Some months ago I floated the idea of a beginner sew along, but couldn't settle on a simple, widely-available pattern. Well as I embarked on my latest pencil skirt it hit me: of course, the "instant" one-yard skirt pattern is one of the simplest out there, and as it was a popular concept in the 1950s and early 60s, original patterns are available on etsy and ebay in a range of sizes.
The pencil skirt is an absolute vintage (and indeed modern!) wardrobe essential. It can also be made in a number of variations, so will hopefully appeal to novice and more experienced sewists alike.
I've worked out a preliminary posting schedule, and I'll update this post with links as the sew-along progresses. I’ll be covering everything from style inspiration, supplies and fabric, making pattern adjustments, and through the actual sewing. I'll make it as beginner-friendly as possible, with full explanations of all the sewing terms and techniques. We won't be making a muslin as part of the sew-along - for such a simple project it's not necessary - though if you're making significant pattern adjustments or just feel you'd prefer to do a test run before you cut into your lovely fashion fabric please do go ahead.
- 1st November: Announcement and pattern (you're here)
- Fabric and supplies
- Making basic pattern adjustments
- Cutting out
- Sewing the darts
- 20th November: sewing the back seam and kick pleat
- Inserting the zip
- Sewing a lining
- Attaching the waistband
This leaves about two weeks before we actually start sewing, which should allow enough time to order a pattern and fabric online if necessary.
Also, I made a little graphic which you can display on your blog if you wish (right-click and save, then upload to your website):
The good thing about this sew along is that you can use just about any pencil skirt pattern. At its most basic, 1950s one-yard pattern consists of just two pattern pieces: the skirt and waistband. The skirt has a single seam at the back - no side seams - with shaping at the waist formed by darts. Many pattern companies relased a version, often with two or three variations within the same envelope, but the one that seems to turn up most often is Simplicity 1345. At the time of writing there are 30 of these listed on etsy, in sizes from 24-30" waists. I have three pencil skirt patterns (including Simplicity 1345 in a 30" waist) for sale in my shop my pattern box post.
Another popular one was McCall 4312, which is almost identical to the Simplicity one, and is actually the one I'll be using:
The McCall cover illustration shows the pattern piece we're looking for: basically a rectangle, with an extra sticky-out bit (this forms the kick pleat).
If you can't find a pattern in your size don't worry, we'll cover resizing the pattern larger and smaller later - it's very easy. You could even draft your own, which is not as complex as it looks.
You can of course use a modern pattern like McCall 2773 or Burda #122, but bear in mind that the waistline may be designed to sit lower than a vintage skirt, and that it may feature a back vent or split instead of the more old-fashioned kick pleat.
Pencil skirts not your thing? You can even join in with a standard A-line skirt pattern - the construction details are almost identical.
Getting Started: Basic Supplies
A sewing machine - You could hand sew a garment, but it's pretty time consuming, and hand stitching isn't nearly as strong as machine so the finished article would be a bit delicate. You'll probably have a friend, relative or neighbour who owns a sewing machine which you can arrange to borrow. If you don't, many quilting shops have machines available to use for an hourly fee. Failing that, try your local college.
Dressmaking scissors - It's not worth hacking away at fabric with half-blunt paper scissors. You don't need to invest in top of the range Fiskars just yet, but expect to spend at least £10 / $15 on a half decent pair.
Your measurements - If you're wearing vintage, chances are you've already got a reasonable handle on your own measurements for buying clothes. When you're sewing your own clothes you really need to be familiar with your (accurate) measurements. So get your tape measure out!
Pins - to pin pattern to fabric, pin fabric together for stitching, etc.
Tracing paper & pens/pencils - This is optional, but if you're planning to make any pattern adjustments it's usually worth tracing the pattern rather than cutting up the original (this also leaves you the option to sell the original pattern in the future, and you'll still have your own version).
Chalk or Marking Pen - To transfer pattern markings to the fabric, I like to use chalk on dark fabrics or a disappearing ink pen / water soluble marking pen specifically designed for the purpose on lighter fabrics.