2018: A Pants Odyssey


Almost five months after my first report about my pants pattern-fitting journey I’m back with an update.

Surrounded by some (not all!) of the pants muslins I’ve made on this pants odyssey.

In my previous report I said that despite my concerted efforts to understand fitting principles and fit myself I needed in-person, expert help.  Since writing that post I did find help.

I checked the class listings of a small, local fabric store and noticed for the first time that individual lessons with some of the teachers could be arranged.  I called, explained my dilemma, and was told I should come in and talk to one teacher in particular.

And that’s how I met Madame X.

Madame X may be famous for being painted by John Singer Sargent, but she also fits pants patterns!

I explained to Madame X that I had gone as far as I could go on my own and was now just doing variations of different, but not better. Madame X explained that while she was experienced she wouldn’t claim she was an expert. If I was willing to be a good sport, she’d see what she could do.

It turned out she could do quite a lot.

What a relief it was to put on a muslin and have someone else examine the fit!  I could skip my time-consuming rigamarole:  setting the camera on a tripod on time delay, taking very unflattering pictures of myself, downloading the photos, printing some, and writing copious notes critiquing every wrinkle (in the muslin, that is).

After two, maybe three muslins Madame X had worked out quite a nice fit for me.  I was very encouraged.

The next step was a wearable test.  To sew it I used an oyster gray wool blend with a weight and drape similar to what I’d want in wool trousers. Here’s the result:

A little extra fullness needs to be removed, but a much better overall drape in the back than I was able to achieve on my own.

The waistband is being pulled down a bit, but the darts and hip line are nice.

How much wrinkling and extra fabric is fine and how much can be eliminated? It’s a fine line and I’m still learning.

I had mixed feelings about this cut of pants.  The big plus was the way they hung smoothly seen from the side and the back. I was concerned, though, whether the volume in the backs of the legs was too much and could be reduced while preserving the hang.  In the fittings Madame X and I went back and forth about this.  In my own fitting attempts my perennial problem was long diagonal wrinkles in the backs of the legs.  When Madame X allowed for more volume in the back, as in classic trousers, the wrinkles went away and I had a nice, smooth line.

But was that line in scale with my figure? That was the question.   At 5 feet 1 inch tall I’m always thinking proportion, proportion, proportion.  Would this pattern draft give me the best proportion for my figure?

I packed Madame X’s pants draft and the oyster gray wearable test for my trip in September back to Minnesota to see Edith, my fairy godmother sewing teacher.

I put on the pants. “They’re hanging from the hips,” Edith said. “They should hang from the waist.” She pulled the waistband up and then pinned it in place snugly. She subtracted 4 whole inches from the waist, put more curve into the hipline, generously scooped the back crotch curve, and slightly narrowed the legs.  Before long I was trying on the muslin made from her pattern alteration. It fit nicely, and it definitely hung from the waist.

Home again and back in the sewing room, I sewed a wearable test from Edith’s pattern.  This tweedy gray is a wool blend, lighter in weight than the oyster gray but also drapey and nice for trousers. Here is the result:

I think the amount of wrinkling is okay.

There’s much to like about these tweedy gray pants. They do hang nicely from the waist. However, is the waist emphasis okay, or too much?

I tried a second wearable test. I added back about 1 inch in the waist. The fabric was a linen-rayon blend that’s a nice weight and drape for spring and summer.  Here’s the result:

Not the most graceful pose.

Hmm–I think the wrinkles in the left leg indicate my uneven stance.

I can’t see much difference in the appearance of the waist with 1 inch space added back in.  I think one reason is the in-seam pockets I sewed in this pair are gaping open and adding to the curve in the hip. This is not flattering. I’ll research other pocket options.

I continued to wonder whether I really needed this much room in the back of this pants pattern:

I was suffering from pants-fitting fatigue (can you blame me?), but I thought I should try another muslin.  I added back yet another inch to the waist, and  subtracted just 1/4 inch each from the inseam and outseam of the back and front pieces to eliminate a total of 1 inch from the leg circumference.

Here is the unflattering result of that experiment:

The dreaded drag lines have returned! Ugh!

This is pretty much what the backs of my pants muslins looked like when I was working on my own, pre-Madame X.  These wrinkles were the big puzzle I hadn’t solved and which Madame X did. It seemed like the insides of my knees were the source of the wrinkles. I don’t fit the classic knock-knees scenario, but it seemed like I needed a knock-knees solution.  At any rate, Madame X came up with a solution that gave me a smoother line, and Edith, with her decades of pattern-fitting experience, was able to subtract design ease without messing with the fitting ease.

Then I crossed a line and messed up the fitting ease.


Then I went to a week-long Buddhist retreat and learned how to detach myself from–

–No, I didn’t!

I tried on the tweedy gray wearable test one more time. I tried folding the waistband under and envisioning the pants with just a faced waist. The look would be more streamlined.  That would work.

And in the coming fall and winter months I could sew lined wool trousers from my existing pattern and see how I liked them.

In other words, I decided to declare a partial victory. The fit is good enough, and now I’ll turn my attention to perfecting construction details.  Along the way I’ll read more, learn more, work more with Madame X, understand a few more bits and pieces, and eventually try fitting more pants.

And who knows–maybe jeans, too.

Gather round, muslins! Have I got a story for you!

All studio photos are by Cynthia DeGrand, Photographer.  (The “dreaded drag lines” muslin photo is by Jack Miller, Husband.)

What Works/What Doesn’t: The Anorak


The anorak analysis is in.

The anorak analysis is in.

Remember the anorak I finished a while back?  I’ve been wearing it on neighborhood walks for a few weeks.

I modeled it recently in a photo shoot in Cynthia’s studio.

And last week I brought it to a gathering of sewing friends.

This anorak has been worn in the wind and rain, stuffed into suitcases, tied around my waist, styled for photographs, and held up to the scrutiny of three discriminating and frank sewing experts.

The drawstring waist needs to be repositioned.

The drawstring waist needs to be repositioned.

I’ve been asking myself the what works/what doesn’t questions I described in my previous post.

What are my findings?

All the categories in the Context column were Works with one exception.

  • Occasions.  This is everyday wear. Works.
  • Activities.  Urban outdoor walking, errand-running, travel.  Works. But keeping the contents of the pockets safe: Doesn’t work.
    Pickpockets' paradise.

    Pickpockets’ paradise.

  • Roles. Runner of errands, walker of neighborhoods, watcher of birds, traveler. Works.
  • Physical conditions. It keeps me dry in a shower. It’s not waterproof, but that’s okay. Works.
  • Mood of the occasion. Everyday activities are pretty mood-neutral. Works.

    This back would be too roomy for Quasimodo.

    This back would be too roomy for Quasimodo.

  • Other wardrobe items. This goes great with a lot of my casual clothes. Works.
  • Other fabrics, patterns and buttons.  Plenty of fabrics and some patterns in my stashes go with the anorak for future coordinates. Works.
  • What I’m moving into. I foresee more everyday activities in my future for which the anorak will be handy. Works.

The Context column was nearly a clean sweep. The Individual column was a mixed bag:

  • Personality.  No personality clash here. Works.
  • Style. I suppose in the world of anoraks this is my style.  (I really must replace that white cording, though.) Works.

    The back is big, true, but the hood is just right.

    The back is big, true, but the hood is just right.

  • Fit. The hood, sleeve length and circumference are fine. There’s too much blousing in the front and especially the back. A big Doesn’t work.
  • Silhouette. The waist definition is a big improvement over my old boxy windbreaker. But seen from the side, the waist has got to be resituated. And the excessive blousing is also unflattering. Doesn’t work.
  • Color. I bought the fabric for the yellowish-green cast, an interesting neutral that works well with my coloring and clothes. Works.

    With my body double.

  • Physical characteristics. I created this category to remind me about my range of motion, extremities that get cold easily, feet that need arch support–things like that. The anorak gets a passing grade. Works.
  • What I’m growing into. Whatever psychological thresholds I may cross, the anorak should be fine. Works.
Between shots in Cynthia's studio.

Between shots in Cynthia’s studio.

The anorak has two glaring problems.

The front and back have way too much design ease and the drawstring waist is angled when it should be parallel with the floor.

And–my mistake–I misread the pattern directions and microscopic illustrations, and sewed the flaps onto the pockets when they should have been attached to the fronts in such a way as to keep the pockets closed. This is hugely annoying.

But–these problems just might be fixable. Yes!

Instead of wearing this anorak only at night or relegating it to the back of the closet overcome with guilt and peevishness, I may be able to salvage this.

Next time, I'll do the pockets the right way!

Next time, I’ll do the pockets the right way!

Edith asked me, “Do you have more of this fabric? You could save the hood, sleeves and pockets and cut new altered fronts and a back.”

I got to thinking, it’s worth a try. I’ve already invested a lot of effort (not much money–the fabric was $1.49 a yard) in this garment. Perhaps for some more effort I’d have a garment that would work in all categories.

Plus, I’d have an altered pattern ready for sewing another well-fitting anorak someday.

It was a big advance for me, seeing, with Edith’s help, how I might make this garment right, rather than writing it off. Now I’m taking a second look at other projects, defining the good points and the problems and asking myself, “How could I make this right?” I might not be able to save the garment, but I might correct the pattern, at least, and be very happy with it.

So, readers, I’m going to try taking this jacket apart, having Edith coach me through the pattern alterations, and reassembling the pieces.

Whatever the results, you’ll see them here. They’re all part of the hero’s journey of getting things sewn.

This way to a better anorak!

This way to a better anorak!

(All photographs are by Cynthia DeGrand.)

Project: Vogue 2461 (1990): Calvin Klein anorak, part 1


I didn’t know till five minutes ago that I knew any words from Greenlandic Eskimo: anorak. All I know is I really could use a new jacket of the outerwear variety for running errands, traipsing around the local lakes on walks, and taking on trips. It must be durable, washable, and have a little style. And it must fit.

The green windbreaker I’m modeling here has served me well for more than a decade. It’s been my companion on a few London trips.

I'm flying! (No--I'm showing the size of the sleeves.)

I’m flying! (No–I’m showing the size of the sleeves.)

But it bears some permanent greasy stains from the New York subway.  The drawstring cord has lost its elasticity and dangles dangerously, threatening to get caught in my bicycle spokes. And I’ve always been bugged by the slightly too long sleeves and the boxy shape.

So I’m going to retire this jacket and sew my first anorak.

The Calvin Klein anorak, dating from 1990.

The Calvin Klein anorak, dating from 1990.

“Windbreaker” is what I’d call it, but either Vogue Patterns or Calvin Klein chose to call it an anorak, so I’ll go with that.  (And I learned from the American Heritage Dictionary that “Windbreaker” is a trade name, which I never knew before.)  I’m restraining the reference librarian in me for now from researching that fact further.)

Twenty-two years ago I knew I’d want to sew myself an anorak, so I bought this pattern at Minnesota Fabrics for 75% off on April 1, 1991. I recorded this vital information on the envelope so I could congratulate myself on my foresightedness today.

Call me a pattern archivist.

Call me a pattern archivist.

I was apparently taken by this jacket’s appearance in Vogue Patterns magazine because I saved the page. That drawstring waist! Yes! Thank you! A little shaping!

But those dropped shoulders look more like drooped shoulders on me.  And that sleeve fullness is way more design ease than I want.

I saved this from a 1990 issue of Vogue Patterns magazine.

I saved this from a 1990 issue of Vogue Patterns magazine.

It was time to check the fit.  So I made a muslin–a test garment–from the fronts, back and sleeves.

And I brought it to Treadle Yard Goods‘ sewing salon this morning, where trusty Michele looked it over.  We measured the dropped shoulders and the sleeve circumference on my old green jacket to guide the alterations of the muslin.  Michele showed me where to draw in new lines to take up the dropped shoulder 1 1/2 inches and to take 9 inches of excessive fullness out of the sleeve.

Where's my stylist? This muslin's askew!

Where’s my stylist? This muslin’s askew!

Home again, I recut the muslin and stitched it up.

Now the dropped shoulder is reasonable on me, as is the sleeve.

What else shall I do before I cut into my good fabric for this project?

We took 9 inches off the sleeve circumference.

We took 9 inches off the sleeve circumference.

I’ve begun looking carefully at my old jacket, for the first time ever, to consider details to carry over into my new anorak.

  • I may reuse the toggles.
  • I could easily add a loop for hanging.
  • What size cord is best?
  • Do I have any grommets or snaps that would work for this project?
  • Do I like the anorak pockets? Should I modify them?
  • This anorak isn’t lined. Should I line it?
  • How does the anorak hood size compare to the old green jacket’s?
  • The anorak uses flat fell seams. Should I use my 4mm flat fell foot? Should I buy a bigger flat fell foot?

    Now, this sleeve is much better.

    Now, this sleeve is much better.

In the past, I would have been too impatient to inquire into all these details.  But now I want to see how much I can harvest–both in ideas and in reusable materials–from my good old green jacket to make this new anorak as good as it can be.

The hands-on, individualized help I get at Treadle is now part of my strategy for getting things sewn.

The hands-on, individualized help I get at Treadle is now part of my strategy for getting things sewn.

Project: Butterick 5542 (1930s), Jacket, part 3


Sometimes I make great strides in a project, to which progress photos can attest.  Then I feel like I’m properly Getting Things Sewn So That I Can Write A Proper Post About It.

Dreaming about my 1930s Butterick jacket pattern.

Dreaming about my 1930s Butterick jacket pattern.

Other times I make great strides in a project but the progress isn’t so visible. But it’s still there.

So, yes, since last time I did sew in the sleeves of my test garment, and it does look more like a jacket than before.  But the real progress was getting the input of an expert for a few crucial minutes.

No, wait a minute.

The real progress was when I stopped thinking, “I should know how to fit and alter patterns myself.”

I know–I’ve had a patternmaking genius for a sewing teacher for ten years.  Don’t I outsource the fitting and pattern alterations already?  Yes, pretty much.  But when I called Edith yesterday to get her opinion, I didn’t reach her.  And I had a post to write.  I had to make progress. Otherwise, my readers would think, “Ha. She is not Getting Things Sewn.”

I’d tried on the test garment, with shoulder pads that were, admittedly, probably too skimpy. On the fronts, near the armscyes, there seemed to be a little too much fabric. Was there? Or was I being a neurotic sewer?  Was I veering close to overfitting? My test fabric was a polyester, not behaving like the linen I’ll use for the real jacket. I needed someone’s expert eye.

Too much fabric next to the armscye.

Too much fabric next to the armscye.

Luckily, I had recourse to expert advice at Treadle Yard Goods, a great (and increasingly rare) independent fabric store, in St. Paul, not very far from where I live.  Treadle has frequent “sewing salons” where sewers can bring their projects for on-the-spot advice.

In under fifteen minutes Michele had sussed out the problem, sketched a solution and supervised my cutting my pattern front and taping it in its new position. Then I trued the new armscye and side seams so they were smooth and elegant again.  Done!

Cut and slide over 3/8 inch to tweak the fit.

Michele’s solution: cut and slide over 3/8 inch to tweak the fit.

No big deal, right? Yes and no.  The alteration in the pattern was minor. But the alteration in me was major.

I’m seeing that a big part of my getting things sewn will be planning expert help into my process.  It might be live, individual hands-on help,  or a local class, or an online class, or a DVD.  I’ve underutilized these resources in the past. I’m going to be downright strategic from here on out.

I don’t see a reason to finish this test garment. So I’m going to start cutting out my linen tomorrow. Onward!

The goal.

The goal.