I just love leggings, and my posts on how to draft your own leggings pattern and how to sew leggings are two of my most visited tutorials. In September I realized that I needed lots of leggings for my new job in a school (which I am no longer doing, but let’s not go into that now) because I was constantly sitting/crawling on the floor, leading physical activities and getting pushed and pulled around by little munchkins. I soon realized that skirts and dresses were out of the question and I needed a bit more coverage. (Also because certain little munchkins also got a kick out of lifting up my skirt.)
So I dug into my fabric stash, selected some neutral-colored jersey (all of my leggings are very… bright… and didn’t go very well with a lot of my warmer weather clothing) and got cutting and sewing.
I realized when I got done sewing the legs and crotch that they looked a bit off, and had the good sense to stop and try them on before sewing the waistband and hems. And it was only then that I realized my massive mistake: cotton jersey doesn’t have nearly enough stretch to be sewn into leggings! I couldn’t even pull them up past my knees, they were so tight. This, of course, I knew but in my zombie-like state induced by a draining day job this little detail had sort of slipped my mind. Sigh. See? Take heart, all you sewers out there… everyone messes up!
The thing that annoyed me the most is that I had ruined perfectly good jersey fabric. Then I remembered a stretchy lycra belt that my sister had given me this past summer. It went with some dress or something of hers, but she never wore it and she knew full well of a person who would want that long bit of black stretchiness: me! It occurred to me that I could insert some fabric into the legs, making them wider and adding an element of visual interest.
So I cut straight down the outer side of each leg.
I lined up the belt with one cut legging edge, right sides facing. I pinned and sewed down that side.
I then lined up the other belt edge with the other cut legging edge of the same leg, again right sides facing, pinned and sewed.
I was now able to pull the leggings up, but found that the lack of stretch was a problem in terms of length, too. They were too short in the legs and just barely covered my butt on top. I had just enough of the belt fabric to go around one ankle. Luckily the fabric of the belt was doubled over, so I cut it open, then cut the rectangle of fabric into two parts. I could then fold each in half and sew them onto the bottoms of my leggings as cuffs. Perfect! This is why you see the cuffs are not as wide as the side stripe, because I had to cut and fold the fabric in half to have enough of it.
Ideally, I would’ve used the same stretchy belt fabric to make a wide waistband instead of wasting the already too-little fabric by making an elastic casing, thereby creating more butt/lower back coverage, but there wasn’t any left at that point. I dug into my elastic stash and found some extra-wide black elastic. Perfect! I sewed the wide elastic into a loop and sewed it directly onto the top of the leggings, right sides facing.
That wide elastic was just enough for the minimum coverage necessary (that is, so that my butt wasn’t hanging out) and luckily it matched the black belt fabric used for the side stripe pretty well.
And I managed to save my leggings sewing fail!
I had wanted some neutral leggings and the stripe, as cool as it looks, makes these leggings definitely not neutral. But at least they were wearable! (How do you like the backdrop of this photo? Sewing anarchy!)
I debated whether or not to publish this photo, because I’m not a big fan of showing the world my belly and thighs (I must’ve been sucking in my gut for this shot because it is definitely not that flat). But I wanted to show you how little (not at all) jersey fabric stretches. Even though these leggings were very tight (and honestly not exceptionally comfortable, compared to other leggings, because of it), they kept slipping down because the fabric wasn’t elastic. And you can see that the fabric is pulled super tight around my thighs, but then is loose and wrinkly right below the elastic waistband. It also wrinkles and bunches up around my knees and at the bottom as the leggings slip down bit by bit.
As if my leggings brain freeze hadn’t been enough up til then, I then got another bad idea: If regular cotton jersey isn’t stretchy enough, jersey with 5% lycra or spandex content, which is stretchy enough to use as cuffs and waistbands on items such as pajamas and underwear (for girls and for boys), will be stretchy enough for leggings! It was still hot out when I did these experiments and I wanted some short leggings going down to just above or just below my knees. So I went through my t-shirt stash to find some with 5% lycra.
I figured out on my pattern where the leggings should go down to, drew a line and then lined up that line with the bottom of the t-shirt, so that I could use the shirt’s original hem instead of having to hem the leggings on my own, which would also waste precious fabric, of which there was not much.
Once I had the legging pieces cut out, I had the intelligence, given my previous leggings fail, to check the stretchiness before sewing. I wrapped one piece around my thigh. Or rather, I attempted to because – surprise, surprise – the 5% lycra content was nowhere near enough to stretch around my thighs. So I just gave up for the day and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon watching a movie with my kids.
So, the moral of the story? You need very stretchy fabric to sew leggings! Do not attempt to use jersey to make them unless they have a massive lycra or spandex content and are very stretchy!
Question of the day: Confession time! What’s your worst sewing disaster?
This is not actually my worst sewing fail, seeing as I managed to save it. Anyone who does any bit of sewing will inevitably have major mess-ups, even people who are very accomplished sewers. If you want to see one particularly awful sewing fail of mine, check out the photo at the bottom of this interview of mine at Green Issues by Agy. Those were some pretty disatrous pajama pants!