A Tale of Two Thurlows

Even after I got really serious about sewing my own garments, I never thought I’d make pants. They’re too complicated, I thought; they don’t really fit into my quick-and-dirty instant gratification style of sewing. I’ll just stick to those one-day-project knit dresses. But… then I stopped finding pants that fit in RTW. So I made some shorts. And they weren’t too bad. I still thought of pants as a big project, though – that is, until I made not one, but two pairs of pants in one day marathons. Two days, two pairs of pants. So, I guess they’re not the monster project I made them out to be.

Right before Christmas, I realised that I owned only one pair of long pants – not exactly ideal for a week-long trip to Northern Nevada. So with just a day before leaving, I pulled out the bag of Thurlow pants pieces that I’d cut out of a brown corduroy almost exactly a year before for the same reason, but I’d run out of time to sew them up back then. Not this time! So I hunkered down and pulled an all-day pants-a-thon and put them together in one afternoon and evening. Really, once you break down pants into little chunks of sewing, they’re not that hard. I just pushed through out of desperation, and I discovered that it is possible to make a complicated garment in one day, if it’s all you do… I find Project Runway slightly more believable now.

Thurlow cords front

Now, when I cut these cords out last year, it was after I had only made one pair of Thurlow shorts, and I hadn’t fine tuned the fit yet. I remembered that I had added a half inch to the rise when I cut them out, which I later determined wasn’t necessary, so before sewing I trimmed most of that added length off the top. I hadn’t really remembered that I’d cut a size 10, though, or it didn’t really occur to me that my last couple pairs of shorts were on the biggish side, so I was a bit surprised to find that these pants were much too big when I tried them on before attaching the waistband. I took them in at the side seams by maybe a quarter inch, then put on the waistband and basted up the back seam. And wow, there was a lot of extra fabric in the bum. And for me to say that, it means really a lot of fabric, because I am not lacking in the bum department. After some consideration I decided to take in the back crotch seam from the inseam to right where the basting starts by about a half inch, basically increasing the back curve substantially, and that solved most of the weird bagginess.

Thurlow cords back

They are, however, still just a little too big. I mean, they’re not falling off, but the additional ease of a trouser-style doesn’t play nice with this heavier corduroy, so they’re just not super flattering. (Plus, they are very wrinkled in these pictures.) Now, don’t get me wrong, they doubled my number of things-to-wear-on-my-bottom-half-in-cold-weather, so obviously they got some use, but they’re not my best work.

So I resolved to do better, next time. And although I have bravely resisted the skinny pants trend for the last, oh, 8 years or so, this incident really brought it home that maybe trousers and wide leg pants weren’t doing me so many favors after all, and just possibly it was time to see if skinny pants weren’t the evil I’ve always seen them to be. Plus I was going to an indie rock concert and, well, I wanted to blend in.

So in early January, out came the Trusty Thurlow pattern again, but this time also out came an ancient pair of RTW cropped jeans with slim legs that I love the leg fit on (but the rise is much too low, sadly, so they’re not worth copying entirely). I traced the top part of the Thurlow front and back, but – get this – in a size 6 hips grading to an 8 in the waist, something I should have been doing from the start, I think. I also increased the back crotch curve, as I had learned from the previous pair. Then I laid out my RTW crops on the pattern paper and did a quick and dirty trace of the legs, extending them to full length. I considered this a shot in the dark – after all, I’m not the sort to make precise measurements – but what do you know, it worked!

skinny Thurlow cords 1

I traced and cut the pants one day, then took the whole day before I left for Los Angeles for 2 weeks (more on that later) to sew them up. Hey, I knew it was possible! And when I pulled them on at the pre-waistband stage, they actually fit. Like a glove, really. I put on the waistband and rolled up the hem and suddenly I had a pair of skinny cords that I was willing to wear. Nay, that I liked!

skinny Thurlow cords top

Now, they’re not perfect, of course. I’m having a terrible time with the waistband pulling funny when it’s attached (I really need to find a walking foot for my old-style Bernina ), so the waistband lining shows a bit in front (but I never, ever tuck shirts in, so it’s cool). They also don’t have the best range of movement in the knee-bending department, so they’re not exactly bike suitable, sadly. I think I can fix that by giving myself a little more room in the calf and thigh areas, so the pants can slide up my leg easier when I bend my knees. Oh, and in my rush to cut them out and my ever-present but somewhat inexplicable need to use fabric in as efficient a way as possible, I forgot that corduroy has a nap and I cut the front pieces and the back pieces facing opposite directions… so the corduroy is fuzzy in one direction in the front and the other direction in the back. Oops. I’m hoping this is one of those things that only sewists would notice or concern themselves with. It is, right?

skinny Thurlow cords side

And I’m not sure if I got the grainline right on the pattern pieces when I merged the top with the new leg… The seamline seems straight on my leg, but when I fold them up the legs are all twisted. Is that okay? Are my legs just that weirdly shaped?

skinny Thurlow cords back

But, oh, I have big plans for this pattern now. I’m gonna try to jeans ’em up a bit more when I make a denim pair by converting the back darts to a yoke. I already have the back patch pocket pattern that I traced off a pair of RTW jeans and used on both of these corduroy versions, and for future jeans I may try rounding the front pocket to more of a jean shape too. But the bones of the Thurlow, the waistband and rise, are such a good fit for me, I think I’ll never use another one. I’m so glad this pattern is proving to be so adaptable, and that pants-making has turned out to be not nearly the ordeal I assumed it would be when I first started sewing.

But don’t worry, I’ve got knit dresses on the brain (and on the cutting table) again, so I haven’t strayed too far from my roots…

  1. nice work on the trousers – love the colour on the first pair! Look forward see your jean-ified version!

  2. These pants are awesome! Congrats, they look perfect. You have inspired me that there is hope when it comes to making pants. Wow!

  3. lisa g said:

    these look awesome! i don’t know why skinny pants are so flattering, but they just are. i made a slim thurlow last fall, but i think i came to the conclusion that i need stretch for them to have the required knee-bending without them looking baggy. i’ve been thinking of trying a burda skinny trouser for some stretch sateen i have, but maybe i’ll just steal the leg shape… great work here!

  4. Eileen said:

    Thanks for posting this – I’ve seen a few Thurlows and am starting to think it should be my first foray into pants-making! Can’t wait to see what you do with the denim version!!

  5. Very nice! I have yet to make myself a pair of pants!

  6. jane3838 said:

    Wow, those skinny cords are really beautiful. I love the fit. Like you, I’ve made lots of knit stuff, and a few woven tops, dresses and skirts, but never attempted to conquer the pants monster. Just reading a book on fitting trousers makes me want to run and hide. But you’ve shown it can be done. Well done, and thanks for giving me the hope that one day I’ll be able to do it as well.

  7. lloubb said:

    Nice! Thurlows for the colder weather win 🙂 I also have been wanting to jeans-ify this pattern with back patch pockets and maybe some topstitching and curved front pockets. And like you and other commenters I made a skinny version that’s too tight around the knees 🙂

  8. Pella said:

    Looking good, and a nice fit.

  9. Diane said:

    Great job. I’ll be making a pair of jeans soon, and I hope I get a good a fit as you did on the skinny cuffed pants.

  10. Great fit on those trousers. BTW I made a pair of cushions out of that Ikea fabric in the background.

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