Free Range Slacks (Pattern Review) and Tulip Back Cheongsam Top
My titles for the blogs are getting less and less inventive. These days, the titles are simply the names of the garments that I’ve been working on for that week. Before I start writing every blog, there’s a prompt on the blank page of the screen that says “Add A Catchy Title”. I try to follow instructions by wix.com, but sometimes there’s no brain power left for wit. I am relying on the fact that the sewing pattern itself is catching enough to draw in readers. Like the Free Range Slacks, for example.
If elasticated waist bands are your thing, then these pants are for you. They certainly are for me. These slacks have 3 main things that I look out for in a pant pattern: high-waisted, wide-legged, and generous pockets. The two slash pockets in the front and the optional two back pockets are all sewn into the seam of the side panels. So that makes them extra cool. Actually, the side panels elevate these slacks into something beyond a pair of elasticated slouch pants. They are extremely comfortable to wear, but they don’t compromise on style. Wearing them, I felt that I could float back and forth between slouchy and stylish. They fit my taste and fulfil their function. Perfect for these pandemic days when I want to feel pretty while being a couch potato.
This sewing pattern comes in a really big size range: regular version (00-20) and the curvy version (18-34). I sewed my slacks in a size 2 based on the hip measurements. I thought as long as the elasticated waist can fit through the width of the hips, then all should be good. This was a very plain sailing sew for me. I made no mods. Nothing terrible happened. The seam ripper didn’t make an appearance. It all came together in a straight-forward no-nonsense way. No drama at all. It was almost boring, but I say it in a good way. To be fair, I wasn’t really expecting any hitches since this is a Sew House 7 creation, with instructions that I can depend on to be crystal clear. This pattern was not exception. It’s like driving in cruise control with Peggy as my guide.
Usually, I always go for the wide-legged version, but I decided to change things up a little and try the tapered version. And I like them! I chose an olive embroidered linen for the fabric. It’s a fabric that I bought online from Cadena Israel on sale for around $5 per metre, slashed from $15. I couldn’t really pass up on such a good price, so I bought 3 metres. There isn’t any more of this fabric left on sale. My only regret is not buying more.
At first, I was worried that the style of the machine embroidery might read a little dowdy, but it slowly grew on me, and now I’m completely in love with it. I like the added texture that it gives, and I love it for the slacks. It’s a feminine embellishment on a boyish garment. The seams of the side panels are flat-felled seams, which are a great detail. They were such a pleasure to sew up. And I decided to highlight them by using a thicker bronze top-stitching thread. Because of the olive-bronze combination, my slacks kinda look like cargo pants. Pretty cool, huh?
Anyway, I’m so into this fabric that I’ve tried to stretch it as far as I can. I’ve made 4 different garments from it now, and there’s still a half metre left. This pair of Free Range Slacks, part of a cheongsam jumpsuit, an obi belt and this Tulip Back Cheongsam Top:
From the middle picture, you can see that I made a gathered skirt with a waistband and back zipper. It no longer fits me. In fact, it never did fit me perfectly. It was the early days of sewing , and I made a rookie mistake of miscalculating seam allowances. So this skirt was way too tight on me from the get-go, but because I love the fabric so much, I kept it in my wardrobe. I would wear it with a roomy top, without securing the closure on the waistband. This way, I could breathe and still wear the skirt. Recently, I decided this is no way to wear a garment. In fact, this is no way to live – wearing an ill-fitting garment. So I ended up chopping up the skirt in order that it can live another life as a cheongsam top to go with my Free Range Slacks.
A couple words about the fabric: it’s fab because it’s an Indian cotton block print with lines of stitching spaced out every 0.5cm parallel to the selvedge. Very lush! It has a different machine stitch that compliments (or clashes – we can agree to disagree) the stitching on the olive linen.
For the readers that are unfamiliar with my cheongsam-making odyssey, be advised that I am on some kind of personal quest to draft my own cheongsam. You can go back to previous posts to see the concoctions that I have come up with so far (here, here and here). For those of you who are familiar with my cheongsam-making odyssey, we are going to jump right into the latest variation that I’ve been working on this week. Actually, this top and pants combo puts it more accurately in the “sam-fu” category instead of the cheongsam category. So here’s another modern version of the traditional Chinese top-and-pant coordinates.
The main idea was to add a tulip back to a cheongsam top. I thought that the lines of the tulip in the back would echo nicely the lines of the front flap of the bodice. The top will be pulled over the head with front flap button loop closures. This is not a completely original idea, I must admit. The main inspiration comes from Make My Lemonade that has a dress pattern called Betsy, with a cheongsam collar and a tulip back. I was also in awe and deep envy of all the Atlas Top creations on Instagram. Designed by Stitch Witch Patterns, this cropped tank top has a cute criss-cross back with a similar tulip shape.
Then there was the hack that Helen’s Closet did of the Ashton Top that helped me figure out the technical execution of this project. I was trying to work out how to close out the seams of the tulip, and she offered the genius idea of bias binding that long continuous edge connecting the 2 “petals” and the front bodice hem. Yay!!! The only difference is that her hack has the petals starting from the notch at the armhole, while my tulip petals begin from the shoulder.
Drafting the back bodice wasn’t so complicated but I made a couple of mistakes that required redrafting the bodice twice. The first time was because I was a doozy and measured the shoulder length wrong. The second time was because I drafted the slope of the tulip a little too steep. This meant that the overlap of the tulip flaps didn’t sufficiently cover up my bra strap in the back. I had to go back and lower the crossing point of where the 2 flaps meet by about 2 3/4 inches. Now you can see that my bra strap is discreetly concealed even when I contort my body in different poses. However, this is the sweet spot, any higher and the bra will be exposed. I may consider lowering that cross point a little more the next time. Took a couple of tries to get there, but we did it.
There were other little techniques that I wanted to play around with. For example, I wanted to try making rouleau loops to secure the buttons, and insert these loops between the self fabric and the front bodice lining. Overall, I am pleased by how it turned out. I interfaced the the curve of the fabric with a knit interfacing to give it more structure. When I inserted the loops between the self fabric and bodice lining, I took extra care to make sure that the loops had a circumference that would hold the beads snugly. The buttons are actually yellow glass beads that are 80mm in diameter and come in a string of a hundred. They are dirt cheap at $2 per string. I used up 7 of these beads on the front side opening, and I like how the bright yellow looks juxtaposed with the olive linen.
Another drafting thing I attempted was removing the back shoulder dart with the slash-and-spread method. I’ve been using the pivot method and this specific dart manipulation required the S&S instead. I distributed the width of the dart by moving some of it to the neckline and the armhole. Judging by how the top sits around the scapula, I guess it kinda worked. Although I must try it out again on a top that doesn’t have this tulip opening to be extra sure.
And lastly, the armholes are cut differently from what I’ve done before. This top only has 2 side bust darts. The fit isn’t all that bad, and it’s really comfortable to wear. So I am happy.
I closed up all the armholes and hemline with bias binding. What I know for sure now is that the best finish when inserting bias binding is that the final step has to be hand-stitched. There’s no way around it. Maybe if I had I different machine, it would work. But for now, I get the most control over how the binding is shaped around the openings when I hand-stitch the final step. When I do this by machine, I suspect that it sometimes warps the openings, or turns it out at an angle. So this discovery is pretty huge for me. Well, I’ll end off on that thought. Enough talking for now. See you guys soon.
Your outfits are gorgeous. Fabulous job