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Vintage skirt with side-pleats

Added Apr 26, 2012

by harrietbazley

London, United K...






This pattern was a present to me from my brother, who found it for 25p in a junkshop and decided it looked like ‘my sort of thing’! Despite the 1960s date it’s actually much more of a Fifties style skirt (View B appears to be an incipient miniskirt, though!), and I thought the generous side pleats might make for an useful garment for an active lifestyle: my previous attempt at a skirt with a fitted top is a little tight to stride out in.

Unfortunately I sabotaged this by setting out to use up a piece of scrap linen I had salvaged – as you can see from these shots, any attempt at ‘activity’ (including sitting or bending down to tie one’s own shoelaces…) and the skirt is creased for the rest of the day! Linen, so predictable….

I’m still pleased with the result, even if it’s a skirt I can only wear on days when I’m not going to be sitting down much. I decided to make view C (not illustrated on the front of the envelope: it’s the longer view A length combined with the ornamental belt and carriers from view B), which was a good move as the dangling belt helps to distract from the inevitable set of creases in the front of the skirt. I lengthened the belt (shaped from three curved pieces so that it lies flat around the hips) by a couple of inches because I was afraid it wouldn’t stay done up at the illustrated length; I also lengthened the skirt by an inch and a half at the last minute to make sure it covered the top of my socks!

Otherwise the result was pretty close to the illustration – and the good thing about patterns of this era is that the hip/waist ratio matches mine pretty closely. I didn’t have to take in the waist or expand the hips this time.

I did have to do a swayback adjustment again, however. In fact I did it three times, each more extreme, after panicking when the first attempt didn’t seem to have eliminated the sagging in the small of my back – eventually I spotted that I was simply making matters worse, went back to my original adjustment markings, and realised that the problem was caused by having only sewn the front edge and not the reverse of the waistband….

The other panic was over the side pleats, which persisted in inverting themselves in a “Rolling Stones” effect – all gaping lips and lolling tongue! Eventually I took some tailoring tips and clapped on a hardwood block to suck up the moisture after steaming the pleats sewn shut: not having a tailor’s clapper, I used a bit of old drawer-front out of the loft. Amazingly, it worked. They still have a certain tendency to bulge at the end of the day, but they now bulge inwards and not out.

The seams all had to be hand-finished. I used hand-sewn self-bound seams for attaching the backs of the pleats (which are sewn down flat onto folded-in flaps at the edges of the skirt pieces), but the existence of the side pleats and of the centre zipper meant that all the main skirt seams had to be pressed open, thus ruling out run-and-fell or French seam finishes here. In the end I simply cut very wide seam allowances (for once in my life I actually had more than enough fabric) and hemmed the raw edges under. The machine top-stitching on the outside of the pleats proved quite tricky, and where the seams grew too narrow a few inches from the top I simply abandoned them and back-stitched the remainder and the top ‘arrow’ by hand (see photo). After which I had to hem down the unfinished tops of the pleats! Twenty hours or so of ‘couture’ finishing work that would have been saved by a serger – still, home sergers didn’t exist until 1964 :-p

Because I decided to increase the skirt length at the last minute I didn’t have enough material to make the recommended 3-inch hem. I compromised by using some ancient (vintage!) bias binding out of my grandmother’s workbox as a hem tape substitute, and it actually worked extremely well – it was lightweight enough to fold around the pleats without causing problems, and stretchy enough to ease in the fullness of the flared skirt more or less automatically. I might try this again. It did use up an awful lot of tape though!

Reversing the self-bound seams in order to hem the pleats was NOT MUCH FUN :-(
I’d left the ends unfinished, but it still involved an awful lot of clipping and folding to render all those raw edges now mercifully invisible….

The zipper was also inserted by hand – mainly because my hand-crank machine doesn’t have a zipper foot, so using it to stitch that close to the seams is out of the question. The original pattern specified a simple centred zip, but I altered that to a lapped zipper, mainly because my hand-stitched zips always seem to ‘bulge’ so – the fewer visible seams, the better. Of course inserting the zipper placket involved a whole new set of raw edges which had to be tacked into position in order to ensure that they were imprisoned by the correct seams.

I tried ‘hand-picking’ the zipper instead of using a sturdy backstitch, but it didn’t make much difference to the bulge (see also back view photo) – the zip teeth simply stick up higher than the underlying tape, and lift the fabric above them. I’m not sure how you avoid that :-(

The super-large hooks and eyes/bars used to fasten the waistband are also very ‘vintage’: out of my grandmother’s workbox again! The belt carriers are turned fabric tubes; I found it quite impossible to fight the seam allowance down the inside of the tube using the width suggested (and dared not cut the seams any closer on this fraying fabric) so ended up increasing the size of the tube by 1/8", which proved to make all the difference.

Material Notes

Linen of unknown origin – originally a sort of unattractive unbleached hessian colour. The cost of the dark brown dye was the chief expense of the project, since all the other components were ‘scrounged’!

An 8-inch zipper from my brother’s stash, and a scrap of broad black ribbon to back it with.

Lightweight bias binding and vintage hook fasteners from my grandmother’s workbox (circa 1960s)



Related Techniques


Garment Type
Classic, Vintage



5 Comments Sign in to add a post

  • Picture_5_large

    Aug 18, 2012, 12.01 PMby Lidia Esther

    GOOD JOB, i too love that side slit!

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    Apr 27, 2012, 10.27 PMby nookie

    how beautiful – the pleats are so subtle.

  • Photo_on_3-2-17_at_6_09_pm_2_large

    Apr 27, 2012, 11.24 AMby tessi

    Very nicely done!

  • Dsc09595avatar_large

    Apr 27, 2012, 05.56 AMby Ralf Schmitz

    i love this skirt and i think that all your efforts put in show well and bring you a lovely result! Well done!

  • Forburda_large

    Apr 27, 2012, 01.45 AMby skeeler

    I adore this skirt. I was thinking about making side pleats on a skirt once, now I know to just do it… Also, I have that waist to hip ratio issue…maybe I just need to start using old patterns!

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