Saturday, April 1, 2017

Floral vintage curtain into paper-bag waist skirt

Hello everyone,
A while back I found a vintage cotton curtain from a secondhand store.

It's Finnish design from the 1970s or the 1980s, I don't know for sure because apparently there were different color variations of this print and some of them were produced in the 70s and some in the 80s. But either way, the curtain is 30-40 years old, which is really cool! Parts of the backside were sun-bleached (apparently from where it had been exposed to sunlight while hanging over a window), but the right side of the fabric was flawless. I pre-washed it and the colors were still perfectly vibrant and the fabric altogether seemed sturdy and unharmed by time and sunlight.

I wanted to make the curtain into a garment, but I didn't want to cut into the print too much, and I wanted to preserve the selvages at the sides where the name of the designer is written. I haven't had many chances to sew with real vintage fabrics and I felt like it would be blasphemy to slice the fabric too much and make it into something too modern. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I felt like I wanted to make this into something that would be worthy of the fabric.

So I decided to make it into a pleated paper-bag waist skirt. I got my inspiration from this post on Burda Style. I decided that I could easily keep the original selvages and make them into the hem of the skirt, and so I could use the fabric in pretty large pieces and keep the print intact.

So I cut the curtain in half parallel to the selvages. (I am aware that this makes the print run sideways on the skirt, but no one can tell when the garment is finished...)

I don't think I've ever been this scared of cutting into any fabric before. There was a nagging voice in my head telling me that if I failed this project somehow, it would be a waste of a vintage fabric that I probably wouldn't be able to find anywhere ever again... And even if the fabric wasn't that expensive for authentic retro (25€ for 135 x 170cm / 53x67" piece), I was afraid that I wouldn't do it justice somehow. True vintage fabric deserves to be made into something awesome, and I was afraid I was going to mess it up.

I trimmed the ends a bit so the fabric was in three pieces, one of them 110cm (~43") wide and the other two 65cm (~25.5") wide. All three pieces were 67cm (~26.5") tall, or half the curtain width.

Then I cut a long piece of slippery lining fabric that was as wide as all of the curtain pieces together (240cm / 94.5") and 5cm (~2") shorter than the curtain pieces.

Before attaching the curtain pieces together at the sides, I added pocket bags so I could have pockets between the pieces.

(The fabric of the pockets is another piece of vintage fabric I had lying around, it's one of the scrap pieces I got from my grandma-in-law in 2015. The piece was too small to make a whole garment so it became pockets for my skirt.)

I then sewed the side seams so the skirt was one very wide piece with pockets in the seams.

(In the above picture you can see what I meant by the "sun-bleached" parts visible on the wrong side of the fabric. But luckily it didn't have an effect on the right side of the fabric.)

I took the black lining fabric and the skirt pieces, and placed them right sides together and sewed along both of the long edges, leaving the short ends open. As the lining was shorter than the curtain fabric, when I ironed the piece the curtain fabric folded under by an inch both at the top and the bottom. I then had a fully lined skirt piece that was 240cm (94.5") wide and 62cm (~24.5") tall with neat, crisp edges at the top and the bottom and no raw edges visible anywhere except for the ends. So essentially, I had hemmed both the top and the bottom at the same time with minimal effort (the original selvages are still at the hemmed bottom, just hidden).

The next step was to mark and sew 5cm (2") wide inverted pleats along the top edge of the skirt. I made mine so that I sewed the pleats together lengthwise at the center of the pleat. Usually you sew across the pleat to keep in in place, but in this case I wanted the pleat to start 3cm (~1.2") from the top edge to get the paper-bag waist effect and I didn't want any horizontal seams or stitches at the waist.

Here I've sewn the pleats, but not yet ironed the "loops" on the backside into pleats. The yellow dashed lines indicate where I've sewn the pleats together on the wrong side of the fabric.

I ironed the backside of the waist into pleats and pinned them so they stayed in place:

I top-stitched the pleats into place with a staight stitch running down on both sides of every seam I made in the previous step:

So then I had a "waistband" that was pleated so the pleats open up 3cm above where the skirt sits at the waist, and no seams or stitches across the waist at all. This creates a kind of a paper-bag aesthetic, even though paper-bag waist garments are more often gathered than pleated. (But I prefer pleats to gathers, so that's why I chose pleating.)

(Spot the cat hair... they are everywhere these days :D)

I closed the back seam and left a slit for a zipper.

I sewed in the (secondhand) zipper...

...and the skirt was done!

(Pockets! ^_^)

The full lining prevents the skirt from clinging onto tights or legs, and it also makes for a super neat finish at the hem:

(Also, cat hair... *sigh*)

I am very happy with how this turned out. I feel like the result is "worthy" of the amazing vintage fabric.

What do you think? :)

Satu / Sew Scoundrel


  1. Wow. I found your blog about 2 weeks ago, and I read almost all of it (the sewing part). It is incredible what you can do with a sewing machine... You truly are an inspiration.

  2. Hello,

    I am trying to make a similar skirt (no lining) but I am a beginner sewer. For your pleats, what kind of pleats would you say they are? I've seen so many different types of pleats and am trying to figure out how to do them. Also, for making the pleats, did you do them in a way so the final width equalled your waist width? Did you do this by eye or with measurements? Please let me know. I love so many of the things you create, just need a bit more guidance as a novice. Thanks!

    1. Oh wow, thanks blogger for not emailing me about new comments. Sorry, I only noticed this now!
      The pleats are made like box pleats, but instead of sewing across the pleat, you sew the center of the pleat together vertically at the backside. It looks like it forms a "loop" at the back this way, you can kind of see it in one of the photos. Then you iron the "loop" flat and top-stitch on both sides of the vertical seam to attach it to the front? Does that make sense; I feel like it's really hard to explain, sorry! I measured the pleats so they would be approximately my waist circumference at the end.