The murky depths of my fabric stash…

After last year’s stash diet, I’m pleased to say that my fabric collection is back under control. I’ve set myself a rule, which is that I must not buy more fabric than I can manage to sew! I make an average of just over one garment a month, so I’ve restricted myself to buying just one new length of fabric a month. That leaves me some slack to work through my stash, and to do a bit of scrapbusting on the side.

Yesterday, I got the whole pile out and and tried to work out what’s been in there the longest. I pulled out three pieces that I’m calling the lurkers – fabric from the murky depths I’ve had for more than two years, and that I haven’t yet decided what to do with. I’m hoping you can help me with some suggestions!

Lurker number one

P1170385

This is my oldest piece – it’s from my Grannie’s stash, which I acquired in 2012, but she probably picked it up decades ago in a remnant sale at a woollen mill. It’s a heavy navy blue wool tweed, and astoundingly, it was even made in England. There’s not enough for a coat, so I’m wondering about a jacket of some kind?

Width: 140cm

Length: 1.46m

Lurker number two

P1170392

I bought this embroidered border denim in a pile-it-high fabric shop in Cheltenham two years ago, and it’s been there ever since. It’s not the best quality denim, but the main worry is that I’ve never worked with a border print/embroidered border before – how do I deal with the grainline? And how do I stop a garment made from this looking too, ummm… cowgirl?

With 150cm

Length: 1.5m

Lurker number three

P1170399

This one has definite possibilities. It’s a heavy-ish wool crepe (yup, I did the burn test) of some kind that I bought at the Worcester Resource Exchange. I’d originally planned to make a Hollyburn skirt, but I don’t think there’s quite enough for my favourite knee-length version. Can you recommend a less fabric-hungry skirt pattern?

Width 146cm

Length: 1.4m

So there they are. How would you use any of these? And what’s lurking in the Mariana Trench of your stash?

My first me-made jeans

P1160184

This has been a long time coming, but my first-ever pair of Ginger jeans is finished. And boy, am I pleased with the results!

I’ve been after a pair of high-waisted flared jeans for ooh, about forever. And I finally gave in and decided I was going to have to make them myself.

The fabric is a lovely, soft, true blue stretch denim that I bought from Guthrie & Ghani last year in just the right weight/stretch combination for this pattern. One word of warning – if you’re long-legged, want to try the flared adaptation, or are planning to use extra large seam allowances to help with fitting, then buy more fabric than the skinny-legged Gingers pattern suggests. The cutting layout isn’t all that flexible because the denim has to be laid a certain way to prevent the legs twisting. I had 2.5m of 60″/150cm wide denim and that was only just, just enough.

For the pocket stay and waistband facing I used a polka dot Sevenberry cotton lawn in teal, also from Guthrie & Ghani, leftover from these Thurlow trousers.

P1160203

Fitting alterations

The fitting process has turned into a real quest for me. I began sewing all those years ago because high street trousers didn’t fit – and having gone through this process I now know why! I must have taken them on and off at different stages of construction at least twenty times, so if you can spend a whole day sewing in just your underwear (!) you’ll probably get them finished a lot faster than I did.

I started with the size 16 to fit my 43″ hips, and graded down to a 14 at the waist at the same time as flaring the legs from the knee. I then lengthened the crotch depth by 1″ and also checked the total inside leg against my own measurements. These are my standard alterations for any pattern, and I usually find it’s fine to make these straight on the pattern without doing a toile/muslin first.

Taking a tip from Pants for Real People, I also enlarged the seam allowances to 1″ rather than 5/8″ at the inseams and outseams before cutting out to give me plenty of room for alterations. This was a complete lifesaver – and you should absolutely do this if you’re about to cut into good fabric for your first pair.

The first, second and third fittings showed up lots of issues, so I then also made the following adjustments, one at a time:

  1. Let out the inseam and outseam along the thigh by 1/4″
  2. Lowered the back crotch only by 3/4″ (in 3-4 stages)
  3. Made the front crotch seam shallower by 1/4″
  4. Let out the inseams from the knee downwards to make room for my large calves
  5. Re-cut the yoke with more curve (effectively putting darts in the pattern to make it narrower at the top)
  6. Steamed the waistband like crazy with the iron to give that more curve and trimmed it shorter (I’d run out of fabric by this point and was trying to avoid piecing it)
  7. Sewed the back leg/yoke seam with a wider allowance at the centre back, reverting to the ordinary seam allowance at the side seams – this helped deal with my swayback
  8. Took a big wedge out of the side seams at the top hip, effectively grading down to a size 10 there.*
  9. Yanked up the centre back so it sits further into the waistband, and the same with the centre front
  10. Oh, and I fiddled endlessly with the back pocket placement to see if I could manage to disguise my low seat!

I discovered I have what Pants for Real People creepily describes as a ‘crotch oddity’, in that I’m low in the back and high in the front. If this is you, you’ll notice that your RTW trousers always seem to either drag down at the back or disappear into your bum crack, yet you might also have some weird puffiness in the front crotch.

I didn’t have wide enough seam allowances to make the front crotch seam as shallow as I wanted, but it’s good enough – and I’ll know for next time.

*You can’t really tell in these pictures, but my right leg is around 1.5cm shorter than my left, and my pelvis is also smaller on the right side. This means I make side seam alterations unevenly, taking slightly more from the right side than the left. Plus I ended up placing the back pockets by eye, rather than using the pattern markings, so that everything looks more balanced and even.

Construction

Compared with the fitting, construction was – almost – a breeze. Heather’s instructions (I used the E-Book) are clear and logical, so it doesn’t feel as daunting as you might expect. You absolutely can make jeans.

My Janome DKS30 didn’t much like doing dense stitching with topstitching thread through multiple layers. It really hated backstitching and bar tacks through more than 3 layers. If you have the same problem it’s worth buying a regular thread in the same colour as your topstitching thread and trying the bar tacks with that instead. I did this on the belt loops and it made things easier – it worked better than switching stitches, or changing needles. I also did a fair amount of the backstitching using just the hand wheel, and avoided the automatic thread cutter. Next time I might get my vintage Singer 201K out for the topstiching, although she doesn’t have a zig zag stitch, so I won’t be able to use her for the bar tacks.

What my machine does have that helped a lot, is a small black button on the presser foot which fixes the angle of the presser foot, even when you’re starting at a thick edge. This meant I got away without using a hump jumper.Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 12.18.28

You press the black button as you lower the foot (it does help if you have three hands), and then begin sewing as normal. The presser foot will stay level even if you go over a hump, and *should* hold a fairly even stitch.

I used my overlocker (serger) to finish the seam allowances for speed, but it protested at anything more than three layers of denim, so I also employed the overedge stitch on my ordinary sewing machine. This is a really secure way to finish fraying fabrics, and it comes into its own when you don’t want to cut anything off – for example if you’re going to use that edge to line up something else.

P1160201
They’re wearing well so far – this was after I’d had them on for a few hours

The Prym rivets and jeans button kits I bought did turn out to be partially plastic, but they’re holding up well so far. (I’m probably going to live in these jeans for the next month or so, and the proof will be in how much pudding I can eat in them!)

The rivets were really fun to put in, and the only casualty was one of my thumbnails which accidentally took a battering when I got distracted by the doorbell…Can any UK sewists recommend a good source of metal ones for me?

If you’ve been hesitating about sewing jeans, I’ll be honest with you. No, it’s not as quick as a skirt or as easy as a jersey top.

It’s way more satisfying.

P1160186
I didn’t much feel like being photographed today, but Wispa wanted to put her bottom on the internet – even from this angle.

Project Ginger Jeans – the fitting

Update: Since I first published this post on 21 January, I’ve made two sets of adjustments to the original fit. I’ve added pictures and info from the second and third fittings to this post, to keep all the fitting info together.

Earlier this week, I finally got around to cutting out my first ever pair of handmade jeans. I ended up crawling around on the floor underneath our dining table because I had to cut in a single layer, and that’s the only place I could lay the whole thing out. My knees haven’t forgiven me yet.

Then I almost ran out of fabric because I’ve already made a few flat alterations to the pattern. I used the tutorial in the Closet Case Files E-book on sewing jeans to convert the original skinny/stovepipe leg pattern into a flared version. (You can now buy the flared version as a pattern expansion, but I opted to save  $7+printing+sticking hassle and do it myself – it wasn’t tricky.)

I graded from a 16 at the hip to a 14 at the waist, and added 1″ to the crotch depth. Lastly, I enlarged the inseam and side seam allowances by a further 3/8″ to give me a full 1″ of wiggle room for adjusting everything.

p1150519
You can see here I’ve blended two sizes to use the larger one at the hip and the smaller one at the waist.

The fabric is a stretch denim I bought in Guthrie & Ghani last May. It’s a medium weight with roughly 2% spandex, as recommended for this pattern.

I cut everything out and basted the basic pieces together using a really long stitch length (5.0 on my Janome). Special thanks to Alex, who reminded me to staystitch first. This is mentioned in the pattern, but not in the part about basting/fitting, so I would definitely have forgotten otherwise.

First fitting

So, onto fitting. Jeez, this might turn out to be a long haul. (Front, side and back views in the picture right at the top – please excuse the poor lighting, it’s been so gloomy in Worcestershire recently!) I figured I might as well share the fitting process in all its gory detail.

Problem number one is that they’re too narrow through the thigh, so the crotch of the jeans can’t currently sit in the right place. In the back view you can see the horizontal wrinkles across the back of my thigh and knee area, showing it’s too tight here, so I’m going to let the inseams out from just below the knee up to the crotch seam. And from the side, you can see the side seam is pulling towards the front at mid-thigh level, which I *think* means I should let out the front thigh a little more than the back.

After this first fitting, I let out the front and back inseams by 1/8″ each. That wasn’t quite enough so I also let out the side seams by the same amount – just from crotch level down to the hem.

That gave me a better fit on the legs. However, the crotch seam still wasn’t sitting quite high enough and after some wriggling around I determined that the thing dragging it down was my bottom!

To fix that without liposuction, I lowered the back crotch only by 1/4″. This also increases the overall length of the back crotch seam so it’s sitting better all the way up to top hip level now. At the front there were some weird horizontal lines appearing, and there seemed to be too much room in the lower front crotch area, so I also straightened the front crotch seam – making it shorter in the process. (In one fitting guide, this is labelled a ‘receded pubis adjustment’ – which sounds like a really painful operation but it’s actually pretty easy to do if you left enough seam allowance.)

Second fitting

Here they are after those adjustments. Looking better, I hope you’ll agree.

I’m fairly happy with the fit through the crotch and the thighs now, although I’m debating whether to take the adjustments from the first fitting a teensy bit further to try to improve the fit even more.

What needs looking at now is the top hip and waistband area. The front crotch depth is still a smidgen too long, so I’m going to lop a little off the centre front at the top. To fix the gaping at the back, I need to take a wedge out of the yoke piece, maybe a little out of the side seams above the crotch, and then re-draft the waistband so it fits my contours better. Phew!

Third fitting

So since the second fitting I’ve lowered the back crotch by a further 1/4″, let out the back inseam by another 1/8″ and added darts in the back yoke and the waistband to fix the gaping at the back. I’ve taken 1/2″ off the centre of the front crotch depth and a smile-shaped horizontal wedge out across the back – effectively a flat seat adjustment. I also remembered to put shoes on for this fitting to see how they’ll really look.

The fit across the back waist is much better, it’s not gaping or standing away from my top hip area now. The bubble in the front crotch has gone, but it’s been replaced by some diagonal lines that I thought I’d got rid of after the first fitting indicating that the front crotch is too short. The back thigh actually looks tighter than it did at the last fitting, even though I’ve let it out so that needs to come out a bit more again (which might also fix the front diagonal wrinkes, too). And the back view now also reveals a problem I haven’t talked about until now, which is that my right hip is around 1″ lower than my left due to some differences in my leg length and pelvis size. I think I can correct this with a small adjustment to the outseam and the waistband height at the final fitting.

So, armed with the knowledge on what I need to do, and running out of seam allowance to make many more adjustments, I think it’s on to the actual sewing. The pockets, pocket stay and fly will take some of the room out of the front crotch, and I can tweak the leg seams a little along the way. So my plan is to sew them up very gradually, checking the fit several more times as I go. Wish me luck!

What’s on my sewing table?

Pattern grading square, tape measure, french curve and pencil

I’ve finally decided to knuckle down to the Ginger jeans that have been on my list for 18 months, so I’m knee-deep in tracing paper, fitting guides, masking tape and pins.

New trouser patterns always bring out a few nerves because it can be a pretty tedious process running up two or three toiles/muslins to try to get the fit right. But here I’m working with stretch denim (2% elastane, decent quality, pre-washed twice – I’m being good). So how the heck do you successfully toile a pair of jeans without purchasing double, triple or quadruple the amount of fabric you actually need?

As far as I can tell, there are three options:

  1. Give tissue fitting a go. (This pattern has negative ease at the hips, so I’m not sure how this works in tissue…)
  2. Cut the seam allowances extra wide and try to pin fit the real thing
  3. Make up the real thing and just cross my fingers it comes out as a wearable muslin rather than a complete nightmare.

Which would you do?

Alteration station

My latest project is nearly finished (another School Days Jacket for my son) and it’s time to face up to my alterations pile again. There’s a distinct theme this month… denim.

P1100433 (1)

I don’t enjoy alterations and repairs much. Yes, you get some satisfaction from extending the life of a garment that would otherwise have had to go, but I’m never 100% happy with the results. Plus there’s always a sneaking suspicion that another seam (or knee, or crotch!) might go through at any minute and you’ll have to do it all over again.

Were I taking part in The Great British Sewing Bee, I’d definitely be most scared of the alteration challenge – I would absolutely struggle to convert a wetsuit into a dress or a shirt into a pirate costume. I need the support of a pattern, Pinterest and some fabric browsing to generate ideas for my sewing.

How do you get on with alterations? Are you a contented seamstress, happy to be useful and helping others repair their clothes? Or would you far rather be doing some selfish sewing on a project of your choosing?

And what tips would you give me for getting on with my mending?