Monday, January 30, 2012

Culottes, Then and Now: The Experiment Begins

I've got so many things to say about the culottes experiment, I barely know where to start.

I suppose it would be useful to remind you all now:
  • I'm no expert at either a) sewing or b) culottes. Follow along at your own risk. I recommend waiting to see how it all goes before using any of the info I opine about at length.
  • I'm totally enlisting your feedback. You who are sewing experts, you who have made many vintage patterns - those of you who've made culottes (specifically) - we need your help! I'm going to say a bunch of things based on what I've read, or what I've surmised, but if you know better (or different), do tell.
  • I'm showing a lot of photos of the versions of Culottes (M9805 aka vintage and B5681 aka modern) and, at least for the next couple of posts, they're all displayed with the inner leg pleats folded closed. That's the only way I could reasonably compare the crotch curves. You'll see what I mean as I go on.
  • My Vogue TNT is a modern Big 4 size 14 pattern. The Butterick modern pattern is a size 16. Hmmm. Wonder why I didn't consider cutting the Butterick in a size 14 given that modern sizing is standardized. Size 14 correlates to waist 28", hip 38". Size 16, as I've mentioned, is a 30" waist and 40" hip. I'm somewhere, size-wise, between the two but by using slimmer seam allowances and in light of pattern and fabric ease, I tend towards 14. Interesting that I forgot this... And to complicate matters, the vintage culottes are a (vintage standard) size 18. That correlates to a 30" waist and 39" hip. But vintage patterns are sometimes said to fit small. No doubt, fabric and pattern ease are really going to factor in. I only wish, at this point, I could predict how.

So, to get started, here are a few intro photos of side-by-side views of my now-traced TNT (V1166), M9805 and B5681. I urge you to notice on the "non-crotch" sides of the pattern pieces, specifically:

  • How utterly straight to the waist the TNT is. (Left piece)
  • How relatively curvy the vintage pattern is. (Right piece)
  • How the Butterick is more like the TNT. (Middle piece)
  • How much longer in the crotch both culottes pieces are in comparison with the mid-rise TNT pants pattern.
Back pieces, side-by-side

Front Pieces, side-by-side

Even accounting for my generally necessary, short crotch adjustment (about 1.25 inches on both front and back pieces - which you'll observe has already been done on the TNT), the culottes are way longer in the rise. I think that's partly cuz they're meant to be higher waisted than the pants. And I've read, in Pants for Real People, that culottes are meant to hang away from the body at the crotch by a much further distance than pants. How much farther, alas, they didn't say. We're merging the skirt with pants, peeps. Currently, it's a mystery.

First thing first, I removed some length in the crotch on both culottes pieces - approximately 1.25 inches. I don't know if it's the right course of action, but I have to start somewhere:

Back pieces, adjusted for crotch length

Front pieces, adjusted for crotch length

I think that's enough info for this post. My eyes are starting to cross...

Any thoughts about the experiment at this point? Please weigh in!


  1. I am interested in the cut differences. I think vintage bottoms of all kinds reflected a (sometimes extreme) hourglass shape, and that modern bottoms do not, at least not as much. I remember owning two '40s skirt suits and having to have the skirts altered, because they flared out so much at the hips. I noticed that these vintage pieces flare out at the hips more than the modern ones. You are an hourglass, so this should work for you, right?

    1. You know it's true, they do. And the more I see these comments today - and review what I've done to straighten out the waist curve (you'll hear more about that in the next post) - the more I think I should have left it well enough alone. I am an hourglass. My hip to waist dimensions mimic those of the vintage pattern (sizing pending). My TNT has bamboozled me! I guess I'm a modern girl at heart :-)

  2. I think lowering the rise by your TNT amount is probably a good call.

    Have you done any flat pattern measurements? It makes sense that there's more hip curve on the high-waisted culottes than the mid-rise pants, as presumably there's more difference between your waist and your full hips than there is from mid-hip to full hip. The question is, is it the right amount of extra curve...

    So exciting! :)

    1. I haven't done flat measurements. Hmmm, that's the kind of mathy smart girl thing you'd imagine would have popped into my mind. In truth, I'm observing this from so many angles already, that one fell off the radar. I will compare the numbers though the muslin fabric has already been cut.

  3. No advice, pants/culottes are not my area of expertise. It sure is neat to compare the pattern pieces side by side like that. The spatial aspects of sewing can be really hard to visualize, but seeing 3 flat pattern pieces side by side is helpful to get the differences.

    1. It's actually been really helpful for me as I continue to think about how to adapt things at the next step. Even though we all look carefully at garments as they're being made, there's nothing like marking them up after the fact and observing comparative garments side by side!

  4. I'm not a pants expert myself (I tend to make them way too large, when I make them at all) so my advice is probably useless. However, I notice your TNT has a VERY straight waist. IF you are straight up and down, the culottes may wind up needing to be let out at the waist a bit. They are supposed to fit somewhat loose -- I was a child of the 80s so I'm going by memory here -- and flare out a bit like a skirt so the strong A-line shape of the pattern makes sense. Fabric will affect the drape too, anything too stiff won't work.

    1. I was shocked to see how straight the TNT waist is. But I read that straight waists work better for those with prominent lower abdomens, and my shape bears this out. I have considered that I need to learn more about the curved hip to waist pattern. It might actually work better, I suppose. That's where lack of experience gets in the way!

      Also, I never wore culottes in the 80s. I only remember them from the early 70s, when my mother wore them. The A line doesn't concern me but the crotch length is crazy.

      And the fabric I will use is a drapey wool blend. I think it will work perfectly to complement the shape of the garment.

  5. You seem to me to be getting very expert at sewing!