trousers revisited

Inspired by Ali’s fairly recent post about failed pants, and having realised how the mirror gives different feedback than a photo, I figured it would be a helpful exercise to revisit some of the trousers I’ve made to see if I can make any improvements – either to the existing trousers or to learn lessons that I can apply future projects.

First approach: Commercial patterns

I’ve had false starts over the years – not too many have actually gotten finished because I got so frustrated with the fitting.

Dressy grey trousers. I even did a muslin for these, but I didn’t complete the funky in-pocket closure, which ended up taking an extra ½” or so. When I made them up in good fabric, they were too small.

Lessons learned: When doing a muslin, do all the steps that affect fit. Don’t assume that pockets are completely irrelevant to fit – it depends on the pattern. Ignore the numbers associated with the pattern sizes – the size I chose to make up was somewhat aspirational, even though I knew intellectually that the pattern size wasn’t going to be the same as my RTW size. In retrospect, I’ve also realised that I never would have been  happy with that pattern as the waist was too high.

Final tally: Sold them on consignment and was proud to get $5.

Second approach: Trouser block developed using instructions from a pattern-making book

Drapey pull-on trousers in silk noil. I adapted the trouser block to pull-on pants. I made 2 pair but only wore them a few times as I didn’t like how they looked and didn’t know how to fix them.

Lessons learned: Elastic wants to go to the narrowest point, but the narrowest point is higher than where I want the top of the trousers to be – try a drawstring. They were probably too loose in the thigh and comparatively too narrow at the ankle. Overall just too wide, probably best remedied by trimming the width down. What I wanted was comfy office wear, but the fabric was too slubby and distressed looking to appear particularly formal.

Final tally: Donated them both.

drapey pull-on trousers

Drapey pull-on trousers in rayon. I made these not long after the silk noil pull-ons, and tried the drawstring as well as carving out a lot of the looseness. I like the colour and the fit, but still a bit of a wardrobe orphan. But the biggest issue is that they’re too short.

Lessons learned: Drawstring theory confirmed. Determine where the hem should go while wearing footwear (which I did), but also be aware that not all flats are the same thickness through the sole. Don’t get so excited about having trousers that aren’t too long that I end up with trousers that are too short. I think the pattern is a bit busy for bottoms, at least on my frame. Whether it’s the casing or the resultant blousiness just below the waist, I don’t like the look of the top of these trousers. Best to cover with a non-clingy T-shirt or fitted woven shirt. No tucking in! Something similar in a solid colour, hemmed for heels, could look sharp indeed.

Current status: Considering adding to the length if I can figure out a way to make it look like a design feature rather than a patched screw-up.

Third approach: Custom pattern developed from fitting shell

I made up a fitting shell in a medium weight poly-cotton twill and got “professional help” with the fitting thereof from a sewing instructor.

Grey linen-cotton trousers. Not sure why waist is high on the right.

Grey linen-cotton trousers. With the fitted pattern, I figured that I wouldn’t have to do much to get these trousers fitting nicely. Ahem. The fabric seemed to grow as I was working with it. I’d try them on, measure, take in, and they were still too big, every damned time. I couldn’t figure out how to improve the fit; my theory was that the fabric was too different from that of the fitting shell. I just finished them up and added belt loops, hoping that a belt would fix most of the problems. It didn’t. They look and feel like they’re at least one size too big.

Lessons learned: I think that the fabric made the difference, but not quite in the way I first thought. I didn’t go far enough with the adjustments, and I trusted the pattern more than I trusted my eyes. Linen trousers don’t have to be baggy, and baggy on me quickly looks sloppy.

Current status: Revisions underway.


Purple trousers, in all their too-snug glory. Waist is high on the right again - don't know why. Fairly sure I don't need to go to the chiropractor.

Purple trousers: After the grey trousers, I looked for fabric in my stash that was more like the fitting shell. I made these out of a fairly heavy cotton twill. They look good (from the front at least) while I’m standing, but, having driven long distances in them, I’ve discovered that they’re too snug for comfort and still a little low at CB.

Lessons learned: After the grey pants ended up much too loose, I guess I overdid it going the other way. Comfort is very important to me. I often sit cross-legged in my chair (or in the car), so the clothes have to let me do that. I didn’t find any reference to diagonal or diamond-shaped wrinkles in the books I looked at, but I’m assuming they mean something like not loose enough for loose and not tight enough for tight, a.k.a. “make up your bloody mind!”

These were meant to be a wearable muslin, and I don’t love the colour. Good weight for trousers, almost like denim. The pattern I developed for making belly-dance belts was fairly easily converted to a pattern for a contour waistband, which turned out pretty well, actually.

Current status: Revisions complete – this round, at any rate. Will test them and let you know how they go.

Blue drawstring trousers. Slim from the side...

...but a bit widening from the back.

Blue drawstring trousers: Same fitting shell, plus a pair of RTW linen trousers for reference. Raised CB even more, and it’s now feeling about right. Straight leg from about the knee or just above down to ankle. Best worn with a top that covers up the waist.

Lessons learned: I think the crotch curve is about right, and the crotch length at the back is getting to be about right too. After looking at the photos, I’m not convinced I like loose trousers on me, or at least loose linen trousers. Linen is quite crisp and stands away from the body when there’s this much of it, which doesn’t seem to be doing me any favours.

Current status: Thinking about whether to revise them or leave them alone. But this decision can wait for about 5 months before the weather starts to get warm again.

By the time I’ve worked my way through the revisions on the purple and the grey, I think I might have improved my fitting skills to the point where I can complete the stripey trousers. Crossing my fingers!

Do you have any feedback on the photos, such as fitting points I’ve overlooked? Do you use any particular method to try to improve your fitting skills from one garment to the next? Or do you just get frustrated and throw up your hands in defeat? (This was my previous method, but I can’t say my fitting technique ever got any better because of it.)


About Zena

I sew sometimes.
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5 Responses to trousers revisited

  1. 3hourspast says:

    Wow, what a great way to keep track of fit and sewing issues. Suuuucks about those linen pants.

    I don’t wear pants much, but getting a block pattern that fit really helped. I lay the block over whatever pattern I’m using, meld the two together, trace that, and it works quite well for me…

    • Zena says:

      I wear pants all the time, so if I want to wear my own creations regularly, figuring out pants is essential.
      The trick is to get that first block to fit…

  2. Tanit-Isis says:


    I laughed about overcompensating in the shortening department. Everything is always too short on me, so I always overcompensate—few things please me more than jeans that drag on the ground behind my heels.

    I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear, but if you’re seeking to combine a close fit (for visual reasons) with comfort and flexibility (for comfort reasons)… the answer is a stretch fabric. I bet those purple pants would’ve been perfectly comfortable if they had just a tiny bit of stretch to them. 😉

    Those diagonal wrinkles kind of pointing down towards the crotch in the back seem to recur in all the pants which suggests to me (pants-fitting ignoramus here) that something’s going on there. Maybe putting a post up in the fitting forum on PatternReview would be in order? My highly unscientific hunch is that you might need a deeper (more L-shaped) crotch curve at the back, but I suck at pants fitting so I’m not sure.

    I’m still wrestling with square-shoulder-alteration acceptance. It’s not that it’s a hard alteration, it’s just yet one more that I have to do (on top of petiting bodice, lengthening sleeves, and swayback..)

    As for pants fit, I have exactly two pants patterns that fit, one for stretch fabric and one for non-stretch. And I am terrified to go beyond them. I think once you get one that fits the way you like, you will probably want to stick with it for most things, just adding details and tweaking things like leg-width to get different looks.

    • Zena says:

      I don’t necessarily object to stretchy fabric, but I suspect that there’s a new set of skills I’d need to learn to make it work, which I’m not convinced I’m ready for.

      As for diagnosing the wrinkles: I’m not sure anything useful can be read in the grey pants, as they’re just too big all over. I agree that the purple ones definitely need more length in the back crotch. The blue ones might need more length there; this is the most current version so I think the crotch curve is probably better than the others but might not be right yet. At this point I think I’ve added at least 1″, maybe 1½” in height at the CB after having had help with the fitting shell. The booty, it is a challenge. (You should see how odd the pants look when folded up beside RTW.)

    • Zena says:

      After much fussing, pinning, stitching, trying on, ripping, the purple pants are getting … close. In the photo above, I think the issue is still crotch length, but more specifically that the back crotch extension is too short (in other words, let out back inseam).

      I now think the diagonal wrinkles are bias pull wrinkles; if so, that means not enough length and width.

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