Testing the new pattern (yes, there will be a Part 4)
Last time, I shared my highly unscientific process for creating a pants pattern from the duct tape shell of my lower body.
Now, I’ll show you how I went from the BEFORE pants to the AFTER pants (shown below) through trials, tribulations, and about eleventy-million muslins. I’ll need to break this up into this blog and the next installment, though, because it just got way, way too long otherwise.
I may have gone slightly mad in the undertaking. But at least now I’m a madwoman whose pants actually fit!
The usual caution if you’re doing this trip with me
If you’ve made it this far on the journey, you’ve probably learned all kinds of things about the shape and posture of your body, which will change the way you shop for/look at/re-examine your pants.
Now, do you want to go all the way and actually sew up your pattern into real pants?
If you do, be prepared to invest a good whack of time and materials in the testing process. I’d love to tell you that your first muslin, or test garment, will fit beautifully and be perfectly wearable, but odds are frankly not in your favour.
Can you fit pants on yourself (without help)?
Yes, with caveats.
High-end couturiers often go through ten or so mock-ups before perfecting a pair of custom pants. Back in the middle Victorian age, when Ancient Aunt Kitty was a young ‘un working as an apprentice costumer, an entire team of fitters would work for hours on one client, who would have to stand there while everyone pinned and tucked and fiddled around her crotch and bum.
But pin-fitting yourself was Not Done (I could hear the capital letters when I asked the Head Fitter about this), because twisting or reaching could distort The Grainline (capitals again, for sure). Us peasants who couldn’t afford professional fitting would just have to make friends with a seamstress, or be doomed to crotch wrinkles and sagging bums on our pants.
Well, Kittens, the Head Fitter was wrong, because I managed to get there with nothing more than a lot of test fabric, time, sheer bloody-mindedness, a camera, and the help of a willing but totally clueless Felix. If I can do it, with my weirdo mutant bum and giant calves from Mars, you surely can too!
What you will need (well, what I needed; your mileage may vary)
- You will need miles of test fabric. In a perfect world, this would be fabric with a very similar weight and drape as the fabric you’d use for your final pants.
Being on a budget, I went for a king-size bedsheet or two from the thrift store. Not really like any fabric I’d make pants from, but it was good enough for the early, rough stages of testing. If you have a choice, go for cottons with some body and crispness; avoid very soft squishy polyester types. No stretch, unless your plan is to make stretch pants in the end.
Later, near the end, you’ll need fabric for a “wearable muslin,” or something you’d be willing to actually wear if it turns out well enough.
- Tailor’s chalk. In a pinch, any pen that will mark on fabric will work. Don’t be afraid to mark up your muslins, unless you think you’ll actually end up wearing it for realsies.
- A camera. The camera on your iPad or phone is fine.
- A helper. In theory, you could do without this one — but believe me, you’ll pull out a lot less hair if you have someone to assist you at a few critical moments. I had Felix, who has never pin-fitted anyone in his life, and knows nothing whatsoever about pants fitting. But he could take photos of my behind while I was standing straight, and that ended up being key.
Cutting out, sewing, and fitting the pants
I’m not going to cover the process of actually cutting out your pattern in fabric, sewing it together, and going through all the details of fitting, at least not here. This is because this blog would be the length of a quite large book if I did.
If you’re searching for a basic beginner’s guide to making pants fit, look out for my upcoming future blogging site, which will actually be dedicated to tutorials like this one! But in the meantime….
So what am I going to cover here?
Mainly, I’ll just outline the steps I went through to get to my own endpoint, which in my case is perfect enough pants. I spend my days hunched over a sewing machine or shovelling alpaca poo. I do not require haute couture-level pants.
I’m not going to go into much detail about the many, many minor pattern adjustments I did, mainly because I have such a statistically bizarre shape that I don’t think much of what I did would be applicable to most people. For example, according to the measurement chart of one pattern company, I have a size 24 bust, a size 18 waist, and size 6 hips. Yeah, not normal. Not even normal-adjacent.
I will touch on stuff I did that I think might be useful to any of you who are still here, though.
Preliminary fitting: the summarized version
At this point, you will need your assistant/photographer. You need to stand with your normal posture, facing straight ahead and not twisting your torso, while they take photos of your rear view. Trust me, if you twist around, new wrinkles will appear and disappear in unpredictable ways, totally throwing off your fitting efforts.
The first thing I did was cut out my pattern (which I made in my last blog) in the cheap bedsheet material. I only cut it to the length of shorts to start, since I wanted to check the fit of my waist, hips, and crotch before using up fabric for full-length legs.
As you can see, much modification is still required. Note that there’s a seam running down the centre back of my bum and legs; that’s because I chose to divide my back pattern piece into two in the pattern-making process earlier. I thought it might simplify fitting over my non-existent hips and flat buttocks. I pinned out some fabric at the thighs and under the butt, and got this:
It definitely looked improved to me. So full of innocence and hope, I launched headlong into what I hoped would be a wearable muslin. Here, I’m using some bargain bin fabric I’d being willing to wear if all worked out as planned, mainly because I had a boatload of it. However….
Aaaaaaand…. it was a disaster. It doesn’t look terrible, especially compared to what my original pants in this same fabric looked like (the very same pants that pushed me to start this quest in the first place). If you forgot, this is the rear crotch fit in those:
So yeah, the new pants were an improvement in looks, at least over the original. But I couldn’t move my legs forward without my pants crotch trying to climb, er, well, where it shouldn’t go. Major binding.
This, Kittens, is what is known in the industry as “over-fitting”: taking out so much wearing ease in the pursuit of smooth-looking fit that you can lose mobility. Learn from my error.
A complete change of plans
Essentially, I decided that the centre seam down my back pattern would have to go. I smooshed together the centre back and side back pieces of my original duct tape shell so they touched without overlapping, then traced that off.
I had to lop off everything from the knee down to make this work. I just free-hand sketched the lower leg after tracing the duct tape. This is NOT recommended, by the way; I just couldn’t think what else to do (the calf areas of my centre back and side back pieces actually crossed over each other when I left them on!). This left me with a new pattern for a one-one-piece back.
I then repeated the shorts-and-bedsheet-fabric fitting process on the new back pattern:
The red line is the grainline, by the way. I found it essential to have it marked clearly on my muslin, especially during the early fitting stages. The horizontal line you see is a tuck I sewed to shorten the back crotch length.
After I fiddled about for a while (which is a euphemism for making lots and lots and lots more versions, both before and after the one pictured above), I decided to sew it up in the same red test fabric, resulting in this:
It was definitely better than it was, and I could move my legs, which was a win. But note that I still had a milder version of those rear crotch wrinkles, just like the ones from the original pants AND in every one of my off-the-rack pants too. Vastly improved over the original, but I still wanted to get to the bottom of what was causing them.
The mystery of the back crotch wrinkles
These wrinkles had been present in all my previous pants, whether I made them or bought them, as I showed here. I had at first assumed that it was something to do with my nonexistent hips or flat buttocks. But since none of the alterations I did for those helped at all, it had to be something else altogether!
In the next instalment, I’ll explain why 1) nothing I did so far worked, 2) loads of other people actually have this exact pants fitting problem (spoilers: it’s actually unrelated to the size or width of the butt!) and 3) how to finally fix it.