May the Pants be with you

When you make a personal pledge in a public forum to draft, design, and sew a pair of trousers in a month’s time and actually accomplish it, the sun shines a little brighter and your short legs look a little longer.

Najah Carroll's Self-Drafted Linen Trousers (front view)

A few days after writing about my custom denim pencil skirt, I found out that Brooks Ann Camper, my favorite long distance sewing teacher, had developed a pants drafting system with NO standard sizes or pre-defined measurements (unlike the ones in my pattern drafting textbooks filled with “lower by 1/4-inch “or “check the size chart” kind of guidance). The drafting method uses the skirt block I crafted in her original class and a new set of body measurements for bifurcation. She invited her Skirt Skills students to participate in the first run of her Smarty Pants e-Course and I jumped in with both feet.

In fact, the course is still going on now! We’re in the last week of things, learning the finishing steps for TWO pair of custom pants drafted from blocks: trousers and yes….jeans. Since the course can be both self-paced and real-time, I chose to make my trousers in pace with the 6-week lessons and will start on my jeans block and fitting afterward.

So, this story about making linen trousers from the ground up will be told with a little less word count and more hyperlinks than usual. Besides, you may already know the story if you’ve been following my “Me Made May” 31-day micro-blogging marathon on Instagram under the hashtag #wannabesewingpants.

#wannabesewing pants on Instagram

Every First Draft is Perfect

Drafting my way to a garment pattern has been surprisingly less stressful than dealing with the ambiguity of opening the envelope of a purchased pattern or assembling a downloadable one.

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In custom sewing class, we’re reminded of the inherent perfection of the first drafting work that happens with a block pattern. It’s job in pantsmaking is to represent a map of my lower body and legs. Once drafted into existence, it is a perfect resource of information for whatever pants style I want to design.

Knowing that my final garment will be based directly on information from MY BODY (not some “ideal” body I must compare mine to) is like getting a hug and a dozen roses from your best friend before going on stage. It’s the best kind of self-administered sewing support.

To understand how well my two-dimensional waist-to-ankle map corresponded to my three-dimensional body, I spent some time evaluating a muslin mockup up of my wide legged trouser block. The process put me in the role of Sewing Detective as I considered how to give a bit more room for my body at the crotch area. I sketched out a theory on my croquis so I could understand the impact the pattern correction would have on the fit of my trouser block, and spent a few days getting lost on the way to executing it. Ultimately I re-learned the value of slowing down during construction.

Design in the Trenches

I only had a rough idea of what kind of pants I’d make when I declared my intentions to all of the #Sewcialists. I wanted to see what specific inspiration would strike once my block was ready, so I pinned all the pins in a sartorial tribute to Katherine Hepburn’s iconic trousers-wearing and raided my fabric collection for options suitable for the wide-leg style I had in mind. The timeframe I had to work in, the warm season, my patience, and skill level (yep, still hovering somewhere on the spectrum between advanced beginner and intermediate seamstress) were also a part of the Committee for Real Life Sewing that influenced my design process.

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By day 20, I’d worked out a sketch of a simple design for a pair of linen trousers with familiar construction features to prevent first-timer fumbles (thinking back to the topstitching drama of my denim pencil skirt) that could trigger my inner Samuel L. Jackson and jeopardize my momentum:

  1. A straight/wide leg, drafted 3cm narrower then my trouser block pattern that sits at my natural waist
  2. A hip-length waistline facing for tummy control
  3. An invisible side zipper
  4. 3 patch pockets – 1 in front, 2 in back

I really enjoyed the pattern work that solidified my original sketch and was glad I didn’t design more features than I could handle. With jeans as my next mission, there would be plenty of patterning, construction work, and even more topstitching (Bring it on!) to feed my appetite for design play.

11th-Hour Finish

I highly recommend timing your major construction work over a three-day holiday weekend. I may have missed out on all the Memorial Day happenings around town, but I did take a break from sewing for a highly-anticipated face to face meetup with Brooks Ann where she answered my final construction question (hell yes to twill tape along the waistline stay stitching) and let me get all “fan girl” for a while and go on about sewing for way longer than my husband can tolerate at home.

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With the power of The Force still with me, I returned to my project and followed the custom sewing techniques I learned in class to semi-baste together my flax linen trousers (shout out to the lovely, UK fabric store that sent me 3 meters of Robert Kaufmann Essex Wide Flax cotton/linen in the hopes I’d make something fabulous with it one day that might reach my UK readers looking to support an independent business trying to branch out into garment-weight fabrics), try them on, adjust the fit and pass on the changes to my final garment pattern.

For this pattern in the heavy-bodied, almost bottom weight linen-cotton blend fabric I’d chosen, I took in the side seams by 4 cm, tapering from the waist to the thigh. I’m curious how a linen with more drape would respond to the design. When I’m done with the course, I may follow my curiosity to another pair of linen trousers.

When I returned to work after the holiday break, the big analytics project I’d kicked off earlier in the month had picked up steam and time-sucked me into a thousand meetings that made me get that hallway-stretching horror movie feeling that I was never gonna get out of here and back to my sewing room. I ultimately escaped. It was day 31 and I had only hours until midnight to finish my trousers in time to meet my self-imposed deadline.

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With only a handful of “monkey-fighting” moments —I do admit to banning my family from my presence long enough to install, remove, and re-install (with the right foot this time) an invisible zipper without interruption — I finished my trousers around midnight and proceeded to sleep like a baby. When Baby woke up the next day, she wore the cutest trousers and the biggest smile to the office.

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Thank you, to the #Sewcialists of Instagram who followed and encouraged me with likes and you-can-do-its along the way. Sharing my goal with such a big audience helped me see it through to the end. A month-long, public marathon of making was pretty intense, so I’ll probably keep my attempts to once a year.

With this latest dive into custom sewing, however, I learned so much (besides the ass-kicking skill of self-drafting pants) from the experience…like how to get the most of the small chunks of time available to me, how to create a garment plan to guide my approach, and how to trust my fitting and design instincts to make me enormously proud of what I can produce with my mind and hands.

Maxi Mom Returns

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When I found myself cutting out yet another maxi-length skirt, I worried for a moment that I’d never see my ankles again. And, then in the next moment, I was OK with that. I mean, the gals in the 19th century rocked maxi skirts and dresses everyday, all day. Playing tennis, riding bicycles, running after children, running households….basically saving the world.

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It’s too bad I’m a klutz when I wear long, full skirts. Tripping over or stepping on my hem, getting it caught in car doors, letting snacks melt in my pockets —like a stylish anti-hero. So, this may be my last 35-inch skirt of the season. A great occasion for a wide, mudcloth waistband. And an even better one to make the basic white tee that eluded me all summer.

IMG_9305A dreamy chocolate linen from my stash wanted to be a summer neutral, but needed a little something to tame the rich color. Something like the fab-u-lous mud cloth I bought somewhere at sometime in the past that I can’t quite remember. It’s history didn’t matter the moment I attached the skirt to the waistband. The two fabrics were so right for each other, you’d think they’d met on eHarmony instead of in my sewing room.

mudclothwbmaxi_collageThe mud cloth has a canvas weight, so interfacing wasn’t necessary, but the two-inch waistband could’ve used more support, maybe even boning at the side seams or hidden elastic that would act kinda like a snugly interlining to keep it from collapsing. I fastened it at center back with a zipper and a massive sew-on snap. I love the look and novelty of it, but after a hearty meal, that snap has been known to randomly pop open like a jack in the box (scaring the snap out of me), so I think I’ll go back to boring, more predictably behaving closures.

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The volume of this skirt is what I love most about it. It’s also what I have to get used to so I don’t end up face-planting. Maybe I can help someone appreciate the awesomeness of a handmade skirt instead of being distracted and (possibly entertained) by its uncoordinated wearer.

Maxi Mom Fun

Maxi skirts are the new mom jeans. That’s an observation AND a declaration for the summer, my friends. And, I plan to thoroughly live up to it. The summer sale racks are overflowing with maxi styles and my weekend afternoons could be spent playing I Spy a Maxi (on the playground, at the market, crossing the street, etc.). But, the best view of a summer maxi I’ve had so far is the twirl-generating, floor-skimming linen skirt I made a few weeks ago and have already worn a million times since.

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Over the last month, my sewing mojo has been at its peak. I went head first into my wardrobe sewing plan and started plowing through muslins and 1-hour t-shirts like a one-woman factory. For a brief moment though, I was nearly defeated by a streak of wadders and unintentional wearable muslins – garments made with good intentions that lose cool points because of stupid construction mistakes on my part. I channeled that epic fail feeling into a new, scaled back sewing plan (more on that later) that functioned like Ritalin on my haphazard making.

This outfit was the first high-five I earned in weeks. It inspired an impromptu photoshoot at the end of an awesomely productive day at the office that I am certain was influenced by how good I felt in my clothes. I’ll give you the top-down tour.

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The t-shirt marathon that produced this blue rayon jersey top began with a short lesson in twin needle stitching. Where had it been all my life? Constructing the four seams of the fantastically free, Maria Denmark Kimono Tee (get it now if you don’t have it yet) with my serger and then swiveling to my sewing machine for twin needle hemming was the best way to breeze through an already quick sew even faster. Taking the time to hand wind my bobbin with bulky nylon thread slowed my groove a tad, but it was worth it for a functional set of stretchy hem stitches that won’t pop while pulling the shirt on and off.

I lengthened the sleeves of this version of the Kimono Tee using Maria’s tutorial and added a narrow wraparound neck binding, my new favorite way to finish a knit neckline. Everything came together so easily and so fast, I looked around the room half expecting someone to tell me I broke the law.

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Back to this linen maxi skirt with its gorgeous wrinkles and flirty swishyness. I lengthened my go-to dirndl pattern 15 inches and added pockets and a self-drafted waistband. The simplest of simple. I think it’s the light, billowy nature of the linen that gives the skirt life. It catches the air when I walk in such a regal way. During a business trip last week, it was the perfect traveling skirt. I hurried through Dulles and Atlanta airports in my DIY maxi and Keds, letting its soft, rhythmic rustling sound give my strut added purpose.

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Styling it with a wide belt for this outfit was my second high five moment. With so much fabric on my lower half, I didn’t want to overdo the accessories – the right belt was all I needed to tie the two pieces together. Boom. And, I’m dressed.

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The most notable fun factor for this skirt is its universal swish appeal. My daughter instinctively grabs the sides when she’s standing next to me and starts swinging the fabric. And when it’s story time, she cuddles up on my lap like it is the coziest toddler hammock in the world. Because it is.

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What’s your favorite way to wear a maxi skirt? And, why do they always make you feel majestic even when there’s crayons in your pockets and dirt on the hem?

Sprung on Spring

Linen Watercolor Dress

You know that one thing in your closet that only comes out when you know for sure spring is here for real? The garment that says, Hello, sunshine. I missed you. The item that waits patiently all year for its seasonal debut on a day so hot, two-minute downpours are greeted with open arms. This patch pocket linen dress has become that for me.

Linen Watercolor Dress

I made it at the end of last summer just when I was getting my sewing groove back. The faux floral, watercolor-y look of the fabric (and the 40% off sign) seduced me to the cutting counter at Joann’s where I found it. They always have a great selection of linen that I do my part to make a dent in every season.

Linen Watercolor Dress

With my go-to princess seam bodice (Simplicity 2648) and dirndl skirt (McCall’s 6503) patterns, I managed to sew a drama-free dress when my skills were still rusty. Well, there was a bit of drama when I sewed the side seams of the skirt, forgetting the in-seam pockets I’d cut out. The white stitching thread blended into the fabric like it was part of the weave and any attempt at unpicking the seams caused instant whatthafuckery and angst. After a couple of deep breaths of acceptance, though, I improvised a set of lined patch pockets for the front of the skirt.

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The neckline and armholes are lined with ready-made bias binding and the rest of the seams are overlocked. Simple construction for a simple day dress whose job is to accessorize an already gorgeous spring or summer day. With a belted cardigan (I have at least three that match!), the dress can goes from picnic-ready to office-ready. With sneakers and a denim jacket, I’m ready for a day of local site-seeing.

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The sun is no longer playing hard to get, we’ve had our first week of 60 degree plus weather, and everything is blooming. I like to think that me and my patch pocket linen dress are the welcoming committee.

What do you wear to kick off the warm weather season?