For the past month and a half, I worked every weekend on sewing a pair of pants. I was revising a commercial pants pattern to make a pair of custom-fit pants with plenty of room for the baby. (My belly circumference – 38 inches right now!) I started with Vogue 8157 as the base.

I used a flexible ruler to copy my crotch curve. It’s wildly asymmetric because I stopped measuring where my belly started expanding (on the left side).

I traced the pants pattern onto butcher paper and adjusted the front and back pattern pieces to my curve.

See, it matched fairly well:

I made a mock-up garment out of cheap cotton muslin and pin-fit it following the directions in Pants for Real People. I narrowed the back width by at least an inch and shortened the leg under the knee by 2 inches. I lengthened the upper portion (the hip area) by 2 inches because I was raising the back side.

The pants still showed a lot of bagginess on the back thigh. I followed Ann Rowley’s genius instructions for a “flat seat adjustment” and made a fisheye dart. Here’s the flat pattern piece after I made all of the adjustments:

I cut out the pants from a stretch cotton woven fabric.

I pin-fit the fabric. Because it was stretchy material, I had to make the side seams deeper than what I had done for the muslin. After adjusting the crotch curve a little more, I was fairly pleased with how it seemed to fit.
Over the next few weeks, I slowly assembled the pants. I marked new seam lines, basted and double-checked the fit, trimmed the excess fabric, sewed the seams, established the waistline, added the waistband, and…

I tried the pants on today, and they are distressingly small. One might say that they fit… but every ripple and roll showed prominently through the too-tight areas. The look was, ummm, decidedly unattractive. I was embarrassed to even wear them around the house. I tried to salvage the pair this morning by narrowing the side seams, but it’s no good, a wadder. (“Wadder” = a project that you wad up and throw out.) I don’t know if it was because Baby and I have gotten considerably larger since I test-fit the pants, or if the stretchy material tricked me, or… I don’t know. I just don’t know where I went wrong.


Sewing humbles me like nothing else. It seems straightforward, easy to understand, and… I find it nearly impossible to do well. I’m not sure where to go next with this. I know sewing, like any other skill, gets easier with experience, probably every novice sewer has wadders, blah blah blah, but this is so frustrating. It’s been a long time since I ran into something that just seemed beyond my grasp (uh, food engineering problem sets, anyone?), and I’ve forgotten how to deal with total failure. What a waste of fabric, too. At least I didn’t pay a lot for it.

I guess I wanted to talk about this because, in a way, it seemed disingenuous to blog only about successful projects. I don’t pretend that I’m good at everything – I make mistakes, I try to learn from them, I move on. I’m not happy about how this has turned out, though. I’ve put the sewing machine away for now, at least while I ponder the next step.

25 thoughts on “Failure

  1. June, as I *often* have sewing problems of this type (Ugh, Oh, GRRR!), I cannot give you a reliable solution. But you might like to join the Creative Machine group on YahooGroups ( There are a lot of knowledgeable sewers/tailors/designers on the list, and if you can explain your situation, I think you’d get some interesting and, hopefully, helpful replies. Emily

  2. Don’t feel bad. I’ve been sewing for a long time and still struggle with fitting issues. Pants are probably the most difficult garment to fit well. Try to remember how many pairs you try on in ready to wear before finding something you can live with and then forgive yourself for your failure. Nobody likes to waste fabric, but since it can’t be ripped and reclaimed as in knitting its inevitable that waste will happen. At least you can save it with the intention of giving it second life for toddler sized pants or shorts in the near future.

  3. I’m so glad to know it’s not just me. Every time I get my sewing machine out it there is some sort of mishap. I’ve decided to stick with the sticks. 🙂 That is until it calls me again and I repeat the process in full. (lol)

  4. I give you tons of credit for even doing all that work!! I have only ever done loose fitting pants, with elastic and/or drawstring waistbands. Of course I understand that it would be nice to be able to figure out what went wrong! Such is life I guess.

  5. Kudos to you for trying to make pants in the first place and working through all the pattern mods. I’m a wuss and tend to stick with skirts, which require less fitting.

  6. I do not sew. I took a sewing class (had an old machine from the ’40s), didn’t do well, but want to try again!

    And watching this pants-making process, I am just so impressed with how diligently you seem to perform each of your interests. Yours is exactly the kind we need in science, so I’m glad you went into that field.

    And this was motivation for getting off the computer and getting off my butt! Have a great Sunday.

  7. At least your “wadder” was something that took required thoughtful design features. Mine was a curtain. Not draperies, mind you. Curtains. Simple cafe curtains. That were so crooked, I was embarrassed that someone might look up from the street to our second floor windows and see them. I quickly went out and bought shades.

  8. De-lurking here…I’m an ex-designer and let me tell you, pants are very hard to fit. There are 101 different tricks to make it work, so don’t be too hard on yourself. The best way to go about it is to find a pair of pants with a good fit and copy it. If you have a hard pattern that works for you, you can base all future designs on that one pair. Hope any of this helps!

  9. I was just blogging about how hard sewing can be. I’m not very good, although I do seem to have persistence, but it can be so very soul destroying. Time, energy, materials wasted! Kudos for trying, and thanks for sharing.

  10. Bummer. But maybe they’ll fit during that awkward post-partum time when maternity stuff is too big but you still don’t fit into pre-pregnancy clothes yet.

  11. Yikes! Pants are hard at the best of times but I’m betting you and baby grew some while you were trying to finish this pair. I only made elastic-waist pants with extra stretchy tummy panel for the ever-expanding beach ball that was MY pregnant belly! Don’t chuck them out – they may fit later with only minimum adjustments.

  12. Dear June, please don’t beat yourself up over this. You are simply being very ambitious – you are virtually trying to do pattern drafting on a body that is changing almost daily. A surefire recipe for failure – it’s not you. Just buy some pants that fit. Save your energy and enthusiasm for making things that don’t need so many adjustments until you have more mileage under your belt. It really should be fun, and should only involve that much “work” if you are creating new designs for the market. Personally, I would make skirts. They are easy and comfy. I have rarely managed a pair of pants that fit the way I like from a pattern and I am mathmatically retarded so, I really don’t bother with complicated changes.
    Some tailoring techniques are simply not worth the trouble – I have made two men’s suits. Never, ever again. Pay whatever the store wants.

  13. What you tried to do with sewing those pants, is the very same thing as a novice knitter making up a Shetland lace shawl pattern, then attempting to knit it. The odds weren’t good.

    Too bad you weren’t still around here, Astrid could have fixed you up.

  14. I’ve sewn a lot, and I enjoy it. But I too have a wadded up pair of pants in my sewing room. For me, it’s still a lot faster than knitting. A wadder sweater would be much more devastating for me than a wadder sewn item.

  15. Bummer that. You are brave to have fought the valiant fight, to get pants that fit the way you want, though! I just wear XL elastic pants. So far, my short waistedness has paid off, because they’re still long enough in the crotch after going over my belly (also about 38″).

  16. Wow, you sure are ambitious! I’m scared of pants and my body isn’t changing week to week. Thanks for sharing the hard times too.

  17. Don’t wad them … keep them for post baby and see how they fit then. Just like your first spinning/knitting project that you don’t get rid of because it looks hideous.

  18. I think sewing with stretchy fabric is a B to begin with. You did all the right moves, but as was mentioned your body is changing. Keep it simple, even if it would be nice to say “yes I made these” It’s not worth the aggravation for a few months. I don’t wear anything but pants now, but when I was pregnant is was the opposite, a nice loose dress was the most comfortable thing. Good luck 🙂

  19. I feel the same way about sewing. I’m attracted to it, and it seems like it makes sense, but somehow it is very easy to fail. One of my first projects was an attempt to copy an absolutely gorgeous (and seemingly simply shaped) dress that my best friend had. We attempted it together because she had some actual sewing experience, but chose the fabric very poorly. When it was all done, I couldn’t get it over my shoulders and got stuck. Flailing my arms around I looked exactly like a squid. It’s good to know that others have been there, and it’s also really helpful to have links to good resources, so thanks for posting. If you figure out the trick to maternity sizing let me know!

  20. I feel like I’m sauntering into the conversation like John Wayne here. “Well, pilgrim, it’s like this…”

    No seriously, I have about 15 books on fitting, plus all the Sandra Betzina stuff, 20-some years of Threads and every fabricy resource known to mankind.

    None of the tricks actually works. They all just sort of get you into the ball park so you can fit YOUR body, which is, unfortunately, different from every other human body ever created. So one technique says lengthen this the same amount as you narrow this. But it’s not right, maybe you only want to lengthen this 75% or maybe you need more because you have bony little hipbones that ride closer to your ribs than some long, lanky Swede. Or then there’s me, 99.9% white–except physiologically I come up 98% native american instead of the myriad english and irish ancestors. You want to see shoulders, honey. Think Mike Singleterry with boobs. Try fitting that with a princess line.

    The best thing you can do for yourself when you’re working out patterns is get a buddy. Maybe Matt can be trained to assist at an elementary level, but chances are you’ll need another sewer (seamstress) sew-er. Stop laughing.

    Cut your muslin with huge seams (I use 1 1/2 or 2 inches) and then baste and fit ON your body. Be aware of the potential for odd fitting problems you have never known about.

    My best friend Anne, who possesses the body of a somewhat middle-aged and gravity abused Barbie doll always thought she had a normal body. (except for the huge accumulations of mammary tissue that make fitting her such a joy- size H bra _ I kid you not) For years she putzed with pants patterns, even as she (we) got older and things began to change and droop. She could never get the pants to hang right. They always puckered and wrinkled on one side or the other. She paid for patterns generated by laser measurements twice, still no good. Finally about 6 years ago she brought it all over here and we more or less started from scratch. Imagine our mutual surprise when we discovered her legs are not the same length. Her right hip is a good half inch taller than the left. And to balance herself and maintain good posture (she’s from Massachusetts) she drops her right shoulder and arches her back to point the right shoulder down. Now if I stand in that position muscles all over my body cramp and I fall down. She has apparently been doing it all of her life and can’t even straighten up properly. Her basic pants pattern now has totally different curves on the right and left sides and front and backs, but every pair fits well – at least until she gains another 5 pounds and makes me do it all over again.

    Fortunately (???) she gains nearly all of her weight in her boobs, so the big problem is fitting blouse patterns. I have refused to redo the sloper until she gets a wardrobe of bras that actually fit and keep the girls in the same place. I can’t work when every time we try to fit the sloper, her bust point has moved 2 inches. She’s dragging her feet because I think we’re going to have to go to NY to get bras that actually fit her. Can’t find any within 25 miles of here.

    Wandered way off there, check at your local fabric store or up at Brownsville at Mill End and see if you can find another person to work with you who sort of understands fitting issues.

    Avoid stretchy fabrics until you have a better feel for fitting issues. Or at least, don’t try to use them in closely tailored garments. Small areas with more stress than others can cause odd wrinkles and bubbles. You want at least 2 inches of wearing ease for stretchy fabrics until you know precisely how to tailor for your body.

    I love a bargain and have singlehandedly kept Mill End in business until I quit running Minnesota. I dream about winning the lottery so I could fly to Rochester and buy cheap fabric (makes sense huh?). But learn the difference between cheap ($) fabric and cheap (crappy) fabric. Your fabric must always be woven true to grain in order for the finished garment to look like clothing rather than a$$. Square up your fabric and check to see that the straight of grain is straight and not angled. If your fabric biases, when cut the pants will bubble and roll towards the side seams in odd locations. you think you screwed up, but really it’s the fabric. Wash, dry and press your fabric before you cut and make sure you can lay it straight and fold it to grain and cross grain without any weird bubbles.

    Much as I do love Mill End and Wally world’s cheap fabric racks, I’ve found some real dogs there too. Sometimes a machine will grab the edge of a piece and tear it badly. Sometimes that fabric gets warped badly and won’t true back up even when steam pressed. That stuff regretfully becomes worse than wadders. You fold 5 yards of lovely navy wool into a neat package and then chuck it.

    Have fun.


  21. I’ve been running a sewing business for over 10 years…pants are hard! Dont’ get down on yourself.

    I recently had similar problems for a client. There was way too much fabric behind her thighs. But when I did the alteration like in your 6th photo, it made the crotch too “L” shaped. So I had to go again and change that. I got advice from Joyce Murphy on that.
    Also, she has an article in Threads 122 that is very helpful. After a lot of fussing the pants finally fit her(thank goodness!) but it was very difficult.

  22. You problem was believing that the pattern company designs for people. Try a pattern that has elastic panel all the way across front. Baby has room to stretch in any direction. I am sure that dimentions change several times during the day. The “cut out” type of clothes fit paper dolls better than people, even the store bought, mass produced garments. You deserve kudos and respect for trying to create fitted pants, a difficult task at any time. I salute you.

  23. Dude, the fit will change throughout the day and over time cuz of the baby. I’m sorry you had to ‘wad it’ but pregnancy changes your body so don’t blame yourself on this one.

Comments are closed.