Monday, 27 July 2015

Leggings-Gate :: or, learning to work with knits

I don't have that much experience of sewing stretch fabrics. I made one jersey dress back in 2008, and for work I've made up various Lycra bodysuits and structural contraptions, generally always using Lycra and power mesh, i.e. knits with good 4-way stretch and high recovery rate. But pattern cutting for knits, doing nice finishing techniques, discovering the stretch percentage, attaching elastic…all this was new to me and slightly frightening!

I decided to make a pair of leggings. How hard could that be?
Last week I had 3 application forms to write, my expenses receipts to log, and my tax return to file. So naturally this was the perfect opportunity to do some heavy procrastination via my sewing machine.
I stepped into the black hole of LEGGINGS-GATE.

Pattern cutting
For the pattern, I loosely followed the instructions on One Little Minute. And I mean very loosely: I took the measurements listed, then drafted up a trouser block with a few glances at the pattern shapes in the tutorial.

In hindsight, I wish that I had trusted my instincts/experience more and overlooked more of the tutorial instructions, as this draft gives you a crotch that is too saggy, and ankles that are too tight.  I discovered by reading the comments section afterwards that many other sewists have encountered the same problems.

The draft makes leggings with only an inseam, which gives a lovely line on the outside leg, but means that it's harder to make finely-tuned adjustments in fit.

As a side note, I seriously recommend getting a friend to help you take a full set of body measurements, perhaps once a year. Measuring yourself isn't great for accuracy, and I could definitely have avoided some fit problems had I had a better set of measurements.

I'd just bought 2m of this fantastic stretch gold/purple lamé from the sale section of Classic Textiles, Goldhawk Road, for the grand sum of £4. I should really have chosen a fabric that I was less enamoured with for my trial pair of leggings, but there was enough of it to cut two pairs so I decided to jump straight in. I cut the leggings on the cross grain rather than the straight, so that vertical lines would run down my legs. This meant that the leggings would have more vertical than horizontal stretch.

I zipped down the seams on my overlocker, and had I not hit the problems mentioned above, this would have been an ultra-quick sew. But the rise was far too long in the front (though nice and snug at the back), so I spent a long time fine-tuning the front waistline, pulling it as far upwards as I could. I discovered that with leggings, there is an extremely fine line between a good fit, and risk of indecent exposure!

The legs were super-tight below the knee, and I found it especially hard to pull them on over my foot. But I decided to live with this; once they were on, they weren't too uncomfortable. Also, I have a pair of vintage leggings from the 1970s which are also super-tight on the ankle, so I'm not unused to struggling in and out of clothing!

I really liked the method of attaching waistband elastic in the leggings tutorial, although I should have added 1cm extra seam allowance to the top to allow for the turn-down. The leggings could sit a little higher on my waist, for my taste! For the hems, I did a simple zigzag turn-up.

Round 2
I concluded that the gold leggings were rather tight but wearable. I made adjustments to the pattern by widening the calves and ankles; raising the fork/shortening the rise; and adding more seam allowance to the top of the waistband.

I cut out the pattern in the stretch grey velvet that I'd been hoarding for a the past 3 months and zipped down the seams on the overlocker full of confidence and expectation.

Alas! Leggings-gate struck again! In my haste, I had failed to analyse the fabric, and didn't take into account how it differed from the gold stretch lamé. The velvet was much thicker, with horizontal stretch, but no vertical stretch whatsoever!

The leggings were still too tight, bending the knee was uncomfortable, and they were too short. The crotch was still dodgy, and the waist was nowhere near high enough.

I overlocked little cuffs onto the ankles to give more length in the leg, and should make a  separate waistband too. But I don't know whether to bother trying to salvage them so that I can give them to someone shorter than me who has slimmer legs; or just to throw them in the bin.

Grand conclusion? Leggings need fabric with 4-way stretch. 

I'd still like to make several pairs of stretch velvet leggings; so I guess I'll have to look a little harder to find suitable fabric. Meanwhile, at least I can enjoy my gold pair!

Helpful links list (that I wish I'd read before starting)
Drafting & making leggings (follow the drafting instructions with caution! see above)
Fitting trousers & making pattern alterations
How to determine stretch percentages on knit fabrics
About knit fabrics & some suppliers
Cutting & handling knit fabrics
A the Tilly posts on knits are great!
Finishing techniques for knit fabrics

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