Style Crisis: Trouser fitting travel tales

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A bit of background…

This trouser fitting tale is the convergence of a number of narratives. A couple of years ago I had a shot at coming up with a trouser pattern that actually fitted. Last year that morphed into a successful outing with the ‘Leah’ Lounge Pants pattern from Style Arc. Comments to both those posts suggested I have a go with the ‘Ultimate Trousers’ pattern from Sew Over It. Always one to rise to a challenge I decided that my Italian expedition might be a good opportunity to give that a go. Apologies that this is a bit of a long one….but this is how I got on…

Travel planning

I’m a great trouser-wearer and so the decision to travel in trousers was a simple one. I fancied the idea of something a little more summery, with some stretch for comfort and so earmarked a length of our ‘Pure & simple’ stone stretch cotton drill fabric for my train journey.

Stone stretch cotton drill fabric
‘Pure & simple’ stone stretch cotton drill fabric

I planned to wear these with my olive green trench coat from an earlier blog outing, together with a white cotton shirt and trainers. I know that white shirts and linen aren’t obvious choices for travel but I was tired of wrapping up for cold weather and fancied putting a spring face on things.

I also decided to make a second pair of trousers in grey linen mix. These I planned to wear with a jersey top I had in mind as well as under my printed linen shirt dress if things got nippy. My fabric choice here was our ‘Vendôme’ crisp pewter grey linen mix fabric which I adore for its classy finish and beautiful movement.

Crisp pewter grey linen mix fabric
‘Vendôme’ crisp pewter grey linen mix fabric

Pattern cutting

Since the SOI Ultimate Trousers pattern was new to me, I realised I’d need to run up a quick toile. This I did, without any adjustments at all just to see what I was dealing with. I discovered that as unaltered trouser patterns go, this one was a better fit than many. My toile revealed the usual excess fabric around the front crotch and upper thigh, with legs that were overly tight around the calves and a tad short. But it could have been far, far worse. The lower waistline was comfortable and I liked the cut around my rear.

Heartened, I decided that the simplest means of correcting the fit around the crotch and rise would simply be to use an existing fitted pattern. My Leah Lounge Pants are constructed in exactly the same way as the SOI Ultimates and so I fished out my fitted version of that pattern. I used the top part as a template for the crotch and hip alterations, using the crotch point and the grain line as the fixed points. I then shaved off some excess down the thigh side seam and widened the calves. The resulting template looked convincing and although ideally I would have done another toile, time was short so off I went, cutting into my lovely linen mix.

No prizes for guessing what happened next. All together now…

Not so ease-y

For the record, the linen mix pre-washed, pressed and sewed up beautifully. I’d recommend a fine needle (if not a ‘sharp’) as the weave is a close one which is why for a relatively lightweight fabric, the opacity is so good. The pattern is as simple as a trouser pattern can be with its back darts and faced waistline. If you haven’t yet shelled out for the sewing machine foot required to insert a concealed zip, I’d thoroughly recommend the investment as it makes a neat zip insertion so easy on garments like this one.

All that done, it was time for the big try-on. And no – I’m not sharing pictures. Suffice to say that I might possibly have been able to pull the zip up if I’d deployed that early-1980s technique of lying on the floor and hooking a coathanger into the zipper to yank it up. But times change and even if I’d done that, I’d have been reduced to waddling around with straight legs, holding my breath and not even trying to sit down. These trousers had No. Ease. Whatsoever. Sure – they fitted – in the same way that a sausage fits its skin. Not pretty, not comfortable and not practical. I suspect that this was because my ‘Leah’ trousers had been made from crepe which has some ease in it – unlike this linen mix which has none. Off they came and out came the seam ripper.

Unwilling to ditch my length of fabric. I unpicked and re-sewed the whole trousers (barring the crotch which fitted beautifully – there’s an irony.) Remade with minimal seam allowances, it was a different story.

Grey linen trousers
Grey linen trousers fitted with ease!

Despite the comfort and fit however, I’m still not convinced that my fabric choice was the best for this pattern. The fact that this is a very basic trouser pattern means that it’s supremely easy to make up – but there’s not much in the styling to give shape or structure to a lighter-weight non-stretch fabric like this one. Once you start building in the required ease for a non-stretch fabric I think you lose the shape of the design. When I wore these trousers ‘in anger’ so to speak, I felt a little nondescript and baggy. But at least I had a pair of cool, wearable trousers for my break. I decided to move on.

Stretch version

Cutting out my stretch cotton drill, I will confess that I added on a little extra in the seam allowance – just in case. Also I left a little extra waist ease in there, since these were the trousers I planned to travel in and comfort was paramount. And here we have the moral of this story. Don’t ever underestimate how much difference even a little bit of stretch can make to your garment.

My second pair of trousers were indeed comfortable. Here’s a replay of my travel wardrobe – with newly me-made trousers and the aforementioned trench coat.

Travel clothes
…and off I went

How did I get on?

Girl on a train

Let’s set the scene. Somewhere around Stevenage I manage to dribble coffee down my white shirt, subsequently I soak most of the stain out in the Eurostar toilets. Along the way I also manage to celebrate my first bare ankle outing on Twitter #anklewatch (it’s a ‘thing’, don’t you know?)

Ankle watch
Jolly bare ankles

I nip down from the platform at Brussels to grab a copy of the French edition of Elle magazine; always a treat. Back on board the German ICE train to Frankfurt I’m a happy traveller; headphones, reading matter, Smints and a comfy window seat.

Although I know Cologne a little, the view when departing the station heading east is revelatory. Looking up to the cathedral which is right by the station – then crossing the Rhine and viewing the whole city from a height – an experience to be remembered for a long time. John Cale’s ‘Spinning Away’ begins on my playlist as we draw out of the station and my heart swells in delight.

Cologne cathedral
Spinning away out of Cologne station…

Fast forward a blissful hour or two and my WhatsApp pings. My fellow travellers are preparing for their flight to Bologna the following morning.

Alice we’re checking in our return flight. Do you want your case to go as hand luggage or in the hold?
Didn’t we book all our cases in the hold already?
No – you can but it’ll cost. How big’s your case? You can probably take it on as a cabin bag
Um – I don’t know – I don’t have a tape measure!

Now of course – I do have a sewing kit with me. My linen shirt dress still has buttons to be sewn on (naturally). However said kit doesn’t contain a tape measure (shock) but it does contain embroidery scissors, just as my washbag has a pair of tweezers in it – neither of which are going to be allowed on as cabin baggage on the trip home. No matter. Initiative, Alice!

As it happens we’re about to arrive at Frankfurt Airport where I change for the train south to Munich. An idea forms.

Hang on 20 minutes while I measure my suitcase!

We pull into the station and I dash up three escalators and find a food hall and lots of coffee bars. Then a newsagent. Then – oh joy – a branch of ‘REWE’. I sprint round the aisles, find a ruler, buy it, hurtle back down the platform and measure my suitcase.

Hurrah! It’s small enough for cabin baggage!
Right – we’ll check you in with no baggage then.

The train arrives and we’re on our way again. I’m back in a window seat and a nice young chap has occupied the seat next to me. The journey continues albeit with interruptions; there’s a problem with the train ahead and we’re being held up. As we stop just outside a tunnel a thought occurs to me and we’re back to WhatsApp.

What about my tweezers and scissors? Is anyone else checking baggage in?
Yes we are
Will you mind if I give you my tweezers and scissors to put in your hold luggage?

I detect a bit of virtual eye-rolling now – my fellow travellers are busily trying to pack while I’m getting a bit bored with the delays and am at a loose end.

Yes Alice
How big are these tweezers anyway?

By now my boredom is being relieved by the excellent mobile data coverage available.

Well I don’t know – just the usual tweezers – look

Tweezers
This woman means business…

It’s at this point that I begin to feel the effects of being on holiday. Impressed by my own wit and humour I start to giggle. Then realise that my neighbour will be wondering what on earth I’m laughing at. So I try to hold it in, feeling as if I’m back in a school assembly. I turn to the window and try to take a deep, calming breath. Instead, I drop my phone down between the seat and the carriage side. Cripes. I can see it glowing in the depths of the seat but can’t quite reach it. Still giggling (oh I know, I know, I disappoint myself too…) I clamber down into the footwell and try and lift the seat cushion up to no avail. It’s well and truly stuck. I then have a brainwave and get back up, rummage in my bag and fish out my newly-acquired ruler. Back down on the floor, I prod around and make contact with the phone but can’t quite manage to pry it out.

Aware that the chap next to me is looking quizzical and I try to explain that my phone is stuck. Around now I also realise that with all this up-and-downing my trousers have begun to descend. I try and pull them up, kneeling on the floor, but have to resort to prodding with one hand and holding my trousers up with the other, conscious that my rear end is on display. Finally, just as I’m about to despair, I realise that the reason my phone has disappeared is that I’ve managed to poke it out the back of the seat where it’s presumably fallen at the feet of the person behind me. I hop up onto my seat, peer over and there it is. I deploy a bit of incoherent German and point hopefully…

Entschuldigung – meine Handy! Dabei!

They look at me, dumbfounded, then the penny drops, my phone is retrieved and it’s smiles all around. I resist bowing to the carriage (only just, I’m afraid) and apologise to my neighbour. I pull my trousers up properly, put my headphones back on and – oh joy – the train starts to move again which at least distracts from my blushes. Unsurprisingly, the giggles have died away now and as we move off, I resolve to have another b****y go at getting this trouser pattern right.

Third time lucky

So – to cut an over-long blog short, that’s what I’ve done. We’ve a lovely selection of stretch fabrics just arrived – and I’ve chosen our ‘Fanzine’ slate & coral stretch cotton piqué fabric for my third shot at getting this right.

Coral stretch cotton piqué fabric
‘Fanzine’ slate & coral stretch cotton piqué fabric

This time I cut the waistline in a little – and adjusted the upper hip inwards on the seam allowance even more, after an initial fit still revealed a little too much looseness. If I was cutting it again (which I will) then I’ll also add a couple of centimetres onto the centre back rise as it’s still a little low when crouching down.

I also widened the lower leg again, since even though this is a stretch fabric, I don’t like it when after sitting or bending, the trouser leg sticks around my calves and leaves me with a fetching ‘jodphur’ effect.

Leg fit
Oh, such an attractive view

And finally – success!

Coral trousers
And finally!

I’ll be wearing this latest version over the weekend and will report back. No train journeys are involved and I will try and maintain a sense of decorum. We can but hope.

Conclusions

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Almost any trouser pattern will need to be fitted to your shape – and the SOI Ultimate Trouser is no exception. As with any trouser – if it fits you perfectly first time out, it’ll only be lucky coincidence – and that’s no reflection on this pattern. It’s just how trousers are. If you’re toiling and fitting then you might want to take a look here for some sources of advice. However as a very straightforward trouser pattern it’s a great one to start with. Once you get this pattern to fit, then you’ve the option of using it as a template for fitting other trouser designs.

However I’d suggest that it’s a design that works best for stretch fabrics since it relies on the ease inherent in the fabric to allow movement and comfort. I think that if you try and build that ease into the cut then unless you’re using a much more structured fabric, you risk losing the cleanliness of the design.

Now I have a version I’m happy with, then I really will be able to knock up a pair of trousers in an hour or so.

I’d love to hear your experiences of this pattern. How have you found working with stretch fabrics for trousers? And do you have a pattern recommendation for fitted non-stretch trousers? Do tell!

19 thoughts on “Style Crisis: Trouser fitting travel tales

  1. Sarah Skinner says:

    Oh, Alice, thank you for such an entertaining read. It brought a smile to my face, after a somewhat stressful day. Oh yes, I have been there with minuscule seam allowances….and I have been on German trains, but never in such an entertaining way as you have been. But , I love your final version. Your perseverance and sense of humour paid off in spades.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Thank you Sarah! I was determined not to give in! There’s nothing like learning the hard way – why choose the easy route? For what it’s worth I’ve been dashing around all afternoon in the final version and they’re holding up well…so far!

  2. Roswyn Glenny says:

    Hi Alice, trousers have been a challenge for me for years and years, your stretch drill and a Simplicity trouser pattern changed it all, after a few trial trousers I finally got the perfect fit in a stretch fabric and also made a toile for stable fabric. I now have to stay the same size so I don’t have to make another one. Really enjoyed your blog, always manages to make me smile. Your trousers look great, you got there in the end.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Thank you for the encouragement, Roswyn. I think trousers cause us more agony than anything else on the fitting front – so many variable and moving parts to account for! Delighted to keep you entertained 🙂 and yes indeed – we just need to stay the same size once fitted…. Oh that’ll be easy! Make me laugh why don’t you… 😂

  3. Jenny says:

    Hilarious! Fab start to the weekend, thankyou! You look great in both pairs of trousers. I have had success with Portia trousers from sew me something, sewn in linen fabric. I did have to remove excess fabric from the rear and toile but now I have a good base pattern for non stretch fabrics.
    Enjoy your weekend.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Ah – the embarrassment comes naturally Jenny, believe me… 🙄 Thank you for the Portia idea – I have a wide-legged pair in my sights for next time and they look great – I bet they’re lovely made up in linen. As you say – having a tried & tested toile to work from is essential, even for a less fitted design. Much appreciated – thank you again!

  4. Sue says:

    Hi Alice, I feel your pain on the trouser fitting. If you go to Silhouette Patterns.com. Peggy Sagers has videos on fitting pants and she shows how to make the changes and what a difference it makes. She has her own patterns company and once you try one of her patterns you will be amazed at the fit. If nothing else watch some of the webcasts and try what she suggests. I found out about her about 5 years ago and have never looked back!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Sue – oh indeed, the pain of it. But the thrill once it’s nailed! Thank you so much for the Silhouette Patterns webcast reference – I had no idea that was there – what a treasure trove it is! I really appreciate having the personal recommendation – it helps enormously and I know that other readers will benefit from knowing about it too. I have never tried Peggy Sagers’ patterns but she clearly knows her stuff. That’s my next few coffee breaks sorted, then!

  5. Di says:

    Yes, trousers can be awkward to fit. Recent ones I’ve made, which fitted with minimal effort, all came from Style Arc. Years ago a Perry Ellis (Vogue Designer–remember him) trouser suit pattern turned out pretty good too. The zip in those was in the back seam. Later a sewing friend told me about a ‘Ladies Trouser Cutting’ DVD (that’s the title), which I subsequently bought. The man demonstrating the ‘made to measure’ drafting is called Don Clark. (Savlle Row??) Five trouser styles are covered. Two regular fit/two slim fit/one jeans cut. This DVD has paid for itself many times over. It may still be available to buy online. It appears to be a tad old fashioned but the measuring/ cutting principle remains the same. Brilliant for non stretch fabrics and I make my jeans using the basic jeans draft, with internal/external additions to cutomise.
    The last pair of trousers look the best on you Alice. Patterned fabric looks really good (speaking personally, patterns can hide a multitude of sins). The hip/thigh/crotch fit is good–knee area is possibly a fraction too tight. Amazing what an extra 0.5 to1cm width can do to aid a smooth fit. Lots of pressing required.
    I use stretch fabric a lot for trousers. I like a close fit but still neeed to bend/ sit and not end up with a baggy bum/knees. Most of my jeans (using the draft) and a few Style Arc patterns are made with stretch fabrics. The rule seems to be that you can use a stretch fabric for a non stretch pattern but not the opposite– -not without seriously altering the cut. Hope this helps.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Di – ah yes – I do remember Perry Ellis – his patterns still appear on eBay and I am tempted to the ‘Bid’ button when they do… I found a link to the Don Clark DVD here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0KASPdH6VI I can cope with old-fashioned just fine – and it’s really helpful to know that works for non-stretch fabrics (of course it’s only in the last 30 years or so that stretch fabrics have become the norm – not having ‘grown up’ with them, I struggle with switching between stretch and non-stretch – as evidenced in my post.
      You’re so right about patterned fabrics hiding a multitude of sins! Even though there aren’t any being concealed (or not sewing ones at least!) I take your point. I like the fact that Style Arc state really clearly whether their patterns are intended for knit, woven or stretch-woven fabrics. It helps enormously as you’re paging through. Meanwhile I will take another look at those knee seams and whether to let them out a little. Thank you very much indeed!

  6. Dulcie Lawes says:

    Hi Alice, I found your accounts on the ultimate trousers pattern very entertaining ,and as usual made me laugh out loud .Ive been batterling with them too.I had read so many posertive comments on them ,I decided to give them a go.Thats why I bought your lovely white cotton stretch drill fabric.Thakfully I did a toile on some fabric I had in my stash .disaster on many counts,so. Will be looking out for another pattern when I get home .Ime currently in Croatia ,but will be back home later this week.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      I hope you had a wonderful break in Croatia, Dulcie – can you see me turning green with envy from where you are? That new white stretch drill is rather lovely but yes indeed – toile, toile, and if necessary, toile again…. I hope the patterns suggestions are useful – and thank you!

  7. Let’s Get Sewing says:

    Hurrah! Your third pair look wonderful. I love the jolly fabric too. I do like the other two as well though, hopefully you’ll still be able to et some wear out of them. I loved hearing about your holiday, particularly the phone dropping incident!

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Oh, ‘Hurrah’ indeed – what a relief! Thank you for your compliments – I will wear the grey ones and the stone-coloured stretch pair will be altered to fit as they’re such a useful wardrobe item. Delighted to keep you entertained – if I’m going to embarrass myself I might as well share the experience!

  8. Anne C says:

    Hi Alice, I sympathise with your trouser-making trials. I went through a period of being unhappy with every pair I made – and so not wearing them – until I bought Sandra Betzina’s trouser (or pant) fitting course on Craftsy. It was a revelation and I’ve never made a dud pair since. I’m not a fan of her patterns – not my style – but she’s a good teacher so I’d recommend her course. The lovely navy crepe I recently got from you is destined for a pair of wide-legged trousers and I’ll be using my personalised pattern from this course to make them.

    • aliceclothspot says:

      Hello Anne – thank you very much indeed for this tip-off. As you say – Sandra Betzina isn’t my go-to-designer but I didn’t know about her course (and ooh look – it’s half-price at the moment!) It’s hugely reassuring to know that it works. I have a wide-legged pair of trousers in mind and will definitely have a go at this as part of my plan. I spend most of my life in trousers and although I’m nearly there with my fit, I’d love to have more understanding of exactly why my trousers need to be adjusted as they are. Much appreciated!

  9. Dulcie Lawes says:

    Hi Alice ,I wonder if you can suggest a sewing pattern for the white cotton drill fabric I got from you a few weeks ago,as I haven’t got on well with the soi ultimate trouser one.I like a slim straight leg.thanks

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