1950s | Skirts

Decades of Style 1950’s Multi-Grain Skirt

By on February 14, 2013

I started sewing this skirt several years ago after purchasing the pattern from the Decades of Style web site. They have reproduction vintage/retro patterns, although they don’t seem to have this pattern for sale any longer. I bought some gorgeous black and white charmeuse striped fabric and thought it would be a terrific statement look with this pattern.

Unfortunately, I ran into difficulty with the zipper instructions in the pattern but was able to solve that issue, sewing the zipper the way I know how.  I am definitely not satisfied with the zipper though and that will have to be fixed. When I was sewing the skirt a few years ago, I thought my most challenging issue was matching the stripes on the back seam with my slippery charmeuse fabric, especially since the back seam lies on the bias. I experimented with a walking foot for my old Bernina to help keep the fabric from slipping and I managed to get the chevron effect I was looking for, even though the stripes didn’t match perfectly.


Then, my lack of sewing skills ground me to a halt and my wife, not being much better, couldn’t help me out.  I followed directions for the front and back pleats (at least I think I did 🙂 ) but ran into lots of issues. I couldn’t figure out how to transfer all of the pattern markings for the pleats to the fabric properly. I tried tailor tacking but the thread came out in several places when I removed the pattern. Then I tried marking with chalk and ended up with the markings on the wrong side of the fabric but the pleats and creases were on the right side of the fabric so I had trouble using the chalk markings as a guide for the pleats. I finally used pins in a few cases to help and finally creased and pressed the pleats and basted them. After sewing the waistband, and was ready to join the skirt to the waistband, I was dismayed to find that the notches and circles between the waistband and the skirt didn’t line up – quite a ways off! I figured that I had messed up the pleating so I re-pleated front and back pleats and still things didn’t line up. I even went back to the pattern and tried to measure distances between notches and circles to see if the pattern itself was mis-marked and I finally just gave up and set the project aside (for over 3 years!).

About 3 weeks ago my wife said she wanted to do some sewing (another American Girl doll dress for our grand-daughter) and it’s so much fun to sew at the same time, especially since we have multiple sewing machines and a large sewing room. So I was looking through my stash of fabrics and my vintage/retro patterns, trying to decide on a project and decided to finish this 50’s striped skirt one way or another. At first, I tried re-pleating again but soon gave up and decided that instead of pleating, I would simply gather the skirt. It wouldn’t have the same wow factor with the narrow, front vertical stripes in the front pleated section and it would have more bulk at the waist if it was gathered, but it would have to do. I ditched the pattern waistband and substituted one of my own, gathered in place of pleating in places on the skirt and finished the hem on the serger with a narrow rolled hem, although I did get a bit of a lettuce effect on the hem in places because of the fabric content and how it draped.


It looks ok, but some day I am going to be at a fabric store and there will be this gorgeous striped fabric and I know I won’t be able to resist trying to sew this skirt the way it was intended with the fullness pleated in at the waist instead of gathered!

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1950s | Skirts | Vintage Sewing

McCall’s 3553 skirt

By on November 22, 2012
McCall's 3553

I’m not sure how to create a blog so excuse me for adding non-retro/vintage information but I was excited to find a place where I could share my love of sewing 50’s clothes and find inspiration from others.

A little of my sewing history: I have been sewing off and on for about 15 years, first with lessons from my wife, followed by some private lessons. When I retired about 4 years ago, needing a hobby for winter months when golfing is not possible, I decided sewing was it! Initially I sewed a number of outfits for my granddaughter, but since I was slow in finishing them, she often was already too large by the time the project was finished! One pretty simple circle skirt took about 4 months because I didn’t focus on it (well, it WAS golf season at the time 🙂 ) and I was confused as to how to complete the waistband. When she received it, she loved it of course, twirling around, but I was sad when she said “Papa, it feels tight”. Of course, I did adjust the waist but I learned my lesson and she is older now and trying to learn to sew herself.

I also tried to sew some doll outfits for my granddaughter and niece’s  American Girl dolls but was so totally frustrated by the small pieces and narrow seam allowances, I had to give up. One totally awesome consequence of that experience, though, is that my wife took up the challenge of sewing the doll clothes and despite being frustrating to her as well, she continues to sew them. It is so much more satisfying and fun to sew in the same room as my wife instead of spending hours and hours sewing by myself. Since both of us consider ourselves to be basically beginner sewers, we are able to help each other on various projects.

Now to my vintage/retro sewing – I have always loved the styles and clothes from the 50’s, especially cinched waistlines and tea-length full skirts. I’m not sure why, but maybe just because I am just old enough to remember my mother and her friends and how they dressed – lol.

One of my first 50’s pattterns that I wanted to try was a very full skirt, McCall’s pattern # 3553 which I found on ebay.

McCall's 3553

It seemed to me that it would be easier to sew than similar gathered or pleated skirts since it was simply a 16 gored skirt – lots of straight seams and hemming (oh my – 210″) but no gathering – yeah! One modification for me was the waist, which needed to be 29″, not the 28″ pattern waist. I decided to modify each of the 16 skirt pattern gores by 1/16″ inch at the waist without worrying about changing the hem – a pretty simple pattern modification. I had to modify the waistband too but I decided not to use the McCall’s waistband and substituted a simple one of my own.

I chose a red polyester charmeuse fabric with white polka dots, hoping that the charmeuse would hang and drape nicely.

I don’t think it would be necessary to wear a petticoat under the skirt with this type of fabric, even though the skirt is very very full. I serged the inside seams and did have some trouble with the zipper. I sewed the zipper “exactly” where the pattern/instructions told me to (I think), but after pinning the waistband to the skirt, I noticed that there would be at least a 1.5″ gap in the seam…oh oh….can’t have that. So, ended up ripping out the zipper, sewing the seam for the gap and repositioning the zipper. All in all, I wasn’t happy with the finished zipper but I think the skirt, in general, came out fine.


I especially loved the fabric – the small white polka dots on the dark red fabric just seemed very retro to me.

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