My Sewing Room: A Tour

Unless this is your first time reading Sew for Victory (in which case, hello and a massive welcome to you!), you’ll know that I only recently moved to the US and in to a new apartment. After many months of the nomadic lifestyle, I’m finally settled in one place and have actually managed to set up a permanent home for my sewing projects. It’s amazing how much it has transformed my motivation to sew. Big tip – if you feel yourself losing that precious sewjo, it is always a great idea to revamp your sewing space. However big or small the changes (and however big or small the space) some adjustments can make it a far more attractive place to be. Paint your table a new colour, add some inspirational pictures to the wall, find a new storage system – there are so many quick and inexpensive things that you can do. If you have any particular tips, feel free to share in the comments!

Now that everything’s finally in its place, I thought I would share some pics and details with you all. I hope that you enjoy!

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The table (a LINNMON/FINNVARD combination) and chair (a VAGSBERG/SPORREN combination) are from IKEA, of course! A wedding present from my lovely brother and his girlfriend. The table I picked was their longest variation – I had some concerns that it would look far too long but it actually allows plenty of space for my sewing machine and serger, as well as lots of room either side for my cutting mat and other bits. It also makes for a great cutting table, given the length. I’m honestly so happy with it. And the chair’s surprisingly comfy, too!

There is also just so much natural light that I barely have to use my overhead light (unless it’s dark, of course). Such an advantage of the apartment’s massive windows.

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Since we rent, I can’t actually paint any of the walls. So I’ve compromised by decorating with my favourite inspirational pieces and some pretty stickers. The noticeboard has also come in super handy as somewhere to hang postcards and my favourite packs of buttons. I’ve been using some heart pins that I got from Joann’s to stick things on the board and they’re working super well. Plus they’re incredibly cute!

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The parts of my sewing library that I use pretty regularly are on my windowsill. I also have some bits and pieces (mostly older books and magazines that I want to protect from sunlight) in my massive cupboard.

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Side note: a regular book holder (I got mine for about £2 on Amazon in the UK) is AMAZING for patterns. I love being able to have my pattern propped up and so accessible. It’s far easier to use than having it lying flat on the table, since you can actually read it and sew at the same time. If your pattern instructions are in a book, it works even better! Honestly one of the best investments I’ve made.

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I bought a cheap stand-alone clothing rail for hanging my me-made clothes. I found the lack of a designated rail such a problem in my previous sewing spaces. I would hang everything in the wardrobe and, since I’m constantly making alterations and changes on things, I found that I was constantly having to go back and forth to the bedroom to pull garments. With the clothing rail, I have all of my clothes and ongoing projects in one place. I also have a built-in rail inside my sewing room cupboard, which I use for hanging non-me-made clothes that are in my alteration or fixing pile.

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One of the biggest selling points of this apartment for me was just how incredibly this room was suited to sewing. The cupboard, especially, was ideal storage. It came with a cork board already installed on the back of the door which I’ve been using to hang my threads and bobbins (the hooks are long enough that I can fit both the thread and its matching bobbin on there, which is a great way of keeping them together). Obviously my thread collection is being rebuilt since all of my notions had to stay in the UK, so there’s not much going on right now!

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I love love love this cupboard! The apartment itself is from the early 1900s and this cupboard totally speaks to that. It has steps built in and many shelves far above where I’m currently storing. There is just SO MUCH SPACE. At the moment, I’m working on rebuilding my fabric/notions collections so there’s still plenty of room. But I love that there is so much potential and it makes everything so easily accessible!

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So that’s about it! It’s been a journey to get to this place and my husband has been so incredibly understanding of my need to have a designated space for my sewing – in fact, he never questioned what this extra room would be used for! I’ve worked on my sewing in such an array of places – a dining room table, a narrow hallway, an annex. It is just such a luxury to have somewhere to go and sew without interruption.

I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to share my space with you. If you have links to any blog posts or photos of your own sewing area, definitely drop them in the comments. I always love to have a nose at other people’s spaces!

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Book Review: Vintage Details – A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka

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As a self-taught seamstress, I’ve relied heavily on a variety of different resources to help me learn and develop my skills. As much as I love a good Youtube video – and they’re pretty indispensable for seeing exactly how things are supposed to be done – books are definitely my go-to place for learning or refreshing my knowledge! As my sewing library has grown, I’ve developed a core group of reference books, all of which I continually return to when I need a little inspiration. But of all my books, none has been so vital to me as Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basnia Szkutnicka.* Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that I talk about this book with incredible regularity because it is such a valuable resource for my sewing adventures. So I thought that it was high time that I write up a review on Sew for Victory for all those of you who might need a little bit of added vintage inspiration.

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Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook is exactly what it claims to be – a sourcebook. It’s an incredibly well categorised and curated set of photos of different garments, covering the years from 1913 to 1995. As you can see from the Contents page above, the garments are indexed and referenced, as appropriate, in the book’s various chapters. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of vintage detailing – from stunning necklines to gorgeous embellishments.

The Visual Index provides a full-length shot of all of the garments referenced in the book, organised by date, and providing a brief set of details. It’s important to note that more detailed close-up shots of the garments are given in the chapters where they are referenced (so, for example, if a dress is referenced under the ‘Collars’ section, you can expect close-up shots of the collar). The Visual Index is important, however, because it allows you to have a flip through to find particular periods of interest and then cross-reference with any sections of the book that you’re especially keen to look at. As you can see from the photo below, the information in the Visual Index also provides page numbers for where each garment is referenced, as well as abbreviations for the section (for example, EMB for embellishments or SLV for sleeves). This system makes the book incredibly simple to use. When I was making my dress for the Big Vintage Sew-Along, for example, I knew that I wanted to add some authentic 1930s flairs to the pattern. Looking for inspiration, I cycled through the Visual Index to the 1930s dresses and paid particular attention to those referenced in the EMB section of the book. Quick and easy.

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As I mentioned above, where the garments pop up in later sections, you will find more detailed shots of the garment. What you won’t find, however, is any great amount of information about the garment and the details on which the specific section focuses. The information provided in the book’s main sections is a simple reiteration of what you find in the Visual Index – so very basic info regarding the year, location, colour and fabric. This book is entirely a photo sourcebook. While that is incredibly valuable in its own right, it can be a little frustrating when you are looking to incorporate something of what you’re seeing into your own makes – particularly if you’re a relative beginner to vintage sewing and wouldn’t be able to replicate garments/details from sight. I tend to use this book for the first stages of gathering inspiration. I might be looking at colours, buttons, piping – things that are easily replicable without having to drastically alter whatever pattern I’m working with. If you’re at the pre-pattern selection phase, the book can be a useful resource simply for considering silhouettes. If, for example, you know you want to make a 1950s inspired dress but aren’t sure where you want to go with it, it can be useful to look at the various shapes of 1950s garments before settling on a pattern.

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Of course, this book is an incredible resource beyond the sewing world. For anyone simply interested in vintage fashion, it certainly satisfies curiosity. I find myself flipping through the pages with nothing particular in mind, continuously stumbling upon photos that pique my interest. The photos are so incredibly well-taken and the book is so well organised that it would make for a perfect coffee-table book, as well as an obvious addition to the library of any vintage sewist.

I don’t need to tell you all how massively I recommend this book. I’m clearly a fan! But especially for those of you who have an interest in vintage fashion or sewing, Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook will definitely serve as a fantastic resource that I have no doubt you’ll be returning to time and time again.


Vintage Details: A Fashion Sourcebook by Jeffrey Mayer and Basia Szkutnicka is available pretty much everywhere. It is available on both US Amazon and UK Amazon.

* Sidenote: I’m not being paid to review this book. My husband bought it for me ages ago and I just happen to think it’s amazing!

My Vintage Life: The Story Behind Singin’ In The Rain

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There is nothing I like better on a lazy weekend that pulling a film out of my collection of classics and losing myself to it for a couple of hours. As a form of escapism – and education on vintage style – there really is no better resource. Although my collection of films is growing – and with streaming services the choices are now pretty unlimited anyway – I always find myself returning to a favourite handful. And, of all of those favourites, there is none so comforting, joyous, and all-around amazing as the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain.

I love Singin’ in the Rain. It has everything I’m looking for from a classic movie – beautiful costumes, the most incredible dancing, a wonderful plot, and a truly knockout cast. It’s a film that’s been on virtual repeat throughout my life. It has been the background witness to many watershed moments and milestones – my constant companion through years of schooling, work, travel, and relationships. And, as time has passed, I’ve learnt increasing amounts about the stories behind the film’s production and release. As a homage to this incredible classic, I thought I would share with you today some of those gems of information that have added a layer of depth to my Singin’ in the Rain experience.

So join me for this week’s My Vintage Life and the story behind one of the world’s favourite classic movies.


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Singin’ in the Rain was a production that emerged from within a stream of musical endeavours by MGM. It was the work of co-directors Gene Kelly (also one of the film’s main stars) and Stanley Donen, as well as the producer Arthur Freed. Freed came to the film from a long legacy of assisting in the production of film musicals. Originally working as a songwriter with his writing partner Nacio Herb Brown, Freed wrote a number of bestselling hits throughout the 1920s and, in 1929, was taken on by MGM to assist in the production of the studio’s very first musical The Broadway Melody (ring any bells for Singin’ in the Rain fans?!). Throughout his history with MGM, Freed assisted in the production of a number of stand-out musical hits, including Judy Garland’s Babes in Arms and Meet Me in St. Louis. It was Freed who, in 1948, conceptualised a musical film that could utilise songs that he had written with Brown in the 1920s. For this new film, Freed decided to use the title of one of these songs – Singin’ in the Rain.

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The film was novel in that it was not an adaptation of a Broadway musical. However, it was initially supposed to be worked as an adaptation of the plot from the romantic silent film Excess Baggage (1928). It was down to Ben Feiner, one of MGMs writers, to develop an outline for Singin’ in the Rain from this starting point. Unsatisfied with Feiner’s work, however, Freed turned to an alternate team of MGM writers – Betty Comden and Adolph Green. As guidance, Freed provided simply the title for the film and the songs that he wished to include. From here, Comden and Green had total creative freedom to develop a story that would work. It was Comden and Green who decided that the focus of the film should be on Hollywood’s response to the development of Talkies in the 1920s.

To direct the resulting film, Freed settled on Stanley Donen. Donen had formed a firm friendship with one of MGMs favourite stars, Gene Kelly, when Donen was just a 16 year-old working as a Broadway dancer. Although Kelly was substantially older that Donen (he was 28 at the time that they met), a firm friendship began that enabled Donen to make his way into the world of film-making. Donen credits Kelly with equipping him with the contacts and knowledge of Hollywood that would see him directing major stars – Kelly and Fred Astaire included – while still in his 20s. Before working as a director, however, Donen served as a choreographer, working on one of my favourite musicals – Anchors Aweigh. Following Kelly’s break from Hollywood to serve during World War II, Donen and Kelly decided that they wished to direct a film themselves. In 1947, they worked with Freed to produce Take Me Out to the Ball Game – a film that Donen and Kelly choreographed. It was Freed who provided Donen and Kelly with their much desired opportunity to direct by charging them with the film On the Town in 1949.

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After appointing Donen and Kelly to direct Singin’ in the Rain, it was down to the team to decide how to bring the film to fruition. This included making a decision about the eventual cast. Kelly’s involvement in the film’s development – and his proven record as a major musical star – made him a clear choice. However, casting Kelly’s sidekick – Cosmo Brown – proved a little more contentious. Initially, Freed hoped to cast Oscar Levant, a close friend and star of An American in Paris. But Kelly and Donen resisted the idea. Although undoubtedly a talented musician, the directors questioned Levant’s dancing abilities. Freed refused to consider anyone else. Fortunately for Kelly and Donen, the issue was resolved when one of the film’s writer’s, Adolph Green, mistakenly believed that the role had already been taken away from Levant. When Green approached Levant to offer his apologies, Levant was incensed and, recognising the conflict was unresolvable, Freed agreed to recast the role as per Kelly and Donen’s wishes.

Kelly and Donen had already settled on the actor Donald O’Connor as their perfect Cosmo. They did not, however, have such an easy time deciding who would play opposite Kelly as the film’s female romantic lead, Kathy Seldon. It was MGM’s head, Louis B. Mayer, who settled the dispute. Debbie Reynolds – just 18 years old and newly introduced to the film industry – had recently caught his eye. He signed her up to work on Singin’ in the Rain without discussing the decision with Freed, Kelly, or Donen. Kelly was not impressed. In his own words:

“Mayer said she was to be my leading lady in Singin’ in the Rain. That statement hit me like a ton of bricks. He was forcing her on me. What the hell was I going to do with her? She couldn’t sing, she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t act. She was a triple threat.”

This opinion perhaps explains Kelly’s resulting treatment of Reynolds during the making of Singin’ in the Rain. Reynolds has often referred to Kelly acting harshly with her and being particularly critical of her dancing abilities. One particularly famous story relates how, following an especially harsh set of insults from Kelly, Reynolds hid underneath a piano. Fred Astaire found her crying, offered her reassurance and some assistance with her dancing. There was an obvious conflict of personalities and talents. Donen became increasingly critical of Reynolds’ attitude, calling her “…a royal pain in the ass. She thought she knew more than Gene and I combined – she knew everything and we knew nothing.”

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Following the casting of Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont, Singin’ in the Rain was able to begin production in 1951. From here, it became the film that so many of us know and love. Of particular note during filming was Donald O’Connor’s performance of Make ‘Em Laugh (one of my favourite parts of the film). Improvising the performance in its entirety, Kelly recalls of O’Connor:

“It was all improvisation, it was unbelievable. We had twenty minutes of it that we threw out. The difficulty of doing choreography for it was that Donald was a spontaneous artist and comedian, and he never could do anything the same way twice.”

On the song’s title number, Singin’ in the Rain was initially intended as a joint performance by the film’s three leads. But Kelly insisted that the piece would make for a better solo number. It is widely reported that, during the shooting of the sequence, Kelly was extremely unwell. The song was shot on the MGM back lot, using strategically placed back lighting in order to ensure that the rain would be visible on camera. Not only was Kelly suffering with a fever during the shoot, the simulated rain meant that Kelly’s soaking wet tweed suit shrank while performing.

The film’s final product was completed for $2.5 million, more than $0.5 million over the initial budget set. Surprisingly, the film was not met with any particular critical claim or reception. It did not garner a Best Picture nomination in 1953, instead having to be content with Donald O’Connor’s Golden Globe win for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Jean Hagen’s Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. However, the film’s reputation grew after release and it is now well-deservedly reputed as one of the greatest American films of all time.

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Singin’ in the Rain is such a stand-out film. It honours one of the most interesting periods in Hollywood history, while simultaneously demonstrating some of the best musical talents on offer.  It showcases excellence on all sides and the history behind its production only makes it more interesting from the perspective of avid viewers. So I highly encourage you to take some time out this weekend, have a watch, and enjoy one of the greatest films of the 20th century (and probably ever). Have fun!


For anyone who wants to read more about the making of Singin’ in the Rain or delve a little deeper into the history of those associated with the film, I recommend taking a look at:

  • Dancing on the Ceiling: Stanley Donen and his Movies by Stephen Silverman
  • Debbie: My Life by Debbie Reynolds and David Patrick Columbia
  • Unsinkable: A Memoir by Debbie Reynolds
  • Singin’ in the Rain by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

 

 

 

Project Updates!

It’s been a while since I did one of these posts – mostly because the mayhem of everyday life had basically eliminated my sewing time. Since being in my new place, however, I’ve been totally reinvigorated with the urge to plan projects and actually make progress on my ongoing makes. This is largely thanks to having my own designated sewing space, which is no longer just a sea of boxes and bags of material. I’ll be writing a more detailed post all about my sewing space – and tips on making your designated sewing area work for you – very soon. In the meantime, a sneak peak. From this…

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To this…

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It’s truly a perfect little space. After 8 months of moving from place to place, it’s wonderful to finally be somewhere permanent where I can invest in my sewing set-up! This room was the site of my recent triumph with the Tyyni trousers – one of my favourite patterns to-date and certainly one of the most wearable.

Since my foray into trouser-making, I’ve actually been reflecting hard on the direction of my sewing. Sew for Victory and my decision to take up sewing in the first place were very much a product of my love for vintage fashion. I wanted to have the skills to make vintage clothes with complete freedom – and without the associated price-tag of reproduction or genuine vintage clothes. Vintage fashion is what I love to sew. However, I have been finding problems with wearability. There are many people who feel comfortable – and look amazing – decked out in 1950s clothes, hair, and make-up on an everyday basis. I’m not one of those people. My style has split personalities. Special occasions definitely call for me to root through my vintage makes for something appropriate. But, otherwise, I typically go for optimal comfort or what I would identify as a more European style of dress. To stop it getting a bit dispiriting looking at a rack of me-made clothes that I don’t get as much use out of, I’ve decided to alternate my makes – one everyday item to every one vintage piece. While I’m going to try to keep the everyday makes as vintage as possible – similar to the vintage flair of the Tyyni trousers – I want to strike a better balance with my sewing. I think that this approach will let me continue to make the vintage clothes that I love so much, while also ensuring that I build a wardrobe of more wearable items. If any of you have grappled with similar issues, definitely let me know how you struck a better balance in what you sew!

Anyway, enough soul searching and onto my current projects. When I decide to make something, it’s typically the case that I’ve stumbled upon a pattern I love. Turning this on its head, my current make is instead inspired by a fabric that I fell head-over-heels for as soon as I saw it. For any Harry Potter fans out there, you’ll understand why…

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The cutest fabric in the universe. As you can see, I decided to have a go at making the Zadie dress from Tilly and the Buttons. I’ve loved the look of this pattern for ages but have always avoided knit fabric. In fact, until this fabric turned up, I didn’t even realise that it was knit! After my success with trouser-making, however, I’m feeling extra brave and ready to take on the challenge. That said, I came up against a problem almost immediately. I took great pains to research every aspect of working with knit fabric. When it came to cutting, I made sure that I treated the fabric as well as I possibly could. To ensure that I cut perfectly on grain, I even followed and pinned the ribbing up the fold. It took me forever. Then, after cutting out my pieces and getting ready to sew, I realised that I had cut my skirt and bodice pieces upside down.

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Many, many tears ensued. I think mostly because I was so disappointed in myself for making such an elementary mistake. I’ve never worked with one-directional fabric before and it hadn’t even occurred to me that I would need to worry about cutting my pattern pieces appropriately. And my sadness only got worse when I found out that the company I’d ordered the fabric from was out of stock. My husband spent an entire evening trying to source it from elsewhere – making calls and sending emails – but we found nothing. In the end, I figured that the only way forward would be to either scrap the project entirely or to try and make it work on the fabric that I still have. I managed to recut the bodice pieces from some remnants. The skirt was the real issue. In this instance, I had to reshape and resize the pieces to fit on the existing pieces of skirt fabric – basically turning them upside down. I mocked up a version with some cheap knit fabric to see if it would work and it seems like it should – although it’s difficult to gauge on this particular pattern because there are a lot of different parts to the dress. So keep your fingers crossed for me and hopefully I’ll have a dress to show you before long!

To keep me from getting too depressed about my silliness, I’ve also had my eyes on a project to come after this one. For those of you who are on Instagram (there’s a link to my profile in the sidebar for anyone interested), you might have already seen the Sewing the Scene challenge. This challenge is asking participants to sew a garment inspired by a film or a TV show. I’m definitely feeling the potential here and I’ve been searching around trying to settle on something that I could make. There are just so many options! If you’re planning on participating, definitely let me know. I’d love to hear what you’re up to and follow your process.

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That’s all for now. I’ll be back on Friday with a new My Vintage Life post – I’m planning a really great one, so I hope you’ll stop by. In the meantime, happy Wednesday!

Tyyni Cigarette Trousers (Named Clothing)

The past week has seen some serious gains in my sewing productivity. After a wedding and another move, I’m finally settled with my husband in an apartment of our own! And, along with all of the other major advantages of our new place, I even get my own sewing room – I’ll be putting a photo tour up on Sew for Victory soon! Needless to say, I’ve been sewing up a storm since we moved. For a while now, I’ve been working on my very first pair of trousers. I’ve been super scared of making trousers because I’ve heard so many stories about tight crotches and flappy thighs. It just felt like there’d be so many different measurements to contend with. Not to mention, shopping for trousers has always been my least favourite thing. I have bigger hips/bum measurements in proportion to the rest of me and have always struggled with finding trousers that fit my butt but don’t gape massively around my thighs. Obviously, this is a big argument in favour of making your own trousers. But shopping for them has always been such a nightmare that it had basically deterred me from even attempting to contend with my own measurements.

Boy do I regret waiting for so long! I decided that I wanted to take a leap by making a pair of trousers, while still trying to keep the style on the vintage end. So, after searching around for a while, I settled on the Tyyni Cigarette Trousers from Named Clothing. And I could not be more impressed with how this pattern came together…

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Hey! An excuse to wear my favourite hat!

For how afraid I was about the complexity of trouser sewing, I still can’t express how easy this pattern was to construct. I used a PDF version that – magically – actually glued together without any problems (I am too used to having to manipulate the pages together to get the lines to match up!). I graded out a size at the hips/thighs which was super simple to do. The only thing to watch for is how this impacts the zipper flap – but use a curved ruler and you shouldn’t have any problems. Given that the fit was my major concern, I made literally no modifications other than the initial grade out. And I’m incredibly happy with the final sizing. The trousers have just enough ease to be comfortable and allow perfectly for moving around/sitting. I took them on an outing to see a documentary at the local art museum and sat still in them for 90 minutes without any comfort issues.

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Having a great time with my hat.

Since the trousers are high-waisted, this is probably the main area to be concerned with when assessing comfort. Had I reduced the size even slightly, I can imagine that the waist would have cut into my stomach pretty badly. Since I used a heavier trousering fabric – I can’t remember what blend it was exactly but it has an almost velvety feel to it – and the waist is reinforced with interfaced facing, it’s got a pretty stiff structure to it. This obviously means that, when sitting, the waist has the potential to be pretty problematic if you cut it too small. Just be sure to watch for that!

Speaking of the waist, literally the only issue I had when sewing up this pair of trousers was with the facing for the waist. No matter how desperately I tried to get the facing to fit on the waist, the facing was obviously two-ish inches too small for the waist line. I have absolutely no idea how this was the case. I double checked the cut for the facing from my pattern piece and honestly couldn’t see any discrepancy in my fabric pieces. I spent about two hours trying and trying again to get it to work. I thought that perhaps I was folding the fly wrong or placing the facing incorrectly. I tried easing the two together in every conceivable way. But every time, I was coming up very short with the facing. In the end, I cut out another two inches from my fabric and added it on to the facing piece that I had already constructed. It attached totally fine after this and everything looked great – so I’m still not sure what the issue was. It’s much more likely that this was my problem, rather than an issue with the pattern. But I wanted to mention it so that you don’t make yourself crazy over it if you end up with the same issue!

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I also really want to mention the shape of the final garment. I was genuinely quite concerned about how flattering the finished product would look on my body. I still have crazy insecurities about my bum/hips which, despite working hard to discard what I know are ridiculous and society-imposed rules about body size and shape, I struggle to shed. I’m definitely doing much better about it but I still find myself trying to avoid anything that I feel emphasises those areas of my body. The Tyyni trousers are not ones that serve the shape I traditionally look for – I generally go low-waisted and actually a bit tighter to my body. But I am amazed by how great I feel in these trousers! I love how they look – the darts give them a beautiful shape and I honestly feel like they’re super flattering. So flattering, in fact, that I was happy to throw on a crop top and go.

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Also, side note on the pockets! What a fantastic excuse to whip my William Morris fabric back out. Those of you who’ve been reading Sew for Victory since the very beginning will remember this fabric from the lining of my Beignet Skirt. I’ve been looking for a way to use up some of the remnants and HELLO POCKETS!

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I’ve sewn many different patterns that I’ve felt I would make other versions of in the future. Mostly, however, I struggle to find occasions that make a lot of the patterns wearable on an everyday basis. These trousers have a definite vintage flair to them but are probably the first thing I’ve made that I could see myself wearing on a super regular basis. I will definitely be making more versions of the Tyyni trousers in the future – they are just so easy to put together and the finished product is amazing. But, in the meantime, I can see myself pretty much living in this pair. So, if you’re looking to make your very first pair of trousers or are just looking for a new pattern, definitely go for Tyyni. Named Clothing have made trousers a super and surprisingly simple sewing endeavour!