Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to Avert Pants-Sewing Disaster?

(Alternate headline: "Sewing Pants: Why the Frak Not?"

Trouser Love

Readers, I feel like the powers of the sewing universe are sending me a message: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIT PANTS.

The evidence? I recently came across blog posts by not one, but TWO amazing seamstresses who can sew anything from boned evening dresses to tailored jackets but who claim to hate making pants, or at the very least, find fitting pants weird. And when I picked up a book that ostensibly should HELP me sew pants, David Page Coffin's Making Trousers... I found myself advised that the only real way to get a properly fitting pants pattern is to pay a wise expert master tailor to draft one for me. In other words: MIKHAELA, DO NOT SEW PANTS THEY WILL MAKE YOU CRY.

I'm going to ignore that message. Because now that I've finished two super-easy toddler dresses that didn't require one whit of adjustment... I'm ready to make myself miserable with endless rounds of fitting and muslining again.

And what could be more painful than fitting pants? I hear pants alterations can make even the most advanced seamstresses/seamsters weep and/or fume. But I'm hoping that with careful planning and prep work--and a little pattern selection help from you all--I can turn out a pair of trousers pleasing to the eye and comfortable to the tush.

Please don't laugh. I find this delusion comforting.

Sewing Pants: A Retrospective in One Attempt

I remember well the first (and only) pair of pants I ever made. It was 1999, and I was 19. I picked up some "easy-to-sew" pull-on pants pattern at Jo-ann's, along with some checked poly-cotton mystery fabric. I couldn't believe how easy they were to sew--a few hours later, I was pulling them on, pockets and all. And I couldn't believe how comfortable they were.

I also couldn't believe how ridiculous they looked. The crotch was halfway to my knees, and the bunched up poofy fabric billowing out from the elastic waist was far from flattering.

I've been running from pants sewing ever since. I didn't make (and barely owned) a single pair while pregnant.

Why Pants--and Why Now:

But my former identity as a skirt girl has taken a hit. Nine months ago I made a very happy career change to the non-profit world, and my new office is so casual that most people wear jeans four days out of five.

As do I. Except there's no such thing as a pair of ready-to-wear denim trousers that fit me, so I'm always tugging/cursing at the few semi-acceptable pairs I own. Any pants that fit my waist sag and bag emphatically below the rear and they're never high-waisted enough (I despise a low rise.)

So how much worse could me-made pants be? (I'm serious!) If I could wind up with "failed" trousers like Liza Jane's... I'd be more than happy.

Going for Corduroy

For fabric, I don't have much in the stash with enough yardage. I could go with some proper trousery drapey pin-striped gray wool suiting, but I'm feeling some dark blue corduroy I picked up in high school:

Navy corduroy Lightweight dark gray pinstriped wool suiting


So now that I'm in a mental pants-making space... WHICH PANTS? I'm strictly a trouser girl--I like semi-fitted hips and waist, and a wide leg. The kind of pants that are sometimes called slacks, and which Casey seems to sew a lot of beautiful versions of. Slim or skinny pants are out of the question.

I cut this been-in-my-stash-since-college Vogue Elements 9745 pattern out last night in a 16 (though might cut it down to 14 after flat measuring it, to prevent excess bagginess):

Vogue 9745 Pants

No reviews on Pattern Review, but lsaspacey tells me she made them before and they turned out great.

Still, I keep reading everywhere that somehow American patterns have bad crotch curves, whatever that means, and that somehow, European crotches are just superior. So alternatively, I could trace Burda Style magazine 2-2010 102B:

BurdaStyle Feb10 102B Pants Flats

But are American crotches REALLY that crazy? Can't they be altered to fit like anything else? What am I missing here? I really like the style and shape of the Vogue pattern better. If I can get it to fit, it could make a great basic Mikhaela pants pattern for tweaking and playing with.

The Pants Planning Arsenal.

I'm not going into this endeavor randomly. In typical Mikhaela fashion, I own far more books dedicated to the making of pants than I do pairs of me-made pants--three more, to be precise. I've armed myself with:

  • The Sewing Companion Library's The Easy Guide to Sewing Pants. I think I own every book in this series (on jackets, tops, linings, you name it)... this one is by far the longest, and is full of great advice and fitting tips.
  • Palmer/Pletsch's Pants for Real People. Also full of wonderful fitting information, but I'll be making a muslin, thank you very much--I'm allergic to tissue fitting.
  • The above-mentioned David Page Coffin's Making Trousers. Got this a while ago and reread it at lunch yesterday. It's full of wonderful tips about making beautifully constructed trousers... but it's probably the least helpful for my project, as it's all about the subtle details, not fit, style or fabric. In fact, as mentioned above, Coffin suggests that the only way to get properly fitting pants is to pay a master tailor to custom draft them for you from scratch. OK, then. But I do like his advice on using petersham ribbon for the waistbands--love that stuff.
  • Sandra Betzina's Power Sewing has lots of good pants tips.
  • This pants fitting tip on PatternReview seems pretty handy, I THINK--I'm still confused by the difference between crotch length, width, and depth...
  • The Coletterie has pants fitting tips galore, of course.

So that's that. I'm going to do it, and nothing is going to scare me from the attempt. I'm going to measure myself and adjust that pattern tonight after toddler bedtime.

So tell me: do you just love making awesome-fitting pants? Are Burda pants really better?


  1. i've only made a handful of pants - the colette clovers & some vintage patterns (and shorts. do shorts count as pants?). i have learned that my body has a short crotch - i guess that comes with petite territory - and a protruding rear end.

    honestly, fitting pants isn't necessarily difficult. if can be frustrating to try to pinpoint WHY you are having certain fitting issues (like i thought my expanded butt needed a swayback adjustment, fortunately someone corrected me before i started hacking into the pattern), but the actual cutting & slashing & taping process is eeeeeasy. so easy. and once you figure that out, you've got a nice basic pants block that can be applied to other pants (and shorts!) patterns. and you know what? i feel SO FREAKING SMART after (mostly)conquering pants-fitting. like a fitting-queen! also, sunni ( has a whole series on pants-fitting, including the difference between all those crotch fittings. add that to your arsenal!

    i guess my point is that it can be a painful process, but it is definitely rewarding. and you never know - maybe you picked up a crappily drafted pattern & you are actually one of those lucky people who fits in stuff straight out of the envelope (and if that's true, then i hate you. lol). but don't let it scare you from making a pair, and don't let fitting issues get you down! i'm still dealing with some crotch wrinkles, but it doesn't stop me from wearing my handmade pants :)

  2. I think the main difference is the crotch shape, I don't know much about it though. All you can really do is trial and error to see what you personally like.

  3. I made one pair of burda pants which I thought fit well, but DH said otherwise (and he's usually right). They would have looked great if I still hadn't had a bit of a tummy.

    But, to get back to your first question - "How to Avert Pants-Sewing Disaster?" I do that quite easily. I prefer long skirts for work. Other times I wear purchased jeans or shorts.

  4. Never made Burdas so I can't say but I have made lots of other pants and they're just fine to make. The fitting takes a little while - you'll probably go through a few muslins to perfect the proportions but each one gives very useful feedback - I find working with tops harder than with pants. You might want to get a flexible ruler to measure crotch depth and length. It will give you some quick and useful info about how your curve differs from the pattern's.

  5. I just finished the pants from Vogue 1200 - my first real attempt at pants for me with any tailoring. I sew everything, but also have fallen into the "intimidated by pants" category. I've made plenty of pants for my kids, but no fit issues with them - ever!

    I didn't muslin the pants, but a way to cheat around it is to cut a little big, baste and then adjust.

    BTW - best thing in the V1200 pants is how they fit over the tummy area thanks to the inside pocket piece extending to the fly. After 4 babies, I need some help in this area!

  6. I've only made two different pants patterns (both of which fit with only minor alterations), and my taste in pants is diametrically opposite so I don't think either would help you very much (one was Burda, one Jalie), but I will say GO FOR IT. I love love love being able to make my own pants, and from those two patterns I've gotten everything from skinny cargoes to wide-legged sailor pants. And once you have one pair that fits you can turn that pattern into *everything* if you find fitting a problem.

  7. I've made tons of trousers. I'm also generally very lucky that I don't need ANY alterations for Burda, KnipMode, or Colette trousers. Vogue, however, were a FREAKING MESS.

    But even I will never, ever cut into a new company's trouser pattern without muslining first. Good god woman, don't cut into that corduroy without at least muslining the crotch area!! You can also get an idea of which pattern is going to fit you without cutting into anything by rolling up a long tube of tinfoil and moulding it to your crotch curve. Then lay this on top of the various patterns and see which is closest to yours (there are tutorials for this online).

    And lastly, you want to choose a pattern based on how well the crotch curve fits you - pockets and leg shape are EASY to alter once you've got the crotch right.

    (geez, how many times can I say "crotch" in one comment? eww)

  8. I'm still in the muslin stage for the famous Jalie 2908 jeans (and I've muslined other patterns but never followed-through with actual pants because of time issues, weight gain/loss, and - let's be honest - insecurity), but I found this adjustment to make a HUGE difference in how the back leg looks:

  9. Wow, thanks for all the awesome advice and encouragement!

    June, I'm so going to do that flat seat adjustment... my seat is so flat it's practically vertical.

    Melissa, don't worry, I would NEVER sew pants (or almost anything for myself, really) without a muslin... And yes, crotch is such an icky word!

    Sandi, those Vogue 1200 pants look great... I need help there as well, lots of stretch marks and such.

  10. I recommend Real Pants for Real People. And instead of tissue fitting, plan on making 2-3 muslins. I think that if you plan on making muslins as part of the sewing process, muslin-making doesn't seem like a waste of time. I recommend the Real Pants for Real People because with the muslins, I was able to read the muslin's wrinkles and match them to the pictures in the book which allowed me to then fix the problem.

    Good luck!

    Rose in SV

    PS--Z is just darling!

  11. The center button detailed pants in your inspiration collage are utterly fantastic.

    As for pants, you can do it! It takes a lot of futzing about, but eventually things start to make sense. I took a class in February from a teacher who was not terribly helpful. She had us take a gazillion measurements and seemed to think that everyone in the class was shaped a particular way and that we all needed to do x and such altering (obviously ignoring the fact that I was 7.5 months pregnant at the time). The good that came out of that though was realizing that I'm a make a muslin kind of girl. Looking at flat patterns kind of makes me cross eyed, but draping a pant--I can do that. Plus the other students of the class and I have been meeting once a month to work on our fitting, and in the process of talking through everything and seeing how things all work, it really is starting to make sense.

    Keep at it. They really will get better.

  12. As for Burda vs others--I'm all for Burda, but the best front crotch curve shape has been my Sandra Betzina jeans from Vogue. I copy it onto all of my other pants patterns.

    I just bought Jalie 2908 and I'm pretty curious to see how their curve compares to the Burda pant I'm working on.

  13. Yes, I made those pants and I remember them looking great. However, I know a lot more about fit now (I never altered patterns back then) so who knows what the crotch really looked like then. Like I said, I've had great luck with those Elements patterns so I hope you do try. I will be making them again soon though, so real curious to see your review!

  14. Aw, shucks! I can't believe you called me an amazing seamstress! Most of the time I feel like I fumble around like an idiot. Thanks!

    Good luck with the pants odyssey. I'm still venturing on mine. I will make a great pair of pants one day. Also, that pattern review link is awesome. I like the idea of checking out crotch depth (length? whatever...) ahead of time.


I'd love to hear from you! But no ads please--I'll just have to delete them.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...