Classic Pieces

Wide-leg Linen Trousers: Finished

Quick, before I find something else to delay my wearing these, I must take a picture.

{Pattern: Wearing History “Smooth Sailing Trousers”}

Okay, phew, that’s over. Once they were on I just wanted to slouch in them all day.

I confess they’ve been done for over a week but I couldn’t figure out which type of closure to use. I sewed three small hooks and eyes, ripped those out, then three snaps, ripping those out. There was no trouser hook in the stash, so I finally ordered one yesterday.

Okay, I figured, better put the belt loops on and use a belt to keep them up. I got pretty darn close to perseverating on the belt loops, making them twice before deciding to cut them wider than the pattern. My Juki wouldn’t sew over the belt loops no matter how I fiddled with the feed. So I had to pull out my dusty but trusty old Bernina.

(Convenient showing of non-zippered side. You do not want to see the debaucled zipper. Is debaucled a word?)

Then I got to the belt and suddenly realized I didn’t have a buckle. So I ordered one of those make-your-own-fabric-buckle thingies. All the while, I was wondering what type of obstacle was really at play here, other than poor planning. It was like the trousers were done, you know? Do you ever come to this kind of impasse in a creative project, where it seems you are working out some issue other than the one at hand?

I tried turning out all the lights, except for the machine light, to calm me down and try to sew with focus. Yes, it made things hard to see. I left the studio for three days, came back, left for another day.

It finally rained in Austin and I feel better now, back to my senses. I like wearing these, and hook or no hook am taking them on my trip this week up to the cooler Midwest.

Anyone know where to get nice belt buckles?

This pattern is a great style for wide-leg linen trousers if that’s your thing. If you are used to flat-front trousers, the billowy front will take some getting used to. Since I made these in a heavier linen, the extra fabric in the front feels a little bulky, and if I were to make them again, I’d use a lighter weight which would drape more nicely.

And don’t even think about making them a size down. I tried this in a muslin, thinking that I was slimming them down a bit, but the muslin was far too tight: these are designed to fit quite close in the waist to upper hip.

One note for the pattern geeks, however: the outseams of these trousers do not match, by about a half inch. I discovered this in my muslin and then walked the original pattern along the seam lines a couple times to be sure I didn’t fudge something. I get all tweaked out when I sew to the end of a seam and there is a half inch (or more) hanging off the end and I’m supposed to just “cut if off” and hem. I like when pattern pieces are engineered to fit exactly, or if one piece is longer than another, let you know there is supposed to be ease.

That complaint aside, I’m already wondering what else I could do with these: how about silk crepe for some really liquid pants? Or adding pockets? I don’t use trouser pockets much but I kept finding myself reaching for them.

(And I promise, the next you see me again I won’t be mostly headless.)


The Wide-leg Linen Trousers: Inspiration

Let’s talk about high-waisted trousers. I know they aren’t for everyone, but somehow everyone managed to convince themselves of 7-inch rises, whether it flashed the world or not, right?

High waists are one of the few resurrected styles that seemed to take forever to trickle down to the mortals, in an era when fashion and manufacturing cycles seem to be on speed. Fashion-trickle-down (or trickle-up) is such a dinosaur of the pre-internet past. But it took Urban Outfitters like 5 years to knock this off:

When this Chloe collection first appeared in spring 2005, I was in love and went on a mission to find a more affordable pair. This might look pretty normal now, but I’m telling you people were whacked out when they saw this. There was a lot of NO WAY.

At that point, their polar opposite, low-rise skinnies, were just starting to take over the world, but boy, did I hunt. And I managed to find a pair of very form-fitting, squish-me-in-70s, high-waisted jeans–I mean crawling-way-above the navel-high-rise.

I’m beside myself now, since high-rises are everywhere.

{credit: (ponte polyester–now that’s 70s!), Marc Jacobs Spring 2011 ad campaign, Alice & Olivia (, Adam (, and Tucker high-waisted flares.}

Back down on Planet Sewing, it will probably be another year (or 5) before there’s a comparable pattern from which to work. Since most of these are clearly 70s-inspired, I could always go with a 70s pattern but lack the confidence or pattern-making skills to fit something so, um, fitted. I will stick to buying them for now. Plus, I am dreaming of linen and stretch linen is hard to find–I think something that slim needs to stretch–how did they ever breathe back then?

Of course the 70s don’t have the high waist cornered, I just happen to be partial to them. We’ve got high-waisted 80s, which exaggerate the opposite shapes, like the “carrot” pants which I’m still not sure about on me. Jeans from the 80s were really high-waisted but so freaking sackish. Except for Brooke Shields and her Calvins. Things went tent-like after that.

{Via 39th & Broadway. A resurrected 80s rocker look from French Vogue 2009.}

Then we’ve got the looser Katherine Hepburn trousers of the 30s/40s. The mannish trousers, if you will, that seem to fall so eloquently from waist to floor. I could probably live in these, no doubt, and will have a much easier time fitting them than my 70s inspirations.

Soooo. I have a gorgeous length of cobalt blue linen that I washed over a year ago and is just waiting to be cut. I wanted the perfect pair of linen wide-leg trousers that I could live in all summer. I went through a couple of patterns trying to figure out which would be best.

Like many sewers, I’ve never been completely happy with the fit of pants patterns so at some point I gave up. Last summer I thought of using the linen for the semi wide-legged HotPatterns Marrakesh pants, but after making a muslin I wasn’t so sure. I wanted something a bit more fitted and higher up on the waist. It’s a great everyday trouser pattern, just not exactly what I envisioned.

After seeing some beautiful versions of Wearing History’s Smooth Sailing pattern, I decided these would be a better idea. These recent Elizabeth and James trousers (right) are almost identical in styling, down to the sewn-down pleats in front. And I can have my very own.

{Top photo credit: Grey Ant jeans, Terry Richardson for Vogue Nippon, 2007}


The White Jacket: Finished

Yay! White Jacket is done. Actually, it’s been done for over a week but I wanted to take it to the cleaners for one last press and to clean some of the grub that’d occurred while handling and sewing.

And you know what? The dang cleaners pressed a different roll line. What’s up with that? When I picked it up, the lapels were flipping up and folded onto themselves inside the cleaner bag.

And the lapels were so perfectly rolled before the cleaners. Hmph. Hopefully I’ll be able press some of this out when I get a chance. After my last post, I ended up taking apart the entire lapel and shaving off some of the extra allowance from the facing. It was work to do all that, but I quite enjoyed it, like a little science experiment in deconstruction. I could see how the lapel wasn’t lying parallel with the collar. Shaving some off solved both the dimpled and ripple-y lapel (but the cleaners somehow managed to press even more ripples).

Okay, so lesson learned about the cleaners. Has anyone else had their tailoring undone by a cleaner?

The chain was one last detail I needed to make it more like my original inspiration. (More jacket details in my last post.)

If I were to make this pattern again, I would do one more adjustment in the bust area, something like this:

Actually, I think that should’ve been my first adjustment, and I’m figuring I will have to do it in most patterns with a lapel. I cut and overlapped almost two inches in the Lady Grey coat. I have broad shoulders but am rather tiny around the rib cage and bust, so having things very fitted-looking there is important to me. I’d also narrow the lapels even more than I did. Fat lapels come in and out of fashion but at the moment I much prefer the long and narrow lapel. Other than all these refinements, for anyone still balking at Marfy, I have to say I really liked working with the pattern. It was drafted well, made a great block to start from, and the lack of directions freed me to follow the sew-along.

In other news, we hit our first 100° (38C) day yesterday. This pool hides in an apartment courtyard near us and some of our friends sneak in at night. We were taking photos at a nearby park and then D said, that dress really wants to be near a pool. I almost jumped in. Seriously. I’ll still have use for light coats from this point on, mostly to wear indoors as Texans love their air conditioning. Movie theaters are infamously refrigerator cold.

I really want to give a big thanks to Sherry for all her amazing work in the RTW Tailoring Sew-along. She’s added a huge, invaluable resource to online sewers–and in my humble opinion probably deserves to get paid for all her teaching work and commitment in answering our questions!

My next project will be a few simple tank tops, as I mentioned before. I’ve already got a silk one cut out, and am fixing up another pattern for knits, based on the Lydia.


Sneak Preview: The White Jacket

I am a slowwwww sewer. And I actually have time to sew, but I move at such a contemplative pace.

A friend of ours recently quoted something he read, “The first 40 years of your life you’re trying to beat death. The second 40 you’re embracing it.” It wasn’t a cynical observation at all, if you knew him–it sounded like a 90-year-old wise old oak rocking on his front porch.

I’ve been thinking about his little proverb nugget ever since, especially in regard to creativity and productivity. While finishing my jacket I kept hearing Feist in my head, crooning, “Take it slow, take it easy on me”.

I’m being a bit selfish here in showing some detail pics, because I want some advice before I sew the buttonholes, close up the sleeve lining and model it. And well, press it, because I haven’t really done much of that yet.

First the good:

I love how the sleeves came out. I was very nervous about this, despite the fact that I didn’t have to wrestle large amounts of sleeve ease. This fabric easily puckers. And I wanted a very strong shoulder, so I ended up hand-sewing in a a stiff and contoured shoulder pad, rather than machine sewing it to the allowance. I didn’t want in any way to crush the lift!

My pattern didn’t include vents on either the sleeves or back, but the original jacket I was knocking off did, so I drafted those. I used Sherry’s sleeve vent tutorial for the sleeves.

I searched high and low for true white buttons, but apparently button-sellers like calling ivory “white”. I ended up with a bunch of buttons I didn’t want and then decided on mother-of-pearl–if I’m going to go ivory, might as well go pearly.

Pockets turned out alright, the flaps a bit short for the welts, but I’m happy.

For the back vent, I followed Fashion Incubator’s tutorial on facing & lining junctions (here and here). Unlike my sleeves, the back vent also has a vented lining and needs to be drafted differently.

I drafted the vent a little too long in the end and had to hand-tack part of it down so it doesn’t start swinging open near my waistline.

I love how the lining came out. I sewed the entire thing in two passes, following the sew-along except at the facing hem, where I again used the tutorial at Fashion Incubator.

Now the bad:

The collar disappointed me a bit. It’s got a little bubble where the lapel meets the collar. Any advice on this?

You can see how this particular lapel also has a wavy doohickey going across the point. Don’t know what to do about that either.

The lapel itself looks wavy on the edges. I suspect this has to do with the seam allowances–the outer edge is actually longer than the seam and by squeezing itself in there might be causing the waviness?

Would a smaller (maybe 1/4″) seam allowance prevent this, or is this the nature of my fabric?

Ok, enough of lapel talk. The only other thing that is driving me mad is just occupational hazard. White really does dirty up quickly if you are working on it for long. I washed my hands quite frequently but that didn’t stop it from getting a little dulled. I may have to take it to the cleaners already–which might give me a great final press, too. What do you think?

I really dislike having silk dry-cleaned frequently. It starts to dull after awhile. But I do spill and am not especially neat. Hand-washing is out of the question for this jacket so it will have to be handled with kid gloves.

Edit: I corrected this entry to give proper credit to the “Unnamed Tutorial” series at by Kathleen Fasanella. This series includes a technique of drafting a pattern so that a jacket’s lining and facing are entirely sewn by machine resulting in a very clean finish.

I had previously included links to a sewing blog demonstrating this technique–which I found from yet another sewing blog. I mention this only because I feel it is important bloggers track down their sources properly. Original tutorials with photos are proprietary information belonging to the author/publisher, whether from a blog or a book. I take these issues seriously, and apologize for not crediting properly the first time.


Black and White and Patti Smith

For a very, very short while, I was in a band. Well, actually I was in two, but the second never made it out of the garage (or, in this case, the attic). The first one, fronted by a fabulous piano-playing bombshell friend of mine, needed a backup singer. They asked me if I played anything. Um, flute? “Okay, maybe we can use that. How about tambourine?”

“Sure.” So I became a tambourine-playing backup singing girl for about six months. This band had the bizarrest mixture of influences, from George Clinton to Blue Oyster Cult to Tori Amos to Bauhaus. (This is what happens to classically-trained rocker aspirants. Many of us become armchair musicologists. Or tour with Peter Gabriel.) I was somewhat of an innocent bystander in it all, but there was one thing I loved performing–and passionately–Patti Smith’s “Frederick”.

It was her love song to her beau Fred Sonic Smith and something of a farewell to rock–for the time being–as she went off to start a family in Detroit.

I got to thinking about her recently after browsing through this month’s Elle, a wonderful issue showcasing some surprisingly understated choices of women in music. Of course, I got stuck on the mesmerizing portrait of Feist, in a (wouldn’t you guess, it taunts me) white Stella McCartney blazer and an unmistakeable nod to Patti Smith. So angular and striking, with that punk deshabille cool.

{Photo credit: Elle}

I love Feist. I love Patti Smith. I never would’ve put them in the same place in my head but now that I’m thinking about it–why not.

I’ve been reading, on and off for the last year, Patti’s memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, as both of them were emerging as young explorers and artists, and up to the time of his death. I’ve always thought of Patti as a performance artist above all–more than a musician or writer–but this book really changed my mind. It’s a writerly story, full of great characters and graceful emotion. And she has told the story that was in her to tell, I think.

I loved how she approached her own youth with a kind of tender mercy and not an overhwhelming sentimentality or nostalgia that I often feel in memoirs. Mapplethorpe comes out as being neither a god nor a tragic hero. There are no icons, just people. I could even go so far as to say reading it helped me forgive and love my younger self–neither idolizing or chastising it.

I’ve always loved Mapplethorpe’s photos of Patti Smith. He had a way of capturing her grace:

This photo is from a recent Time essay in which Patti writes on her life in front of cameras. Must see…Patti Smith: Photographer’s Muse.

{Edited: my original post included an image inspired by Patti Smith but not in fact her! I kept looking at it going, it *looks* like the photo I was looking for, but this woman looks remarkably like Alexa Chung. Turns out the photo was from a New York Times Magazine fashion article inspired by Ms. Smith. Most people re-posting it are mistakenly crediting it, me included. Lesson learned on the woes of fair use.}


The White Jacket: Bits and Bobs

(No, I’m not English but ‘bits and bobs’ is one of those useful phrases I picked up living with a ship of English folk for the last three years.)

I spent a good hour testing interfacings on the dupioni for my jacket. I always think I know which one is going to work, but then I get down to fusing and mysterious things happen. The supposedly lighter tricot knit inferfacing was so stiff and heavy, I wondered how I could possibly use it in any knit. A weft was a little too fluffy, but I had a yard of some warp-insertion that felt just right.

And gosh, I think I fused for over two hours. Yawn. During the process I watched an entire film, one of those gambles in Netflix recommendations. Remember Rob Morrow? (I loved, loved, loved Northern Exposure.) He wrote, directed and starred in this older indie gem, which features an early performance by the always lovely Laura Linney.

Anyway, I carried on and just have my lining left to cut, but I’m itching to sew so I might make the welt pockets first.

I’m already thinking about how to pair my jacket with some of my existing clothes, but it really needs a white tank, I think, so I’m plotting that as my next project. I’ve re-drawn the Lydia t-shirt pattern into just about every shape (a kimono-sleeve tee, a French stripey top, a bateau-neck dress) except a tank. That’s how I’ll dress it down–tank & jeans.

And for up, I love the original Stella McCartney look but then I saw this…

{from Vogue UK January 2011, via Proper Topper}

I don’t know who the designer is, but it’s an almost identical jacket. I love the white on black (and I’ve been in this nutty black and white mood for awhile), and the glamazon cuff! the silk 70s-ish jumpsuit!

Gertie wrote a sort of “to jumpsuit or not?” post this week and I couldn’t help but chime in, yes! yes! I’m an unabashed lover of jumpsuits. I won’t confess to how many I own, but bought my first one at a vintage store six years ago and I love how they solve a lot of fashion problems in the same way dresses do. Yes you have to unzip your entire self to use the restroom but I have done worse things for fashion.


I Used to Be a Hacker

Despite the fact that my garden is in its most glorious state of the year, with wildflowers and roses blossoming in wild enthusiasm…

I’ve been forcing myself indoors. I’m in the throes of jacket-making in the sew-along and am determined to stay in it. To learn. I like crunchy deadlines and intense work periods. Followed by completely pooped out and distracted periods. I just learn best this way.

I learned to sew patterns right out of the envelope without any sort of altering, fitting, slashing, pivoting. Never had even heard of muslins. I had pretty hilarious ways of hacking as I was sewing to get things to fit. Like the ginormously high-waisted tuxedo pants I made in college; they got years of wear and deserve to be enshrined somewhere near my Doc Martens. The crotch was so low and dorky that I kept sewing and picking out and sewing until I had this even weirder baggy crotch and I took to wearing the things around with safety pins to hold the pants in the shape I wanted. And I wasn’t trying to be punk rock or anything.

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The Black (no, White!) Blazer

I’ve been wanting to tackle sewing a blazer for almost a year. I’m a total blazer fanatic, and I have at least six black jackets, three of which are tuxedo style (one in velvet with silk lapels, yummm). So no, I won’t be sewing a black jacket. But what about white? I was in a total black and white mood this year.

And I loved this look from Stella McCartney’s spring show last year. It was for sale for a gaping $1500 or so on

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The White Shirt

{Proenza Schouler white shirt, via La Garconne}

When I started making a list of classic fashion pieces to sew, I had mostly coats and blazers at the top of the list. A trench was at the very top, and I even looked into various trench patterns in hopes of trying it out. But then I tried on a few Burberry coats. Yes, the $1200 kind. I definitely don’t have a problem trying on luxury clothes even if I can’t afford them. I just love seeing the details and touching the fabric. I could live at Dries van Noten if only they’d set up a sofa bed in their sweet, lofty store in Antwerp. But trying on the “real” trench just ruined the idea of sewing one–I knew from then on out any trench-sewing expedition would get far too perfectionistic. The fit and details were too much to live up to.

I needed to thin out my coat ideas anyway; I live in Texas and wear coats maybe, oh, two months a year? Don’t be jealous–I wish I could layer a lot more than I do. Instead, I decided to start with something simpler and easy to wear year-round. A White Shirt!
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