Review: “Pants Construction Techniques: In The Details” by David Page Coffin

I like to think of David Page Coffin as the “Alton Brown of Sewing”. The two have a lot in common, including attention to detail, commitment to a high-quality result, and the relentless search for best tools and techniques to achieve that result.

Being a big fan of Coffin’s books including Shirtmaking and Making Trousers, I was always hoping that he might offer a Craftsy course to better present his techniques. So I was really pleased to see his new course Pants Construction Techniques: In The Details appear on Craftsy.

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If you’ve read through Coffin’s book Making Trousers, the Craftsy class will be familiar to you – it’s basically a video companion to the book. You’ll even see some of the same example garments on display.

In the Craftsy course, Coffin leads you through the techniques he uses for constructing these features:

  • Inseam pockets
  • Slash pockets
  • Welt pockets
  • Zipper fly
  • Cut-on waistbands
  • Sewn-on waistbands
  • Belt loops
  • Closures

Pockets

The pocket construction coverage is extensive. Coffin shows you how to draft your own pocket patterns for any pants pattern, including facings and pocket bags.  Then he demonstrates how the pieces go together to make the finished pocket.

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For welt pockets, Coffin shows only a single welt pocket in detail, since the single welt is actually a double-welt pocket with some special handling – so if you can do single you can also do double.

Zippers

For zippers, Coffin demonstrates two different styles of fly construction, and also deals with how you install a zipper for cut-on versus sewn-on waistbands.  This section probably bears rewatching because it’s the most technical section of the course; he works on both fly options side-by-side, at the same time.  This is great so you can see how the construction methods compare, but once you decide upon your approach you’re going to concentrate on only one set of steps.

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Design Features

In the final class session, Coffin discusses unconventional techniques like waistbands with built-in expansion, as well as zipper enclosures hidden inside pockets.  He encourages you to use these techniques, as well as those found in ready-to-wear garments, as a springboard to experiment with your own pants designs.

Comparison to the Book

The book Making Trousers comes with a companion DVD, with video mini-lessons.  It’s been a little while since I reviewed the content on the DVD, but I would say this is a better presentation of the topics than the DVD mini lessons that came with the book.

However, there is content on the DVD that isn’t in this class. If you have the book and haven’t covered that material, you certainly should do so first. The DVD includes some videos for some off-the-beaten-track techniques, such as sewing a keyhole buttonhole on a standard zigzag sewing machine.

(An aside: One thing about the DVD is that the videos are part of a large PDF presentation, and you will need Adobe Reader (free download) to view the video content. You can’t view them on a standard DVD or Blu-Ray player. I wish there was a way to view the videos outside Adobe Reader, as I would like to view them on a tablet device.)

Caveats

As the title of this course makes clear, there is no content devoted towards fitting. That might upset some people, but I think it’s wise to limit the scope of the class, since pants fitting is such a complicated subject it really deserves a course all its own.

I was disappointed that a few topics from the book were not included; there is no demonstration of how to make a button fly, for example.  And there’s some nice tailoring touches Coffin includes in the book, for instance tweaking the lining of a pocket flap to get it to favor towards the inside, that aren’t included here as well.

You should bear in mind that in the Craftsy class, Coffin sews samples rather than actual garments. Most of the time I was okay with this, but for waistbands I actually would have liked seeing the entire construction process and the fully finished result. Especially since there are so many ways to structure a waistband – some go fully around the garment, some have seam breaks at the side seam or center back. etc.

Finally, Coffin constructs each of the features in isolation. A beginner who’s making their first pair of pants might benefit from seeing the entire construction process unfold from start to finish, including order of assembly.  So for that reason I wouldn’t recommend this class to the beginner who’s never sewed pants before. But for an intermediate sewist, it’s an excellent guide to quality construction techniques.

Update: The downloadable class notes do include instructions on proper construction order. But I stand by my feeling that beginners would benefit from seeing the process unfold live on video.

Summary

This class sells for $49.99 at full price. I paid $24.95 via a promotion, and I definitely think it’s worth the price I paid. Is it worth full price? I won’t answer that, because you should never pay full price for a class at Craftsy.

For what’s included in this class, and the quality of the techniques presented, I give Pant Construction Techniques: In the Details 5 stars.

Rating:

Weekend Duffel: Tips for Success (Part 6)

I thought my previous article in the Weekend Duffel series, showing the finished product, was the end of it.

But I got a comment from a reader named Toby, who found my blog via Craftsy:

I have just started this course, am on the second or third video now … the bag looks HARD and I can see it will be a challenge for me.

I’ve never understood sewists who shy away from certain types of projects altogether because they appear too difficult. I like to undertake difficult projects, because I learn new skills, improve old ones, and I have a sense of satisfaction when the job is done. And even if I fail, the project is not a waste because i have learned something.

While I didn’t feel Toby was going to run away from the project, I was compelled to provide some words of encouragement. And I realized that my comments might be helpful to anyone tackling this project, so I’m creating a blog post from them.

Tips for Making the Weekend Duffel

1. The bags have a lot of steps to follow, and a lot of cutting and sewing to do. But each step by itself is not terribly difficult. Most of the sewing is straight lines. The handsewing is pretty minimal. The challenging parts come near the end, when you have to sew through a lot of layers of fabric, because it just gets harder to manage things while still trying to sew precise lines.

It was extra challenging for me compared to the course because I used canvas, which was heavier than the quilting cottons used throughout in the class. And so some of the seams were thicker than those in the video. But if you have a sturdy sewing machine, or if you take the difficult seams slowly, you should be OK.

2. I had pretty much done all of the techniques for this bag individually in other projects. For instance, I made zippered pockets when I sewed a series of hoodies, and I made bellows pockets before for a telescope caddy. For something like the zippered or bellows pockets, buy some extra fabric and zippers and make some samples first so you feel comfortable with the construction steps.

3. Take care to measure and cut everything precisely. Get a quilting ruler, a cutting mat, and a rotary cutter and take your time measuring and aligning the cuts so the dimensions are correct, and the corners are square.  Use the marking lines on the ruler and the cutting mat to place your cuts accurately.

After I fused all the interfacings to the fabric pieces, the interfacing stuck out on a few edges. I went through again with the quilting ruler and rotary cutters, and trimmed the pieces so I knew they were the correct dimensions and were square. That really cut down on issues further down the road in construction.

4. Make sure you watch the entire Craftsy video course before starting construction. You’ll know why certain things are done the way they are, because of requirements further down the line. Sometimes the instructor doesn’t mention an important detail till farther down the line.

5. The printed course notes are very useful; they have an interfacing guide sheet which is essential to follow. I made a point of double-checking measurements before I started cutting, because I didn’t have canvas fabric to spare in case of error. I also pinned interfacing to fabric pieces BEFORE fusing them. I double-checked against the course notes to be certain I was applying the correct interfacing to the correct fabric pieces. Then I did the fusing.

6. In my case, since I was using very contrasty colors, I had three thread colors (to match main, accent and lining) and I had to do thread changes as I went through the project. Always ask yourself at each step which thread you should be using. You may want to use one color in the needle and one in the bobbin at certain points, such as the flaps and handle grip.

7. Don’t be afraid to rip out a seam and try again if you’re not happy with the way it came out. Working with the canvas made it easy to rip seams, since the fabric was so much more rugged than the thread and I didn’t have to be dainty with the seam ripper.  A few times I had to rip out a seam because I had the wrong color thread and the stitches in the seam were visible (see #6 above).

Enjoy making your bags!

Follow-On Projects

Somewhere along the line, I mentioned I want to make a travel ensemble featuring the following matching accessories:

  • A Dopp kit, made from the spare canvas I have on hand. PatternReview member kcurtis has made a really exceptional video tutorial on YouTube, that’s on par with the Craftsy courses in terms of quality of instruction.
  • Matching laundry bags, made from ripstop nylon.  I have some construction ideas for these, so I will be producing an “original” design and am thinking about producing a video tutorial. Shout out in the comments if you’d like to see that.
  • And finally a travel wallet, again made from the spare canvas.

None of these are super-big projects, and I’l tackle them in time.  But for now I’m going back to Vogue 8940, determined to turn that pattern into a wearable pair of pants.

 

The Duffels Are Complete (Weekend Duffel, Part 5)

At long last, my Weekend Duffel Project has come to an end.

Actually, I finished them last weekend.

960x720_GOPR0016Photographs I make with the artificial lighting in my home always look terrible; I prefer natural light but am at work on weekdays.  This past Thursday, I took the bags to work and photographed them in the beautiful natural light my office gets.

The photos here were shot on a GoPro Hero4 Black action camera.  It’s not optimal for this purpose – the camera is meant for wide-angle shots and is not good at close-focus work.  But it was part of the bargain for shooting the photos on company time.

Click or tap on any of the photos for a closeup.

Outsides

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End Panels

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More Outsides

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Inside Pockets

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Handle Grips

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Construction Notes

After cutting myself with the scissors, I put the yellow bag on hold because the next step was hand-sewing the inside lining in place.  Instead, I began to construct the blue bag to get it to the same level of completeness as the yellow bag, then finished the two together.

Stitching on the end panels is challenging due to the bulk and layers involved. To assist in getting an even stitch with the blue bag, I traced a stitching line for a 3/8 inch seam allowance and stitched on the line.  This turned out well.

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I generally try to use pins sparingly when sewing nowadays, but this is one of the situations where I thought it best to just pin the daylights out of the thing rather than expect the end panels to ease nicely. I got one or two puckers on the seam, but it’s nothing that bothers me much.

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Stitching the cotton webbing to attach the straps was pretty straightforward. I didn’t have to be precise, because the black thread disappears almost completely into the strap webbing.

To attach the bag handle grip, I used black thread in the top needle and yellow/blue thread in the bobbin. The black blends in with the webbing or velcro, and the yellow/blue matches the canvas. A bit of the black thread shows on the yellow bag canvas, so I increased the thread tension slightly on the blue bag for a better result.

To stiffen the bag base, I used plastic canvas of the type used for cross-stitch projects, as recommended by the Craftsy class. I took the additional step of cutting the corners round with a scissors before inserting the plastic into the bag base.

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Handstitching

I had to do a few rounds of trimming the plastic canvas to size before it fit nicely into the base, then I handstitched the plastic inside the lining.

Handstitching the bag bases shut was a major hurdle for me.  I have very little experience with handsewing, and certainly not enough to really sew the lining inside neatly, without puckers or gaps.

The narrow ends of the lining are sewn shut with a “ladder stitch”, also known as a “slipstitch”. The Craftsy instructor demonstrates the stitch on-camera. But I felt I needed a basic primer on handstitching and so I turned to an article from Threads magazine, “Hand Stitches to Be Proud Of”, from the August/September 2001 issue.

The article was a good help in getting started with hand stitching and taught me how to properly start and end a stitch, how to knot the thread, really basic stuff that I should know by now but don’t. For handstitching there’s no substitute for practice, and so I did some test stitches on muslin scraps. The first two attempts ended up as disasters, but eventually I got some passable results.

At first, I wanted to practice until I had built up my skills. But the evening I decided to work on my income taxes rather than practice my handstitches was a clue.  I decided then to just finish off the bags and accept whatever result I produce.

The slipstitch, when done correctly, isn’t visible.  Mine had a few gaps in the stitching because the stitches were spaced a bit far apart and the thread tension was a bit loose.  Also the corners turned out pretty mushy because outer canvas seam allowances got in the way of the lining stitches. I didn’t trim the seam allowances all the way down, partly because I was concerned about blowing out the corner stitching and partly because I was wary of the sharp scissors that bit me the first time.

Scotch Gard

The bright colors of the bags makes them prime targets for dirt and stains. In fact, while bringing the bags back home from work, I bumped the yellow bag into my front door and got a big dirt stain on it. I managed to scrub most of it out with a toothbrush and diluted laundry detergent, but the message was clear.

I got the idea for using Scotch Gard from one of my fabric books, suggesting it for cotton canvas. I’m not big on Scotch Gard because this stuff has to be both (a) toxic, and (b) terrible for the environment. I suppose I could wax the canvas instead; waxed canvas bags and garments seem to be all the rage these days. But I don’t want to compromise the bright pop of the colors by dulling them down with a wax sheen.

So, to hell with the environment. I bought a can of Scotch Gard at the fabric store while it was on sale, and today I sprayed the outer canvas with the first of two coats. Fortunately the canvas pigments are color-fast; I tested it first on some scraps to be sure. I did the spraying outdoors, but even so the fumes from this stuff are pretty fierce.

Tomorrow I’ll put on the second coat of Scotch Gard and both bags will (finally) be ready for use.

Next Time

Pants, anyone?