Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the Navy: My 1940s "Seabee" Trousers

Oh, happy day, my high-waisted, wide-leg "Seabee" trousers are finally finished! It all started when I decided to join The Cupcake Goddess' Trouser Sew-Along back in January, which finished in February I believe (it's been awhile). I didn't do the official sew-along BurdaStyle pattern. Instead I went with a pattern I already had in my stash, the 1940s Empire Waist Trousers from the Decades of Style Pattern Company in Berkeley, CA. She updates vintage patterns from the 1910s to the 1950s, so this pattern is a style that would've been sewn up by home seamstresses of the early 1940s! These trousers are so incredibly comfy - I LOVE them! 

Please excuse the overcast day. It's the best we can get around
here lately. (And, I'm freezing!)

I first bought this pattern at the Decades of Style Trunk Show at Sew L.A. in 2009, along with 4 other patterns. This is the first one I've made, which is a real surprise to me! I bought this particular pattern more because I figured I'd add a pair of pants to my collection, and figured it'd be ages before I got around to them. That's where the sew-along came in (thanks Sunni!). Here's the pattern cover:

As you can see, I lowered the waistline considerably and it's no longer an empire waist style. I wanted to honor the original design of the pattern, but I have a short torso, and for me to have the top of the trousers end 2" above my natural waist would've looked a bit funny! Sunni had a good idea of adding a belt to the natural waist, I'd love to see a version like that. I just didn't have the guts. The trousers close with an invisible zipper at center back and there's a facing only (no waistband). 

The hem ends 1" above the ground and has 2" cuffs slipstitched to the pant legs. I did all kinds of reading online about where the hem should be on wide leg pants and everyone has a different opinion! Maybe it's because I've done a lot of big city walking, but I wanted the hem up off the ground in the event of rain (and the hem fold really weakens when scuffing the ground all the time).

I'm really pleased with how these came out, being my first pair of trousers and all! I've made tons of pajama pants before, which actually helped me with these in terms of construction. I used a navy wool blend I picked up at my local fabric store. It started life as my 3rd muslin, as I was feeling pretty confident in my previous adjustments, but not confident enough to cut into my beautiful sand-colored wool crepe I purchased from Trim Fabrics (I found them through one of Sunni's posts on online fabric sources). So while the construction could use improvement, and I need to do some adjustments to the fit before I cut out my next pair, I'm so excited I actually have a wearable pair of pants! Whoop-dee-do.

Adjustments I made included lowering the waistline, as I mentioned, and eliminating the darts on both the front and the back. First I tried shortening them since they were creating a bubbling effect at the end, but that didn't work out so well. Then I found a thread on PatternReview (can't remember where exactly) where someone mentioned darts aren't always necessary on pants, depending on your shape. To compensate I brought in the side seams at the waist. The zipper opening is long, so I shortened it considerably so I wouldn't be sitting on a zipper.

I also gained a good understanding of crotch depth versus crotch length thanks to Sunni's highly informative sew-along posts. Really, the work and know-how she put into each post was amazing! So, going with that, I ended up raising the crotch depth 1" and slightly altered the crotch length. To be honest, I didn't quite understand the concept of crotch length until I finished making these, so going forward on another pair I will work on that a little more. The fit isn't bad, but I know it can be better! 

I think that's about it for alterations. I did add a Bemberg rayon lining (the pattern is unlined) and, boy, do they feel so smooth and luxurious! This is my first time working with this fabric and even though it's tricky and slippery it sure is worth it! I wanted a lining because of the wool material, but also because the garment hangs better with it (and, bonus, the silky smooth feel!).

As for the name, I decided to call these my "Seabee" Trousers because they were influenced by my grandfather's World War II U.S. Seabee uniform. The Seabees make up the construction battalion (CB!) in the Navy, and I couldn't help but pair my new trousers with his pullover top and sailor's cap. I can't believe I kind of fit in this top! It has the coolest details on it. I don't know where his pants have gone off to, so I loved recreating the outfit (even if the colors don't match!).

My patriotic self, all ready to build a battleship...out of legos.

The real deal: My grandpa in the South Pacific, WWII.
All in all, I really loved this pattern (even though I didn't do justice to the empire waist)! Once you get the fit down, sewing up pants is really straightforward. I have a lot of fun walking in these as the wide leg really sways nicely at the hem. I usually don't like wearing pants, but the way these fall kind of remind me of wearing a dress! The wool was easy to work with, but I definitely don't want to be caught singin' in the rain with them; when I was pressing the fabric it smelled like wet dog, but that's just the nature of the material when it confronts moisture (and I was relieved when Handmade Jane smelled the same thing!).

Oh, and these trousers were submitted as part of the Sew Weekly's theme challenge this week: tackling UFOs (unfinished objects)! Thanks to the Sew Weekly for getting me to actually stop procrastinating and finish these uber comfy pair of swank trousers!

My sailor's cap and "Seabee" trousers!

And, of course, I wouldn't have even thought of making this pattern if it wasn't for Sunni's sew-along. So I close by saying (kind of like those weight loss testimonials):

Thank YOU, Cupcake Goddess! :)


  1. They are lovely, and fit like a dream! Lined pants are amazingly yummy, aren't they?

    Being shortwaisted myself, I must admit the empire waist thing intrigues me... Empire lines are SO much better on me than natural waist bands... But then I don't look nearly as good as you in waist-band-sitting garments (or tucked-in tops...) ;)

  2. They look fantastic! Linen was a perfect choice. You should definitely make more!

  3. These trousers are FANTASTIC! Great job....I absolutely love the 40's silhouette for pants and I think you have the fit just perfectly! Navy is such a great color as well (I wear my Navy pants ALL the time). I am loving the black and white photo of you! Fabulous!

  4. They're absolutely gorgeous and look like they fit perfectly. I bet you're so proud of yourself - and so you should be, fabulous job. xx

  5. You did such an awesome job on these! I can't imagine you making any further modifications, they seem to fit perfectly as is! You look gorgeous in them and I love the shoes you paired with them too.

    I hear you about lowering the waist line. I think you have to be pretty gutsy to make them 100% empire-waisted.

  6. These are so great! You're inspiring me to try trousers.... one day :)

  7. Really lovely! I have been eyeing up that pattern for a while - maybe I need to just buy it and stop messing about!

  8. Thank you so much for your wonderful comments! These are very comfy and I highly recommend the pattern.

    Tanit-Isis, if you make empire waist trousers I'd love to see them (you could totally pull them off!).

  9. Those look great and fit really nicely, you will wear them for years to come!

  10. I love this pattern on you - I did the Sew-A-Long and I think I prefer yours!!! Wonderful review! BTW, I live in Ventura!

    Great post!

  11. oh, i love these as adjusted, but you should totally try high waist too! i've got a short torso as well, it's kept me from buying many a cheap full body dressform from craigslist :(.

  12. Oh the short torso and the dress form - I definitely figured that out AFTER I bought the form, it couldn't even adjust that short - oh well! :(

  13. Pammie, I'm actually in Virginia now! I sure miss those mild SoCal winters though :)


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