Simplicity 8701 – A Trousers Sewing Class, Part 1

Nell, a Caucasian person, sits on a white chair facing the camera. They are wearing a dark blue t-shirt with capped, frilled sleeves and high-waisted black corduroy pants.

Hello and welcome friends, to another multipart blog post! Those who have been following along with previous posts will know that I am no expert when it comes to sewing pants. I don’t have a straight size figure, with current measurements registering a 14” difference between waist and hips, and a crotch depth of over 12”. Yet even so, I LOVE pants. Over the course of writing this blog, I’ve challenged myself to improve my fitting technique and produce bottoms of all lengths that will both fit me and be comfortable. I thought that signing up for a proper sewing course around trousers might also benefit me, so I saved up and took part in a multi-week course when it became available in my local area.

Nell, a Caucasian person, sits on a white chair side-on to the camera. They are wearing a dark blue t-shirt with capped, frilled sleeves and high-waisted black corduroy pants.

As per their instructions I hunted around for a pattern to bring along that would fit my hip size. After some searching of various websites like Etsy and Ebay for a good, secondhand copy of something, I settled on Simplicity 8701 in sizes 16-24. This pattern belongs to Simplicity’s Design Hacking collection. A series of patterns intended to be hacked and customised, as the name implies. S8701 is in the Misses’ range, which the internet tells me are intended for people of “average proportions” between the height between 5’5” and 5’6”. I do understand from their history why sewing patterns use these descriptions, and it can be a useful guide to understand what patterns might be directed at younger bodies with less curvature in certain places. But I don’t believe there is such a thing as average proportions when all bodies are so different, and no one should be made to feel they are somehow at odds with the norm for not fitting in these unhelpful boxes.

Because it does have a wider leg design, they recommend using fabrics with a little structure and at least some drape. Fabrics like chambray, linen, denim, chino, were all on the list. Unfortunately I made some rather terrible choices when it came to picking fabrics, but more on that in a moment. The other features to keep in mind with this pattern is that it has a fly front (but no fly shield), patch pockets (that are rather small), and a base waistband that comes in three pieces and sits below the natural waist. It also includes blank tissue paper with a grid so that you can create your own embellishments to add to it.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands very close to the camera with one hand on their pocket and one hand behind their back. You can only see their mid-section. They’re wearing a black and white striped T-shirt, and high waisted black corduroy pants with a front fly.

I am extremely grateful to the teacher who ran the sewing course. She was endlessly patient, supportive, and highly knowledgeable about all things garment-making. She had been a tailor for many years! However, I have to disagree with her method for constructing the trousers. For one thing, the class had us make our first version of the pants out of final fabrics rather than calico, old sheets, or the sort of scraps I would tend to use for toiles. I suspect it was to give the students a quick win, which can be very important for building confidence and enthusiasm in hobbies as a beginner. Starting with proper fabrics guaranteed that at the end of the class, we would have something final and wearable. Being entirely overconfident and thinking that as I had more experience than the other attendees, and as the teacher was certain their method would work, I made an awful choice of fabric for the first version. I chose black corduroy.

Why did I do this? Well, I had found some yardage of this black corduroy at a secondhand store and it was covered in stains and spots. That meant it was useless for anything that wasn’t cut very carefully in a vertical direction. I would only have enough for the trousers with a little leftover, so I didn’t think it too risky. However, I immediately ran into problems. The teacher had us trace and cut out our patterns at the correct size for our hips, which for me was a size 20. I ended up with a base pair of pants that was the correct size in one place, and one place only. Everywhere else but the hips I was swimming in excess fabric which didn’t drape well, shrunk once interfaced – despite having gone through the dryer, released fluff if I so much as looked at it, and despised being unpicked. The result was that the fitting process was quite difficult and that I couldn’t easily replicate the changes I had made on the paper pattern without it seeming warped. Moreover, the more I wore them in, the more the fit changed and I regretted a lot of the choices I had made during construction.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands with their back to the camera with both fists resting on their hips. They are wearing a dark blue t-shirt with capped, frilled sleeves and high-waisted black corduroy pants.

I gave up on that method altogether and went back to the one I had I taught myself. It’s going to sound strange, but fitting bottoms using my method begins with making a wishlist. I will wear garments I’ve bought from a store and make a note of what I like about them and what I don’t. Do I wish it had a longer zip? Would I like the crotch curve to be lower? How comfortable is it when sitting? Do I like the width of the legs, or should they be narrower? How long should the legs be? How deep should the hem be? Ask yourself all these questions when wearing your clothes. Ask yourself what features you love, and what features you could do without. By doing this it’s a good way to avoid accidentally replicating something that might bother you. Then it’s time to measure, measure – and measure some more. I find my natural waistline by keeping my legs and hips in place, and then tilting my upper body to the side. The point at which I “crease” is my waist. Then I find the widest part of me below my waist, wriggling the tape measure up and down until I find it, and those are my hips.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands facing the camera with one hand on their hip, and hips slightly cocked. They are wearing a dark blue t-shirt with capped, frilled sleeves and high-waisted black corduroy pants.

Keep on with those measurements! Sit on a chair, and measure from your waist down to the top of the chair, which should indicate crotch depth. To be sure this is giving enough wiggle room, I like to compare this measurement against the crotch depth of some comfortable bottoms. I prefer the fabric to sit below the crotch so it doesn’t give me a wedgie, but still sit high enough to reach the top of the upper thigh to prevent chafing. If I have a crotch curve I like in one pattern then you had better believe I will replicate it in each pattern I sew thereafter. I also measure around my thighs both sitting and standing, to get an idea of how tight things can be before I can’t sit comfortably in them. Your thighs require some space when seated after all! Then I take all these measurements, and compare them against the flat pattern. This will tell me before I even cut into some toile fabric what sort of tweaks I should be making. And from there the toilets will let me know what else is left to change.

The only time I don’t do this is when the design features already encompass a lot of my normal changes. For example, the Loretta Shorts already had wide legs and a low crotch. As a rule of thumb, I also try not to grade more than one or two sizes from the waist to the hips where possible. This is because as you grade out from the waist, you’re creating a curve, and the more you grade the more rounded the hips will become. It can leave the design looking like an inflated balloon if you’re not careful. Instead, I recommend grading around one size, where possible, and taking out the rest of the difference through a few other places. This can mean adding darts, whether that’s adding one where there was none, or adding an additional dart, widening existing darts, and/or tapering in at the centre front and centre back. Often I find it easier to taper in the centre back, as we all tend to be flatter across the back than we are across the stomach, and we might still need a bit of stomach space in the front.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands side on to the camera with their hands folded behind their back. You can see only mostly their lower half. They are wearing a black and white striped t-shirt with high-waisted black corduroy pants.

I feel as though the sewing course was quite valuable, not the least of which because the teacher taught me a new pocket method – which we’ll discuss in the next post. However, it seemed more of an exercise in learning what I don’t like to do, and which methods don’t work for bodies that aren’t straight sizes. It also taught me that no, you do not want to disregard notches because they really do matter, and that the cutting layout isn’t something I should be ignoring even if I have fabric shortages. As much as I would like to attend more classes, it’s also taught me how important it is for me to respect my accessibility needs and not do activities I know can cause strain. So, in the future I would look at virtual classes which I can stop and start as needed. And on top of that, I now know that the more involved something is, the more I need to break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks without strict deadlines.

Nell, a Caucasian person, stands on a slight angle to the camera with one hand in their pocket. They are wearing a dark blue t-shirt with capped, frilled sleeves and high-waisted black corduroy pants.

Now, you may be wondering why I am sharing this post if I don’t even like the trousers I’ve made from this pattern, and since I found the class so tricky. I had the loveliest compliment from another sewist on this blog a little while ago who was shocked that I sew trousers at all, despite it being so challenging. I realised then how much it matters to show that I don’t always succeed in what I set out to do, and that even if I do finish making some wearable, I don’t always end up with a garment I love. And that’s all right. What I do gain is a greater understanding for next time. For example, these corduroy trousers still don’t have the best fit and aren’t comfortable for much else other than sitting around. But by the second version I was starting to get a handle on things (even if all new things went wrong), and in the future, when I make a third pair, I’m sure they will be better still!

See you all in Part Two!

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