THINK: The Power of Pants!

Only thing better than a great fitting pair of pants is a great fitting pattern matched to your dress form to be created over and over!

Pants are everywhere! From the office to the playground to the most elegant night out… and there are just as many shapes and silhouettes as there are places to wear them. But shopping for (or sewing), that “go-to” comfortable pair of pants can make one want to scream!

This is because so few of us have the standard body shape and standardized measurements that manufacturers (and pattern companies) have proven by resource that we have. If we just vary a slight bit from the standards, every time we wear those pants, we will be reminded that our body varies just slight bit from the standards. Think uncomfortable.

So, what’s the solution? Taking the time to develop a basic pants pattern that fits and feels so good that it can be changed a hundred ways in design, and still be the easy “go-to” pants that you re-create for years and years.

The Dress Form

A dress form makes it easy to develop a great fitting pair of pants, because you can see where the pull or pinch is at every area…whatever your body shape or size. (Even if your form does not have legs…there is still a way to make this work!) The dress form makes the fitting easier because once you start twisting your body to check the mirror, the fit will become distorted. The dress form also eliminates the bother of repeated fittings, and the need for help from a friend. While it is possible to fit pants directly on your body, it is nearly impossible to see a new shape or design develop, within your fit and comfort zone, without a dress form that matches a real body. Hello, “New fitting assistant”! Ready for action, day or night!

The Fitting System

In preparing your dress form for a pants fitting, be sure that the areas (horizontal and vertical) of the: Waist, Upper Hip (love handles) and Stomach, Thighs and Back Hip (widest point) match your body in shape and measurements. For example, if your butt is flat and it’s the thigh area that determines the hipline width, mimic that on the form with the Thigh Pads. If your bottom is round and your thighs are flat… give your form the butt… placing the Back Hip Pads at the vertical and horizontal positions on the form to match your own.

Perfecting the Fit

To begin, take careful measurements, wearing exactly the underclothes that you would wear.

Measure the following (A):

• Waist

• High Hip (at the top of the hip bones, about 2-4” /5-10cm below the waist…across love handles and stomach

• Full Hip (the fullest part of the hip, usually7-9”/ 18-23cm below the waist)

Use your circumference measurements to pad the dress form to match your shape and size, and to determine the appropriate pattern size. Choose a pattern size based on the largest lower body measurement. An easy fitting basic pant pattern will do. If you are planning to make pleated pants, it is best to start with a pleated pants pattern as it is easier to remove the pleats in designing than to add pleat fullness later.

When fitting on pattern tissue, the crotch length and crotch depth measurements, which are difficult to measure accurately, are also needed (B).

In draping, these areas are fit, rather than measured, directly on the body. This is where your dress form and sample favorite pants come in.

Here is an easy check…

Find that most comfortable “go-to” pair of pants in your closet. If you are creating palazzo pants, check out your sweat pants; if you are creating classic pants, go for your worn to death trousers/ jeans, and try them on. Is there anything you would change about the height of the waist? Make a note of any changes that you would make. Do you roll your sweat pants down at the waist? Just measure the rise, (front waist to back waist center seam), when they are rolled and comfortable.  Then mark the length of the seam in front, and in back.  The total of the two, will match.  Mark the position and lay them flat, inside out, on the table next to the pattern piece. Mark the vertical knee position, and the vertical length from top of waistband to the widest part of the butt. How does the line of the rise, compare to the line on the pattern piece? How does the line and height of the crotch curve compare?

Re-trace the line on the pattern for the front and back seam (rise) to match the line of the pants that you love… both in depth and curve shape.

Make any obvious circumference adjustments to the pattern tissue and then cut the pants out of muslin. Machine baste pleats, darts, side seams, and crotch seam. Try on the basted pants and pin the zipper opening closed. The pants should hang straight from the hip without wrinkles, sagging or pulling. Inseams and side seams should hang perpendicular to the floor and the pants should feel comfortable when walking or sitting, standing or bending. Adjust the fit, if necessary, by taking in or letting out the side seams. Work from the fullest part of the body up toward the waist, and then down toward the knees. If the “test’ pants feel too tight, cut the next larger size (comparing the rise, front and back, and the vertical stress position at the knee or back hip). If the pants are too large, pin in the fullness and trim away the excess after the test is complete.

In movement, the waist (or upper hip) is the anchor from where your fabric will fall.

The vertical stretch line (even if your fabric is not stretch) anchors from the waist position to all of the areas of the body that bend. Have you ever loved a pair of pants, or even shorts, but felt a “pull” on the front thigh/leg as you walked? When each movement area at the horizontal and vertical positions are matched to yours, you will see why this happens. The vertical length of the fabric on the front leg is too long (or too short) to the knee, in this case. Try pinching… or releasing the fabric… and the “pull” will magically disappear.

The next crucial fit consideration is the length and the depth of the crotch seam. If the “rise” (crotch depth) is too long, the pants will feel uncomfortable, and make your legs appear short. If the crotch depth is too short the pants will have wrinkles at the crotch and upper thighs.

To shorten the depth of the “rise” (C): On the pattern tissue, measure up ¼” (6mm) from the crotch point and retrace the shape of the curve. If the crotch seam feels extremely long, measure up ½” (13mm) and continue in ¼” (6mm) increments until you achieve the best fit.

To lengthen the depth of the “rise” (D): On the pattern tissue, measure down ¼” (6mm) from the crotch point and retrace the shape of the curve. If the crotch seams feels extremely short, measure down ½” (13mm) and continue in ¼” increments until you achieve the best fit.

The vertical stretch line (even if your fabric is not stretch) anchors from the waist position to all of the areas of the body that bend. Have you ever loved a pair of pants, or even shorts, but felt a “pull” on the front thigh/leg as you walked? When each movement area at the horizontal and vertical positions are matched to yours, you will see why this happens. The vertical length of the fabric on the front leg is too long (or too short) to the knee, in this case. Try pinching… or releasing the fabric… and the “pull” will magically disappear.

The next crucial fit consideration is the length and the depth of the crotch seam. If the “rise” (crotch depth) is too long, the pants will feel uncomfortable, and make your legs appear short. If the crotch depth is too short the pants will have wrinkles at the crotch and upper thighs.

To shorten the depth of the “rise” (C): On the pattern tissue, measure up ¼” (6mm) from the crotch point and retrace the shape of the curve. If the crotch seam feels extremely long, measure up ½” (13mm) and continue in ¼” (6mm) increments until you achieve the best fit.

To lengthen the depth of the “rise” (D): On the pattern tissue, measure down ¼” (6mm) from the crotch point and retrace the shape of the curve. If the crotch seams feels extremely short, measure down ½” (13mm) and continue in ¼” increments until you achieve the best fit.

Note: The front and back pattern pieces may not need the same adjustments. For example, the front may need to be shortened, and the back may need to be lengthened.

Re-cut and baste the muslin with the new crotch seam and try the pants on again.
It may be necessary to adjust the length of the crotch point at the waistline. Make these adjustments in increments of ¼” (6mm) until you achieve the best fit. (E)

Although the making of two or more “test” pants may seem tedious, it is well worth the time. Once you have identified the necessary adjustments, you can confidently cut and sew all your pants patterns, knowing they will fit perfectly.

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To lengthen the depth of the “rise” (D): On the pattern tissue, measure down ¼” (6mm) from the crotch point and retrace the shape of the curve. If the crotch seams feels extremely short, measure down ½” (13mm) and continue in ¼” increments until you achieve the best fit.

Note: The front and back pattern pieces may not need the same adjustments. For example, the front may need to be shortened, and the back may need to be lengthened.

Re-cut and baste the muslin with the new crotch seam and try the pants on again.
It may be necessary to adjust the length of the crotch point at the waistline. Make these adjustments in increments of ¼” (6mm) until you achieve the best fit. (E)

Although the making of two or more “test” pants may seem tedious, it is well worth the time. Once you have identified the necessary adjustments, you can confidently cut and sew all your pants patterns, knowing they will fit perfectly.

Creating the Design

Now it is time to design! If your dress form does not have legs, release the inseam basting stitches and pleats (if the muslin features pleats) so that the pants resemble a long skirt. Slip the pants over the dress form that matches the curves of your body. Pin the center front and center back seams, including the zipper opening, to the center front and back of the dress form.

From here, you can design any of the most flattering silhouettes and classic styles by simply playing with the details on “your body” on the dress form.

Shape, fold, pinch, pleat…
Play with the number and length of the darts; the fullness and direction of the pleats; the shape and location of the pockets. The possibilities are endless and timeless!

Here are some helpful design hints:
• Darts eliminate fabric fullness
• Inverted pleats hide a protruding tummy
• Large and low pockets draw attention away from hips
• Gathers look softer than pleats

It is not necessary for the right and left sides to be symmetric in your design, because only one side will be used to mark and make your new “pattern”. (If your body is asymmetrical, you will need both sides.)
Pin pleats, darts, and other design features in place without removing the “test” pants from the dress form.
Pencil mark the pockets to check the best shape or distance from the side seams.
Cut the waistband pattern piece, fold under the seam allowances and pin it onto the dress form. Check to see that the waist height suits the pants design. Make any adjustments.

With a colored pen or chalk, mark all the seams and design features, including pleats or darts, on the best looking half of the “test” pants. To mark, draw dashed lines on each side of every pin, remove the pins and connect the markings to make seam lines and to indicate design features.
After all marking is done, remove any remaining pins and slip the pants off the dress form. Baste the inseam (legs) and then the crotch seam from front to back. (For that super-skinny “control the inner thigh fit…sew the inseam from leg to leg in a u-shape, rather than the classic fit of legs sewn first, rise sewn last.) Try on the pants, and mark any changes in fit or design.

Once you are satisfied with the fit and design of the pants, pull out all the basting stitches and create your new pattern, or make changes to the original pattern tissue.
After you have cut your fashion fabric, baste the design features and side seams, and return the pants to the dress form for a final check of the fit and shape. Finish sewing according to the pattern instructions, and you will have a pair of pants with a fabulous fit!