Some Thoughts About Sewing Leggings

 

I’ve been wearing leggings more these past two winters.  I love how warm they are under my skirts.  The fit though, often leaves something to be desired, so I decided to try making my own.  Good decision!  These are totally the comfiest pair I own.  I’m more than a little behind on sharing them, but the plus side of that is I can already report that I took them with me on our spring and summer travels last year, and they served me really well as a base layer under dressier clothes when the weather at shows was chilly, for hiking, and as PJs when camping in cooler weather.

 

green wooly leggings 4

 

I used the Espresso pattern from Cake.  I love that it’s designed so that you transfer your measurements in both length and width right to the pattern to make your own custom size.  Overall the amount of ease the pattern added worked great for me.  These fit just how I’d like them to: not too tight or constricting, not to loose or wrinkly, but like a second soft wooly skin.  The only problem I had with the way this pattern is drawn out is that it doesn’t allow for curves between the booty and waist.  One look at my body would tell you that a straight vertical line in this area isn’t going to cut it.  After a couple of iterations I ended up taking a huge curving dart out of the center back seam, from the waist down to nothing at the widest point.  But since the fabric is stretchy and I basted the seams together first, it wasn’t hard to do.  (I highly recommend basting the seams if you’re making your first pair.  Long straight stitches are just amazingly easier to pull out than zigzag.  Once I had the fit I wanted, I trimmed the seam allowances to match the new seams, pulled out the basting, and sewed the seams with a narrow zigzag.)

 

green wooly leggings 2

 

Once that was settled, I tried them on and marked with pins where I wanted the waistband to sit.  I just don’t like constriction, especially elastic, around my natural waist, and I tend to cut the waistbands of trousers and skirts so that they sit just below my belly button.  I knew that I wanted the leggings to sit a little below that, so they’d layer well with the rest of my wardrobe.

 

green wooly leggings 3

I would NEVER wear only these in public, or show you my booty in leggings on the internet.  And I just need to get this off my chest, because I keep wanting to say it to young women I see on the street: leggings aren’t pants!  But somehow, I’m OK with you seeing the fit on the dressform, even though the whole point of this dressform is that it’s as close to my actual shape as possible … go figure. 

 

I decided to add a wider waistband, which I hoped would make the top more stable and also give it a little more recovery.  I cut two pieces about an inch less wide than the leggings are at the top, and 3″ deep.  I sewed those pieces together, and then to the inside waist of the leggings, also including clear elastic in the top seam.  Then I flipped the waistband to the outside and zigzagged it in place just over the raw edge, and again at the top just under the seam allowance.  I didn’t want the bulk of another turned-under edge at the bottom, and it’s worked out pretty well, the fabric has fluffed up only slightly around the cut and sewn edge.

But, they didn’t stay up.  To be clear, I don’t blame the pattern at all for this, since I was off on a choose-your-own-waistband adventure by this point in the process, all learning around the waistband issues is my own responsibility.  And I did fix it; after considering taking things apart and/or adding more elastic, I decided to try a thin ribbon drawstring, a trick that’s worked for me in the past on a strapless elastic top.  Since I already had a small channel at the top of the waistband from the topstitching, I cut a tiny hole there at each side of center front on the inside, and reinforced it with a little hand stitching around.

 

green wooly leggings 5

 

Then I used a little safety pin to thread the ribbon around.  When I’m wearing these, I tighten the ribbon to the fit I want, and tie it in a firm bow.  Sometimes by the end of the day, I get ever-so-slightly irritated by the one fairly tight, unmoving place around my hip.  But would I gladly trade that for leggings that stay up all day, exactly where I want them, with no dropping crotch?  Yes, yes I would, quite happily.  And when I make another pair, I may experiment with some stronger elastic at the top.

This fabric is mostly wool, with a little stretchy stuff, from The Fabric Store LA.  They have the best selection of fine wool knits I’ve found (also where I got the lovely stuff for these tops).  It’s a bit vague on the site whether or not their swatching service is up and running, but it totally is, just call them and tell them what you’re looking for.  Last time I got a generous selection of organic wools and leggings-appropriate fabrics.  I went with the pattern recommendation of minimum 5% lycra/spandex added, and chose this green with black, double layer knit.  This is about as thick a fabric as I would use, as you can’t avoid a few wrinkles around the knees, etc., but they’re wonderful to wear!  I love the slightly plush inside of this fabric, it makes the leggings even cozier and comfier.

 

green wooly leggings 6

Putting a little tab of ribbon at the back is another idea of Steph’s I like!

 

I’m definitely a sew-your-own-leggings convert.  A fit this good is hard to argue with.  After years of knowing that the only way to get pants/trousers to fit my legs & booty was to make my own, I’m kind of surprised that it wasn’t more obvious what a difference custom-fit leggings would make … but there you have it.  Plus they only take a yard of fabric (on me), have only one main pattern piece, and once you have the fit down they would make up lightning fast.  What’s not to love?

Update: for what I figured out about elastic at the waist in next versions, and making these from repurposed sweaters, click here.

 

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Making Drawstring Bags—Another Option for the Top

 

Hello!  There’s been just a little more radio silence around here lately than normal, but hey, that’s what retreats are for, right?  Today let’s jump back in with some thoughts about drawstring casings on bags.  In the second part of Hello Sewing Machine, I guide you though making a drawstring bag and leaving a “buttonhole”—a gap in the side seam for the drawstring to pull through.  That’s probably my favorite way to finish the casing, and one that helps you think about how a piece of fabric becomes a finished project, which is why I chose it for my beginner e-book.  There are lots of other options though, basically any method that encloses the raw edges and leaves a place for the drawstring will work.  One of my proofreaders asked about making a little hem on the sides of the bag instead, and I wanted to present that option here.  In my example, I’m altering a commercially made bag which doesn’t have much in the way of seam finishing, and is not going to stand the test of time.  You can also easily use this technique on DIY bags.  Click on any of the pictures to enlarge for a closer look.

 

drawstring bag 1

 

On this bag, there’s nothing to keep the raw edges from unraveling.  I’m especially concerned about the area where the drawstring emerges from the bag, because it’s likely to get a lot of wear and tear, which will cause the fabric to unravel faster.

My first step was to take apart the seam stitching, down to where I wanted the seam to stop for the new finish.  I stitched up to that point and back down (with red thread) to hold all the stitching in place.  Then I took apart enough of the seam holding the casing down to let me make a narrow hem on the edges.

 

drawstring bag 3

 

If you are making your own bag, just stop sewing the side seam a little ways from the top, and back tack over the seam end.  To figure out where to stop, think about the parts of the casing you need to leave room for at the top of the bag.

 

drawstring bag 2

 

At the very top is a little extra fabric, usually turned under (or stitched over) so that it won’t unravel.  It serves the same purpose as a seam allowance.  Then you have the inside and outside of the casing (keep in mind we are looking at the bag from the inside), and you will also need a little more room (about 1-2″ or 3-5 cm) for the transition between the hemmed edges and the seam.   Once you figure out where the end of your seam will be, go ahead and overcast the seam edges, continuing a little bit past the point where your seam stops.  Then on each edge above the seam, fold over and press down 1/4″ (or .5 cm) with your iron, towards the inside of the casing.  Fold over the edge again in same direction, using your first fold as a guide, and press in place again.  Then stitch down your hemmed edges, sewing close to the edge with a straight stitch.   Sew across the seam as well, below the top where you stopped stitching, so that all the stress from opening the bag is not on just one point.

 

drawstring bag 4

 

Next, sew your drawstring casing in place.  Normally I would press a small fold at the top edge towards the inside, and then fold and press down the width of the casing.  Since the casing here is already sewn in place around the rest of the bag,  I opted to replace the original stitching, overlapping it with the red thread.  Make a small back tack at each edge, since those ends won’t be held down by any other stitching later.  Then I used a mock-serger stitch to go over the small raw edge below the casing, since I don’t want it to unravel and lead to my casing pulling loose.

 

drawstring bag 6

 

A quick note about ends: I like to bury them inside the casing or hem, or wherever there’s a double layer of fabric, so that enough thread remains to keep the stitching from pulling out, but it’s hidden.  I thread the ends on a hand-sewing needle, pull them between the fabric layers for one long stitch, and snip them off where they come out.

 

drawstring bag 5

 

Here’s an another example of a commercially-made drawstring bag using the same concept.  I think they hemmed the sides of the drawstring first, and then caught them in the side seam, and finished the seam allowances with a serger.  As I said, you have a lot of options!

 

drawstring bag 13

 

There’s lots more thorough and friendly beginner-oriented directions for sewing seams, overcasting, using your iron to make a casing, and everything else you need to know to plan and sew a drawstring bag in my e-book, Hello Sewing Machine!

If you have other beginning questions, feel free to let me know, I’m always curious about what’s on your mind.   You can also read my answers to others’ questions in this post on Sew,Mama,Sew!