When Helen put out the call for pattern testers for her very first garment pattern, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity. I've really enjoyed reading her blog and seeing her style and sewing evolve, and it was a pleasure to be able to join her for the very special event of testing her pattern.
Culottes are everywhere this year! Quite honestly, I've been watching the trend with some trepidation. I generally avoid anything that highlights my waistline, which isn't my favorite part of me, and I generally avoid extra volume at the hip, since I feel that my hips are quite voluminous on their own. These break all of my style rules, but they looked so fantastic on Helen that I thought I should at least give them a try.
The pattern is a joy to work with. It is thoughtfully and beautifully designed. The shapes in the pattern are surprisingly simple, which I really love... it is an elegant idea to take a rectangle and shape it to the body with pleats.
I made them in 100% linen, European Washed Linen from Fabric.com. The fabric washed up beautifully, but shrunk considerably, and I was glad I had an extra .5 yard. It is a medium weight linen, a bit heavier than I probably would have preferred, but I also didn't want anything too lightweight for pants. After shrinkage, it took nearly the full three yards to make View D (full length). I actually had a bit of wiggle room since I made the pockets out of a different fabric, but if I had made them out of the linen, I would have just squeezed it all in.
I jazzed up my plain linen fabric by stamp printing on the fabric with fabric ink. While I've been thinking about doing this for awhile, there was also a Seamwork article that helped me to further work out the details of this. I used white Speedball screen printing ink and my stamp was the ring from a canning jar. I did my printing after I cut out the pieces, but before I sewed them together.
I didn't use any special tools-- I just put some ink onto a paper plate, spread it out a little, and dipped my stamp into it. After the ink dried, I heat set it with my iron. I was going for an asymmetric design, so I only printed one side of the pants, the front and back pieces, in a sort of random but not overlapping pattern.
The pockets on these are fantastic, very roomy and a joy to sew. I chose to make these in a contrast fabric both for a bit of fun, and also to reduce bulk a little bit. I actually haven't made very many side seam pockets, so I mostly followed the directions word for word, and it worked out beautifully. For a bit of extra strength, I finished the pockets by serging the two pocket pieces together.
Perhaps the trickiest bit is the invisible zipper at the center back. It went in easily for me, but I have done quite a few of these. There are lots of tutorials online for invisible zips, but my favorite tips are from Lladybird, who taught me to sew both sides from the top down, and By Hand London's tutorial which uses pins to mark the waistband-- simple but effective. I also find it key to stabilize both sides of the zipper opening with strips of fusible interfacing-- I'm far more likely to get it right on the first try if I take this simple step. Above all, practice practice (from Grainline)!
I weighed a lot of options when choosing interfacing for the waistband. I generally prefer waistbands with a bit of stretch, but still firm enough to maintain their shape. I have a wonderful pair of linen pants that I made 4 or so years ago where I used weft interfacing from Fashion Sewing Supply, which has a bit of give in one direction. I also love the waistband on my Ginger Jeans, where I used quilting cotton cut on the cross grain, so that it has a bit of give. I opted for the latter in these pants, using a bit of the same quilting cotton I used for the pocket bags.
I did a muslin for these pants, using one of the shorter views and standard muslin fabric. The fit seemed spot on, but when I actually sewed view D in my medium weight linen, the weight of the pants pulled them down to my hips. Not a good look in these pants, and very hard to walk in!
I took a good look at my mid-section, aided by a measuring tape, and decided that the narrowest part of me is probably up higher than my true waist, sort of at the bottom of my rib cage above my belly. This point on my body is 4 inches narrower than my actual waist, so I took 4 inches off of the waistband. Since I had the pants totally made at this point, I couldn't take the extra width off of the side seams... in addition, taking that much off of the side seams would have thrown the proportions off. So I distributed the extra into the pleats, which worked out nicely. If I were to make these again, I should probably sew a size several sizes smaller... although I sort of like the extra volume!
After redoing the waistband and the top of the zipper, I had a pair of pants that was made for walking!
In any case, they were a lot of fun to make, and the end result is a garment that is quite unique! I'm even thinking that I might make another pair, perhaps in the midi length in a rayon or silk-- it might be a very fun look for tango dancing.