posted in: Fit, Tutorial | 12

Why don’t my pants fit well?!

Do you think learning tips and trick for pants fitting is hard? Have you ever wondered why your pants pull or bunch in weird places? Does your back waistband gap? Or you always seem to have a bit of a wedgie or extra fabric where you shouldn’t? Have you ever wondered why you prefer the fit of a certain brand over another? Or WHY your pants don’t quite feel right even though you followed the size chart and are wearing the correct size?

The reason is this: even though all manufacturers use a standard set of measurements, our bodies do NOT. You may have followed the hip measurement for your size, but your back rise is higher and crotch curve is totally different. Your thighs may be much thinner (or thicker). You may have a fuller tummy or a rounder upper bottom. There are as many combinations of how your body contours work together as there are stars in the sky and it’s simply not possible for an off the rack pair of pants to fit all of them exactly.  I swear you can learn proper pants fitting techniques!

Patterns follow the same set of measurements that ready-to-wear manufacturers do with a different goal in mind. RTW uses these measurements to try and find the ‘average.’ They attempt to hit the middle of the road so that they have the greatest chance of fitting the most people the best. Patterns, on the other hand, are drafted to give seamstresses the best template off of which to make individual fit adjustments. There is NO magic pattern that will fit so many different bodies perfectly. If you sew a pattern exactly as is without taking your personal fit needs into account, it will fit exactly like store bought pants. This is why we sew! So that OUR pants that we sew to fit our own individual bodies end up looking so much better than what we could buy in the store.

It is also VERY IMPORTANT to remember you are not a mannequin! You move! Don’t be a wrinkle hound. You are not striving for 100% perfection. It’s easy to get caught up in looking at every little line and wrinkle and forget to see the big picture of how awesome you look. Yes, a few wrinkles will clue you into issues, but you can learn to recognize these signs and become a pants fitting expert!

It is also important to note that ANY TIME you are adding on to your inseams or outseams, it will change the overall vertical length of that seam. You will need to even out your hems before finishing the leg.

Excess Fabric on Inner and Outer Thighs

If you feel like your pants are flapping in the breeze and just way too loose, you may want to reduce some of the width across the thighs and possibly down the leg.

This is an example of a pair of shorts where the leg is too loose. You should divide the total adjustment across 4 areas – front and back inseam and front and back outseam. Spread it evenly across all four areas.

Excess Fabric on Inner Thighs

If your inner thighs are thinner than your pants, you will see excess fabric and vertical drag lines along the inside of the thighs. You will need to reduce the width of the inside. The easiest way to do this is to turn your pants inside out, pinch out the excess fabric and baste. Try them on again and if you like your adjustment, make sure to transfer it to your pattern piece. You will reduce the width of the inseam on both the front and back pattern pieces. Start your taper AFTER the crotch point (you do not want to make your crotch curve smaller unless there is a second fitting adjustment you intend to make).

Excess Fabric on Outer Thighs

If your outer thighs do not fill out your pants, you will see fabric pooling on the back of the thighs, with drag lines towards the outseam. It will be most obvious on the back, but you may see similar lines on the front as well. Put your pants on inside out and pinch out the excess fabric. Baste and retry. If you like how much you have slimmed, transfer to your pattern. You will need to remove width from the front and back outseams equally.

Full Inner Thigh Adjustment

Fabric wrinkles and pulls to try and cover your inner thigh. If you have ‘smile lines’ on your rear – it’s not happy! Also, if wrinkles are prominent in the front, check to see if a if a full seat adjustment is needed as well.
Add on to the front and back inseams, a little at a time until your inner thighs have enough room.

Full Outer Thigh Adjustment

Look for diagonal wrinkles from crotch pointing to outer thigh, where fabric is tight and pulling. Fabric may also bulge above thighs because fabric is pulling it up. If you have lower hips (“saddlebags”) this adjustment can help.
You will need to add to the outseam with the greatest amount in line with the crotch line. You’ll want to divide the total amount you need to add between the front and back pattern pieces. You can add a total of up to 3/4” for up to size XL and 1” for sizes above XL. Blend seam line from above hip line and to upper thigh (approximately the shorts line). If you find this adjustment isn’t enough, you may need to also do a Low Butt adjustment or try the Tin Foil Crotch Curve method.

Full Inner and Outer Thigh Adjustment

You will see wrinkles pulling horizontally across thighs and at the side seams as well as whiskering at upper inseam.
Divide amount you want to add between inseams and outseam. Blend the inseam adjustment from crotch point to upper thigh. Blend the outseam adjustment from above hip line to upper thigh. Match the changes on back to changes on the front.

Full Seat Adjustment

If you are blessed with a round, full derriere, you may find you need this adjustment. Wrinkles will pull from the back seam and diagonally away from contours of your tush. Your back rise might feel like it’s being pulled downwards as well. The easy method for adding a small amount is to just add length to the crotch point and top of the rise.
However, if you’re adding more than 1/2”, you’ll want to slash your pattern and spread out the back crotch curve so you are adding length to the back crotch and the center back. Keep in mind that a full seat adjustment is sometimes paired with a low seat adjustment–so if you have a full seat AND you have horizontal wrinkles under your bottom, or a wedgie, you may want to scoop out the curve as well as lengthen it. If you scoop out the curve, add a little width to the hips so you maintain the same amount of fabric across your hips. Read the fitting suggestions for Low Butt Adjustment for more in depth instructions.

Flat Seat Adjustment

When your tush does not have enough flesh to fill out your shorts, your pants will sag below the crotch in the back. You will need to decrease the crotch length. You may also need to shorten your back rise. If you need to shorten your back rise more than 1/2”, you will need to do a more in depth pattern modification. Check out the fitting section on Decreasing Rise.

Low Butt Adjustment

If the biggest part of your bum falls lower than ‘average’ (and thus how the pattern is drafted), you will have horizontal wrinkles under your tush indicating that your tush is pushing the fabric down. You may also have a wedgie. To fix this, scoop out the back crotch in order to lower the crotch curve. You will need to add whatever you scoop out of the crotch curve to the outseam to maintain enough fabric. If you have full outer thighs as well, you may need to make a larger adjustment.

Round Pubis Adjustment

If you find that your front crotch is showing off a lot more than you would like, you may need a round pubis (also known as a ‘prominent pubis’) adjustment. (We will add that to the growing list of odd things I end up saying to speak candidly about fitting butts and crotches.) This will show up as vertical wrinkles around the front crotch. You will need to scoop out that front crotch curve to make room for your body’s curvature. Changes as small as 1/8” to 1/4” will make a big difference, so go slowly!

Flat Pubis Adjustment

If you have loose wrinkles that look like cat whiskers radiating from your crotch (hmmm…that sounds weird), your pubic bones may be set a little further back than how the pattern is designed. To fix this, you will need to make the front crotch curve straighter. This is an adjustment that should be done in small increments. 1/8” to 1/4” can make a big difference in how it feels (and looks).

Sway Back Adjustment

Sway Back is one of the less recognizable fitting adjustments.  We often don’t recognize it exists because it manifests in the small of our back (where we can’t readily observe it).  We just know something doesn’t fit correctly back there.  What exactly is a sway back?  It means that your pelvis is tilted forward (to varying degrees).  This is sometimes due to the natural curvature of your spine and sometimes due to your posture (think the pose a gymnast makes at the end of an event) – or both.  No matter the reason, if your pelvis tilts forward, it reduces the length of your center back.  As a result, shirt (or dress) fabric has a tendency to pool or fold up in the small or your back.  For pants, you will find the center back sticks out away from your back if your waistband is not yet attached.  After attaching the waistband, the yoke will look all bunchy.  The methods for altering a shirt pattern are quite different than a pants pattern and we are going to focus on the pants portion for this post.  There is a complicated professional way slash and spreading with multiple hinges (if you are interested, there are some great fitting books out there or you can check out this post from Colette Patterns).  For our purposes, I will keep things quite simple.  Turn your pants inside out and pin out the wedge of extra fabric through your yoke and down to the top of your back crotch seam (further down if necessary). Baste the wedge and try your pants on. If it’s good, you are going to need to make the same adjustments to your pattern. Once you draw your adjustments on to your pattern, you will need to blend the line at the back crotch seam so it is smooth. You WILL also need to decrease your back waistband accordingly. You may also need to Decrease your Rise.

Full Tummy Adjustment

If you have a larger waist than hips, you may find this adjustment helpful. You may see diagonal lines pulling from your tummy to your hips, bubbling at the side seams, your side seams may pull toward the front at your waist, and the crotch might feel a little tight in front if your waist is causing your pants to ride up.
The simple method is to slash your pattern from front crotch to hip, about halfway down the crotch length, stopping before going through the hip. Spread your waist to add more room. Put paper behind your pattern and tape. Blend lines.
For the more in depth/correct version, check out this video from the 5oo4 Sewing School (this is for Boardshorts, but the method is the same).

Decrease Back (or front) Rise

If you are petite or have a shorter torso, you may find that the back rise is too high. You will see extra fabric bunching up under the yoke on your back seat seam. To reduce the rise without altering the shape of the top where the yoke attaches, the slash and spread method is the most efficient.  NOTE: In pants patterns where multiple front rises are not available, this method will work for the FRONT rise as well.
Make a horizontal line midway down the back seat seam and carry it across until approximately 2” from the outseam. Then make an angled second line up to the outseam corner (don’t go all the way – stop about 1/4” from the edge). You will cut along that line so that the top becomes a hinge. Place your paper behind your pattern and pivot the hinge down. You will need to blend the seat seam curve afterward.

Increase Back (or front) Rise

If you are tall or have a longer torso, you may find that the back rise is too low. You will feel the back rise being pulled down and may have a wedgie when you try to hike your pants back up. To increase the rise without altering the shape of the top where the yoke attaches, the slash and spread method is the most efficient. NOTE: In pants patterns where multiple front rises are not available, this method will work for the FRONT rise as well.
Make a horizontal line midway down the back seat seam and carry it across until approximately 2” from the outseam. Then make an angled second line up to the outseam corner (don’t go all the way – stop about 1/4” from the edge). You will cut along that line so that the top becomes a hinge. Place your paper behind your pattern and pivot the hinge up. You will need to blend the seat seam curve afterward.

The Tin Foil Crotch Curve Method

You may have heard of the tin foil crotch curve method. It’s a more advanced fitting skill, but can be a life saver. There are some of us whose crotch curves are very different than standard drafting. If you have attempted smaller adjustments to your muslins and you feel that although the fit is ‘better’ it’s not where you want to be, this method can be very illuminating. However, you will need to have a basic understanding of how your body fits in to the pants fitting adjustments above to be able to interpret your individual curve correctly.

First, take your front and back pattern pieces and overlap them at the crotch point (use the seam allowance).To make the curve, take a long piece of tin foil (24” or so) and roll it into a long rope (a flex ruler works very well too). Wearing a pair of leggings or in your underwear, thread the foil through your legs and mold it to your curves, front and back. Mark the foil with a clip (or rubber band if using a flex ruler) at the point where your inseams come together. Carefully remove the foil and lay it on your pattern pieces and take a good look.

The crotch curve is not an exact science. You do not want to trace it exactly. It’s more of a guide to use along with your knowlege and intuition. Please see the 5 out of 4 Tin Foil Crotch Curve Blog Post for more in-depth instructions and guidance. We have also made a VIDEO! And as always, the 5 out of 4 Facebook group is a wonderful place to get help and support!




12 Responses

  1. Karen

    Great article. I appreciate that you this on a page without advertising so it is easy to print out for reference.

  2. Julie

    This is a fantastic tutorial on pant fitting! I so appreciate your article! I have never been able to make pants (am new to sewing) and am going to attempt pants soon! I’ll definitely refer back to your article!

  3. Ninja Leggings: Gusset or No Gusset? - 5 out of 4 Patterns

    […] Now that we have addressed FEAR let’s talk about FIT.  The ninja leggings pattern was designed to have the gusset, but like any sewing pattern you may find it necessary to make some alterations to best suit you and your body.  Adding the gusset should NOT result in the appearance of excess fabric in the crotch area.  If this is happening you may need to make a fit alteration such as a flat pubis adjustment.  Have no idea what that is?  Check out the pants fitting guide blog post to see if any of these alterations might be helpful to you: Pants Fitting Guide blog post […]

  4. Jeanne

    Good article. I have been trying to get a pattern for my full thighs & round but.
    Is the back leg wider than the front? I know @ the crotch it is but then should the legs be of equal width? I always make a dark color knit and have trouble seeing what’s wrong with the back

    • Rachellle Summers

      Back legs are generally wider than them front. If your side seams are not falling straight or you see significant wrinkles then the fabric is being pulled and needs more room.

  5. Inor

    Thank you for this article. I have followed all of the advice. I have a flat rear end and narrow thighs and hips. I have adjusted for these and the pants look great. The only problem is when I walk the back pulls down. Any advice? I know it isn’t the waist band is snug and the back has darts.

  6. Cheryl

    This is one of the best explanations I’ve ever read for fitting pants. I have bookmarked it and will be referring to it regularly. Thanks!

  7. Pamela

    I think this is one of the best and most thorough fitting guides I have seen. Thank you for sharing this.

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