Saturday, November 7, 2020

New from Old

My most recent make is a re-make, so extra satisfying. I was able to convert a pair of Pencil pants into Helix pants, both patterns from The Sewing Workshop (TSW). I'm still a little amazed this did not turn into an expensive wadder. The fabric is a very nice rayon ponte also from TSW. 

My new Helix/Pencil pants in navy ponte, with a Grainline Archer shirt

The Helix pants are my go-to for pull-on knit pants. There is so much to like - smooth darted waistline, slim fit (limited only by my personal silhouette!), and the fact that they fit my flat butt without those old-lady wrinkles. I worked on fitting these in 2015 at one of those Sew Kansas retreats Linda has in Topeka, KS. This was a huge help because knit pants are very challenging to mock up in a toile.

The Helix pants

And I've made a zillion of them - black, red, navy, brown, eggplant, repeat. I take them to the dry-cleaners in the early days, then when they begin to look sad and have a few pills, I wash them. This always causes them to shrink a bit more in length, so they become cropped.

Then the Pencil pants came out in 2018. These too are a pull-on knits-only pants pattern. The silhouette is also slim. I made a first pair according to my hip measurements in navy ponte and loved them. And then I made another pair. 

The waistline was a significant factor. It is a separate piece, which I think is always a good idea. And the elastic is enclosed in the waistband, also a generally good idea. The elastic is zig-zagged onto the inside of the waistband so it's not really visible, and so a fairly smooth unbulkly finish.

The Pencil Pants

And I thought they looked great.

Then I took a look in the back. Good Lord! Totally old-lady wrinkles around my flat butt. I still wear them, but generally with tunics to cover that unsightly mess. Why oh why didn't I think to use the crotch curve from the Helix on the Pencil pants!?!

So now my first pair is just plain too big on me. There's a lot of time spent staring at the TV screen and listening to political pundits, so plenty of time to unstitch all those stitches, even the zig-zag waist elastic. And it's good for the mind to keep the hands busy during these unsettling times in the USA.

I laid out the Helix pattern on the Pencil pants pieces. They did not fit perfectly, so I lost a little through the hips and the length. But, basically, it worked. And knits can be forgiving of a little fudging. 

After completing all but the waistline and the hems, I tried them on. Voila! No old-lady butt wrinkles. I love that. But I decided to change the waistline completely. The old Pencil pants waist piece was sufficiently wide and long to allow me to simply cut an on-grain waistband and slide 3/4 inch elastic into it. I stitched down the front part of the elastic to keep the tummy part flat, and allowed the rest to gather just a little. It's still pretty smooth and I like that it sits perfectly at my waistline. So comfortable.

And then there was the length. It's a good thing I don't wear heels anymore. Actually I never did much. These finish at my ankles and will be great with the flats I usually wear. I was tempted to leave the hems unfinished but decided I would not be happy with that. So I added a bias strip of matching silk dupioni, a go-to fix-it fabric I keep on hand in many colors. 

So my new go-to pull-on knit pants pattern is the Helix with an added waistband!


  1. Great idea Martha! I’m making my first pair of practice Pencil pants after, like you, loving my Helix pants. I’ve also noticed extra fabric in back! I had overlaid the Helix back pattern on the Pencil back and it’s totally different. The Pencil back is quite slanted. I’d love to know exactly what you did to marry your patterns at the upper back. Did you in effect add the Pencil legs and waist onto the Helix torso or did you keep that slant! Did you retain the slightly fuller Pencil legs! I love your blog, by the way, and how you explain your methods instead of simply photos. Anxiously awaiting your reply!

    1. Hi, thanks! The resulting pants are essentially the Helix pants plus a waistband added. I did not keep anything from the Pencil pants in the end. Because I was starting with a larger size in the Pencil pants, I was able to trace the smaller size in the Helix, if that makes sense.

    2. That’s what I suspected, Martha. I think I’ll do the same, as my Helix pants were also fitted at a workshop and I love everything about them except the scratchy elastic waistband. Stay safe!

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  3. Right this minute I have a seam-ripped pair of Helix laid over top of the Pencil pattern, as I now need a much smaller size overall. But I loved the Helix's black Performance Ponte from TSW, and it was still in wonderful condition, so I took the Helix apart and am planning to redo as Pencil, with the slimmer leg profile. SO GLAD to read what you've done. This will give me something to check as I merge the pattern. .... THANK YOU for your detailed reports, as they are very, very helpful. And, just for you to know, that your blog is one that I'm always thrilled to see pop up with a new post.