The first step to resolving common pants fitting problems is identifying what’s amiss in the first place.
Because you can’t take steps to fix something if you can’t quite say what’s wrong, can you?
Name it to tame it.
(The “name it to tame it” principle works for more than managing emotions. Besides, if you’ve ever had pants fitting issues, you know the process can get emotional.)
When sewing pants, addressing fitting problems mostly comes down to reading wrinkles.
In a nutshell, wrinkles in pants tell you where there’s too much or too little fabric.
In this article, you will discover:
- The technique to fix most common pants fitting problems before you even sew (!)
- What different wrinkles mean (according to legendary sewing educator Nancy Zieman)
- What width-driven fit challenges look like
- What length-driven fit challenges look like
- How crotch length and shape fine tune fit
Let’s put on our big-sewist pants 👖 and get to work.
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How to Fix Most Pants Fitting Issues
Before we get specific with reading wrinkles, you need to know about a specific fitting technique.
The best way to fix most pants fitting issues is to minimize (or eliminate) them before you even try on the muslin.
No, it’s not witchcraft. It’s flat pattern measuring.
In flat pattern measuring, you measure the (flat) paper pattern pieces — seam allowance to seam allowance — and compare the dimensions to your own body (or a similar garment that fits you well).
Then you make length and width adjustments to the pattern pieces.
IMO you can head off *most* common pants fitting problems with flat pattern measuring.
It adds a bit of time to the pre-sewing process, but it’s worth it. That’s because any fit issues that come up afterward will be much less significant.
Here’s an article that describes the process in depth: Flat Pattern Measuring for Fit Adjustments.
Here’s an article where I put the process to work in a real pair of pants: Pattern Fitting Tips for Woven Jogger Pants (Pivot-and-Slide Method).
Reading Wrinkles with Nancy Zieman
In my favorite fitting book, Nancy Zieman’s “Pattern Fitting with Confidence,” she provides a useful table on the two types of wrinkles:
1.) Wrinkles that fold (think: layers of fabric that collapse on each other)
2.) Wrinkles that pull (think: fabric under tension)
|Type of Wrinkle||Fold||Pull|
|Horizontal||Horizontal fold = too much length||Horizontal pull = not enough width|
|Vertical||Vertical fold = too much width||Vertical pull = not enough length|
|Bias (Diagonal)||Bias fold = too much length and width||Bias pull = not enough length and width|
If you understand and employ this handy-dandy table, you’re more than halfway to resolving pants fitting challenges.
By the way, I used the following references in this article:
📖 The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting, by Sarah Veblen (Veblen gives great online classes on PatternReview.com — I’ve bought them with my own 💵 and can vouch for their quality.)
📖 Pants Fitting Tips + Adjustments Fitting E-Book, by Closet Core Patterns (part of CCP’s freebie library)
📖 Pants for Any Body, by Patti Palmer and Susan Pletsch
📖 Pattern Fitting with Confidence, by Nancy Zieman
📖 Singer Sewing Reference Library: The Perfect Fit
You know me… I never met a sewing book I didn’t like.
Seriously, though — a collection of reference books gives you different perspectives on the same topic. Just more tools for the toolbox, I say.
Width Issues When Fitting Pants
Width (circumference) fitting challenges come up when the pattern can’t accommodate body volume side to side. (Width is the pattern’s “X-axis.”)
There can be width issues from the waist to the ankle. Here’s what they might look like.
Horizontal Pull Wrinkles at Abdomen
Not enough width in the front leg pattern piece. If they’re bias pull wrinkles, there’s not enough width or length in the upper front leg area (between the waist and crotch).
Horizontal Pull Wrinkles on Back of Knees
Not enough width on back leg below knee.
Horizontal Pull Wrinkles at Seat
Not enough width in back leg pattern piece. If they’re bias pull wrinkles, there’s not enough width or length in the upper back leg area (between the waist and crotch).
Horizontal Pull Wrinkles at Thigh, Upper Inseam, and Side Seam
Not enough width on the front and back leg pieces between the hip and knee.
Horizontal Pull Wrinkles at Waist/band
Not enough width at waist. (It’s pretty easy to tell if the waist is too tight when the pants are tried on.)
Bias Pull Wrinkles That Point Down and Away from (Front) Crotch
Not enough width at side seam.
Bias Pull Wrinkles That Point Up and Away from (Front) Crotch
Not enough width at inseam.
Bias Fold Wrinkles that Point Down and Away from (Front) Crotch
Too much width at inseam.
Vertical Fold Wrinkles (Particularly at Side Seam)
Too much width in front and back leg pieces.
Length Issues When Fitting Pants
Length fitting challenges come up when the pattern can’t accommodate body volume up and down. (Length is the pattern’s “Y-axis.”)
Here’s what common pants fitting problems related to length might look like.
Horizontal Folds at Back Waist
Too much length at upper back leg piece. If the folds are deepest at the center back seam, that’s where most of the excess length is.
Horizontal Folds Under Seat
Too much length at inseam and crotch length too short. If the bum is flat, the folds could be caused by a too-long back crotch length.
Bias Pull Wrinkles from Inseam at Knee
Not enough length at side seam and too much length at inseam.
Bias Pull Wrinkles from Side Seam at Knee
Not enough length at inseam and too much length at side seam.
A Note About Rise and Hem Length
The rise of pants (aka, crotch depth, the distance from crotch to waist) may be too long or too short. Same goes for pants (hem) length.
When you’re fitting pants, you don’t need wrinkles to tell you that your waist is too high/low or that the hem is too long/short. I’m sure your lovely eyeballs can suss out those issues just fine.
Curve and Shape Issues When Fitting Pants
We’ve worked the X- and Y-axes. However, the lovely human body doesn’t only live in two dimensions.
Body volume occupies space on the “Z-axis,” too — we’re talking 3-D, baby!
And, when we dive into fitting pants on this Z-axis, we get into the location of body volume in the booty/hips and abdomen/stomach areas.
Crotch length — the distance from the front waist, between the legs, to the back waist — ultimately is where you refine a pants pattern for body volume location.
Vertical Pull Wrinkles on Front Crotch
The front crotch isn’t curved (long) enough to accommodate body volume in the lower abdomen.
Horizontal Fold Wrinkles on Front Crotch
The front crotch curve isn’t shallow (short) enough to properly rest against the lower abdomen.
Horizontal Pull Wrinkles Under Seat
The back crotch curve isn’t low enough (L-shaped) to accommodate the location of the booty volume.
Final Thoughts on Common Pants Fitting Problems
So, congrats on finishing this article on pants fitting issues, and I hope as you were reading you could start to visualize what these different wrinkles look like.
Heck, as I was writing this post I was pulling on my pants to re-create the wrinkles and to feel the various length and width issues on my body!
I bet that you are starting to understand, too, how many common pants fitting problems sort of compound-slash-overlap.
For example, if the back leg pattern piece can’t accommodate body volume, it could be because the back crotch length is too short, the back crotch curve isn’t low enough, and the hip width is too narrow.
Now, I’m sorry to report that one fit adjustment can create a fit challenge in another spot. Not fair, right?
Keep track of pants adjustments and know that you’re not doing anything “wrong” if you have to go back for fine tuning.
Fitting pants is hard, because bodies are wonderfully curved and carry volume in different places.
With practice (and persistence!), you’ll gain fluency in fitting wrinkles and translate them into well-fitting pants.
Over to you: What’s your favorite way to approach identifying pants fitting problems? Please share instructors, books, videos, methodologies, etc. in the comments. Thanks for reading.
The fashion illustration in the top image was generated by DALL-E 2.
This is very helpful to me! I have vertical folds at the front crotch of pants I’m currently working on, and at least now I know there is a width problem. I will keep investigating to see where I need to narrow!
YAY! I’m so happy to hear this helped, Katie. Sometimes you have to take a beat to identify what the heck is going on before you can move forward.
This article really helped make sense of pants-fitting issues. The common term of “read the drag lines” hasn’t been all that helpful when I looked at my pants. Distinguishing the difference between folds and pull lines helped tremendously! I always appreciate your in depth research and analysis. Thanks for the article!
Glad it helped, Diane! Once you declare whether a wrinkle is folding or pulling, your plan of attack comes into focus.