down for Doctor Who, what is less clear is whether or not Howard Burden used the front or backside of the fabric; the website seems to think he used the wrong side of the fabric, but above you will notice the swatches stapled haphazardly, some facing front and some facing back, with no rhyme or reason.
The above image is a crop from a high resolution scan of the fabric. It shows the strange details of the fabric much better than I can in words.
The beautiful fabric is quite crisp in hand, with an excellent drape. I believe it would make a very beautiful, if slightly eccentric, suit. Perhaps I’ll make one in the future.
The place turned out to carry a few thought-to-be-long-lost fabrics from the Matt Smith years, not the least of which being the bow tie fabric from Bells of St. John and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.
The first tip off that the Journey bow tie fabric was still available was its use on another bow tie in the Oscar winning film Twelve Years a Slave (left). The second tip was its use to make an entire riding habit on CineMax’s The Knick (right). Surely the fabric was available in some quantity, somewhere!
As it happens, it is. Still plentiful and ready to purchase from Hopkins Fabrics.
It turns out they also used to carry the Series 6 tattersall shirting, but it was a piece of vintage cloth that IS actually extinct now, and as it was vintage, they have no information about it with which to reweave it (of course).
All of this and more. Burden’s tip-off turned out to be a windfall for Matt Smith cosplayers. It’s a wonder that nobody thought to ask him before now!
With the real fabric in hand, I was able to revamp my waistcoat pattern to match exactly. Turns out, most of my details were pretty close already – but with a little tweaking and tinkering I came up with a properly screen accurate look.
I can’t even begin to tell you how difficult it was to do this whole project without telling anybody other than Dan! I wanted to post every little detail on Instagram and Facebook – but I managed to keep it to myself (mostly) in the end.
I needed to redye my cotton back – which was way more trouble than I could have ever expected. I spent probably around $50 or $60 on various lengths of cottons in various shades of purple and gray, not to mention another $40 or so on dye (some of which are tricky to track down). In the end, I didn’t quite end up with the color I was really looking for (none of the selection of swatches on the left are the color I was attempting to match), but I finally bit the bullet and used what I could, knowing that I was only guessing at the SA color anyway.
I did a quick hand dye of the inner lining, which is an off-white, and set about working.
Unfortunately, the mythos of the Matt Smith costumes continues and I keep having to sort through bad info. Dan and I recently got into contact with the woman who made the waistcoats for the show, and she was able to clarify a few details – most notably, that the back of the waistcoat was cut from linen, not cotton as I was previously told. Now I have several yards of purple cotton fabric that I can’t use on this project – maybe the future will hold a use for it. The velvet waistcoat from Series 7b is also backed in this purple linen. The real linen is long gone, so
hopefully a suitable linen can be tracked down soon (one that I don’t have to dye!). my friend Alex Beard offers a custom-dyed linen option on his Etsy! Check it out! The company who carries these fabrics is trade only (trade as in “tailor by trade,” not “I’ll trade you ten Spider-Man comics for a yard of fabric”), and shipping is express (read: expensive), but I want to make this available to everybody who wants it. Because of this, I will be gathering names for a group fabric buy, so we can cut down on the overall cost by splitting the shipping. If you are interested in getting yourself some fabric (one yard is sufficient for a waistcoat), email me using the email address at the end of this post.
UPDATE: This fabric being relatively popular, it occasionally goes out-of-stock. It is currently out-of-stock but should come back into stock in a few months.
Happy Christmas in April!