Managed to re-enter the sewing room this morning. I realised the other day that I’ve been stalled because I have a series of projects with small mistakes in them that I have to correct. I’m going to try to get in 20 minutes a day to finish these off. I need skiing/hiking trousers for our holiday next month so I’ve got to get cracking. I’ve ordered several patterns from Shelby and a few fabrics here and there.
One of the stalled projects is this sweater for Charlotte. Once knitted (which didn’t take long), I found I had misunderstood one part of the instructions and had made the body and sleeves too long. I used my serger to cut them down to where they had to be. Not very difficult except the neck curve, but a little trial and error and it’s all sorted. And yesterday I re-assembled the cut down pieces. Now I just have to re-attach the neckband. Here it is ready to be reattached.
The neckband will be hand-backstitched through the open loops.
I also just received this beautiful merino for a hiking underlayer from jny.se. This site is a kids site and as far as I can tell restricted to Sweden so I haven’t mentioned it before, but they had a really pretty light blue merino with stars. I washed it and put it on the clothes airer 4 layers deep late last night and all four layers were completely dry this morning – bodes very well! The fabric is lovely to touch, also.
In my series on cool-weather hiking, it is assumed that you will actually be hiking, skiing, or otherwise active outside: that is, your body will be generating heat. But, when you stop moving, your temperature will sink, and the sweat in your clothes will cool, and you will chill quickly unless you add extra insulation. While this could be in the form of a big furry sweater, down is the lightest weight alternative, with a second being the newer types of synthetic insulation.
Some of the outdoor fabric suppliers (Thru-Hiker, Shelby and Extrem Textil, to name a few) also sell down. The higher the down number, the fluffier and warmer (and more expensive) it is, and therefore the less of it you need to be equally warm. If you have a look at down sleeping bags and down coats, they will often tell you the exact number of grams of down which is useful in planning your own down garment.
Many people fear sewing with down because it gets all over everything. But several tips on sewing sites (including a fabulous one I found where a woman used down from her own chickens) simply suggest dampening or soaking the down before you fill. This seems very sensible to me (although, apparently, it smells like wet dog). Use a microtex needle and poly thread, and a short stitch length to prevent migration of the down between the baffles or seams. Also, don’t pin the fabric. Tape, glue, or clip it to baste. The fabric you use should be “down proof” but other than that a DWR (durable water repellant) coating is handy to keep the down from getting wet.
Here’s a great account with pictures of making a down quilt with baffles. They applied the down dry with a vacuum hose, very interesting. Baffles, made of no-see-um mesh for light weight, prevent the down from moving. By baffling instead of sewing through all layers you allow the down to loft fully (=warm). If you baffle a coat you’d want the baffles to be rather narrow, like just 1cm or 1.5cm, and they could be a real pain to sew. But your jacket will be warmer. Here’s a write-up by Outdoor Gear Lab where they talk about the features and merits of down jackets. The jackets they review are $400-$600 so, if you need one, sewing will definitely be cheaper.
The downside is that patterns for actual down jackets are hard to come by. Nearly all the patterns assume that you will use synthetics, which means that baffling (if you choose to do it) is left to you, not to mention the tricky application of the down itself.
However, Thru-Hiker has a kit with fabric, down, etc for their Whitney down jacket.
Although I admire the kit, I don’t really love the pattern. I’m thinking however that one might order the kit (since you’ll probably use the same fabrics etc) and then modify one’s pattern of choice, for example the Ottobre jacket from 2014, no. 5:
Jalie also offers an insulated vest pattern, number 2450:
How about on your lower half? There are commercially produced, and in my mind ridiculous, down trousers. Women, say no to these! In my original hiking wardrobe post, I also suggested an insulated down skirt as an extra overlayer. These are being produced by new-wave Swedish outdoor companies such as SKHOOP (shoop?) and old timers such as Fjällräven. Easy to add over trousers or leggings, stylish, and keep you warm when you are peeing on the trail, without letting others see what they ought not… For many reasons, I think that these are superior to down pants. Plus which, many women here are wearing them as overlayers on the walk to work etc. (Actually come to think of it, a wind-blocking skirt would also be a wonderful lightweight layer over hiking trousers).
But are there patterns for insulated skirts or hiking skirts in general? [sound of wind whistling through the empty pattern vaults]. Are we daunted? No! (Actually I did find a pattern for a quilted skirt from Folkwear, but this isn’t what we are looking for, is it now, unless retro hiking is your thing.) (Oh, here is an indy Snow Skirt pattern) (And redthreadsews made one a few years ago that she describes as “the best thing for skiing ever”)
Key features then that an insulated skirt pattern needs:
1. Light weight — The lightest weight skirt is a straight skirt, but you may run into trouble with that because of point 2…
2. Freedom of movement — pencil skirts are pretty much out for clambering or setting up a tent or dashing off into the woods to pee. So, hiking skirts are either short, stretchy, wrapped or voluminous (I’m referring to summer hiking skirts here). But, for an insulated skirt an alternative is straight skirt with adjustable side zippers which you can fix to your own desire. This is great in cold weather where voluminous or wrap skirt would let in more cold air than you want.
3. Waistband with few details – because you may be wearing a hip belt to support a heavy pack, care with buttons and buckles is needed. Many commercial hiking and running skirts have a high rib “yoga-type” waistband.
4. Pockets. Some types of pockets are heavier than others, but EVERYONE wants pockets on a hiking skirt. Actually on every skirt. And trousers. And jackets. Are you listening, women’s clothing manufacturers? No? Thought not. Another reason to make your own!
A great inspiration for a cold weather skirt is the reversible down skirt from SKHOOP. A two-way zipper along the whole seam on one side, a one way zip on the hem on the other side, a back yoke with elastic in the back waist and a zip pocked on one side. Material is nylon mini ripstop, fill is 600 power down. And, you can stuff the whole skirt into the pocket (which is the amazing magic of down).
You could of course make it with synthetic filling, but where’s the fun in that? Still, if you hate fun, Clima-Shield or Primaloft is probably the right filling. Oh, and it’s waaaaay cheaper . It, and the right kind of nylon etc are available at Shelby, Extrem Textil, and Thru-Hiker, to name a few. As I mentioned Extrem Textile and Thru-Hiker also sell down, of a higher quality than that in the SKHOOP skirts.
To make a SKHOOP style skirt:
Take a well fitting straight skirt pattern. (Before you laugh, this is the time when fitting your basic patterns pays off.) One pattern you could fit, if you haven’t got such a pattern already, is the Burda sloper. It is a basic straight skirt, with darts front and back, and no waistband. What you want for SKHOOP style is a modification of a four-gore skirt with a yoke in back. Four-gore just means cut in half along the centre-front and centre-back of the pattern and add seam allowances.
Here’s how to modify the basic pattern:
Mark your sloper for the right length. The side needs to be the length of a separating zipper from stopper to stopper. You’ll add a short, straight waistband to the top, which is just a rectangle. Draw a line parallel to the waist mark on your skirt but half the waistband distance down. This is your seamline. Add a seam allowance to the top. While you’re at it, make the rectangular pattern for the waistband, don’t forget to add seam allowances and marks for centre front and centre back in the middle of the piece. You’ll cut one of both outer and inner fabrics, plus interfacing.
Decide how broad you want the yoke to be and what shape. Our ready-to-wear skirt has a pretty curved seam which is an an EXCELLENT fitting opportunity. Sketch a curved line on your pattern with your curved ruler. This line will either be at the bottom of your darts or will cut across your darts. You now cut off the top of your pattern on the line you’ve just drawn (or if you are thrifty, you trace the piece.)
If the yoke ends below the darts, just close them up and make the resulting pointy edges into nice lovely curves with a curved ruler. Add seam allowances.
If the yoke line crosses the darts, tape the pieces together and make nice curves. Now, you can either sew the small remaining darts or rotate them to the side seam or the centre back seam. Don’t forget to add seam allowances.
Now, sketch parallel lines on your pattern to indicate where you will quilt the layers. Here’s the thing: the closer together the lines, the less down you’ll be able to put in, and the colder the skirt will be. More distance between=more down=more warmth. Also puffier. You make the decisions! Test first? Make a line for the pocket in a nice place. Make a mark on one side a zipper’s length up from the hemline.
Construction — this is probably the easiest down garment ever to make. It’s essentially four nearly flat pieces sewn together. Plus zips and a yoke and waistband. And a zipped welt pocket. Maybe not as easy as I said :-) but I know you can do it. And I’m going to make one too. I think you should probably assemble both lining and shell, into front and back, quilt the baffles, stuff each side separately and tack down the edges, then sew in the zippers. But I haven’t made one yet so I’m not sure.
One final thing: most of the people who sew with down make quilts and it’s the first thing they’ve sewn EVER. We can do better. Don’t be afraid.
Hi all, I made a new page (see the menu up top) with outdoor fabric suppliers, both North American and European (sadly, I didn’t find any in other areas, probably my search engine combined with my language skills have limited my search). Please comment on the page if you know of other sources.
So we just booked a week’s holiday in the mountains on the Swedish/Norwegian border for the end of February/start of March. At something called a fjällstation, which is kind of a cross between a hotel and a youth hostel — maybe the closest English is equivalent is mountain lodge? Anyway it’s cross-country skiing every day and activities for the kids, all for an eye-wateringly reasonable price, like, less than a ticket to the US.
So, um, I better get started on that wardrobe I keep writing about.
This morning waiting for the bus to work I was greeted by Sweden’s friendliest winter weather – freezing rain, with extra wind. It’s not particularly cold today, 2ºC/35ºF. But it feels horrible. Not getting wet in freezing, driving rain is what today’s post on waterproof clothing is all about.
Anything woven tightly enough will be water-resistant for a little while. But waterproof generally means a layer of plasticky substance through which no water can emerge. In olden days, they waxed cotton. This is fun and easy to do – mix 90% paraffin with 10% beeswax in a double-boiler or bain-marie, pour the liquid into an old margarin tub, wait until solid, rub into fabric, heat with hairdryer (or in dryer!) and hey presto, waterproof canvas. Less wax, less waterproof but more fabric-like, more wax, more waterproof and more leather-like. Upsides also include environmental friendliness and cheapness. Downsides: much heavier and takes more skill and upkeep than the modern fabrics like Gore-Tex. So here I’m going to talk about these modern fabrics a little bit.
Looking for waterproof fabrics in some respect is easier than looking for windproof fabrics. Waterproof fabrics always say “waterproof”. But as we all know there is waterproof and waterproof. The fabric I grew up with as waterproof has some kind of a plastic coating and wearing it is like being encased in a trash bag. This kind of fabric is still what kids’ rainwear is made of here. It’s completely impervious to water and rather durable. But if you wear it hiking you will drown in a puddle of sweat. Plus it’s heavy, so if you’re not wearing it (which you don’t want to do) then you’re hauling it. So this kind of fabric (“rubberised” or “coated” or the like) is out. As a side note, waxed cotton is also not “breatheable” unless you use quite a light wax coating – on the other hand with wax you can vary the coating as you like.
What you are looking for is described as “2 layer breathable membrane” or “2 layer breathable laminate” or sometimes “2.5 layer breathable membrane/laminate” or “3 layer breathable membrane/laminate”. The “membrane” refers to the plastic bit that keeps the water out. The “breathable” is a kind of one-way valve system that allows water to escape from the inside out (OK, this is probably not technically correct, but it’s how I understand it). The 2 layers are that the membrane is bonded or laminated to an outer fabric that is nice and not plasticky. This outer layer can have a DWR coating (durable water resistant) – an exception to the non-use of coated fabrics. The third layer or half layer is a type of lining layer – for example a wicking polyester, which means that the garment can be unlined. The use of DWR on the outer layer means that it won’t get soaked and the inner wicking layer will work better (the valves of the breathable layer won’t get clogged, as I understand it). They come in different weights – around 75g to around 150g per square meter. At the lower end, a jacket can come in at around 285g including zips and all, and that’s pretty good (esp. compared to waxed cotton…).
But these fabrics are not entirely miracle fabrics. You’ll be a lot happier than in a rubberised jacket and pants, but they will still feel cold and a bit clammy and a bit horrible, and it isn’t reasonable really to expect all your sweat to evaporate through the tiny little pores. So, all the jackets I’ve seen have double-ended zips under the armpits.
Other important features: a hood that’s really good and big enough to fit over your other hoods, perhaps with a drawstring, a high collar for when you don’t want to wear the hood because you are exploding with sweat, waterproof zippers, welts to cover pockets, cuffs that can be tightened. Also a nice silhouette :-) — but seriously, properly fitting the jacket will give you a better range of movement. I personally also like longer jackets — I might try to forego the rain pants and the longer coverage is nice. But they’re heavier. Trade off.
You can also make a proper coat/anorak/parka with these fabrics. That is to say, you combine your waterproof layer with more insulation. My own take on this is that parkas are a lot easier to put on and take off than umpteen billion layers. But the trade off is that they are much less flexible. If you are ALWAYS going to need warm and waterproof and you plan to wear your parka all the time (polar hiking?) then for sure, make an insulated parka. If you want a more flexible solution, pack more insulating layers and a lightweight rain solution.
Many of the patterns for a wind shirt would also be appropriate for a rain jacket, since they are similar applications. However you need to add underarm zips. For rain trousers, the soft-shell patterns are often similar.
Below I feature some slightly different patterns and talk about how to make them more fashionable. One reason I’m concentrating on specialist outdoor patterns is that they contain instructions for seam sealing, which is an important thing to do. But there is no essential difference between “real” outdoor patterns and other patterns, instead it’s all about technique. So: make a muslin for fit. Trial techniques you don’t fully understand, for example seam sealing (you can also read blogs and manufacturer instructions – you don’t have to order different patterns). Order swatches from outdoor vendors. Test zipper insertions. This kind of sewing, for most of us, is a bit experimental, so enjoy the experiment!
Here’s another option.
And here’s another:
Another garment that should DEFINITELY be on your radar is the humble poncho. Goes over your pack, can double as a tarp, easy to make and carry, and can be made in a non-breathable lightweight fabric like silnylon (silicon-impregnated nylon – used for ultralight tents). Silnylon can’t be seam sealed in the same way as 2-layer and 3-layer laminates, look for a specialist sealant. Any ultra-lightweight garment that can also double as an emergency shelter is pretty much a winner in my book. But – they blow open, get caught on things, your legs get wet. I’d definitely prefer a rain suit in a windy climate and a poncho in a hot climate. So many DIY poncho patterns out there, it seems pointless to link. But I will.
For cool weather hiking your third layer should be durable to resist tears and punctures, wind-, rain- and snow-repellant at least, and some parts of it should be waterproof. (In summer hiking you also need to add bug proof…) The waterproofness of it all depends on your climate and trip: water-repellant trousers may be enough in many cases, for example, but probably not if you are wading through icy streams of runoff or exposed to freezing downpours.
The very first layer of protective clothing you want to add over your insulation is something called a “wind shirt.” This is a very simple, very lightweight windproof garment whose function is to turn your beautiful sweaters into warm and toasty coats when the wind knifes across the fells. Wind shirts are often made of a lightweight nylon. They have a minimum of seams in order to keep the wind-resistence high, so they are often pullovers by design. Here are some examples of commercial wind shirts.
Here’s another one:
Description from the website (marketing fluff eliminated): “Light, pliant and packable wind jacket in waxed polyamide/organic cotton. The fabric is wind resistant and can withstand light rain as well, and it dries fast should it get wet… Simple design with only the most essential details to keep weight at a minimum. The jacket has a well-fitting adjustable hood and zipper at the front with an inside protective flap. A vertical chest pocket on the left side keeps small items close at hand. Sleeve cuffs with elastic edging. Drawcord adjustment at hem. Protective properties can be enhanced with Greenland Wax”
Shaping is done on the Patagonia model with side panels and on the Fjällräven model with a central drawcord (heavy). I think the Patagonia model is probably more I think of as a wind shirt but the Fjällräven model will provide more insulation, as well as (potentially) hanging better and being a more practical spring town coat (ahem, dual function). Attention is paid by both manufacturers to a well fitting hood, and indeed this garment MUST have a hood. I myself have a commercial wind shirt from Gant that is mid-thigh length and I use it ALL the time over my long sweater instead of a coat.
Here’s a great one from Ottobre. It’s intended for soft-shell (2nd layer) but you could easily make a windbreaker type garment. Eliminate the linings and clean-finish the seams (my Gant windbreaker has flat-felled seams throughout).
I really like the longer length of my purchased wind shirt and I’m pleased to see this in the Ottobre pattern. To my mind this has a lot of advantages and I think it’s a lovely feminine cut.
This Jalie pattern I talked about before might be good too.
And here is the ugliest pattern in the world, but with good bones.
The nylon you are looking for is a breathable firmly woven nylon, perhaps impregnated water-resistance (DWR this is sometimes called). Extrem Textil has something called “PTX-Endurance” and another thing just called “Nylon Taffeta” that are both suitable. Seattle Fabrics have two weights of uncoated down proof ripstop. If you wanted a lightweight cotton that you could wax a la Fjällräven’s jacket, the waterproof EtaCotton at 170g m/sq might be good. Pennine Outdoor has a whole section on “Lightweight, Breathable and Shower Resistent Fabrics” including a polycotton. Shelby has a “Lightweight Ripstop Nylon with DWR” and “Airtech Ripstop.”
To tell if a nylon fabric you have is breathable, try breathing in from the outside of the fabric – if you can draw air in through the fabric, you have a breathable nylon. To tell if it’s waterproof, you run it in the shower or sink….
Even if you are not intending to order from the different fabric vendors (for example, because they are not in your country/continent) it’s still good to look at the different offerings they have to become familiar with the varieties of outdoor fabrics. Also, describe the use you have in mind to the vendor you choose and get their comments – from what I can tell from the online comments, these vendors are really specialists who know the properties of their fabrics well.
Another digression on colours. The colours of many of these fabrics are not what I would choose (olive or sand, for example; or fluorescent orange and red). Consider whether strategically placed piping in a more pleasing but not so windproof nylon might improve the whole look. A contrasting zipper might liven up a dull neutral, or perhaps neutral zippers and piping can improve the screaming colours. Colour blocking is another potential, but it’s hard to find colours that are really nice together.
Hope you’re enjoying this series! I’m going to cover rain-gear next…
Continuing on with my series on cool weather hiking, I turn now to the insulating layer for your legs. You are already wearing a base layer of long underwear in merino and your legs (apart from your feet and toes) need much less insulation than your core. Meaning, your insulation layer is much simpler. More important is that you not get wet from sweat, and that your clothes dry quickly in case of a sudden shower.
For actual insulation while hiking in super cold weather or where you are not planning on moving very much, thin (100 weight) fleece bottoms are a good choice. You’re not likely to wear these during the day much, nearly everyone I have seen keeps them dry in their pack and wears them as wonderfully warm pyjamas and/or camp lounge pants, along with their half-zip fleeces. But if you do wear them over your merino long johns and under your outer pants, you will be very warm.
You want a narrow pair of trousers for this fleece layer. I think they should have a ribbed cuff, but I haven’t found any patterns that do (do you know of one?) However the most recent issue of Ottobre – 5/2015 – has a great narrow pair of sweats that otherwise perfectly fit the bill.
I do not think you should make floppy heavyweight fleece pants like the Polar Pants, below. They will not fit under your fashionable, cute and protective outer layer, and will let cold air in the bottom, and the weight will drag down the elastic waist, and the pockets are overkill. These floppy things are the kind of pants that go OVER your trousers when you stop in camp and need to get warm. I’ll cover them in a final series on “comfort” layers. But this is not what I’m talking about for now. Plus they are unisex, which I find disturbing in a pair of trousers.
Since you will mostly be sleeping in your micro fleece layer, bar a day spent outside by the side of a snowboard venue cheering on your favourite alpinist, what will you actually wear? Well, you want a pair of trousers that are tough, water-resistant but not waterproof (because you need to get the sweat out), perhaps with a minimal insulation layer built in, and probably have performance features such as zips, built-in gaiters, kick guards, pockets, etc. All of these, my sewing friends, you already know how to make, with the possible exception of gaiters, so do not be alarmed by the dearth of good patterns. These garments are at the border between insulation and protection layers, but I include them with insulation because … well… because.
One good pattern looks to be the Shelby Korouma pants for women.
These trousers have much to recommend them, but alas, if you go to the website you will be immediately turned off, for lo, they are fugly. Also, I am not sure how good Shelby are at sizing and fitting women.
In terms of making these trousers more fashionable, a reasonable comparison might be made with the Marmot Tour trousers:
These are similar in terms of scuff guards, inbuilt gaiters, and articulated knees. But as you can tell, the pockets and probably the overall fit is quite different, and the colour is great. So this is an area where you need to modify to your own tastes. The fabric for these trousers is softshell, which is a durable, snow-repellant, breathable water-resistant and wind-resistant fabric, often stretchy, bonded to an insulating layer of fleece or knitted fabric. Some have a windproof layer which is good, but makes them less breathable. Some soft shells need to be lined and these are good for cold weather activity. Think ski pants. (Soft-shell because it’s breathable, as opposed to hard-shell, which is waterproof on both sides!)
Another example might be these Barents Pro Trousers from Fjällräven. These have six pockets (including an ice axe pocket, something I admit I have never needed) and a double layer of fabric on the seat and knees. No snow gaiters on these, and they are made from a tough canvas, and are looser-fitting than the soft-shell trousers. One thing I would look at especially is the pocket and belt loop designs, which can have a major design impact but are easy changes for a sewist to make. I think a muslin would be very much in order for these trousers. The fabric here is a tough poly/cotton canvas. I have seen some nice all-cotton variations (e.g., EtaProof from Extrem Textil). These are climbing and trekking trousers for cooler weather activities. If it will be quite cold, or you’ll only be moderately active, you can line them. If you use EtaProof, use all-cotton thread as well – plus it’s a super cool fabric – it swells when wet to block out the rain! Or if you use ordinary poly/cotton canvas, you can try waxing it, e.g. using Fjällrävens Greenland Wax.
Another potential pattern is an Ottobre pattern for “outdoor trousers” with a looser cut:
A pair of soft-shell pants sounds mighty nice, but I wouldn’t write off the rugged cotton kind either. I know polyester and nylon are all the rage in snow repelling situations, but I REALLY don’t like the way they feel and make sparks and smell. And this is also a consideration.
Speaking as someone who cannot buy trousers off-the-rack, it’s really a crying shame that there aren’t more patterns in this genre. It’s not super difficult to draft new patterns for pockets and scuff guards and gaiters, but wouldn’t we rather sometimes just make up something where some other clever person has thought of all the details? Just saying.