Learning to sew sometimes involves progressing from the simplest patterns to more complex garments. The first curved seam that doesn’t wobble at its most visible point is a matter for celebration; later on, a steady hand on the machine is taken for granted.
There are one or two very basic garments, however, which just go on and on. One of the first sewing books I bought was Simple Modern Sewing by Shufu To Seikatsu Sha, translated from Japanese. It contains eight patterns, each with several variations, which taken together could form a wearable, casual wardrobe. I am still coveting the wrap-around dress, shown in blue linen, and the button-front shirts in various lengths. (Buttonholes? Umm… not quite in my skill set, yet.)
There’s one pattern in this book which I’ve made over and over again. Pattern 4, Pull-On Pants, is given in different lengths, with or without patch pockets at the back, and even with a petticoat-style frill which should be forbidden to anyone over the age of about 14. I have made this pattern up in various lengths in blue cotton, blue denim, red linen and black linen, and all these trousers are worn whenever the weather is right. Another pair of blue ones – maybe patterned? – was on my to do list.
So this grey-blue cotton canvas from Rathdowne Remnants in Victoria St, Brunswick, looked perfect.
Until, that is, the trousers were cut out and sewn together, when they began to look worryingly like clown pants. Not possible: this is a familiar pattern, it has never let me down. I carried on, folding over and machining the top to form a waistband, and forcing elastic through the resulting tube of fabric.
They still looked like clown pants. Enormous.
The problem, of course, was the canvas. I’ve used different weights of fabric and everything worked – but the canvas, which is beautifully heavy and stiff, just does not behave like the others. It’s too bulky around the waist, and the waistline is mysteriously lower in this than it appeared to be in lighter fabric. Basically, the trousers looked terrible, and also they were going to fall down after about thirty seconds.
There will have to be a new waistband in order to raise the waistline. I unpick the existing waistband and unfold it; with a new band attached at the top, it should work well. It will need belt loops, as the elasticised waistband is likely to need a bit of help in keeping this heavy fabric in place. First, however, there’s the problem of the bulk around the waist.
Pinching the material to one side, it appeared that there was easily room to reduce the amount at the waist by about 12 cm. Divided between the four seams, this would mean 3 cm per seam. This is the point at which I take to tacking: hand stitches, easily removed, in a contrasting colour, so I can see if my theory works.
Here is one of the side seams, with the proposed new seam in yellow – backstitched rather than tacked, so it won’t pull apart when I’m trying it on. Unfortunately, even with all four seams reduced by a total of 12 cm, the garment is still baggy, and it slides over my hips with the greatest of ease. I don’t want to get those patch pockets any closer to the side seam, so I take in another 6 cm or so at the back and front.
Here’s the back seam, now with two proposed lines of stitching. We are getting there now, things are looking a lot more wearable. At the front, however, the second seam appears to be in about the right place, but the fabric bulges lower down. Further adjustment needed.
I start a third seam from part way along the second seam. effectively adding a curve. When I try it on, the whole thing looks just about all right.
Tacking is wonderful. My mother could make a dress in an afternoon without a pattern, and she put it all down to tacking. Tacking, done carefully, will not damage the fabric (leaving aside silks and other exotica, which I have not yet worked with). It allows you to try an alteration on and reverse your decision in a few minutes. It acts as a guide for machining, and as long as you’ve used a contrasting colour, it’s easy to remove afterwards.
That’s enough sewing for one day. Next: machine those new seams. Then: how to construct a waistband. I have several patterns which include waistbands and belt loops, and enough fabric left to make a few more mistakes before getting it right.