This article by Christine Jonson originally appeared in the April/May 2011 issue of Sew News.
Save time and frustration by learning the steps to successfully fit a comfortable and flattering pair of pants, from choosing the right pattern and size to accessing fit to making final adjustments.
Choose a Pattern
Select a basic pants pattern with a shaped waistline and no waistband or pockets. The pants should have a flat front or a single front dart and single or double back darts. The pant should have a straight or slightly tapered leg.
Choose the pattern size based on the actual finished garment measurements listed on the pattern. Don’t depend solely on the body pattern measurement chart, as these measurements don’t reflect the designer’s ease adjustments.
If the finished garment measurements are not provided, find the finished hip measurement by measuring the pattern piece without the seam allowance. Measure your hips at the widest point, and then choose the pattern size that will provide 2” to 3” of ease in the hip. (The pant waist will be fitted after the hip.)
Create the Fit Sample
Choose a stable woven fabric with no stretch or drape. A light-colored, mediumweight fabric that holds its shape produces the most realistic fit. Avoid fabrics with prints or textures.
Cut the pattern pieces from the sample fabric.
Draw reference lines to provide a guide when pinning and fitting the fabric sample. Using the dark-colored marker, draw center grainlines on the pant front and back legs, beginning below the crotch line and ending at the hem.
On the pant-front right side, draw a horizontal line 3” below the waistline, or just below the dart point. Draw a second horizontal line 4” to 5” below the first line, just above the crotch curve. Length adjustments will be made between these two lines.
To indicate where to adjust the leg proportion and length, draw horizontal lines 2” below the crotch point and 2” below the knee. Repeat to draw horizontal lines on the pant back.
Stitch the pant sample, including the waist facing and zipper, according to the pattern guidesheet. Don’t make any changes to the pattern at this time. If the pattern calls for a center-back or side-seam zipper, insert it into the center-front seam for fitting purposes.
Put on the pants and zip the zipper as far as you’re comfortably able. With pins handy, stand barefoot in front of a full-length mirror. A three-way mirror is very helpful because it allows you to avoid twisting and turning while evaluating and pinning the sample, and a large handheld mirror is also useful for seeing the back.
Fit the Waist
Position the pant front and back waistline at the desired point for the finished garment.
If the waistline is too small to zip all the way, unzip the zipper to the point of comfort, and then pin a fabric strip or seam tape to the waistline edges to accommodate the extra room needed.
If the waistline is too large, pin the side seams as needed from the waist upper edge to just above the dart points.
Don’t worry if you’re unable to position the waistline upper edge as desired because the crotch length is too short. The waistline can be readjusted after the crotch length is corrected.
Fit the Crotch
Focus on the pant crotch line to determine if there are any wrinkles or drag lines. If the crotch is too long, there will be downward drag lines (frowning). If the crotch is too short, there will be upward drag lines (smiling). If there are horizontal wrinkles, the crotch length is correct, but the side seams need to be adjusted.
Don’t attempt to redraw, reshape or alter the pant crotch curve in any way.
To shorten the crotch length, pinch and pin a horizontal tuck between the uppermost and second-highest reference lines, beginning at the center front. The tuck depth depends on how much length needs to be taken out in order to eliminate the drag lines. Continue pinning the tuck, making sure that the reference lines and side seams remain straight.
It may be necessary to only pin the pant front or back crotch. If so, taper the front or back tuck at the
To lengthen the crotch, use small scissors to cut apart the sample along the uppermost reference line while still wearing the pants. Begin cutting at the center-front seam, and then continue toward the side seam in both directions. Cut along the line only until the drag lines are eliminated. Pin in a fabric strip between the cut edges to secure the opening.
If the pant legs are too long, use the thigh and knee reference lines to fold out and pin the excess fabric until the desired proportion and length is achieved. Look closely at the center-front and center-back grainlines to make sure they remain perfectly straight.
If the pant legs are too short, slash and spread the pant leg to achieve the proper proportion.
Fit the Side Seams
Evaluate the fit and ease around the body to determine whether adjustments to the side seams are needed.
If you’re unable to zip the zipper all the way, add fabric to the side seams. Determine the amount of fabric needed to comfortably close the zipper, and then pin strips of fabric in equal amounts to both side-seam edges, beginning at the waist and ending
a few inches below the zipper
Pant Leg Style
To determine which pant leg style you prefer, begin pinning as desired, and then stand away from the mirror to evaluate the shape. To achieve the balance for a properly shaped pant leg, adjust both the side seams and inseam. Look at the curved shapes that outline the leg, as well as the proportions between the curves to determine if the overall effect is flattering.
Continue pinning until pleased with the pant leg shape. If desired, wear the shoes you plan to wear with the finished pants while fitting.
Adjust the Pattern
Carefully take off the sample pants. Use a fabric marker to mark the pin locations on the pant wrong side.
Remove the pant seamlines, zipper, darts and pins. Use the marker to connect the pin markings. True the lines using a ruler or curve.
If you pinned in extra fabric, smooth it, and then stitch it in place. If you created tucks, stitch them in place. Press the sample pattern pieces.
Compare the two front pieces, and then choose the side that best represents your body. If the two pieces vary greatly, it’s necessary to have two separate left- and right-front pattern pieces. Repeat to compare and select the back pattern.
Compare the front and back pattern pieces to ensure that the seamlines match. If the seamlines don’t match, true the side edges. If you altered the waistline, make the same adjustment to the facing pattern.
To create the adjusted pattern, trace the sample pieces onto new paper, or transfer the marks and alterations to the original pattern. Record the date and any other necessary information on the pattern pieces for future reference.
To make a final test sample, stitch a second pair of pants using the adjusted pattern and the same sample fabric.
Try on the pants, and then make any needed adjustments. Add any desired design details, such as extra seamlines, pockets or a waistband.
Making New Pants
When stitching the first pair of pants using your pattern, choose a fabric with similar qualities to the sample fabric in order to boost your confidence and eliminate difficulties. Move on to different fabrics as you gain experience working with the pattern.