Breaking Down Fabrics

Breaking down fabrics, or artificially ageing them, is often part and parcel of creating costume for film or theatre. I recently created Anglo-Saxon clothing for a short film, made by Urban Apache Films, which needed to be bloodied and muddied as though straight after battle. However, I wanted to retain the integrity of the costume so I didn’t use any of the tearing, slashing or grating that I might also employ!

Philip Stevens

I began by dipping all the completed garments in a weak solution of potassium permanganate. Potassium permanganate creates a purple solution, but, as the garments are lifted out and exposed to the air, the solution oxidises and turns rusty brown. Each different fabric took the stain differently and irregularly. It also serves to soften and age the feel of a textile. Please take care when using this agent though, wear a mask and goggles, gloves and overall when handling the powder.


I also used various colours of ‘Dirty Down’ spray to layer up the dirt and stain and finally we added plenty of real mud and fake blood!

Philip Stevens

After filming was finished this is what my originally pristine wool and linen tunics looked like:


One tip: when looking after an actor wearing chain mail – do make sure to keep them warm as the mail draws the heat from the body, especially if the actor is wet as part of the process of filming.

You can see the brilliant short film here: