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With everybody else raving about Simplicity 3688, I went to Simplicity 6433 and its ‘Fuss Free Fit’ for my first pair of ‘granny trousers’: it suddenly dawned on me that back in the 1980s trousers actually used to fit me right off the rail in addition to covering my navel (otherwise known as ‘not having my waist coming untucked all the time’!). So when I was trading my mother’s 1940s childhood dress patterns for a vintage style I could actually use, I asked for the cheap-as-chips 1980s trouser pattern to be thrown in… and back in February, I started work on making it up.
I assumed that as a complete trouser novice with very little fitting experience of any kind I was going to need that extra detailed sheet explaining alteration lines and guidance. But to my surprise, once the pattern arrived and I’d taken the stipulated measurements it seemed that I wasn’t going to have to make any changes at all. The only place where mr proportions didn’t already match the design size of the pattern was leg length, where I was a good two inches short – I blame it on the high heels in the photo….
Having learnt to sew largely on vintage unprinted patterns, I found myself at a bit of a loss as to how I was going to transfer the markings from a fully printed pattern onto a working copy without being able simply to draw around the edges! In the end I bought two large and expensive sheets of tracing paper from the local art shop and traced off the seam lines without seam allowance, so that I could just tack my markings round the edge of the pattern pieces: where tucks, darts and so on had to be marked I ended up cutting out holes as in a ‘normal’ unprinted pattern, in order to avoid weakening the tracing paper.
To make a toile I deployed a large circular orange tablecloth, somewhat faded and rather more stained than I had expected. It had been made in two halves sewn together with the selvedges down the middle, and I spent a lot of time unpicking the seam so that I could salvage the selvedges, but only one half was really usable in the end due to the stripes of sunlight-fading and the spill-marks on the other, evidently the side that had faced towards the window. Cutting pieces ‘double’ was impossible due to the difficulty of lining up the grain accurately on this circular material, let alone positioning around the various stains, so I was forced to go the couture route and pin everything multiple times. In fact I actually cut out one back leg on the ‘wrong’ side of the fabric by mistake – you’d never know the difference.
When my toile was finally tacked up I was astonished to find that it did indeed fit perfectly: no ‘smile’, no ‘frown’, no straining over my thighs, no trouble sitting down. Apparently in the 1980s I really was a “perfect 12”! And in fact the colour wasn’t nearly so obtrusive as I was expecting, so I decided simply to go ahead and stitch up the tablecloth trousers as my final project.
All the machine-sewing, including the topstitching on the belt carriers and pockets, was done on the 1916 vibrating-shuttle machine my great-grandmother had received as a wedding present (being manufactured in the middle of WW1, it bears the pointed legend “English Made” in the centre of the machine bed, in contrast to its German and American rivals!) Since this doesn’t have a reverse, let alone a zigzag, I had to elaborate on the pattern instructions a bit in order to ensure that all the internal seams had a proper enclosed seam finish, instead of just relying on zigzagging the edges. The outer leg seams are flat-felled (on the inside, due to the constraints of enclosing the pocket edges in the same seam), as is the crotch, and the inner leg uses French seams. The pocket bags were made with very narrow French seams around the curve,and even the fly extensions had to have their raw edges trapped under the zip seams. To finish the hems I used my great-grandmother’s leftover bias binding in order to match the navy blue brass-toothed zip: the latter not a ‘vintage’ design choice, just the only secondhand seven-inch zipper I happened to have!
The button, an almost perfect match for the faded cloth and exactly the right size, came out of my Vast Vintage Box of Buttons.
This was my first attempt at using genuine buttonhole twist (also ‘vintage’) and also my first attempt at doing a ‘proper’ buttonhole with one square and one round end. From a functional point of view the thick thread created a perfect row of purls to guard the raw edge of the buttonhole, but in spite of all the care I tried to put into it the buttonhole still isn’t even, alas. Exquisite accuracy is just not my strong point.
The only change I made from the toile was to take up my usual swayback adjustment to account for my very arched back: I do wonder if I overdid this slightly as the tops of the pocket facing have a tendency to wrinkle slightly at the sides – but as this was for some reason the only unstayed area around the waistband it’s also possible that they stretched during the months of trying-on and picking up the project by its waistline.
Otherwise, these high-waisted, wide-legged (believe it or not, this was the tapered variant!) trousers are an ideal fit, and highly flattering. The front tucks in place of darts create the appearance of a flat front instead of a bulging abdomen: the shaping above the buttocks gives the illusion of lifting the rump, while the loose cut below conceals the remainder in a straight fall to the back of the knee, to give a ‘Humphrey Bogart effect’ (these trousers would be good for male impersonation!) – they even manage to make you look good when you bend over. My only grouse would be that the pockets came out a little shallower than I like, though they look capacious in the flat… an easy fix to make next time round.
And I’ve been told that there should definitely be a ‘next time’ – really good trouser patterns being like gold dust!
The obligatory silly cat-pic… can you spot the cat in the background of one of the earlier photos? I didn’t when I was taking it!