DIY Vintage: Design and Sew your own 50s-style Skirt!

Allie Jackson, modern mid-century sewing & style

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10 Lessons (1h 9m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Your Project

    • 3. Searching for Inspiration

    • 4. What You'll Need

    • 5. Your Pattern Pieces

    • 6. Constructing your Skirt Panels

    • 7. Gathering your Skirt

    • 8. Attaching your Skirt to your Waistband

    • 9. Finishing Touches

    • 10. And You're Done!


Project Description

Design and Sew your Own 50s-style Full, Flirty Skirt, No Pattern Required!

Before you begin:

You’ll need...

A sewing machine & the ability to sew a straight line
A tape measure
A ruler
Your choice of fabric, washed and dryed in the same way you intend to launder the finished skirt (at least 2 yards, more for a fuller or longer skirt)
Fusible interfacing
Coordinating thread
A hand sewing needle
Ironing board & iron
A skirt hook and eye
A zipper
A seam ripper


Step 1: Finding inspiration.

A gathered skirt can be a casual or dressed-up as you want it to be, depending on the length and fabric you choose. Imagine a flippy mini-length skirt in a bright geometric print, or a super-full white taffeta skirt that sweeps the floor. These two entirely different looks that have all the same essentials of construction. Your first step in this project is to poke around on instagram, pinterest, or your favorite style and fashion blogs, and find some skirts you love; I suggest searching for “gathered skirt,” “retro skirt” or something similar.

Deliverable: I’d love to see what you find inspirational; share it in your project.


Step 2: Preparing your pattern pieces to sew!

Once you’ve found your fabric, it’s time to start creating our pieces!

First, we’ll find our waistband size. We’ll be using a ⅝” seam allowance (SA). My waistband will be 1” tall, so the height of my pattern piece is calculated by doubling the height of the finished waistband and adding SA on each side.

1” + 1” + ⅝” + ⅝” = 3 ¼”

Find the length of your waistband by measuring around our waist, over clothes similar to what you’ll be tucking into your skirt. Don’t pull the tape so tight that you’ll be uncomfortable! For me, this measurement is 26.5”. Then, we’ll add an inch for the overlap where our hook and eye will go. Finally, we’ll add SA on both ends.

26 ½” + 1” + ⅝” + ⅝” = 28 ¾”

So our waistband will be a rectangle 3 ¼” high by 28 ¾” long. You can cut or tear this strip along the grain of the fabric.


Second, we’ll be cutting or tearing our fabric into the panels that will form the body of our skirt. We’ll tear all the way across the width of your fabric, from selvedge to selvedge, and we’ll create two (or three if you want your skirt extra full) panels. The length of the panel will be the length of your desired skirt, plus a seam allowance on the top of the skirt, plus a seam allowance and hem allowance at the bottom of the skirt. I’m usually a little lazy about measuring this perfectly because you can adjust your hem once you try on the skirt and determine exactly the length you want it.

⅝” (top seam allowance) + 3” (hem allowance) + 1” (bottom seam allowance) + 23 ½ (length of skirt) = about 28”

Our final step before we can start sewing is applying some fusible interfacing to stress areas of our skirt. Apply according to manufacturer’s instructions along your waistband, omitting seam allowance, and along the sides of your skirt panels where you will be inserting your zipper.

Deliverable: Share your fabric choice in the project section! Did you go for a fun novelty print, or something fancier?


Step 3: Creating the body of the skirt

During this step, we’ll be turning our fabric panels into a giant fabric tube and inserting our zipper! Match up the selvedge edges (not the torn edges) of two of your panels, right sides together, and pin them together. (If you have three panels, repeat this step to pin your third panel to the first two.)

Bring the remaining selvedge edges (these are the ones with interfacing applied) right sides together to form a really wide tube of fabric, and pin.

Grab your zipper and hold it up to the seam, with the top of the zipper tape aligned with the top of the skirt. Stick an extra pin in the skirt fabric at the point in the seam where the zipper ends. This measurement will be important when we sew this seam, so let’s sew this one first.

At your machine, sewing from what will be the waistband-edge of your skirt, sew using a long basting stitch until you reach the point you marked with a pin. Then, switch to a normal stitch length and backstitch about a centimeter before continuing to sew the length of the seam. Backstitch  For the other seam(s), You’ll just sew it with your regular stitch length, backstitching at the top and bottom of the seam.

Bring your tube to your ironing surface and press the seams open. It’s time to attach our zipper! We’ll be doing it by hand--it gives a lovely finish and is super easy--no special zipper feet required.

Use your seam ripper to open the part of your seam that you interfaced and basted shut. These seam allowances should be nicely pressed and crisp, ready for us to attach the zip. Open the zipper and, matching the top of the zipper tape with the top of your fabric, align the teeth of the zipper with the folded edge of your seam and pin in place.

We’ll be sewing our zipper in by hand for more control and a beautiful finish. Starting at the top of one side of the zipper, bring your needle through your zipper and fabric from the inside of the skirt. From the right side of the fabric, take a tiny stitch backwards (towards the waistband), then from the wrong side take a larger stitch forwards (towards the waistband). We’re basically going “two steps forward and one step back,” or doing a lopsided backstitch. Stitch down one side of your zipper, then the other.

Note: If you are comfortable attaching a zipper on your machine and prefer to do that, go for it!

Deliverable: Let me see that gorgeous zipper! Share a picture down below.

Step 4: Attaching the skirt to the waistband.

The huge tube you have created now has to get gathered into the waistband you made earlier. The first step is to sew three rows of gathering stitches along the top of your skirt panels. Starting at one zipper edge, sew across all three panels using a machine basting stitch (a long stitch length). I sewed mine at about ¼”, ½”, and then ⅝”. You’ll use the tails of your thread to gather the skirt.

Next, we’ll be marking the center of our skirt and the center of our waistband with pins. Find the center of the skirt by folding it in half with the zippers on one side. The fold on the other side should be directly opposite the zippers. Put a pin right on that fold to mark the center of your skirt.

To find the center of the waistband, first mark the two seam allowances on the short sides of the waistband by putting pins at 5/8” on either side. Then, on one side, measure in from the seam allowance the same distance you added at the beginning for your overlap, and put a pin there as well. Fold your waistband so that this third pin is aligned with the SA pin on the opposite side. The fold in between the two will be the center of your waistband.

Finally, pin your skirt to your waistband, right sides together, and aligning the raw edges of the skirt and waistband. Match the center pins of the skirt and waistband, and align the edge of your zippers with the third pin (marking the end of your overlapping tab) and with the SA pin on the opposite side. Pull the gathering threads and arrange the gathers along the threads until the skirt panels are the same length as the waistband and pin in place.

Now that your skirt panels are nicely gathered and pinned to your waistband, we’ll sew the two together. Using a ⅝” seam allowance and your normal stitch length, sew the skirt to the waistband, removing the pins as you go. If you sew with the gathers on top and the waistband on the bottom, you can do some last-minute ruffle re-adjustment. Press your seam, keeping the iron clear of the gathers so they aren’t flattened. Press down the ⅝” SA on the opposite side of the waistband, and on the short ends. Pin in place from the front side of the waistband, since we’ll be sewing from that side.

“Stitching in the ditch” is sewing just along the previous stitch line, and that’s what we’ll be doing to complete our waistband! Avoid stitching on the waistband itself, but as close to it as possible. When you get to your tab, topstitch around it--this part will be hidden on the final skirt!


Step 5: Finishing!

Our last steps are all handsewing--first, attach your skirt hook and eye. I like to sew the bar half to the underlap, and the hook half to the opposite side. Test it out--your skirt closure is now complete!

Since we’re making a dirndl skirt, not a circle skirt, our hem will be easy--just long. Like the zipper, this is a spot where a bit of handsewing makes a big difference in the final look of the skirt. Press up your seam allowance, and then press up your hem. If you want to try on your skirt to double check the length, now would be a good time. Once you have confirmed the length, we’ll just be slipstitching the hem to the body of the skirt. Pass your needle through the hem first, anchoring the knot. Take a tiny stitch through the skirt and the hem, then again about a third of an inch along. This will take a while, so get yourself a podcast or an audiobook to listen to!

Note: You can, of course, topstitch or blindstitch your hem on your machine if you want to!

Once your hem is complete… your skirt is done!! Congratulations, you’ve made your own skirt! I would really enjoy seeing your creations.

Deliverable: Show off your new skills! Share your completed skirt with your classmates. Additionally, if you share it on social media, tag it #alliejXskillshare so I’m sure to see it--I can’t wait!

allie J.

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