Suffragette Sash Tutorial
I make historically accurate suffragette sashes for people to wear to rallies and marches. I've had so much interest that I won't be able to meet the demand - so here are directions to make your own.
It's a reproduction of the sash worn by supporters of the suffrage movement of the early 20th century. The sample you see has the colors of the British suffrage movement: purple, white and green. You can also create a sash with the traditional colors of the (American) National Woman’s Party: purple, white and gold. (As stated by the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage: "Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.")
The finished sash should be about 4" wide, looped around from right shoulder to hip and fastened with a pin or sewn at the bottom.
I’m being as detailed as possible because I tend to make things as complicated as possible, but you really don’t need to be this technical about it. This is only one variation. Suffragettes didn’t get their sashes from one manufacturer; they made them at home from whatever they had. You don’t need to buy anything if you have fabric at home and just want a single-layer, single-color sash. That works too!
If you do want layers but are not a seamstress/seamster, you could use interfacing or iron-on adhesive to bond the pieces; just be sure to fold in any raw hems or use a seam sealer, as this stuff frays like crazy.
For the fabric, head for the muslin/broadcloth section of your local fabric store. The muslin where I live is around $1.99 a yard; broadcloth is about $4.99 a yard. I suggest half a yard of each in case you need to redo it.
- 1/2 yard white cotton fabric (off-white gives it a nice vintage look)
- 1/2 yard purple fabric
- 1/2 yard deep yellow-gold fabric (or green, if going for the British suffrage look)
You will also need:
- Matching purple and gold or green thread
- Black fabric paint or paint pen (The reason you want fabric paint is that it doesn’t bleed. Sharpies work in a pinch, but they will bleed a bit.)
- Straight pins
- (Strongly recommended: Enough non-woven apparel interfacing for a 2.5” x 32” length to stiffen the white fabric that you write on)
- (Also recommended, if you stencil: An X-Acto knife and stiff printer paper)
Always wash your fabric first. It removes the artificial stiffeners and pre-shrinks it, so that it won’t shrink awkwardly if you ever need to wash it later. Iron each piece when dry.
Most muslin/broadcloth fabrics are about 40” to 45” wide between the finished edges. You’ll notice that the fabric is stretchy in one direction and not much in the other direction. I chose to make it stretchy on the long axis, which means that I cut perpendicular to the grain of the fabric (cutting from one finished edge to the other). If you cut diagonally, it’ll be very stretchy and will be a little harder to keep straight. That’s called cutting on the bias, and while very fashionable for dresses in the 1930s, it doesn’t work well for a 1920 suffragette sash. Cutting perpendicularly also saves the need to buy a lot more fabric if you were to cut the other way.
If you have a craft cutting board and a rotary cutter, it makes life way easier and your cuts more precise. If not, a yardstick, a washable pen (or chalk or even a soft pencil) and careful cutting with scissors works too. The suffragettes didn’t have fancy hardware; you don’t need to either.
Fold the fabric in half along the grain (with the finished edges touching). Cut two 2.5-inch pieces of white fabric and two 3.5-inch pieces of each of the colored fabrics. To make sure both sides of the fabric have straight edges, first cut the original end of the fabric off of the piece you’re going to use.
If you have interfacing, cut a 2.5-inch piece or pieces to run the length of the front side of the sash. (You don’t need interfacing on the back side.) Using interfacing makes drawing on the sash way easier - it won’t stretch and slide all over the place when you press a pen or brush to it.
Lay the white fabric that you'll be using for the front of the sash on the ironing board. Put the interfacing soft side up, rough side down onto the fabric.
Lay a piece of clean cotton cloth over them, and spray with water until good and damp but not soaking. Press according to the interfacing’s directions or as I do: hold the iron onto one area for fifteen seconds, then move along until done. Try pulling up the interfacing's edges to make sure it's well bonded.
If you need to add another piece of interfacing to a shorter piece, just make sure the edges match up so you don’t have a gap.
Here you have two choices. You can write on the fabric first if you prefer, or wait until the sash is finished. I practiced my lettering beforehand and felt confident that I could do the writing after it was finished. If you’d rather do the lettering first, just make sure your stitches are straight. :)
Pin the white fabric to the purple fabric. Sew a 1/4” seam.
Pin the other side of the white fabric to the green or gold fabric. Sew a 1/4” seam.
Don't do what I did. I proceeded to sew the colored sides to the wrong side of the sash and had to rip all the seams out. Gnarly interfacing is not the look I was going for.
Flip the sash right-side up. Iron the seams flat, away from the white fabric. You may have to stretch the sash gently to make sure the fabric is pressed along the seams correctly.
Keeping right sides together (the sash will be inside-out), pin the long edges of the colored fabric together. Sew a 1/4” seam.
Turn the sash right-side out. Since my hand doesn’t fit all the way down, I run a yardstick into the sash, scrunch it up and pull it inside-out that way.
Lay the sash flat on the ironing board and arrange it so the colored sides are of equal width all the way down (it should be about an inch). Press.
Using the corresponding color thread, sew along the edges. This will help the sash lie flat.
Putting the two sash pieces together
The reason I didn’t create a long single-piece sash (aside from wasting fabric) was that the sash needs to be sewn at an angle on your shoulder so it lies flat. That means it will be made of two pieces. Cut at about a 30-degree angle. To be sure the seam doesn’t fray, make a French seam: sew a very narrow hem first with the back sides together.
Turn the right sides together, press the seam flat, and sew a narrow hem which will enclose the raw edges and stay hidden underneath the sash.
Press the seam flat. It may not match up entirely; you'll live.
You can freehand the lettering, but I decided to create stencils on heavyweight printer paper. I chose the 130-point Chuck Noon font, which closely matches some of the sashes I saw in photos from the time.
If you create a stencil and want the letters to be nice and big, there won't be room for more than two or three words. This slogan took up almost the entire sash.
I printed the letters in a size (in this case, 130 points) that stayed within the two-inch borders of the white fabric but were nice and big. I cut the paper two inches high so that the stencil would rest snugly on the white part of the sash, and fastened the words together with tape.
I used an X-Acto knife to cut out the letters.
Depending on how long your slogan is, you’ll probably want to start it a few inches from the shoulder seam (when measured from the inside of the seam). Hold your stencil (or a drawing of your lettering, if you’re going freehand) up to the sash to figure out what position looks best.
Insert a three-or-so-inch-wide piece of cardboard into the sash (the side with the interfacing, of course) so that the fabric paint doesn’t seep through onto the back. Secure the stencil to the sash with tape, ensuring that it’s facing the right way up.
Dab a fabric-paint pen from the outside in to make the letter shapes, or hold the stencil very flat and draw along the outlines. I filled in with fabric paint but using the pen to fill in would work well too.
For ornery letters like O, P, R, Q, etc., the stencils leave you with a big hole (not) to fill. I cut out the empty spaces in those letters, positioned them on the fabric, and painted around them.
It takes fabric paint a good 24 hours to set. Don’t put the sash on right away unless you want to risk getting paint all over your clothes. Hang it up and leave it overnight.
Cut the ends of the sash at 45 degree angle, if you wish, or cut straight across. I folded the sash together and cut at an opposite angle to the shoulder seam.
Fold the raw edges in, press, pin, and sew with whatever color thread you fancy.
Try on your sash!
Fasten the crossed fabric at the bottom with a nice big fat safety pin. (I didn't have one. Imagine it.)
That's it! If you have any questions, or if you spot an error, let me know. Send pictures of your finished sashes! I'd love to see them.