Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Fourth Doctor's Scarf

photo by Amy Disselkamp


photo by Amy Disselkamp

Doctor Who is a British science fiction series that first began in 1963. The Doctor is a Time Lord who travels through time and space in his TARDIS with various companions. So far there have been eleven Doctors (each a regeneration of the previous), and my favorites are the ninth (Christopher Ecceleston) and fourth (Tom Baker) Doctors.

Leela (The Doctor's companion) and The Doctor himself

The scarf I made is based on the one worn by Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. This oversized, multicolored scarf is perhaps the most iconic piece of his wardrobe. More information on this series can be found here.

photo by Amy Disselkamp

Usually reproductions of the scarf are knitted. I know nothing about knitting. I was on a tight Christmas budget with no time to learn how to knit. Instead I decided to do some upcycling and make my scarf out of sweaters from a thrift store. I made a reproduction of the original Doctor Who scarf that was worn by the Fourth Doctor in seasons 12-14.

-7 sweaters, one for each color
-sewing machine
-hand sewing needles
-embroidery floss


photo by Amy Disselkamp

First came research. This site is fantastic. I downloaded the pattern for the original scarf (seasons 12-14) from this website. I also looked at pictures of the scarf both from the TV show and in real life to get an idea of the colours I needed.


With multiple sheets of pictures in hand, I hit the thrift stores. I looked for men's sweaters since they tend to contain more material. There are seven different colours I needed for this scarf. The knit pattern in the material I was looking for consisted of small vertical rows on the "right" side of the fabric that looked braided. I tried to maintain continuity by choosing sweaters with approximately the same size rows or the same knit, otherwise it looked goofy on the side I was using.

photo by Amy Disselkamp

I used the "wrong" side of the sweater as the outside. I had to search many different thrift stores to find all hte colours in the knits I wanted. Chief among those stores were Savers, Goodwill, and Ragstock. I wasn't particular about the content of the sweaters being all the same; some were cotton, while others were synthetic. Color mattered more to me.


The pattern print-off I used to keep track of different sections

Once I printed the pattern off I found that the measurements for each colour were all in units of knitting rows, not inches. I added up all the rows in the scarf. I knew that the scarf had to be 13 feet long (or 156"), I divided the total number of rows by 156, and came out with a conversion factor of 8.06 rows/inch.


For this scarf I used a 1/2" seam allowance. I used a zig-zag stitch for the entire scarf because then the thread is less likely to break as the material stretches. Each section of scarf I cut 13 inches wide. As with most projects, the first couple tries are disappointing until you find the right technique, and this was the case with my first few seams. They turned out squiggly-looking. As those of you who have sewn knits know, they can be a pain. The knits stretch as the fabric goes under the presser foot and when the fabric relaxes as it comes out the other end, the squiggly seams appear on the right side of the fabric. After a bit of pondering and experimentation I figured out how to make it less noticable. As I sewed instead of just letting the presser foot do the work I forced the fabric under the foot by squishing it together. It doesn't totally eradicate the problem but it lessens it.

I further flattened the seams using a technique known as blocking which will be explained later. Having figured that out, I sewed row after row after row. For. ev. er. The scarf got so long and heavy!

I made two identical lengths of scarf so that I could sew them together and then flip them right-side-out. Everything was done twice. I didn't cut out the bands ahead of time, but instead did it as I went along. This worked out well because by the end I had to "ration" fabric since I had more of some colors than others.


Blocking is a technique that I am new to but it came in handy for this project. Blocking is the process by which you sort of stretch a knit fabric while it's damp and iron it to make it lay flat. I spritzed each seam with water and stretched it to open the seam. Then I laid a thin piece of cloth over the seam and spritzed that with water as well.

I ironed down the seams with an iron on the medium heat setting (since the content of my sweater pieces was different I didn't want to melt any synthetic fabrics, even with a layer of cloth in between). I was extremely pleased with the result of this technique-- no more squiggles!


After many, many rows of stitching, I finally ended up with two identical 13-foot-long pieces of scarf. First, I laid the pieces one over the other, right sides together. I knew if I just sewed down each side that the scarf wouldn't turn out to be 11inches wide because the material stretches and it's hard to measure accurately. So I made a chalk mark down the very center of the scarf. Then I made parallel lines that were 5.5 inches to either side of the centre line, and that became my stitching line.

I tried to pin very carefully along the stitching line so that all the seams lined up properly--and believe me there are a lot of seams to line up. If I was way off on matching a seam I just seam-ripped that section and restitched it. I left about half of one end open to turn the scarf inside out. Before turning it inside out I again blocked the perimeter seam. After I turned the scarf right side out, I sewed the opening shut by hand. Using the cloth again I ironed down the perimeter seam.


The tassels on either end of the scarf consist of all seven colours. Normally these would be made out of whatever yarn you're using to make the scarf, but since I wasn't using yarn I improvised with embroidery floss. I brought samples of all the sweaters with me to the fabric stores (kudos for thinking ahead!) and matched them as best I could. I bought two skeins of embroidery floss per colour, one for each side. I calculated that I could cut the floss into 2 x 10-inch pieces for each tassel. I wound the floss around a 10-inch long piece of cardboard and then snipped the top and the bottom. I made 15 tassels for each side. The next challenge was to figure out how to get them through the fabric.

photo by Amy Disselkamp

All those pieces (14 per tassel) wouldn't fit through even my biggest needle. Again improvising, I first used a sewing awl to make a hole where I wanted the tassel. The sewin awl enables you to make a hole without breaking any of the fibers in the fabric. Then I made a loop out of fishing line and threaded the group of embroidery floss through it, then poked the tail of the fishing line loop through the hole I just made in the scarf. I pulled the floss all the way through, then cut the fishing line, leaving a loop of embroidery floss on one side and the tails on the other. Then I pulled the tails from one side through the loop on the other side and pulled tight. The image here helps explain this.

And there you have it. The scarf was complete!

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

photo by Amy Disselkamp