October 14, 2014

At long last, a pair of high-waisted woolen trousers

I'm closing in on the last quarter of year 3 in the No Buying Clothes challenge, and my set of wearable clothing continues to diminish. I have been in dire need of trousers for almost two years, but recently my last two sets of frankenpants (made from sewn together pieces of about 5 pairs) have started to disintegrate beyond even my ability to wear them. They have numerous big rips and are about as thick as tissue paper in most places. I have to be very careful not to make sudden motions when I wear them. Luckily I have lost a little weight recently, which opened up some additional shirts from my old clothing archive, but did nothing to help with pants.

I have in fact been working on a pair of wool trousers for about two years now, and almost had them done last spring, just in time for the onset of hot weather. I couldn't imagine wearing spiffy wool pants around with my usual old t shirts, so I concluded I had to sew up a white dress shirt and suspenders to go with the pants. This of course delayed the project further, but now it is finally done. I just need to make about 5 more sets and my wardrobe will be in much better shape...

My dream was to wear incredibly high waisted wool pants held up with braces. To start out, I drafted up two patterns. One was a draft along from atailormadeit using a historic draft for trousers. The other was for Classic Trousers from Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear.

I cut up an old duvet cover and made a muslin from the Classic Trousers pattern I had done. The waist ended up too low on me.

But otherwise it seemed wearable,

so I tried to bring the height of the waist up in the pattern without changing much else, i.e. jacking up the body rise to an outlandish value.

Next I cut my pre-washed wool fabric. Unfortunately I can't remember where this fabric came from, but it has been in my stash for a while. Probably from Fabric.com. It is very soft and comfortable, despite being wool, so maybe it is part cashmere; I know I have bought some cashmere/wool blend fabric and put it in the stack. Every time I work with high quality wool, I remember what a pleasure it is. It just shapes and presses so beautifully under the steam of my iron. Mmmmm.

I mostly lined the edges with Hug Snug binding, as described here.

For pocket bags and other inner fabric I used some scraps of white cotton/linen blend.

With the high rise waist, it seemed a long way for the pocket to go up all the way to the waist, so I made them mousebite style with the pocket edge returning to the outseam. In retrospect, the openings are a mite small, so maybe I ought to have taken up to the waist after all or at least made the opening bigger. Also the pocket bags are too small. And even though I understitched the seam, the lining fabric turns out a little at the pocket edges and is visible.

I made back pocket bags to catch in the waist of the pants during construction, and figured I could add some welt pockets back there later on. So far I have not gone through with that since now that I am wearing these trousers I am gun shy on putting slashes into the bum for fear of messing them up.

The fly is button down, with a inner button strap, and a hook and bar. Fly construction is straight out of Making Trousers, by David Coffin Page.

The top button ended up too high, so I just don't bother buttoning it when wearing the pants.

I made the fly before I had the buttonholer for the Singer 99, so I did the holes by hand.

They look ok from the wool side, but painfully poor on the lining side

One of the main problems with the finished pants are that the fly lining is slightly visible from the front of the pants. If I had used a dark fabric for the lining it probably wouldn't be that noticeable, but the white lining is a high contrast eye magnet to my groin, unfortunately. Or at least I worry that it is.

The fly was basted shut and the parts were sewn up,

and ended up much too big.

What happened ??!

Had I subconsciously assembled with the stitching line too far toward the seam allowance?

I made up a second muslin from the pattern I actually used on the wool (modified from the original pattern after evaluating the first muslin). This time I used actual muslin.

Ah much better. The stiffer fabric made it easier to evaluate than the muslin I did with the old duvet cover.

Ok. I could wear pants like these.

I marked the waist location, then ripped down and pressed the muslin pieces and transferred to a new paper pattern.

I ripped the wool pants down, pressed the pieces flat, remarked the seams from the new pattern, and resewed the garment.

I struggled with the waistband, initially trying for a grown on fishtail waistband. This did not work out for me at all. I trimmed down the waistband so I could use a folded over strip of fuji broadcloth silk as an inner member.

No extra interfacing or tape is used; we'll see how that works out. After attaching the silk waistband lining, I topstitched all around from the wool side to hold down the silk liner. Which made it look almost like a regular waistband.

Try on time.

Still too big.


Becky said I looked like a comedian with my too big pants flopping around with their high waistband; like at any minute someone might come and dump a bowl of soup into my pants. Yes, one of the many things I am thankful for in my life is a partner who wouldn't think of letting me take myself too seriously!

Good thing she didn't see them the first time I sewed them. The soup in the pants thing has now become a staple of household jokes, and is applied in other contexts.

Bah! They went into a drawer for months until I could face them again.

A few weeks ago, my desperate need for wearable clothes compelled me to take the pants out again. Besides, I had been haunted periodically by this thought:

Will I let this pair of pants that I've been fighting with for two years defeat me? No! I will taste Victory over you, high waisted wool trousers with nobody inside them!

After another try on, I reluctantly concluded I was going to have to rip at least the side seams from the waist down to the hips and resew them. They were way too big when I last looked at them, and I've lost some weight since then so it was even worse than I was expecting. Ripping out the sides was a lot more annoying since I had already done the waistband, but it ended up not being too terrible. I left the silk inner waistband full size and just folded it over after resewing the side seams in the wool. A little hand work made things come together reasonably.

The first resewing made the fit too tight, but I got it pretty good on the second try (the side seams in that area have now been sewn at least four times). I wanted the fit to be loose enough that the pants could slide up and down over a tucked in shirt without causing the shirt to get hiked up. This means the pants will fall down if not held up with suspenders.

The fly and closure buttons are the larger aluminum looking ones I pick from the bin at Sew Low in Cambridge.

The brace buttons are 19mm cast metal, which I purchased in a pack from ebay during another project.

The hem was set after I finished the braces and the shirt, though even with that I might have wished to make them about 5mm lower than they came out. But they are ok; isn't a high hem on trousers fashionable these days? Looks pretty good with clog boots too, not as great with my usual red shoe clogs. I just topstitched the hems in, which lacks sophistication but is a lot faster than invisible hemming by hand, which is my other option.

Meanwhile, I had started two white shirts from a pattern I drafted out of Metric Pattern Cutting for Menswear.

First I made a muslin, adjusted the pattern, then cut two copies in white cotton broadcloth. I've not spent the time to master flat felling, so I often use french seams to finish edges in medium or light weight cloth, and I did so on this shirt as well. The shirt came out fairly well; had to lower the bottom hem location and take in the side seams a little.

I tried to think of the easiest possible shirt design, to facilitate getting this outfit done. I made a slash and placket at the sleeve opening, then finished the sleeves and collar in what amounts to a band binding.

I'm fine with this actually; kind of looks interesting.

 The sleeve pattern was a one piece draft from Metric Pattern Cutting. Think I'll make it slightly closer fitting on the next set of shirts, but it's quite good as is.

In the vein of trying to make the shirt very simple, I put in a couple darts in the back from the armscye rather than doing a yoke. I made an inverted pleat in the center back, intending to stitch it down in the upper back, then let it open up below the shoulder blades, kind of like what you would end up with if you did an inverted pleat ending in the yoke seam. In the end I thought the shirt a little poofy so to contain the volume I left the pleat basted shut.

The buttons are all the small metal ones picked from the salvage bin at Sew Low.

Once again, the overriding principle was this:
finish this #$*(& project so I have some clothes to wear!!

With that concept in mind, I went with non-adjustable braces made from 50mm wide black grosgrain ribbon. In back I folded over twice and blasted in some button holes with the handcranked singer 99.

In front, I cut some button on tabs from 1.2mm veg tanned leather, then rubbed in some grease from my all purpose moisturizer/lib balm/leather treatment, aided by a little heat from a stove burner.

I attached the ribbons using a sort of foldover approach which sandwiched the tabs between ribbon on either side.

These were stitched in with the W&W D9. I find that the edges come loose unless you do a few stitches around the edges to start and finish.

I've had trouble with these X back loose, non-elastic suspenders tending to fall off my shoulders. I know my kids have the same issue in the clothes I've made for them with similar braces arrangement. After the first day of wearing this outfit, I sewed the X together in the cross at the back, which really helps the falling off issue.

These trousers are actually very comfortable to wear. The fit is easy, the braces hold them up nicely, and the fabric feels nice against my skin.

The shirt is also good, though being a white shirt I'm sure it will get stained soon enough. I have quite a few tuck in type shirts in my closet that I have not been able to wear these last couple years because I didn't have suitable pants to go with them. So finishing a reasonable pair of pants has a magnified effect on expanding my range of useful garments.

I pulled out my pair of women's size 12 heeled wood sole clog boots in olive suede to go with the outfit. With those boots and the new outfit on, I feel like a million bucks. Yeah.

Points to improve:
  • The fly is pulled open a tiny bit and the white lining fabric is visible
  • The lining fabric is visible on the pockets, even though I understitched those seams
  • Pocket bags need to be bigger
  • Better layout of buttons on the fly
  • Maker inner waist button tab bigger
  • Somewhat closer fit
  • Better fit all around
  • Reduce bulk at the side seam where the bottom of the pocket comes in

October 7, 2014

Building a CNC router with kids

Last summer, we prototyped a picket fence design, using traditional power and hand tools. Over the past year, we have done some renovation in the back yard, including having the landscapers take out the old fence and put in new fence posts. We left the fence itself as a family project to do over the course of another year or two.

The prospect of shaping the folded circular design from the prototype on the top of about 500 cedar fence pickets was enough to convince me we needed some automation to help. I must admit it didn't take a lot to convince me that what we really ought to do was build a CNC router. Of course the kids are not driving this project, but I have tried to involve them at every stage. I hope that it continues to provide them with an engaging way to explore software and machines.

September 24, 2014

Apple Saucing 2014

This year we made 30L of applesauce from 36kg of Macs over about 7 hours, using our own vintage Squeezo.

September 19, 2014

Two custom cedar storm doors

I needed two storm/screen doors for exterior entry doors at my house. Previously I had bought a custom spanish cedar door with matching storm unit from Vintage Doors, which was very nice but quite expensive. I got a quote from them for these two new storm doors for about $1600, which I felt was going to be painful to shell out. Pricing out two doors worth of 25mm spanish cedar at Anderson McQuaid indicated I would need maybe $300 worth of wood to do the project myself, and there are only a few joints to worry about, so I decided to just build them.

September 1, 2014

Glories of the Past: Vegetable theme dresses

Becky and I got fired up about learning how to quilt. Becky in fact finished a small baby quilt with the fabric she ordered, while I only succeeded in putting together a couple test blocks (so far!). My aim was to make some lovely hexagon quilts, and I ordered some vegetable themed quilting fabric from FatQuarterShop. This came with a panel of fabric with multiple prints on it, as if it were already a quilt. Cutting it up and sewing it back together again to make a quilt seemed silly, so in the spring of 2010 I decided to make it into some little dresses for Violet and Millie.

A Contoured Hand Rail

One of the last things I needed to do to close out a building permit I opened 6 years ago was to make a handrail for the back stairway from the kitchen down to the back door. There was only rail for a little bit of the stairs when we moved in, but the building inspector said I should have a rail. Of course I had to make this simple sounding project into a complex journey.

July 21, 2014

The Virtues of Wooden Shoes

The virtues of wood shoes are manifold
  • 100% renewable, biodegradable materials
  • Durable, long lasting, and can be renovated
  • Impact, pierce, and crush resistant
  • Heat, cold, and chemical resistant
  • Waterproof
  • Luxurious comfort, at least for standing on hard surfaces and light walking
  • Meet CE standards for safety shoes
  • Fashionable, even dare I say cute?

July 10, 2014

Spanish Cedar doll beds, to furnish tiny apartments

The kids made some row houses with Becky from cardboard boxes for their little animal figurines. They pasted on some pattern paper for wall paper, and cut out some pictures from magazines for decorations.

Drum Building with Deerhide

This spring, Becky ran a once a week native american club at the Somerville Growing Center for the kids and some other local homeschoolers. They did a number of neat things, one of which was making some hand drums from deerhide.

June 10, 2014

Urban Micro Orchard: Planning and Planting

As part of the grand backyard landscape plan, we reserved the southwest facing back fence for a line of espaliered apple trees. The idea is to train the trees in a two dimensional plane, parallel to that of the fence, thus taking up little space, enabling considerable fruit production, and hopefully looking great.

I've been an admirer of espalier since I read about it years ago, and have wanted to incorporate the principles into some plants of my own. The espalier propaganda says fruit production is high per square meter of ground space because all parts of the tree and growing fruit are exposed to sun. And disease pressure may be lower because of uniform circulation of fresh air. Most of all, I think espaliered trees are a beautiful and inspiring example of Nature shaped by the hand of Man.