Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pride in My Pants. Wait! That means I made the pants.

If you know me, you know I'm not a big guy. If you don't know me, you're about to know I'm not a big guy. I have a 29" waist and a 29.5" inseam. It's not easy finding pants that fit.

There's a couple of ways around that without having to gain weight. (Yes, I'm prepared to go into the witness protection program if someone with anger management issues decides to chase me down the street with a pitchfork for complaining about being too small to find clothing that fits well.)

One would be to pay a tailor good money to build me a pair of dress pants. The other way is to learn to sew and tailor a pair of pants for myself.

I chose the second option. Sewing isn't new to me. From my first stint with a sewing machine as a 7th grader forced to take a home economics class, I developed an interest in sewing. As a Boy Scout hell bent on earning the rank of Eagle Scout before his 14th birthday (Yes, I was 13 when I earned my Eagle), I earned badges so quickly that my mother taught me to sew them on my uniform myself. That was a gift to me, and self-defense for her.

I have made several garments for my wife, and if you look around on this blog, you'll find some photos of quilts I've made. In fact, the background of the blog is a photo of one of my quilts.

Pants aren't easy to sew. There's a lot more to pants than people give them credit for.

I did it, as you'll see at the end of this post.

Here's how:
1. I dug out a pattern I bought a long time ago when I wanted to make a suit. Never made the suit, but I kept the pattern. It's still available, for about $15.

2. I took a trip to Joann's. I like that store, and I am almost always amused by the person who cuts the fabric. They're still not quite sure what to make of the situation when they find themselves face-to-face with a solitary man holding a bolt of cloth. It's almost as much fun as ordering a Happy Meal with coffee at the McDonald's drive-thru. It locks 'em up for a while.

3. I cut out the pattern pieces so I could take advantage of the cutting layout suggested on the pattern. Nowhere in the instructions does it say to do this--but the paper pattern is going to get cut into pieces anyway, and you can't match the grain lines (some pieces are cut on the long threads in fabric and some cut on the short threads, otherwise known as "warp" and "weft") if you don't cut the pieces out beforehand.

4. Then I cut the pieces from the fabric.
I use two pairs of scissors when I sew. The cheap ones with the plastic handles are for paper. Paper is made from trees, and it's hard on scissors. No kidding! Besides, I'm not new to the sewing thing, and I appreciate my Ginger sewing scissors--true left-hand scissors, but that's a different story--and use them only for fabric.

The piece on the cutting table is actually two pieces being cut simultaneously, the front of the pants.

There were more than thirty pieces cut for the pants. Everything from pockets to zipper flaps, to belt carriers, to facings for the pockets, welts (double welts for the back pockets), etc.

5. Then I read the instructions for the construction of the pants. Again. Then I read them again.*

*Let me insert a couple of points for those men who might be reading this, who might be tempted to scoff at the idea of a man sitting in front of a sewing machine. One: Don't think of it as a sewing machine. Think of it as a single-cylinder engine. One piston, holding a needle, punching holes in something. Feel better? Two: The making of tailored clothing was the province of men long before the word 'seamstress' entered the lexicon. Three: There doesn't need to be a "three". I refer you to one and two.

6. I fired up the third (behind scissors and sewing machine) most important piece of equipment needed for sewing a fine garment. I'm referring to my iron. I press each seam as I make it. Some seams can only be reached properly as the garment is being built, and that bit of detailing makes or breaks the garment, at least as far as I'm concerned.

7. I followed the instructions. Vogue has pretty good instructions, and those who use them do well to follow them to the letter. If you don't follow them to the letter, be prepared to use the fourth most important piece of equipment--the seam ripper.  I screwed up and sewed my back pockets closed. That was embarassing only because I didn't realize I did that until I put my new pants on and couldn't put my wallet where it belongs.

It's okay--indeed expected--to cuss loudly, frequently, and with enthusiasm when using a seam ripper. After all, you only use it when you screw up. Plan to screw up at least six times for a complicated garment, and less than that for an easy one.

8. As I completed each step, I tried on the pieces I built. Sometimes I used pins to see how the fit was coming along. That's one of many reasons I'm glad I used dark cloth. It hides the blood when a pin takes a little more interest in my skin than it does in the fabric... That's another perfectly acceptable reason to cuss while sewing, by the way.

9. Eventually, I ended up with a pretty darn good pair of pants, especially made by me for me.

10. Of course, I can't resist a little bragging about making my pants. Most people look at them, and me with a bit of disbelief. That's why I like to use printed fabric for the pockets. I refer you back to the photo at the top of this post. See the green fabric? That's leftover from a quilt I made my wife some time ago. You can't see it in the pants, but if (when) someone looks at me like they don't quite believe my pants are homemade, I just turn out a pocket and show them the green. That I'm using good fabric for the pockets also gives the advantage of having pockets that will last as long as the pants.

This final photo is of me in my pants:

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