One of the questions that people ask me a lot is how much of my own clothes I make.
The answer is, in summertime, around 90%. In winter…it gets trickier.
For winter, I make almost all of my own merino tops (and I wear a merino top almost daily), and I make the singlets that go under them, and now I make my own cardigans, and obviously I’ve made capes and jackets and coats, and I make mitts by the dozen. But as far as bottoms go…I make pants, but I don’t enjoy making jeans (done it: it’s boring and tedious, takes hours and hours, and none of it is fun sewing), and I hate, hate, hate leggings and tights, so I don’t wear dresses.
Really, I can’t tell you how much I loathe leggings and tights. They pinch at the waist and roll down and sag between your legs or ride up, but most of all, they itch. Even the most expensive, softest feeling tights and leggings irritate the heck out of my skin (I have really sensitive skin, which doesn’t react well to synthetic fibres and is further aggravated by cold air in winter). When I do wear tights or leggings I come home, rush into the bedroom and change into anything else. So mostly, I’ve ignored leggings as a sewing thing, because my association with the garments are so unpleasant. But I love dresses, and I feel like my winter wardrobe is so boring without them.
So when I found a metre of a merino lycra blend knit that just cried out to be leggings at an op-shop for $1 (I kid you not! $1!) I decided that I should give making leggings a try : add on $8 for the Cake Espresso leggings, and $5 for printing it, and I’d still be down less than $15 if I hated the leggings.
Making leggings did not start out particularly promising. Printing the Espresso pattern is incredibly annoying: the first 5 pages are vertical format, and pages 6-29 are horizontal, and you have to print them separately and reformat the printer settings between them, or you end up wasting 24 pieces of paper, like I did the first time I tried (and I still can’t find any mention of this on the pattern or the Cake website).
The pattern does say that you may not have to print all the pages for smaller sizes, but alas, doesn’t tell you which pages you won’t need to print if you are which size, which is hard (if not impossible) to figure out from the PDF. So I printed them all. Again. Wasting another 7 pages which it turns out I didn’t need.
But once I finally figured out the printing and had the patterned taped together, following the directions to achieve a customised fit was easy and brilliant. The pattern is a series of measured dots, and you fill in the dots based on your measures and connect them.
I was super excited about the pattern at first, as I double and triple checked my length measure, and it still said that my legs were longer than the longest measurement! This is majorly exciting for a tall person with short legs: finally, my legs match my height!
Sadly though, it turns out I didn’t have long legs:
I just had toe-reveal tights! With a seam running under my foot.
So a lot of length got cut off.
There were some other adjustments that I had to make to the pattern (I’ll go into that at the end of the post), but they weren’t that hard to fix.
Finishing the leggings was really easy. Sew the elastic together. Overlock the elastic to the legging tops. Flip over, sew down. Hem leggings.
Isn’t the fabric gorgeous? It’s a sort of dark teal, with a beehive pattern – goes with anything, but very neutral. The outside is the nylon-lycra, and the inside is fuzzy loops of super warm and soft merino. Yum!
And the finished leggings?
To model them I used the camera timer and tried to demonstrate how flexible they are.
The obvious problem with that is that I am very not flexible. “Look! I can raise my leg to knee level!” isn’t very impressive.
Luckily, I found a better modelling gimmick:
I don’t think Felicity wanted to be model-y with me. In fact, based on this photo, I’m pretty sure she thought I was certifiably bonkers:
So she bit me.
Not hard. Just enough to bring me back down to earth. 😉
I have made some adjustments to the pattern based on my trial run, and subsequent pairs of leggings fit much better. I’m including notes on my fitting adjustments here, as other sewers might find them helpful.
Here is my pattern. The red lines are my original pattern, the green is my adjusted pattern:
The measuring system is brilliant, but it has two big drawbacks: it doesn’t have you measure your calves, or your hips, and doesn’t have a full-bottom adjustment. You measure the circumference of your waist, thighs, knees and ankles, and the length of your rise, and between some of these points.
However, if you are like me and have a full bottom, and relatively thin thighs, the leggings may not have quite enough material to actually go over your bottom, because a rise measure doesn’t really capture all the extra length needed to go over and around a full bottom.
If you do have a full bottom, I’d suggest going up at least two points higher than your rise measure on the pattern, and out a point or two more on the thigh line – if you end up with too much fabric in your leggings, you can always take it out later, but you can’t add it in.
You can see how much higher my adjusted (green) waistline is in back in the photo below, and the slight additions to the crotch seam. I also found that there was just way too much fabric around my waist, so I tapered the back waistline in, which also really helps with the full-bottom issue, as otherwise there was a lot of gape in my back waist (the perpetual problem of the full-bottomed, swaybacked girl).
The reason my leggings were so much longer than my legs is because I have such skinny chicken calves – they are almost the same size as my knees and ankles, so the fabric didn’t shorten as it went out and around the calves. I know from friends who have made the same pattern that the if you have a lot of calves, you have the opposite problem: your leggings end up too short. I wouldn’t recommend shortening the pattern for your first trial, but if you do have very curvy calves, you may want to add a bit of extra length: it’s better to have to cut a bit off than to have too little.
If you do have skinny calves but thickish ankles, the bottom of the leggings may be too wide – just take them in, and make your pattern narrower at the bottom as I did.
Exactly how the legging pattern fits will also depend a great deal on how much horizontal and vertical stretch your fabric has. Very roughly, I’d suggest the pattern isn’t going to work well with less than 20% horizontal stretch (stretches from 10cm to at least 12cm), and it definitely needs a fabric with good recovery.
And, of course, as the pattern suggests, it’s always a good idea to do a trial run in what Steph of Cake calls ‘crummy’ fabric, but what I call ‘Not Gonna Cry’ fabric (hey, it can be really nice, but if you aren’t going to be bummed if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t matter what you use it for!).
Some notes on printing to help you make your own pair:
– Print pages 1-5 as vertical PDFs.
– Print pages 6-29 as horizontal PDFs
– If your thigh circumference is less than 27″ you won’t need to print pages 23, 26, & 29 (the page #s as you read the PDF, not the #s that print on the pattern).
– If your thigh circumference is less than 20″, you won’t need to print pages 17, 20, 23, 26, & 29.
Since I made the leggings, I have worn them out and about. I wore them out bowling at a friends birthday party:
They did not ride up when I bent over, or sag down as I hurled balls down the lane (straight into the ditch) or pinch my stomach when we went to the Green Parrot afterwords and ate an American-sized dinner (so.much.food)…
And when I came home? I did NOT take them off right away! I sat around all evening in my leggings, curled up on the couch working! For me, that’s a near miracle, and thus, the leggings can be declared an official unmitigated success!
Watch this space for more leggings, and winter dresses!