Sacrilege III: Bitter and Twisted

Don’t try this at home. Seriously, don’t. That is, unless you have an unhealthy interest in pants, or your idea of a good time is stabbing yourself repeatedly with pins. I’m at the end of my rope.

I’ve come to the conclusion that tailoring is like sausages. Everyone loves it, but nobody really wants to know how it’s made. If you’ve ever made your own sausages, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Nonetheless, you were all perfectly happy to push me into this so now you get to see what’s inside my own personal circle of Hell.  

I kid. This has been a fascinating project where I’ve pushed my knowledge of pattern cutting to the limits and advanced my tailoring skills. I’m considering adding trouser sculpture and pants origami to the interests section of my dilettante CV. And most importantly, I’m well on the way to some seriously excellent trews.

Here’s the thing though. Pants are notoriously difficult to get right. They have to fit, drape and move gracefully, so the only way to work them is on the wearer. And since the wearer is me and these pants are all about the rear view, that means I have to fit them using two large mirrors and a lot of selfies. You get the idea.

It’s all about rapid prototyping and iteration. Modify, test, modify again. The nice thing about working like this is that very occasionally it leads through some blinding complexity to a solution so elegant it feels like it was there all the time waiting to be teased out, leaving you wondering why you didn’t see it before. Not that it would be obvious, far from it, because that kind of simplicity is almost never easy.

There’s still work to do here but I feel like I’m in the home straight at last. The end result needs no cuts to the fabric and sticks very closely to the original seams, so in theory they could be restored to their former grandpa pants glory if I ever felt the urge. I know this isn’t a sewing community per se, but for anyone who’s interested, I’ve included a draft of the pattern blocks and approximate alterations, which I’ve been working on so I can see what I’m doing from the inside out, so to speak.

Here’s a rundown of the process.

1. My first move was to fit the waistline. I set a concealed tuck behind the fly to achieve the fit while preserving the drape. This creates a staggered waistband which I actually find more flattering than the original high waist.

2. I then set the back tuck, which had to be balanced with a dart into the front section. This should have been a clue as to how difficult the rest was going to be.

3. I ran into serious trouble trying to tailor the legs themselves. My original plan was to reduce the length with horizontal seams and adjust the profile at the side seams. This draped like cardboard and created yet more bulk which had to be balanced.

4. I then hit on the scheme of twisting the leg around a diagonal seam, which made some kind of sense when I thought about it. It followed the natural drape at the knee and pushed the shape towards a contemporary boot cut. The problem was that it didn’t fit together at all.

5. I fixed this with a tuck from the back of the hip to the inseam above the knee to reverse the twist, and narrowed the leg to the straight grain, eliminating the taper, reducing the dogleg in the side seam and straightening the leg. I quite liked this, the drape was behaving and everything fitted, so I marked it out with tailor tacks thinking I’d do the same on the other leg.

6. In the pictures, the right leg is closer to a straight boot cut. I don’t think these pants were ever meant to be straight though. These are the old fashioned tapered bags your (great)grandfather used to wear and I think I want to keep them that way. Moving on to the left side, I went back to the original side seams and used the tucks alone to correct the twist, which was far harder to achieve on a tapered leg than a straight leg. This produced a larger dogleg in the side seam, a motif I repeated by lapping the side seam in the tuck at the hip.

7. A question on the length: at the moment, one leg is a little longer than the other. The longer delivers PPL, but it breaks ever so slightly. The shorter looks a little awkward but it drapes without breaking and shows off the shaped cuff. It was originally tailored for someone with far larger feet than mine and it looks a little odd even with my chunky shoes, but I’m inclined to shoot for the shorter length to preserve the drape. I need to see how this plays out on the next pass, but what do you think?

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • Traci replied 5 years ago

    So fascinating!  Also, I can relate to your emotions.  I've tried to sew simple garments a few times in my life and every single time it's ended in disappointment and frustration and blind rage.  I can't even imagine taking on a job like this.

  • karen13 replied 5 years ago

    Love following this journey. I've been trying to wrap my head around all the changes- the diagram is super helpful. They are looking wonderful. I struggle so much with PPL without too much break when wearing flattish shoes. I kind of like longer.

  • bj1111 replied 5 years ago

    so amazing! and the pinstripes line up!

    agree with traci...even just hemming pants can move me to tears.  so huge kudos to you.

  • Janet replied 5 years ago

    Wow, what a project! It is interesting to see all that goes into this process -- it reminds me a bit of when I worked for a book publisher and we had a paper engineer who used to work on pop-up books. Good and complex design solutions often involve way more engineering than most people think! Thank you for sharing this with us.

    I like the actual length longer, but I appreciate the unbroken line provided by the shorter length, so I afraid I'm not much help there. Just cheering you on!

  • minimalist replied 5 years ago

    Thank you soooo much for sharing these details!

  • Firecracker replied 5 years ago

    I'm in awe of your skills. Transferring these complex changes to the flat pattern would be especially difficult. I like the look of the trousers in photo 4 best. My inclination would be to go with the longer length, unless they are going to be cropped to the ankle or higher.
    Thanks for showing us the fascinating process!

  • Kate replied 5 years ago

    Wow, just wow. The seaming on these is delicious, and I think the back view looks wonderful. The fabric is beautiful. It must be a real pleasure to work with. I used to wear a lot of vintage clothing when I was younger, including men's suiting and overcoats, and always loved the beauty of the fabrics and exquisite tailoring of those garments.

    I don't mind the slight break of the trousers over the chunky shoes--I have a slight preference for it--but go with your gut on that one.

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Janet: that's so true. I often think we take for granted all those intuitive leaps that have been made to get to solutions like basic pattern blocks, for instance.

    Firecracker, I feel the same way about #4. I'd like to have used that concept but it wasn't to be. It looks good in the picture but as soon as I move it all collapses. It needs too much destructive remodelling to make it work. On any other piece I'd have gone for it, but not these pants. And I have to admit I like the way these are turning out.

    bj111: well, almost! The stripe is so fine that as long as the grain is straight, it's all good.

    karen13, minimalist,  I couldn't find anything like this when I was researching this project, so I figured it was a good idea to share. It's also useful for me to document the process, so I'm very glad you find it helpful.

    And Traci, there have been moments when I've wondered myself why I'm doing this. Many of them in fact.

  • Aziraphale replied 5 years ago

    Wow, I'm super impressed! Tailoring is not in my skill set and never will be (in fact, few things terrify me more), so whenever someone else does it, I see it as a subtle form of magic. ;-P 

    You are going to look and feel so cool when they're done, though. Baggy stripy man-pants are fabulous. Well done!

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Kate the thing about vintage clothing is that really good quality is getting harder and harder to find. I don't remember ever finding anything this good, but I do recall menswear from the same era still being fairly common when I was a kid. Amazing materials and almost indestructible.

    And you could be right about the break. Maybe there's a sweet spot waiting to be found. 

  • deb replied 5 years ago

    This is so interesting. Thank you for the detailed description, the diagram, and the pics.

  • Echo replied 5 years ago

    Amazing, amazing work. It would have never even occurred to me to seam the legs the way you have, and it looks fabulous. I very much prefer the longer length, as a slight break at the ankle seems to me how these pants were originally designed to be worn.

  • Emily K replied 5 years ago

    You show astounding patience for pantigami and the in-progress results are amazing!

  • Gail replied 5 years ago

    I used to sew a little and the most adventurous thing I made was a blouse . I remember lots of interfacing ugh. I am in awe of what you are doing and it's making me sweat just at the thought of it all ! 

  • RobinF replied 5 years ago

    This is such a fun project! I also think I like the longer length but it should be the way you would most like them. I also sew but never anything like this! Fabulous!

  • Elizabeth P replied 5 years ago

    This is amazing, Approprio.  I just can't imagine putting in the time and effort you are, but it is really worth it.  They will be awesome for you.  I think I prefer the longer length, but totally get what you are saying about the break.  Can you do a slightly slanted hem, so you get the longer back, but a better fall in the front?

  • DonnaF replied 5 years ago

    I admire your tenacity.  I am used to seeing men's dress pants with a slight break, so to my eye it looks more elegant.  You can always go shorter in the future, right? 

    I hope you keep that baby away from moths and silverfish. . .I would commit seppuku if I were to go through all that effort and then discover a moth hole,

  • shevia replied 5 years ago

    I am so impressed. They look amazing on you. I can't comment about the length but this definitely is a great accomplishment.

  • replied 5 years ago

    I am in awe of you.  

  • Joy replied 5 years ago

    You have amazing patience and tenacity and tailoring talent. These are turning out to be amazing pants.

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Guys, tenacity is my middle name when it comes to a project like this. I've gotten to the point now where the knowledge I'm acquiring is way more important than the end result. Honestly, I've learned so much about how to cut a pair of pants. Aziraphale, it's not so much magic as some form of dark art.

    DonnaF, ElizabethP,
    thanks for your comments on the break. I've done my homework and I think there is indeed a sweet spot. From here:

    "Trousers without a break barely rest on the top of the shoes.

    They are often cut with a slightly angled opening that’s lower in the back than the front. The tops of most shoes are closer to your ankle than the support in the rear, and the trouser should be brushing the shoe all the way around.

    The biggest danger with this style is that it’s easy to hike your trousers too high and expose too much of your socks."

    This confirms my suspicion that these pants have been tailored for no break. You can just about see in #8 how the cuff is tailored at an angle in the way he describes. 

    However, further down the page, he shows a pair of cuffed pants with a very slight break. That's probably what I need to aim for.

    And DonnaF, that ship has already sailed. There are a few pinholes in the fabric, which is only to be expected in something this old. Nothing you can see from the outside, but yes, it's definitely a worry.

  • replied 5 years ago

    "I’m well on the way to some seriously excellent trews." Heck, YEAH.

    I am thoroughly enjoying your trouser saga. Your talent, dedication and patience are inspiring. I am learning so much about fabric, structure and tailoring here--why things work and why they don't.

    Speaking of inspired, you've motivated me to pick up the 'make it up as I go along' jumper that I started knitting last year and pulled out twice.

  • April replied 5 years ago

    It is quite challenging enough even to place the safety pin in the right spot to show the tailor where a hem should go.  

    I say this as one who attempts this with the help of two highly capable -- so they tell me -- mathematicians.  One has an Ivy League degree in physics, the other is currently pursuing a visual arts degree with extremely high scores on both the AP Calculus and Math SAT tests under his belt.  I kid you not.  

    I say, "Pin the pin at the spot where the pant hem is just barely touching the floor," and their pin locations are sometimes a full inch different from each other.  Then I calculate the mean difference between their pin locations and hope for the best, or I thank them for their service and let the tailor do things properly. 

    So you  have my full sympathy and total admiration.  

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Aliona: I don't suppose that would be the Askews Me sweater by the wonderful Stephen West? He owns a knitting shop just down the road from me and I was lucky enough to meet him once. He is lovely. He's inspired me to have a go at knitting.

    April: that's hilarious! Theoretical expertise doesn't always translate to practical competence though. Speaking of math, this exercise has been making me think of Gaudi's catenary arches. There has to be some of the same physics at work in all this drapery.

  • Sal replied 5 years ago

    The trews are looking excellent.  I can only imagine the frustration and steps involved, as sewing is an area I have struggled with off and on in my life.

    Thanks for sharing.

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