1930s Sew-along with Norma: Reinforced Belt


Since I put so much hand sewing into my dress for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma, I decided that the belt would be completely handmade.  It offered the opportunity for me to try fell stitching as well as get creative with the belt making process


The fashion fabric is a very busy print consisting of tiny orange, red and yellow flowers and buds with spring green leaves and stems against a slightly cream colored background.  All details such as the darts, hand sewn bias bound neckline and sleeve finishings are not discernible.  It was important that the belt work with the print and provide a striking contrast.

With the help of RetroGlam readers I chose a lightweight silky fabric in a green that pulled the total look together.  The thin fabric needed some extra weight to support the belting material and the buckle.  This was challenge number 1:  selecting the kind of belting I wanted and the underlining for the silky fabric.

Traditional belting is too stiff to permit sewing snaps onto.  I decided to forego eyelets and a buckle with a prong because these would look too harsh with the dress whether they were in gold or silver.  I needed a buckle without a prong and a backing that was supple enough and lightweight enough to encircle the waist and permit sewing on of snaps.   So here was challenge number 2.

Challenge number 3 knocked all my plans into disarray when I found that the green fabric had numerous little spots that would not go away when I washed the fabric for a second time.  I can only think that these spots were caused by perfume I’d spritzed over myself while the fabric was air drying on a rack in the bath tub.  Lesson learned:  once fashion fabrics are no longer dripping move the drying rack out of the tub and into the entrance way.  Never spray perfume, hair spray, air freshener, etc. if clothing or fabric is hanging or drying nearby.  Since I live in a small apartment in a crowded urban setting there’s no way to air dry clothes outdoors or in a separate laundry room.

I’d only bought 1 yard of the green fabric and to my dismay it got spotted along both sides of the selvedges which was important since the selvedge would provide the finish for the underside of the belt.  I found a part of the fabric without any spots at all but it was all on the cross grain for about 12 inches in length.  This meant I’d be working against the instructions for making the belt and also have a less than satisfactory result.  I decided to accept what I had available and improvise the rest.  What you see in this tutorial is an example of making do.  Since this is a 1930s sew-along I like to think this is in the spirit of resourcefulness sewistas had to cultivate during the economic difficulties of The Great Depression.

Source of Instructions

I adapted the reinforced belt making instructions from page 250 of  Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing, Seventh Printing, July 1980.

Source for Belt Buckle

Another difficulty of working with the green fabric was that it did not take kindly to the fabric glue used in belt making kits for adhering the fabric to the buckle.  I was able to find an artisan on Etsy who makes various kinds of fabric covered belts and buckles.  Michelle Tan uses a special pressing machine that folds the fabric around the buckle in a way so that it is much stronger and well finished than buckles made from kits that use glue.  Please take a look at her cute buttons and other notions.

Non-traditional belting considerations

I wasn’t sure of which fabric to use.  I first bought a length of crinoline which provided body but not enough to be flexible around the waist.  I then tried a heavy linen type fabric but that was too soft.  I got the bright idea of using Ban-Roll waistbanding since it does not crush and hugs the waist just right–when used in a skirt.

I now had the makings of challenge number 4:  I learned why the product is called Ban-Roll.  It likes to roll and encircle the waist.  It requires a gentle steaming with a press cloth and iron after staying on the dress form for longer than a few minutes.

All these shortcomings aside–I love the new belt.  I have hopes that when I make the next one correctly it will far exceed what turned out this time.

Making a Reinforced Belt When Forced to Cut on the Crosswise Grain

The crosswise grain is weaker and does not favor waistbands with backing.  I think for a self-tie belt it will work ok.  I also learned that for Pussycat Bows you can use it as well, just so long as you don’t mind a bow that lacks the loft of a bias cut bow.

Basic measurements of the piece you will cut for belt fabric:

Width-2 times the width of the belt + 1/2″

Length-waist circumference + 8″

The extra 1/2″ should be measured up from the selvedge

For belting material:

Length of belting=Waist circumference + 7″

Pattern and belt making instructions I used as a starting point.

1a.  Supplies I used:  Banroll cut with a point at one end, hand sewing needles/#6 Betweens, micro tweezers to remove basting threads, mini scissor, dryer sheet as thread conditioner, cotton basting thread, poly/cotton sewing thread, glass head straight pins, artisan made fabric covered buckle; belt fabric and cotton/poly underlining.

1a.  The green fabric shredded which necessitated me pinking the edges.  As a result I had less than the 1/2″ extra that was needed for the belt.  I compensated by using lace hem tape to cover up the edge that would finish the belt on the inside.  This function is fulfilled when the fabric is cut on the lengthwise grain along the selvedge.

The underlining was pinned in place and secured to the fabric using small running stitches with a double strand of thread.  I had to do this to provide strength for the construction.

The lace was sewn over the edge using a double strand of sewing thread  I used tiny running stitches for the flexibility they offer.

The fabric was folded right sides together and stitched along the short side 1/2″ in from the edge.

I folded it to create the arrowhead shape shown in the photo.  Then this was turned right side out.  A press cloth was placed over the fabric before it was steam pressed.

2.  View of the wrong side of the belt before turning the point right side out.

3.   Belting or substitute is inserted into the fabric point matching the point of the belting to the point of the fabric.  The unfinished side (or side without selvedge) is pinned in place.  I then basted it in place since I do not like sewing with pins in the fabric.

4. After this the finished edge of the belt (or selvedge) is turned up and pinned over the unfinished edge.  The fabric proved slippery and I had to tweak the position of the seam and the folds before pinning.  Then this was basted into place.

To secure the edge into place I used a fell stitch which I ended up disliking but left in place.  I plan to use tiny catch stitches the next time.

5.  After the hand sewing is finished, the raw edge is wrapped around the buckle, folded once and slip stitched into place.

Then the upper part of the snap was sewn onto the belt near the point.

With the garment on the dress form, I next placed the belt on to find where I needed to place the snaps.  I rubbed some Tailor’s Chalk onto the snap and then pressed against the belt.  The white dot is a chalk mark that tells me where to sew the lower part of the snap.

6.  The lower part of the snap is pinned and sewn into place.

7.  My label and the size of the belt are sewn in near the buckle.  I like the way the catch stitch looks here.  Since a belt made from Ban-Roll loves to curl I found that the fabric had a tendency to look a little rippled afterwards.  I attribute this to the cross grain.

I made a thread loop to use so that the belt can be stored on a hanger when not in use.

The finished belt was pressed using a press cloth over it.  The iron was held above the press cloth and never placed directly on it.

8.  Belt was then hung up to dry after all that steam pressing.


9.  Close-ups of completed belt.

The dress and belt will be photographed next week.











1930s Sew-Along Fabric Selected: Need advice for belt and bow

I’ve selected the design elements for the 1930s Sew-Along with Norma of SheSewsYouKnow, as well as the fabric. Here they are.

The floral print rayon fabric has a soft drape and I think will work well with the blouse. The navy blue skirt fabric is a lightweight poly gabardine that is soft enough to fall smoothly over the hips and has enough body to hold the flare at the hem. I also have a poly navy blue lining I’m thinking of using to make a partial lining from waist to abdomen inside the skirt. I also have navy poly organza for the blouse interfacing.

The blouse will be based on the bodice of this 1930s dress. It will be an over blouse complete with the bow and the belt. I’d LOVE for some advice as to what color the belt should be and what color the bow should be. I was thinking of navy for the belt and red for the bow. It’s always more fun to get input and another person’s ideas, so please add them to the comment section of this posting.

The skirt will have six gores with the center of the panel running on the straight vertical grain. It should fall something like the gold colored skirt in the illustration. Since an over blouse will be worn with it, I will finish the waistline with a facing.

I’m so glad we’re doing this at a very leisurely pace. It’s much more enjoyable and does not feel like work. I have enough of deadlines with other parts of my life. It’s very satisfying to let a project develop gradually and watch it take a life of its own.

Since I’m calling this outfit Carole after 1930s film star Carole Lombard, I’ll be putting Carole in the subject lines of the posting as well as a link to Norma’s blog at the start of each poting.

Retro Glam Mix It Up: Knitted Hat 1960s and Knitted Purse 1945

The Retro Glam Accessory “Mix It Up” postings continues…Here is a very cute stocking cap with pompom from the early 1960s that goes very well with a knitted purse from 1945.

The stocking cap with pompom is pictured at the bottom right of the front cover of “Hats, Hats, Hats”, American Thread Co. Star Book No. 168. I estimate the year of publication sometime during the early 1960s because of the popularity of pillbox hats during that time.

The purse pattern is from “Bags Book Number 228″ published in 1945 by the Spool Cotton Company, Second Edition 346, H-2977 CS.

Vintage Knitting Patterns from 1960: Pillbox Hat and Knitted Headband

I’ve picked up sewing the Secretary Blouse again. Let’s hope my schedule stays even. I so look forward to moving on to the sheath skirt and sharing with my readers. In the meantime, here are some more vintage patterns for accessories.

These knitting patterns come from “High Fashion Hats” published circa 1960 by Bernhard Ulmann Company.

Pillbox hat.

Knitted headband.

Abbreviations and needle sizes.

The Donna Skirt and Blouse: Adding a little touch of Glam!

It is very possible to accessorize a retro-inspired outfit without the need to purchase expensive vintage merchandise. Pointy toed shoes from the early 2000s can substitute for authentic 1950s stiletto or kitten heeled shoes. Earrings, bracelets, scatter pins and necklaces that echo some elements of the 1940s through 1950s costume jewelry are also good choices. Thrift shops are one source for the shoes and you’d be surprised how 99 cent stores can often turn up jewelry that can fit your needs.

My goal in showing how I accessorize my own designs is to encourage others to go after creating a mood or sense of a period style without having to resort to a strict recreation of the time period. This is often more challenging but can also be an opportunity to use your own creative flair.


The completed Donna Skirt and Blouse. The blouse is made with 100% lightweight cotton shirting. The skirt is made from a rayon poly blend called Linaire.


Back view of the Donna Skirt and Blouse.



The smooth fit under the half-circle skirt is achieved by using a blouse yoke.


Pointy toe shoes by American Eagle made circa 2005.

Side view of the American Eagle shoe.

The American Eagle shoes from 2005 lend a 1950s feeling to the complete outfit and are comfortable enough to wear even on a busy day when out and around.

A stretch bracelet made with rhinestones completes the look.

To keep things simple, I chose an inexpensive rhinestone bracelet to complete the look. The rhinestone flowers complement the floral design of the blouse and the silver blends nicely with the entire feeling of the finished outfit.

While I started out with an inspiration from the early 1960s sit-com called “The Donna Reed Show” that included memories of what the actress Donna Reed wore as the project progressed the selection of fabrics and accessories contributed to something unique in its own right.