In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve spent much of the last six months, it’s been down a very deep rabbit hole called Fitting a Pants Pattern.
More accurately, this particular rabbit hole should be called Not Fitting Several Pants Patterns.
Does this need further explanation?
For most sewers, a well-fitting pants pattern is like…gold. At any rate, something rare, valuable, and coveted. And that is because pants patterns are devilishly difficult to fit.
However, pants are not hard to make. Their construction is well within the capabilities of most sewers and will repay the outlay of effort many times over.
Pants are a staple in almost every woman’s work and leisure wardrobe.
Pants are not fun to shop for: many women, including me, routinely find nothing that meets fit, style, and comfort requirements all in the same garment, at any price.
So for custom fit, style, comfort, and convenience (no more fruitless shopping!), making your own pants seems like the way to go. It’s just that they are a pain in the neck to fit.
Much like a new diet, a new pattern, article, book, DVD, online class, or workshop devoted to pants-fitting offers a new possibility of success. And some sewers really do succeed using each of these tools or learning aids, which have been created by very skilled, experienced, thoughtful experts in their field.
But what applies to diets also applies to pants-fitting methods:
Results may vary.
Even though I know from the battery of aptitude tests I took some years back that my spatial abilities are below average, I took the plunge last November to try fitting a pants pattern.
On myself. By myself. As a beginner.
It’s not as if I’d had much of a choice. No fitting experts came running to pound on my door, pleading to let them help, only to hear me say No! As usual, I had to figure out how I might get to my goal on my own.
I had made admittedly feeble attempts to learn pants-fitting as far back as 1989, as the date penciled in my–autographed!–copy of Singer’s Sewing Pants That Fit shows. My sewing library boasted fitting books, DVDs, and the full run of Threads magazines. I belonged to Pattern Review and bought Sarah Veblen’s and Angela Wolf’s online classes, which included student forums. My Craftsy library included pants-fitting classes. My pattern files held the Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 6901 and Pamela Leggett’s Pants…Perfected! pattern with DVD.
I even had a pattern drafted to my measurements in a class taught by a patternmaker, with two muslins I’d sewn, with her recommendations for further alterations.
All that did not guarantee the pants wardrobe of my dreams. All these wonderful learning tools went unused as I turned my attention to other sewing projects, weakly promising myself that I would get to pants–someday.
But last year there was this coming together of several factors that laid the groundwork that triggered my pants-fitting project:
An increasingly clear vision
The first factor was that my membership in Imogen Lamport’s 7 Steps to Style program was really beginning to help me pull together information about myself to help me design my wardrobe. I had expert feedback on my coloring, contrast, figure type, and most flattering silhouettes, and guidelines for creating my own “style recipe.” To create the outfits and capsules I dreamed of wearing, my current pants would have to go, replaced by ones I would be excited to make.
Saying no to the mediocre
The second factor was pledging not to buy any ready-to-wear clothes for a year as part of the Goodbye Valentino 2018 RTW Fast. I hadn’t been buying much ready-to-wear anyway, so it was easy to join this challenge. But interestingly, stopping even browsing racks of pants made me realize just how much I had been compromising my fit and style requirements. Once I became aware of this habit of settling for less, I wanted to do better–permanently.
A new world of fitting resources
The third factor was innovations in conveying fitting know-how. Pattern Review forums and member critiques of thousands of specific patterns. Pattern Review and Craftsy classes with video, printed materials, students’ questions and instructors’ answers. Sewing blogs. Fitting DVDs. YouTube videos. Threads magazine website’s Insider articles and videos. All these new means of conveying information, in addition to excellent new books and revised classics. Not to mention the expansion of Palmer-Pletsch workshop sites around the U.S.
Fitting is the bugbear of many sewers, and there are many talented people trying to serve a broad audience hungry to solve their fitting issues. So I wondered which of these teaching tools could bridge my knowledge gap and lead me to a well-fitting pants pattern.
I’d been dissatisfied with ready-to-wear pants fit and styles for…my whole life, actually. But it was only when these new circumstances came together that the scales were tipped: I found myself with
- a creative limitation keeping me from going back
- a vision helping me move forward
- tools holding the promise of realizing my dream
So I started. During a six-month period my sewing and fitting focus was entirely pants.
Here are some things that happened and things I learned:
I learned how to battle a strong aversion to reading the fitting literature and watching fitting videos. They were really boring for my brain, and in the past I had always bailed out. This time I hung in there.
Why did I stay the course this time?
- I defined the reward to be compelling enough.
- I defined not getting the reward to be disappointing enough.
- I recognized that I couldn’t overcome my aversion but I could work with it.
- I gave my brain breaks.
- I gave my brain stuff to do that it knew how to do. For example, I transcribed–yes, word for word–several of the videos in Sarah Veblen’s Fun With Fitting Pants class on PatternReview.com. It took a long time, and it was tedious (sorry, Sarah–not your fault!) but it was kind of like taking dictation in a foreign language class and slowly absorbing the grammar and vocabulary.
Much to my surprise, once I got some traction understanding fitting concepts–like what crotch depth and crotch length are–and had a muslin of my own to experiment on, I got absorbed in the topic. I read every Threads magazine article, every chapter in my books, scrutinized photos and illustrations, watched DVDs and online classes repeatedly, read Pattern Review discussions, and kept discovering nuances that had escaped me before. Incredibly, fitting books and articles even became my bedtime reading.
I began seeing philosophies of fitting. I thought–to use the foreign language comparison again–that there were fitting “grammar books,” like Sarah Veblen’s Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting that stress foundational concepts, and fitting “phrasebooks,” like Sandra Betzina’s Fast Fit, that diagnose specific problems and give specific solutions. Both are useful.
I tried tissue-fitting with McCall’s 6901 and Pamela Leggett’s Pants…Perfected! patterns. I tried Fitography’s Chloe pants pattern, based on my measurements and produced with software I downloaded from the company. Fitography deserves its own post someday. I also tried fitting the custom-drafted pants pattern I made in class. I moved among patterns and methods, but stayed long enough to delve deep. Pages of Sarah Veblen’s trouble-shooting guide from her online class are underlined and creased from frequent use.
I learned more about experimenting and problem-solving in sewing than I ever have before. I used Sarah’s grid method to examine the hang of pants. I tried to figure out how much I could learn from one muslin before proceeding to the next. If the front was fine, I’d keep it, rip out the back and cut just a new back.
I learned to set up a tripod and put the camera on 10-second delay to take pictures of myself in muslins from front, sides, and back. Then I printed out the pictures and evaluated every wrinkle and drag line. I learned to be more observant.
I learned to look at terrible pictures of myself in muslins without flinching!
I really had no intention of spending this long on pants-fitting. I was going to participate in a Pattern Review sewing challenge in February and March with pants being part of the outfits. But no–I was nowhere near meeting my goal. I had to set aside every other sewing and wardrobe goal to concentrate on pants-fitting. Partly because I have this low spatial ability, and also because as a blogger I was methodically recording everything–I have voluminous notes–my project took longer. Also because I’m a beginner and a slowpoke.
I ended up overfitting one pattern and then another. My muslins would be too baggy; I’d experiment with taking them in at the inseam, back crotch, outseam…and then go too far. Also, excess fabric under the seat plagued me for weeks and I never completely solved that problem. There seem to be many causes and as many solutions. I got some advice from Angela Wolf through her Altering Pants class on Pattern Review about what to do and count it as one of my greater life accomplishments that I completely understood what she meant.
It was when I was fiddling with small changes that were only different, not improvements, that I thought I really couldn’t get any further on my own. So it was back to looking for an expert willing to help me. That’s where I am now.
I’ve learned a lot about fitting concepts and techniques that I’d never had the desire, patience, or fortitude to learn before. I learned to experiment and was excited to see when I’d made the right judgment call.
But I’ve also learned–again–what my limitations are. As Sarah Veblen says in one of her videos in Fun With Fitting Pants, it is possible to fit yourself. But for me, the odds are just too long.
What makes pants-fitting difficult is achieving a delicate, unique balance of all the interrelated parts to make them comfortable, functional, and attractive. To get my things sewn I need to achieve my own balance: when I can rely on my strengths and experience and consult experts’ books and videos, and when I need to acknowledge my weaknesses and inexperience and rely on in-person expertise, on a regular basis, to make up the difference.
I have had access to such expertise sometimes, but now I really think it is a cornerstone of getting things sewn. I will continue to think about how to access the in-person expertise I need. I am more convinced than ever that it’s essential and worth working hard to get–and preserve.