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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Things I’ve Sewn: Blue Stripe Trousers

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 1

 

So, after talking about these tops last time, it’s time to talk about the pants!  They’re more of a trouser style (which is good since folks on both sides of the pond can agree what “trousers” means, right?).  I bought this fabric last summer at Nob Hill Fabrics in Albuquerque.  I wasn’t 100% sure about it for trousers, but it looked promising.  In truth, I am not 100% sure about it for trousers now.  But, after the untimely demise of my fantastic purple corduroys (so sad!) I really needed a new pair of pants nice enough to wear at shows (in public where I am supposed to look somewhat professional, or at least not like a bum off the street).  The odds of my finding a pair to buy that fit and that I like are close to zero, so I pulled out the blue fabric.

 

A pattern epiphany

While I was cutting it, something pretty cool happened.  As I looked at the back waistband pattern, I got a sudden flash of insight: this piece is trying to take in too much curve, and it would be much better as two pieces, with a seam in the middle as well!  So I traced it into two pieces which matched the existing width at the bottom of the waistband, and took in a little more at the top.  If you do this, don’t forget to add seam allowances to the edges at the new seam!  This approach fit the shape of my body so much better that I ended up doing the same thing on the front, so that I now have four waistband pieces instead of two.  A step forward in fit.

 

pants waistband back pattern pieces

 

Fitting

This is the next evolution of the traced from-existing-pants-and-extensively-altered pattern I used to make the grey pair.  The main problem with those is that they are a little tight around the crotch seam, especially when I sit down.

I will say that I’ve gotten a lot better at diagnosing what needs fixing in the fit of my trousers in the last year or two.  At first, the fact that every part of the fit affects every other part made it nearly impossible for me to tell what I should change.  But now, after fitting a few pairs, when I try some on I can feel which seams need more or less fabric in order to be comfortable and fit my shape.  So I already knew (from wearing the grey pair) that I needed to let out the front inseam a fair amount.  I wanted to cut the fabric outside of the pattern to make sure I would have enough in that area, so I decided to trace with thread the outline of the pattern.  That way I’d be able to see where my new seam is in relation to the pattern, and transfer my changes back to it for next time (I can always add more paper to the pattern using this method).  This worked great, I could see right where the pattern line was as I worked on the fit.

 

blue stripe trous cutting inseam

 

So, I let out the front inseam until it felt comfortable, and then played around with the crotch seam and back inseam to get the look and fit I wanted.  I want the trousers to show that I have a bum, without hugging it too tight, and then drop into a wide leg somewhat reminiscent of 30’s style.  I got pretty close!  To be honest, I may have overdone it on the amount of added room around the inseams, these feel so comfortable that they border on I’m-wearing-my-pajamas-outside.  But when I put them on and sit down it’s sooo nice!

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 3

 

Those back pockets

The back welt pockets are pretty sweet, yes?  This is something I’ve really been wanting in trouser-style pants.  I have one old pair of thrifted Gap wide-leg pants that has them, with little flaps on top too, and I love them.  I almost skipped them for this pair though, just because I was running a little short on time before we left for Texas, and I really needed to get these trousers done.  You know how sometimes, these decisions are made for you, just by the circumstances?  Well, as I got close to finishing the fit, two things became inescapably apparent: I could not figure out any way to get the tips of the back darts to look good (hidden by patch pockets in earlier pairs), and under some conditions, you could see the line of my undies through the fabric.  So, pockets it was, and since patch pockets don’t go with the trouser style I wanted … I basically just kept those Gap pants next to my sewing machine and figured out the steps from looking at them inside and out as I went.  Fortunately, I didn’t hit any major snags.  I have to admit, when I first tried the trousers on after finishing the pockets, my reaction was “no one told me they would look THAT cool!”  I have a few tweaks to make next time, but overall, those back pockets are probably my favorite thing about this make!

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 5

 

Fabric verdict

I had a hunch when I went to add the pockets that it wasn’t the fabric being pulled tight that was showing my undie-lines, it was the fabric being just a little thin and just a little clingy.  I was right.  Now that the pockets are in, you can see that there’s plenty of room for them.  Sometimes you can see a shadow from the pocket lining, but that’s much better!

While this fabric turned out fine, next time I will look for some with just a little more body for making trousers.  I wouldn’t want it to be stiffer, just thick and soft enough to hold its own and skim over curves a little more.

And, did you notice it wrinkles like all get out?  I swear, I pressed the trousers before setting up to take photos, but 10 minutes of adjusting the camera, kneeling by the tripod in the sun and moving around, and it was pointless.  I do think that wrinkles are less noticeable in real life than they are on camera though.

 

blue stripe trous and wool knits 7

 

Have I mentioned before that fitting and sewing trousers is a journey, not a destination?  (Hint: yes.)  I’m glad to get these under my belt, and to have a new pair to wear in public this spring.  Happy May Day to all!