1930s Sew Along with Norma of She Sews You Know

There’s a brand new project in planning.  It comes at a good time, too.  Norma of She Sews You Know recommended that we do a sew along together.  There are no hard and fast rules.  I like that.  There’s no deadline.  I like that, too!  We agreed to choose a time period.  Norma had a 1930s dress she wants to make and I thought I need a change from the 1950s.  Like Norma, I’m going to do my best to work with techniques from the time period.  This is not always as easy as it sounds, since some will be a new learning experience.

Norma is taking on the challenge of a detailed and sophisticated style which you can see at her posting, Sewing a Bit of History.  I’ve decided on something much simpler but which still challenges me.  There will be a skirt and blouse inspired by simple patterns from the 1930s.  I’ve collected some screen shots from Pinterest and Google Images which I’ll share.

Right now I’m lining the Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kick Pleat.  While that is going on I’m going to consider the ideas I’m getting from the vintage pattern envelope illustrations.  This is how I work.  I first consider many things and then pick the elements that I think I can work with.

Candidates for the skirt pattern


Six gore skirt with flare starting at hipline.


Six gore skirt with flare starting somewhere between abdomen and before hipline.

When the flare starts somewhere near the thigh you have a trumpet skirt.  Another style element I love are the bias cut flounces that were sewed at the bottom of 1930s dresses, slips, gowns and skirts.


Nightgown with bias flounce.

If I use a bias flounce the upper portion of the skirt would be a sheath skirt but with only one dart on each side instead of two.  The final choice of the skirt depends on the style of the blouse I choose.

At this point I’m leaning towards the 6 gore skirt.  The challenge here is where to put the closure without disturbing the flares.  There is no Center Back seam.  The closure will have to be in the side seam.  I’m thinking of trying a genuine 1930s snap placket based on a tutorial at Of Dreams and Seams.  I have never used snaps in as a skirt closure nor have I tried this technique.  I am curious to see how flat and inconspicuous it will be.  I have a 60″ wide piece of navy poly gabardine that has the right body for a gored skirt but it shreds very much.  It also is a medium weight so I have to make sure the closure is not bulky.

If I go with the 6 gore skirt I will be able to provide instructions for drafting the pattern.  I intend to make a toile first.  Even though the pattern is easy to make there might be some tweaking I can learn and pass on to you after evaluating the toile.

Candidates for the blouse


I love blouses with short kimono sleeves.  They hide many flaws such as thin arms and the softness helps a small busted woman look fuller on top.  I think that is a nice balance to a flowing gored skirt.  I like style #1.


This blouse looks very simple but study the neckline treatment.  There appear three elongated ovals along the neckline through which a scarf is looped.  I think this blouse is very smart but worry that the fabric I have for the blouse might not have enough body.  It is a rayon print with a light weight.  The background is navy with white, orange-red and yellow colors in the flowers.  I do not think the way this fabric shreds and the light weight will support the openings.  Still, I got some good ideas for the top from this.


I think the bodice of this dress will work well when the style elements are worked into a blouse.  The blouse will be made from an unfitted bodice from which the side dart is eliminated.  It will be a slip on with a slit at the center front.  The turn backs can be faced in a solid color that contrasts with the print.  The bow can be the same or pick up on another color in the print of the fashion fabric.  I might even do this as an over blouse with a self-covered belt made in the fabric of the skirt.  If I choose this then the skirt will not need a waistband.  I’d finish the waist of the skirt with a facing.  This will eliminate bulk that arises from a skirt waistband and then a blouse with belt over it.  If I go with this style I think I’ll make the bow detachable.  If I decide to sew it on then the opening will be a slit in the back of the blouse.  The challenge is to figure that detail out.  I’ll also have to figure out how much style ease to add to the pattern.  I want a blousy effect with the belt but I don’t want it to be too blousy.

My sketching is not up to display quality.  As the project progresses I’ll use photos.

Another challenge is deciding on the colors for the bow and the turn backs of the blouse.

I always give my projects a name because each ensemble takes on a life of its own.  I’ve decided to call this one Carole, in honor of 1930s comedienne Carole Lombard.

I invite you to join in and learn as we go along.



Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kickpleat and Zipper Hidden in Seam Pt. 3 of 3

Sewing the zipper (continued from Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kickpleat and Zipper Hidden in Seam Pt.2 of 3).


7.  Sorry about the blurry photo.  I did not realize it until after I’d uploaded to the computer.  It was too late to take another since the zipper installation was completed.  Anyway, with your hand sewing needle and a single strand of conditioned thread, sew tiny running stitches along the zipper tape.

Note:  Unlike Claire Shaeffer’s diagram, the top of the zipper is not folded under since it will be sewn into the waistline once the waistband is applied.


8.  Stitch a second line of tiny running stitches parallel to the first row of stitching.


9.   At the end of the seam knot your second row of running stitches.  Then fell stitch the outer edge of the zipper tape to the kick pleat extension.  This extra stitching secures the zipper to the fabric.


10. Place the left side of the skirt over the right along Center Back.  Use diagonal basting to hold the seams in place.  Pin and baste the left side of the zipper through both layers of fabric.  The amount to mark from the Center back to hand sewing line is the same amount as the mark on the zipper tape from Center back to the markings on zipper tape that act as a stitching guide.

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Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kickpleat and Zipper Hidden in Seam Pt. 2 of 3

The zipper application is the basic lapped zipper type but the sewing method is based on instructions from “Couture Sewing Techniques” by Claire Shaeffer.  The zipper is sewn using tiny running stitches.  To secure the zipper further, fell stitches are hand sewn from the edge of the zipper tape to the inside seam.  Since the running stitch is more flexible than a pick or back stitch the sewing is barely noticeable under ordinary lighting.  This is why I call the zipper “hidden in the seam.”


Instructions on hand sewing a zipper from “Courture Sewing Techniques” by Claire Shaeffer.  This diagram shows a slot zipper application I have adapted to a lapped zipper application.

Getting your notions and equipment ready



Regular straight pins or pins with glass heads may be used for pinning the zipper in place.  I prefer longer pins with glass heads when pinning the zipper into place because they are easier to handle and also stronger.  Use the type that works best for you.


Press your zipper so it lies flat.  Then select your thread and needles for basting.  A seam ripper and small scissor are used to remove the basting stitches along the zipper seam.  To condition basting and sewing thread I use a new dryer strip.

Not shown is the thread for sewing the zipper.  I use Guttermans poly thread because it works well with all fibers.


For hand sewing the tiny running stitches I found #6 Betweens worked just right.  Of course with hand sewing there will be differences between which needle works best for the seamstress.  Experiment with different types until you find one that produces the tiniest stitches easily for you.

Sewing the Center Back Seam

The zipper is applied after sewing Center Back seam and before sewing front of skirt to back skirt at the side seams.

The extra fabric you see is the extension for the kick pleat.


Use basting stitches from waist to end of zipper.


Basting stitches are also used from beginning of kick pleat to hem.

1.   Machine sew using basting stitched from waistline to point that marks zipper’s end.  From that point stitch using a medium stitch length until reaching the marking for the beginning of the kick pleat.  From the kick pleat beginning to the hem, sew with machine basting stitches.

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Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kickpleat and Zipper Hidden in Seam Pt. 1 of 3

As subscribers to this blog know 2015 did not produce much personal creativity at this blog.  I am happy to get back to a project that is coming to good expression even though other events in my personal life put it into the background for a while.  The project is a 1950s style sheath skirt.  What makes it different from other sheath skirts is the uncommon kick pleat at center back.  Since this type of kick pleat uses an extra 3-3 1/2 inches on each side from Center Back to edge of the pleat it results in extra fabric usage.  In manufacturing that would mean an added price for the customer.


This type of kickpleat stays securely in place because it is cut from waist to hem.  Here you can see what it looks like when the zipper is opened.


View of the kickpleat from opening to hem.  Since the kickpleat extension is about 3″ wide, there is minimal show of the leg when the wearer walks and the kick pleat opens.


View of back of the skirt after the zipper application is completed.

Many kick pleats start about 7-10″ up from the hemline.  They are held in place by machine stitching along the right side of the skirt.  This is effective but because these pleats are cut with less width they show more leg when the wearer is walking.  In the 1950s the emphasis was on being able to walk but most women would not want to flash too much of a show of leg.  The attitude of the time was that suggestion was a more powerful means of attracting the male attention than actually displaying all the charms of the female form.  I’ve had a few people who adhere to standards of modest dressing tell me this kick pleat is exactly what they are looking for on a longer sheath skirt.  For this reason I have created three postings to show how to sew the pleat and insert a hand sewn zipper  using couture techniques.

As preparation, please see the following posting with links to the series of instructions for drafting the skirt and kick pleat.  This skirt will be lined.  I will prepare a tutorial on how to line and finish the Sheath Skirt with Modesty Kick Pleat in the near future.  Posting #2 and #3 offer step by step instructions for the sewing of the kick pleat and zipper.