December 13, 2010

A Discussion on Pants with Cal Patch

I was reading in Design It Yourself Clothes the other night. Just before going to bed. I've been having a little fun coercing my patternmaking skills into submission. I was flipping through the book and just thinking about things I could draft, blah, blah, blah. And then I flipped to the section on pants. It's the last section of drafting in the book with "extras" behind it which in and of itself I thought interesting and noteworthy for our adventure with trouser making this January. Ms. Patch gave a rather nice preface to the pants section and one which prompted a few questions I wanted to put to her. So I messaged the woman right up and you know what? She was so nice! She graciously answered my queries and was so quick in responding. I find it only appropriate that we now hear her input on those bottoms that seem to bewilder the most advanced seamstress.

A Fashionable Stitch ~ Tell me a little about yourself and how it is that sewing and designing came to be part of your life.

Cal Patch ~ Well, I would really have liked to major in art in college. But despite being creative, I am also very practical, and I knew even at a young age that an art major would leave me without many job prospects. So SOMEHOW I figured out that if I went into Fashion Design (even though i hate the "F" word!) i would be more likely to be gainfully employed. My main rationale was that "everyone wears clothes!"

I didn't learn to sew properly until I was in college. I still lament the way we were taught to sew; it was very outdated and laborious. I think we should have made a garment per week, but it was more like a garment every three months. To this day I'm very slow at sewing (and everything else I do!) and wish I could go faster.
Basic Pant pattern from Cal's book Design it Yourself Clothes

A Fashionable Stitch ~ Right into the burning question of today, what is it exactly about pants that makes them hard to draft and hard to fit?

Cal Patch ~ I think the main reason is that pants have to cover an area that is an intersection of 3 cylinders (your torso and two legs) AND it's probably the section of the body with the most movement. Think about it: you've got your waist, hips and knees, and they can all bend and twist so many ways. So we expect our pants to give us a complete range of motion while fitting very closely, which really sounds pretty impossible for a woven fabric! Then there is also the fact that every person has a unique set of measurements, shape and proportion...
Annie Trousers from Cal's Book

A Fashionable Stitch ~ Have you made a pair of pants for yourself and if so, what kinds of problems did you run into?

Cal Patch ~ Honestly, I've made very few pants! The only pants I really wear are jeans, and I kind of think that they are best left to manufacturers like Levi's because we can't do all of the hardware and heavy-duty stitching on home sewing machines. But I have made a pair of corduroys from one of the Built by You patterns; they came out great except they don't fit well! I should have made a muslin but I didn't. And then I made all of the pants for my book, which I made to my own measurements so they fit me (and didn't fit the models very well)...
Carla Palazzo pants from Cal's Book

A Fashionable Stitch ~ Any tips to keep in mind? Things to look for as we sew pants/trousers?

Cal Patch ~ I think the best tip I can give is that pants definitely require a muslin first, so the fit can be checked and adjusted before many hours are wasted. Unlike a top or dress, a lot of pant issues won't be fixed by adjusting side seams. If the crotch is too low, it can't be raised because the fabric has already been cut away! The rise seam is often the trickiest bit to get right. Good luck everyone! I'll check in on your progress and remember, I'm here if you need me ;n)

Thanks Cal! This little question and answer prompted a few questions I would like to put to you now. Have you tried sewing pants? If it ended badly, what was the main problem? Where did the pants pull, bunch or not fit at all well in general?

Don't forget to check out Cal's sweet little book on patternmaking! It's really great for beginners just learning the ropes of how to draft patterns for yourself! Drop by her blog too and Etsy shop!

Next up: shopping list for our trouser sewalong. Oh what fun!


  1. I find all the photo's of Cal's book the clothes look very home made. Really not selling the book to me.

  2. I have the book and, as a beginner pattern drafter, I find it excellent. Cal Patch helped me understand that the biggest challenge of constructing a garment is to turn a 2D piece of fabric into a 3D object, unique to our body shape. I agree with her on how challenging sewing pants is, but It´s not impossible.
    Thanks for the interview girls!!

  3. I've sewn a couple of pairs of trousers (and a bajillion muslins) and things that were an issue included... [#1] the crotch curve - this is a hard seam to fit and doesn't really make sense to me! And it'll be very different for everyone, even people with different measurements! [#2] on my best fitting version, I dropped the center front by nearly an inch - so the center back and sides went along the pattern lines, but I cut away pattern from the top of the front pattern piece - this was essentially part of a big-booty adjustment - I needed more length in the back to get over everything! The waistline on the trousers LOOKS straight when I'm wearing, weird when I'm not! [#3] the front crotch... is there anything more unnatractive than extra fabric in the crotch? Luckily, I was using one of the Simplicity perfect fit patterns (I recommend them if you don't know what you're doing - VERY specific fitting advice, and 1 inch seams as part of the pattern!) and it recommended resewing the inseams a little smaller (i.e. go back and resew your 5/8" seam at 3/4") - worked well!
    Yay pants! But... double yay for dresses! Have fun trouser sewalongers!

  4. Oh damn, my last comment didn't seem to save!
    Thanks for the interesting interview - I am excited to get stared on making my first pair of trousers - so glad its as past of a sew-along!
    By the way - LOVE the new blog look :)

  5. I've sewn a couple of Burda trousers and the infamous Jalie Jeans pattern (about a jillion times now). I don't have too much trouble fitting---hooray for being a rectangle ;)---though I do have to make a small gaposis adjustment, and occasionally straighten the hip curve. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I never buy another pair of RTW jeans again---I may not be able to do some of the fancier finishes and embroidery, but I can do all the basic topstitching and riveting at home, and get exactly the fit and style I want, usually for under $20 (instead of the $80+ I usually pay for storebought jeans).

  6. Which is actually not what I was trying to do. I don't know that Cal's styles in her book are for everyone, however the focus of the book is not on the patterns themselves but on patterndrafting. The patterns that she came up with are merely a representation of the many things you can do yourself if you try your hand at pattern drafting. The book itself has very clear and concise instructions on how to start patterndrafting, especially for the home seamstress.
    Here, I was just trying to highlight Cal's approach to pants as the preface to that section in her book really caught my eye as relating to the trouser sewalong. I think she brings up some pretty good points here.
    Just a little precursor excitement to the event in January!

  7. Totally agree Maria! I find her book invaluable for the home seamstress stumbling her way through pattern drafting for the first time. And no, sewing and fitting pants isn't impossible!

  8. Oh the crotch! Isn't that just the crux of it all! I've made a few pairs that have little bunches and poofs right in the front and right where it counts.
    I do highly recommend the 1 inch seams, which we'll be doing for the Burda pants. Hip hip hooray!

  9. Why thank you! I'm very excited too! About trousers and making my very own that will fit me like a glove.

  10. I also agree with you! My Bella slacks, made from denim, are some of the most versatile pants I own and I would also like to second that though I can't do everything that they do to jeans these days, denim is surprisingly not so very hard to sew with, topstitch and rivet. And making them for me, is a whole bunch easier than trying to find some that my price range.

  11. I'm following these posts with great interest - while this is a tricky time of year for me to embark on making pants, it IS something that is a huge priority for me in the new year. So I'm grateful you are doing these - thanks for the interview, it was helpful, and fun, and a good encouragement!

  12. I make all my pants. My hips are relatively large and my waist is relatively small (with a difference of about 13" between the two). I have a pattern that I use as a sloper, where I've worked out crotch length and crotch curve. I lay it on top of other patterns before I cut them out. I find that I tend to like low-waisted pants and most of the Big 4 pants patterns have super long front center seams, so I tend to hack off 5-6" from the top of the pattern. I find it works better (for me) to take the excess length right off the top.
    My biggest issue is that I haven't figured out how to predict how fabric will behave once it's a finished pair of pants, eg, a nice fabric that seems super stable will bag out at the knees (and everywhere) else within an hour of first putting the pants on. I tend to sew my pants on the tight side to counteract this, but that's not always flattering.

  13. Ok, I'm on board for the pants-along/trouser-along. I've only attempted one true pair of pants and they are still hanging in my closet unfinished. I'm excited about the prospect of making a decent pair!

  14. I have been reading the pants fitting section of my fitting book before getting out of bed this morning. I think my fitting book is excellent, so I am going to recommend it to you all (though from memory it was a bit ex-y)
    "Fitting and Pattern Alteration: A multi-method approach to the Art of Style Selection, Fitting and Alteration" by Elizabeth Liechty, Judith Rasband, Della Pottberg-Steineckert. The topics covered for pants include longer /shorter legs, longer / shorter lower torso, inward/outward rotation of knee, hyperextended knees, prominent calves, high /low buttocks contour, sway back / front, smaller / larger waist, prominent hip bones, high / low hip curve, wider / narrower hips, cylindrical lower torso, oval shaped lower torso, prominent/flat abdomen, high /low abdominal contour, prominent /flat buttocks, prominant / receded pubic area, larger thighs at front / side / inside, thin / larger legs.
    When you consider all thoses potential fitting areas, no wonder it is hard to get pants to fit. For me, I have less fitting problems with pants than I do a blouse. I can also buy pants with only minor alterations required. (I can't ever buy blouses or dresses, so don't curse me!)
    I have struggled with fitting pants from some of the pattern companies, then I found that Marfy patterns fit me really well. Lots of people recommend Burda pants, though I have never tried them. Some love Jalie, some don't. I guess if you don't want to draft your own, it is worth making muslins from a few different companies to find the best starting point (yay for pattern sales). It is also worth looking through sewing magazines and pattern review to see how the pants make up on other people and how much fitting trouble they had.
    I have made plenty of pants, so I won't be sewing-along, but good luck everybody!

  15. I have this book and haven't looked at it in awhile. I'll have to dig it out before the sew along. I haven't really tried pants for me (I don't think it counts if I've made pants for a 2 year old, lol), so I'm looking forward to this adventure!

  16. Thanks for the interview and book recommendation! One of my goals for next year is to learn to draft patterns. This book seems like a great place to start. Looking forward to the sew-along in January. :)

  17. I've sewn quite a few pairs of pants. Fitting is always a major pain in the backside, lol :) My waist is narrow and my hips are wide, so there's always some adjusting to be done in those areas. I also often end up deepening the crotch curve for more body space, widening the area around the top part of the thighs, so the pants don't cling there and lengthening them. Muslins are very useful in figuring all this stuff out.
    Now that I have a couple of go-to pants patterns, I'm really happy. Store-bought pants usually seem uncomfortable after I've been wearing my custom-altered pants.
    I don't agree with Cal Patch about jeans. I make all my own jeans, using a Jalie pattern, and add all the hardware, etc. It's a time-consuming process, but they turn out pretty nice--at least in my humble opinion, LOL :)

  18. Hi there. Great interview! I just borrowed this book fro the library. I do find it useful and will be using a lot of the ideas and tips on my future sewing projects. As for the trouser sewalong, I am not really sure I want to use the Burda pattern. Do you think you could recommend something similar from one of the big 4 companies?

  19. Hey Catherine,
    We won't start stitching until January 3. Just giving everyone a prep.

  20. I know, those big long zippers in the front. I too like a lower zipper line and tend to like lower waisted things as well, but have been rather surprised at loving a pair of pants I made that are super high waisted.
    The sloper idea is fabulous too! Need to do that!

  21. So excited that you are excited! I'm ready for thousands of decent pairs myself.

  22. I know! All the adjustments! No wonder many of us don't sew them much. I definitely need to try my hand at a Marfy pattern. Thanks for the suggestion.

  23. This is my idea as well! Having a great pants go to pattern. One that I just make several pairs from. Great idea! I just have too much trouble trying to find pants that fit me. Too many fitting problems.

  24. I do love the book myself. You are welcome to use any other pattern you like really. I've been eyeing some of those Claire Shaeffer pattern over at Vogue. They look classic and seem to hang just beautifully. These from Decades of Style look rather dashing too:
    Hopefully this gives you some ideas.

  25. I sewed a pair of knickers a few years ago, but never wear them. My fabric choice was just not right for the garment, and I didn't know about adjusting the crotch curve at the time, so was never happy with how low it came. I then took a jeans class, which was so informative. But then I moved right after the class ended and never sewed on the waistband & hemmed...tsk, tsk. I should just know that off my list so I can say I made jeans :)

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