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Making the Willow - Part 2, Garment

I had found the perfect fabric, and now it was time to decide what to make with it. With a fabric this cozy, I wanted to turn it into something that could be worn all the time. Given the fabric weight, structure, and drape, it would lend itself to garments like pants, jackets, or sweatshirts. I had cozy jackets and sweatshirts, but my closet was lacking cozy pants other than pajamas, so pants it was. I gave the pants some style with a high-rise and wide leg crop, so they would look fashionable while running errands outside the house, but still comfortable for those couch potato days.

Once the silhouette was decided, next came the details. I wanted easy, pull-on pants, which meant the waistband should be elastic. I hate elastics that fold down and buckle with wear, so I found a heavy duty elastic from a supplier I had previously worked with, P.I. Trimmings – an elastic 4 inches wide and woven for structure (most elastics are knitted or braided, and are subject to rolling).


above: full width of the elastic in the Willow waistband (10 cm ~ 4 in)
below: up close detail of the woven structure of the same elastic


To prevent those unattractive gathers that can happen with some elastic bottoms, I kept the length of the elastic the same as the waist circumference. This means the pant will stretch enough to pull over your hips, but will still have a smooth waistband.

Pockets, of course, were a must. To keep the clean look of the pant, I choose discreet side seam pockets. As for the rest of the pant leg, I opted to keep it slim through the hip with a moderately wide leg opening – not so wide to be swimmingly big, but just enough to balance out the width of the hips for a sleek look. Wide legs and cropped lengths go hand-in-hand, but I went with a length just above the ankle mostly for a specific, practical reason – I despise walking the dog on rainy nights and getting the hem of my pajamas wet.



With the details settled, I pulled out my old patternmaking bible from school – Armstrong’s Pattern Making for Fashion Design. Unfortunately, patternmaking is not my strong suit. It took me the better part of the day to make the pant sloper, and then another day to shape the sloper into the high waisted wide leg crop, and then a third day to finally cut and sew the first sample. The results were beyond terrible; something went completely and utterly wrong in the pattern. I started over, and a few days later I had a second sample. Better, but still not remotely good. I lacked experience in technical fittings, and spent countless hours googling pant fitting and troubleshooting videos.

Finally, about two months since the first sample, I had a fit sample that I was mostly happy with. All along the plan had been that I would sew the production garments, but even though I was able to achieve a decent fit, my technical sewing skills were not professional, to say the least. (Note, I made my first samples in scrap interlock fabric that I had on hand, so as to not waste the actual fabric).



Yeah, my sewing is bad. I had to face it, I needed help and I needed a production factory – my specialty is in fabric, not the garment. After more hours of googling and searching Maker’s Row, I had a short list of factories to contact. My requirements were simple: I wanted factory based in the U.S. for both ease of working and ethical worker conditions; a factory that could manage small orders of 100 units or less; one that wouldn’t upcharge me for things I could do myself (like fabric sourcing or tech pack creation); and one that produced a high quality product. As with the fabric, price was not a limiting factor in selecting the factory – the important thing was to find a partner I could grow with, who was able to produce beautiful, quality garments without shortcuts.

Of the nine mills I contacted, two responded and met my requirements. I decided to make a sample garment with both of them for a few reasons – mainly, to see who produced a better quality garment and was easiest to work with, but also to have a backup option. While oversampling is unsustainable and a waste of both the factory’s and my own resources, I have learned from working in the industry to never put all your eggs in one basket. A factory could suddenly go out of business; tariffs could quadruple; Covid-19 can shut down a country – so in my mind, it’s a requirement to always have a plan B for critical business practices.

While the quality from both garment factories was beautiful, I ultimately chose Gil Sewing Corp in Chicago, IL as my production partner. They were able to work with the sample I had made, offer suggestions on how to improve the fit, and were prompt and helpful in their communications. They provided exactly what I needed – pattern making and digitizing, sample making, size grading, markers, production, and 100% quality assurance (every single garment is checked before sending out; some factories only check a certain percentage).

The first sample from Gil sewing was a million times better than what I could have ever made myself. The pockets turned out deeper than I had designed, but I actually loved how much extra stuff they could fit, so I kept them at their 9"depth. Otherwise, the sample just needed a few minor adjustments in the pockets and crotch area. To fix the pocket from flaring open, we changed the construction from side seam pockets to pockets that slanted in towards the waist; added a little more width in the hip to prevent pulling; stitched down the pocket bag to the body fabric around the pocket opening; and changed the pocket bag fabric to a lighter, more discreet merino jersey (we had been using the same fabric as the body and you could see the outline of the pocket bag). For the crotch, we added more width in the waist, dropped the crotch length, and scooped out more of the crotch curve.


 above: first sample of the Willow pant in the Merino French Terry. You can see the outline of the pocket bags, which we fixed by using a thinner Merino jersey as the bag material.
below: side view of the same sample. The pant is a little to tight in the hips, causing the pocket to flare open. We fixed this by adding more room to the hips and adjusting the shape of the pocket opening.
With these adjustments and the second sample in the works, it was time to start wear trials. Though the first sample wasn’t perfect yet, it still allowed me to see how the merino French terry fabric would hold up to daily wear and tear in garment form. After the first few days, the garment was still odor free, had marginal bagging in the knees and seat (much better results than standard pajamas and sweatpants), no color transfer to other surfaces, and no pilling. And then I washed the pants like I did my first fabric swatch – regular machine wash and dry. Though the pants shrunk slightly, they were still pretty much the same size as before. The pilling, however, was not up to my standards. While the pilling was perfectly acceptable for industry expectations of merino, I wanted to experiment with the wash method to see if that would improve matters. Machine wash cold, gentle cycle, and laying flat to dry proved to be the charm - especially the laying flat to dry part. It turns out that merino has no problem in the washer, but hates the dryer, so for this reason, be sure to lay the Willow pant flat to dry! 

By the time my second sample from Gil sewing arrived, I had successfully completed the wear trial and was pleased with the results (once the wash care was modified). And after months of struggling to achieve the perfect pant in the perfect fabric with the perfect fit, the second Gil sample finally made the cut (I know, I'm a perfectionist...). At last, I was ready to go into production.

Though the Willow’s story was now done, there was still much to do. Look out for the next step in launching Waxwing Labs - labeling and packaging!