Hey, friends. Let’s have a heart-to-heart convo, right here, right now. Does sewing pants freak you out? Yes? Me, too.
That’s why I went to pants school at the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo. The class was Achieving Perfectly Fitting Pants: A Lesson in Three Parts. Dudes, it was I-N-T-E-N-S-E. Three two-and-half-hour sessions in two days. I learned so much.
So much, in fact, I can’t cover it in one blog post. This post, Part 1, will cover essential measurements. Part 2 will cover how to adjust your paper pattern pieces based on the essential measurements. And I think I’ll wrap up this odyssey of sewing pants with Part 3: These Here are the Pants I Done Sewed Using This Technique.
Ready to ride with me? Giddy up!
About the Pants Class
The class was taught by taught by the late sewing educator and pattern designer Cynthia Guffey. She was a self-taught sewist, a fast-talking Southern lady, and a genuine hoot.
According to Guffey, “Everyone has a cute butt, you just need to fit it.” This is why we care about fitting pants correctly! Cute butts forever.
Guffey developed this pants-fitting technique over decades, and she was constantly on the road teaching it to eager sewists. My recap of her technique hits the most-critical elements. If you need more info, Guffey created a workbook and fitting series DVDs (I received them as part of the class, and I think they’re worth it!):
- Pants Fitting Workbook
- Guffey’s Fitting Series DVDs: Pants Fitting and Tweaking Pants (separate DVDs)
RELATED: Pattern Fitting Tips for Woven Jogger Pants (Pivot-and-Slide Method)
Sewing Pants Starts with Measurements!
Before you can start sewing pants, you have to take measurements.
Many, many measurements.
The best way to manage your measurements is to make a table. This will make paper pattern changes A LOT easier! A table will help you stay better organized than a collection of chicken-scratch measurements all over the place (ask me how I know)!
Your table will have four columns:
- My Body
- The Pattern
- Difference (+/-)
Under the Measurement column, write the following:
- Left Side to Floor
- Right Side to Floor
- Center Front to Floor
- Center Back to Floor
- Front Waist Width
- Back Waist Width
- Finished Front Hip at 2″
- Finished Front Hip at 4″
- Finished Front Hip at 6″
- Finished Front Hip at 8″
- Largest Hip Point in Front
- Finished Back Hip at 2″
- Finished Back Hip at 4″
- Finished Back Hip at 6″
- Finished Back Hip at 8″
- Largest Hip Point in Back
- Waist to Knee
- Crotch Length (+ 1 – 1.5″)
- Crotch Depth (Sitting)
- Finished Pants Length
If one hip is higher than the other, you will have additional rows (keep reading for more info).
Let’s Get Started Sewing Pants!
Maybe all my headers in this post will have exclamation points! Pants!
After you make your table, next thing is to tie a quarter-inch piece of elastic around your waist where you want your pants waistband to sit. NOTE: This elastic DOES NOT go at your natural waist (unless you want to wear pants at your natural waist, then by all means, do your thing)! The elastic is your key reference point for making adjustments to the paper pattern.
Slip into some leggings and kick off your shoes. Here’s what you and your best measuring buddy need to know about all those aforementioned measurements to be recorded:
(A) Left Side to Floor, Right Side to Floor
In my diagram, I only labeled one side, but you get the picture. Measure from the waist to the floor on the left and right sides. This will determine if one hip is higher than the other. If one hip IS higher, skip down in this post for special directions!
(B) Center Front to Floor, Center Back to Floor
Measure from waist to floor in the front and back.
Front Waist Width
Measure the front of the waist, at the elastic.
Back Waist Width
Measure the back of the waist, at the elastic.
Finished Front Hip at 2″, 4″, 6″, 8″
Cut four strips of masking tape, each about 12 inches. On each strip, mark off 2 inches, 4 inches, 6 inches, and 8 inches. Stick the masking tape vertically on the side of each leg and on the center front and center back, all starting from the waist.
Measure across the front hip at each increment, using the masking tape as a guide.
Largest Hip Point in Front
Locate the largest point of the hip, and mark it on a strip of masking tape. Measure the distance from the waist to the mark and write it down. Mark the largest hip point on the other pieces of tape using this measurement. (I didn’t mark this measurement on the diagram to keep the it from becoming cluttered.)
Measure across the front hip at the largest point.
Finished Back Hip at 2″, 4″, 6″, 8″
Measure across the back hip at each increment, using the masking tape as a guide.
Largest Hip Point in Back
Measure across the back hip at the largest part.
(C) Waist to Knee
Measure from the waist to the knee.
(D) Crotch Length (+ 1 – 1.5″)
Measure from the front waist to the back waist, between the legs. The measuring tape should rest against the body without ease. Add 1 inch to 1.5 inches of ease to the measurement and record it in your handy-dandy table!
(E) Crotch Depth (Sitting)
Sit down (no, really — this measurement MUST be taken sitting down). Measure from the waist at the side of the hip to where the bum hits the table or chair.
(F) Finished Pants Length
Measure from the waist to the desired hem. If you’re fixing to wear this pants with a particular pair of shoes, now is a good time to slip them on.
The crotch curve is the shape of your hips. It’s a shape, not a measurement. Use a flexible ruler (affiliate link) to capture the shape of your curve.
Place the top of the ruler at the center back waist. Run the ruler over the back hip and just between the legs, shaping it to mimic your body shape. Take the ruler away from the body and trace the crotch curve on paper.
Guffey explained that most pants patterns are designed for women with a rounder crotch curve, not a flat curve. This is why many sewists end up with bagginess under the bum. Just for fun, here’s my crotch curve, as captured by Guffey:
What If Your Hips are Uneven?
If you take the left- and right-side-to-floor measurements and find that your hips are uneven, you have a little more work to do. And, speaking of uneven hips, you’re not a broken person if you have uneven hips. A number of the sewists in my pants class were uneven; it’s normal, and no body is perfectly symmetrical.
You will need to split your measurements into two hemispheres. All horizontal measurements will have right and left components:
- Front waist (right front waist, left front waist… you get the idea)
- Back waist
- Front hip
- Back hip
For the vertical measurements, measure them on your lower side.
Ultimately, if you have uneven hips, you will create separate pattern pieces for your legs/hips to maximum customization.
I will be back with Part 2 in two weeks (I’m taking a little holiday next week, so no post). Stay tuned! In the meantime, please ask any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. I AM NOT a pants-fitting experts; I’m merely relaying what I learned from this pants-fitting intensive.
P.S. Here’s my post from last week: How to Choose Fabric: A Crash Course in Fashion Textiles. ICYMI, it’s about another course I took at the sewing expo.
P.P.S. Here are the links to the two other parts of this three-part series. And yes, for maximum understanding, you should read them in order:
Sewing Pants, Part 2: Altering Pants Pattern Pieces
Sewing Pants, Part 3: A Completed Pair of Hampshire Trousers
How awesome of you to put this out for us all, thank you so so much!!
I have a kind of stupid question, when you say front hip you mean we should measure across our bellies, from side to side?
And, for the crotch curve we don’t need to get the shape on the front? As I write this I am guessing we get that shape from the front hip measurements, right?
Cannot thank you enough, this is really generous!
Thanks for reading, Juliana!
Yes, when I say front hip, I mean across the belly/abdomen, from side to side.
RE: Crotch curve: Guffey only took the crotch curve in the back.
Hope this helps!
great work Erin!!
Im super new to sewing (well, unless you count home economics from yesteryears lol) and am i ever so glad to have found your blog. Your Sewing Pants Series is the only one I found that explains everything about sewing pants very well! Thank you!
Thanks for reading, Wendy! The method is fussy, but I think it gives you a great understanding of how you can shape a pattern to fit your body. As far as other pants resources (seeing as how you’re a new sewist), I think Closet Case Patterns does a fab job with its ebook on troubleshooting pants-fitting challenges. HAVE FUN! ♥️
This was good reading.
Is there a place where I can get the same sort of information but specifically for men?
I maintain and repair sewing machines as a hobby and sew a little – mainly alterations – but would really like to be able to alter trousers well and not just ‘take them in’ so they don’t fall down…
Hi, Raphael! Thanks for reading. Gosh, I don’t know much about men’s sewing/alterations. BUT. I do think you can use the principle of measuring at set points to compare a body to a pattern measurement.
Two resources about pants fitting come to mind:
1.) Pants for Any Body by Pati Palmer and Susan Pletsch – of Palmer/Pletsch tissue-fitting fame.
2.) Closet Core Patterns jeans fitting adjustments – https://www.closetcorepatterns.com/jean-fitting-adjustments-best-fitting-jeans/. There’s an ebook of this content, too, if you sign up for the newsletter. It’s good stuff.
So, those resources are for women’s bodies. However, if you need to adjust pattern pieces to accommodate more/less body volume, I don’t think it matters if you’ve got a girl body, boy body, or non-binary body. All bodies need to feel comfortable in clothes!
Ooh, the other thing I’d add is that there *may* be slightly different rules about ease in clothes for men’s bodies. But ease is personal, and ya gotta do what works for you! I say Google “ease for men’s pants” to get started.
Finally, I can’t recommend enough testing with long, temporary stitches (called basting, if you didn’t know) BEFORE committing to a modification. Test first, zero regrets later.
Thanks for the great question; hope this is helpful! Good luck on your sewing journey, and keep asking questions! Sewists looooove to help.
Hi! This is such a good article, and I can’t wait to try this but I also had a couple questions. For the “finished back/front hip at x inches” part I am having trouble visualizing what I am supposed to do there with the masking tape. Is there a picture that you might be able to point me toward? Thank you!
Hi, Megan. Thanks for reading; I’m glad you find it helpful.
I’ve got two images from Guffey’s printed workbook that might help clarify:
CB and CF tape
Pls LMK if this works for you.
Great explanation. I’m just starting to get into drafting, having had some luck previously in copying from existing pieces.
Just a note – the link for part 2 seems to be broken; it’s going to the source rather than the article. (I did find part 2 via google though!)
Hi, Kathy! Thanks for reading, and I’m glad the article is helping to illuminate some mysteries of drafting. Isn’t it wild how certain instructions/reference materials will cause a concept to “click” into place?
P.S. I tested the Part 2 link, and I couldn’t replicate your error. Hrm. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll keep an eye on it.