1950s | Skirts | Vintage Sewing

McCall’s 3553 skirt

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.

  1. Lovely job on the skirt! Hope that you’ll share more of your creations! Do you ever sew for yourself? Vintage men’s patterns are a bit limited but they are out there!

    1. Thanks so much Erika. I do plan to share my next attempt. I actually started a pleated 50’s skirt but I’m having trouble with it and a bit discouraged at the moment. Thinking about setting it aside and beginning one of several full skirted 50’s dress patterns I have, but not sure. Thanks for the encouragement and yes, I sew for myself quite often :).

  2. When sewing for your grand daughter you might want to take a hint from costume designers and sew an extended waistband with several hooks and eyes and different positions for the closure. It allows a favorite twirling skirt to grow with a girl and prevents fitting mishaps.

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