Tag: pattern making with duct tape

The Great Unicorn Pants Quest – Part 3

Testing the new pattern (yes, there will be a Part 4)

By Kitty

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!

Yes, pants that fit my back crotch perfectly!

What you will need (well, what I needed; your mileage may vary)

  1. 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.

Ugh. Fitting photos are not great for one’s vanity!

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:

Some improvement after taking in the inseams and rear seam under the seat

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….

This was NOT how it was supposed to go!

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:

The pants that made me decide I need new ones

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.

Back to my duct tape pattern, but from the knee up only

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:

Partway through testing the one-piece back pants 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:

Improved! But not enough for my tastes.

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.

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!