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.











Double French Darts: How to create them

Naomi is getting into the flattering effects French darts create.  She recently made a top using single French darts at the side seams.  Encouraged by the results, she asked me how double French darts are created.

The pattern transformations that follow are from “The Custom Touch” by Mary J. Wadlington, published in 1981 by Gem Publications.

I recommend practicing on 1/2 or 1/4 scale pattern diagrams first.




Note:  In some of the diagrams Mary leaves the vertical bodice dart and the skirt dart open.  I have not used her system so I’m not in a position to say if this is good practice or not.  My own experience has taught me that if a dart intake is not closed and integrated into the style line there will be a bubble or excess fabric looking awkward when the toile is created.

In the patternmaking system I learned, the vertical waist dart is closed and integrated into the bodice style line.  The skirt dart is closed first and the flare created.  Then the skirt is taped to the bodice with the vertical dart closed.  The style line is created and then the paper pattern is cut.





Pattern Diagram: Hooded Robe

Norma and I had exchanged comments about hooded robes and cloaks.  I offered to upload a pattern diagram for a hooded robe that does not require advanced skills in drafting.  The instructions call for about 3 yards of terry cloth or cotton flannel but I think if you can locate very large bath or beach towels you might be able to use those for the robe.

The pattern is from “Reader’s Digest Complete Guide To Sewing” published in 1978.













The One Hour Dress: Drafting Instructions

The 1930s Sew-along with Norma brought up a discussion of the straight lines of some dresses in the late 1920s and early 1930s. At Norma’s request I’m posting scans of drafting instructions for one version of the One Hour Dress. The first scan contains instructions for taking your measurements.

I have not made a garment using this system developed by Mary Brooks Picken during the late 1910s through 1920s. I have seen different versions online of this dress. Some came out very well and others did not look flattering. Since it is a very boxy shape I think making a muslin is a good precaution. The width is based on the hip circumference. Those who have a larger abdomen or smaller bustline may need to make some adjustment.

There are vertical or horizontal darts to give some shaping at the hipline. Walking pleats in the side seams are another unusual feature in some styles. I’d love to see photos of any readers who use these instructions to create a dress, tunic or top.

This pattern came from “The One Hour Dress-21 New Designs with Complete Instructions for Making”

1930s Sew-Along: Trumpet Skirts and 6 Gore Skirts

As promised here are the drafting instructions for a gored skirt using the method I spoke about in previous postings. The patternmaking system was created at some time in the 1950s. This pattern represents some simplifications I made to the process as well as some additions. The original did not include any allowances for style ease. My first attempt at drafting a gored skirt turned out too tight.

Please, Please, Please make a muslin. You must test the method and adjust it to suit your own unique figure. Spending time to ensure a good fit will save you money and worry later. Nothing ever hides a poor fit so consider time spent on a muslin an educational process that will ensure a wonderful garment once your fashion fabric is cut.

Permissions to re-use

This pattern can be freely circulated and reused for whatever purpose you want. I’d love to see any photos of finished skirts you make.

Six Gore Skirt Drafting Instructions

Before drafting this skirt pattern please see How to Take Measurements.

The measurements used in this pattern are for a Misses Size 4. They are used to provide an example. You will substitute your own measurements to draft your custom pattern.

The Flattering Qualities of a Gored Skirt

Gored skirts are flattering to all figure types, especially when the pattern is drafted to your own measurements. This is because the pattern is drafted with a slight curve from waist to abdomen or waist to hipline. After the slight curve, the line becomes straight and ends however many inches from the center of the skirt that you want. The greater the width of the hemline the more flare and movement the gores will have.

The point at which the curve stops is best determined by your own hip and abdomen measurements. In general these are the guidelines:

—If your hips are larger than your abdomen let the flare start at the hipline. If this is your body type, then you will use the measurement Waist to Hip line for points A-C.

—If your abdomen is larger than your hip let the flare start at the abdomen. In this case you will use the measurement Waist to Abdomen for Point A-C.

The Front Skirt Length used is completely up to you. A length of 27-30” will give you a retro looking skirt reminiscent of the 1930s. To achieve such an effect use the diagram for creating a Trumpet Skirt with flare starting at the hip line.

Style Ease to add to measurements

For a gored skirt add 1-2” of ease for the abdomen or hipline. To the waist add about 1/2″ of ease.

Misses Size 4 Measurements (used for an example) for a Gored Skirt Pattern

Waist 24”+ 1/2″ ease=24 ½”

Abdomen Circumference 35”+1” ease=36”
Hip Circumference 36”+ 1” ease=37”

Waist to Abdomen 4”
Waist to Hip 8”

Front Skirt Length 28”

Continue reading

Sheath Skirt with Kickpleat: Links to all postings in this series

To create the 1950s Style Sheath skirt with Kickpleat

How to Take Measurements

How to Add Style Ease for a Skirt Pattern (excludes Circle and Half-Circle Skirts)

Basic Skirt Front Drafting Instructions

Basic Skirt Back Drafting Instructions

Basic Skirt Front-Alteration for Misses Size 4

Fitting Toile with alterations-Misses size 4

RetroGlam 1950s Style Sheath Skirt with Back Kickpleat

The following instructions will help you recreate a skirt similar to View 3 in this pattern illustration.

Before drafting your Sheath Skirt pattern you will need to add style ease to your body measurements. Use the following guide to perform your calculations:

Waist Measurment + 1 to 1 1/2″ ease
Hip Circumference + 3″ ease
Front Skirt Length should fall at mid-calf. For a woman of 5′ 5″ to 5′ 6″ wearing a Misses Size 4 the Front Skirt Length of 27″ works well.

Construct the Basic Skirt Front and Basic Skirt Back using the resulting Waist and Hip Circumference when drafting the pattern.

Please read through all instructions for the Basic Skirt Front and Back since I include instructions on how to determine the pattern width if your Abdomen Circumference is larger than the Hip Circumference.

Back Skirt Pattern with additions for Kickpleat and Inverted Kickpleat.

1. To create the Center Back Kickpleat, measure out 3″ from Center Back of the Back Skirt Pattern at the hemline and at the top. Connect these two points.

2. Fold along the Center Back line and cut along the Waistline curve.

3. Open out the pattern and cut out along the Hem and Side Seam lines.

The shorter extension shown after the Center Back Kickpleat in the pattern diagram is for a skirt with Inverted Kickpleat. I have not included these instructions since I have found that such a kickpleat sometimes is too bulky and presents a problem when the fashion fabric is dry cleaned and pressed. Anyone making a skirt like this should insist the dry cleaner hand press the skirt using brown paper between the kickpleat and the skirt back. This extra step will prevent an unslightly impression being made on the outside of the skirt.

I will show the basic sewing of the kickpleat and waistband once the muslin is cut.

This type of kickpleat runs the entire length of the back skirt resulting in no display of leg when the kickpleat opens while walking. It is especially suitable for those who prefer modesty in dressing and also avoids the sagging that can happen when the kickpleat is shorter and stitched down from the top of the skirt. The back skirt fabric also is not marred by the top stitching seen on skirts with shorter kickpleats which must be topstitched to hold them in place.

The kickpleat works well when measured 7″ up from the hemline of the pattern for a woman 5’4″ to about 5′ 6″ tall. The actual measurement up from the hem can be changed based on your height. That is why making a toile is always best.

The Center Back seam is sewed from the end of the zipper down to the point where the kickpleat opens.

The shorter extension (W-V-T) shown in the diagram is for creating an inverted kickpleat. I have not provided instructions for the drafting of this.

The broken line at the side seam is for a tapered skirt. Since this is not part of the current project no drafting instructions are included for it in this posting.