Hemming Marching Band Uniform Pants and Jackets

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My daughter is in her high school marching band this year. I know how to sew. Therefore, I got to hem all the uniforms, how awesome!

You can see by the photo above that this school needs new uniforms. That’s not fringe guys, it’s a frayed collar.  😦

But we are in one of the poorest areas of the US, and the money is just not in the budget for new uniforms. So we are trying to squeeze a couple more years out of these, knowing that it may very well be way more than a couple more years.

The good news is this: These are very high-quality, traditional band uniforms. The pants are like bib overalls, so we don’t have to re-do the waistbands every year. The fabric is a heavyweight wool, which generally cleans up well and is extremely sturdy.

So even in my exhausted state, and with my tenuous skills, taking care of these hems was pretty straightforward and (dare I say it?) fun.

I was lucky enough to have a team of volunteers that pinned the pants and jackets to the right lengths. I brought my sewing machine to the band room. For complicated and ridiculous reasons, I did not have access to my iron and ironing board for most of this hemming project. But I am counting on the dry cleaners to cover for me.

The uniforms have been stored for several months, and they are really, really dirty and stained. I suspect that’s also a budget issue. I didn’t want anyone to start crying, so I didn’t ask.

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The wearer of these pants has a real name, but I just call him “Crime Scene” now. He had a blister explode during the last parade and, being male, he didn’t know he needed to tell someone. Now he knows!

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I chose stitch #13 on my sewing machine, which is the hem stitch.

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Here’s what it looks like close up. I have a special hemstitch presser foot for my machine, but it was with the iron. Drama, drama! The special presser foot makes it a little easier, but is not strictly necessary.

I don’t often use the hem stitch on my sewing machine because I’m a slob. So whenever I use this, or any other special stitch, it takes me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how. This time was especially fun because I had been moving furniture the first half of the day and so I was wiped out. Plus I had an audience. Of course, everyone was very nice, but they didn’t know me at all and so I’m sure they were all wondering if I had any idea what I was doing. I don’t blame them – I was wondering the same thing myself. It’s OK though. The first hem is always like that, and then it’s easy.

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Here I’ve got it in the machine correctly, ready to go. I’l pretend that I didn’t fold it wrong about 20 times before I got to this point. I’ll also pretend that I didn’t have to rip out a few incorrect hems and then take a short catnap on the floor to clear my brain. Yep, I’m a pro!

Most of the stitches go in the flipped-up part of the pants, with the needle jogging to the left and catching just one stitch in the pants, then heading back over to the flipped-up part for a few stitches.

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Here’s a closeup.

You can see that this hem has a serged finish. Other pants had a hem tape finish.

I used several different approaches to hemming the pants, depending on how deep the hems were. This hem was fairly narrow, so I just flipped it up and hemmed it.

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Here’s one with hem tape. I had to just barely fold this one under.

Most of the pants had about a 4 inch hem, so I was able to do a “normal” hem. That means I folded the hem twice so that no raw/serged/taped edge was showing on the wrong side of the pants.

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Here’s what the finished hem looks like when you start to unfold it.

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And here’s what it looks like when you smooth it out. It will look even better once the dry cleaner takes over and presses the heck out of those pants.

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Then I went in and finished off the hems. Right along the outside seam, there is a stripe in school colors with about a million layers. I didn’t even try to sew that by machine. It was better to add a few hand stitches, otherwise I would certainly have broken a whole bunch of needles and probably hurt myself and maybe cried.

There were a couple of pairs of pants with seriously enormous hems. Side note…any time you buy or make a regular pair of pants, you can fit the hem to your body and kind of chop off all the extra fabric. But you can’t do that with band pants, because maybe next year you’ll need to let all that hem out, and you can’t if you’ve chopped it off. Also because if you cut off the extra fabric, your uniform manager will kill you.

As long as I’m discussing violence in band, let’s just mention iron on hem tape, shall we? Don’t use it. Just don’t. That’s because if someone needs to let the hem out next year, the tape will make a nasty sticky mess and your uniform manager will kill you. It’s fine for your own pants. Do whatever you want on your own pants, but don’t use the iron-on hem adhesive on your band pants.

OK, back to the topic at hand – enormous hems. By enormous, I mean that I had to shorten the pants by about 12 inches. These band pants are straight legged, but even so, a 12 inch hem is a problem. That’s because when designers design pants, they allow a little more room around the knee so that you can actually bend your legs. But when you are trying to attach the bottom of your pants to where most people have the knees of their pants, the rolled-up part of the pants is going to be much narrower than the part you are attaching it to. Go ahead and try a normal hem if you like, then come back here and let me know how it went. 🙂

It was a mess, wasn’t it? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so here’s how I hemmed those pants that were 12 inches too long.

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I didn’t use the sewing machine. I folded the hem up twice . (More than that and it would have looked like a fat doughnut at the bottom of the pants.) Then I hand stitched the hem in just four places – at each seam, and halfway between seams. Then I put some safety pins in the pockets for those students, because I know what teenagers are like. They’re going to have to be careful, and take their shoes off before they put their pants on. I might not mention the shoes part, except I have a couple of teenagers, and so I know.

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Here’s what it looks like when the hem is done. It looks good, but it’s a pretty delicate hem. I hope the kids are careful!

Well, that’s it for the pants hems. But as long as I had all the pants out and was fooling around with them, I examined the crotches.

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The above is a crotch seam in good repair. Most of the pants were like this, but not all of them. I checked them all because this is the kind of repair a kid might not notice until it is too late. Nobody wants to march with their undies showing!

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This one was looking a little dicey.

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Even though the pants fabric is not stretchy, I chose a stretch stitch because it is very strong.

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Then I just ran over the seam to make sure it wouldn’t come apart during a performance. It only takes a minute, and I think it’s completely worth it.

Hey, I’m tired of pants. Let’s move on to jackets!

The jackets were a lot less complicated.

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I decided to stitch the jackets by hand, because look at these linings! Unlike the outer fabric on the uniforms, the linings are just very thin, slippery polyester. I mean, they’re linings, right? But they’re starting to shred a bit in places. I thought if I used sturdy-but-harsh techniques (like anything involving the sewing machine), they would completely fall apart. Wherever I found holes like this, I put in a few hand stitches to sort of darn them shut and hopefully, buy us another year or two.

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So I just rolled up the sleeves, pressed them (I had my iron back – yaaay!) and hand-stitched like this.

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I tucked in the lining a bit as I went along so that I wouldn’t be left with a huge old sag.

And that’s it!

I know if you have by some miracle stumbled across my little blog, you were probably looking for information on how to hem your own band uniform, so I understand that you’ve got a band that you love. But if you’ve got a few of extra bucks and you’d like to blow them on a worthy cause, please consider helping my daughter’s band out with their new uniforms. You can see that they need them! Here’s a link. Thank you!

 

Inexpensive Back Yard Slide

I needed a slide in the back yard for my son. He is seventeen, and he really needs a slide in his yard. I could take him to a playground (and I do) but sometimes there are gobs of other kids there, and their parents seem to feel a little funny about what appears to be a large grown man taking turns on the equipment with their toddlers. I get that. It makes sense for my son to have his own slide in his own yard.

IMG_20160810_185251988_HDR (1)But wow, guess what? I’m going to sound like the big cheese at an IEP meeting, but there are “financial constraints.”

There are other constraints too. Sometimes you can find someone willing to sell you the playground their kids have outgrown for a song, but the catch is that you need to disassemble it, haul it to your place, and then reassemble it yourself. I’ve assembled playgrounds, and I’ve disassembled playgrounds. In my experience, it takes about 2-3 times as long to disassemble a playground as to assemble it. That’s because there are no instructions, the metal parts have gotten rusty, the wooden parts have rotted and splintered, and the playground has sunk into the ground. You may find this to be worth your time, but it depends on your situation.

Since I wasn’t doing the whole swingset thing, I found it easier to just build a little slide.

I looked for a used plastic slide in my area, but I didn’t have any luck so I ordered one online.

I built the support for the slide out of thrifted lumber and hardware from the Habitat for Humanity store.

At my local store, people donate all kinds of building materials, some of them new and some of them used. They have a big pile of lumber out in the back and I picked through it three weeks in a row to gather the boards I needed. I used 4x4s, 2x4s, 4x6s, and 1x whatevers. The boards I bought were all sorts of lengths, and parts of them were damaged, so I did a lot of trimming. I had some screws and other hardware on hand, and the rest I bought at the Habitat store.

IMG_20160806_171322289 (1)Since my son is a teenager who knows that he shouldn’t jump off the top of the slide, I did not bother putting a rail or fence at the top. If I were building this for a younger child, I would do it differently.

I put drawer handles on the deck at the top so that my son could easily pull himself up.

I also put some solar lights at the top right near the slide part because my son is really into reflectors. I mean he is really, really, really into reflectors. He likes to play in the dark just so that he can see the lights.

Since I used thrifted lumber, this slide may not last as long as a slide built from brand new lumber. I’ll have to keep an eye on it to make sure it’s safe to use. I guess I would do that anyway though.

IMG_20160806_171238702I built a ladder right into the tower for the slide. My son doesn’t like it so much, so when I get a little free time, I’ll make him a ladder too. He’s right, it is easier to climb up when you can do it at an angle. But he’s enjoying his slide just fine in the mean time.

IMG_20160810_185251988_HDR (2).jpgI can tell he likes it by the ruts in the landing area.