The last couple of months have been quite challenging when it comes to sewing. I tested a number of different patterns, attempting to either learn new skills through them, or to add specific pieces to my wardrobe for regular rotation. However, I had an unprecedented number of failures with each that left me feeling quite frustrated. I made a minimum of three attempts per pattern, and it seemed that for each fit issue I fixed, another two would spring up. I suddenly had a lot of sympathy for Heracles and his battle with the Hydra! However, out of this wild mess rose two garments which I am rather proud of, and since I am attempting to make my blog posts a little more detailed in terms of construction advice, I have decided to split this post into two parts while I share in my own Sewing Labour.
Out of all the patterns I have made thus far, if there was one in particular that I could point to as having taught me the most, it would have to be the Loretta Shorts by Charm Patterns. If you are at all interested in sewing vintage or retro patterns then this brand will no doubt be familiar to you. But for those who haven’t stumbled across it, Charm Patterns is an independent sewing pattern company founded by blogger, author, and fashion designer, Gretchen “Girtie” Hirsch. She designs vintage inspired patterns and publishes them either as Patreon exclusive downloads, or makes them available for purchase on the Charm Pattern website. You might also be familiar with her designs via her collaborations with Butterick, or her sewing pattern books like Gertie’s Ultimate Dress Book.
To be honest, I haven’t had all that good an experience with Gertie’s patterns before. I tried them when I was still quite new to sewing, and I had a lot of trouble with the sizing and instructions. However, given that Gertie has quite a different figure to me – and this might be what she’s basing her pattern blocks on, I shouldn’t be surprised. Even so, the sheer fervor for them on social media had me intrigued. I began to wonder if perhaps I could conquer one of her patterns now that I have a greater understanding of fitting, and the common issues I need to look out for. It was around that time I came across the Loretta Shorts, which is a Patreon exclusive pattern designed with a 50’s silhouette in mind. I signed up for the Patreon, downloaded the pattern, watched the tutorial, and then cancelled the subscription again when I was sure I had all I needed. In the grand scheme of things it was cheaper to do that to get the pattern than it is to outright purchase most Indie patterns. So let’s talk design first. What are the standout design features of this pattern?
First of all, I cannot stress enough that this is a proper high-waisted pattern. I’m a person with a short torso and deeper-than-average hips, which means that modern sewing patterns that claim to be high-waisted still act like mid-rise pants on me. However, the Loretta Shorts not only have a high-waisted design, their crotch depth is also quite long, and the crotch curve on both the front and pack pieces is also a bit longer than most modern patterns would have it. This might mean it’s a bit much for some people, but it saved me having to add that length to the rise myself. The legs of the pattern are quite flared, meaning that for those who prefer their shorts more fitting, it might require a fair bit of trimming. I was quite shocked that for once I didn’t have to grade between the waist and hips, and in fact, I ended up slimming the legs down! Last but not least, we have to discuss the pockets. The pockets used in this pattern are quite a clever bit of design work. Using the difference in ease between the pocket and the width of the shorts, it forces the pocket to pop open when drawn to the side seam because of that excess. This is what creates that distinct look of the pockets sitting out from the hips.
The construction of these pockets, however, can be a bit difficult, and it took me several goes to get even one pocket that didn’t have a pucker in the corner. Something which I have noticed I am not alone in, as in several instances of the pattern I’ve seen shared on social media, we all had puckers. I also noticed that in several of the reviews that people had remarked on the pockets being tricky, and often referred people back to the video tutorial. However, I watched that tutorial and I am sorry to say that it’s rather unhelpful. Gertie is facing directly at the camera for the construction sequences, which is also at enough of a distance to her that I often had to squint at whatever she was holding up. She also used white and black gingham fabric, and a thread that blended in. I could be wrong, but I believe she did things in a somewhat different order to the written instructions in the PDF pattern as well, which made it a bit confusing. I also noticed that even Gertie got puckers when sewing her pockets, so at this stage I’m beginning to think it’s down to pure luck and fabric behaviour as to whether there will be puckers or not with this design.
So how does one construct those pockets? First, the instructions state to do a line of reinforcing stitches, pivoting at the small dot. I made mine about two inches long both on the vertical, and horizontal lines, as I wanted maximum protection against fraying fabric, and support. Then, clip to the small dot, but be mindful not to clip through the reinforcing stitches. At this stage you will want to finish the raw edges of that vertical line now it has been clipped open. For the next phases of the pocket assembly, I found it better to work with the wrong side of the shorts facing up, so I could better see what was happening. Starting with the pocket piece, place it right sides together with the vertical line of the shorts front, matching the dots. Stitch to the dot, and then press this seam open. Take the pocket bag, and place it right sides together with the horizontal line, matching the dots. Once again, stitch to the dot.
Then, grade the seam allowance so that the pocket bag’s seam is shorter than that of the shorts front, press, and understitch the pocket bag. However, I only understitched to within about 6/8″ of the small dot. This is because to attach the pocket and pocket bags to each other, you will need to flip both over to the wrong side of the shorts, and then pin them right sides together (the pocket and pocket bag that is). You then stitch from the small dot, and across the base of these two pieces. By not understitching the whole length of the top of the pocket bag, it meant I wasn’t making that 5/8″ seam required for combining the pocket pieces the wrong size/shape to align them. Also, in the muslins I made, I noticed that the pocket bag was a little longer than the pocket. To correct this, I aligned the side-seam darts on both pieces, and lengthened the pocket to match the pocket bag. The result was that there was no straining or warping when I went to sew them together. Finally, you would take the full pocket, and pull it across to the side-seam of the shorts, matching the darts. Baste this in place.
With the pockets complete, the trickier construction part for the front pattern pieces is now over. I preferred to construct the pockets and stitch the centre front seam before I moved onto the back pieces. I entirely ignored the zipper markings on the back pattern piece, because a 7″ zipper is so short on me that I wouldn’t even be able to get the finished piece up over my thighs. Instead, I made markings based on what zippers I had available for each piece and then stitched the centre back seam to this point, and prepared to insert the lapped zippers. This one was a learning curve for me, given the most adventurous thing I had done with zippers previously was to insert invisible ones. However, with this glorious tutorial I found on Youtube, creating lapped zippers was an absolute breeze. Not only that, but it left me gobsmacked with the suggestion to use double-sided washaway tape to baste the zipper in place. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of this before! It was so simple to do, avoided the fabric bunching – which can happen with pinning, and made the whole process that much faster. To be honest, I prefer doing lapped zippers now.
My final tip for construction in this post is that it helps a lot to be consistently pressing throughout with a good, steamy iron . You definitely want all your edges crisp, and any folds nice and flat for ease of stitching. This might be a bit trickier on curved areas, but a good tailor’s ham will do wonders there! A good press will also help alleviate some of the puckering in the corners of those pockets, and ensure the seams sit nicely.
For the next steps of this process, and details on how I hacked the pattern to remove the waistband and turn it into culottes/wide leg pants, keep your eye out for part 2 next month!