I have found that, for myself, once a weakness or fear is conquered in regards to a certain sewing skill, that it then becomes something very enjoyable to do. Such good feelings happen because I end up with more confidence towards something which had been a boundary. I don't want any walls to hold me back from what is possible.
This plaid 40's skirt falls into that rank of "confidence building projects". I wanted this to be a very casual, comfortable, unassuming wartime wardrobe staple - and my finished skirt most definitely fulfills all those wishes. However, at the same time, I am hoping that my 1943 skirt has a special classiness that shows in the time and attention which I spent in meticulously matching all eight plaid panels. So many RTW (ready--to-wear) store clothes sadly lack precise matching of fabrics which are plaids or stripes, and I hope that a skirt like mine inspires others to see at least one obvious benefit to making clothes for oneself!
Here in the above picture, I am aiming for a "Bomb Girls" or a sort of "Rosie the Riveter" look, as if I just got off from 'work' at the late Art Deco style factory building where I'm posing. My blouse is also from a 1943 pattern, but it is a Simplicity #4602, (left picture) blogged about in a previous post (click here for link).
The waist band is a wonderful and unique 40's design. It was a bit more complicated to get it right than I realized, but it was still easy enough. There is a similar skirt worn by the actress Ginger Rogers in the 1940 movie "Lucky Partners". Unlike my skirt, her look-alike skirt was part of a suit and in a solid color, but the high, curved waistband is the same. The pattern for my "workday" plaid skirt comes from a vintage Hollywood pattern which doesn't have a famous actress or a movie directly associated with it, only the "four star" guarantee that it is a high fashion (for '43) and quality design. I would like to think I have found one source of design inspiration for the pattern used for my plaid skirt by finding the renowned Ginger Rogers wearing a similar style feature (see the scene in the right picture where she's with actor Ronald Colman).
FABRIC: The olive plaid fabric for my skirt has been in my stash for as long as I remember, so I am making a calculated guess as to what it is made of. I am almost 100% sure it is a rayon and linen blend, and it might even have cotton, but there is definitely no synthetics. The plaid fabric's raw and nubby hand, soft drape, and open weave characteristics are very similar to the fabric I used for my "Geometric Lines" 1920's tunic top. However, my skirt doesn't wrinkle as easily as the fabric for my 1920's tunic, so I know there's another unknown fiber in the content. Whatever my fabric is made of, it is very comfy and easy to wear, but wrinkles like crazy when it's washed and looks like it got rolled in a ball when it's dry. Ironing is a must! The skirt is lined in a beige/tan color polyester (I know, 'modern') cling-free lining, which came from my stash as well.
NOTIONS: Besides buying a zipper for the side opening, I had everything else I needed on hand: thread, interfacing, waistband hook and eye.
PATTERN: Hollywood #1117, year 1943. (I want to use this pattern to make the short sleeve ruffle blouse, too!) I used a modern, basic, two piece skirt for the lining. It was a pattern I have used before, Butterick 4522, year 2005. This skirt is cut on the bias so it would 'move' and flow well underneath.
THE INSIDES: The raw edges are finished like they would've done it in the 40's - just a simple zig zag stitch along the raw edges of both the lining and the plaid fabric. Self-fabric facing inside covers up the raw edges all along the waistband, while the lining covers up the inner seams to the plaid fabric. The side opening edges were turned in and sewn down to make a clean edge before the zipper went on (see picture). A large sliding style hook and eye holds down the waistband extension.
FIRST WORN: A vintage market fair was the first place I have worn this 1943 skirt. I wore it with the '43 blouse, just as you see it paired in my pictures. I got a number of compliments from vendors who seemed to appreciate the fact I was dressed in authentic vintage.
The Hollywood pattern I used for my skirt is my second unprinted pattern to use. The white blouse I'm wearing in my pictures is the first unprinted pattern I've done. I'm really liking unprinted patterns...or at least getting used to them.
I had to be quite careful to label which pattern piece was which, since the pattern has four skirt panel pieces (eight fabric pieces). All those panels actually helped me match up the plaid, as well, since I got to use all the balance marks to align the lines properly. The pattern also really impressed me with beautiful shaping and curves built into the pattern pieces around the hips and waist, especially around the side seams and...ahem...the behind. I don't see such beautiful details in modern patterns too often.
I had to grade up because my pattern size was too small. The total amount I needed to add was four inches, but, breaking it down between the four skirt panels makes it much less intimidating. A scant 1/4 inch was added to both sides of each skirt panel pattern piece to add up to a total of four extra inches. This wasn't a big deal until I had to adjust the waistband. I made a paper copy of the original pattern piece for the skirt then worked on grading up the copy. I marked the front center, back center, side seam, and the rest of the spots where the skirt panel seams meet at the waistband. Then I split the skirt waistband at each of those places where I marked so I could spread it open in intervals of 1/2 inch. For some reason, adding only 1/2 inch to the waistband where each skirt panel comes up did not get the tabs to match up. Only when I added 3/4 inch at the center front, center back and side seam did the waistband match the skirt. You can see my grading work to the waistband in the picture below at left.
Lightweight interfacing had been ironed on to the back of the waistband pieces, even though the instructions made no mention of doing this. I am so glad I did that step, because it helps the waistband keep its unique shape instead of wrinkling up. After trying on the skirt before adding the waistband facing, I unexpectedly realized I needed to further adjust the fit for the curved panel to succeed. I added a tiny 1/2 inch dart to the waistband side seam, while the each of the two waistband tabs at the zipper opening had 1/4 inch darts added right where the zipper meets. The darts brought the waistband in slightly, shaping it to a woman's curves, otherwise it would have stuck out stiffly like an ill-fitting corset.
Two inches were cut off the bottom of the hem to bring it to a good length at my legs and make it even with the hem of the lining. A longer length seemed to make the skirt appearance a bit more dowdy. Besides, the shorter, below-knee, mid-calf length I chose would have been just right for the activities appropriate for a 40s woman wearing a skirt like this: gardening, biking, shopping, and the like needed to be done while still looking feminine. I sewed a small 1/4 inch hem on my skirt, which brought it even with the lining hem by about a 1 inch difference in between the two (see above right picture).
Throughout the entire construction process of my 1943 plaid skirt, I was very skeptical as to whether or not I would hate, love, or merely tolerate the finished garment. About 90% of the time I was generally on the 'hate' or even 'merely tolerating' side of emotions. However, as usual for many garments I'm skeptical towards, once my skirt was done and matched up with shoes, belt, blouse, and even the right hairstyle, I could smile and honestly say I really love it!
Wearing my "workday" outfit put me in the mood to do my very own "Rosie the Riveter" poster imitation. I even turned our picture into black and grey tones to get an even better 40s feel to it. Look at my muscle!
I am planning to build upon my 1943 skirt, adding to the aim of it being the foundation of a wartime wardrobe of easy separates. This coming Fall season, maybe early September, I would like to use another vintage pattern I own - a year 1941 Simplicity 3961, in bottom left picture - to sew up a suit jacket or suit style top to wear with this plaid skirt. I have a nice rayon gabardine or linen in mind for the fabric, and either an ivory, a brown, or an olive green for the color of the suit jacket or top from Simplicity 3961. I think a suiting separate will easily take my "workday plaid" into a higher "Sunday-worthy" sort of classiness. The versatility of my new skirt is endless!