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Tapering or Widening Pants

Taper your pants for a custom fit.
Taper your pants for a custom fit.

Taper your pants for a custom fit.

by Karen Howland
from Threads #67, pgs. 24, 26

I need to taper the leg width of a pants pattern that fits well otherwise. Is this more complicated than just trimming down the leg seams? Do I reduce front and back equally? -Judi Davies, Ellkford, BC, Canada

Karen Howland replies
: If you simply taper the seams on an existing pants pattern or on ready-to-wear pants, you'll typically find that there's still more fabric below the seat and under the belly than you want. Here's how to take out part of the width from the side and inseams and part from within the pattern, in both front and back.

Start by noting the widths you want at hem and knee levels, then measure the distance from hem to knee line. Fold both front and back patterns in half lengthwise, matching the inseams and outseams. This establishes the creaseline and center on each piece, which should be parallel to the grainline. Correct the grainline if it isn't.

Unfold and cut both pieces horizontally at the knee. We'll alter the lower-front pattern first. To make sure the hem allowance fits inside the tapered leg, fold the pattern on the hemline before marking and trimming. Refold the pattern piece on the center line, measure the total hem width you want, subtract 1 in., then divide the number by 4, and mark along the hem from the fold toward the seams. For example, if you want a 17-in. opening, subtract 1 from 17 to get 16 in., then divide 16 by 4. Do the same thing at the knee using the knee width you want (minus 1 in., then divided by 4), then connect the marks from hem to knee, add seam allowances, and cut away the excess.

Now, repeat the entire process for the lower-back pattern piece, this time adding 1 in. to the knee and hem widths before dividing by 4. Adding and subtracting 1 in. ensures that the pattern follows the usual ready-to-wear practice of making backs wider than fronts (which improves the hang of the garment).

Tapering Pants: Steps 1 and 2:


Step 1: Divide front and back at knee
Divide front and back at knee
Step 2: Alter lower pieces
Alter lower pieces

1 | 2 > View all
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Comments (8)

CarolFresia CarolFresia writes: Thank you to those of you who noted a discrepancy in the illustration labels. You must ADD 1 inch to the back.

For those who are wanting to taper the legs on ready-to-wear pants, the instructions here don't really apply entirely, as you can't make separate adjustments above and below the knee. To taper pants, you can work from about 3 inches above the knee down to the hem. Determine how much you want to remove from the total hem circumference , and remove an equal amount from the side seams and inseams to make this reduction. Mark this at the hem, and taper to nothing about 3 inches above the knee.

I suggest pinning the approximate change in and trying on the pants to see how they fit. It's a little hard to see exactly what the final silhouette will look like, because you'll have bulky seam allowances in the way, but you should be able to tell if the alteration causes fit issues at the upper part of the pants. You may not be able to make an extreme adjustment (e.g., no skinny jeans from palazzo pants!), but a couple of inches should work fine.
Carol Fresia
Threads, Senior Technical Editor
Posted: 8:43 am on May 8th

Gaill Gaill writes: I have the same question as dmd0705 asked about tapering the legs on a pair of readymade pants. Do they have to be taken apart to slim the legs?
Posted: 10:21 am on May 3rd

dmd0705 dmd0705 writes: I need to alter the legs of some store bought slacks from a wide leg to a slimmer flare. There is quite a bit more fabric on the back of the leg than the front. I really don't want to take them completely apart. I just want to do the best I can with opening the seams from the bottom of the pockets to the hem. Help would be appreciated:)
Posted: 7:05 pm on June 28th

ScandiCrafts ScandiCrafts writes: Thank you for the clear explanation and good graphics.
Posted: 8:12 pm on March 16th

engarde engarde writes: Great article- Could I see the answer to Ann Davenport's query? Want to change flare leg to straight leg on a pair of tweed slacks. thanks
Posted: 8:06 am on February 14th

AnnDavenport AnnDavenport writes: This is a good technique for altering a pattern, but can anyone explain to me how to alter flared legs on a pair of jeans? Because the back leg of a pair of pants is usually cut wider than the front, I'm not sure what to do with that wider back width when I'm slimming the leg. Does it just sit in the middle and get ignored while I line up the side seams? I assume that to alter the width to a straight leg I just take the width at the knee and measure it the same all the way down to the cuff, in the way you would to the pattern?

Thanks,
Ann Davenport
Posted: 4:01 pm on October 29th

Sewknitcro Sewknitcro writes: I have wanted to know how to make aleration changes from a straight leg to a wide leg and vice versa. Thank you so much for the instructions.

The only thing that confused me in your instruction was in paragraph five where you said to add 1" to the back leg. However, in the picture diagram it says to subtract an inch. Which is it? add or substract?

Otherwise this was great information. I will be trying to do this with my favorite pants pattern.

Sandra Taylor


Posted: 9:15 pm on December 17th

Sewknitcro Sewknitcro writes: I enjoyed the article about tapering or widening pants patterns.

I found what appears to be a discrepency. Your WRITTEN instruction in the 5th paragraph says to add 1" to the back leg width. However, your DIAGRAM below the written instructions says to subtract 1" from both the front AND the back.

Could you please clairify that for me.

Thank you, Sandra Taylor


Posted: 2:29 pm on December 2nd

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