Making pants.
April 23, 2005 7:21 PM   Subscribe

How. Does one sew pants?

Armed with almost no experience with sewing or working with fabric, a large striped sail I rescued from certain death and some enthusiasm, I would like to make a pair of pants*. Am looking for a good tutorial, ideally with a free pattern.

*Or overalls. Or whatever else might be cool to make out of sailcloth. There's lots of it.
posted by Count Ziggurat to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total)
Striped fabric is not an ideal learning fabric because matching stripes can be a pretty epic pain in the ass. On the other hand, at least pants don't have sleeves that need to match, and you can use the stripes for a grainline.

This is an excellent, basic pattern for one seam pants that might work well for a new sewer. I've had great success with it in the past, even with odd fabrics.

The hardest aspect of pants is inserting a zipper. You might consider looking for something with an all over elastic waist in place of a zipper.

Free patterns for sewing are relatively rare, because patterns are generally printed on large sheets of tissue paper, and that's not a cheap format. Good patterns, on the other hand, will be accompanied by good instructions, including which lines you should sew when. If you can sew a straight or curved line, and you can follow instructions, you can sew pants.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:53 PM on April 23, 2005

Wouldn't they chafe? Sailcloth is so stiff, isn't it? Anyway, all you need is a pattern. What kind of pants? Pull-on pajama or yoga types are easiest. Tailored (with a zipper, set-in waistband, pockets, etc) are hardest. There are plenty of places to buy patterns, both online and off. Basically, how you sew is this: You buy a pattern, then carefully lay the pattern pieces on your cloth, pin the pattern down, and cut around it, and then, following the step-by-step directions included in your pattern, you sew the pieces together.

Sailcloth is not the easiest fabric to's very stiff and thick, and sometimes requires special tensions, needles, machines, etc. Or maybe not, depending on the properties of your particular fabric. I can think of other stuff to make with sailcloth besides pants, like tote bags, curtains, pillows, and slipcovers.

Since you say you have almost no experience with sewing or with working with fabric, why don't you take a class? Most shops that sell fabric offer sewing lessons pretty cheaply, and lots of high schools have those adult education night classes. Or maybe an experienced friend will offer to teach you. It's something everyone should know how to do.
posted by iconomy at 8:00 PM on April 23, 2005

Would it not be possible to take an existing pair of pants, undoing all the seams, and using that as a template? I have several old favourite pants that are at the very end of their life, but I haven't been able to find replacements with similar cuts, and I have often thought about "resurrecting" them this way, using new fabrics.
posted by gentle at 8:11 PM on April 23, 2005

You can take a pair of pants that fit you well, undo the seams, and use that as a pattern. But if you have almost no sewing experience, pants will be quite difficult to start with. Might I suggest trying something easy, like pillows, first?
posted by rhapsodie at 8:12 PM on April 23, 2005

Response by poster: It's very thin, fluid sailcloth, iconomy - a light air sail (a spinnaker for a dinghy).
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:13 PM on April 23, 2005

With light fabric (sounds similar to parachute nylon) I'd do elastic zipper-free pants, especially as a beginner.

Patterns aren't going to cost you a lot and you can re-use them. The most difficult part of a project like this is laying out the pattern pieces properly, and getting your sewing machine set-up to the proper tension. The sewing itself isn't that difficult. Some folks find the elastic tricky, but its not that bad.
posted by Goofyy at 10:22 PM on April 23, 2005

OK, I'm assuming that this is basically a one-time project, and not the start of a pants-making career...or at least that's how you see it at this point...

The only things that make pants hard to sew are the details: Pockets, closures of some kind, waistbands...

The Number-One reason people don't like their results when they finish a garment-sewing project, no matter how simple or complex it may be, is that it doesn't fit well.

So, the best way to proceed, imo, would be to make loose-fitting pants with as few details as possible...(i.e., make them pull-on, with a tie waist rather than elastic, and with no pockets, or only patch pockets, which you can add any time after the pants are done)...and skip buying a pattern, using the copy-an-existing-pair-that-fits-but-is-worn-out idea, so you don't have to do any measuring or deciding what size pattern to pick, or altering of the pattern. Pick a pair that fits nicely but loosely in the hips and crotch...ideally one that's pretty much like the style you're making to start with (maybe from a thrift shop?) But don't worry if this existing pair has pockets, a zipper, a waistband, etc., because you can almost completely ignore them when taking apart and copying the basic pattern pieces...just don't choose a closely fitted pair...and try to avoid taking apart pants with complex topstiched side or inseams: too much hassle. (If you don't like pants in this style or want a lot of additional details and/or a snug fit, you're beyond the scope of a MeFi tutorial...)

Still with me? Here's what I'd do (the copying will be the more complex part): First, carefully run a Sharpie or some similar pointed marker along each major seam (side-seams, in-seams, crotch seams and waistband seam on ONE pant-leg only) making sure you get ink on the fabric on both sides of the seam right along the stitching. At the waistband, measure the height of the finished waistband and write that down. If there's a zipper or button fly, mark the folded edge of the overlap side and use the leg on that side. Also make a mark at the side seam at about where your hips/butt are biggest (you need to be sure you can pull the pants over this part of your body when you're done, right?). Now cut the pants apart carefully along the marked crotch seam, and toss the unmarked leg. On the marked leg, take off the waistband, and cut open the side- and in-seams (ignore any pockets), then cut along the marked lines, removing the excess fabric outside the lines. Just cut away the zipper on the discard side and fold what remains under on the marked front fold, making sure you wind up with a smooth crotch-curve line to copy from the inseam to the waist in front. If there are any short vertical seams coming down from the waist above the back pockets or front crease, just cut then open so the pieces will lay flat there, and ignore these cuts when tracing. You should have two pieces to copy: front leg and back. Trace these onto separate sheets of roll paper, then tweak the tracings as follows:
Above the waistlines, draw new lines parallel to the traced lines twice the measured waistband height; this is your new, cut-on waistband. At the side seams, draw new side-seam lines straight up from the widest-part marks to the new waist lines. This makes the waist area as wide as the widest part of the hips/butt. At the hems, add at least an extra inch of length. Now draw a cutting line exactly 1/2 inch outside your 2 tweaked outlines; your pattern's ready to cut. Cut two of each.

Now just sew up the side- and in-seams to create mirror-image leg tubes, then join the tubes at the crotch from front waist to back waist. Sew exactly 1/2 inch from the cut edges. Fold the waistband addition in half to the inside and topstitch it to make the tie channel (open the center-front seam on the inside to make the hole for the tie), and fold up the hems twice and topstitch them. Insert tie and you're ready to roll...or sail...or get serious about making more pants.
posted by dpcoffin at 1:17 AM on April 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

I knew I could fish something up. Here is a site with instructions -

good luck!
posted by mirileh at 3:33 AM on April 24, 2005

Years ago, in the 70's, my father decided he was going to make a pair of dress pants. I don't know what got into him, honestly. He went out, bought a pattern and some nice dark pinstriped fabric and went to work. The pants came out really (surprisingly) well, but the zipper was a little screwed up, as I recall. It is a formidable task you have taken on, but it can be done.
posted by wsg at 11:58 AM on April 24, 2005

And please post some pictures when you've conquered this task!
posted by jeanmari at 2:10 PM on April 24, 2005

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