This post was originally written in January 2021 as a Minerva post for their recently completely revamped their website. I didn’t publish it here at the time and I’ve now sewn another pair of Nina Lee Portobello trousers so I thought I would share my thoughts. I have a paper copy of the pattern but it’s possible that it is now only available as a PDF, unless you can locate a copy somewhere.
I had chosen this interesting reversible woven jacquard fabric in black/cream because I was attracted to the random wavy stripes. When it arrived I found that they ran across the width of the fabric not down the warp so I had to bear this in mind when I cut them out. Fortunately, at 150cms wide with a nice firm selvedge, I didn’t need to alter my plans because I could cut them across the weft grain instead. I intended to make a pair of Nina Lee Portobello trousers and I thought this fabric would look good in this wide-legged style, they have 3 front pleats, side pockets and a centre back zip. I opted to use the black as the outside but I could have used either side of this fabric, or both sides at once to make a contrast.
I folded the material carefully across the width matching the selvedges to each other so that it wasn’t twisted and then pinned the front and back pattern pieces on, ensuring they were at a right-angle to the selvedge on the weft rather than the usual warp grain line. To mix things up a bit I cut two of the pocket bags on the normal grain so that the stripes ran crosswise, plus the remaining two pocket bags in a scrap of bright pink lining fabric.
The fabric was best suited to garments like trousers, skirts, structured dresses, jackets or formal business-type wear although how much call there is for that just now I’m not sure. It doesn’t have much drape but I decided it was still suitable for the Portobello trousers.
The fabric sewed well although I think because I cut it on the cross-grain, there was quite a lot of fraying so I’d advise overlocking all the edges singly before beginning construction.
The style is close-fitting on your natural waist line so the instructions advise choosing according to your waist measurement and go up a size if you’re in between sizes, it’s almost always simpler to take something in that to let it out. The fit over the hips is very generous but if you have an extreme difference between your waist/hip ration then it’s worth double-checking before cutting out. I fell between a UK 12 and 14 so I went with a 14
I traced off the pattern and it went together well, it’s a very simple pattern with clear diagrams and instructions. I ignored the waistband pattern piece because I chose to use an interfacing product called Fold a Band which is perfect for straight waistbands as it gives exactly the right seam allowances and folds. After checking the fit without a waistband I worked out how long my band needed to be, including an overlap and seam allowances, which I then cut in fabric the same width as the Fold a Band rather than using the pattern piece. Fold a Band comes in black or white, and medium or firm weights, depending on your fabric type, and makes a finished width of 2.5cms once it’s sewn on. This is a fairly narrow finish which personally I think is just right. Once I had ironed the interfacing to the fabric I overlocked one long edge, this would be the one to the inside of the finished garment. Pin and stitch the un-neatened edge right sides together to the waist, you could add a couple of useful hanging tapes to the side seams at this point too. Make the turnings at the ends and then you can turn up the band in the usual way and slip stitch it by hand or sink stitch from the front to secure.
Finally, after one last check of the fit, sew on a fastening or make a buttonhole with matching button. Lastly, try them on and turn up the hem to your chosen length, I overlocked the edge and made a 5cms deep turning which I slip-hemmed in place.
Since making the black and white Portobellos I have recently sewn a new fuchsia pink crepe pair. The very inexpensive fabric was bought from Walthamstow market late in 2019 with the intention of making wide-legged trousers but they didn’t actually get cut and sewn until October 2022.
I urgently needed a project to sew at the Herts Sewcial with about 15 minutes before I had to leave the house. Initially I was flapping around thinking of all the garments I wanted to sew here and now but then I remembered I had suitable fabric along with the good intentions to make another pair of Portobellos. The pattern was already traced and I just had to locate the fabric but I managed to grab everything I needed (an orange zip but no one would see that!) and rushed out of the house!
I was pleased with the finished trousers, I think the unusual vertical stripes are striking and the wide leg is very comfortable to wear. They were a bit baggy over the bum though but I think taking them in significantly would have altered the overall look of the style, I’m not sure. Looking again at the back leg pattern piece I think it could be overly generous compared to the front, the darts might need to be a little longer, so I might make some changes on the next pair (I didn’t, because I forgot that I’d written this comment!)
I’m very happy with the new pink pair, even though they weren’t high on my list for Saturday. The bright colour will bring me a lot of joy when I wear them and I’ve always loved that Katharine Hepburn 1940s or ‘Brideshead Revisited’ insouciant look. I’m not sure I’ve personally achieved that look but hey ho, that’s never stopped me yet.
Until next time, happy sewing