Bisque vs. Miller Trousers

On the surface, the new Bisque Trousers from Vivian Shao Chen and the Miller Trousers from Paper Theory look very similar. Both patterns have an elastic waist, tapered leg, slant pockets, and a front pleat. But how do they compare? Despite appearances, there are a lot of differences, so buckle up for a head-to-head comparison.

A few notes before we get started:

  • I’m reviewing View A of the Bisque trousers only. The Bisques also come in a View B (wide leg) and a View C (shorts), but I won’t be discussing those here since they are less relevant in comparison with the Millers.
  • The goal of this post is to compare both patterns by analyzing the pattern pieces over the entire size range. I’ll cover how I adjust the fit of each for my body in another post.

Sizing and Grading

The Miller trousers go up to a larger hip size than the Bisque (see chart above) and are drafted for a person 1″ taller, so they immediately have the advantage when fitting larger bodies. It’s tempting to leave the sizing discussion there but if we dig a little deeper, there’s more to it.

A signature detail of both of these patterns is the front pleats and back darts to reduce the fabric volume at the waist. If you sew up these trousers without the elastic, the waist circumference will be smaller than the hip circumference, which is unusual for an elastic waist trouser. In both patterns, the finished waist measurement, when stretched, is SMALLER than the hip measurement, which is a problem because you have to fit the waistband over your hips to get the trousers on. Below is a screen cap from the Miller trousers, but the same is true for the Bisques.

Now, bodies are all different, and some are more soft and malleable than others. The designers are banking on you being able to squeeze the fully stretched waistband of these pants over your slightly bigger hips, however, if you’ve graded the waist down or the hips up to accommodate an hourglass figure, OR if your body composition simply prevents you from squishing your hips into a smaller waistband, then BEWARE! These pants might not fit over your hips. You’ll have to size up in the waist (meaning that you’ll have more fabric bulk around the waistband), or you’ll have to add a zipper, or you may want to omit sewing the back pleats for a smidge of extra room.

As I write this, Jasika of @jasikaistrycurious just posted some IG stories about this very same issue, and how she rescued her Bisque trousers with a side zip. Neither pattern mentions this potential issue in the instructions, which as Jasika points out, is an oversight.

Another thing to be aware of is the different ways these patterns have been graded. Below, I’ve mapped both size ranges onto a scale using the hip measurement.

Notice that these patterns use different grade rules to create their size ranges. The Bisque trousers increase the hip measurement on the first 7 sizes by a smaller amount than the Millers. This means that Bisque trousers place half of the size range under a 40″ hip (gray dashed line), and half above. There are more sizes for smaller people when compared to the Miller, which only has a third of its size range under a 40″ hip.

If you are a smaller person with a straighter figure, then you have more options in the Bisques, and you have a better chance of achieving the intended fit without modifications.

Drafting and Fit

First, some general observations:

  • The grainline of the Bisque trousers is not balanced on front and back pieces. This means that the midpoint across the knee is not centered on the midpoint across the ankle. It’s a small amount in my size (1/2″ in front, 1/4″ in back for size 16), but it tells me that this pattern may have some drafting issues (Edited to add: after a very insightful conversation with the designer, I now understand that this was a design choice to accentuate the shape of the leg). I have an IG highlight showing how I corrected this on the Hudson joggers if you’re curious.
  • Bisque Trousers have a pleat intake twice as deep as the Millers (1.5″ vs 0.75″), which requires more ease through the hip and more volume through the leg for it to drape properly. Bisques are drafted with 7.7″ of intended hip ease, whereas Millers are drafted with 6.5-7″ depending on your size.

Below, I’m comparing Bisque (blue, on bottom) to Miller (red, on top) at the smallest common size (24″ waist / 34″ hip), at a mid-range size (33″ waist / 43″ hip), and the largest common size (41.5-42.5″ waist / 51.5-52.5″ hip).

Front Leg

Aligned at the crotch line so hems are parallel:

  • Leg Position: Millers are drafted for a leg position that’s more underneath the center of your body. If you have thighs that touch, knees that are close together when you walk/stand naturally, or if you commonly need a knock knee adjustment, the Millers may be a better starting point.
  • Crotch curve: The Bisque crotch curve as measured front to back is generally longer than the Millers, and how much longer depends on your size. At size 16, the Bisques have a crotch length that’s a whopping 2″ longer than the Millers. The Miller instructions say that the intended fit is a 1″ dropped crotch, whereas Bisque instructions don’t specify (I am 5’10”, both were too short for me).
  • Pockets: Notice the Bisque pocket angle is becoming shallower as you go up in size. A shallower pocket slant may be at greater risk for gaping open on the larger sizes, so that is something to watch out for.

Aligned at the inseam to compare leg space:

  • Leg ease: Although the ankle width is very similar, the leg width increases more in the Bisques as you move up the size range compared to the Millers. If you are a smaller size, these two patterns may feel similarly tapered on your body. If you are a larger size, the Bisques will feel looser or baggy depending on your anatomy (see Jenna’s post about this). I toiled the size 16, which is in the middle of the range, and there was a significant difference in leg volume compared to the Millers. The Bisques were very loose from the thighs to the ankles. Miller was much more tapered through the entire leg.
Back leg

Aligned at crotch line so hems are parallel:

  • Leg position: As in front, the leg position is more underneath your body in the Millers compared to the Bisques.
  • CB Angle: One of the biggest differences on the back piece is the pitch or angle of the center back (CB) seam. Even though it is classified as a trouser, the Millers look a bit like a jeans draft to me, where the narrower leg and closer fit means that the CB seam needs to be on a slight bias to create room for the curve of your hips/butt and allow for better range of movement. The Bisque is more of a classic trouser draft with a straight, vertical CB seam and generous ease through the hips, thighs, and leg. These drafting differences will obviously affect the fit. If you have smaller waist in relation to hips/butt, Miller may give you a better fit through this area.

Aligned at inseam (and CB seam):

  • Leg ease: It’s true in front, but perhaps more noticeable in back, that the outseam on the Bisques bows outward through the leg/calf in the size 16 -24, whereas Miller cuts inward across the whole size range. There is also more width across the back hem in the Bisques, meaning the total ankle circumference is larger and the leg is less tapered.
  • Crotch curves: When aligned at the CB seam, Miller back curve is a little deeper and the crotch extension is a bit longer.

Construction

The instructions on both patterns are generally good, however the Bisques give you more detail if you are a beginner.

My main critiques of the Bisque instructions are that 1) the seam allowance isn’t stated anywhere as general information, instead it is indicated at each step (and occasionally changes depending on what you are doing) which I find annoying, and 2) the pocket instructions are more complicated than they need to be. The Millers use the same construction technique and pattern pieces but with a more efficient order of operations. I constructed the pockets on both toiles at the same time and the Millers came out looking much neater.

My final comment about the Bisque construction is that you aren’t told to trim the excess bulk from your deep front pleats, which means that getting a 2″ piece of elastic and a safety pin through the finished waistband channel is a pain. The Millers have you construct the front pleat without the extra fabric in the waistband, and it’s much easier to work with.

(Edited to add: My bad! The seam allowance is stated on page 1. I missed it. Regarding the pleats, Vivian Shao Chen (the Bisque designer) got in touch with me to say that it was a design decision to leave the pleats untrimmed. This creates the extra pleated appearance on the waistband itself.)

Conclusions

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me.

To be honest, I thought analyzing both patterns would help me decide which ones to make, but I’m still waffling. I like the slightly more dramatic pleat detail of the Bisques, but I will need major alterations for these to fit me well (like re-drafting both legs). Is it worth the effort?

The Millers will need fewer adjustments, but I’m not sold on this pattern either. The more subtle pleat on these gets a little lost in all the waistband gathers, so in that case I’d rather make a more straightforward pair of elastic waist trousers like the Arden pants, which already fit me well with practically no adjustments.

So stay tuned, I may proceed with both patterns as a learning exercise for myself on how to fit trousers. Or, I may just make myself a 3rd pair of Ardens.

Agnes PJs by Paper Theory

Paper Theory describes the Agnes PJs as being a “relaxed loungewear suit”, and that’s pretty much all I needed to know; I bought these instantly. Like many (all?) Paper Theory patterns, they are comfortable, classic, and a little bit unusual. Patterns like that always make for the best sewing projects and Agnes does not disappoint.

Agnes is a versatile pattern, too. I’ve seen several examples of the shirt pattern being used to make a jacket (Tara’s denim chore coat is something I am definitely going to copy), and the shorts could easily be a summer staple if you add some patch pockets. So with one pattern, you can cover a lot of ground.

I sewed this sky blue set in a 200 gsm linen from Merchant and Mills, but I’m also dreaming of a flannel version for winter and a silk version just for fun.

Fit Adjustments

For the shirt, I measured into the size 16 but sized down to a size 14 given the generous ease. Because of the dolman sleeve, the hip measurement is the most critical. In the size 14, I have 5 inches of positive ease at the hip.

After a toile, I decided to take in the underarm curve by 2 inches, effectively making curve of the dolman sleeve slightly more acute (see diagram below). This provided just a little bit more shaping and definition, but not so much that the relaxed fit was compromised. If you make this adjustment too, it’s important not to raise the armpit curve too much, since that could restrict your arm movement. Keep the curve below your bust for best results.

I also did a forward shoulder adjustment, because I noticed that my toile had a shoulder seam that wanted to fall behind my shoulder, pulling the front of the shirt up toward my neck. This is a standard adjustment for me, and I usually have to move shoulder seams forward by about 1/2″. To do this, I measured the distance between the base of my neck (marked as point A, below) and the ball of my shoulder (point B). On my body, this is 4.5 inches. I transferred this measurement to the pattern, then shifted point B down by a half inch. Next, I drew a line from the neck to the new shoulder point, then to the cuff (point C), as shown in red below.

For the back piece, I performed the opposite adjustment, moving point B up by 1/2″ and adding the same amount of fabric that I removed from the front.

For the shorts, my hip measurement puts me at a size 16, and my waist measurement puts me at a 14, so I cut the size 16 and then graded to the 14 at the waist.

Construction

Paper Theory patterns are a thing of beauty. Lines that you think are straight are actually slightly curved to fit the body. They also include LOTS of notches, which helps construction go quickly and smoothly. The pattern illustrations and instructions are very good, although I deviated in a couple of places:

  • Seam finishes: The instructions call for either French seams or serging, but I opted for flat felled seams throughout because I wanted a smooth finish on the inside for maximum comfort. The seam allowances for Agnes are 1/2″, which is just enough for a narrow flat felled seam.
  • Pockets: Agnes has patch pockets on the front of the shirt, no pockets on the shorts or pants. I lengthened the pocket piece by about 3/4″ to comfortably fit my phone and added it to the back of the shorts.

Note that on the pattern piece for the Agnes shirt front, there are outlines drawn to illustrate pocket placement. The actual pocket piece is about 1/2″ longer than the outline drawn on the front pattern. If you follow the instructions, you may not even notice the difference in length because you are instructed to align the pocket by using the drill holes at the top of the pocket outline. But your pockets will extend slightly lower than drawn on the top.

  • Collar: The instructions have you cut two identical collar pieces and sew them together. I trimmed the under collar by 1/8″ on the two short sides, which is standard practice for constructing more formal shirt collars. When I sewed the two collar pieces together, I gently stretched the under collar to meet the top collar. Cutting the under collar slightly shorter helps roll the collar seam to the underside for a professional finish.
  • Front Facing and Lapel: When attaching the facing to the front shirt, I trimmed the seam allowance around the lapel curve down to about 3 mm. The instructions don’t tell you to do this, but it is a similar curve to the collar and the instructions DO tell you to trim that.

Agnes has a really nice method for creating the front facing and lapel, and I prefer this construction method (and instructions) to others like the Carolyn PJs. There is also a really nice method for creating the lapel “break point”, where the front edge of the shirt sweeps across the button placket to create the lapel.

  • Buttons: The instructions don’t specify how to attach your buttons, but I sewed mine through both layers of the shirt (so, through shirt + facing). Although you will have some visible stitches on the inside of your shirt facing this way, I figured this helps to keep the unfinished seam allowance where the shirt meets the facing securely tucked away so it won’t fray over time.

I really enjoyed making this Agnes set and would give this pattern a slight edge over the Carolyn PJs if I had to rank both. The whole set comes together relatively quickly, and I really liked the method for constructing the lapel. These PJs are easy to fit and overall very satisfying to make.

Olya Shirt by Paper Theory

Olya, a modern classic

After making a slew of Grainline Archer shirts last year, I started branching out into other button up shirt patterns. I wanted to try the Olya shirt by Paper Theory for two reasons. First, it has a reputation for being a unique, well-loved, and well-drafted pattern. And second, its status as a right of passage for many intermediate sewists intrigued me. I was up for the challenge.

Sizing down 2 sizes still leaves me with plenty of ease.

Due to the generous amount of ease, I sized down two sizes to a 12. My measurements put me squarely at a size 16, but that would give me 11″ of ease in the bust and 8.5″ of ease through the hip. The size 12 gives me about 7″ of bust ease and about 5″ hip ease, which is still roomy. I also double checked the size 12 neck circumference of the collar stand to make sure the neck wouldn’t be too small for me. Luckily I didn’t need to make any adjustments to the neck, and since I had plenty of ease, I chose not to make any other fit adjustments to the pattern before cutting it.

This gauzy cotton voile is perfect for summer.

I picked a crinkled, cotton voile that is light and airy with great drape. If you are like me and on the fence about the oversized button up shirt look, try a lightweight cotton voile or silk to soften the silhouette. This version turned out to be the perfect summer cover up, and there’s a subtle rainbow stripe running through this fabric that makes me smile every time I see it.

Subtle rainbow stripes and my favorite label.

For the construction, I omitted the front pockets because I wanted a sleeker front and less emphasis on the boxy shape. I read that even Tara (the designer) herself recommended omitting them, although I never found an original citation for this. Removing the pockets also saved me a few steps, and as a result, this pattern sewed up even faster than a traditional button up because I didn’t have to ease in two sleeves.

Constructing Olya’s distinctive yoke is what most people seem to fret about. I referenced two posts from Mie of @sewinglikemad (here and here), and concluded that attaching the yoke to the body was not much different than sewing a bound button placket, which I had done before for the Archer. Grainline Studio has a great tutorial on how to do that here, and much of the advice shared in this video applies to the Olya. If you’ve never done something like this before, my advice is to try a few practice runs and take it slow.

Olya’s distinctive yoke.

Technically, I might need a forward shoulder adjustment for this pattern, since the top seam of the yoke is hitting me behind the highest point on my shoulder. But based on the model photos from the Paper Theory website, this is the intended fit so I’m not going to alter the pattern to correct it.

My favorite bits of the Olya are the collar/collar stand and the tower placket. Both are beautifully drafted and may be my favorite versions of each that I’ve encountered so far. I also really like the tower placket instructions; Tara’s was a new method for me and it might be one of the most intuitive.

Note that the seam allowances on the Olya are 1 cm, or about 3/8″, so narrower than is typical for a woven pattern. To finish the seams, you can either zig zag the edges if you don’t have an overlocker or you can serge them if you do. I don’t see an easier way to finish the seams on the yoke piece. So fair warning to anyone who prefers a more “classic” seam finish like a flat felled or French seam, you’ll have to increase the seam allowance if you want to use a different seam finish. I topstitched all of my serged seams (including around the yoke) to keep the seam allowances secure, which worked beautifully.

If you haven’t tried the Olya shirt yet, I highly recommend it! It’s a great way to level up your sewing or to just try a different twist on a classic garment.