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It must be the bane of every working Mom’s existence when a child comes home from school in need of a costume. Like she needs one more thing to do! Having bypassed those obligations myself, it makes me happy that my personal interest in clothes (read: sickness) can occasionally help someone in that situation, as was the case twice recently.

When I learned that my friend Jennifer was looking for a poodle skirt for her daughter, I was thrilled to remove something from her already crowded to-do list! Jennifer runs herself ragged taking care of her family and working long hours. I insisted that she let me make it because: a) it sounded fun b) I love Jennifer and, by extension, her daughter Autumn who is light and air, and c) helping someone else with their clothes seemed like the healthy side of an unhealthy relationship with clothes.

Autumn 2 Every girl should have at least one poodle skirt in her life. Here’s Autumn, wearing the iconic 1950s skirt. I like the glitzy, sequined leash she chose for her poodle.

As her costume designer, I snagged an invite to her spring concert and got to see her swirl on stage in it. Extra payola: Autumn loaned me her American Girl doll (coincidentally named Crystal) as a model for an 18-inch doll’s flapper dress. I’m making one to give away later this month as a celebratory nod to the opening of The Great Gatsby. Stay tuned, if you have an American Girl enthusiast in the family!

In April, I also had a call from a mother in search of a Carole Brady-ish costume for her daughter. (For those too young to know, Carole Brady was the Mom played by Florence Henderson on the 1970s TV show, The Brady Bunch.) I had just the thing for her daughter Aubrey and offered to give it away. There’s not a lot of demand for 1970s double-knit dresses, even among the most serious vintage aficionados. I knew I’d never sell it anyway.

When they stopped by to pick it up, Aubrey’s mother brought a mink-trimmed pillbox hat as a trade! Aubrey is a charming little girl and I could have adopted her right on the spot.

Aubrey used the dress for a classroom presentation on Florence Henderson. Here she is, channeling Carole Brady!

Let me share a little secret about making poodle skirts.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of online tutorials will tell you that making one is as simple as: 1) measuring your waist and your desired length, 2) folding your fabric in half and then in half again, 3) dividing your waist measurement by Pi (3.14) and dividing that product by two to get the radius. From there, they say, it’s simply a matter of using a tape/string to draw a curved line from the point of your fold to an edge the length of the radius. That makes the waist—or so they say. From that point, you measure the length of your skirt plus any hem allowance you want.

What’s wrong with the formula?

Unfortunately, that oft repeated formula does not account for one important thing: fabric is fluid. It has drape and bias. If you follow the formula, you’ll have an opening that’s way too big and tough to alter.

My advice

Always start much smaller than you think and continue to fit until you have the waist just right. Even with my rudimentary skills, it was really very easy to make once I caught on.

How rewarding it was to share my interest in vintage clothes with another generation! I’d do that again in a heartbeat. What’s your most favorite costume ever?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.