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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Repairing a Backpack

 

mending backpack 1

 

This spring, when I fixed this jacket for my dad, I got an unexpected bonus.  Every time I saw him wearing it (which was quite often, it’s his favorite for cool windy days) my heart would warm with a soft fuzzy glow.  Here was my dad, who I love dearly, so pleased with his jacket and so obviously getting good use out of it, both of those all the more so since I had fixed the zipper and the tearing pockets.  It’s hard to describe actually— it seems at the same time obvious and silly— but I’m telling you, every single time I saw him in the jacket I would get a moment of happiness.

 

mending backpack 2

 

So, the obvious thing to do was to mend something else of his, and the standout candidate was this backpack.  He’s had it since, I don’t know, around the time I was born maybe?  And he still takes it out into the field on weekly basis.  (Maybe I should explain that Dad is a fairly recently retired wildlife biologist, who now gets to spend more time outside with his pet projects than he did while he was working.  Objects, which are part of his field gear and/or live in his pickup truck, do not lead an easy life.)  And I have a serious soft spot for things that have far outlasted their expected usefulness—this clearly qualified.

 

Another (non-sentimental) reason I was all up for fixing rather than replacing this pack is that the zippers still work!  I asked Dad if they did, and he said “kind of,” which turned out to mean that the only thing holding them back was the amount of frayed nylon threads stuck in the teeth.  Amazing.  The first thing I did was to turn under and sew down the raw edge of the flap covering the zipper, which had pulled out of its original stitching long ago and was the main source of the zipper-clogging threads.  I pulled the threads from the zipper using my fingers, a tweezers, and a scissors for stubborn parts, alternately zipping and unzipping it until they were just about all gone.  I also went kind of nuts zigzagging over any and all seam allowances and raw edges I could reach inside the pack with my machine, trying to keep future fraying and loose threads to an absolute minimum, since after all, this backpack has to be ready for another 30-odd years of use.

 

mending backpack 4

 

The bigger holes I patched inside and out, to reinforce them, and again to keep all raw edges inside so they wouldn’t unravel any further.  The worst hole was where one strap had pulled out of the body of the pack.  That one had allowed Dad’s not-so-small camera to fall out of the pack—that was the last straw for him to hand it over so I could fix it.  After patching that hole on both sides, I sewed a big X through the strap webbing and the new fabric, which ought to hold it.  I also reinforced the other strap with similar stitching.

 

The only part I have a doubt about, is where one strap had pulled off at the point where it’s anchored to the top of the pack.  I added new fabric on both sides of the whole area where the straps attach (the one you see on the outside is black faux suede), and stitched around the whole thing as best I could.  But, there is an old rivet in there that had pulled out.  I couldn’t stitch as close to it as I would like, and I thought pulling it off completely would weaken the strap too much.  At least I will be around to see how it holds up, and make future repairs if necessary!

 

mending backpack 3

 

Hopefully you don’t need any more encouragement than the above story to get out there and fix something for someone you love.  It doesn’t have to be sewing, use whatever skills you have.  And if you have any questions about needle-and-thread mending, let me know, I’ll be happy to help if I can.