Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Trouble With Trousers (or, Problems with Pants, if you're North American)

According to Bloglovin' and their stats page, a ton of new people started following this blog lately, heaven knows why. Hello, new people! Don't worry, I don't usually post quite so frequently, but this week I am full of things I am bursting to talk about, apparently. This post in particular is the longest thing IN THE WORLD, sorry about that.

First up, further developments on yesterday's Trashbag Top. I quite legitimately liked it yesterday but then a friend asked me Why is yours so much longer than the photo? Why is the tuck in a different place? At the time I answered lol, Burda, the model is probably 6'5"! But then SewCraftyChemist posted photos of her awesome, VERY much cuter, stripy version and it looked like it was the right length (and I have like, 3" in height on her!) and the tuck WAS in the right place. I suspected I sewed it all wrong.

This morning I retrieved my issue of Burda, my traced pattern and the top from where I'd hung it to compare the three. My immediate thought was: was this a tracing error? (No). Then I checked the pattern against the fabric thinking it might have been a cutting error and it was way, WAY off. I mean hugely off. So hugely off that I couldn't imagine how I could have possibly made such an epic cutting error and not noticed at the time. I was all I am the worst sewer in the world :( :( Why is this my hobby :( :(. However, the more I looked at my top this morning the more it struck me that it looked peculiar compared to yesterday.

I tried it on. How fortunate that I had photographic evidence from yesterday of what it used to look like! Overnight, while hanging on a hanger, the fabric had slowly relaxed out of shape in a very uneven manner, leaving me with strange dipping hems and sleeves that had expanded from just above the elbow to half way down my forearm. Wearing it, I look like I have been partially digested by a blue hospital gown.

Remember how I was like "I didn't know how to use this fabric because it's a crinkle viscose and you can't cut a straight line in it"? It turns out even if you manage to cut a straight line, IT WON'T STAY STRAIGHT. I guess every time I pressed it yesterday I was gradually uncrinkling it from the shape I'd cut it into until it was rather larger than the pattern pieces I started with, and then when I hung it overnight the long shoulder seams, which are cut at an angle to the grain, continued to relax all out of shape. And I mean OUT OF SHAPE. It gained like 20cm in length in places.

Alas, the end of this story won't surprise you: the Trashbag Top is in the trashbag :( However, I suppose I am mildly reassured that possibly I am not the actual worst sewer in the world.

Meanwhile, I have also been having an adventure with trouser fitting, which has been a mixture of fun, fascinating and extremely, EXTREMELY frustrating.

Up to now I haven't made much effort towards sewing trousers or trouser-like garments. When I've ventured into trouser type objects on the sewing front, I've only really made baggy elasticated waist PJs and yoga pants. I did also make some moderately (but not spectacularly) successful Ottobre woven shorts back in 2014, and most recently I made some closer fitting knit trousers using the StyleArc Barb pattern

At the end of last week I decided to use some of my sewing time to try out trouser fitting. I therefore dug through all my various fitting books and came up with a plan. From what I understood, most non-stretch woven patterns conform to one of two blocks: "trousers", which hang straight from the widest part of your butt to the hem; and "slacks" which are more fitted and slightly cup the butt. I decided to try making "slacks", on the grounds that the fitting problems would be clearer in a closer fitting garment and it would presumably be easier to make a more relaxed "trouser" pattern up once I understood the changes needed in the more fitted pattern.
Technical drawing: Burda 04-2005-103B
The key things I was looking for in a pattern were that it should have been written for a stable woven, have darts for waist shaping, straight and not overly fitted legs, a simple closure (preferably a side zip), and no waistband, pockets, design or seaming details. As usual, my Burda back issue stash proved invaluable and I found and traced out this exceedingly forgettable pattern from April 2005.

So far, I've made 4.5 muslins. I think 3.5 of these were a complete and utter waste of time.

MUSLIN #1, or, The Starting Point

I am, according to Burda, absolutely dead on the hip measurement for a size 42 and somewhere around a size 44 waist. This hip/waist size difference is normal for me -- my butt is quite flat and I carry a lot of weight on my abdomen. I also have a very small gap between my ribcage and the top of my pelvis. Even if I lost a ton of body fat (unlikely) from my waist/abdomen, I STILL wouldn't have much of a waist indent. I'm basically doomed to life as a Giant Rectangle myself, and should probably stop mocking Burda about it. :D

Anyway, I therefore dutifully cut a size 42 with giant seam allowances and here is what I had:
First, totally unaltered muslin
I think it's worth saying that I have almost certainly left the house and gone out in public in trousers that fit worse than this straight-from-the-pattern-sheet muslin, though never in patchily dyed pastel pink. In fact, I know I do, as during one interlude of frustration, sadly after my camera tripod expired, I went through all my favourite pairs of trousers and set up mirrors so I could examine my backside extensively. (Aren't the things you do when you sew absurd?). My 100% absolute favourite RTW trousers that I think make my legs look amazing, and that I would wear every single day if I could? Only about 50% less wrinkled in the back view -- and I don't care, I still love them.

At this point I went through my fitting books and started pinning and tucking and sewing in "corrections" to try to resolve those 8 million wrinkles on the back. This took a very long time and was mostly pointless. Then I had a Eureka moment. There are so many lines and wrinkles and they're all in different directions, but when you look at them closely they are almost all pointing at my thighs. And, then I thought, oh, hey, maybe the fact that all my RTW trousers wear out at the inner thigh means something! /o\ I carry all my extra thigh fat high on my inner thigh, so that's the seam I let out.

Post-thigh-letting-out. Still some crotch seam issues but I think much better. Also seriously, I am SUCH a rectangle. Do I have a single curve below the bust in that left hand shot?
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself to STOP THERE. Yes, the back crotch curve needs some extra room (too much butt definition in this photo, the horror!) but the legs are actually better than 90% of my RTW at this point. But no, after this I carried on going, and (spoiler!) every iteration since has been worse.

First there was:

MUSLIN #2 or The Train Wreck Muslin

This muslin I have to talk about without visual aids because (a) my camera tripod broke and I worked mainly with mirrors instead, and (b) I introduced such a huge major error into my pattern between muslin #1 and muslin #2 that the photos I do have don't make a huge amount of sense.

What happened was that overnight I read about the knock-knee adjustment as a fix for "full inner thigh" on Debbie Cook's blog, which I promptly implemented and completely and utterly screwed up. I ended up having to cut through the seam below the knee to take out the distortion created by the pattern adjustment. No reflection on the adjustment or Debbie's description, I just made a big mistake as I was truing up the pattern and it made the whole thing go wrong. For some reason, though, I then spent ages going back and forth between this train wreck and the first muslin I made still trying to get rid of those leg wrinkles and making more adjustments. Many hours were lost to no effect.

MUSLIN #3, or Tally Ho!

Apparently my inspiration for Muslin 3
I made two huge changes (mistakes) before I sewed muslin 3. The more work I did on the first two muslins, the more volume I found myself adding everywhere. I suddenly wondered if I was just engineering myself into a size 44 from a 42. I went back to the pattern and it seemed like maybe it WOULD be better to start from a 44, so I traced that off instead. Mistake 1.

Mistake 2: In order to reflect my inner thigh pattern changes in my new pattern (rather than the rough and ready "let the seam out" approach even though that actually worked fine) I tried this method I saw recommended and just... no. Absolutely not. That would be a great adjustment for someone with "saddlebag" thighs, for sure but I really have quite a straight outseam hip line and I just looked like I was wearing Victorian jodhpurs.

There was no point in going any further with this one, I just ripped off the adjusted fronts and flung them out, but re-used the back to make:

MUSLIN #3.5, or, The Adult Diaper

I retraced the front piece AGAIN, and this time did the inner thigh adjustment described by Cation (#3 on that list). This worked better, in the sense that it didn't make me look like I was about to canter through my estate on my faithful steed. On the other hand this is the point where I realized going up a size was a mistake. A huge mistake, that I then spent ages carefully trying to backtrack from by gradually reshaping the side seams. Alas, this fabric is very thin, I apologize for subjecting you to this photo:

The effect of going up a size: so much unneeded space through the whole hip and thigh!
I also cut and pinned in a HyperExtended Calf from the same post by Cation even though I am extremely dubious that that is my problem. However I also felt like using the very thin polycotton fabric I was using was a mistake, because it just doesn't hang or behave like actual bottom-weight fabric. So, I made a few changes to the pattern and in perfectly horrid poly twill from my muslin stash, I cut out:

MUSLIN #4, or All These Changes Have Achieved Nothing.

Sorry you can't see the rest of my legs -- as I mentioned, my tripod broke and this was the best I could do without it
This is the back of the latest muslin. Basically, all of those hours and hours of extra work and multiple muslins were for nothing. The wrinkles are not noticeably less pronounced, and there are all sorts of exciting new problems, like the empty curves on my lower hip (the result of going from the size 42 to 44) and the fact that (out of shot) I've altered the width of the hem quite noticeably.

Seriously, if I had to pick which of these was better, I'd pick the one on the left, a.k.a Muslin 1
Do I sound frustrated? I feel quite frustrated this evening, but only because I've come to realize that I used a stack of fabric and a huge chunk of time and actually did nothing useful from a trouser fitting perspective between Saturday evening, when the shot on the left was taken, and this evening, when I took the shot on the right.

However, even though frustration is my uppermost emotion at the moment, this was actually a super helpful experience. Things that I learned:
  • You know when they say "choose by hip size"? Definitely I should have chosen by hip size. It is much much easier to add space at the waist and thighs than it is to reshape the hip. The thing is, I have read that a hundred times before now, but this is the first time I could really SEE the difference between starting from the right and wrong size. Also, Burda runs totally true to size. Their hip measurement chart says 102cm for a size 42 hip. My hip measurement is 102cm. In retrospect, the fit on Muslin #1 was really very good at the hip.
  • My thighs are much bigger than Burda's block. MUCH bigger. But then, thinking about it I've come to realize that every pair of RTW trousers I own is tight through the thighs. I think I've just come to think that's normal and never even realized it was a fit problem that I needed to solve!
  • There's definitely a point at which you have to decide that the fit you've achieved is "good enough". I don't know what's causing those last few wrinkles at knee level on the left hand muslin above, and the question I have to ask myself now is: do I care? Given every pair of trousers I've ever worn has been, unbeknown to me, wrinkled as hell, does it matter?
  • Trousers are exhausting. I need a vacation after trying to fit them.


  1. I love your blog. OMG, I was laughing so hard I was crying by the ends of this post. I am sure that most sewists who care about fitting have had a sequence like this at least once. I certainly have, though without benefit of photographic evidence, nor with your self-deprecating humor. I say, carry on! You'll never have to start at the beginning again!

  2. Replies
    1. Alas, I really don't do dresses. I try to, but I definitely prefer trousers!

  3. Ha! This sounds just like me. Two things: a)i comfort myself that my latest trouser iteration is in fact better than any RTW I can buy. I think this is actually true b) check out the back views of peole in the street (discreetly is best). Not that many have perfect trousers. And c) lycra. 2% stretch can make all the difference.
    My latest iteration is the most successful and that's because I ignored all advice along the lines of 'dont add more than 2 cm to the inner thighs' and just made some monster adjustments.
    Anyway, trying to adjust does suck, but be happy and keep going. I'm no expert but I wonder if it might help to move the legs inward at the crotch level?

    1. I definitely think the lycra thing is an important point. I went through my RTW stuff yesterday and EVERYTHING that I think fits even moderately well is 2% lycra or else it's not a "slacks" pattern but a "trousers" pattern -- wide legged or Hepburn style. Luckily, I just don't LIKE skinny trousers anyway, so maybe I just won't worry about fitting more closely!

      My latest innovation is to cut up a pair of well-fitting but disastrously iron-scorched trousers and see what the shape of RTW can teach me!

  4. "crinkle viscose" is an AWFUL thing!!!! :( So sorry your cute trashbag top was trashed!

    I'm with you on muslin #1 being the best. And I think that Burda is more generous towards curves than other patterns. I don't think I've ever had to do a full-butt adjustment on the few Burda pants I've sewn, but have needed it on any other pattern. So I think your horizontal tuck is a good idea.

    1. I think I put the horizontal tuck in the wrong place in that original muslin. I'm also though trying out a pattern made from a cut-up pair of RTW trousers that I found, which I will compare with my commercial patterns to see if I can understand why they fit so much better!

  5. I know that this is over a year old, but if it is any consolation, I have a very similar shape to you, and I will remember your lessons when I am brave enough to progress further than pyjama bottoms on the trouser front! A very helpful post, thank you ☺️