Simplicity/EvaDress 3322: Those high lonesome pants
Britain doesn’t really do chinos. And if it did, it wouldn’t do chinos in my size. Thanks to my cocktail of English and Indian genes, I measure 26.5″ in the waist but a scant 34″ around the hips, which means that pants and skirts on the UK high street (most of which seem to be designed for hourglasses and pears) hang like pathetic Halloween sacks empty of treats on my up-and-down frame. So I’m basically debarred from buying below-the-waist clothing for the duration.
The lack of any bottoms in light neutral tones is a serious gap in my wardrobe, especially in summer when black just won’t cut it. As in, I have a stupid amount of stuff I like but can’t wear because I have no beige pants. Enter EvaDress 3322, a multi-sized modern reissue of a 1940 Simplicity trouser/overall pattern.
Simplicity, you say? I know, I know. Barely two months into my no-Simplicity vow and already I’m backsliding. I tried, really I did. I ordered this sweet Hollywood slacks pattern from the unimpeachable Mom’s Patterns in March and waited weeks for it to arrive, but thanks to the vagaries of the transatlantic postal service, it never showed up. Are Royal Mail in league with the devil? Who knows. The clock was ticking — it was late May and the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it English summer was due to arrive any day now. I couldn’t afford to wait for another pattern to ship from the US; I had to put shears to cloth. The Simplicity pattern was in my stash, so back to Simplicity I went.
Just to be on the safe side, I checked the measurements scrupulously to make sure there weren’t any of the wild discrepancies I’ve come to associate with Simplicity patterns and made a rare muslin before cutting into my fabric, a beige cotton/viscose twill I bought from Cloth House in Soho. It needed surprisingly little tweaking, although of course this didn’t stop me from compulsively tinkering with the fit later to the point of courting ruin. However, for my first ever pair of pants, I’m fairly happy with the result. I added big patch pockets and belt loops to soften the spartan look of the original design and give me more wearing options.
Thanks to my project dysmorphia, I could point out a whole host of problems and defects that render these pants torturously unacceptable in my eyes. BUT I WON’T, because when I debuted the pants to the two main men in my life and started to moan about all their flaws (the pants’, not the men’s), they (the men, not the pants) very sensibly told me to STFU, the pants looked great. So instead, I will tell you what I like about them and what I got right and leave my FAILs to the “Lessons Learned” section below.
I love the comfort of these pants. I cannot remember the last time I had a pair of pants that hung from my natural waist rather than from a point below it. Starting from the break at the fullest part of the hip, these pants have a lot of ease. They also have a very low crotch relative to modern pants and jeans — there’s plenty of room in there for a girdle, for instance, or a pair of old-timey French knickers. (Ooh, swishy!) These elements, combined with the drapey fabric I used, make the pants feel flowy, full and unconstricting. They churn fascinatingly along the pavement when I walk and allow a much freer range of motion in hips and legs than I’m used to after years of tight, stretch and low-rise pants. I can high-kick in these if the mood takes me (although probably not while wearing the girdle). Great for lindy hop!
I love their versatility. The high waist makes them ideal for wearing with all my 1940s blouses, and I can pair them with modern tops and sweaters to make them work- and street-appropriate, like so:
I like the fact that I got the topstitching on the patch pockets right. “Simple” tasks like stitching a straight line are usually a minefield for me. I also like the fact that I wore these out of the house for the first time today and two people complimented me without suspecting that I’d made them.
I like the fact that these pants have jailbroken about half a dozen items in my wardrobe. After a year and a half of ownership, I can finally wear my vintage 1940s utility shoes!
These shoes are more than 60 years old and still going strong. They may not be dainty or elegant, but they were certainly built to last. Here’s the maker’s mark, complete with the CC41 “cheeses” to indicate that the shoes comply with British utility standards:
Like Tabby, the original owner was smart enough to have a cobbler attach protective half-soles and heels to extend the life of the the shoes themselves:
But back to my pants!
This is the most practical piece of clothing I’ve ever made, and definitely the first I’ve made with the presumption that I’d be wearing it regularly in situations requiring me to look normal and presentable. Ooh, pressure. But it is a challenge in its own way to make something that has to stand up against our RTW-trained aesthetic standards for street and workwear. I can see the appeal. Maybe Self-Stitched September isn’t out of the question after all!
I think I’m starting to understand the Simplicity problem (wacky drafting aside). As its name implies, Simplicity marketed itself in the 1940s and 1950s as the easiest and most accessible pattern company for novice seamstresses — its promotional film Pattern for Smartness, which I’ve featured before, emphasizes how easy Simplicity patterns are to use because the brainiacs at the company have done everything for you.
However, simplifying design and construction that much must involve sacrificing some quality in the finished product. Beautiful garments require finesse on the part of the maker — more finesse than can possibly be included on a single instruction sheet without printing it on monster A0-size paper. Therefore, a lot of vintage Simplicity patterns, because they favor easy-to-explain or apparently easy-to-master techniques, make it easy to sew a finished garment that looks homemade.
However, some of these “simplified” techniques actually involve false economies of effort. It’s easier to illustrate and explain how to make a “simple” straight waistband than a faced contour waistband, but I loathe and dread straight waistbands because they are never simple. The necessity of easing the garment into the waistband, for instance, often isn’t mentioned. You need to account for turn of cloth because it is physically impossible for three layers of fabric cut to the same length (waistband right and wrong sides + interfacing) to curve neatly around the waist without buckling or bulging. The traditional methods given for finishing the waistband (fold both seam allowances under and topstitch or handstitch to secure them) nearly always create too much bulk. And it is often fiendishly difficult to topstitch through multiple layers of fabric without creep, even using a walking foot. And on and on. I’m not sure this deceptive simplicity in patterns is helpful to those just learning to sew.
Anyway, despite the fact that I’m learning to understand Simplicity instead of just, you know, hating it, this will be my last. I really mean it this time!
- Apply a twill tape waistband for fitting. Any garment that hangs from the waist needs a stable waistband for accurate fitting. Sandra Betzina’s tip in Power Sewing about using twill tape for this is invaluable — I used a marker to draw the waistband “notches” on the twill tape and basted it just inside the seamline before trying on. This also gave me a better idea how much easing I’d have to do when applying the waistband to the garment (in this case, none).
- A method that looks simple on the instruction sheet may conceal hours of struggle. In this case, “topstitch waistband through all layers”.
- Avoid the Colombo Effect by resisting the temptation to tweak “just one more thing”. In my quest for the rare and novel sensation of snugly fitting trousers, I made one last impulsive fitting adjustment that nearly ruined the whole project. I took too much off the hips, distorting the fit and causing seam slippage, and had to let it out again. In the end it left permanent and visible flaws in the project. Ouch! Leave it alone!
- Use the best interfacing you can find. This may mean importing. You can have any interfacing you want in Britain as long as it’s Vilene (made with real paper!), which means I often come up empty-handed when searching for suitable interfacing for projects. So I didn’t have anything in my stash for interfacing the button and buttonhole plackets on these trousers (not mentioned in the instructions, by the way) and my buttonholes are already distorted. Waaah.
- Hemline brand anorak snaps are total crap. I had three people working on the problem and none of us could get the male half of the snaps to stay in the fabric. Avoid avoid avoid. In the end I used jeans buttons.
Coupons spent: 6 (2 less than a pair of store-bought pants!)
Coupons left: 41