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May 31, 2011

Ten things I learned making a 1940's midriff

Friends, no matter what I'm sewing -- or for whom -- I try to learn something.  Cathy's 1940's midriff outfit was no different.  While the pattern, which dates from 1947, wasn't complicated, my version did present a few challenges. 

First, the print fabric I purchased was very cheap-looking (and rough) compared to the cotton sateen sheet, so to tie the two together I decided to make the midriff top reversable, basically lining the cotton print with the blue sateen.

Basically, I stitched the two layers together (right sides together) along their outer edges (making sure they were aligned) and then turned the top right-side-out through the kimono sleeve opening.   It's essentially the same turning method one would use for a shirt collar. 

Since the two layers were separate except for their outer edges, I topstitched along the turned outer edge (again, as one would a shirt collar) to keep the layers in place.  I also stitched the shoulder seams together by stitching "in the ditch" atop the seam.

In both cases, I wanted blue thread on the blue side and white thread on the print side, and I did this -- as you can guess -- by using two different color threads: blue in my needle and white in my bobbin.

I was going to finish the sleeve with bias tape cut from the blue sateen, but decided I could get the same result by simply folding the edge over twice and stitching.  The blue side would thereby remain completely blue, and the printed side would have a neat blue edge.

This looks nice on the finished garment, and the two layers of fabric give the top more weight and drape.  (The wrong side of the cotton print itself is ugly, btw.)

Cathy wore shoulder pads -- the biggest shoulder pads I could find -- and since I knew I'd be reversing the top during the shoot, these were taped to her shoulders!

The shorts were the easiest part to make.  They close with a side zipper and I actually created a lapped zipper fly almost identical to the type you'd find on mens jeans, with a fly shield and everything. 

Otherwise they're just high-riding boxers with two back darts and two front pleats.

The skirt caused the most headaches.  The fabric didn't have quite as much drape as I would have liked, for one thing.  And I misjudged the fit.  Fearing it would be too small, I halved the depth of the tucks, only to have to add an additional tuck (the pattern calls for two, I ended up with three) on either side to compensate.

Then, after adding the waistband, it still felt too big.  Cathy doesn't have much of a hip curve below her true waist to hold the skirt up, the way most women do, so the waistband had to fit perfectly but not be too tight.  And since the skirt buttons up the center, with mirror-image tucks in front, you can't simply move a front button to make it tighter.

I ended up adding a strip of elastic to the back to give it slightly better grip.  A little "make-shift" but it worked.  Two small squares of fashion tape helped keep the skirt waistband from sliding below the shorts waistband in both front and back.  I love that stuff.

In an ideal world, the buttonholes would be bound, and the buttons would be more closely spaced together.  The space between the top button and the second button happened to sit right on Cathy's belly and I used a little fashion tape to minimize gaping.  Live and learn!


I finally mastered stitching in the ditch on a waistband.  I sewed the waistband right sides together on the outside, folded the waistband over to the inside, and folded under the inside seam allowance ever so slightly below the first stitch line.

I then stitched just under the fold on the outside seam -- it's basically invisible -- catching the (folded-under) inside edge.  This way you know whatever happens on the inside of the waistband (puckering, etc.), the outside waistband will look smooth.  Does that make sense?

Here's a photo of the inside waistband -- it bunches here and there but thick cotton sometimes does that; a waistband has a slight curve:

And the outside:

Friends, we're out of time.  Thank you all so much for the lovely comments you left regarding Cathy's navy-themed photo shoot yesterday.  She was terribly flattered!

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. I'm de-lurking! Purely to say that I am a huge Cathy fan and she is looking as glamorous as ever. Plus, as always, your construction techniques are the standard that I aspire to. Keep up the good work!

  2. Fantastic! I love the behind the seams on construction :)

  3. I'm super impressed with the flawless stitching in the ditch. I would have forgotten to change my contrast bobbin thread for matching for sure..

  4. This is totally off subject but relates to a post of more than a month ago. Everywhere I go, every magazine I pick up, every catalog I peruse has men wearing trousers above their ankles. You called the trend first.

  5. You are such a perfectionist! It's a great trait, but a real pain to those we love, yes? I'll re-do things over while everyone just shakes their head and wonders about me.
    Beautiful outfit!

  6. I think you did a great job, however, I am probably in the minority, I actually do not like this outfit, or the fabric. Apart from that your sewing techniques are not only educational as usual, but love the lessons you share.

  7. I'm loving that skirt!! You did a fab job on it.

  8. A bit of elastic stitched at the waist reinforces most of my skirts and pants waistbands since, like Cathy's, my waist and hip measurements are pretty well identical. Curved side seams on the waistband help a bit, but if there is give in the fabric I just sigh for lost youth and add the elastic, usually at the side seams. If I stitch carefully in a straight line it's almost invisible from the outside. (Well that's what I think; maybe it's just that my eyesight isn't what it was just like my waistline!)

  9. Adorable Peter! You are such a good seamster! Cathy is so lucky. I can't believe you "whipped" this up in no time!

  10. I am so behind on posts, but I LOVE this! Great job to you and to Cathy for modeling.


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