August 17, 2012

Fighter Pants – Construction (Part II)

Pants pocket
In the end I sat down and started working on sketches of what my mind’s eye was envisioning.  Based on those sketches, I got to work.  I didn’t really know if any of it would work but I was only going to find out when it was done.

I bought some Period Patterns that I thought could help.  But I find the instructions really hard to follow for my sewing skill level.  I ended up abandoning using them except just for a source of ideas.

I bought some denim/twill-weight cotton to use as the basic fabric.  I thought it would be sturdy, easy to work with, and up to taking a beating.  As a natural fabric, the cotton also breathes well.  Very important!

For a basic pant pattern I modified a commercial pattern that I used for my hubby’s rapier pants.  They were fairly simple to make and turned out ok.  But, he’s a standard size.  The pattern got pretty muddled up for me. 

The part that I focused my efforts on was the pocket design, as I thought it would be the most time consuming.  I’ve never had to sew a pocket before, let alone from scratch.  I relied heavily on a bag-pocket design outlined in one of my sewing encyclopaedias.  It took me several nights to get it right.  The second went a bit faster.  I used the assembly line approach of cutting all the pieces and then assembling each pocket.  As the pad pocket would sit behind my solid leg armour, they would need reinforcing against tears.  I double layered the front facing of each pocket with fabric.

Throughout all the sewing I also made a special effort to do really sturdy seams and sewing with reinforcement to reduce the likelihood that I would have to mend tears and splits later.  I also used several ways to finish the inner seams against fraying.  I taught myself how to French seam!  J 

It was right about this point where I had lots of cut fabric and a partially completed pocket that my personal life took my hobby time hostage.  I was away from my sewing room for over a year.  And the pants sat.

However, for Pennsic this year I was determined to get them done.  So around June or July I got back to the sewing table and picked up where I left off.  I ploughed through getting that second pocket sewn. Although, it did take me a few hours to reacquaint myself with my direction and where I had left off before the needle flew.

Next I had to design the jill pocket.  This really took some ingenuity since I had no technique to start from.  I had to think out the logical design and stitching.  It took me hours to work on it.  But I’m really happy with how it turned out and it seems to be working quite well.

It’s not period of course, but I used Velcro for my pocket fastenings because of the practicality.  I didn’t want anything like a button, etc. that could tear off or become a safety hazard.  Another first.  I’ve never sewn with Velcro before.

What I really, really had a hard time with was the crotch of the pants though.  For some reason, none of the seams cooperated with me.  I was a real botch-job, but somehow I cobbled it together and it’s holding.  But this would be the prime area for improvement for Pants 2.0.  The inner seams are a dog’s breakfast.  Ugh.
I had to add a wide gore in the waist to accommodate my stomach and making sure I had room to manoeuvre in the waist.   It was tricky figuring out how to get the jill pocket onto the front yet still leave enough fabric for my stomach and to gather when I pulled the drawstring.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I had to abandon the slat idea in my thighs.  It was going to make things WAY to complicated for my skill level.  I can see why separate cuisses became popular in period.  Easier to produce.

I was so proud to finish the pants, shoddy crotch seams and all.  I’d worked so hard on the design, without any real guidance and very little sewing skill.  I debuted them at my first practice to road test them.  Not having to pin my jill and tape my knees was GLORIOUS!!!!   The pants may be ugly and shit brown, but damn it, they’re custom made for me.  J  

At practice I discovered I had to realign the knee pockets.  One was slightly higher than the other.  But because I had reinforced the stitches it was a painstaking and almost surgical process to remove the knee and re-sew it, especially with the pants sewn up at that point.  I had to use my magnifying glass to rip each individual stitch.  Ouch.  Time consuming.  The correct knees are completely aligned, despite my best efforts.  But they’re improved.

One of the big challenges I had was figuring out what position to put the pockets in for my knees.  If I stand, they covered the knee high.  If I was kneeling, I needed the pockets to be lower.  It was trial and error and I’m still not sure if it’s right.  I opted for the kneeling position since that’s really where I would need the padding.  As one of the other fighters put it, the steel protects the knee but the padding makes it comfortable to do the job.  But it’s really hard to mark things like knee points and hem lines if you are wearing the pants.  I got some help for that part.


  • Pants got finished!  And they are working!
  • Fabric worked well for sewing but created a lot lint in my basement.
  • Pockets turned out really well (so far)
  • I’m happy with the layers I added for tear-prone spots
  • It is so nice to just be able to pop in the parts on site!
  • They passed marshal inspection/examination
  • French seams!
  • Velcro!

Areas to work on:

  • Finishing the seams in general more neatly
  • Better pant pattern for me/my shape
  • Higher waist, especially in the back.  I did the waist hem too wide.
  • Creating drawstring casings with more finesse
  • Add the waist elastic as a back up if the cord goes
  • Don’t make the ankles so slim they are tough to hem (in other words, be precise with the width of the seam allowances)
  • Figure out a better way to align the knees beyond pinning prior to stitching

For next time:
  • Think about doing up some cuisses and seeing how they work, with a light basic pant over top.
  • How will I attach my new knee cops without the full leg armour in use?

And for my next trick… fighter’s tunics!