I’m doing another Blast From the Past sewing post, and today I’m delving into the era of poof and fluff and all things gathered that, all together, make up the fabulous silhouette of the 50’s skirt. This look was all about the Fit and Flare, where the waistband is cinched, and the skirt flows out, lending to that classic vintage hourglass figure.
Now, while I do love this beautiful vintage look, I have to admit that I don’t often like wearing this style of clothing. It’s honestly not the most comfortable style to use due to being so cinched and “tucked in” at the waist. The reality of achieving this silhouette is that you have to either already have a natural hourglass figure (or just have a really slim waist) or you will have to “fake” it, which usually means either wearing a corset (does anyone actually still do this, btw?!) or, in Today Time, having to invest in and use really good shapewear, like Spanx or Shapermint. Truth be told, I hardly ever wear my clothes so fitted around my waist as much anymore because nowadays I’m leaning on looking more “rectangular” around that area (coincidentally, just like this skirt, so maybe it’s a good thing??) and, I just want to be comfortable and free. So in order to don this look, I have to totally fake that hourglass figure with shapewear. However, I am learning more and more to be comfortable in my skin, less body-conscious, and to just love and appreciate what God gave me. Besides, it’s so much better to just willingly eat the carne asada fries than worry about it, amirighttho?!?!
Looking through my closet, I realize I am seriously lacking in the skirt department. I have a total of 3 skirts. And, while they are all still cute, one is beyond fitting me nowaday, and the other two are already getting warped in shape, so they aren’t all that flattering to wear anymore. Which leaves me with no skirts at all. ZERO. This needs to change, obviously.
Looking through various skirt patterns, I came across one that seemed simple enough to make. It’s called a gathered rectangle skirt. It’s comprised of one waistband, two rectangular skirt pieces that are sewn together and gathered, and a lapped side zipper that closes off with a hook and eye. The finished look is a full, retro-50s style skirt that can be dressed up or down, and is just really cute and flirty at the same time. This skirt has a sister known as the circle skirt, which gives a similar silhouette, but in my opinion, the rectangle skirt seemed easier to make, so I’m going with that one. But if you like that full, flouncy, twirly, 50’s look, either one will definitely give you that!
I sewed mine using Gretchen Hirsch‘s (aka: Gertie’s) Full Gathered Rectangle Skirt Tutorial on YouTube. If you don’t already know Gertie, of Blog By Gertie, she is this awesome sewer/designer/teacher/influencer, and basically the queen of vintage 50’s sewing patterns. I think I have almost every one of her dress patterns in my stash!
I am very much a visual learner, and Gertie’s video is a really great step-by-step tutorial to follow. I had absolutely no trouble at all following her directions. I will warn you however, that the tutorial is over two hours long. With ads included. 😳 This may not be your piece of pie, but the video is so long because it’s basically done in real-time, with Gertie explaining every step in full detail. If you are a beginner sewer, this may prove very helpful for you.
I personally liked that the video is so long because sewing, in reality, takes some time and effort to do, especially if you want things done right. With my penchant for perfectionism, I can take as long as days to finish a simple project. Also, sewing for me is meant to be a relaxing hobby, so I don’t like to rush through it if I don’t have to.
So, as I mentioned, Gertie’s directions were very straightforward and easy to understand. To start things off though, you do need to draft your own pattern for the skirt. And in order to do that, you will need to have some pattern drafting materials at the ready. I’m glad I had some leftover Kraft roll to draw on because the pattern itself is simple to draft, but also pretty large in size. You will also need to do a little bit of math to figure out how big to make your rectangle for the main skirt piece. It’s all explained in the video, but the formula is easy:
- With a tape measure, measure around your natural waistline in inches.
- Take that number and divide it by 2
- Now, take that new number and multiply it by 3
The final number you calculate will be the width (in inches) of your rectangle that you will need to draw for your main skirt piece. The length of the skirt will vary depending on your preference. The good thing about this skirt is that it is versatile enough to make it however long you want. Just make sure your pattern paper is long enough to accommodate the length! The only other thing you will need to draft for the pattern is the waistband. The measurement for that will be your waistline measurement, plus 1/2 inch for ease, and, because it is going to have a hook-and-eye closure, you need to add another 1 inch for overlap. The width of the waistband will be 3 inches. This will get folded in half, so your finished waistband will be 1 1/2 inches wide. The final part of drafting your skirt pattern will be to trace a 5/8 inch seam allowance around each pattern piece. Easy Peasy!
Your rectangle skirt pattern should look similar to this when you are finished drafting it:
I really enjoyed sewing up this skirt. For fabric I used this really gorgeous navy blue cotton from Ruby Star Society. It’s part of the Speckled collection by Rashida Coleman Hale. It’s a little hard to see from the picture, but I especially love the subtle metallic splashes of bronze against the navy blue. So pretty isn’t it?
I was proud of myself for accomplishing a lapped zipper for the first time. I thought it would be a difficult process, but it was simple enough for me. I didn’t know that using this kind of zipper is a very “vintage” thing to do, so that’s pretty cool. I also like how sophisticated it looks.
When it came time to do the gathering for the skirt, Gertie mentioned this rather unusual tip about using dental floss as a gathering “thread” instead of using regular thread. The dental floss gets woven into the seam allowance using a zigzag stitch instead of sewing the standard two rows of basting stitches.
This method was undoubtedly strange, and took a little longer to do because I had to make sure to keep the floss aligned with the zigzag stitch so as not to sew through the floss itself (not an easy task, mind you), but oh my goodness, can you say GAME-CHANGER??
When I started the gathering process, the fabric seriously just glided along the floss with so much ease! Because the floss is wide and has a wax finish, pulling through the zigzag stitch was ridiculously smooth. I didn’t have to put so much tension in my pull like I usually do with traditional gathering stitches. It made the whole process go by so much faster, and there was less worrying about my threads breaking if I pulled too hard. I did end up using an INSANE amount of dental floss, but no matter. Floss is inexpensive and it was worth my 79 CENTS, hehe! I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to normal gathering stitches again now that I know this cool trick!
After putting in the waistband and finishing my bottom hem, the last part the skirt needed was a hook-and-eye closure to finish the lapped zipper. This had to be done with hand-sewing, which for me is not the most fun thing to do, but is necessary in this case.
And here she is, all sewn up; my full rectangle skirt:
Hopefully you can’t tell in the pictures how gross and sweaty I am, haha! It was so hot and humid outside AND inside my house during this photo session! I have a fan blasted directly on me in these pics, but it did not help! I was a miserable, sweaty mess underneath all my clothes! 🥵
Anywhoo, back to the skirt. Isn’t she pretty? Overall, I love how this skirt turned out. I made one minor change, and that is to add an inch to the width of the waistband at first measurement. So instead of making it 3 inches wide, I made it four so I would have a finished waistband width of 2 inches instead of 1 1/2 inches. Also, since I used 100% cotton fabric, the “fluff” of this skirt is a little more subtle and modern. Different fabrics yield different results, so the way the skirt looks, moves, and lays are going to vary depending on the weight and type of substrate, so always do your research when choosing! I didn’t take a picture of the side view, but even in cotton, this skirt is pretty full already.
If major fluff and poof are your thing, consider sewing this skirt in tafetta, or even tulle. And if you really wanted a true 50’s look, you could add a petticoat underneath to add even more volume. I do have a petticoat, but it is too long for this skirt, unfortunately. I will however, show you my vintage 50’s style dress with the same full skirt and petticoat underneath so you can kinda visualize how it would look with a rectangle skirt (also, I just wanted an excuse to wear this dress again because it’s super adorable and I love the print so much!)
So the silhouette for this dress is the same for the skirt I made. The only major differences are the length obviously, and the fabric. The skirt I made is 100% cotton, while the dress is made in a heavier, satiny polyester (I think?). Given those two differences, you can see how a petticoat really puffs out any kind of skirt. (you can see a little tiny peek of it in the left pic. It’s turquoise, to match my dress.) I don’t think I would need one for the skirt I made though. I prefer the lightness and breeziness of cotton, especially in the summertime. Plus, there is no way I would wear a petticoat in 100 degree/90% humid weather!
**btw, I did NOT make this dress. This fit and flare is from Lindy Bop. When I saw it, I absolutely had to have it! I was in luck because at the time of purchase, there was literally only one left and it was in my size. And it was on final sale. SCORE!! I snatched that baby up, and now it’s one of my most favorite dresses in my closet. The print is so perfectly “me.” I love libraries, books, and reading. Again, I don’t wear this kind of fitted silhouette often though. I’m all kinds of tucked in and Spanx-ed into this dress! 😖 I’m more uncomfortable than I let on in these pics. But every now and then is ok! My shoes, in case you are wondering are from B.A.I.T Footwear.
So now that I have ONE skirt in my closet, I think I can call that an improvement! And with my newfound skirt-sewing skills, I can continue to grow my collection.
Before I leave, as with my last Blast From the Past post, nothing sets the mood more than listening to some great tunes, so again, I’ll leave you with my boss 50’s music playlist so you have some inspiration to guide you in your retro sewing adventure!