Wearing History Smooth Sailing trousers: making 1940s summer trousers

When the shops reopened in mid-April, I was so excited to finally be able to pop to my local fabric shop to pick up the thread I had run out of, or the buttons I needed for a project, instead of having to order online. However, not only did trips for essential haberdashery supplies resume, but impulse fabric purchases. For instance, on one particular shopping trip to my local Fabric Land, I only intended to buy buttons to go with my Beryl cardigan, but I ended up leaving with this gorgeous navy and white striped linen/viscose mix. It was only £4.99, which is an absolute steal! I knew it would be perfect for a pair of Wearing History’s Smooth Sailing trousers. This is a fab pattern which includes a blouse, trousers and shorts, and it makes effortless 1930s/40s day wear.

This project also presented a great opportunity for me to use my new overlocker! I haven’t used an overlocker since I was at secondary school – I hadn’t been able to justify buying one for myself before now as they are a signficant investment. However, now I feel like the amount I sew and my skill level warrant levelling up my sewing with an overlocker. I say it’s new, but it is actually a second-hand machine I bought on Ebay. It’s a Brother 1034D and I loved that it had different coloured dials and markings which correspond to the different spools. These make it really easy to identify issues with the stitch tension as you can see which thread is playing up, and it makes it easier to thread! I wanted the first garment I used my overlocker on to be an easy project so I didn’t run before I could walk and trousers were a great choice for me. I’ve made loads of trousers before so the construction wouldn’t trip me up but they also presented a challenge like overlocking a curve.

You can see my new work station below: I can just about comfortably fit the two machines on my desk when I’m working and move between the two as and when I need them. I must say it makes me feel very professional!

Level up!

Before cutting out my pattern pieces, I checked the crotch length of the Smooth Sailing pattern against my trusty Simplicity 8447 pattern. As I’ve explained before in my lemon ensemble blog post, after making the 8447 pattern a few times, I know that I have to raise the crotch seam by an inch for a better fit. This works out to cutting it in line with the crotch of a size 8. As you can see, the Smooth Sailing pattern passed the test!

Comparing the rise of the two pattern pieces.

Now I could start cutting out: I cut out a size 18 as I have a 30″ waist. After I cut out the pattern pieces I saw a blog post which said that the pattern had very little ease in the waist, which made me slightly concerned, but I found that it fit just fine with no adjustments. I only realised after I cut out the pieces that I hadn’t thought at all about pattern matching but it didn’t turn out too badly at all! I think I got away with it this time.

Laying out the pattern pieces.

Generally speaking, the first step in making a garment is to sew any shaping, like darts or tucks. I started with the tucks: sewing them in place, pressing them towards the side seams and then topstitching them. I really like the topstitching detail here as it keeps the tucks really crisp. Next, I sewed in the back darts and pressed them towards the centre seam.

The tucks on the front leg pieces.

At this point, I deviated from the pattern completely. The pattern instructs you to partially sew the crotch seam, sew the left side seam, insert the zip, sew the right side seam, sew the inner leg seams and then finish the crotch. This is quite different to how I normally construct trousers and seemed a bit complicated. I read the instructions a good few times to see if I was missing something and if there was a reason the trousers were constructed in this way. When I was satisfied that I wouldn’t be completely screwing up by doing it my way, I decided to proceed in the way I was most comfortable.

I started off by sewing both the inner leg seams. Sewing an inner leg seam is not usually the most exciting part of a sewing project but for me it meant the first time using my overlocker in a real project! Before I started, I made sure to test the tension on a couple of scrap pieces to make sure it was right. One thing I’ve already learned about my overlocker is that I need to test the tension for each different fabric I use. When the tension was correct, I got started finishing the edges of my inner leg seams. My overlocker and I were briefly not friends when one of the threads got jammed but I just rethreaded the machine and then it was fine!

Next, I sewed the crotch seam with the front and back pieces right sides together. Finishing this seam presented another challenge with my overlocker: sewing a curve. I didn’t want to rush into this without knowing what I was doing so I found a great video by Sewing Machine Warehouse which gave me really clear instructions. I had a practice on a scrap piece of fabric and it worked perfectly the first time round! Now much more confident, I overlocked the crotch seam.

At this point, I went back to the instructions to insert the zipper. The instructions instruct you to sew a lapped zip which I’ve never done before, so I was eager to try it out! As invisible zippers were not a thing in the 1940s, this method of zipper construction creates two overlaps which cover the zip! First, I overlocked both the front and back left side seam pieces as I knew I would be pressing this seam apart. Then, as instructed, I sewed the side seam up to the notch and basted the rest of the seam together. I laid the zip on top of the seam, doing my best to match it up and basted it in place. I sewed it in using a zipper foot the cut the seam open. However, as I feared, the two overlaps covering the zip were not even on both sides (despite my best efforts) so I decided to take the zip out, re-baste it, and topstitch the zip in place from the outside. This gave me more control over where the zip was placed.

Next, I deviated from the pattern again as I wanted to add a pocket to my trousers. As there was a zip in one side seam, I could only add one pocket but I figured it was still worth having! I went into this step with some trepidation as I knew it would require a bit of mental gymnastics to figure out how to insert it and be able to finish the seams with my overlocker as I wanted to be able to press apart the seam allowances on the side seam to match the other side. This was certainly me being overly fastidious, as the seams will never be seen but I’m nothing is not a stickler for details. First, I drafted my pocket; I always lean towards a pocket that attaches to the waistband as it distributes the weight across the waistband and the side seam rather than just the side seam. My first draft was too short but otherwise okay, so I redrafted and cut another one. My first attempt at inserting the pocket didn’t work: I sewed each pocket piece right sides together to its respective front and back trouser piece, pressed it back and topstitched it. However, doing it this way wouldn’t allow me to overlocker the edges of the trouser pieces separately to match this other side seam. So, back to the drawing board.

For my second attempt, I sewed the pocket bag together first and overlocked it – leaving a gap at the edge so I could easily attach the seam allowances of the pocket bag opening to the side seams. I attached these seams together, understitched the pocket bag openings and overlocked the side seams. Once I’d finished the trousers, I went back to this seam as I wasn’t happy with the raw edges I’d left on the pocket bag between the overlocking on the pocket bag and the overlocking on the side seam. I went back in and overlocked this gap as the fabric does fray quite bit. This method worked but definitely isn’t perfect. Next time, I’m going to overlock each pocket piece and trouser edge separately and the assemble the pocket.

The pocket was definitely the hardest bit of this project and I was really glad to have it over with and be able to try the trousers on! I tried the trousers on at this point as it would still be easy to adjust the darts and tucks if need be. However, they were a perfect fit and I was already so excited by how they looked!

Not bad at all!

As I was satisfied with the fit on the waist, I got started on the waistband. First I made the belt loops. The pattern instructs you to make the belt loops by folding them along their long edge, sewing them then turning them right side out. However, I just couldn’t get them to turn so I decided to fold the long edges of the belt loops into their middle, then fold them in half again and topstitch them. Before sewing the belt loops onto the belt, I interfaced the belt. It is now standard practice for me to cut my interfacing pieces with no seam allowance as this works really well to reduce bulk! Once I had sewn on the belt loops, I also pressed in the seam allowance on the opposite long edge of the waistband.

Before sewing the waistband on to the trousers, I overlocked the raw seam at the top of the trousers. This was entirely unnecessary as it would be enclosed by the waistband but I was really enjoying using the overlocker and it looks so good!!

Excessive overlocking.

I attached my waistband in a different way to how the pattern suggests, again because I felt happier doing it the way I knew. The pattern wants you to sew the short edges together and place the waistband right sides out over the top of the trousers. Instead, I sewed the edge of the waistband with the belt loops basted to it to the top of the trousers, making sure to leave the overhang of the underlap at the back of the trousers. Then, I sewed the short edges and the bottom of the underlap together and turned the waistband right sides out. As I had already pressed under the seam allowance of the inner waistband, I simply hand-sewed this in place.

Attaching and finishing the waistband. I love finishing my projects by hand!

With the waistband almost complete, I decided not to finish the belt loops or closure but move on to the hem instead. These trousers have turn-up cuffs and, luckily for me, they had just covered them on The Great British Sewing Bee, so I wasn’t going to be tripped up by any instructions! I tried out a few different lengths as I didn’t want trousers that were too long. I have a pair of 1930s beach trousers which I had to take up because they were that very long leg style. Eventually I settled on a length 1/2″ shorter than the pattern instructs, so I just turned up the raw edge by 1″ instead of 1/2″ before turning it up 3″ and sewing it in place. To form the cuff, I turned up the hem by 2″ and tacked it in place at the front, back and sides.

Testing out different lengths.

How I acquired the perfect belt buckle for these trousers was a really fortuitous turn of events. I spent ages trawling Etsy for a white vintage belt buckle to match my trousers but I couldn’t find any I liked: they were either the wrong style, colour, size or all of the above! Then, I was watching some Instagram stories and I saw that FabFifi, who I bought the buttons for my lemon outfit from, had posted about three buckles which were not on her Etsy shop yet. One of these buckles was a small white one and the other was navy, which I was also considering as a colour. I quickly messaged Fiona, the owner of the shop, to ask about them. Turned out the white one was for a slightly narrower belt than the one included in the pattern but otherwise it was perfect, so I bought it! Luckily for me, I hadn’t made the belt or finished the belt loops yet so it was no problem for me to adjust them slightly.

I like to believe fate brought me and this belt buckle together!

I’d already cut out the linen for the belt so I just adjusted the interfacing so that the finished belt would fit the belt buckle. I sewed the belt right sides together then turned it inside out. Turning it out took a lot of effort as it’s so narrow but I got there in the end! I topstitched the belt, leaving the end as a raw edge. I wove the unfinished end of the belt through the belt loop, folded the edge in stitched it in place. I finished the belt loops to accomodate the narrower belt and then it was good to go!

Constructing the belt.

All I had left to do at this point was add a closure to the waistband but this was the step that caused me the most bother! At first, as I didn’t have a skirt hook, I decided to add a button and buttonhole. However, the underlap was too narrow for a horizontal buttonhole so I had to add a vertical one. This didn’t work at all because the pressure of the button on the buttonhole caused it to warp immediately. Even worse, the button was being pulled and I was worried it would snap or rip out of the fabric later on. First I tried making the buttonhole shorter to make it warp less but this wasn’t good enough so I sewed up the buttonhole and added a skirt hook instead. This worked far better!

I am so delighted with how these trousers turned out. I only had to do very minor alterations to the pattern to get them to fit perfectly and they’re effortlessly 1940s. I’ve already worn them out a few times, including on a trip to Portobello Road where my friend Bella took these lovely photos of me! I would definitely make these again and I already have a plan to try out the blouse part of this pattern – stay tuned! As always, more photos of these trousers will be on my instagram.

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