Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How to Sew a 50's Novelty Skirt With No Pattern Part 1

While circle skirts are the cool kid of the 50's wardrobe, the gathered skirt is a staple of the retro/pinup closet. It doesn't take as much fabric as circle skirts, and it's much more forgiving of novelty print fabrics that may run in a certain direction. Here's a gathered skirt from Pinup Couture:
So Cute Skeleton Skirt! Available for Purchase at Pinup Girl Clothing

Often called a Dirndl, the gathered skirt is pretty much just two giant rectangles gathered at the waist, so its a great easy skirt for new seamstresses.  In this post, I am going to use two different fabrics to make two dirndls. The first fabric is a novelty car print I bought at Joann Fabrics on a stashing binge. There is 2 1/2 yards (2.3 meters) of this fabric, and it is a 42/45 inch.

The second is 2 yards of a 60 inch wide cotton that I purchased at S.R. Harris, a fabric warehouse in the twin cities. I am in love with it:

Your required materials will most likely be 2 1/2 yards of fabric, a half yard of interfacing, and matching thread. If you are a curvy girl this should still be fine, although you won't have as much fullness. if you want FULL, you can purchase 3 1/2 and we'll talk about how to add another panel later. You will also need a zipper that is at least 7" long ( the longer the zipper the more wiggle you have to get into the skirt.

The first thing you need to do is measure yo' self. Just two measurements. Your waist- Mine right now is about 29".  And how long you like your skirts- I usually like mine to be about 25" give or take because they hit just around my knee. 

The resemblance is striking...

After you have those measurements you need to add a bit to them so you have room to get into the finished skirt. I like to put a button or a hook and eye on the waistband because that way if I eat too many cookies I can move the closure without having to take apart the whole skirt. 
Remember that I said my waist is 29, so I'm going to say that my waist piece needs to be 34". That will give me extra room for seams, a button overlap, and cookie adjustment.

I also like to have a pretty big hem on my skirts because I can put some stiffening stuff in there to make the skirt stand out. If you are trying to use less fabric you don't have to. You can just add an inch onto how long you'd like it to be (which would make it 26" for me)

So let's recap:
You should have your own set of measurements:
Your waist + 5 inches.
How long you want the skirt + 1 inch.

Here's how you'll cut your fabric:

I cut my fabric from both skirts and ended up with three pieces for each skirt- The two identical skirt panels and the waistband piece.  I would advise using a lightweight interfacing on the inside of the skirt waistband to give it some oomph. If you are a curvy girl and you want a full skirt you can do this by adding another panel. Here's how you can lay that out:

If your waist is up to 40" you can cut one waistband strip. If your waist is above 40" you will need to cut 2 waistband strips.

Okay that was a lot of brain activity. Cut your skirt pieces and I will continue the sewing part in part two!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Things They Don't Tell You at the Fabric Store: How to Read a Sewing Pattern Envelope

It has come to my attention recently that fabric shopping is like speaking a foreign language. I have worked in varying degrees at fabric stores for a long time, and before that, I was taught to sew by my mother and grandmother. However, not everybody has that background. While I'm sure this has been done before, I decided to create a series of posts for people who would like to get into retro sewing (or any sewing) but feel way in over their heads.

First up, here's how to read a sewing pattern:

I went through my pattern stash and pulled out two patterns that are pretty standard on the back to get us started- Simplicity 8645 and Butterick 6094

The first thing you need to know about sewing patterns are that the sizes on the back on the envelope are not equal to the sizes that pre-made clothing comes in. For example, if I were to go to the store and buy a pair of pants, I would probably purchase a 6 or an 8. However, If I am going to sew a pair of pants, I would be a size 10 in most modern sewing patterns, and maybe even a size 16 in a vintage pattern. IGNORE THE SIZES. They are not important numbers. You need to go by measurements.

Let's take a look at the back of the Simplicity tops pattern, Simplicity 8645. I circled my body measurements so you can see what happens:

Clearly I am three sizes. I'm lopsided! What's a girl to do? Ignore them and look at the finished measurements:

Almost all patterns have a second section in which it lists the finished garment measurements. If it isn't on the envelope it may be inside on the pattern instructions. Sometimes they even print it on the pattern pieces themselves. 

Looking at the finished measurements you notice that it only lists the bust. Guess what ladies? It's ALL about the BUST. When you ever have doubt in your size in any pattern that includes the girls, use that as your baseline. Everything else is WAAAYYY easier to adjust. If you are making pants or a skirt, the most important is the waist and hip measurements. If you are two different sizes, buy enough fabric for the bigger (probably your hips) cause you can adjust for the waist.

Okay so My bust is a 34-35-ish. (I usually err up because its easier to take in than to cry because your boobs are squished) So let's trace that measurement back up to the sizes.

Boom. I'm a 10. Easy right? This does not mean that when I sew the pattern everything will fit me perfectly. People come in too many shapes for that. But it gives me a base to work with. 

Okay so what happens when the pattern doesn't have finished garment measurements on the outside?
Don't panic. Let's scope out the Gertie pattern, Butterick 6094:

Found it!

Just so you know, I don't advise opening up a pattern like this at the fabric store unless you have fully committed to buying it. It's a jerk move. However, did you notice that I was a size 10 in both of those patterns? So once you figure out your body measurements, you are pretty safe to assume its going to be the same across the board on patterns. There might be a snafu occasionally, but its a good starting point.

Why do the pattern companies put all those measurements in there if they don't apply? Well they do apply, to an averaged out measurement of what each size should be. That doesn't always mean that you are the average. Also, it's important to understand that you don't want your garment to be exactly your body measurements- you need wiggle room. Pattern companies try to add that in for you, but they often add too much (up to 4 inches). The finished garment measurement is a good way to know how much room you actually have.

Also, if we look at the fabric requirements again for the Gertie dress we can see both my size and the size above and below me are preeetttty darn close on how much fabric you'll need. When in doubt get an extra half yard, then crack that baby open at home and measure the actual pieces. That's kind of like spell checking your paper before you turn it in. It's not scary I promise, and its the only true way to know what size you'll end up with. (And there's only a little math). But since I flooded you with information now, we'll cover that in another post.

One thing I highly suggest is that you measure yourself before you go shopping for patterns. Have it on a notepad or in your cell phone. BUST, WAIST, HIPS. The other stuff is important, but not as much so. And refresh your measurements occasionally, because if you are a human woman you probably fluctuate depending on diets, activity, and lady stuff.