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?

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How to make trousers that fit: part 4

It’s toile time! Bring on the muslin mania! (Seriously, who actually enjoys this part?) After part 3, where we made some basic fitting adjustments and sewed up the toile, you’re now ready to try it on and see how it looks.

Here’s how to go about it.

First, get the crotch in the right place. The central crotch seam – where you’ve got a cross-shape as the four key pieces meet – should be directly underneath you, and relatively close-fitting so that it can (but doesn’t always) touch whatever you’re wearing underneath. If you’re large of thigh like me, there’s a real chance you’ll have to rip open some seams to do this, so this is why those extra-deep seam allowances were a great idea. If you’re slim-waisted, you might need pins or elastic to hold your toile up.

Once you’ve got the crotch seam in the right place start by assessing the crotch depth – the vertical waist-crotch distance. It’ll be easier to assess this at the front than the back. If you checked and adjusted the crotch depth in part 3 it should be very close to perfect. If it needs fixing, do that, and if needed, make another muslin before you alter anything else.

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My first toile for the Thurlow trousers needed more length adding to the crotch depth.

Once you’re happy with the crotch depth, you can turn your attention to the crotch length. Look at the length of the seam that runs around the body from the centre front, between your legs and up to the centre back.

If the trousers look as though they’re trying to disappear up your bum, then you need more length in the back crotch. If you’ve got excess fabric top to bottom at the centre back seam but the crotch and waist are both sitting in the right place, then you need to reduce the back crotch length. If you have ‘smile wrinkles’ emanating from the front crotch area (!), but the hip and waist are in the right place at the side seams, then your front crotch length is too short. Again, if you need to make one of these adjustments do it before fiddling with anything else, and you might need to make another muslin before moving on. For more pictures and examples, I recommend this excellent post from A Fashionable Stitch on crotch length adjustments.

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My second toile needed more length in the back crotch seam.

Crotch depth and crotch length are the two critical fit issues for trousers. After that, it starts to feel similar to fitting a pencil skirt or a sheath dress. Your best strategy is to schedule a quiet hour in front of the mirror and play around with some pins, elastic and a willing fellow sewist or failing that, a camera. (That doesn’t sound so good written down, does it?). Fitting problems seem to show up more clearly in pictures than in the mirror.

To assess what’s wrong and learn how to fix it, you’ll need a good fitting book. There are tons of these out there and I haven’t found one yet that’s perfect: clear, intuitive and easy-to-follow. The main contenders are:

  • Fitting and Pattern Alteration – incredibly comprehensive, but I don’t find the diagrams and instructions in my second edition copy that easy to follow.
  • Pants for Real People – a real bible for a lot of people, and it uses real-life photos. But I don’t buy into the tissue fitting approach – no one wears paper clothes and I always tear the tissue when I try this.
  • Colette’s Pants Fitting Cheat Sheet – clear and short (!) but doesn’t come with diagrams
  • My current favourite, chapters 5 and 8 of Vogue Sewing (2006). The diagrams in this one are some of the clearest I’ve seen but it’s not as extensive as Fitting and Pattern Alteration.

Once you get into the process, you’re likely to end up making two or three toiles before you find the fit you want. Each one will be better than the last, and you’ll get there in the end, I promise.

 

 

Cotton candy pyjama bottoms

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Easy does it. Following Louise’s example over at NotSewSimple, I thought I’d power through a straightforward project for once and make some PJ bottoms. This is the sort of thing that normal people really can sew in one hour with the wind behind them, and such a relief after battling with a coat, trousers and lots of new-to-me knitting skills over the last few months.

The pattern is Simplicity 2290, a beginner’s pattern with just one piece! I first made it over a year ago, and it’s a great quick make because it doesn’t require any fitting – these are proper duvet day pyjamas with an elasticated waist and a simple hem. This time I made the medium rather than the large and used wider elastic.

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The fabric is some 150cm-wide brushed cotton I bought from Truro fabrics. It’s not as thick as regular flannel pyjamas so it’s perfect for spring, but it’s oddly slippery and not the easiest to work with. (Must find a good spray-in, wash-out stabiliser you can buy in the UK…) The pink isn’t too lurid, and brightens up my overly grey nightwear drawer.

Next time I think I’ll make a wider casing and a deeper hem to give a more expensive look to them, but for now, they’re perfect for snoozing, lazing around and generally making the most of the last of the winter hibernation period.

Trouser trauma

So I finished my third pair of Thurlow trousers.

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After the second version, I decided to add a little bit more to the crotch length, and to use the method that also adds more room at the thigh. And this is the result. It looks pretty good. From the front.

Less good from the back though.

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There’s a fair amount of sag going on at the back thigh, which I’m sure wasn’t there when I tried them on at the final fitting. I can think of three possible reasons for this:

  1. I had some, err, pre-menstrual bloating going on when I did the final fitting. (Entirely possible)
  2. The fabric has bagged out from one or two days of wear. Also possible, I guess, but it’s a wool/polyester mix suiting fabric, so I really wasn’t expecting that to happen.
  3. I’ve mysteriously lost half a stone since the final fitting. According to my bathroom scales, this is damn nigh impossible.

To fix this, I think I next need to make a ‘low buttocks curve’ adjustment. Mmmm. Sounds great. And probably to take out some of the extra width I added at the thigh while I’m at it. I might check whether these ones shrink in the wash first…

That said, this is my favourite pair because it’s the nicest fabric I’ve used so far. If I can get this final step in the fitting process right, I might finally be prepared to spend some serious money on some top quality trousering. Or even to line them – has anyone tried this with an unlined trouser pattern?

Costs:

Pattern £13.50, but this is my third pair so let’s say £4.50

Fabric £18.00 from Birmingham’s Fancy Silk Store, lining pieces were from my scraps box

Notions – roughly £4 for a hook and bar, a button, thread and scraps of fusible interfacing

Total cost: £26.50

How to make trousers that fit: part 3

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s time to get cracking on that pattern and make up your first toile (muslin).

Sizing

Whether you take a 2 or a 22, picking the right size can mean one fewer toile in your fitting process so it’s worth re-taking your hip measurement at this point. Make sure you’re measuring around the widest part, that the tape is horizontal and then compare your measurement with the chart.

For trousers (pants for our American cousins), it’s best to go by your hip measurement. We’re going to fit the trousers from the crotch outwards – in all directions – so the waist measurement isn’t as important as the hip.

This week (and it definitely varies during the year…), my hip measurement is 42″ so on this Simplicity chart (Amazing fit trousers 2860), I’d use the size 18.

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You might want to trace off the pattern you’re going to use before you start. We’re probably going to be hacking it about quite a bit…

Initial adjustments

There are three things I think you can safely adjust before you make up a toile: the crotch depth, leg length and any grading up or down between sizes at the waist. Each of these alterations can be done pretty accurately based on your measurements, and they’re independent of each other. If you do them now, you won’t have to do an extra toile to get them right later.

  1. Getting the crotch depth right

The crotch depth is the vertical distance between the waistline of the trousers and the crotch. On my Simplicity pattern envelope, it’s helpfully stated that the pattern uses a  waist to hip distance of 9″. I know that my waist to hip distance is 10″, so I’d lengthen the pattern by 1″ at this point.

If your pattern doesn’t state the waist to hip distance, you can measure the pattern pieces to work it out – just remember to subtract all the seam allowances at the waistband.

Most trousers patterns have a marked lengthen/shorten line you can use to adjust the pattern. If yours doesn’t, then pick a spot below the placket opening but above the crotch seam and draw in your own line  perpendicular to the grainline. Use the pattern’s notches to match up your front and back pieces so that you make the alteration in the same place on both.

Already sewn up your toile? Sunni from A Fashionable Stitch has written a great post on how to identify a crotch depth problem from your toile/muslin.

2. Getting the leg length right

This is an easy one to spot, and to alter later on, but you might as well get it right first time, especially for slim fit trousers.

Leg length in trousers is usually quoted in inches, and it’s measured along the inseam of the garment rather than on the body. So if a pair of trousers has a 33″ leg that means the finished garment will measure 33″ along the inseam from the crotch to the hem.

You can measure a pair of trousers from your existing wardrobe and compare these with the inseam of the pattern piece (remembering to take off the seam allowance at the crotch and the hem allowance).

Then lengthen or shorten the pattern pieces at the marked lines (usually at, or above and below, the knee) until it’s the length you want.

3. Grading between sizes

With your waist measurement to hand, go back to the pattern envelope and see if you’re the same pattern size at the waist as at the hip. If not, you might want to grade (taper) up or down a size to get a better fit. For the moment, I’d suggest you only alter the pattern at the side seams and the waistband, and by one size at most. There are other possible reasons for a large size difference here (a sway back or a large abdomen, for example ) and we need to leave ourselves scope to make these alterations if needed.

Tips for an easier fitting process

There are some other things you can try with your toile to make your fitting process easier:

  1. Transfer all the pattern markings, including things like the hip line and knee line, onto your toile. This’ll help you see not only whether those lines are in the right place, but also whether they’re lopsided.
  2. Enlarge the seam allowances from 1.5cm to 2cm or even more if you like so that you have room to try letting the seams out.
  3. Marking the seam allowances on the pattern pieces, and transferring these onto the toile fabric will make it easier to work out your fitting adjustments and to transfer these back to the pattern pieces.

Ready? Set your machine to a nice long basting stitch, thread it up with a contrasting thread, and let’s get to it and sew up the toile!

Missed parts 1 and 2? Catch up here

How to make trousers that fit: part 2

If you’ve chosen a terrific trouser pattern that suits your shape and figure type you’ll be casting your eye around for some suitable fabric. There are so many options – what should you go for?

Choosing fabric for trousers

Start with the fabric suggestions for your pattern. The designer will have put lots of thought into these, recommending fabrics with just the right qualities. If you’re still in a quandry, then as well as colour, print and feel, you’ll want to think about:

  • stretch: does your pattern call for a stretch fabric – if so, then if you stray from the recommended stretch factor then you might need to size up or down to get a good fit
  • thickness: if your fabric’s too thick then details like a fly front or pockets will be hard to sew and could distort the garment’s lines; too thin and you’ll be at risk of VPL!
  • creasing v pressing: linen makes beautiful trousers and it’s easy to press, but as soon as you sit down you’ll be covered in creases – an artificial fibre won’t crease much but it’ll be harder to press into shape.

Once you’ve chosen your main fabric, you’ll also need fabric for making a toile (muslin) or potentially several. Grab something that has exactly the same stretch, and a similar weight and thickness to your main fabric. This is so that your final trousers fit the same as your toile.

Hubble, bubble, toile and trouble

Let’s face it, you’re probably making your own trousers because RTW trousers usually don’t fit you. So there’s no getting away from it: you are going to have to make a toile. Probably two. Possibly three. So load up on calico or scratch around for something else you can use – I made my first trouser toile from a gift wrapping bag.

Depending on your pattern, you might be able to leave out some pieces when you make your toile. You can probably forego the back pockets (although it helps to mark where they’ll go), and potentially the front pockets too, depending on the construction method.

I’d suggest you do put in the fly-front zip, side zip or whatever fastening is suggested. The fit won’t be exactly the same without it. And you should definitely plan to toile the waistband.

You could opt to save fabric by making a shorts toile instead, as Lauren did for the Thurlow sewalong, but this didn’t work out well for me. The Thurlow pattern uses different pieces for the shorts from those for the trousers – the shorts pieces are wider in the leg so my shorts toile didn’t show up that I needed to add extra width at the thigh. If your pattern only has one set of pieces, you could probably make a shorter version for your first toile (while you get the crotch to fit), but for slim fit trousers, you’ll probably want to make a full-length toile at some point to get the fit right around the knees and calves.

And when you cut out the pieces for your toile, you won’t need to worry about nap, pattern matching or even which is the right side of the fabric, so this should help to reduce the yardage you need to buy for your toile.

Next up (coming soon) in part 3: making your muslin

How to make trousers that fit: part 1

This is a huge topic, but it’s one I feel I can’t ignore. Well-fitting trousers (or pants for our American cousins) have been my holy grail ever since I started sewing. But it can be such a confusing world to launch yourself into that I thought this new series might help others grappling with the same problem.

I don’t pretend to know everything about the process, so I’d welcome your suggestions for improving and updating the posts in this series as I go along.

So where do we start? By choosing the right pattern.

If trying on trousers in a shop has ever brought you to tears, you’ll know that there are styles that do and don’t suit you. (You’ll also appreciate this awesome long read post by the Holistic Seamstress.)

Does the style suit you?

Being large of hip and thigh, I accepted long ago that skinny jeans are unlikely to ever feature in my wardrobe. I live in wide-leg, flared and (unfashionable horror of horrors) bootcut trousers. I’m tall but not all that leggy, so I avoid cropped trousers, side seam pockets, pleats in the front and anything too high or too low waisted.

You might be the opposite – petite, or very slim of leg and larger of tummy. Whatever your shape, find what suits you and avoid the heartbreak of finally making trousers that fit you perfectly but which don’t suit you. If you’re a confident sewist, you might want to alter a pattern to suit your style. Personally, I prefer to take an easier route and choose a flattering style to start with.

Another straightforward option is a flexi-fit pattern with different pieces for different styles. In my stash (but so far untested) is this Simplicity Amazing Fit trouser pattern 1696, which contains three different trouser shapes.

How closely does your shape match the basic measurements on the envelope?

When it comes to fitting, not all trouser patterns are created identical. Each pattern company uses its own fit model and if your proportions are the opposite of theirs then you’re just creating extra work for yourself blending different sizes.

For example, the Thurlow trousers by Sewaholic are designed for pear shapes like Tasia and aren’t recommended for non-pears. You can read Lauren Guthrie’s post about her (non pear-shaped) experience with the Thurlow pattern if you’re curious.

I suspect apple shapes would get on better with Sew Over It’s Ultimate Trousers or the Papercut Guise but I’d welcome your suggestions and experiences.

Not sure what shape you are? Try on different RTW trousers and study where they’re tight and where they’re loose. Or take your waist and hip measurements – if the difference is greater than 10″ you’re a pear; less than 10″ and you’re more of an apple. If the difference is exactly 10″, lucky you – you can choose a mainstream pattern and you’ll have one fewer alteration to do.

If you can’t find a pattern you like anywhere, there’s another route you can take – drafting your own. With the right instructions, it’s fairly simple to draft a basic trouser block using your own measurements. On the upside, you’ll then have only minimal fitting alterations to do. The downside? You’ll need to add in all the styling yourself (and it won’t come with instructions for sewing them up!). So this is a good option for confident drafters, or if you’re looking for a relatively simple trouser pattern.

See part 2: choosing the right fabric and why you’re going to have to make a toile

 

 

Thurlow 2: the return of the toile

I made trousers – and they fit! Sort of.

This is my second toile (muslin) for the Sewaholic Thurlow trousers pattern, following on from the shorts I made a month or two back. For this version, I added 1.5″ to the crotch depth, meaning that the waistband now lies higher up and there’s less pulling in the front crotch area. So far, so good.

Given the difficulty I have finding RTW trousers that look vaguely passable, I wasn’t expecting this to be a one-step process. Sure enough, a new problem has now emerged.

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If you look closely, I think you can see me shuddering as this picture was taken!

I’ve now got diagonal wrinkles going upwards from the back crotch to the hip area. And according to my copy of Fitting & Pattern Alteration, this is a sure sign that the back crotch length needs increasing. I’m going to try doing this using the instructions Sunni has posted from Pants for Real People which should add a little extra width at the thigh as well.

On the whole, I think these are a wearable toile – they definitely fit better than some of the RTW trousers I’ve worn in the past. The front view is good, and I’m pleased with some of the details. OK, the back welts aren’t immaculate…

I chose the outer fabric at Birmingham Rag Market. It was sold as cotton drill at £4/m but it’s definitely polyester! So it doesn’t press very well making it tricky to get the welts tidy and the side seams flat. On the upside it’ll wash well and won’t fade, I guess, but I wouldn’t use it again. Somehow it manages to drape both too much and not enough at the same time.

For version three, I’ve got some charcoal grey wool mix suiting from The Fancy Silk Store (also in Birmingham) so that should be a bit better behaved and nicer to wear, too.

Overall, I really like this pattern but there’s one point that’s bothering me. I can’t get the left waistband piece to line up with the fly extension piece when I put waistband on – it’s been 1-2 inches short both times. A browse around the blogosphere shows I’m not the only one with this issue. So I might contact Sewaholic and see if Tasia and friends can work out whether we’re all making the same mistake or if there’s a flaw in the pattern pieces.*

*Update: I worked this out on version three. I’d been taking too small a seam allowance on both sides of the fly extension piece. On version three, I made sure I took the full 5/8″ when I finished the seam allowance and it fits much better. Although I’m still not totally convinced all the notches line up..!

How should I finish my seams?

This was the question I was pondering as I walked my dog yesterday morning. I’ve jotted down my thought process, and photographed the samples I made for my Thurlow trousers so you can see the options.

Do I have to bother finishing my seams?

If you’re working with a fabric that doesn’t fray, and where the raw edges of the fabric won’t be seen, then no, you don’t have to bother. So if I were making a cushion cover from a knit fabric, for example, I wouldn’t bother to finish the raw edges. Most people will be making the Thurlow trousers in a woven fabric, as the pattern suggests, and most of those fabrics will fray.

Here’s what happens if you don’t finish the seams.

This also shows why it's never such a great idea to try to make an outfit to an immovable deadline...
This also shows why it’s never such a great idea to try to make an outfit to an immovable deadline…

I’ve chosen a navy blue medium-weight polyester/cotton twill. (I agree, it doesn’t sound great, but I think it’ll work out well.)

What are my options, then?

Here’s a rundown on the options I considered. You’ll probably want to test out at least a couple for each garment you make and see what suits your fabric best.

Top: unfinished edge Bottom: pinked edge
Top: unfinished edge
Bottom: pinked edge
Top: zigzag v1 Bottom: zigzag v2
Top: zigzag v1
Bottom: zigzag v2
Top: Overcast using an ordinary sewing machine Bottom: Overlocked (served) using a 3-thread narrow overlock stitch
Top: Overcast using an ordinary sewing machine
Bottom: Overlocked (serged)

As you can see, left to itself the fabric unravels, and pinking doesn’t help much. So I ruled out these. Zigzagging would prevent the edge unravelling beyond the zigzag stitch but it puckered and it still looks a bit messy for my liking – given that these trousers won’t be lined.

I seriously considered the overcasting stitch on my sewing machine – this is what I used for the toile I made in a linen mix. It did work well, and it saves switching between machines, but it’s very slow. This has its perks – you’re less likely to make a mistake, and – unlike the overlocker – you won’t accidentally trim off too much and leave yourself nothing to work with if you need to let a seam out.

But in the end the overlocker option won out, mainly on speed. And I already have matching overlocker thread, so that sealed the deal. It’ll make it slightly harder to get all the edges and notches matched up because the overlocker will cut off some of each piece, but hopefully I can work that out without a problem.

Isn’t this a huge pain – can’t I just get on with the sewing?

I won’t lie – this wasn’t how I wanted to spend my time yesterday evening. But I’ll grudgingly admit it was worth doing to get all the needles, tensions, settings, threading and decisions sorted up-front. It took around an hour altogether – including re-threading the overlord twice and that should speed up the rest of the project, too. Heck, I even cleaned the overlocker!

Have you made trousers without an overlocker? If so, how did you finish your seams?

A Thurlow shorts toile – progress, but not there yet

Front view of brown linen shorts, unheeded

When I set out to make these shorts, I didn’t know if the toile (muslin) would end up being wearable. But I needed to practise some of the techniques, like the welt pockets and the fly-front zip, so I thought I’d make up a complete version rather than just a shell. And I’m nearly there – here they are.

Front view of brown linen shorts, unheeded
All clothes should include bulldog clips, I reckon.

I’ve still got some fiddling to do to get the waistband on right, the hook and bar fastening to add, and obviously I’m not planning on leaving the hem like this. (Unless this is how the cool kids are wearing their shorts these days?) Given the hours of wailing and gnashing of teeth it takes me to find a halfway decent pair of RTW trousers, I was expecting the fitting process to be a nightmare. It’s not perfect straight out of the packet, but I think the Sewaholic fit (pear-shaped, with larger-than-average thighs) is making things easier – I can get the toile on, at least!

Back view of brown linen shorts toile
We’ll see if adding to the rise (crotch depth) also adds enough length to the crotch seam.

As you can see, I need to add quite a bit to the rise/crotch depth to bring them up to the tummy button area, where I guess the waistband is supposed to sit. Once I’ve done that, I’ll be able to assess the crotch length, and finally the fit of the legs. The waistband feels a little large, given that it’s sitting lower than it should be, which surprises me. I didn’t expect it to come up large, judging by the size chart so this might be a symptom that something else is wrong. And I think I’m going to need a swayback adjustment of some sort too.

Side view of brown linen shorts
Wow – the side seam is leaning forward loads here. Why’s that, then?

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Would you suggest I change anything else?