My sewing friends out there, I’m about to get all fitting saga on you. And it’s about pants. I know. It’s a really really really long post about pants. You’ve been warned. I kind of wish this were about the British use of the term pants, it would probably be more fun.
Alternate post titles? How about “Fitting pants is a bitch”. Or maybe “A tale of misguided adjustments”. Or “I will get these pants right if it kills me”. Or “please please please I just want cigarette pants”. You can see where this one is going, I’m sure.
I’ve been in what feels like (but isn’t quite) an endless cycle of pants fitting. I’ve been trying to fix the wrinkles and bagginess behind the thighs of my Butterick B5895 trousers. Cute retro capris that I turned into cigarette pants of sorts here and here. I originally sewed them in a red stretch twill (a size 8 waist and legs, graded to 10 at hips), and then wanting to try them in a non-stretch fabric, did a series of four muslins to try and get the fit right and the bagginess behind the thighs gone (using as my starting point a size 10 waist and grading to 12 at hips). Behold, a reminder of said baggy fabric behind my thighs:
It was at this point that I was focusing on something I had read: the wrinkles and bagginess could be a result of needing a flat butt adjustment. Never mind the fact that one of my readers pointed out she didn’t think I actually had a flat butt, or the fact that as I progressed with all these muslins, I began to doubt I did, too. Look at your can and your side view enough times and you start to really know what you’re looking at. And mine really didn’t seem that flat, though it’s admittedly hard to say for sure since high waistlines do lend themselves to making your back side look a bit flat. But that’s the adjustment area I was focused on, probably because I read about it first, and thought surely this must be the ticket to success. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t been.
While I was on this possibly-misplaced flat butt adjustment hunt, in those muslins I tried a fish eye dart unsuccessfully (Ann Rowley shows how here). And I tried a Sandra Betzina technique from her Craftsy Pants Fitting Techniques class, where you essentially take a 1/2″ wedge out under the thigh from inseam tapering to nothing at the side seam, then stretch the back inseam to fit the front in the first several inches. Ultimately I decided the results of both were basically the same: no tangible difference.
However, I did get all the rest of the fit pretty good by muslin #4 so that’s the one I used to sew my navy gabardine pair and forest green corduroy pair (not re-photographed in this post since they’ve bagged way out and are in the laundry) both non-stretch fabrics. (Though after wearing tboth, I realized the waist still needed to be at least an inch smaller, but that’s a more minor fitting issue.) But the back thigh bagginess and wrinkles were still present. I was mostly okay with it in these versions as they’re not stretchy, so I need to be able to move and bend. (And I appear to have put on early holiday pounds so the gabardine ones are now my “honest pants”, pointing that fact out with their absolutely zero ease in the hips and butt now, but hey, those wrinkles are still there behind my thighs, whoopee.)
Pair #1 in red stretch twill (with back zip, and probably a bit bagged out and in need of washing admittedly) with 8 waist, 10 hip, next to Pair #3, in gabardine (with side zip), with 10 waist, 12 hip:
I really would like to nail down the fit for a stretch version, so I can lounge around, like a (probably more comfortable) 1950s film star. I’d also love to nail it down for non-stretch, but if I can figure it out for one hopefully I can for the other.
So recently, I thought I’d try some more tweaks to work that out as I’ve had a hankering for more of these pants. Let me say at this point I felt like about the only thing I hadn’t tried that I knew about was the technique in Pants for Real People. I love Palmer/Pletsch books, but usually more for the sewing than fitting advice. I don’t tissue fit, and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to do their suggestions without a) tissue fitting and/or b) another sewing-knowledgeable person to help. So their suggestion of pull up the waistband until the wrinkles go away (which incidentally, doesn’t always work for me to make them go away), then let out the crotch seam because now it’s going to be too tight, then take a vertical tuck out the entire length, add back at the waist if that’s now too small, etc, etc…. that isn’t going to happen.
Anyway, I did muslin #5 in an ugly pale green stretch twill that was a bit heavier in weight than the red of my first pair. It was kind of a franken-blended version of sizes. I spent hours doing what in hindsight looks like very little when I compare them to my #4 version pattern pieces. But I was thinking I should give myself a little more room for a stretch fabric than the smaller sized red pair, which is why I didn’t just use the 8 waist/10 hip pieces for my red pair. In the end, it feels like those ones have too deep of a crotch (especially in the front, which sorry I forgot to photograph), and I’m not sure if it’s due to the fabric type or the fact that I tried out a flat fell crotch seam for fun, which is a bit stiffer (since the crotch depth is basically the same as my non-stretch version). I also noticed a gap in the waistband at the back (more on that in a minute).
Gah, they’re like ugly wrinkled cigarette pants meet hospital scrubs. In fairness, I never wear light bottoms (even the red ones were a big step), so I know that’s part of why I kinda hate these. They just do me no favors whatsoever. But anyway, here they are:
Really not any better, and I think honetly worse due to my frankenblending.
For the next muslin, #6, in the leftovers of that same twill, I cut a straight size 10 (so a little smaller), and used a Kenneth King tip I’d recently found for getting rid of bunching under the butt, where you pinch out a wedge until the wrinkles disappear, then transfer the height of that to your pattern piece, fold it out, and then add the length back at the hem. Which I felt was questionable as to how that would actually help (although he said it’s kind of magic and changes the relationship of the back to the front, which does make sense). Guess what: it didn’t help.
I didn’t install the zipper, so you’ll have to make do with my awkwardly holding them closed and too high on one side. Sorry, I’d about had it trying these on for the thousandth time at this point.
At this point, I started to think it was because I didn’t really have a “baggy seat”, the area is below my butt and behind my thighs, although this is confusing since some online discussions show pictures that look similar to mine with them being resolved with these flat butt adjustments. But this was somewhat of a lightbulb “hey guess what, my ass isn’t flat” moment, though. So I was possibly trying something that was meant to resolve an issue I wasn’t really having!
Now you might be screaming to tell me to try on a pair of RTW pants that fit similarly and compare, and to that I say: I don’t have one. All my RTW pants are less fitted, and the couple of exceptions exhibit the baggy back of thigh issue too. Except one pair that doesn’t, and it’s only because the legs are tight enough my thighs take up all the room, so there’s no fabric to be baggy. And I don’t want these pants that tight.
But joy, back to muslins. After 6 total muslins and 3 full pairs of pants working on the Butterick pattern, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. Let’s try a different pattern, shall we! So I downloaded the Ultimate Trousers pattern from Sew Over It. I did a muslin and it was way too small to zip up, but the back of the thighs, though too tight, looked better, though still with some horizontal wrinkles (but much smaller/less), so initially I felt it was promising. However when I did muslin #2 in a size up, the back of the thighs looked exactly like all of my other Butterick tries. Gahhhh! With the added issues of it being too tight in the rear, and several other fitting issues I’d need to iron out. So I shelved them for another day to at least return to the pattern that had better fit in most other places, at least.
It was at this point I fully finished muslin #5 shown above in the ugly stretch twill, and in the process, I discovered that both the Butterick and Ultimate Trousers patterns were actually dipping down at the center back waist, which indicates a full tush! Hilariously, the complete opposite of the issue that I supposedly thought I had that led to all my unsuccessful adjustments. When I looked at my gabardine trousers, I could see that dip and gaping back waistband, too. Although I remember noticing the gaping on the gab pair early on, but just assumed it was because the waistband was too big for my waist size…which I’ve confirmed it is, and so is the ugly green one. But still, the dip:
Interestingly my original red stretch pair (the smaller version that’s the 8 waist, 10 hip) doesn’t do that, or if it does, it’s way less. I’m not sure if it’s because the waistband is smaller and faced with a non-stretch fabric (so there’s no give unlike my ugly twill version) and it’s holding everything in place, or because of the back zipper holding things up, since I used a side zip for all the later versions. But you can see below how it looks. I even left the button open to see if that was holding everything up and in place, but I don’t think it is. I can maybe juuuust see a slight dip I think in the side view, but it looks pretty straight in the back view. Could the zip be holding things up? It’s lapped, with the seam allowances interfaced with fusible knit tape per my usual method. I generally prefer side zips for ease of getting in/out, but I’m intrigued by this bit of a question mark since the zipper placement would be the only thing to lead me to why a technically smaller pair would dip down less in the back.
Tired of looking at my back side yet? Gawd, I am.
Anyway, at this point I was almost crying into my wine out of hilarity and irony over the fact that I may possibly need to adjust for a full butt instead of a flat one.
Oh pants, you stupid two pattern pieces of frustration!!
And here we are at the present moment, friends. Essentially eleven versions into trying to get a pair of damn cigarette trousers to not be baggy in the back. And in all that, I’m basically nowhere further along on fixing that main issue than I was at muslin #1. I almost threw the towel in entirely over the weekend, I was so angry about everything. But when I cooled down, I started searching for more information again.
What could I take away from everything I’ve done thus far?
I don’t have a flat butt. I think I may have a (slightly) full butt. I may have a low butt. I have a proportionally smaller waist. I may have thin thighs. My patience for pants muslins is wearing really thin although it hasn’t broken me quite yet.
So what am I going to try next? Well I still have to decide which size to use as a base point for stretchy fabrics, and I’m no more sure than I was earlier! The red stretch twill ones (8 waist, 10 hip) fit the best in the crotch and waist, but I think are possibly a bit too tight when fresh out of the wash. The ugly stretch twill (frankenblended but basically 10 waist, 12 hip) feel a little roomy, but it might be because it’s a thicker twill (which would still be an issue for future versions as I’d like to try stretch denims and corduroy or velveteen). I’m leaning towards the smaller size, because if the crotch depth seems better and I could nail down the behind the thigh wrinkles, I could always add a tad more room in future versions for hip wrinkles at the side seams. Right? Because right now those are honestly the least of my concerns.
How about future adjustments? I may need to do an adjustment to raise the center back for a full butt (although still fuzzy on why my red pair doesn’t have this issue). But my main things to try are:
- Scoop out the back crotch curve to make more of a J than shallow U
- Or if that doesn’t work, then I want to try and lower the curve altogether
- Take in the back inseam at the thighs
All of these things—now that I’m no longer focusing on flat butt adjustments—are items I’ve turned up several times in online discussions about these thigh wrinkles from hell. I think in part of my muslining process I’ve actually taken in the back inseam a bit and/or lowered the crotch curve due to sewing a different size combo, but goodness knows when and in conjunction with some kind of other adjustments that didn’t work, so I’m going to start fresh.
Now why am I telling you all this? Not to scare you, or frustrate you, or even get sympathy. (Okay yeah, I lied, I could totally use some sympathy.) But I just wanted to share my experiences and process with this, and maybe it’ll help someone else someday (especially if you, like me, ever suspect you may have fallen down the wrong rabbit hole with a fitting issue). And because I needed to vent and put it all in one place!
I’m not the most anal-retentive sewist in the world. You know I’m not. I pick my moments, for sure. I could easily just call well enough good and make more of these pants and be happy and never talk about the blasted wrinkles at the back of my legs ever again. But I’m too far in now to quit! This pattern fits the bill in so many ways and I feel like if I could just resolve this, I could apply it not only to the Butterick pattern, but to the Ultimate Trousers, and any future trouser patterns I may try (which I bet would have the same issue on me).
That being said, if I try these latest adjustments and it gets me nowhere, I might just have to say I’m done fitting these, and call it a day! Eventually—and it’s going to be soon—I’m going to reach my limit and just have to say I’ve gotten the pattern as good as I can get it.
I’ll report back on the next chapter of this saga. Hopefully next time, I’ll have better news. But if one day you see a crazy woman who looks like me spouting sewing obscenities on the street corner, you’ll know the pants bested me.
In the meantime, please brighten my day: is there a sewing fitting issue you’ve finally resolved, much to your eternal happiness? Do tell!