FitProcessSewing Projects

2018: A Pants Odyssey

By November 1, 2018 July 8th, 2020 16 Comments


Almost five months after my first report about my pants pattern-fitting journey I’m back with an update.

Surrounded by some (not all!) of the pants muslins I’ve made on this pants odyssey.

In my previous report I said that despite my concerted efforts to understand fitting principles and fit myself I needed in-person, expert help.  Since writing that post I did find help.

I checked the class listings of a small, local fabric store and noticed for the first time that individual lessons with some of the teachers could be arranged.  I called, explained my dilemma, and was told I should come in and talk to one teacher in particular.

And that’s how I met Madame X.

Madame X may be famous for being painted by John Singer Sargent, but she also fits pants patterns!

I explained to Madame X that I had gone as far as I could go on my own and was now just doing variations of different, but not better. Madame X explained that while she was experienced she wouldn’t claim she was an expert. If I was willing to be a good sport, she’d see what she could do.

It turned out she could do quite a lot.

What a relief it was to put on a muslin and have someone else examine the fit!  I could skip my time-consuming rigamarole:  setting the camera on a tripod on time delay, taking very unflattering pictures of myself, downloading the photos, printing some, and writing copious notes critiquing every wrinkle (in the muslin, that is).

After two, maybe three muslins Madame X had worked out quite a nice fit for me.  I was very encouraged.

The next step was a wearable test.  To sew it I used an oyster gray wool blend with a weight and drape similar to what I’d want in wool trousers. Here’s the result:

How much wrinkling and extra fabric is fine and how much can be eliminated? It’s a fine line and I’m still learning.

I had mixed feelings about this cut of pants.  The big plus was the way they hung smoothly seen from the side and the back. I was concerned, though, whether the volume in the backs of the legs was too much and could be reduced while preserving the hang.  In the fittings Madame X and I went back and forth about this.  In my own fitting attempts my perennial problem was long diagonal wrinkles in the backs of the legs.  When Madame X allowed for more volume in the back, as in classic trousers, the wrinkles went away and I had a nice, smooth line.

But was that line in scale with my figure? That was the question.   At 5 feet 1 inch tall I’m always thinking proportion, proportion, proportion.  Would this pattern draft give me the best proportion for my figure?

I packed Madame X’s pants draft and the oyster gray wearable test for my trip in September back to Minnesota to see Edith, my fairy godmother sewing teacher.

I put on the pants. “They’re hanging from the hips,” Edith said. “They should hang from the waist.” She pulled the waistband up and then pinned it in place snugly. She subtracted 4 whole inches from the waist, put more curve into the hipline, generously scooped the back crotch curve, and slightly narrowed the legs.  Before long I was trying on the muslin made from her pattern alteration. It fit nicely, and it definitely hung from the waist.

Home again and back in the sewing room, I sewed a wearable test from Edith’s pattern.  This tweedy gray is a wool blend, lighter in weight than the oyster gray but also drapey and nice for trousers. Here is the result:

I think the amount of wrinkling is okay.

There’s much to like about these tweedy gray pants. They do hang nicely from the waist. However, is the waist emphasis okay, or too much?

I tried a second wearable test. I added back about 1 inch in the waist. The fabric was a linen-rayon blend that’s a nice weight and drape for spring and summer.  Here’s the result:

Not the most graceful pose.

Hmm–I think the wrinkles in the left leg indicate my uneven stance.

I can’t see much difference in the appearance of the waist with 1 inch space added back in.  I think one reason is the in-seam pockets I sewed in this pair are gaping open and adding to the curve in the hip. This is not flattering. I’ll research other pocket options.

I continued to wonder whether I really needed this much room in the back of this pants pattern:

I was suffering from pants-fitting fatigue (can you blame me?), but I thought I should try another muslin.  I added back yet another inch to the waist, and  subtracted just 1/4 inch each from the inseam and outseam of the back and front pieces to eliminate a total of 1 inch from the leg circumference.

Here is the unflattering result of that experiment:

The dreaded drag lines have returned! Ugh!

This is pretty much what the backs of my pants muslins looked like when I was working on my own, pre-Madame X.  These wrinkles were the big puzzle I hadn’t solved and which Madame X did. It seemed like the insides of my knees were the source of the wrinkles. I don’t fit the classic knock-knees scenario, but it seemed like I needed a knock-knees solution.  At any rate, Madame X came up with a solution that gave me a smoother line, and Edith, with her decades of pattern-fitting experience, was able to subtract design ease without messing with the fitting ease.

Then I crossed a line and messed up the fitting ease.


Then I went to a week-long Buddhist retreat and learned how to detach myself from–

–No, I didn’t!

I tried on the tweedy gray wearable test one more time. I tried folding the waistband under and envisioning the pants with just a faced waist. The look would be more streamlined.  That would work.

And in the coming fall and winter months I could sew lined wool trousers from my existing pattern and see how I liked them.

In other words, I decided to declare a partial victory. The fit is good enough, and now I’ll turn my attention to perfecting construction details.  Along the way I’ll read more, learn more, work more with Madame X, understand a few more bits and pieces, and eventually try fitting more pants.

And who knows–maybe jeans, too.

Gather round, muslins! Have I got a story for you!

All studio photos are by Cynthia DeGrand, Photographer.  (The “dreaded drag lines” muslin photo is by Jack Miller, Husband.)


  • Gordon says:

    Paula, I love your process and your blog. I think you have found your long sought after desire! Congratulations!

    • Paula DeGrand says:

      How wonderful to hear from you, Gordon! We must get together the next time I visit Minnesota! Thank you!

  • M says:

    What a joy to read all your reports and see all your wearable muslins. WOW. You make me want to take my own efforts up a couple of notches and see what I can improve. I’m a pants-making — determined — novice. THANK YOU!!!!

    • Paula DeGrand says:

      Thank you, M! I wish you every success. If you keep running into fitting problems on your own, I hope you can find someone to give you a hand.

  • Jane M says:

    Thanks for such a thorough post about the pants fitting journey. I’m heading that way myself next month so your persistence is encouraging.

    • Paula DeGrand says:

      Jane, I hope to save you some trouble and shorten up the time it takes to get wearable results. Good luck!

  • neucarol says:

    Thanx for detailing the excruciating process. I wake up in the middle of the nite with potential solutions.

    • Paula DeGrand says:

      That’s the difference between you and me, Carol–I just wake up in the middle of the night, with no solutions!

  • Lynn Mally says:

    Well, I was reminded of the old saying, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” I think your pants look GREAT! Wear them and be happy.

  • Chris Schwab says:

    Have you watched any of the Silhouette Pattern YouTube videos? She has quite a few that touch on pants fitting, particularly those under bum wrinkles that you might want to consider. Her theory is that the pants have too much length over the rear, stemming from the original change from skirt block to pants. She takes s hipline dart, then if needed, a dart st the top of the thigh to deal with cleaning up diagonal wrinkles, rather than trying a knock knee adjustment. You might grab a cup of tea and have a browse. Some tweaking did major wonders for me. Best of luck in continuing your journey and thanks for sharing

    • Paula DeGrand says:

      I will take a look at these videos. And maybe some other readers will check them out, too, and benefit from your recommendation. I can read half a dozen fitting approaches and feel clueless and then there is something about the next explanation or illustration that will click with me. So, thanks for your personal recommendation.

  • Abbey says:

    I think these three pairs of trousers look wonderful! And I am a big fan of maximum waist emphasis, but you have to do what’s most comfortable for you! =D I can see what you mean about the slash pockets on the brick-colored pair: perhaps you will have better luck with them situated in the side seam? (I’ve yet to find a pair of trousers with those pockets–self-made or store-bought–that don’t gape!) I think you are headed in a very promising direction!

    • Paula DeGrand says:

      Actually, those pockets are in-seam. I was going to run a closeup of the pocket and then decided I’d write a separate post just about the pocket technique. I used Kathleen Cheetham’s instructions in “The Low-Profile Pocket” in the Feb.-March 2018 issue of Threads magazine. I had mixed results, but I think I know why. Thanks for your encouragement, Abbey–you’re the inspiring one!

  • Wouter says:

    I admire your persistence. The tweedy gray looks great!

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