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Couture Pants Techniques

mmilus | Posted in General Sewing Info on

I am getting ready to make me a pair of couture pants – I want these to look as good as I can possibly make them!  I recall reading/hearing about a technique but am not sure if I imagined it or it really is a good technique.  I recall hearing that you should cut your pants back out, press the crotch area on the bias and stretch it out, then recut the crotch curve and top of the inseam. Does anyone know where specific instructions for this technique can be found?  Thanks in advance.




  1. ElonaM | | #1

    Sandra Betzina described this technique in her really excellent video about sewing pants that fit. The idea is that this seam, being on the bias, is going to bag anyhow, so you might as well take out some of the potential bagginess right at the outset.

    The video may still be available at her website (www.sandrabetzina.com), and sometimes it turns up on ebay.

    A couple of tips:

    1. If you really want good-looking pants, try Burda or Neue Mode patterns. They're German (available at http://www.thesewingplace.com), and the crotch curve is so much more like that of real women that it's hard to believe. Makes for a better rear view than you can get with Vogue, McCall's, and the rest of the Big Four.

    Some people also love patterns by a couple of boutique designers: Nancy Erickson


    and Loes Hinse


    2. Make a trial pair of cheap fabric before cutting into your good stuff.

    Edited 2/11/2003 2:01:47 PM ET by Elona

    1. mmilus | | #2


      Thanks for the info.  I've got a pattern that fits well and has already been made up in a muslin (without this step) so I'm comfortable with that aspect.  I'm going to cut it out, thread trace the seam and grainlines, install the fly zipper and baste the rest of it together then double check the fit.  Then I will do the slash pockets (I'm not going to cut the corner off for the slash until after I fit it) and finish (including lining).  I'm mainly challenging myself to do it all in the highest quality I can, instead of the best I can AND quickly.  I'll look for the info on the Sandra Betzina video.  Thanks again.


      1. sewphaedra | | #3

        This isn't quite what you're talking about, but there's another crotch technique in which you sew the crotch seam, then yank it straight so that the thread breaks, then sew it again. This reinforces the seam, I guess, and maybe puts some give into it.

        1. mmilus | | #4

          I've not heard of that one - I'll have to see if I can find any more info on it before I'd try it though. It seems like it would just add a layer of thread but not strength - if the thread is already broken. Thanks for the info, Snappy.

          1. sewphaedra | | #5

            I have to admit that I don't see the advantages either. I was reading about it this morning in a Sandra Betzina book, she calls it "cracking." She didn't really explain why it was important to do.

    2. yoyo | | #11

      When you say that Burda's pants pattern is designed for real women, does it mean for women with a large derrière ?


      1. ElonaM | | #12

        In a way, Yoyo. If you lay out the front and back pieces of most vogue patterns so that the crotch seams meet, you'll see that the crotch seam is rather a vee shape. Very few women's bottoms will fit into that. You'd need to have no backside at all.

        On the other hand, if you do the same thing with Burda or Neue Mode pants patterns, the shape will look a lot more like a genuine woman's behind, in that there will be a nice, long curve at the bottom--room to sit or stand in, without distorting the hang of the pants.

        1. yoyo | | #13


          I am having difficulties here with the Forum Page. I'll have to spend more time studying it, say, how to dispatch my reply to you. Maybe this will not reach you. What is the "vee" shape mentioned in your reply to me ?

          I have Sandra Betzina's Today's Fit Pattern #7538. I discovered an error or two with the pattern. Sandra thinks that Voque did not grade it correctly ! However, a corrected pattern has not been forwarded to me.

          So, I am a bit hesitant to start cutting.


          1. ElonaM | | #14

            If you imagine a feminine pelvis in profile, the crotch seam will be a rounded U-shape, with the longest portion of the U being right under the derriere (picture those anatomical dummies you see in classrooms!). The American pattern companies' version of this shape is generally a shallow vee, suitable, I think, only for a woman who is very, very slender front-to-back, with a flat butt. The German pattern companies have a much more realistic shape. If this is all hard to picture, it will become instantly clear if you lay out, side by side, a American pattern and a German one. Many seamstresses find that the European patterns fit much better, with fewer alterations.

            As to working with Sandra Betzina's pattern (or anyone's), I cannot advise you strongly enough to make a muslin first, to test-fit before you cut into your good fabric. Be sure not only to check your waist and hip measurements, but also the "stride," which is what you get by putting a ribbon or elastic around your waist, and running a tape measure from your front waist, between your legs, and back up to the back waist. The tape measure should be held as close to your body as you want your finished pants to be.

          2. yoyo | | #21

            Thank you muchly for taking the time to elaborate on pants techniques for me.

            Your instructions are so complete. I detect that you may be a teacher !


          3. ElonaM | | #23

            Gosh, I love the internet! We can share information with each other in a way that I think has never been possible before, and isn't that nice?

  2. carolfresia | | #6

    Marci, have you taken a look at Claire Shaeffer's Custom Couture pants pattern, published by Vogue? I haven't seen it myself, but my understanding is that this line of patterns contains very detailed instructions for couture-level construction and finishing techniques. Has anyone else tried this pattern (or any other by Claire Shaeffer)?


    1. mmilus | | #7

      Now I'm really confused!!  I picked up Claire Shaeffer's Couture Pants pattern this morning.  It does talk about stretching and pressing this area but does not trim it back to the original size after stretching.  SO.... should it be trimmed or not?  It seems like stretching, pressing and trimming would keep that area from stretching out later but retain the original pattern shape.  Just stretching and pressing seems like it would distort that area.  Any ideas??

      1. carolfresia | | #8

        Ha Ha!! I didn't know what was in that pattern, but it certainly hasn't cleared up this matter for us, has it! Nor is there any concensus among the editors I've polled here at the Threads office. Has anyone out there tried this stretching and pressing method? I never have, and find that well-fitting pants remain well-fitting anyway, even after wear, unless the fabric itself is hopelessly stretchy, in which case the knees bag as well (and then I'm pretty sure even pre-pressing and stretching and all probably wouldn't have solved the problem).

        I'm sorry not to give you a definitive answer, and I hope you'll report your findings when you've finished your pants.


        1. mmilus | | #9


          I was browsing the web this afternoon and found an email address for Claire so I emailed her for clarification.  She said that her pattern is designed with no extra ease and that it SHOULD NOT be trimmed after stretching because that is built into the pattern.  Since I am not using her pattern but one I've already perfected the fit on, I think I will trim it back to the original shape.  Thanks for the help and it's sure great to have resources like this list and Claire and all the other wonderful teachers out there who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise.  Hope to get the pants done in the next week or so and will let you know how they turn out.



          1. carolfresia | | #10

            Marci, thanks for reporting back on this issue. Very interesting how there are so many approaches to the construction of well-fitting pants! I hope the Shaeffer pattern instructions as useful to you, even if you don't use the pattern itself.


        2. Theodora | | #15

          Yes, I have done the pressing and stretching, on fabrics that are wool, or have a high percentage of wool fiber content. I don't know about synthetics. I can't see where they would sag and bag, but I don't work with one hundred percent synthetics. I originally found this technique in Betzina's More Power Sewing. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1880630141/qid=1045364081/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_1/103-9565441-5571811?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 

          Cut the back out, stretch and press the crotch extensions of each leg EQUALLY. Allow them to lie flat and dry thoroughly. Put the pattern piece back down on the fabric and recut. You are removing the slight amount of ease that would sag. It works, at least for me, quite nicely. Try not to burn the fabric, use a press cloth and lots of steam.

          What helps even more, however, is adding a lining or underlining to the pants, either or both of which you want to do if you strive to make the very finest tailored slacks or trousers possible.

          I also find adding crotch reinforcements as indicated in Betzina's More Power Sewing to make a difference in the hang and wear of nice tailored trousers. It goes a long way to preserving the fit of trousers through the crotch area.

          I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Her more recent book, Power Sewing Step by Step also has terrific advice for sewing pants, although she focuses more on the fitted pant than on the looser tailored trouser. http://www.taunton.com/store/pages/070487.asp

          I also recommend Lynn MacIntyre's Easy Guide to Sewing Pants as a great read. http://www.taunton.com/store/pages/070361.asp

          If you can't afford to splurge and buy these books for yourself, get thee to the public library and ask for them interlibrary loan if necessary. I have been sewing for myself, a large size person, for a long time. I am pretty much a misshapen dumpling, and when I wear the tailored trousers that I have taken time to make beautifully, I feel like Katherine Hepburn! And I would never have learned this by merely working from the instructions in the patterns, even the very best and most complex of them. Get some of the books, and your pants will be one thousand percent better.

          1. mmilus | | #16


            Thanks so much for the note.  I already have both of those books and, after someone else said they thought this tip was there, had found the Betzina instructions.  These pants are 100% wool and will be fully lined so I'm going to go for it.  I also plan to add the crotch protector.  I've got them cut and thread traced now so this afternoon I'll stretch the back and re-trace the seam line and baste them together.  Even though I'm fairly certain they will fit as it's a pattern I've worked on before, I'm taking the time to make sure in this fabric.  Thanks for the info.  Marci

          2. Theodora | | #17

            Good! You might also consider interfacing your hems. I use Bemberg Rayon to line my pants, so I cut bias strips of the lining fabric which are about an inch wider than the depth of my hem, plus the hem allowance. I attach these strips to the bottom of the legs when I initially serge finishing the cut out pieces. Then the strips are caught when I sew the side seams of the pants legs. Then when I eventually  hem, I catch a thread of the fashion fabric through the lining fabric which I have used as an interfacing. This cushions the hem stitching a bit, and gives a little drape and body to the leg hems, so they feel and look a little more substantial. Alternately, you might use an iron in tricot interfacing in the pants hems, if ironing it on didn't damage the surface characteristics of  your wool. Then you need only catch your hem stitches into the interfacing, and no stitches show on the outside.

            I also interface the fly front of the zipper. And consider using stay tape on your pocket openings to keep them from stretching and gaping.

          3. mmilus | | #18

            Great tips!  Thanks again.  The only one I wasn't familiar with was using the rayon as an interfacing on the hems.  I'm using Ambience rayon to line these and will use some of it to interface the hems - it makes sense.  The wool I'm using is a flannel and so far has been great to work with.  One more question - what's the best way to get a straight on-grain end on fabrics like this that won't tear and whose fibers come apart too easily to pull a thread?  I thread traced one thread of the fabric and cut along it to get an on-grain end but wonder if there's an easier way.  I really appreciate this forum - the information is great!

          4. Theodora | | #19

            Gently pull a thread. Don't try to pull it out the whole width of the fabric. Tease it out a bit just enough to put a ripple in five or six inches of fabric. Then cut along that line where it ripples. Then, catch the same thread, or another right next to it and pull a couple more inches, cut again, and so forth across the fabric. If you are lucky, you will stay within the same couple of threads as you go across the width of the fabric. Then, if you want to be absolutely on the same thread all the way across, ravel the end till you get a clear thread across the width.

          5. ElonaM | | #20

            Theodora, is your quote about dripping electricity from James Thurber?

          6. Theodora | | #22

            Yes, from "The Car We Had to Push", I believe! Good guess.

          7. stitchmd | | #24

            Didn't Thurber say his grandmother was always plugging things in because she thought the outlets were leaking electricity?

          8. ElonaM | | #25

            Thurber's whole family seemed to have a thing about electricity. I think I recall a story involving "ball lightning" rolling through their very odd household, too.

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