Note: This is less of a tutorial (the concept is easy enough: take garment apart. Use pieces as pattern pieces. Profit) and more of a “here’s specifically how I did it because the concept is deceptively difficult” post.
Have you ever owned a garment that was comfortable, flattering, and versatile to a ridiculous degree? Such articles of clothing become the grown-up equivalent of a teddy bear or security blanket, accompanying you on every trip, there for you when you’ve had a bad day, and putting up with tons of abuse.
In my case, this garment was a pair of pants that I picked up when clothes shopping for college at 17. It was almost a defiant purchase: I was consciously giving up my mens’-cargo-shorts-and-oversized-black-t-shirt uniform, and that made me uncomfortable. So I clung to a pair of fashiony olive knee-length cargo pants in some trendy mall store, knowing in my heart they’d be trashed in a month. They couldn’t be real cargo pants, designed for hard wearing, after all. But they’d serve as a transition piece into girl’s clothing.
Six years later, those pants have been on almost every adventure I’ve been on. They’re in practically every photograph of me hiking and traveling, an instant-pack for every trip March through November, and as an added bonus, when I wear them on the town people often holler compliments concerning my rear end. I’ve worn them with a bustier and heels, and I’ve worn them barefoot in rivers with skinned knees. And they’re a great, non-obtrusive olive green. I loved them.
Then, they disintegrated.
Such is the inevitable fate of pants that climb mountains, scoot down volcanoes, and jump out of planes. And I was surprised at my own sourness. Where can I find another pair? I hate pants shopping! And how will I know how long they’ll last? My adventure pants were a complete surprise! I have fleece-lined running leggings… but those reallllly don’t cut it in the spring and summer. They’re too warm, too tight, and too dark to go wandering around the desert in.
I even wore my adventure pants shamefully long after I should have given them up — after all, they were mostly intact — pretending that I didn’t know my underwear was showing through. Finally, though, I had to recognize that they weren’t actually fulfilling the role of pants anymore, and admit defeat. Sadness.
But wait! I sew! And I suspect you do too, if you’re reading this. That means we can reclaim these lost garments and reproduce them forever. Bwah hah hah, mad scientist style. As long as there’s still a good portion of the fabric left, you, too, can clone your favorite garment and never suffer its loss again. And without any of the ethical concerns of cloning Fido!
Here’s how I went about dismantling my adventure pants, redesigning them into even better versions of themselves, and happily gallivanted about in my adventure pants 2.0.
First, I removed the patch pockets. This left some holes in my fabric, as the stitching was very secure in places. I wrote notes on each piece in Sharpie (L hip pocket, for example), along with arrows pointing to the holes noting whether this indicated a lot of backtacking or whether it was a mistake. I also outlined the spot where each pocket was on the main body of the pants.
I took a major shortcut: each piece that was symmetrical I only took apart once. Most of the left leg was left intact through this process – it took a long time to tear apart the right leg, so why repeat the process if I didn’t have to?
Next, I labelled each piece of the pants. If your garment is simple, you may not need to do this. But my pants featured multiple panels around the bottom of the leg, tons of stitching, and loads of triple-stitched flat felled seams. I marked the direction of each seam with sharpie as well.
I made notes on the pants’ construction:
- My waistband was not a separate piece. Instead, a facing was sewn to the inside, tacked down with three rows of stitching (a pain to disassemble, let me tell you!), and the raw edge was serged.
- Several of the “flat felled” seams were not, actually. They were folded over, but instead of the raw edges being folded over again, enclosing both sides, one side was left free and serged.
- The main pockets are unusual, sort of halfway between a normal pocket and a patch pocket.
- The side pockets look like there is a side gusset, flap, and three front pieces. In reality, the front piece is folded and seamed.
- I didn’t do this, but I wish I had: written down the number of belt loops.
- Two of the pocket flaps are decorative.
- I also wish I had written down how many buttons there were.
- In dotted lines, I drew in all of the decorative stitching lines. I may or may not include them in my version.
- There is a strange little rectangle sewn on between two of the pockets.
I don’t know what it’s for.
- I almost never used the zipper fly and button, because there was also a drawstring. I made a note of this, but decided to keep the fly in the final version.
- I made careful notes as to which side of the fly was which.
- I pinned each pocket flap to its pocket. They are all pretty much identical, so this step was probably not necessary, but I did it anyway.
After that, it was mostly a matter of being very careful and going slowly. It took me a great deal of time to pick apart the pants, and I can’t stress being careful enough. I ripped alongside the seam on one leg. That wasn’t such a big deal with pants, because I have another leg to use, but I had to be extra-super careful on the other leg.
A note about serged edges: If your pants are at all new, you probably won’t be able to pick out all of the serged seams. I’m sorry. Just carefully cut as close as you can to the stitching, and make a note to add a tiny bit to your seam allowance. I was able to pull out the line of stitching next to the serging and the serging just kind of fell apart, but you may not be so lucky.
Once the pants were taken apart and the pieces labelled, I made notes about what I wanted to change. That was the fun part: redesigning! I decided to eliminate the straps and buttons at the bottom edge; I never used them to change the length of the pants, and the buttons clicked against my bike frame and sometimes while I walked. I also decided to eliminate the decorative flaps and a lot of the decorative stitching, but I kept the piecework and all of the structural stitching, including the triple-stitched flat fells.Since I don’t have a serger, I converted the seams into true flat-fells (I seem to be obsessed with them lately) and attached the waist facing at the bottom instead of letting it hang free. One of the hip pockets had what appeared to be a pencil holder; I eliminated that as well.
I decided not to transfer the fabric to paper or anything; it’s worn so thin the material is practically paper anyway, and everything fits in a freezer bag.
I hope you find my process helpful. After that it is simply a matter of re-sewing everything, and huzzah: Adventure Pants! Stay tuned, if you’re into that sort of thing, for next week’s Adventure Pants: Construction Journal/Finished Product.