Saturday, January 28, 2012

Culottes, Then and Now

Let's go on an adventure, shall we?

In full disclosure, it's a sewing adventure, so you might already be bored. But I'm going to try to make it fascinating, like that subtype of documentary on PBS about physics (let's say) which, on the surface, is miserably dull but, despite yourself, by the end you are sad not to hear at least another hour's worth of info about the Law of Gravity. Note to reader: Once you get down to it, everything is somehow about the Law of Gravity. And is narrated by Martin Sheen.

OK, here's what I'm gonna do. Ya'll know about this pattern:

And you know this is the culottes pattern I have chosen to make as part of my Spring Basics Palette.

Wouldn't it be entrancing to see how they differ a) from each other - one vintage and one modern pattern and b) how the crotch curves of the original patterns differ from my own prior to alteration?

I know, you're drooling with anticipation.

But let me tell you a few other things before we get started on this path that's probably gonna take a few posts (and days of work, for that matter).

Sewist from way back, Lana, advised that:
  • Culottes date back to the 30's and were a kind of upgraded riding gear for women of that era.
  • Vintage versions tend to be made for those of extremely minimal derriere.
The new culottes (B5681) are a size 16 and the vintage ones (M9805) are an 18. These correlate with envelope sizing - waist 30" / hips 40" and waist 30" / hips 39". Standardized sizing has changed over the years, just to make things challenging.

I very gently opened the vintage pattern - still in factory folds - and carefully ironed it. You might as well tell me if this is a terrible crime to vintage. On the plus side, it made it possible for me to trace.

I also traced the modern pattern, though it was a total pain in the ass for something I could buy again tomorrow.

As yet untraced, boring, modern pattern...

Sassy, as yet untraced pocket of the vintage pattern.

How adorable that you get the WHOLE waistband when you sew vintage! (In truth, you get the whole waistband with the modern pattern too...)

More modern... Note that step action where the pleat meets the crotch. That doesn't happen in the vintage version (see below)...

More vintage... See how much more A line the vintage version appears to be? The modern one looks positively straight.

I love the way vintage patterns look. This one provides an ingenious double line to cut between in order to ensure you don't slice any of the seam allowance off when cutting into your fabric. This pattern also includes stitching lines in addition to cutting lines, so you can actually see the pattern sloper (aka block). Of course, modern patterns do not.

Intriguingly, the vintage pattern tissue was in very good shape, but the instructions (on construction paper) are definitely suffering the ravages of time. Weird since I don't think the pattern was ever used.

So, whatcha think? Are you game to compare vintage and modern garments? I'm going to muslin each of these (the top parts, any way) and which ever fits better will end up being the pattern I use to make my Spring Basics Palette culottes.


  1. Go for it! I'd love to see how the 2 patterns compare.

  2. I'm excited to see which works best! And which fabric you use.

  3. Elle: Woohoo. It's a fun idea before the work starts :-)

    E: I'm going to use the brown/burgundy wool blend I mention in the Spring Basics Palette post. But I can't make both in that fabric, cuz I don't have enough (and it would be a bit weird, if useful as an experiment). I'm muslining with some worsted wool that's in really bad shape. It's vintage and it was given to me. Sad that the fabric hasn't stood up.

  4. This sounds like an interesting exercise, I'm interested to see what you find.

  5. I suspect that the pattern tissue is acid free, while the instructions sheet is not...

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. :)

  6. Rachel: I wonder which will have the crotch curve that's more like the one on my TNT. Maybe neither? I sense that the vintage ones are going to work better but I guess I've got to do the leg work first.

    T: That's probably why it is! Good thought.

  7. Ohhh exciting, I definitely want to know more :) Maybe it's just me but even allowing for ease of movement, vintage and modern patterns who have my exact measurement are always way too big.

  8. To me the crime is not that you actually used some thing old but the crime is not using some thing. The world is full of "too good to be used" items. IMHO - that's a waste. How fun if one generation used the pattern and then the next generation and then the next as opposed to hoarding through the years/generations. I'd rather pass on creativity than hoarding.

  9. Suzy: Fascinating info. I just realized that my TNT is a modern size 14 but I'm working on a modern culottes pattern in a size 16 and a vintage culottes pattern in a size 18. Gotta do some thinking...

    Myrna: So true! I will continue on this premise.

  10. Agree that the idea of "too good" is a waste. I am intrigued to see what you learn here. I haven't read the previous culottes posts, but will catch up.

    1. M: This is the first one of a very long (and possibly very dull) series :-)