Pants Styling: Learn how to alter your patterns

on May 15 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 66 Comments

We knew we had to ask Jen Leheny from Red Instead to contribute to Women’s Clothing Month! Jen is a clothing sewing whiz (just one facet to the wide range of fantastic creations that pop out of her studio) and today she fills us in on how to alter pants patterns to keep up with the latest styles. After you glean insight and inspiration from Jen’s article be sure to lose yourself in her shop and blog.

Many people have a hard time fitting a pants pattern to their body. Fine tuning a pants pattern can require many hours of frustration and much fiddling with muslins and mirrors. It must fit well through the whole waist to hip area and the design of women’s bodies means there is much variation from one woman to the next. These variations in size and curves mean that each of us will have different fit issues to sort out, but once you have done the work required to get a properly fitted TNT (“tried and tested”) pants pattern then you will find that you can take it in many different directions.

So you’ve got a properly fitted pattern and you’ve made a few pairs of trousers and you’re bored– now what? Well, assuming that you don’t gain or lose weight and that your TNT pants pattern keeps fitting you for many years, you may find that fashion is changing even if your body isn’t. You know that your TNT pants pattern fits and flatters in all the right places but what about the style?

Updating a well-fitting pants pattern to change the style is really quite easy. By changing the shape of the side seams, you can go from classic pants to Marlene Dietrich-style wide legs and know that your pants will still look make your butt look good. Turn your favorite bootleg pants pattern into capri shorts without breaking a sweat-– and not a muslin in sight. Remember, you already know it fits you!

Let’s get started! Grab yourself some tracing paper, pencil, ruler and eraser and lay your trusty pants pattern onto your dining table or cutting table. Take a good look at the style of your pants and the shape of the side seams and the inseam (the inside leg seam). The possibilities for styling are endless, just by making a few simple changes to these two lines. The waist, hip and crotch curve part of your pattern all fit you wonderfully so trace that section of your TNT pattern as is, and then we can make some changes to those seams to give you a new style.

Classic trousers with a fitted waistband have the side seams blended from the thigh to the hemline for a smooth, continuous line, while bootleg cut pants have a flare added from the knee (or just below) down to the hem. If you want to add some flare to your leg then you’ll need to work out how much fullness you require at the ankle (eg. 2 inches) measure out from the bottom corners of the pattern, equally on both sides, and add the amount of additional width (eg. 1 inch each side) and mark this on your tracing paper.

Next you will need to think about where on your leg do you want this flare to start. Let’s say you want to add some flare at the knee. Find the knee line on your pattern (measure the distance from your actual knee to ankle point and transfer this to the pattern) and then use a ruler to draw a line down from your knee point to the new width of your pants that you marked earlier (eg. 1 inch wider on each side). Do this on both sides and smooth the area where the flare is added to blend the line in. Remember to make the new hem line slightly curved whenever you add width to a pattern.

Wide leg (or “Marlene Dietrich”) styles are created by extending the side seam and inseam straight down from crotch level to create fullness at the ankle line.

Want a few more options for wide legs? The gaucho style pant is simply a shortened version of the wide leg pant and the harem pant has elastic or a band at the ankle to blouse all that the fullness up.

What if you want to make your TNT pattern skinny? Well the first thing to remember is that only the very young, tall and slender will look good in super skinny styles! If you have a large butt, this probably isn’t the style for you-– stick with the bootcut for a more flattering look. Having said that, going a bit skinny could be a good wardrobe updater for some body types.

To reduce the hem width and keep the pants looking good, you will need to keep the straight of grain in the centre of the pant leg and take the same amount of flare out from each side of your pattern. First, determine the hem width you would like for your skinny pants-– a good way to do this is to take a tape measure and loop it into a circle on the floor and then stand in the little circle. Make the tape measure circle larger or smaller, imagining that it is the width of your pant leg, until you get it right.

Mark the hem width onto your pattern and draw a new seam line from the knee down to your skinny hem, blending at the knee to create a smooth line. A little tip: if you do go very skinny, you may need to add a zipper or button opening for access at the hem, and watch the calf area as you will need enough for easy movement when lifting your leg up or crossing one leg over the other.

After all that hard work with your pencil and tracing paper, maybe it’s time to make yourself some comfy lounge pants! Add a little width to the side and inseams and draw a line from the hip straight up to square off the waist. This is done to change a fitted waist to an elastic waistline, which is another easy change to make to your TNT pattern for a bit of easy comfort.

Remember that a change in pockets, waistband and cuffs can make each pair of pants you make from your TNT pattern different to the last. Try making your favorite pattern in denim with jeans topstitching, satin with inseam piping, long or short, wide or skinny… The sky really is the limit when you know how to make a few easy changes to your pattern!

Bonfit Pants/Trousers Patterner Book
How to Make Sewing Patterns by Donald H McCunn

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66 Responses to Pants Styling: Learn how to alter your patterns

  1. Barb' says:

    because I am only 5’2″ & wide around the hip, all my pants are SOOOOO horribly wide around the leg above the knee,[& baggy at the seat] I have bought a pattern to try & make my own, but cannot find any help to know how to alter it! I need to have the pant leg narrow all the way to the hem, please could you help me? the only way to make ready made pants look better on my tubby bod’, is to buy smaller sizes & cut them at the waist seams & add a strip of stretch material at each side seam!![ & hope I don’t get hit by a bus! I would HATE anyone to see what they look like under my top!thank you SOOO much for any help that you may give me, Barb.

  2. Laura says:

    I need instructions to adjust the seat of woman’s pantswho have a flatter bottom! I need the stomackh and waist room but end up with “pleats just below my bottom( in the upper thigh area).

    I used to have a booklet that showed adjusting the bach crotch curve to do this? Or was it both ffront and back curve?

    Please help if you can.

  3. Louise says:

    I now have a flat bottom, so pants are always way too big in the back. I have tried to follow directions for flat derriere adjustment to a pattern. The directions say to make a pleat in the back pants pattern piece from the center of the waist to the center of the calf. I can’t figure out how much to pleat, so its been a guesstimate with just ok results. I was wondering if I could use the next size down for the back of the pants pattern? I am a 16, so I was wondering how it would work out to cut the back a size 14? Has anyone done this? If not, I wish someone could give me better directions than the ones I have.

  4. Beryl says:

    I am so, so pleased to see this article on pantmaking. I have attempted to make pants, however they never ended up being the correct fit. I will be putting the tips to fabric here real soon.

    Thank you from Oregon

  5. Ah!!! at last I found what I was looking for. Somtimes it takes so much effort to find even tiny useful piece of information.
    Nice post. Thanks

  6. Jackie Herbert says:

    Hi I am from UK I would like to make my trousers less baggy in the leg, can you advise please. Thank you so much.

  7. Hermenegildo C.Moguel says:

    Awesome. Could you do the same instruction for mens pants?

    Hoping that you can and thanks in advance.


  8. samdra puffer says:

    how do you correctly measure interfacing when you change the waist size

  9. samdra puffer says:

    i am having to substract the waist line on my grandaughts pants and its a fitted waist and want to know what is the easiest way to measure for the interfaacing

  10. 2tall says:

    Hello, this posting was very helpful but I could use a bit more help. Here’s my predicament: I’m a very tall and thin guy and buying jeans has become prohibitively expensive (they now hover around $100!). My sister is gifted with her hands and actually makes some of her own clothes. She’s going to help me by making me a few pairs of jeans from scratch. So, I put it out to all of you, does anyone know where I can find a pattern for men’s boot cut jeans? If so, could you please respond to my comment on this blog.


  11. you have no clue how much you just helped me. I am working on desinging some crazy new pant designs and was looking just for this write up. You are my hero!

  12. Larici says:

    I want to try to make my first pants. Great tutorial, thanks again sms.

  13. Stacy says:

    Thanks so much for this informative post. I can’t wait to dig out my pants pattern and make another pair that will fit me nicely!

  14. kristena says:

    Thanks for the information! Now I just need to find a pants pattern that works for me as a jumping-off point.

  15. Rachel says:

    I’m glad to have this resource for future sewing. I haven’t made any pants yet but I’ve had a hard time sizing skirts correctly so I can only imagine that pants would be more difficult. I will tuck this one away for future reference! Thanks! 🙂

  16. Varenia says:

    thank you so much for this informative article! i tried the wide-leg pants and they turned out great! i’m going to try the bootleg’s next (for my kids) and maybe some summer gauchos with elastic waist for my expanding pregnant self… i can imagine living all summer in those! thanks again!

  17. This is about the coolest thing I’ve read in a long time! I can’t wait to try this out! Thank you much.

    ~All my best from Alaska,

  18. LisaB says:

    This is so wonderful! Do you know how many times I’ve looked at pants in my wardrobe and thought ‘it’s probably really easy to just alter that to be this way’ and not done it because I wasn’t sure? Now I’m just going to do it!

  19. Andrea says:

    just about to try my new pants pattern tomorrow!

  20. Amy says:

    I too have never made pants, but I always wish that I did, because RTW pants rarely fit me well. Do you have a pant pattern that you recommend for starting? I think I’m ready to try it out!

  21. Kerri says:

    this is very helpful; great illustrations! i am going to mark up my patterns the next time i sew; might as well take what i’ve learned on to the next attempt. love this site.

  22. Libby says:

    Great tutorial. Thanks for all the explanation.

  23. alissa says:

    Wow! I know I’ll use this, since I just attempted making a pair of wide-leg’s more skinny last month. I think they turned out all right, but it would have been much less of a headache looking at these awesome descriptions and details.

  24. Sarah S says:

    What a fantastic post. I’ve yet to make my own pants, but this makes it seem a little less intimidating.

  25. EmmyLizzy says:

    Fantastic! Now to just find that one perfect pants pattern that i can use all of these alterations on…….

  26. Thanks for the great info! I am loving the ideas on adding the “bootleg” – that’s one of the things I like most in a good pair of pants, but patterns rarely come with a bootleg! Great idea!!

  27. jo ebisujima says:

    Fab, I have a pattern I want to adapt into bootleg but wasn’t sure or brave enough to do it, now I will have to give it a go

  28. earthchick says:

    Very cool. Thanks!

  29. Tabitha says:

    Thanks for the article. This will help stretch out my already existing pants and patterns!

  30. Liz says:

    This is so helpful! Thank you!

  31. Andrea says:

    I am a little on the short side and this information is so helpful! I am actually excited to try altering a few pairs of pants I have at the bottom of the pile.

  32. Lil' d says:

    Thank you – I’ve got some trousers that need altering.

  33. Mary says:

    Too cool! I am master of my universe now! Well….at least in the pants dept.

  34. Christina says:

    This is going to be a lifesaver for me!

  35. Kim B. says:

    Great info! Thanks!!

  36. Mel says:

    Excellent tutorial, thanks!

  37. Jess says:

    Sewing pants has never been my forte… but maybe now that will change! Thanks!

  38. denitza says:

    Never made pants yet, but after reading this I’m going to try very, very soon!Thanks!

  39. jenny says:

    great info — thx so much!

  40. Sue says:

    Great tutorial.

  41. Regina says:

    Almost makes me want to try making pants again.. almost.

  42. Sarah says:

    This makes me want to develop a TNT pants pattern, so I can play with changing up the style!

  43. alison says:

    Wow what great tips! Thanks so much.

  44. thanks for this…..simple but oh so helpful!!

  45. nicole says:

    thanks for the info. very helpful. nicole

  46. Chris says:

    Thank you so much for these instructions. I know this will become an often used reference for me!

  47. Jessica says:

    Have been thinking about making capri PJ pants for awhile now by altering a commercial pattern … this gives me more ideas for fit, thanks!

  48. Cathe says:

    Great article – thank you.

  49. Georgi P. says:

    great drawings, easy to understand – thanks again sms!

  50. Kelli says:

    Such useful information. I love it!

  51. Christina says:

    I never thought I would want to sew a pair of pants…. until now! Thanks!

  52. Mellissa says:

    That was a great how-to. You have given me so many ideas and insight. Thanks so much!

  53. Mary says:

    Once again, thank you so much!

  54. Tanja says:

    This is really informative and helpful. Thanks.
    I am hoping to find some clarification of this remark: “Remember to make the new hem line slightly curved whenever you add width to a pattern”. Would it be possible to add some further information or another sketch to explain this please? Thank you.

  55. jessica says:

    THIS is a miracle. i so needed this to help me make loads of little jeans for my super skinny and tall two year old. thank you.

  56. Mary says:

    Great instructions and the illustrations are perfect!

  57. wendy says:

    That’s awesome, thanks!

  58. Tammy says:

    Great tutorial. I haven’t been brave enough to tackle pants yet. I might have to give this a try!

  59. Leah says:

    This is great, I just need to make that first perfectly-fitting pair!

  60. nikole says:

    Wow, thanks a ton! It’s hard for me to picture what alterations should look like but with your pictures I totally get it! Thanks for spelling it out (and drawing it out) for me!

  61. Jen says:

    Excellent article! I feel like I could actually do this! Thank You!!!

  62. nikkapotamus says:

    I’m going to have to try this with my favorite jammie pattern. Especially the goucho pants. I wear my one pair all the time and could totally use some more in bright colors.

  63. Michele C says:

    I was hoping for these instructions. I’m 5′ 4″ and a bit hippy, which makes it hard to find nice-fitting pants. I am hoping to make some with these instructions that can make me happy. Thanks.

  64. Alejandra says:


  65. Linda says:

    This has given me some great ideas for making a few pairs of trousers. Thank you so much for a great tutorial.

  66. Margie says:

    I’ve never made a pair of pants for me yet but I really want to. This is wonderful information. I would of never thought of using 1 pattern to get all these different styles! Thanks so much. You are really helping me learn alot.

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