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Pattern Review: My Shibori-Dyed McCall’s 7726 Paper Bag Pants

There are some projects that go without a hitch, and then three are some that are laden with mistakes, missteps, and mishaps through the whole sewing process. My McCall’s 7726 pants fall into the latter category, but has a happy ending. The first setback happened in the preparation of the fabric, even before any sewing or cutting was done. Then that was quickly followed by a series of adversities that arose in the actual making. It’s a little miracle that these pair of pants got done. I resisted many temptations to just chuck them out the window. That said, I am so glad I persisted because after all the trials and tribulations, I think I’m in love with this pair of paper-bag pants.

The vision was to make a pair of high-waisted, wide-legged paper-bag pants with the right front leg and sash shibori tie-dyed. After an extensive search for the pattern that fitted the bill, I settled for the McCall’s 7726 because it came in several views – shorts (view A), wide-legged (view D) and cropped tapered (view C) or regular tapered(view B). That was value for money. There are other good points going for it – it is a blogger favourite, a Google search of all the makes that are posted online looked handsome, and McCall’s promises it to be an easy make. Yay! I bought my paper pattern from Minerva, it came quickly in the mail and I was all set to go.

The fabric is a medium-heavy weight Lady McElroy textured linen that was gifted to me by Minerva. I love the weight and the feel of this fabric. It also has a drape that makes it perfect for the pattern that I chose. Best of all, the natural unbleached colour of the linen shone in its rustic beauty. It is luxurious in its unsophisticated simplicity. Another unusual thing about this unadulterated linen is that it smells of fresh cut hay. You know how wool has a very distinctive smell? Well this linen held the smell of the flax plant that it was made from. I’ve never encountered this before from all the linen that I’ve worked on. I was inhaling this wonderful smell while stitching for about 100 hours of sashiko on it (you can read about the project here), and the linen aromatherapy definitely eased the effort of that labour. The best thing was that there was enough fabric leftover to make a pair of pants, and I wanted to see how the linen would respond to being shibori-dyed. Here’s a short video of the dyeing process:

The shibori-dyeing was relatively pain-free. I’ve done itajime (folding technique) shibori many times before, so that wasn’t a challenging task. I decided to make the first accordion fold made on the selvage length to be 2 inches apart. Usually I make them 2.5 – 3 inches apart, but I thought a 2 inch square design would work better for the pants. The new element in the dyeing process was working with a new dye with the stove-top method. Jacquard’s iDye for natural fabrics comes in this neat packet. Jacquard’s iDye is a hot water dye that can be used on the stovetop or in the washing machine using the hottest water cycle. The colour I used for the first dye vat was Crimson, the darkest of the reds in their colour palette.

The dye chemicals are packaged in a dissolvable little packet, which is very convenient for reducing any mess. It also makes it safer since you don’t ever come into physical contact with the dye powders, and reduces the chances of inhaling the chemicals while dyeing. So what’s the verdict of the linen reacting to the dye? The linen reacted beautifully, soaking up the brilliance of the colour. But the one thing that I was afraid of that could happen happened. The end of the dyeing process requires the fabric to be rinsed and then washed thoroughly in the washing machine. This is when the he folded areas (which resist being dyed) sometimes pick up the dye colour in a lighter shade. And that’s what happened to the fabric. I usually don’t mind it at all. But this time, the light pink that resulted from this after-effect, was a colour that didn’t match the natural colour that I had intended for the rest of the pants. Here’s a picture of the colour contrast that I feel wouldn’t work so well together in a single garment:

So this was the first heartbreak. I really loved the natural colour but it felt clear to me that I have to give up that unbleached shade to make one pant leg match the other. Reluctantly, I moved onto Plan B, which would be to get more of the same dye, and dye the rest of the pants crimson, and say bye-bye to the natural colour.

When I was at the store (which thankfully remained opened because it was selling essential goods), I was aghast that all the Jacquard iDye packets in Crimson were snapped up. A few days ago there was a box full of them, and when I was there the second time, they were all gone. I went into a little panic attack and had to readjust Plan B for Plan C. At that time, I had 2 options available – just dye the whole thing a darker colour like purple or black, or find another shade of red and keep my fingers crossed that the colour will be close enough to the Crimson. I went with the second option because if it didn’t work out, then I will still have option no.1 available to me. Also, I didn’t want to forego all that lovely shibori work that I had already done on the right pant leg and sash. I picked out Fire Red, which is one shade lighter than the Crimson.

At this point in time, I then serged all the pant legs and sewed up the pleats and pockets. The serging ensured that the edges will keep from fraying during the dye process; and preparing the pleats and pockets ensured I wouldn’t lose all the markings that I’ve already made on the pattern pieces.

The second dye job went alright, I guess, albeit speckled with some disappointment in the sloppy way I executed it. It was the first time that I was dyeing larger pieces of fabric without folding them into neat itajime-bound bundles. As a result, there were some details that I overlooked. For example, I should have made sure to agitate and move the fabric in the pot during the simmering process to get a more even dye job. Perhaps I should have added more water, or made sure the dye colour was completely dissolved before adding the fabric. But I didn’t do all of the above, and the colour came out uneven and patchy in certain spots. It’s a good thing that the tie-dye theme made it possible to overlook this mistake. So I forgave myself.

Another worry I had in the second dye job is that the linen might shrink more in the hot bath and then I would have cut-out pattern pieces that wouldn’t match in size. Fortunately, that didn’t happen because the first pre-treatment probably shrank the linen to its maximum. Thank god! It was probably silly to be such a worry wart since the fabric is a high-quality Lady McElroy linen to begin with.

When the dyeing process was over, I was all ready to get the sewing done. I was feeling hopeful because the Fire Red turned out well, and is a good match for the Crimson. I won’t go into all the things that went wrong in the sewing process. The sewing gods were not on my side this time and I spent a lot of time with the seam ripper. The main problem happened when I was installing the zipper. I highly recommend watching Brittany J Jones’ Sew With Me video on YouTube so that you will avoid all the problems I encountered. It makes the task much easier because Brittany makes it all make sense.

Deciphering Big 4 patterns is not my forte, I must admit. The instructions are so sparse and so curt that I often miss all the details that are required in successful execution. It feels like the instruction writers are assuming I can read their minds. The diagrams that guide you through the zipper installation are so small that I couldn’t really see the details that are important to get the task done. So my first attempt wasn’t successful at all, and I had to invest some time taking it all apart and redoing it. That’s when I went on the net and searched for help, and Brittany came to my rescue. In the end, the task is not complicated at all, but the way that it is explained defied my comprehension. When I finally managed to complete the zipper installation, it felt like there should be a fly shield to keep the zipper teeth away from direct contact with bare skin. But it is missing from the pattern. Also, I added a bar tack to secure the weak opening at centre front close to the bottom of the zipper. It felt strange to me that this was not provided in the instructions.

There is also the problem of the belt loops or what the pattern calls “carriers”. There are 3 belt loops that seem too short and too few for a roomy pair of pants. It seemed the belt loops were sized not in proportion to the pants. I decided to add 2 more to the back pants and created double belt loops for the 3 they recommended by making longer belt loops. If you want to achieve this as well, you would need to make at least 3 times the length of the carrier pattern.

Sizes for this pattern is available from 6-22. According to the body measurements, I should make a size 12 based on my waist measurements. But according to finished garment measurements (always in “finding-Waldo” fine print on the pattern pieces themselves – really annoying!) I decided to make a size 10, which still seemed roomy to me with the finished waist measurement at 74cm. I should have gone with size 8 (finished waist measurement at 71cm) but I was hesitant because the body measurements at the waist was 61cm, which was a hefty 5cm difference from my waist measurement. In the end, I went with size 10 (just in case) and took in 6cm on each of the side seams. Basically, the sizes run large in this pattern. Or maybe the idea was to give more ease to the pants for the full “paper-bag” effect.

I also shortened the length of the pant by at least 6 inches, and the hem was an epic 6 inches wide, which I didn’t mind. It gives the pant legs some more weight and they hang quite nicely actually. I’ve just never made anything with a 6 inch wide hem before.

After all these sewing difficulties on this pair of pants, it was a relief to have a good laugh to shake it off. These pants make me feel like I am some kind of Japanese martial artist ready to break out some Aikido or Kendo moves. Now that I’ve cracked the pattern, I’m ready to make the other views. But first, let’s do a celebratory dance in the middle of the street.

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