In Sewing

1944 mccall skirt – wearable muslin

I’m kicking off my Twelve Pattern Challenge with McCall 5557, a vintage pattern from 1944. I don’t wear skirts everyday, (I’m definitely making pants next!) but I need one for a WWII reenactment coming up at the end of the month in order to fill in a few costume gaps. After my first fitting attempt in muslin fabric, I knew I had a few changes to make to the pattern before I could call it mastered and move along to the next on my list.


The first harsh lesson I learned while working on this muslin is: I’m a really aggressive iron-er. I caused my muslin fabric to stretch so much while pressing the seams that the waist band didn’t even come close to fitting the skirt as it should, even after stay stitching the waist before hand. I tried on the skirt anyways and realized I preferred the stretched out fit better, and wanted to add some more wearing ease into the waist on my next attempt.


This six gore skirt has a total of six seams (one at each side and two in the front and back), each one with a 1/2 inch seam allowance as indicated by the original pattern. I changed the side seam allowance from 1/2 to 7/8ths in order to better accommodate a lapped zipper. After trying on my wearable muslin and deciding I wanted a tadΒ  more wiggle room, I also added one inch to the waist band. Rather than slash and spread each skirt piece to add an extra inch to the finished measurements, I decided to sew the remaining four seams at 3/8ths instead of 1/2 inch. Which, if I did my math right, would give me the total of one inch extra to the total width of the skirt.

I moved on from plain muslin fabric to some cheap navy blue cotton twill that was on sale at Jo-Ann Fabrics and put my pattern changes to the test. Once again, my aggressive pulling and pressing with the iron made my fabric stretch and I ended up having to take the four seams back in by 1/4th of an inch! After having a mini freak out and feeling utterly defeated (because my waistband, once again, didn’t match up with my skirt), and then receiving a pep talk from Tasha via text, I made it work!


My skirt fits!! Wahoo! There are still a few small changes I want to make as I put together my final skirt, but the overall fit is awesome. In my defense, I really think the cheap quality of the fabric contributes to its tendency to stretch out a lot under heat and steam. I’m still going to be extra careful on my final skirt though. If it weren’t for the mishap with the stretching I think my math and my pattern changes would have been perfect. I’ll find out soon…

So Let’s Recap:

  • Changes I made:
  • 1.) Changed the two side seams from a 1/2″ to a 7/8″ allowance to make room for a lapped zipper instead of snaps.
  • 2.) Added one inch to the waist band to bring the finished garment measurement from 24 to 25 inches.
  • 3.) Sewed a 3/8th inch seam allowance on the remaining four seams instead of 1/2 as the pattern instructs.
  • 4.) Used bias tape to bind all the raw seams instead of using pinking shears.
  • Changes still to make:
  • 1.) Use a 7 or 8 inch zipper instead of the 9 inch. I think the 9 inch looks WAY too long and I don’t need quite that much room. The pattern calls for a 7 inch zipper (which was a standard for 1940s skirts) but I’m technically a pear shape so I need a bit more room than that, and they did in fact have 9 inch zippers in the 40s, though Tasha very kindly assured me that I’m ridiculous and no one cares how long my zipper is haha!
  • 2.) Use interfacing in the waist band (I always am too lazy to bother forget to do it.)
  • 3.) Raise the hem an extra 1/2 inch
  • 4.) Use a smaller stitch length for stay stitching the waist of the skirt.
  • 5.) Use a button instead of a metal hook to close the waist tab? Hmm… I really like buttons.


Lessons Learned – Well other than learning I have a horrid tendency to pull things out of shape as I press seams open, I also realized I need to brush up on how to use hem tape/blind stitching to finish hems. I started hemming my skirt and then realized I forgot to baste and press under 1/2″ to gather the hem a bit before applying the hem tape. I also need to make sure I’m doing a really good job of blind stitching the hem so it will still hold up on a gentle cycle in the washing machine (I won’t wear it if I cant machine wash it). Finally I realized that taking the extra time to bind all the seams is worth it because it looks really nice!

Another lesson I learned while assessing my wardrobe wants and needs is I always add color to my wardrobe with wild prints. I need more solids in my wardrobe because my wildly printed separates don’t go together, but solids don’t always have to be black, navy, or khaki. After having a serious epiphany, I realized I can sew solids that are also fun colors! DUH! I know.


After considering all your wonderful suggestions from my last post, and realizing I wanted a solid non-boring color, I decided on a hunter green brushed twill for my final version of McCall 5557 (I also picked up some awesome rust colored corduroy but I think that will end up being a pair of pants so I’ll save that discussion for another post!).

The purpose of my Twelve Pattern Challenge is to take basic patterns, perfect the fit to the best of my ability, and then alter those basics to create variations of the same “perfect” pattern in order to create a handmade wardrobe I’ll actually love to wear. After my plain hunter green version I’m already scheming the possibilities for other versions! Like these two examples from Sears and Roebuck, Fall 1943.
skirtsFall1943I need pockets in my life.

I’ll be back soon with my finished skirt and some more, less boring, photos πŸ˜‰


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  • It looks good. And Tasha is right, no-one even notices the zipper πŸ˜‰
    I did wonder what size bias binding you used for the seams though?

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  • Stephanie

    Can you tell me more about these 40’s reenactments? I’d love to go to one. Where are they? Tha

  • Beautiful skirt! You did a good job. Just a tidbit of trivia….skirt “waists” are often about an inch larger than the waist band as the area they are to drap over – under your waist – is larger than your waist. You are meant to ease the skirt onto the waistband. Learned this from Clair Shaeffer in a couture sewing class when expressing a similar issue I experienced. Keep up with the beautiful garments.

    • Excellent Tip! I went back and measured the waist and you are absolutely right. I had measured the the hip of the pattern and not the waist because I assumed it was 24. It’s not! It’s exactly one inch bigger. Boy do I feel stupid, haha!

  • I am smiling as I am reading this post as I am so excited about your progress. Plus, it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who can iron like a crazy woman! The skirt looks fantastic and I agree with Tasha that no one will come up and measure your zipper for authenticity. Hee hee. Oh, those little details can really suck us in, can’t they?

    The skirt looks great and I think green was a great choice. With your pretty hair and features, you will look terrific! I love sewing with fun solids – hot pink, red, and teal count as ‘neutrals’ in my crazy handmade wardrobe πŸ™‚

  • Thanks for inspiration! I’ve allowed myself to copy your challenge – except that I only sew dresses. 12 dresses in 2014. You can find my challenge right here, if you’re interested:

    Kind regards,

  • Great colour choice for a classic, everyday vintage skirt style like this. Navy is every bit as versatile as black and, if you ask me, often packs more of a punch (in a good way!) because it’s not quite as common place, especially in this day and age.

    β™₯ Jessica

  • Jeanette

    Waist seams are notorious for stretching out like that since they are on the cross grain, especially if you are trying on the garment before attaching the waistband. I prefer to steam the bejeezus out of the seam, and then ease in any extra that the steam can’t shrink back out. I’m afraid that the seam will shrink back to its original size in the wash, so I don’t like to adjust at the seams or make the waistband bigger to account for the stretching. Double stay stitching and careful handling should go a long way to prevent excessive stretching though.

  • It’s looking great so far., although I feel your pain on stretching things out. And when waistbands (or neck bands or arm bands) don’t match up, I get really frustrated as well.

    I always aim for my muslins to be wearable, but usually they aren’t. This may have something to do with using the cheapest, fabric I can find of a similar weight, meaning the colours can be awful.

  • I love the green you’ve chosen! πŸ™‚

  • Kate

    Wow, that article on hemming is fantastic. Who knew that there were so many options?

    Rochelle, was that a lace binding that you used on your skirt hem? I’ve never seen that finish before.

    Great post on wearable muslins, I’m sure we are all being shamed in to making a muslin for the next pattern we attempt. It makes so much sense but, when I have beautiful fabric, I tend to just jump in and get cutting….and then try to make it fit afterwards.

  • I love that the length of the zipper makes it a style feature in itself. Maybe a press cloth would help with protecting your garment during construction- steam has great qualities for molding but it really can distort. I have a clapper too- that could help as it distances your iron from the fabric- you can steam above the fabric and press down with the clapper, just ideas!

  • Not boring photos at all! I really enjoy following your process.

    Kind regards,

  • Very timely, inspiring post! Your skirt will be ace after all this work you have put into it πŸ™‚
    I am struggling with skirts nowadays, I have stretching issues, waistband issues, and somehow they all come out too big….*sigh* Not to mention finding a flattering style.
    Those pocketed skirts look great, might try one of those πŸ˜‰

  • Ooh, it’s looking a little gorgeous! A lovely shape from all the seams, for sure πŸ™‚

  • Looking forward to seeing your finished skirt! Looking lovely already – I love your little details with the bound seams and lace…I have the tendency to rush things unless forced to slow down and add nice details – but if I do, I know I am always so much more delighted with the outcome. And I totally understand your problem with a lack of solid separates. I suffer this too, and am trying trying trying to overcome my need to sew everything in a beautifully printed fabric (that usually matches nothing else I own ;-))

  • Great progress, Rochelle! And thank you to Tasha for providing the link to the hems. That was a great read!

  • Cynthia

    I always cut my waistband extra long and then adjust it after I have it attached to the body of the skirt which I carefully fit using my dress form. I guess this is cheating but it keeps me from pulling my hair out.

    • Cynthia, I’m so glad you posted this. I didn’t want to sound like a total newbie at sewing, but because of all my frustrations with waist bands, I did exactly what you mention here to my last to skirts. I cut the waistband longer than needed and used my dress form to adjust it. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in using this method πŸ˜‰

  • That skirt looks lovely and not like a muslin at all.
    Did you know, you can just sew across the bottom higher up if you are not happy with the zipper length? and then cut the excess off. The machine will go through the teeth, just go slowly, Just a thought if you already have the zippers or if you want to change this one. Pretty easy fix. Not that I think there is anything wrong with the one you have, just sayin’ πŸ™‚

    • I’ve shortened zippers like that before but I don’t really prefer to. Just personal preference is all. I might have to with this project though! πŸ™‚

  • I just want to say that wearable muslin looks fantastic. I think the addition of a button on the tab would be a nice accent. Oh and I had a bit of a chuckle about your breakdown with the waistband not fitting. I don’t know how many times my husband to console me after I relized the waist band wasn’t fitting despite all my efforts. I totally understand your frustration ;). Keep up the good work, and looking forward to seeing the finished project.

    • Thank you! Yes I have a stash of lovely buttons that need to be used so I think I’ll go that route. Hooray for wonderful consoling husbands! πŸ™‚

  • sounds like you’re off to a great start! whever my pieces have stretched despite stay stitching, i just pull up on the bobin thread to ease it back into shape.

    • Good tip! I’ll keep that in mind, but hopefully I won’t have to this time πŸ˜‰

  • I’m super impressed and inspired by how dedicated and to the point you are being with your pattern work and sewing!
    Your wearable muslin is super fantastic, and I can’ wait to see the rest of the lovely garments you create this year.
    That rust colored corduroy is gorgeous, and I do think I need a couple yards of it.

    • Thank you so much! You definitely need some of this corduroy in your life. They have several other lovely colors too! πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

  • I love using buttons on my waist band! That’s how much I hate sewing on hooks and eyes. Plus I always have one or two leftover buttons from other projects that work perfectly for waist bands!

    • Yeah I’ve decided I hate hooks and eyes too haha! Buttons it is!

  • Love it! So happy that your master plan is off to a good start. ;Maybe a double line of staystitching or some sew-in interfacing would help prevent the stitching? I dunno – I sew knits! I am not the voice of experience here… Also, that rust corduroy is going to look fab with your hair – as will the green! Dammit, now I want auburn hair too!

    • Thanks, Gillian! Yeah I think I’ll go the extra safe route and do double stay stitching with a shorter stitch.

      Ps I think you would look lovely with Auburn hair!

  • Your lapped zipper looks so perfect! After reading this post I realize I’m guilty of being an aggressive iron-er too! I just made the Colette Zinnia skirt and the waist line on the skirt was over a full inch longer than the waistband…ack!! Your wearable muslin looks less like a muslin and more like an awesome skirt. I can’t wait to see the final one.

    • Thanks! I give full credit to Sunni’s free zipper class on Craftsy. It helped me SO much. Wish there was a class on how to chill out with the iron lol! …I think I need a heavier one.

  • Loved reading your progress and how you made the pre-final skirt still work for you. I’ve done this many times but just never blogged about it as candidly. heh

    I have to ask… are you sure it’s you and not the pattern? IE the skirt not fitting at the waistband. I’ve had some funky things happen with my vintage patterns sometimes and it could be the waistband piece not matching up to the skirt like it should. Just a thought. πŸ˜€

    • Thanks, Liz! As much as I’d like to blame it on the pattern pieces I did measure them and they’re the right size. The lengths are a little off and I had to square up the corners on a few but the width seems okay! I just need to relax with the steam lol

      • heh It was worth a shot. πŸ™‚ I once made up a 40’s day dress pattern that ended up looking almost nothing like the original line drawing: small ease at bust ended up being like 12 inches of extreme puffiness and the too-large-for-me waistband pattern piece was like 4 inches too small. It was crazy.

  • Wow, I am impressed with all the time and care you are putting into this. Your next version is going to be perfect, I can feel it! πŸ™‚ And that zipper looks niceeee!

    I’m totally drooling over your new fabric. I have been on a pastel kick for a while and I think I OD’ed because for some reason I woke up and decided that I don’t like pastels anymore. Of course, all of my fabric purchases have been pastel, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do haha

    • I think pastels look great on you!! They’re a nice contrast to your dark hair. Jewel tones would be awesome too though! Wish we could go fabric shopping together.

  • Oh I love the waistband tab! The patch pockets are super cool, I’ve been wanting to do some similar to the left hand picture for a while! What beautiful colours too! I almost bought that rust fabric the other day. Hmmm. Now I may have to.

    I’ve got to say, I am totally excited to see your 12 Pattern challenge. I can completely relate to the need to up your game so to speak, and work on immaculate fit in the garments you make. I’m such a lazy seamstress, but then in the end I don’t love what I have made. So here’s to better garments in 2014! (it’s still easrly enough in January I can say that right? πŸ˜‰ )

    • Yes, here’s to better sewing in 2014! You should definitely get some of the corduroy πŸ˜‰

  • Wow such a talent ! Or perseverance..? πŸ™‚

  • Oh wow, what an interesting patch pocket on those two, looks like they were sewn in with the gores maybe! (And that buckle-y thing on the one on the right…!)

    You are so cute and I’m so glad you finally got your wearable muslin wearable! I love how you closed it with that tab, it would be a great place to show off a big awesome vintage button (or two little ones on top of one another). I love the color on your green and rust fabrics. I think rusty corduroy would be a great wardrobe staple. And before it got too big I wore my hunter green A-line all the time. So two thumbs up!

    Also, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, and it may be exactly how you’re doing your hem, but these vintage instructions are the BEST I’ve read for how to do an A-line hem and deal with the ease and all that jazz. I was even planning a tutorial with my own take on this last year but that never happened. lol If it’s the same as what you do, ignore me, but maybe someone else will see this link and find it useful. πŸ˜‰

    • Oooo that hem page has everything!!! You’re the best. Thank you <3

      I see gore pockets in my future for sure πŸ˜‰