Category Archives: Vintage Separates Project

Wide-leg denim trousers with zipper hidden in the pocket

I recently finished a modified version of Simplicity 3688.

Wide-leg denim trousers from Simplicity 3688.

Wide-leg denim trousers from Simplicity 3688.

This project had three new-to-me techniques:

  • Palmer/Pletsch’s fitting method.
  • Sandra Betzina’s zipper hidden in a pocket.
  • Faux flat-felled seams and the use of topstitching thread.

This is how it went:

Palmer/Pletsch’s fitting method

I used Palmer/Pletsch Pants for Real People as my guide. P/P fitting books recommend that you pin-fit the pattern tissue, then partially sew the garment and finish by fitting as you sew. Pin-fitting even reinforced pattern tissue seemed a little dicey to me, so I traced the pattern with Swedish tracing paper (which is really more like nonwoven interfacing than paper) and used the P/P fitting methods from there.

I was really  happy with the fit of the tracing paper version, but the fabric version somehow went awry. I think it’s because you fit only half the garment in tissue, and I didn’t end up with enough width by the time I cut it out in fabric and sewed the two halves together. P/P recommend 1-inch seam allowances, but I ignored that good advice. That would have saved the day. Instead, I sewed 3/8-inch seam allowances rather than the 5/8-inch allotted for a little more room. That improved the fit somewhat, and made all the faux flat-felled seams faster because there was no trimming necessary.

I also goofed up their excellent method for fitting a waistband. You cut and pin the waistband to fit you the way you like. No measuring involved! Then you attached the pants to it. Well, you’re supposed to fit the INTERFACED waistband to your waist. I missed that part, so I fit a stretch denim waistband to my waist. When I added the interfacing, it wasn’t so stretch anymore, so it ended up too tight. (At least it was too tight right at that moment. I’ve since lost 5 pounds, and the waistband fits a lot better.) But I did use their special waistband interfacing and the technique that goes with it. I love it! It will definitely be my go-to for straight waistbands in the future.

P/P have tips for fitting pretty much every figure variation you can think of. And it’s all illustrated in their book, showing real people and their real pants. But when I make — and fit — this pattern again (which I definitely will), I’ll make a muslin, then use their fitting methods from there. P/P are very successful with their pattern tissue fitting method, but I’m just more comfortable with fitting a sewn muslin.

I do like the overall shape of the pattern, so I think it will be fantastic once I fit it to me properly.

Sandra Betzina’s hidden zipper

I wanted to make wide-leg denim trousers, but I didn’t want a center front fly. Too much bulk in the wrong spot! A back zipper on denim trousers just seemed wrong. But I also wanted side pockets. I hate not having a pocket to slip my phone or keys into. So I scoured the Internet for a solution and found a reference to Sandra Betzina’s method for hiding a zipper opening within a side slash pocket. It sounded well worth the investment in a used copy of her book Power Sewing, where she illustrates the technique. Genius! I had to give it a go.

Well, what do you know? It worked. I’m not sure I love it, but it definitely worked. I bought both polyester and brass zippers because I couldn’t decide which to use. Once I was sewing, however, I knew I had to go with the brass for denim. It’s a little difficult to zip up pants inside a pocket, however. And with no back flap protecting my skin, I’ve nipped myself once or twice with those brass teeth. If the fit on the pants were better (say, looser), or I used a polyester zipper, it might be OK.

There's a zipper opening hidden in that pocket!

There’s a zipper opening hidden in that pocket! See the pulling at my tummy? All my pants do that. I do need to reduce the width into the waistband, but probably not where those darts are placed. Maybe just at the side seams.

See the zipper hiding in the pocket? Crazy, no?

See the zipper hiding in the pocket? Crazy, no?

Faux flat-fell seams

The construction was very straightforward, and I had some fun with the denim and topstitching.

I was very pleased at how the Fancy Damn Sewing Machine handled multiple layers of denim. It had to pause and collect itself twice when I pushed it a little too hard, but other than that, it sailed through the project without a hitch.

The faux flat-fell seam from the inside.

The faux flat-fell seam from the inside.

The faux flat-fell seam from the outside.

The faux flat-fell seam from the outside.


I have never done a flat-fell seam before, faux or otherwise. It’s a great technique for finishing denim seams. And I was really pleased with the how the topstitching went. I did opt mid-project to buy a proper topstitching needle. It has a bigger eye for the bigger thread, so it prevented the shredding of the thread I encountered a couple of times. I used the appropriate gold topstitching thread and love the way it looks. It wasn’t until I got to the hem that I remembered to increase the stitch length, so that area looks best.


The topstitched hem.

I had purchased  a nice brass button for the closure but wasn’t sure how well a buttonhole would sew through denim and the interfacing, so I chickened out and did a hook-and-eye closure. I really need to sew in another set for the underlap.

All in all, it’s a successful project that just doesn’t fit as well as it should. Or perhaps as well as it will, as I’m back in weight-loss mode. I’ve lost five pounds since I fit the waistband. Who knows? Another 10 and it may fit great.

It is a great wide-leg pattern, however. I look forward to solving the fitting issues and making it again in denim (lighter blue with red topstitching?) and dressier fabrics (the wool crepe in the stash). I may have to give more thought to the pocket and closure, however.

The “unwearable” muslin is saved!

As recounted in my previous post, I attempted to make a wearable muslin of Simplicity 2151. I fell in love with the neckline, so it was supposed to be the first blouse I would perfect the fit of in my Vintage Separates Project. And when it was complete, it did fit beautifully; but unfortunately, with the fabric I chose, I was just NOT willing to wear it. It was an “unwearable muslin,” if you will.

Well, two of my delightful readers came to my rescue with suggestions on how to save it.

They identified the two main problems with the blouse: the sleeves and the lack of contrast. And although I did not fix the blouse with their exact suggestions, I did address the problems they noted. And now my “unwearable” muslin is wearable!

First, a refresher on the sad state of affairs before the fix:

Here’s the finished blouse. Dowdy! The sleeves are all wrong, and there’s no contrast.

The dowdiness is only exacerbated when the blouse is paired with the matching skirt. So sad!

And here is the new version!

This has much more of the 1940s vibe I was going for. I still LOVE the neckline.

Here’s the whole outfit:

So much better, isn’t it? It would be really snappy in rayon.

Let me share how this transformation came to be.

After my readers weighed in, I went searching for inspiration on my Vintage Style Pinterest boardThen I went about tucking and pinning my sad blouse until I had something I thought would work. Then I began to sew.

The changes I made:

  • Sleeves: The sleeves looked too full at the top (more so on me than on the dress form) and more suited to the prairie than the vintage look I had in mind. Part of the problem was that the shoulders were too wide. I took those in by ripping the armhole seam from dot to dot, trimming the bodice from dot to dot, then reattaching the sleeves. I also hacked off the sleeves and hemmed them.
  • Contrast: The blouse suffered from a serious lack of contrast, so I changed out the clear buttons from my stash for some vintage blue buttons that were recently acquired. They came from an intact button card with great graphics of a man’s suit. It killed me to use them, but that’s what they’re for.
  • Hem: I changed the hem to a V-shape (to echo the neckline) so the blouse would look like it was supposed to be worn with the hem outside.
  • Pockets: I added some fun pocket details. Since the button card had two sizes of buttons, I used the larger ones on the pockets.

The change I didn’t make:

I had also planned to shorten the 30-inch skirt to 28 or 26 inches (just below knee length on me) to be more in line with the mid-1940s, but I had done so much work redoing the blouse that I was out of gas when it came to redoing the skirt and lining hems!

The change I still need to make:

I still want to change the two buttons that close the skirt to the same buttons on the blouse (I have four left), but that’s for another evening.

This disappointing project turned out to be a good exercise in transforming a garment. It turned out to be really fun to change a top that I wouldn’t wear into one that I will. It feels pretty powerful to have those kinds of skills.

Since I have perfected the fit of this princess-seamed blouse, it has many future possibilities (a sweetheart neckline comes to mind), but I’m not sure how I’d style the sleeves in a nicer fabric. Meanwhile, I just received Sense & Sensibility Patterns’ Romantic Blouse pattern. The short sleeve version looks like a great 1940s blouse, as shown by Katrina of Edelweiss Patterns. So that will become a (hopefully) wearable muslin some time soon.

Next up: I think it’s time to move on from wearable muslins to my first quality garment for my Vintage Separates Project: a simple navy poly-wool blend version of the A-line skirt. But first I think I need to take in the waistband an inch. It’s always something.

The wearable muslin that may never be worn

What a disappointment!

Last night, after finishing the bodice on Simplicity 2151, a princess seamed blouse, I was feelin’ the love for sewing. It fit like a glove. I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was going to be to have two winning projects in a row. I was practically smug.

Well, what a difference a day makes. After setting in the sleeves today, I tried it on. Hmmm. Something was not quite right about it.

Here’s the finished blouse. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s not working.

“Maybe it will be better if I put on the matching skirt,” I thought to myself. So I did. And that’s when I realized what’s wrong with this blouse:

Oh no! This looks like something Laura Ingalls’ schoolmarm would wear! NOT the look I was going for.

I know I used a quilting cotton, but good heavens, it might as well have been a true calico. I knew the fabric was heavy for a blouse, so it almost feels like a lightweight jacket. But that is clearly not the main problem here.

The main problem is the fabric pattern and color. Dreary, dreary, dreary.

I had thought so when I finished the skirt. But I’ve worn that several times with a sweater, and it was OK.

But I cannot currently conceive of under what circumstance I could wear this blouse in public.

What I do like:

  • The fit. It’s very, very good (better on me than on the dress form). As I mentioned previously, this is a Simplicity Amazing Fit pattern. The only adjustments I made were to choose the D cup front pattern pieces and lower the bust projection 2 inches. I thought the ease would be way too much (according to the pattern 4½ inches at the bust), but it seems just fine. Oh, and I lengthened the sleeve 2 inches. I made a similar sleeve years ago and found I couldn’t bend my arms without unbuttoning the cuff. Two extra inches were perfect on this.
  • The neckline. I LOVE the neckline.
  • The length. The blouse is an excellent length for tucking in. Usually I have to lengthen blouses, but not this one.

What else I don’t like (besides the dreary fabric)

  • The shoulders are too wide. I don’t usually have that problem, but I’ve already adjusted the pattern for the next go around.
  • The sleeve ease. It seemed a teensy bit too much. According to my measurement, narrowing the shoulder width just by redrawing the armhole seam front and back seems to have lengthened that seam, so that problem may be resolved.
  • The cuff being one pattern piece that folds in half. It was supposed to be fully interfaced, but I didn’t have enough for that, so I only interfaced half. That was plenty. I’d like the cuff to be two pattern pieces so I could cut the facing a little smaller.
  • The sleeve style. It’s pretty in the sketch, but I’m not sure it works on me. It could just be the weight of the fabric, though.

I’ve tried to figure out what would make this blouse less Little House on the Prairie, but I’m at a loss. Maybe it would look better with pants, untucked. My daughter (just shy of 14) suggested that if I were someone else I could wear it with skinny jeans. Um, no.

Maybe I could wear it to a Living History re-enactment:

I found the perfect accessory, the apron I made in serger class several years ago.

If I’m going to go through all the trouble of making a wearable muslin, I should put more effort into making it wearable. Which means casual low-cost apparel fabric, but quilting fabric is so much easier to find. My coral polka dot top is quilting fabric, and I like that a lot better. Regardless, I’m going to stay out of that section for a while. It works for cute skirts, but I think that’s it.

So now, I need to decide on the next project. Do I make the skirt up in the nice poly-wool crepe I found? Do I remake this blouse in a pretty white or ivory blouse-weight fabric? Or do I move on to try to perfect another garment for my Vintage Separates Project? I have the Sense & Sensibility Patterns romantic blouse on order. Katrina at Edelweiss Patterns made it up as a gorgeous 1940s style blouse and really liked the pattern, so I’m inspired to try it.

Meanwhile, if anyone has any ideas on how I could leave the house in this blouse, please let me know!

Gemini note (because it’s not all about the sewing): Buying a new bike for my 8-year-old son has inspired me to get back into bike riding. My daughter has been using my abandoned one for the past year or so, but my husband got her a new bike. So, I took back possession, only to remember why I stopped riding it. The seat (saddle in bike-speak) is quite uncomfortable! A new one with rave reviews on Amazon is on the way. Bike riding, it’s good exercise, it’s vintage. What’s not to love?

Note to self: Don’t hurry through the parts I hate

I’m starting to see a pattern here …

With the Separates project wearable muslin for a skirt complete, I’m moving on to another wearable muslin in the same fabric, this time for a princess seam blouse. I was interested in one of Simplicity’s Amazing Fit patterns:

Simplicity 2151

Views A and B both have a vintage feel to them.

Simplicity 2151 includes four different side front patterns, one for each cup size A through D. The center front piece is cut at different lengths, depending on the cup size. It also includes 1 inch side seam allowances and corresponding 1 inch seam allowances on the sleeves for fitting. And it has what is probably a crazy amount of ease — 4½ inches at the bust and 6¼ inches at the waist!

I’m getting better at analyzing how to alter a pattern from close examination of the pattern pieces, which in this case involved looking at the ease of a couple of ready-to-wear blouses I have whose fit seems about right. The ease of this pattern wasn’t far off of those, so although I really do think it will be too much, I’m not sure how much to take out. I’m also sure the waist needs to be lengthened, but I couldn’t be sure of how much. I even toyed (briefly!) with the idea of making a smaller size, but I decided to keep to my usual size for the shoulder fit.

In the end, there was only one alteration I was confident enough of to make to the pattern: lowering the bust point two inches. It is a wearable muslin, after all.

Bust point Simplicity 2151

I lowered the bust point 2 inches by cutting around the bust projection on the side front and the corresponding area on the center front, moving them down and redrawing the lines using my design ruler.

After my one alteration, I moved on to cutting all the fabric and then cutting out the interfacing.

And that’s when I ran into the same problem I had with the skirt. I goofed up the interfacing! I’m sensing a pattern here.

As I’ve shared before, my favorite part of a project — besides finishing, of course — is sewing the first construction seam. My least favorite part is cutting and fusing interfacing, which probably explains why, after messing up the interfacing on the skirt, I messed up the interfacing on this blouse.

I thought I had just enough interfacing. Turns out I had not quite enough, so I decided to cut the interfacing to be a single layer in the cuffs instead of the folded over double layer the pattern calls for. I carefully laid out all my pieces and proceeded to cut. It was just as I was beginning to cut the second center facing piece that I realized: I didn’t place them mirror image! Gaaah! The only way to regroup was to piece the second center facing:

I had no choice but to piece the interfacing for this part of the pattern. If you look closely at the top, you can see some of the original lines I drew for cutting. At least I caught the mistake BEFORE I cut the piece out! (And no, I don’t bother to iron out the folds of my interfacing before I cut and fuse it. Because I hate dealing with interfacing!)

Once I cut out the fashion fabric, I’m ready to sew. But wait! There’s still all that interfacing to cut and fuse. I just hate that. So apparently I rush through it and just make a mess of things.

At least now that I’ve recognized my pattern, I can make sure to pay attention and maybe even cut it out correctly next time.

Meanwhile, I still have marking and fusing to do before I get to that first construction seam. Drat.

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