It was big week in fashion here in the nation’s capital so we tasked our…
Craft is king in COVID-19. Bottle fruit! Build furniture from pallets! Grow things!
Stop. Breathe. Don’t lose your mind—and before you macramé a coat for the dog or knit your own muesli, try this project.
This post is not for those who already sew. It is for the sisters who have a sewing machine gathering dust in some corner. Their parents probably bought it for them before they left home.
If this is you—get it out of the box now and read the instruction manual. I promise you it is a simpler read than programming your TV. Boring but simple. And if you don’t have one, a certain German supermarket is having their sewing sale!
Do not buy a complicated digital one. All machines work on the same principle for the actual sewing and all you need is a straight stitch, a zigzag and a buttonhole. My machine is older than my daughters and suits me just fine.
Let’s start with something easy, useful, with no need to fit well—PJ trousers! Spotlight and Lincraft are open online and they both sell flannelette. Don’t try a knit fabric (yet). Go with the classic (and a sober pattern, like I did).
Buy a pattern, as much fabric as it says for your size, waistband elastic, thread that matches your fabric, pins (lots of pins) and make sure you have the tools you need.
(L-R): I planned for this machine to last 20 years. It is 33 and counting. Needlework scissors to trim threads, sewing scissors (never used for anything else J), an unpicker for mistakes (you will make them, I do), a hem gauge (not necessary but worth its weight), rotary cutter (excellent for thicker fabrics but you have to buy a special cutting mat and that’s more cost…buy a tape measure instead), unpicker in action.
I came back to sewing a couple of years ago. I love it but—full disclosure—stuff it up as often as I succeed, mainly through taking short cuts. Such as assuming I’d made this PJ pattern before, as the pattern was trimmed. If I did, the pants were for a chubby leprechaun.
You will notice my finished pair have a false cuff. Grr. Still, it does illustrate how to wriggle out of a mistake. You will also notice this is not a video—there would be no content left if I cut out the swear words.
Clear a table. You’ll see a tatty surface under my fabric, that’s my ancient drafting board—super cheap and my ‘I-no-longer-scratch-the-table’ friend for life.
Fold your fabric so the selvedges are together, edges even and the fabric flat and straight. Look at the back of the pattern packet and select a size. Be honest—PJs should be low in the crotch and loose so they are comfortable.
Open the pattern and…read the instructions! Don’t freak out but do read—then select the pieces indicated, cut them apart and check any notes on the pieces.
There should be one on the size of seam allowance. Most pattern companies include a 1.5cms seam allowance but check the pattern instructions—some (I’m looking at you Burda) leave none and you don’t want that complication in your life.
You will see a long arrow indicating the straight of grain of the fabric, lay this parallel to the selvedge, measure from the edge—check this is straight using a tape measure at both ends—pin one end then check, possibly move slightly, and pin the other. Pins last forever. Use lots, no more than the spread between two fingers apart.
(L-R): That’s the selvedge, checking the distance of the arrow to the selvedge is the same at both ends, distance between pins.
Keep smoothing the paper as you pin, to make sure the pattern is flat and in the right spot. You can keep your pieces in place while you pin by sitting small weights on them. Don’t use the baby, it’s too big and the cat will wriggle.
Once both pieces are pinned, check again, then cut—straight and close to the line on the pattern. Along the edges of the pattern you will see notches, you do not need to cut neat little triangles unless you are pedantic, I just snip (carefully) a little way into the fabric (through the apex of the triangle) so I can easily line up two pieces.
Now you can take the pins out but grab some chalk (off the kids if need be) and mark the two front pieces with an ‘F’ so you don’t get mixed up—the front and back of loose trousers are very much alike.
(L-R): Cut straight along that line, mark all the notches and dots, nick the waistband too, mark your front pieces (does not need to be neat, obviously).
Open out your two ‘back’ pieces so you can see the pretty pattern on your fabric. Open out the ‘front’ pieces so you can see the inside (hint: there should be ‘F’s, but not the bad kind).
Line up the long, fairly straight edge of a back and a front (they should only line up one way) and check your notches line up.
Pin together, repeat for the other two pieces. You are now ready to sew. Honestly, it should be called ‘pinning’, not ‘sewing’.
READY, SET, SEW
Set your machine on a table or desk that doesn’t vibrate, sit directly in front of the needle and lift the presser foot up.
Slide your work under the foot and look for some lines and numbers to the right of the needle—these are the seam width measurements—line the edge of your work up with the one that is marked ‘1.5’, and so that the needle will go into fabric.
Lower the foot, slowly sew three or stitches forward, select reverse direction, sew back over these, stop before the edge and sew forwards again.
Now continue in one straight line, feeling a sense of saintliness when you see that your snipped ‘notches’ line up. Go all the way to the bottom edge, finishing off by reversing direction for a few stitches, forward for a few, once you’ve reached that edge.
Congratulations. You have sewn a seam. A sip of wine seems in order. Now repeat with the other leg. Every seam that you sew needs to be finished so that it doesn’t fray—a zigzag stitch along the edge is fine for this.
Unless you are lucky enough to have an overlocker (boasting), then use that. The seam you’ve sewn is called the ‘outside leg’ and you can finish these together or open—your choice.
(L-R): Make sure you pin your pants ‘right sides together’ (pretty sides touching); always sew straight by keeping your fabric lines up with the seam width mark; examples of open and closed seam finishes.
Now open the two legs. Are the seams flat? Have you accidentally sewn through more than two layers? Aren’t you glad you bought that unpicker now? If you make a mistake—take a breath, have a sip and unpick.
Once your pieces are correct, lay one down pretty side up and the other on top of it, pretty side down—and so the legs lie over the top of one another. Magically, you will now see the centre front and centre back seams line up. Hint: the two ‘F’s should now be together.
Pin, matching notches, and sew—slowly—feeding the curve of the seam through your machine, moving the fabric a little at a time. Repeat for the centre back. These seams cannot be finished together.
Refer to your pattern instructions for how to iron them open, clip and grade the seams or do what I do: trim the seam to half the width from where it curves and finish the edge. Not great on super fitting tailoring but perfectly ok for PJs.
(L-R): Each sewn piece should have one ‘F’, line up the edges of the centre front carefully, sew slowly, moving the fabric around through the curve, the narrowed seam.
Open your pants out, pretty sides on the inside for your last seam—the inner leg. You will be sewing this in two halves, both starting from the crotch because you really want this seam accurate.
So line the centre front and centre back seams up together, match notches, pin down one leg to the ankle, then flip over and pin the other leg. Starting from the centre seam, sew one leg. Remove from machine, flip over and sew the other leg.
Finish the seam—you can finish this together for loose pants but you might want to again trim the seam narrower at the crotch.
(L-R): Look mum, they almost look like pants, make sure the front and back centre seams really line up well, the patented ‘pin and flip’, finishing the inner leg seam.
NOW THE ELASTIC…
Remember waaay back at the start I mentioned ‘waistband’ elastic? This is a wider elastic that usually has ridges running across it to stop it from rolling over. Not too much of a concern for PJs but it does make pants comfier.
Wrap your elastic around your waist, doubling the ends over by 3cms. Sit down, stand up, wriggle—is it right? Too tight? Too loose? Adjust and once you are happy, cut that piece off—remembering to include that 3cms overlap.
Next, making sure at least the centre front and back seams are opened flat, finish the edge of the waistband (that’s the top edge of your pants). Then fold over the width of your elastic plus about 1.5cms. Measure this and fold down the same amount around the whole waistband.
Doing this on the ironing board makes it a bit easier but don’t pin it to the board cover. At the centre back seam leave a gap open. It only needs to be a bit wider than your elastic, but I keep mine open more so it’s easier to dig inside and get the elastic out if I have to adjust it.
(L-R): Underwear elastic may be too soft, the waistband is just right and ‘normal’ elastic too narrow, make sure your folded waistband is wide enough for elastic and space to spare, measure the width of the foldover straight, mind your gap at the back.
Did I tell you to buy safety pins? Bugger. Check inside the coats you have drycleaned—the reference numbers are usually pinned to the tag and you can use that pin.
You need two, pin one to the leading end and pin the other to both the pants and the other end of the elastic. Now thread that through the waistband until you come right around and out the other end.
Unpin but hold the ends (so an end doesn’t disappear back inside—or you’ll be pulling it all through and threading again; voice of experience), lay them over one another, pin and check along the waistband by touch for any twists.
If there are some—either pull out and rethread or move the twist along with your fingers until it comes to the gap, unpin one end, untwist, repin. Sounds like dance steps. Carefully feed the elastic under the foot of your machine and, using a zigzag stitch, sew the ends to one another. Now trim all the loose threads everywhere and have another sip ‘cos you are almost done!
(L-R): The head of the elastic snake, emerging at the other end, sew the ends together really carefully, trim everything.
Finish off the bottom of both legs and fold over the hem allowance as stated on your pattern, measuring it with your hem gauge if you bought one (or a tape measure if you didn’t).
Moment of truth—try your PJs on. Is the waistband comfy? Legs and seat loose and, erm, comfy? How’s the length?
I sometimes try pants on inside out, so I can adjust the pinned length more easily. Take them off, make sure the hem is an even length all round, on both legs. Try them on again and check in the mirror.
All good? Sew around just as you did for the waist but without the gap. Trim threads and you are done! More wine?
Best, from Mumma Ros