Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pants Patterns Part 1

My first step on the pants project was to learn how to adjust a standard sewing pattern to fit a non-standard body. I am fairly familiar with the idiosyncrasies of my figure, and didn’t need help to realize that I have a protruding belly and a flat butt. But I definitely needed help translating that to fit. Simply measuring the pattern and comparing it to my own measurements just told me that a garment in my size would cover the proper areas. It did not tell me whether the front would pull, the back would droop, or the inseam would twist around my legs.

This is where the fitting guides come in handy. There is an abundance of fitting guidance out there, in books, videos, websites, and classes, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the information. I tried to limit myself to two main sources, which I chose simply because they were the first two that seemed to offer a comprehensive approach to all possible adjustments.

One source was the Collette Patterns Pants Fitting Cheatsheet, which you may be familiar with. It is a long list of pant-fitting symptoms, the associated body shape, and the necessary adjustment. It’s extremely helpful in narrowing down the cause of odd wrinkles, bagginess, and crooked lines. Each adjustment is illustrated with a diagram. The only thing missing from this checklist is photos of the fit problems, which would be helpful in the case of something like “excess fabric pooling under butt”, which could be due to a swayfront, a low butt, or a flat butt.

My other source was a book I picked up at Goodwill some time ago: Sewing Pants That Fit, from the Singer Sewing Reference Library.
Still available here
I like this book because it has a big color photo of pants with each different fit problem, and the corrective pattern adjustment on the page right next to it. The directions are very simple and listed step by step. My one reservation about the book is it’s a 1989 edition, and the high-waist, pleat-front pant that is used to illustrate the majority of the book is not applicable to today’s styles.

Between Collette and Singer, I gathered that for the full belly, I would want to slash the pant front horizontally approximately 3 inches down from the waist. Then the slash is split apart to create a wedge and the seamline is redrawn.
This is a simple straight cut according to Singer, while Colleterie suggests a three-part slash and spread (see below).

I used the Singer approach on the narrow-leg pants muslin, adding a small wedge to cover the belly fullness. This seemed to work, although I also ended up adding front darts to the pattern to take up a bit more of the waist-to-belly difference.

On the wide-leg pants, it occurred to me that instead of wedging the waist up, I could try bumping the center front out.
Doesn’t the Collette procedure look as though it has the same result as drawing a curve around the belly?
This may not be the correct thing to do, maybe something to do with grainline at center front, but it made sense at the time. I drew the round belly shape on the new pattern, and sewed around it just like the rounded seams at the hip. The muslin pant front seems to fit fine.

Now, I need to do a bit of experimenting with the “flat seat” adjustment. My first muslins did not have any adjustment in the back, and they fit okay, at least initially. With ready-to-wear pants, I find that they fit well when I put them on and then after several hours of sitting the seat stretches out and bags down at the tops of my thighs. I don’t know whether this is a fit problem, or I just have too many pants made from weak, non-recovering fabric. I do think I will try at least two types of seat adjustment, and compare the results.

A couple of things I found that really helped the fitting:
• I inserted real zippers, rather than just pinning the seam closed for fitting.
• I sewed on the waistband to stabilize the top edges of darts and seams.
• I wore bike shorts when fitting the muslins on myself. This helped to prevent additional bulges that are created by underwear elastic.

After I get an acceptable fit in the muslin, I’ll try both patterns in inexpensive pant-weight fabrics, to double check that the fit still works.




  1. I am truly impressed with your pants progress! I have made tailored jackets, but never pants, and I have huge admiration for people who can make them.

    I have dreams of making an 'I Love Lucy' inspired lounging set ~ a gown that is open from the waist to the floor to reveal Capri pants beneath. The Colette pants would be perfect for that; maybe you will inspire me to attempt them!

    Keep posting on your progress; it's fascinating!

    xo, Anita

  2. Hmmmm, I will have to look at Colette's fitting when I make pants. Great tips! (Heh, isn't it funny how, as we get older, the stomach and bum change places? I used to have a flat stomach and round bum. Now, it's the opposite!)

    1. I guess it changes places to where we can lift it most. Life is amazing

  3. Very informative. I've resolved to make muslins for new patterns. Thanks for the useful advice.

  4. Wow - I am impressed! Way to adjust to our changing bodies! I told a friend that I would have a perfect body if I could just turn my head around because my bottom is flat and my tummy is round!LOL
    Keep up the good work!