Don’t try this at home. Seriously, don’t. That is, unless you have an unhealthy interest in pants, or your idea of a good time is stabbing yourself repeatedly with pins. I’m at the end of my rope.
I’ve come to the conclusion that tailoring is like sausages. Everyone loves it, but nobody really wants to know how it’s made. If you’ve ever made your own sausages, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Nonetheless, you were all perfectly happy to push me into this so now you get to see what’s inside my own personal circle of Hell.
I kid. This has been a fascinating project where I’ve pushed my knowledge of pattern cutting to the limits and advanced my tailoring skills. I’m considering adding trouser sculpture and pants origami to the interests section of my dilettante CV. And most importantly, I’m well on the way to some seriously excellent trews.
Here’s the thing though. Pants are notoriously difficult to get right. They have to fit, drape and move gracefully, so the only way to work them is on the wearer. And since the wearer is me and these pants are all about the rear view, that means I have to fit them using two large mirrors and a lot of selfies. You get the idea.
It’s all about rapid prototyping and iteration. Modify, test, modify again. The nice thing about working like this is that very occasionally it leads through some blinding complexity to a solution so elegant it feels like it was there all the time waiting to be teased out, leaving you wondering why you didn’t see it before. Not that it would be obvious, far from it, because that kind of simplicity is almost never easy.
There’s still work to do here but I feel like I’m in the home straight at last. The end result needs no cuts to the fabric and sticks very closely to the original seams, so in theory they could be restored to their former grandpa pants glory if I ever felt the urge. I know this isn’t a sewing community per se, but for anyone who’s interested, I’ve included a draft of the pattern blocks and approximate alterations, which I’ve been working on so I can see what I’m doing from the inside out, so to speak.
Here’s a rundown of the process.
1. My first move was to fit the waistline. I set a concealed tuck behind the fly to achieve the fit while preserving the drape. This creates a staggered waistband which I actually find more flattering than the original high waist.
2. I then set the back tuck, which had to be balanced with a dart into the front section. This should have been a clue as to how difficult the rest was going to be.
3. I ran into serious trouble trying to tailor the legs themselves. My original plan was to reduce the length with horizontal seams and adjust the profile at the side seams. This draped like cardboard and created yet more bulk which had to be balanced.
4. I then hit on the scheme of twisting the leg around a diagonal seam, which made some kind of sense when I thought about it. It followed the natural drape at the knee and pushed the shape towards a contemporary boot cut. The problem was that it didn’t fit together at all.
5. I fixed this with a tuck from the back of the hip to the inseam above the knee to reverse the twist, and narrowed the leg to the straight grain, eliminating the taper, reducing the dogleg in the side seam and straightening the leg. I quite liked this, the drape was behaving and everything fitted, so I marked it out with tailor tacks thinking I’d do the same on the other leg.
6. In the pictures, the right leg is closer to a straight boot cut. I don’t think these pants were ever meant to be straight though. These are the old fashioned tapered bags your (great)grandfather used to wear and I think I want to keep them that way. Moving on to the left side, I went back to the original side seams and used the tucks alone to correct the twist, which was far harder to achieve on a tapered leg than a straight leg. This produced a larger dogleg in the side seam, a motif I repeated by lapping the side seam in the tuck at the hip.
7. A question on the length: at the moment, one leg is a little longer than the other. The longer delivers PPL, but it breaks ever so slightly. The shorter looks a little awkward but it drapes without breaking and shows off the shaped cuff. It was originally tailored for someone with far larger feet than mine and it looks a little odd even with my chunky shoes, but I’m inclined to shoot for the shorter length to preserve the drape. I need to see how this plays out on the next pass, but what do you think?
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