Saturday, January 3, 2009

The 1952 Poodle Skirt - Making A List, Checking It Twice

For a piece of apparel so closely tied to the 1950s, it's sure been hard to find an original photo of a poodle skirt from that era through a Google images search. I've found plenty from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, but nearly none from the heyday of this circle skirt, which was typically made up in wool felt and embellished with the leggy, poofy poodle. What you see above is from a Simplicity ad from that time, a bit of a disappointment since I'm really interested in seeing the different iterations of this skirt as rendered by thousands of Americans. Besides, I'm teaching a class on how to make this classic item.

Honestly, I've never owned or made a poodle skirt in the short amount of time I've spent on Earth, but I like its straightforwardness - it strikes me as a fail-proof project since it's made completely out of felt. Raw edges don't need to be finished, and any mistakes can be covered with more fabric. Probably the trickiest part of this sewing adventure would be inserting a zipper. Other than that, this project is microwave-oven-easy. The best part? The applique. Gosh, you could go utterly bumper-car beserk. Scotties and daschunds besides the abovementioned canine were all the rage back in the doo-wop era, sewers also embellished their works of arts with palm trees and decks of cards. Steph McGrath over at Columbia College's study collection just received an original felt skirt decorated with carousel ponies. Some were also adorned with silvery telephones and vinyl records surrounded by the words "See ya later, alligator, " according to this site.

These custom skirts never caught on with the adult crowd
, but it looks like in the revival, it's been trendy with all groups, even toddlers. Heck, now it's even a go-to Halloween costume, of course, associated with the neck scarf, bobby socks, a pair of black-and-white saddle shoes, a pony tail, a blouse with your initial, a wad of gum in the mouth, a saucy attitude worthy of an Ed Debevic's waitress. It seems to me the first revival came with Olivia Newton John in "Grease" and then again with "Happy Days," the television show.

For those of you who've made a poodle skirt, what's been the secret to your success beyond having a huge table to cut out more than 4 yards of felt? Here's the supply list I have thus far created for making this classic skirt on a Viking Husqvarna sewing machine (the machine of choice in the Vogue Fabrics classroom) and sewing patterns available at the store.
-- Butterick 4113 or 4114 (I'm slightly annoyed that the web site doesn't give yardage information, which means I will have to actually look at the patterns. Right now, I'm extrapolating necessaries supplies from Simplicity 3706, which I own.)
- 4 5/8 yards of 54" to 72" inches of felt (I'm going with the largest measurement in the event that students miscut or have wider-than-usual waistlines. By the way, did you know that companies used to offer poodle skirt kits? Did you know that one way to identify an original skirt is by the fabric? Sewers then were lucky to have access to large swaths of 100 percent wool felt; now, most sewers use a wool/poly blend.*)
- 1 1/4 yard of 22" to 25" lightweigh fusible interfacing
- pair of scissors or rotary cutter
- pins
- 90/14 Schmetz needles
-Gutterman or Mettler thread (I personally prefer these since they hold up better than their counterparts, I've found).
- 3/4 yard of 54" to 72" inch felt or one 9" x 12" piece of felt and 1/4 yard of 1/4" wide ribbon for dogs' collars)

Any other thoughts on what my students might need for this workshop besides a lot of gumption? Who do you think my class will appeal to, mostly teens just like it back in 1952? I'm asking all participants to dress up in vintage clothes for a contest. Best-dressed gets a prize (a bag of sewing goodies, drawn from my own stash) and a picture posted on the Vogue Fabrics site. I'm going to decked out too, so I hope people sign up. It should be a ton and half of fun. If you live in the Chicago area (the workshop is at the Evanston store), sign up for a few hours of fun on a Sunday afternoon. By the way, if you've made a poodle skirt and you want to show it off, feel free to leave a link to a photo in the comments.
* Here are some online sources for 100 percent wool felt, suitable for hat-making and other small projects, but not quite enough for a poodle skirt!


Jeannine said...

I have to make one for a costume for my daughters middle school play. any suggestions? Want cheap and easy. Thought of using cheap "keds" style tennis shoes and coloring in a "saddle" pattern to make cheap saddle shoes.

the_lazymilliner said...

Well, the poodle skirt is best for a school play. No sewn edges! Made out of craft felt, it's hard to beat, Jeannine. Go to Jo-Ann Fabrics with your 40 percent off coupon and you'll be on your way to one thrifty costume.

simonewarrior said...

I found your page very intriguing and enjoyed it very much. On first mention fo how difficult you found it trying to find pictures of poodle skirts online, I would have to agree. I found yours when I did a search mainly cause I need to make a poodle skirt for my daughter for her 5o's theme party at school. Don't know if this it too late in the game but I found the following websites with personl picters of ladies wearing their gorgeous poodle skirts back in the 50's.

Thanks again for posting!