Woollen Trousers

When I joined Team Wovember, I was introduced to the Wovember readers in a Q&A post, in which I mentioned that the only thing lacking in my wardrobe, was a pair of woollen trousers. I curated all the Wovember Words, and as this took up more time than anticipated – there were so many interesting quotes, I posted one every day – I never got round to the trousers. Or, to be more precise, I never got round to writing about them. As I did make myself a pair, shown here in a completely natural pose:

WTGreenPea

Woollen Outfit: Woollen Socks, Woollen Trousers, Woollen Jacket, Woollen Jumper, Woollen Gloves, Woollen Hat – I left my Woollen Scarf at home, as quite frankly, it was rather hot!

The gloves and the hat will get their own separate posts in due course, as today I want to tell you all about my trousers. For a long time now, I  wanted to make myself a pair of trousers, and indeed, two winters ago, I bought some lovely charcoal woollen fabric from Dïtto. I bought some calico. I bought a pattern. I bought a zip and buttons and thread. And I traced the pattern in one size too small. And I made a toile from the calico. And I found out I my mistake. I traced again;  I made a second toile. And I found it had the right size, but had an ugly fit.

And that’s when I gave up.

But, the fabric always looked at me reproachfully every time I opened the drawer in which I had hidden it from sight, so WOVEMBER2012 seemed to be the right time to try again. I was lucky that in the meantime I had made friends with Zoe, who knows a thing or two about sewing, and we agreed on a skill-swap: I would teach her how to darn, she would teach me about sewing. She gave me some tips on altering the pattern and this time, the toile fitted very well, and confidently I took my shears to the woollen fabric:

WOV12TrousersPattern

As, however, I’m not a confident sewer, and my Singer treadle sewing machine doesn’t have any seam guides on the cover plate, I basted every single seam before taking it to the sewing machine. It meant that I could pay attention to the needle, rather than the side of the seam, and I didn’t have to worry about navigating over pins: the fabric is quite heavy, so a pin, even if inserted perpendicular to the stitch line, was a slight distraction. It may come as no surprise to you, that I tried to make these trousers to the best of my abilities I currently have.

So, let me take you through my trousers, so to speak!

I hand-picked the fly and zipper for two reasons: 1) I just really love the look of it; 2) I do know how to wield a needle and thread, but I still struggle a bit with making a nicely curved stitch line.

WOV12TFly

I’m a big fan of tailored button-holes, and I once spent an afternoon perfecting my button-hole stitch, so I finally got to use it on a garment, even if my Singer has a buttonhole attachment that famously makes the most gorgeous buttonholes in the whole wide world. For a sewing machine. The vintage button was sewn on with a “woven shank”, which means that you go around and through the threads of the shank in a figure-of-eight:

WOV12TButton

I’m particularly proud of my welted pockets. I approached them very carefully, spent a lot of time pressing and basting, because a heavy woollen fabric really needs to be put into place with a lot of pressing, making fiddly folding of strips of fabric a bit of a challenge:

WOV12TPocket

The cuffs also have a special finish. There used to be a time that I thought that spending £250 or more on a pair of designer trousers, was money well spent (oh how I have changed), and when you buy these kind of trousers, their cuffs haven’t been finished yet, so that they can be made to measure. One shop I used to frequent, used a seamstress who always put this sturdy ribbon in. It protects the cuff from fraying, and it also made the trousers fall very nicely over your shoes – grosgrain ribbon is the nearest I could find, although I remember the ribbon in those expensive trousers to be a bit sturdier. If anybody knows what this is called in English, I would love to hear from you. In Dutch, they are called a ‘stootband’ which roughly translates into bumper.

WOV12TStootband

There is one drawback on using my Singer treadle machine. It’s a straight-stitch-only machine. I do have the zigzag attachment (it attaches in a similar fashion as the buttonholer, but instead it makes the fabric zigzag under the needle) and every time I try this out, I have less than satisfactory results. So I blanket stitched all seams by hand. I also sewed down the waistband by hand, as I wanted a very neat finish. Last but not least, I read somewhere (I can’t remember the source), that back-stitching the centre seam makes for a very strong seam, which also has a little bit of give. Which is good, as I wear these trousers on my bicycle, too, so I also back-stitched the centre seam.

WOV12TFlyOpen

I have been told by sewers that all that hand-finishing would completely put them off. But I feel differently about this: apart from actually enjoying handstitching, I’m not put off by something taking its time. I’m a handknitter, and I’m used to it. Yes, it did add an additional day before these trousers were ready, but I enjoy getting into the rhythm. I put some music on and soon I’m completely absorbed by the task at hand, making stitch after stitch, feeling at one with the object I’m making.

The woollen trousers are already a faithful addition to my wardrobe. They are comfortable, fit very well, and look rather smart. Although I chose the fabric two winters ago, having helped out with Wovember makes me even more happy that I used wool – and those of you who have followed Wovember know that there are plenty of reasons to use wool for your clothes: it’s natural, bio-degradable, hygroscopic, flame-resistant, breathable, warm, sustainable, versatile. But, ultimately, I’m just happy that all this validates what I already know: the look and feel of wool is unsurpassed.

WTEthel

me posing in my high wool-content outfit on Brighton beach.

WTcloseup

My Sanquhar socks.

38 Replies to “Woollen Trousers”

  1. I love this post so much.

    You cut a very fine woollen figure beside the beach in all your handmade clothes, and the trousers are finished with real skill and a precision that I have come to admire as typically YOU!

    I have a lovely book on courture sewing techniques which really made me appreciate the value in hand-finishing and hand-sewing clothing, your trousers are a wonderful testimony to the value of that extra labour.

    What a wonderful pair of trousers, and I am so glad you worked on Wovember this year – it was really a massive pleasure to share the TURBOWOOL with you!

    Huzzah!

  2. Loved this post, Tom. My grandmother was a tailor (she said she was a ‘tailoress’ but she was born in 1895 and that’s what female tailors were called) and she used to do the most lovely hand-finishing. Your words reminded me of her. I used to make a lot of clothes for myself as a teen – and she always wanted to look at my seams, zips, linings and all the bits I found rather boring! I wanted something to wear Saturday night and I used to just throw the stuff together. She did not approve 🙂

  3. Always such a joy to read how you go about making things with such care and curiosity. Reading the words makes me want to get up and make too.
    I think Petersham is the word you’re after for the thick ribbon for trouser bottoms. I love the stuff!
    And well done on such an excellent pair of trousers. Now remember to wear them one day on, one day off to let them rest!

  4. Nette broek! I believe ‘stootband’ is called kick tape ribbon. You could try petersham ribbon instead of grosgain. it is the specialist ribbon used in millinery in the inside of hats because it can be curved by ironing it. It is definitely sturdier than grosgain.

  5. All I can say is wow, great job! I’m inspired by your work. I usually do some hand finishing on dresses, but I certainly do not have your finesse. Love the knitting, too! PS I discovered your blog through a link on Kate Davies’s.

  6. I sew many of my clothes–(i do have a zig zag machine, and i don’t hand finish seams)–but I would suggest seam tape. Its the opposite of grossgrain–its narrow, thin rayon, you fold it over the edge, and straight stitch it in place. (for curves you might make 2 passes, sew on one edge, then fold and sew on second edge. Its a classical way to finish seams, and its very attractive.

    As a child, I would sew hand made knotted edge buttonholes. (a small french knot like stitch, on the edge of a standard sewn buttonhole.) for my mother (a dressmaker) but i rarely do hand buttonholes anymore (but i have made suits with welted buttonholes, and real button holes at the sleeve edge!)

    I love the work you’ve done–and the details. some, like seam tape, could make the work a bit faster (with out lose of quality) but you are so right, sometimes, its all the loving hand details that make things special. I don’t always sew to the high quality (couture) you did, I usually sew to “better quality” –and never to mass produced overlocked crap. I like that my clothes look as nice on the inside (almost) as they do on the outside. I like all the fine details.. (and while i forgo some, or take some short cuts, (zigzag edges) –and i like have a million dollar wardrobe for bargain basement prices (and a bit of time)

    Wonder, beautiful work. Wear them in good health, for many years.

  7. wonderful. all of it. Those are very smart trousers and beautifully stitched. I did a couple of courses of Hand Tailoring, it was jackets we made, but I know exactly how perfect wool is for that sort of sewing. David Coffin has written a lot about trouser making and cares a lot about the old style of tailoring details. (superb jetted pocket btw!) You could also consider a half lining for your next pair.

    I learned to sew on a handcrank 1897 Singer, so all my seams were hand blanket stitched too. I confess to having gone electric and bought an overlocker since then, but I don’t think it’s a mad way to handle such quality wool. Good on you!

  8. Wow, really lovely job and beautiful details! I also have some wool fabric for trousers that has been waiting for me to get fitting pants down well enough to justify it. I’m getting closer, and I love the idea of hand picking the fly!

    As a fellow treadle sewing machine user, I can say that I really appreciate all the hand work you put into these, and your attitude about it! If you have later projects where you don’t want to hand baste and overcast, low-tack tape (like painters’ tape) or a long flat magnet make great treadle seam guides. And, you can use pinking shears on the seam allowance edges, and/or make another line of straight stitching near the edge to keep things from raveling. I look forward to seeing more of your sewing adventures!

    1. Thanks for those tips! I did try the low-tack tape before, but it always comes of and gets fluffy. I’m on the look-out for a seam gauge plate…
      This was one of my first “proper” sewing projects. Looking forward to make more!

  9. You made a really good job of these trousers. I am so impressed. I think the tape you were thinking of might be “petersham”?
    It’s often much easier to sew tricky bits by hand – saves a lot of unpicking!

  10. Very nice trousers, your finishing work is perfection…and you’ve given me an idea as to what to do with the yards of woollen fabric that I’ve had stashed away for several years. Thank you for sharing.

  11. The place I worked at called the tape “heel tape”. We stitched it only to the back portion of the hem to stop it wearing when it rubbed the shoe. I guess it came from the place we got all our tailoring supplies but petersham would be fine. Great job on the trousers. Beautiful attention to detail.

  12. I stumbled upon this post–lovely trousers, you really did a wonderful job! The tape you are looking for is called trouser kick tape in Great Britian and heel guard tape here in the US (although it is not very common here in stores to buy). Petersham is used in waistbands and is stiffer usually.

  13. Lovely trousers, great that you enjoy taking the time to do things properly. But I was surprised by your cutting layout! I was taught by my mum to place all pieces as close together as possible to avoid wasting fabric, ending up with useful sized off-cuts.

    1. Not having had any sewing lessons whatsoever, I obviously still have things to learn. I’ll try and be more economical with the lay-out next time, as it makes a lot of sense to do so.

      1. If you play around with the layout you can often have enough left over to make something else with, or for patching. I am becoming more aware of the sense of my mother’s generation (make do and mend era), and have been recently hunting amongst her things for a darning mushroom – I can remember it vividly as it was a bright red one, and I would like to get it back into use!

  14. I have been a sewer since I was young, taught by my mother and then at school. I am so grateful for all I learnt so young. but I am still learning and love the fact that I am! I have just been learning about “kick tape” because I have been asked to turn up some trousers. I had previously turned up my son-in-law’s new suit trousers the day before he needed them for my next daughter’s wedding (what confidence he had in his MIL!) and I carefully re-sewed on the kick tape. At the time I thought – “oh, I can put the tape on better than whoever made these! They’ve got it showing at the bottom!” – so mine wasn’t showing. But having just googled kick tape, needing to buy some, I found that it is supposed to show slightly, in order to protect the very bottom of the hem. So now I know! And I shall do the next pair correctly! And by the way Mr Google also showed me it is possible to sew it on by machine without the stitching showing on the right side – should you wish to!

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