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The Colette Patterns Pants Fitting Cheatsheet

Fitting pants is a bit tricky, let’s face it.

There are a lot of differences among women in the areas between waist and ankles. You’ve got hips and waists of different sizes, butts of various shapes, legs of all different lengths, thighs that bulge in different ways, calves that may or may not be muscular. And then there are the differences in posture!

With all these factors, no wonder pants fitting seems so mystifying. And no wonder it’s so hard for most of us to find a good pair of RTW pants that fit.

I wanted to find a way to distill most of the pants adjustments you might need down into an easy to scan format. The idea is that you take a look at the symptoms you’re experiencing with your muslin, then find them on the chart to see which adjustments might help you solve them.

Waist and Belly

Symptoms Potential Issue Adjustments
  • Tight diagonal “smile” wrinkles radiating from the crotch
  • Waistband feels too tight
Larger waist Let out the waistband, add width at the side seam, grading down toward the hipline. (see Large or Small Waist Adjustments)
  • Drooping “frown” wrinkles radiating from the crotch
  • Waistband feels too loose
Smaller waist Take the waistband in, remove width at the side seam, grading down toward the hips. (see Large or Small Waist Adjustments)
  • Tight diagonal wrinkles around the lower belly
  • Feels tight over the belly
Full lower belly Add fullness around the lower belly (see Full or Flat Belly Adjustments)
  • Excess vertical folds of fabric around the lower belly
Flat lower belly Remove fullness at the lower belly (see Full or Flat Belly Adjustments)

Hips and Crotch

Symptoms Potential Issue Adjustments
  • Tight diagonal “smile” wrinkle radiating from the crotch
  • Pants feel like they’re being tugged downward at the crotch
Longer torso Lengthen the front and back above the crotch (see Lengthen or Shorten the Torso)
  • Drooping “frown” wrinkles radiating from the crotch
Shorter torso Shorten the front and back above the crotch (see Lengthen or Shorten the Torso)
  • Tight wrinkles forming around the hips
Wide hips Add width at the side seams (see Wide or Narrow Hip Adjustment)
  • Excess fabric hanging vertically around the hips
Narrow hips Remove width at the side seams (see Wide or Narrow Hip Adjustment)

Back and Butt

Symptoms Potential Issue Adjustments
  • Excess fabric pooling horizontally above your butt
  • Pants feel tight across butt
  • Diagonal “smile” wrinkles radiating from crotch
Swayback Swayback adjustment (see Swayback Adjustment)
  • Excess fabric pooling horizontally above your butt
High butt Shorten the back darts
  • Excess fabric pooling under your butt
  • Side seams seem to be bowing
Swayfront Swayfront adjustment
  • Excess fabric pooling under your butt
Low butt Lower the crotch curve in the back, for a deeper curve.
  • Excess fabric pooling under your butt
  • Excess fabric around the fullest part of your butt
Flat butt Flat butt adjustment (see Full or Flat Butt Adjustment)
  • Tight diagonal wrinkles radiating from the fullest part of your butt
  • Feels tight across the butt
  • Back waist is pulling down
Full butt Full butt adjustment (see Full or Flat Butt Adjustment)

Legs

Symptoms Potential Issue Adjustments
  • Pants too long or short
Longer or shorter legs Lengthen or shorten, either above the knee or at the hem.
  • Diagonal wrinkles around the knee, coming out from the side seams
Knock knees Add length at the inseam, remove length at the side seam.
  • Diagonal wrinkles around the knee, coming from the inseam.
Bow legged Add length at the side seam, remove length at the inseam.
  • Tight horizontal wrinkles at the upper thigh
  • Wrinkles forming from the crotch to the side seam at the thigh
  • Excess fabric pooling under the butt
Large outer thigh area Let out the side seams at the thigh
  • Feels tight across the upper thigh
  • Wrinkles at the inner thigh, near the crotch
Large quadriceps (front thigh muscles) Add width at the inseam of the pants front, close to the crotch and tapering down toward the knee.
  • Tight wrinkles coming from the inseam, near the crotch
Large inner thighs Add width at the inseam of the pants front, close to the crotch and tapering down toward the knee.
  • Excess fabric hanging vertically around the inner thighs
Small inner thighs Remove width at the inseam of the pants front, close to the crotch and tapering down toward the knee.
  • Tight wrinkles forming around the calf.
Large calves Add width to the pants back, down the center back of your leg. (see Large Calves Adjustment)
  • Tight horizontal wrinkles around the whole leg
Large legs Add width at the center of the pants front, and the center of the pants back (see Large or Thin Leg Adjustments)
  • Excess fabric hanging vertically all down the leg
Thin legs Remove width at the center of the pants front, and the center of the pants back (see Large or Thin Leg Adjustments)

Citations:
Fitting and Pattern Alteration by Elizabeth G. Leichty, Della Poterburg-Steineckert, Judith A. Rasband (A fantastic, comprehensive fitting book that helped tremendously with the research for this post), Pants For Real People by Pati Palmer and Marti Alto, The Perfect Fit

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On , eunny said: | whitcombstreet.tumblr.com

omg. saved immediately.

On , Sølvi said: | solvi.se

This is fantastic! Thank you so much. Will come in handy, especially when sewing for others! :-)

On , Alison said:

This is AMAZING. Thanks so much for your work compiling it and posting it!!

I have a question about the full/flat lower belly adjustments, where your suggestion is to add/remove fullness at the lower belly. How would you go about doing this? I’m picturing slashing from the CF to the side seam, then spreading/overlapping the desired amount. I *think* this would have the effect of adding/removing a horizontal wedge, widest at the CF and tapering to nothing at the side seam. Would this work, or would that mess up lengths of other seams/grainlines/ etc?

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Yes, you want to do that, but *also* add/remove width at the CF, tapering up from the crotch. That way, you’re not just changing the length, but changing the fullness over the belly.

However, you might notice that adding width at the CF changes the size of the waist seam, right?

So on most pants, what you want to do is take that change and move it to the front dart. So if you added a 1/2″ to the width (just an example), make the dart 1/2″ bigger.

These pants happen to not have a front dart. You have two choices here. You can either add a front dart, or you could remove the width at the CF seam, tapering down toward the belly.

This is sounding a bit complicated all written out. I will see if I can do a tutorial if I have time!

On , lsaspacey said: | lifeisexamined.blogspot.com

Yes, please? I’ll be needing to add a bit of “fullness” or a PBA (pot belly adjustment) to my Clovers too!

On , Alison said:

Thanks so much!! This makes sense (at least picturing it in my head), so I will try it and see! Again: many many thanks for this chart!

On , Marlise said: | pomme-et-asperge.blogspot.com

This is great, thank you for putting this together! I gave up sewing pants because I wasn’t patient enough to fix all the fitting issues I had. But I might give it another try… Btw, I love your blog!

On , Rebecca said:

AWESOME! This is great!

On , Seraphinalina said: | seraphinalina.blogspot.com

That’s awesome, what a great resource. Thanks for compiling that, it will be great to see all the tutorials.

On , Melanie said:

Wow this is an amazing reference! Thanks for sharing this. But just one question: what measurement is best for choosing which size to start with? I know to use my high bust for tops because the shoulders are most difficult to fit. For pants, should it be the widest part so other things could be taken in? Or are there other factors to consider like a large difference between waist and hips or many large thighs? ( If the answer to this is “take a class” fair enough. You must have put in an awful lot of work on this post and it seems greedy to ask for more. )

On , lsaspacey said: | lifeisexamined.blogspot.com

I think the common wisdom is to pick a size that matches the widest part, usually the hips or the booty because the waist can be adjusted.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I agree with Lisa’s answer… you usually want to go by the hip measurement.

On , knitmo said: | portraitofawannabedomesticgoddess.blogspot.com

I am so glad to see this distilled so simply. I can’t wait to actually get my muslin made and really identify what I need to do.

On , Robin said:

OMG. I love you. Thank you SO MUCH for posting this!! What a fantastic resource.

I always have a problem with just pajama and yoga pants I make pulling down at the back waist, and I love that you told me I need a FBA and that you’re going to tell me how to do it. If I can have success with these easy type pants, then I’ll be so much more likely to take on a more challenging pair of real pants, like the Clover pants. :-)

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I hear you, I have the same fitting issue a lot of the time, and in ready to wear too.

On , Debi said: | fashionsfromthepast.blogspot.com

Sarai–you are a sewing goddess!!! Thank you for this post!

On , Wendy said:

This looks completely fantastic!
I too would appreciate more information on the full lower tummy adjustment – my cherubs have not left my tummy in anything resembling it’s former glory?!

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Check out my comment to Allison above!

On , Ginger said:

Thank you so much for the awesome chart. I’m saving it, I know I will use it again and again.

On , Katie said:

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this! I can’t wait to see the tutorial for a larger waist adjustment. I often have this problem and I can’t find many tutorials online for it! I won’t be working on the Clover until my workload gets lighter, but I’m glad you will be posting these tutorials on here.

I do have a question for you: when cutting out the pattern for the pants, what measurement should I go with? I was told it’s the hip measurement, but the waist measurement is significantly smaller than my actual waist (I have almost a rectangular shape with a gentle waist curve). Should I go with my waist measurement and then adjust the hips?

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

I’d still go with the hip measurement. It’s just a lot easier to adjust the size of the waist than it is to fiddle with the hip area.

If you have a really significant difference, just cut two sizes to start with when making your muslin! For example, if you have a size 8 hip and size 12 waist, cut most of the pattern in an 8, but grade the line toward the size 12 at the waist. Then do your muslin and see how that works.

On , Mandy said:

Thanks so much for this extremely useful chart. I have saved it because I know I shall need to refer to it.
What a lovely idea, to put it all together in a chart like this. I does make it so easy to use as a reference.
Like Katie, I often have a problem deciding which size to go for in any new pattern I am trying for the first time. Is there any advice on choosing the best size? In the past I have wasted time making muslins only to decide I ought to have chosen a different size to start with.

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Generally, you want to choose size based on the most difficult areas to fit. For bodices/dresses/blouses, this is the bust and shoulders. For skirts and pants, it’s usually the hips.

It’s a good idea to also look at the finished garment measurements to see how much ease is included. The big 4 pattern companies include a lot of extra ease.

On , eghbravo said:

Hi, I’m new to your site and I’m glad I joined! This is so helpful and the most concise explanation of how to address my getting-pants-to-fit dilema. I don’t have problems making pants for myself because I’ve made enough mistakes on my own pants to know where my own pattern-fitting nuances are…but this is so handy when it comes to making pants for other people (I don’t have to cringe at the idea anymore). I can’t wait for the tutorials!

On , meagan said:

Thankyou Sarai. I have dwelling over making some capri pants as the last pair just didn’t fit right. now to make the corrections to the pattern and try again. Thankyou, than you

On , Jane said:

No matter how many times I measure myself I come out at a 27″ waist and a 38″ hip: supposedly a Colette size 6. However, I’ve made my muslin and it’s far too small, not even close!
The problem seems to be that the pattern tapers inwards at the point where my hips are still at their widest. The trousers are definitely a 38 just above the crotch but a bit higher they reduce to a 36 and at that point I am still a 38. I’m going to need at least an extra couple of inches just to get the zip to close. I also feel the trousers sit very low and might be more flattering if they come up a bit higher.
Do you think I should try a muslin in an 8 or a 10 or is there some way I can adjust the rise to bring it up higher?

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Jane, I’m going to be posting tutorials all next week, but from what you’ve said it sounds like you might need to lengthen the torso. They definitely shouldn’t feel like they are sitting too low, but should be just below the waist.

Personally, I have a short torso (though I’m an average height for my size) and they come up too *high* on me without adjustment. I’m just mentioning that because I think it’s a good illustration of how much bodies can vary and why fitting is so important!

On , Jane said:

Thank you Sarai. I’m looking forward to seeing the tutorials and getting on to the next steps!

On , Emily-Jane said:

This is fantastic, Sarai! Thanks for putting it together for us all.

I have a question, though, that I think isn’t addressed in your cheat sheet. I’ll give you a little background first, in case it helps:

RTW pants almost never fit me unless I really get lucky with the “curvy” fit, because I have a bit of a swayback and my hips (40″) are a bigger standard size than my waist (28″). The back waist nearly always gaps, and sometimes the sideseams aren’t straight. These things I can fix when I’m sewing my own pants, and sometimes correct in RTW pants.

But, the fit issue that just kills me and that I’ve never been able to reliably fix with pants I’ve made for myself is that the hem of the pants hang funny. They stay close to the leg in the front, over my foot, but stick out awkwardly in the back, over my heel. I’ve seen this on lots of other women who are generously built through the hip and butt, and it happens more with short pants, and pants with a flared leg.

But seriously, it would be nice to be able to make a pair of capris or ankle length pants (like Clover!) and know I was going to avoid this pitfall. Do you have any suggestions?

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

It’s really hard to diagnose a problem like this, but it sounds like it might be a symptom of the swayback issue. The swayback posture can pull the fabric of the pants toward the back like you’re describing.

On , Chloe Mower said:

Sarai you have an amazing way of explaining pattern adjustments. Do you do master classes or workshops?
Thanks, Chloe

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Maybe someday! I don’t have much time for teaching at the moment, but it’s a great idea.

On , Pamela said:

Cannot wait for the flat butt tutorial – I do avoid making pants for this very reason!

On , EasilyAmewsed said:

I’m curious what a ‘SWAY FRONT’ is in relation to the excess fabric below the buttocks? Is this another way of describing a backward hip tilt? My DD has this issue and I’d really like to see your take on altering for it if it’s not simply doing SWAY BACK alt in reverse.
So far all your alts are very clear and quite helpful.

On , becksnyc said:

I like your IDEA of trying to pair “Symptoms” with “Issues” and “Adjustments.” It’s a great concept! Kudos for tackling it!
However, even with 35 years altering RTW & sewing custom clothing, I cannot reconcile some of your symptoms with the suggested adjustments. For example, a large waist does not necessarily create smile wrinkles radiating from the crotch. It depends on where the person carries their weight. I’ve seen many a customer with a large waist (not tummy) and a flat seat or short rise (crotch depth), in which case the wrinkles, if any, run across and usually just above the fullest part of the seat.
May I suggest that, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so a photo in the first column would help us visualize the fitting issues you describe.
Pants are complicated due to their construction and the tremendous variety in the human form. Hats off to your efforts to break the adjustments down!
Becks

On , Sarai said: | colettepatterns.com

Yes, of course this is by necessity a simplification. If someone has a combination of different fit issues, it can manifest in a completely different way. However, I think people need at least a place to start.

Your photo suggestion is great! It sounds like a great concept for a fitting book rather than a blog post, perhaps.

On , Sunny said:

Oh my gosh…is that the premise of your second book? ::fingers crossed::

On , Linda said:

Concerning the waist, how do you address if the slacks pull down in the middle back due to more room needed for the butt?

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On , Em said:

Just want to express thanks for the wonderful hints and tutorials! Really helpful.

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On , Ginger said: | summersdesigns.blogspot.com

I posted a pic and link to one of your tutorials. I hope you don’t mind, but let me know if you want me to remove it and I will do it right away. Thank you for this chart, it is great!

On , Nancy said:

Where can I find the swayfront adjustment?

On , EasilyAmewsed said:

I also had this question about the swayfront. I’ve not heard the term before so does it mean using the front pattern alt shown for the swayback adjustment or something entirely different?
I noted the term is not linked so it makes me think the latter.
Thanks for any clarification.

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On , Kathi s said:

Wow! I am printing this out and laminating it for my sewing room! This is the first tutorial that addresses my leg issues.

On , mary j. said:

This is a great list. I use Palmer and Pletch, and will put this in my alteration book

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On , Inna said: | thewallinna.blogspot.com

This cheatsheet is GREAT! I’ve even printed it out :)

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On , Shannon said:

Things I have learned about my legs, butt and hips while trying to make these pants: I have knock knees, peg legs (thin– oddly my hamstrings are what are small, not my quads), a waist that doesn’t curve in very much, a very low butt and I suspect a ‘swayfront’ problem but I can’t quite figure out how to adjust for. But even with that last issue, after ripping apart my first pair of Clovers about 8 times, I finally got a fit I really like! Then the fabric stretched out like crazy. It’s always something. When I can bring myself to pick up the world’s most time consuming pants again, I’ll take them in some more. I’m so excited about having a pattern to make my own pants that will fit right.

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On , Ledys said: | fromthesunnyside.wordpress.com

Sarai, would you recommend making the Clover in a fabric that doesn’t have any stretch? I found the perfect color gabardine, but there’s no stretch in it. What is your source for pant-weight stretch fabrics? Thank you!

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On , Seonaid said: | seonaidsews

Hello! I love this cheat sheet! Thank you. I was wondering if there’s an explanation anywhere of how to do a swayfront adjustment?

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