Pants Fitting Politics

I’ve been doing a humongous amount of reading up on pants, their construction techniques and fit.
A particular comment on the Pattern Review Jeans Competition thread really struck me – asking about whether or not there is an official definition of ‘good fit’, as this is one of the criteria the contest will be judged on. Also, that she was worried people would vote based on the type of jeans that the younger generation prefer, rather than what was appropriate for the person wearing them.
When it comes to dresses and tops, I think we’d all be able to agree on what a good fit consists of, regardless of the style. But when it comes to pants (and especially jeans), I think it’s very easy to get ‘style’ and ‘fit’ mixed up.
Pants fitting is such a personal issue in the first place – we’re dealing with a pretty busy part of the body – the legs, hips, abdomen, and in some cases, the waist as well. Some of these body parts can be sensitive topics for some. I’m fairly blasé about this area on me – but only because other areas take higher priority for worrying about :)
Not to mention that pants need to allow us to actually move about comfortably and normally. Compared to a dress or a top, there’s a lot of functionality going on there!
True to my generation, I prefer my jeans to be snug, have some stretch, be straight-legged and they absolutely must be ‘drop-waisted’. This is what I’ve grown up with, so you could say I’ve been conditioned into thinking this is the style for me. I remember when I first started wearing jeans at the hips in my early teens – my mum would say I’d end up with kidney problems later in life because my lower back was exposed to the cold when sitting down! And true to her generation, my mum feels most comfortable in jeans that sit at the waist.
So I’ve been hunting the www (as I’ve yet to obtain any definitive books on the subject), and the best ‘definition’ of a good fit for pants I found comes from the New Mexico State University, which you can read here. In summary? Pants should:
“… fall smoothly over the hips and thighs…”
I take this to mean no ripples, wrinkles, ‘smiley-faces’, bagginess or bunched excess fabric hanging about. And:
“…the lengthwise grain is perpendicular to the floor…”
This statement about grainline was what helped me out when modifying the paper pattern to take into account the darts. In the past I’ve been confused about what to do when darts change the straight line indicating grainlineProblem solved – the grainline stays straight (and perpendicular to the floor) down the leg. 
So why is it that more of us aren’t making our own pants? I saw a chart on Patty the Snug Bug‘s blog at the beginning of the year that caught my eye:

Patty’s 2011 Year in Review Tally

Do we make less pants because it’s easier to get excited about dresses and skirts? I’ll admit, since starting to sew, I’ve been wearing HEAPS more dresses and skirts. In fact, Until about 2 or 3 years before sewing, I’d never even owned a dress. Sewing has definitely brought me back to a more ‘feminine’ form of dressing. 

The recently released ‘Best Patterns of 2011’ on Pattern Review are to me an eye opener as to what the majority of pattern reviewers like to sew best – mostly simple, flowing dresses and tops:

No. 1 – Vogue 1250, 

For DIY pants, I think there are two (very) major stumbling blocks. Firstly, you really do need another person to help you fit them – whilst you’re wearing your test version. Secondly, the adjustment minefield is large and uncharted. Trying to imagine how four bits of pattern tissue in 2D convert into something as 3D and as complex as pants is mind-boggling!

Pants Cutting Layout from the Fashion Incubator

The Coletterie blog did a fabulous series of posts on pants fitting for their Clover sewalong, as well as a great resource on some pants-fitting-basics. As handy as these resources are, in a way the sheer volume of options and modifications just compounds the thought pattern that pants are difficult!
Have you sewn a pair of pants? If so, how would you describe your experience compared to other garments you’ve sewn?


  1. I would love to sew more pants, but as a beginner I find the fit issues an impossible hurdle to overcome. Skirts and dresses just skim over my bottom half, but with pants you have to make two tubes of fabric perfectly contour to your shape! Maybe one day when I'm more experienced :)

  2. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on pants. I do sew pants. I find that Burda fit me pretty well, as long as I bring in the waist. A fairly simple adjustment to make on a multi sized pattern. My biggest problem is constructing fly fronts and facings neatly!

  3. Think you're on the money Karin – half the trouble is trying enough patterns to figure out which pattern Co makes pants to suit you best. Even practising on my toile, I still made several silly mistakes on the fly for my jeans! More practice is definitely required!

  4. I've made two pairs of pants, v1186 and Simplicity 3688. I LOVE v1186, and wear them all the time. I also really like 3688. I had to lengthen the crotch in both, but didn't find either a difficult process – which was good, because I had heard that pants were tricky! They are both loose fitting styles, so that probably helped :) Oh and also, for v1186, I altered the fly to a mock fly front – give it a go, it's quite simple :) I followed Connie Amaden Crawford's instructions.

  5. I am currently sewing a pair of pants. I need some, just to combine them with my jersey tops to beautiful outfits. To me it is no fun, because it took a lot of time to create a perfect fit. Mine are not perfect, I need even more time but my patience has reached its limits. By the way… your pants are quite good.

  6. I love this post Melanie – really enjoyed reading it. I have made a few pairs, and fit is definitely the thing that keeps me from making more. I still don't really understand my own fit issues – it seems that the same wrinkling or creasing can mean more than one problem, so I find it a bit mind-boggling. I'm with you – I think it is essential to have a 'fit-buddy' there to help.

  7. I have actually sewn more pants than skirts (and all the skirts were for my sister at that). I think it is because I like to wear pants, so that is what I want to sew for myself. I have sewn Vogue 1051 several times (actually a great fit right out of the envelope, and I want to make more) and three Burda patterns – 09-2003-104, 06-2011-114, and 10-2011-127. The Burda patterns fit decently, but I think they were drafted with a much longer crotch curve (or supposed to sit higher on the waist?) than the Vogue pants. Pants fitting is complicated, so I can understand why people don't like to do it (especially because you have to spend a lot of time staring at what might not be your favorite body region). On the other hand, I now have several pairs of pants I can wear without a belt! This is nothing short of miraculous, so, headache though it may be, I think I will continue to sew my own pants from here on out.

  8. I've sewn 5 or 6 pairs of pants plus some pj's. I really struggled at first, but it got better. I think that, as a sewing community, we've built pants fitting up into some big thing. So, there's a lot of fear around sewing pants and sewists assume it will be a fitting nightmare and a lot of work from the start. But my perspective has changed quite a bit. Instead of assuming that a pants pattern will need lots of fitting pyrotechnics from the outset, nowadays I try to treat it like any other pattern – if the muslin is a hot mess, rather than assuming it's because it's pants and that is simply the way it is, I tell myself "this pattern is not working for you" and move on to a different pants pattern that might work better for me. (So far, so good on this approach). PS – Jeans at the waist look SO uncomfortable to me; I have no idea how my mom's generation wears them there. Yick!

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