Tag: duct tape pattern

The Great Unicorn Pants Quest – Part 2

Making the Pattern

By Kitty

Last time, after being wrapped from the waist down in duct tape, I ended up with this:

Now, I just had to turn all this into a viable pants pattern.  Sounds simple enough, until you take a closer look at what I had to work with.

A caveat before proceeding

If you’re not familiar with pattern-making or -testing, please be advised that what I am about to do is NOT the conventional or accepted way to make/test patterns.  I wouldn’t blame classically trained pattern-makers if they wanted to burn me for heresy.  In fact, I myself would never do it this way when I make patterns for my designs.

I’m just sharing what I did this one time, because (spoilers for the next instalment of the series!), after much howling and tearing of hair, it actually worked in the end.  No guarantees that it will do the same for anyone else, but I have the first pair of pants in twenty-plus years of sewing that really, properly fit me.   Maybe seeing the process will be worth something to someone sometime.

If you’re also on this quest

If you’re doing this with me, you will need the following before you continue:

  • A lot of paper.  I used a big roll of brown paper from Staples, but you can also use newspaper or any spare wrapping paper you have lying around.  If necessary, you can even tape together regular old printer paper.  Make sure that it’s big enough to hold your entire duct tape shell with room to spare all around.  If your paper has folds or wrinkles, press it flat with an iron.
  • A pencil or pen, scotch tape, and some sharpies, a ruler, and some scissors you don’t mind using on paper.  Don’t use your good dress-making shears on paper, as they’ll dull in no time.
  • Weights for holding down your pattern pieces so they don’t shift during tracing.  Tinned cat food or tuna works fine if you don’t own pattern weights.
  • Some basic experience working with sewing patterns.  Intermediate skills like truing seams and moving darts would be handy, but not absolutely essential, since these are things you can look up online.  Video tutorials exist for everything these days!
  • And of course, your duct tape shell.

Cutting up your duct tape shell

In theory, you can cut apart your duct tape shell however you like.  But for the purpose of making a standard slacks-type pattern, you’ll want to cut it along the side seam and inseam lines you marked while the shell was still on your body.  

I’d show you what mine looked like at this point, but it would just be confusing, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.  So refer to my squiggly drawing instead; you will end up with a front piece and a back piece, which should look like some variation on these basic shapes:

The cut edges of your shell may look even more wobbly than my drawings; that’s totally fine.

Don’t worry if none of the lines look neat or straight.  Depending on your own body shape, the front and back may look quite uneven, and the leg width may not look balanced at all.  

Unless you have an extremely strange body, the duct tape shell will NOT want to lie flat, which makes total sense.  Your lower body is a whole collection of very 3-dimensional shapes, all of which will translate into a bump in your shell.  Your buttocks, your calves, your abdomen, and any in-and-out bits will all become hills and valleys, which may seem impossible to fully flatten out.

You’ll need to make some cuts into your shell to help with the tracing.  To flatten the buttock area, draw a line (use a ruler if you need to) from the top of the back waist line pointing to the fullest point of your butt, which you marked during the taping process.  Carefully cut on the line up to, but not past, the full butt point.  A dart will open up along the cut, and you should be able to get the butt area to lie (fairly) flat:

If you have a rounded tummy, you can do the same thing in the front — just rule a line from the top front waist line pointing to where the bump looks biggest and cut to open a “dart.”

Unless you have really large calves and small ankles, you shouldn’t need to cut into the lower leg area at all.  After all, we’re making a slacks pattern, and it won’t be very fitted around the calves anyway.  But if, like me, you have very large calves and very narrow ankles, you may need to make a vertical cut down the centre of the calf area.  My calf looked like this uncut:

What happens if you have big calves and tiny ankles

It was just too much, so I had to make the cut just to make the duct tape manageable in this area.

The calf area lying flat(ish) after cutting

After I sliced into the calf, I wound up continuing the cut upward, entirely cutting the back half of my shell into two parts, a centre back and a side back.  I did this because I could not for the life of me figure out how to keep it in one piece and make it behave anything like a pants back pattern (this is why I didn’t want to use my back piece as a sample earlier!)  You can see what I mean here:

So how the $#*% do I mash these two parts together?

I would just have to deal with the two-piece back later in the process.  With luck, yours does not look like this, and you can proceed with the tracing.

Tracing your duct tape shell onto paper

Begin by laying one of your duct tape shell halves on your paper, tape side up.  Make sure you have at least a couple of inches extra paper all around.  Place your weights on it to keep it from shifting as you work.

Trying to keep the duct tape as flat as you reasonably can, trace around the edges.  Keep the pen or pencil perpendicular to the cut edge of the tape; don’t let the tip of your pen go under it, or it will change the size.  You won’t be able to keep it entirely flat, so don’t try.  But at least try to get an accurate flat tracing of the crotch curve.

When you’re done, add around ¾ inch around all the edges except the top and bottom.  This is so you have a little wearing ease plus a seam allowance for when you test the pattern.  I recommend adding at least 1 inch to the top edge, and none to the bottom hem for the moment; this will make life a bit easier during the test fitting stage later on.  You can always add more or less according to your preferences.  It should look something like this:

Allowances added to tracing

It’s obviously easier to add the allowances after removing the duct tape shell from the paper; I left it on in the photo only so you can see what it looks like after the addition.  I’m also showing my side back piece (remember, I divided my back half into two pieces), so don’t worry if your (single-piece back) pattern piece doesn’t look anything like mine.

Since I was making a slacks pattern, not super-skinny pants, I straightened out the leg shape from the knee down, rather than follow the duct tape.  The legs look flared in the photo because I need to accommodate my super-prominent calves; yours will likely look more straight up and down.

Straightening the lower leg for a slacks pattern

I then repeated the tracing with my front piece, which looks more “normal” than my back.  Yours shouldn’t look too different from this, though you may have a dart if your abdomen is more rounded than mine.  I moved the duct tape shell away from the traced front crotch line so you can see it better:

Making the edges match up

Cut out both your front and back tracings.  Now, compare the length of your front and back side seams by putting one piece over the other and “walking” your way along the entire length of the seam.  If they don’t match, trim the longer piece or add to the shorter piece by taping on a sliver of paper, whichever seems to look better to you.  Repeat with the front/back inseams.

The grainlines

This is a deceptively important part of this whole process.  On each of your pattern pieces, mark a line which would have been exactly perpendicular to the floor when the duct tape was still on your body.  

Hopefully this was one of the markings you made during the taping process.  Any line you marked along a dropped plumb bob or straight edge going up and down (you’ll have done this at least for the side seams and maybe inseams) will do as a grainline reference.  Just draw a line parallel to that line on each pattern piece.

Good enough for now!  It’s time to test the pattern in fabric.

Another caveat, and a prescription for patience

Remember, these are very crude pseudo-pattern pieces at this point.  It’s way too soon to start worrying about nailing the pants length or making sure the pattern hem is level.  Just try to make sure that the bits that will be sewn together more or less match.

FYI, it’s perishingly unlikely that you’ll end up with a decent-fitting pair of wearable pants the first time you cut and sew this pattern (one professional pattern fitter once told me that she often goes through ten test patterns per client to obtain a perfectly-fitted pair of pants).  I certainly didn’t, not the first time, nor the second, nor the third or fourth.  If you do, you are obviously not of the mortal plane, and probably have unicorns grazing on your lawn.

Next time, join me as I:

  • Actually make pants from my pattern
  • Completely scrap and rejig my original pattern lines
  • Test the revised pattern, then make alterations, then test again
  • Rinse and repeat, again and again and again, ad nauseam

…until finally, I make a pair of pants that really, properly fits me!  

The Great Unicorn Pants Quest – Part 1

The duct tape sloper

By Kitty

Kitty solves all her problems with duct tape

Last time, I learned that all my pants (1) don’t fit and (2) make my backside look like squashed peaches in a paper sack.  

Bad Backside Fit

After exhausting the usual methods to try and fix the problem (ready-to-wear, altering commercial patterns, mathematical pattern drafting, virgin sacrifices, and so forth), I decided that duct tape is once again my best friend.  Felix would cover me in tape from the waist down, and I would use the resulting shell to create a sloper for all my future pants.

The duct tape sloper

If you’re wondering, a sloper is a very basic pattern based entirely on your body shape and measurements (without any design ease or features) that you can use to create other styles that fit.  

At Felix & Kitty, we’ve always used the duct tape method to make custom corset patterns for complicated bodies, including mine.  Plus I’ve already made a T-shirt sloper for myself using this method. So Felix is an old hand at taping the female torso, and I assumed it would be pretty simple to do the same thing for pants.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Preparing to tape

If you’re doing this with us, You want to make sure that you haven’t just eaten a big meal, and that you’ve used the bathroom before you start.  Trust me, there’s no quick way out of the duct tape once you’ve started. 

We usually use a disposable T-shirt as the base layer for taping the upper body.  For taping the legs and hips, I ran up some leggings out of scrap knit material.  It’s some kind of thin, hideous, stained polyester knit I kept for testing patterns.  Since we’d just be cutting it up, I didn’t want to use anything nice.  Nor did I bother finishing any of the raw edges.

Sacrificial Leggings

If you don’t have any sacrificial leggings, you can use plastic wrap as a base layer.  Simply wrap your lower body with it, being very careful not to pull it too tight or cut off your circulation in any way.  Or you could use a large lawn bag, cutting it up the middle and taping it to more or less conform to your legs.  Anything will do, as long as it’s not so thick that it will throw off the fit or so loose that it will bunch up under the tape. 

Have a long ruler or other straight edge on hand, as well as a few sharpies, maybe in different colours.  A plumb bob could be useful if you’re not good at judging what “perpendicular to the ground” looks like.   You can improvise one by tying any weight to the end of a shoelace or string; a key ring works well.  Or an L-shaped ruler will do the job too.  Some extra string or long shoelaces are nice to have as well.  And of course, duct tape.

The taping process  

To wrap the legs, the wrapper can’t just walk around and around the wrap-ee the way you do with the torso.  Also, you don’t want to risk significant compression in the groin-adjacent area by pulling against the inner thighs, partly because it would distort the fit but also because you really don’t want to compromise blood flow in this region. 

That meant I did NOT want long pieces wrapped like doughnuts around the upper legs.  But we really had no experience of what the best method would be.  In the end, being the anatomy nerd that I am, I decided that we should follow the major leg muscle groups with the duct tape, which worked pretty well.  

The crotch proved the tricky bit, since you need to try and maintain the same posture throughout while making room for the person doing the taping to get in there.  You will need the tape to go pretty much all the way up and cover everywhere with no bare fabric/plastic wrap showing.  Using narrower, shorter strips of tape helps. 

However you do it, it’s going to get quite intimate, so your wrapper had better be someone you’re comfortable with rummaging around your privates.  While they’re working, remember not to suck in your gut or stand unnaturally erect, or you’ll get an inaccurate fit.

We covered the entire relevant area (from the high waist to above the ankle) with one or two layers of duct tape, then finished with a single-layer “skin” of duct tape, off-set from the “muscle” layer for reinforcement against separation.  You don’t want any more layers than this, since too much thickness will make it hard to flatten the taped form for pattern-making later.  It looked like this when we finished taping:

Duct Tape “skin” Before Marking

The duct tape needs to cover a little more area at the waist level than your finished pants will, so you can draw on it.  We decided to tape all the way down to the ankle because I have extremely prominent calves from strength training and the way I stand with my knees locked, which I thought might have a carry-over effect on the fit higher up (this turned out to be an excellent call, as you’ll see later).  If you have normal calves, you can probably get away with just taping to the knees.

Quad-to-Calf Curvature

We chose to wrap only one leg because my legs aren’t noticeably asymmetrical.  If your legs are very different left to right, or if you just want a spare half shell to use in case you mess up with the first side, by all means wrap both sides.  

Either way, I recommend that you wrap all the way around the hips and abdomen; if you try to do only one half, things may be pulled off centre by the taping process.  

Marking the side seams

The next step was to carefully mark all the important reference lines, plus some I thought might possibly be useful.  The first one was the side seam, which should have been the most straightforward.

The side seam should run perpendicular to the floor from your waist to the hem at (surprise!) the sides.  It should bisect your body and legs, or divide them evenly, front to back.  In an average person, if you draw a straight line downward from the midpoint of your hips at the side, it also more or less divides your legs into front and back halves — think where the side seam of your pants fall when you’re wearing them.

Depending on your posture, you may find that this line does NOT hit the midpoint of your legs.  In which case, just do your best to imagine where you’d want your pants side seam to be and draw a straight line downward at that point.

In my case, it was a whole lot more complicated than that.  It turns out that when I stand normally, my calves are thrust so far back that a straight line going down the middle of my side hip wouldn’t even BE on my lower legs:

Er… where am I supposed to put my side seam line now?

This was patently ridiculous.  I couldn’t put my side seam anywhere close to the mid-hip without going off my legs completely.  Since I had no clue how to deal with this, I asked Felix to mark several potential “side” seam lines, as well as a line down to centre front and centre back leg.  I’d just have to sort it out later in the pattern-making process.

Marking the other lines and points

The other reference lines were considerably less eventful.  We managed to get the following drawn on without too much kerfuffle: 

  1. The centre front/crotch curve/centre back line, which is exactly what it sounds like.  You start at the middle of your tummy area (about belly button level, where your jeans fly would be) and go straight down, between your legs and up the back.  It may help to pass a string between your legs and hold it taut in place (centred at front and back) while your helper draws the line by following the string.
  2. Your preferred waistband position.  Just draw on the duct tape where you’d like the top edge of your pants to sit.  If it helps, tie a string around your waist at the desired location first.
(2) Waistline Marked (top of image)

We also marked the fullest point of my gluteus maximus, the big butt muscle.  If, unlike me, you actually own real buttocks, this is where the back darts will point on your pants.  I asked for a vertical line down the centre back of my leg that passes over this point, which will be useful later if I want to make pants that cup snugly under my bum.  

For all of the above lines, we marked several cross-hatch points to make matching easier (if/when the shell gets cut apart into panels during pattern-making).  We also labelled the front, back, and sides, because once the shell is off your body, it’s going to look like a mess of shed snakeskin, and it can be hard to tell which way is which.  

If you can think of any other possible points or lines, go ahead and mark them.  If you don’t need them later, no harm done, and you never know which one might prove useful.

Finally,  we marked the horizontal circumference line above my knees as a future reference point.  For some people with prominent calves like me, the back pants leg below the knee may need to be longer than the front, for the same reason that the front of a shirt needs to be longer than the back in large-busted women — you need more length to go over a taller “bump,” as I explain in more details here. So I reasoned that it might be handy to know where to start adding length later.

Horizontal Knee Line

Escaping the tape

When I had checked and double-checked that we had made all the markings I could think of, Felix (very gingerly) cut me out of my duct tape shell, being extra careful not to slice through my underwear or my skin.  If you’re not experienced at using shears, blunt-tipped scissors are probably your safest bet.  It may be easier to cut from the top down part of the way, then go from the bottom up until the cut meets in the middle.

In my case, I needed the full length of the leg cut open because I have massive weight-lifter quadriceps, which meant my leg would’t easily come out through the top opening alone.  If you have thin or less muscular legs, you might find it easier to cut the shell along the centre front or back by sucking in your tummy to make a nice hollow for the scissors, and take them off the way you take off a pair of jeans.

Either way, the thing to remember is not to pull on or distort the tape shell any more than absolutely necessary while you wiggle yourself out. 

Now what?

Now you have a duct tape double of your waist, hips, and leg.  

You can’t just use this as a pattern for pants, of course, unless you use an extremely stretchy fabric and want skin-tight leggings.  If you’re like me, you can’t use it as a pattern at all, because it simply won’t lie flat.  Also, this looks nothing like any pants pattern anyone sane could ever imagine.

The peeled shell

Look at the taped shell of my calf.  You could hide a watermelon under there!

Is there a watermelon underneath?

I can hardly believe this is for real.  I’m very, very glad we decided not to quit taping at the knees, because if we had, I never would have learned how bonkers my lower legs and calves really are.  

Having seen this, I think that my pants fit problems weren’t due entirely to the shape of my bum.  Quite a lot of it MUST be due to the peculiar angle of my legs and my knees-locked posture, which seriously accentuate my already uber-muscular calves.  

On the one hand, I’m a little dismayed at how abnormal my body is.  But on the other hand, I feel better about failing so utterly at getting a conventional pattern to fit me!  At least now I know nothing off the rack, whether ready-to-wear or in sewing pattern form, ever stood a whelk’s chance in hell of fitting me.

Next time on the quest for unicorn pants

In the next instalment of the pants fitting adventure, I will attempt to make some kind of sense out of my duct tape shell and turn it into a usable flat pattern.  Truthfully, I have no idea exactly how that’s going to happen, because it bears no relationship to the shape of any pants pattern I have ever seen in my life.  But it will be exciting to try.

If you too have never found a pair of pants that fit exactly as you wanted, I highly recommend giving the duct taping process a go.  Even if you don’t make your own pattern or sew your own pants, you WILL learn loads of things about your body — and demystify some of the things that makes you so uniquely you.