Author: Kitty

The Great Unicorn Pants Quest – Part 3

Testing the new pattern (yes, there will be a Part 4)

By Kitty

Last time, I shared my highly unscientific process for creating a pants pattern from the duct tape shell of my lower body.

Now, I’ll show you how I went from the BEFORE pants to the AFTER pants (shown below) through trials, tribulations, and about eleventy-million muslins.  I’ll need to break this up into this blog and the next installment, though, because it just got way, way too long otherwise.

I may have gone slightly mad in the undertaking.  But at least now I’m a madwoman whose pants actually fit!

The usual caution if you’re doing this trip with me

If you’ve made it this far on the journey, you’ve probably learned all kinds of things about the shape and posture of your body, which will change the way you shop for/look at/re-examine your pants.  

Now, do you want to go all the way and actually sew up your pattern into real pants?

If you do, be prepared to invest a good whack of time and materials in the testing process.  I’d love to tell you that your first muslin, or test garment, will fit beautifully and be perfectly wearable, but odds are frankly not in your favour.  

Can you fit pants on yourself (without help)?

Yes, with caveats.

High-end couturiers often go through ten or so mock-ups before perfecting a pair of custom pants.  Back in the middle Victorian age, when Ancient Aunt Kitty was a young ‘un working as an apprentice costumer, an entire team of fitters would work for hours on one client, who would have to stand there while everyone pinned and tucked and fiddled around her crotch and bum. 

But pin-fitting yourself was Not Done (I could hear the capital letters when I asked the Head Fitter about this), because twisting or reaching could distort The Grainline (capitals again, for sure).  Us peasants who couldn’t afford professional fitting would just have to make friends with a seamstress, or be doomed to crotch wrinkles and sagging bums on our pants.

Well, Kittens, the Head Fitter was wrong, because I managed to get there with nothing more than a lot of test fabric, time, sheer bloody-mindedness, a camera, and the help of a willing but totally clueless Felix.  If I can do it, with my weirdo mutant bum and giant calves from Mars, you surely can too!

Yes, pants that fit my back crotch perfectly!

What you will need (well, what I needed; your mileage may vary)

  1. You will need miles of test fabric.  In a perfect world, this would be fabric with a very similar weight and drape as the fabric you’d use for your final pants.  

Being on a budget, I went for a king-size bedsheet or two from the thrift store.  Not really like any fabric I’d make pants from, but it was good enough for the early, rough stages of testing. If you have a choice, go for cottons with some body and crispness; avoid very soft squishy polyester types.  No stretch, unless your plan is to make stretch pants in the end.

Later, near the end, you’ll need fabric for a “wearable muslin,” or something you’d be willing to actually wear if it turns out well enough.

  • Tailor’s chalk.  In a pinch, any pen that will mark on fabric will work.  Don’t be afraid to mark up your muslins, unless you think you’ll actually end up wearing it for realsies.
  • A camera.  The camera on your iPad or phone is fine.
  • A helper.  In theory, you could do without this one — but believe me, you’ll pull out a lot less hair if you have someone to assist you at a few critical moments.  I had Felix, who has never pin-fitted anyone in his life, and knows nothing whatsoever about pants fitting.  But he could take photos of my behind while I was standing straight, and that ended up being key.

Cutting out, sewing, and fitting the pants

I’m not going to cover the process of actually cutting out your pattern in fabric, sewing it together, and going through all the details of fitting, at least not here.  This is because this blog would be the length of a quite large book if I did.

If you’re searching for a basic beginner’s guide to making pants fit, look out for my upcoming future blogging site, which will actually be dedicated to tutorials like this one! But in the meantime….

So what am I going to cover here?

Mainly, I’ll just outline the steps I went through to get to my own endpoint, which in my case is perfect enough pants.  I spend my days hunched over a sewing machine or shovelling alpaca poo.  I do not require haute couture-level pants.

I’m not going to go into much detail about the many, many minor pattern adjustments I did, mainly because I have such a statistically bizarre shape that I don’t think much of what I did would be applicable to most people.  For example, according to the measurement chart of one pattern company, I have a size 24 bust, a size 18 waist, and size 6 hips.  Yeah, not normal.  Not even normal-adjacent.

I will touch on stuff I did that I think might be useful to any of you who are still here, though.

Preliminary fitting: the summarized version

At this point, you will need your assistant/photographer.  You need to stand with your normal posture, facing straight ahead and not twisting your torso, while they take photos of your rear view.  Trust me, if you twist around, new wrinkles will appear and disappear in unpredictable ways, totally throwing off your fitting efforts.

The first thing I did was cut out my pattern (which I made in my last blog) in the cheap bedsheet material.  I only cut it to the length of shorts to start, since I wanted to check the fit of my waist, hips, and crotch before using up fabric for full-length legs.

Ugh. Fitting photos are not great for one’s vanity!

As you can see, much modification is still required.  Note that there’s a seam running down the centre back of my bum and legs; that’s because I chose to divide my back pattern piece into two in the pattern-making process earlier.  I thought it might simplify fitting over my non-existent hips and flat buttocks.  I pinned out some fabric at the thighs and under the butt, and got this:

Some improvement after taking in the inseams and rear seam under the seat

It definitely looked improved to me.  So full of innocence and hope, I launched headlong into what I hoped would be a wearable muslin.  Here, I’m using some bargain bin fabric I’d being willing to wear if all worked out as planned, mainly because I had a boatload of it.  However….

This was NOT how it was supposed to go!

Aaaaaaand…. it was a disaster.  It doesn’t look terrible, especially compared to what my original pants in this same fabric looked like (the very same pants that pushed me to start this quest in the first place).  If you forgot, this is the rear crotch fit in those:

The pants that made me decide I need new ones

So yeah, the new pants were an improvement in looks, at least over the original.  But I couldn’t move my legs forward without my pants crotch trying to climb, er, well, where it shouldn’t go.  Major binding.  

This, Kittens, is what is known in the industry as “over-fitting”: taking out so much wearing ease in the pursuit of smooth-looking fit that you can lose mobility.  Learn from my error.

A complete change of plans

Essentially, I decided that the centre seam down my back pattern would have to go.  I smooshed together the centre back and side back pieces of my original duct tape shell so they touched without overlapping, then traced that off.

Back to my duct tape pattern, but from the knee up only

I had to lop off everything from the knee down to make this work.  I just free-hand sketched the lower leg after tracing the duct tape.  This is NOT recommended, by the way; I just couldn’t think what else to do (the calf areas of my centre back and side back pieces actually crossed over each other when I left them on!).  This left me with a new pattern for a one-one-piece back.

I then repeated the shorts-and-bedsheet-fabric fitting process on the new back pattern:

Partway through testing the one-piece back pants pattern

The red line is the grainline, by the way.  I found it essential to have it marked clearly on my muslin, especially during the early fitting stages.  The horizontal line you see is a tuck I sewed to shorten the back crotch length.  

After I fiddled about for a while (which is a euphemism for making lots and lots and lots more versions, both before and after the one pictured above), I decided to sew it up in the same red test fabric, resulting in this:

Improved! But not enough for my tastes.

It was definitely better than it was, and I could move my legs, which was a win.  But note that I still had a milder version of those rear crotch wrinkles, just like the ones from the original pants AND in every one of my off-the-rack pants too. Vastly improved over the original, but I still wanted to get to the bottom of what was causing them.

The mystery of the back crotch wrinkles

These wrinkles had been present in all my previous pants, whether I made them or bought them, as I showed here.  I had at first assumed that it was something to do with my nonexistent hips or flat buttocks. But since none of the alterations I did for those helped at all, it had to be something else altogether!

In the next instalment, I’ll explain why 1) nothing I did so far worked, 2) loads of other people actually have this exact pants fitting problem (spoilers: it’s actually unrelated to the size or width of the butt!) and 3) how to finally fix it.

It’s Smaller on the Outside

(Or, Kitty makes a TARDIS-inspired corset)

As promised, here is the TARDIS corset, a la Felix & Kitty.

Felix and Kitty are newcomers to the Doctor Who phenomenon.  And Kitty is a newcomer to just about anything from the 20th century onwards, being a technophobe and general crank regarding all things Pop Culture.  But who doesn’t like the idea of a stark barking mad man in a box that can take you anywhere (and anywhen)?

There’s something about the dramatic blue-and-white-and-black lines of the TARDIS that immediately made Kitty think of corsets.  While a corset can’t transport you in space and time, at least it CAN make you smaller on the outside!

The Materials

First, you’ve got to have the right blue.  Murphy’s Law of Textiles says that the moment you start looking for a particular colour of fabric, it instantly vanishes from the universe, or at least the local fabric stores.  But Felix & Kitty’s usual flannel-backed satin in royal blue was close enough for now.

It’s a bit shiny for wood, so next time, Kitty might try a blue suede.  But it gives you the general idea of police box blue.

Next, the windows.  Any old plain white material might do, but where’s the fun in that?  Kitty has found that many character-inspired costume wearables have a tendency to look cartoonish or cheap; she thinks it’s partly due to overly graphic blocks of plain materials.  Subtly textured fabrics add depth and richness, which the brain subconsciously interprets as “real.”  So she went with this white check material with silver lines and dots.  It suggests windowpanes without being too literal about it, and adds lovely visual complexity.

Finally, the framework.  No, police boxes don’t have black trim running down their length, but this corset needed a strong vertical accent and a contrast colour to make the blue and white pop properly.  Good design sometimes means taking liberties.  Kitty chose this black velvet ribbon to add yet another layer of texture.

The Finished TARDIS corset

And here’s Amelia in the completed corset.  In the background, you see the Wall of 1001 Corsets, aka Felix & Kitty’s living room.

Kitty stuck with the usual front-laced closure, and she thinks it doesn’t interfere with the general TARDIS-ish quality of the corset.  But it could be made with a solid closed front if you didn’t mind needing minions to do up the back for you.  Or a busk, if you were willing to deal with the many fussy issues that accompanies a busk.  Or even a super-heavy-duty upholstery-weight zipper, which Kitty wouldn’t normally recommend, but which really does go well with this look (but only if you were willing to follow the rules regarding zipped corsets).

Kitty intends to make one for herself for the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, and maybe a few more in popular sizes if she can squeeze out the time.  These things are a labour of love – they’re very time-consuming to make!

This is because you can’t just slap on rectangles for the “windows” over the bust area; they need to navigate the 3-dimensional curve of the breast, so each window panel must be carefully cut and shaped differently for each cup size and shape.  Trust Kitty – if you just try the rectangle trick, you’ll look like you’re wearing placards stuck to your bosom.  She speaks with the voice of experience, having tried to cover her bountiful tracts of chest real estate with puny flat rectangles during her first attempt.  No, you don’t get to see that, unless you bribe her with puppies and kittens.

NEXT TIME: The trumpet skirt (is it worth developing, or should Kitty stick to pre-Edwardian designs?)

P.S.: If you think you might want one of these corsets for yourself, email us.  If you want one at CCEE, give Kitty as much notice as you can, because, as mentioned, these things take a bit of extra fiddling (no one wants windows that don’t fit right over the girls!). 

Kitty Designs a Steampunk Jacket

(In which Kitty photo-documents the process by which a sketch becomes a wearable garment, with many hiccups and downfalls along the way, and refers to herself in the third person)

We apologise for the lighting for the photos.  We really do make all this in the basement, and nasty fluorescent lighting is what we need to get enough brightness.

Step 1: Kitty makes a wish

Kitty wished she had a waist.  And hips, which you rather need if you want to have a waist.

Kitty is a rectangle somewhat over-burdened by a generous bosom.  Her hips and waist measure the same.  This is a major handicap for someone who designs Victorian-inspired clothes (the hips, not the bosom).  Lots of people have this problem, or at least also lack the requisite small-waist-and-smoothly-curved-hip thing a Victorian/Steampunk lady is supposed to possess.

She therefore wanted to come up with a garment that would create that lovely wasp-waisted, curvaceous Streampunk silhouette on ANY figure, by force if necessary.  She made a drawing of what she thought would be a good shape, rejected it, and made a few more drawings and corrections.

Step 2: Kitty makes a muslin

Meet Amelia, Kitty’s friend on a stand.  Obviously, Amelia is not Kitty’s body double.  Amelia’s bust is twelve inches larger than her waist, and she has a completely unrealistically tapered rib cage and no lumps, bumps, or fluff anywhere.  But Kitty will drape her new design on Amelia for several reasons: a) Kitty lives in the middle of nowhere with a donkey and senior citizens as neighbours and b) Amelia doesn’t complain when Kitty sticks here full of pins.

You might think that a design fitted on Amelia might just not work on a normal human body, and that’s a valid concern, which is why the first few events where Felix & Kitty take a new item, you get the drastically reduced prototype pricing – it’s how we test new ideas on lots of different body types.

But Kitty has learned over the years that with clever underpinnings and hidden engineering, she can create some really amazing visual illusions.  Her purpose with this jacket in progress is to make YOU look like you have Amelia’s proportions, whether you’re a flat-chested size 0 or a Rubenesque 28.  This is just the test pattern, though, so it looks sort of raggedy and suspiciously flopsy.  But Kitty is just checking basic girth and length and the proportions of detail.

Step 3: Fitting the Muslin

The test pattern was too big on Amelia’s waist, which is pretty normal.  It’s also too wide on her shoulders, which isn’t.  Kitty nips and tucks the muslin until it more or less fits.  She fiddles with the collar until the shape and size seems harmonious.

She also decides she needs to add loops or rings in the back later to make the waist size adjustable, so you could wear this by itself or over a corset (which could reduce your waist by up to 8 or so inches). She marks where they will go, but you won’t see them until the actual jacket is being assembled.

Step 4: Making the First Version

We’ll be using this electric-blue material with black flocking for the body of the jacket, and black satin for the collar.  The collar will be lined with something with enough stiffness so it shouldn’t require interfacing.  Kitty generally hisses at interfacing, unless it can’t be avoided (not that there’s anything wring with interfacing; she’s just lazy).

This is where Kitty tries to figure out which bits need lining, whether it’s the whole garment, or just the front, or something in between.  She tries lining only the center front panel and part of the center back for the first iteration

Step 5: A Sleeve Innovation

The sleeves on jackets always seem to short or too long.  Kitty tried to get around this in the hooded jackets from last season by making the sleeve hems pointed, but she has a different idea this time – maybe make them actually adjustable!  The same idea from the adjustable-length Victorian skirts should work here.


Look! Adjustable-length sleeves!

Step 6: Closures

Hmm.  Buttons, buckles, clasps, ties…. Which goes best with the design?  Kitty decides clasps would be too medieval and ties too fussy for the streamlined Victorian lines of this jacket.  She chooses buttonholes for this version, because buckles would mean Felix has to cut and rivet the leather strapping for them, and Kitty doesn’t want to pry him away from the hunk of plywood he’s hewing in the shop (he’s making fabric storage shelving).

Silver buttons would go best with the electric blue.

Step 7: Amelia gets a New Jacket

Finally, the jacket is finished!  Actually, it looks pretty darn good for the first version.  Quite often, at this stage, Kitty wads up the newborn item and hurls it into a corner and spends the next ten minutes banging her head against her cutting table.  But this time, she is cautiously pleased at what she sees.

Look at the back waist adjustment detail.  It needed to be pulled in a bit, because, as mentioned before, Amelia has an inhumanly small waist in proportion to the rest of her.

Step 8: Corrections

No, we won’t walk you through every last correction that needs to get made before Kitty decides this pattern is ready for mass production (don’t you love that?  Saying “mass production” for stuff turned out by one woman?).

But Kitty wants to make some changes for sure.  First, the partial lining will have to go.  Even though it will mean more time and materials and therefore a higher final price for you, she thinks a full lining is the way to go for this particular design.

The lining will hide the infrastructure that will cinch in your waist and support the beautiful flare of the skirt of the jacket, thus creating that perfect hourglass for all shapes and sizes.  Kitty is also determined to add a pocket this time, and in order not to spoil the lines, it will have to be attached to the lining.

Other than that, it’s just going to be cleaning up little issues that come up with later versions, and with different fabrics.  Kitty will also be making patterns for larger cup sizes for each dress size.  If all goes well, we’ll have this jacket ready at our next event.

Hope you enjoyed your inside look into our design process!

Next time, the TARDIS corset…

Starting a Blog

As we greet the New Year and recover from the debauches of the year-end celebrations, Kitty’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of new designs for the upcoming season.

Enough of you have asked us about who makes all our clothes, where it happens, and how, that we thought it would be fun to document the whole process from start to finish.  Yes, we do really, really make it all in our little basement at home.  No, we don’t have a factory in China or a Parisian atelier staffed with elf slaves.  And as of 2016, ALL designs originals are by Kitty!

So enjoy Kitty’s first attempt at a blog, where she shows you everything from the conception of a new idea on paper to the finished ready-to-wear garment.  We’re going to try adding other articles and blogs periodically throughout the next few months, so if you have any topics you’d like to know more about, or questions you’ve wanted answered, please let us know!