Want to make a great fitting pair of jeans? You absolutely can, and this post on jeans fitting adjustments will help you get there, whether you're making our Ginger Skinny Jeans, Morgan Jeans, or any jeans pattern on the market. Below I walk you through the most common fit adjustments, what they look like, and how to fix it. Pants fitting is always a bit of trial and error, but hopefully this post will help! If you need more help with fit or construction, check out our jean-making online sewing class. We cover everything in. much greater depth and can give you more one on one fitting help if you need it. Looking for denim? We've got the best stuff at Core Fabrics.
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GENERAL ADVICE FOR JEANS FITTING
Oh jeans. Does anything strike more terror into the heart of a sewist than these two tubes of fabric? Sometimes I'm not sure if people are talking about jean fitting adjustments or the apocalypse, for all the fear and anxiety tied up in it. We all want our best-fitting jeans, but here's the thing...
Chill out. While I think it's commendable that a lot of people strive for fit greatness, I think far too many of us get so caught up by drag lines that we can't see the forest for the trees (or the jeans for our knees!) Nobody else is paying that much attention to the back of your thighs and you're still looking better than you do in RTW, so just take a big, deep, cleansing breath and be okay with it not being 100% perfect. If you need a reminder of why perfection and fear will ruin your sewing, read this post and stop talking yourself out of trying new things or enjoying the things that you make.
Here are my recommended suggestions and order of operations for testing jeans fit:
- Make a muslin! Try to use a similar fabric to your final jeans for the most accurate results (ie. if you're making stretch jeans, use a stretch woven with similar stretch). At the bare minimum, quickly baste your pieces together before doing any final construction or topstitching so you can catch problems early. Always baste your waistband on to avoid stretching the waist seam.
- In a well-lit room, take pictures of the front, back, and side with your butt at eye/camera level. I find looking at pictures helps you be more objective and spot things you might not notice in real life.
- Start with the front. Is the crotch laying smooth against the body? Do you see any frown or smile drag lines radiating from the crotch? Any camel toe? Is the fit good through waist and hip or are you feeling/seeing some tension lines? What about the leg - is the fit through the leg good? Too tight? Any weird lines around the knees?
- On to the back. Is the waistband gaping? Is it the yoke or just the waist? How is the bum - too tight, too loose? What kinds of lines do you have under your bum? Again, how do the legs feel - too tight, too loose? Any lines around the knees? Do you feel enough room in the calf or is it riding up?
- Note or draw any drag lines you see, or any general feelings about fit (ie. legs too loose, waistband gaping etc). Try to make adjustments while you're wearing them, or take note of what you'd like to change, take them off and pin or baste adjustments as needed. With your muslin you can try shaping the legs, take in waist or hips and remove wedges from a gaping back. If you have enough of a seam allowance, you can also let out seams where needed. This is a step-by-step process so take your time. I suggest starting with front/crotch adjustments before tackling the back. Adjustments to the legs should come only after you've dealt with the waist/hip/crotch area first.
- Many adjustments don't require cutting a new muslin or pattern pieces, but the following do: full calf, knock knees, bow legs, lengthen butt/crotch, add width to thigh, full tummy, gaping yoke or waistband.
- Copy any adjustments over to your pattern pieces. Use a measuring tape or ruler as a guide when transferring.
You can repeat the muslin process as much as you need to, but I generally move on to the final pair after no more than two rounds of adjustments, otherwise you can easily lose steam. It's important to actually wear jeans as well, and see what changes you need after actually living in them. Maybe that drag line you noticed the first time won't bug you once you're actually wearing them.
My biggest piece of advice is to ALWAYS baste your side seams and test the fit before sewing them for real, each and every time. Denim varies SO much that I often find I need to let out or take in jeans with each make. For non-stretch jeans, it's important to actually wear your first pair for a full day before you come to any conclusions. Denim can relax a great deal and things you notice when you first try them on might become non-issues once you've stretched out your seams a bit. This is especially true with that back seat curve! I find it a smidge tight on my prodigious booty whenever I make a new pair, but its generally feels perfect after it loosens up after a few hours.
WHAT IS GOOD FIT?
Good fit is different for everyone. For some, it might be a totally smooth, drag-line free pair of jeans (as nearly impossible as this is to achieve!) For others, it might simply be a pair that fits their waist/hip ratio, or has enough room for their tummy. Personally, good jeans fit for me is a balance of comfort, appearance and function. They should not dig in or feel uncomfortable. They should have a minimum of drag lines in the front crotch and bum area. They should be easy to sit and bend over in. Anything over and above that is just a bonus. For those of you who like visuals, here is an example of a pair of Ginger Jeans on me that I think has nearly perfect fit:
The front crotch is quite smooth - there is a slight drag line on one side but nothing to lose any sleep over (probably the result of slight body asymmetry). In the back, the waistband sits close to the body with no gaping. The butt fit is great. There are some horizontal lines under the bum but in a skinny jean like this, you need them for sitting ease (or else you can't bend over!) The legs fit well with enough room in the calf.
What about fit that needs a bit of work? Let's look at an example:
For these Ginger Jeans, the overall fit isn't bad although we do need to make a few tweaks. There is a little bubble at the front crotch and it's not immediately clear to me if the front inseam needs to be taken in a smidge (around 1/4") or if we need a round pubis/camel toe adjustment. I would start with the inseam and if the problem persists, try scooping out the crotch curve for a camel toe adjustment. It's also possible we need to add a small wedge to the center front seam for a full tummy adjustment. I am seeing some lines around the knee, and in the back the issue becomes more apparent. Our model has slight knock knees, which makes the inner seam of her leg longer than the outer seam, which is why you're seeing that bunching along outer back knee. The butt fit is pretty good, but I've tried pinning out a wedge on the left side to see if she needs a small seat adjustment - you can see that doing that has helped reduce the diagonal lines right under her left cheek. I could do that by removing a wedge along the seat curve, or remove a wedge at the inseam for a fast fix. There is some puckering along the side seams that came from a pretty drastic graded hip curve, so we'll try and smooth that out as well. There may be a few more tweaks, but I would try the above before trying anything else.
JEANS FITTING ADJUSTMENTS
Here's how to understand the following graphics: in the technical flats on the left side of each graphic, I have highlighted the drag line in grey. On the right side, the fit adjustment is indicated by a pink dotted line. I've taken this advice from the books Pants for Real People, Fitting and Pattern Alteration and my own experience fitting hundreds of people. Some of these alterations can be more involved than I show here, but these are quick and dirty tips to get the fit up to snuff without too much fuss.
SHORTEN CROTCH ADJUSTMENT
If you see lines radiating downwards from your front crotch, it is likely too long for you. Simply shave a little off your inseam on the front thigh. Work in 1/4" increments - small adjustments make a huge difference here.
LENGTHEN CROTCH ADJUSTMENT
If you need a little extra room in the crotch, you'll have diagonal "smile lines" radiating from your crotch. Add a little to your front inseam to lengthen your crotch curve.
ROUND PUBIS ADJUSTMENT (AKA CAMEL TOE)
Also known as a prominent pubic area, I fully admit that this is a weird name for a fit issue but it sounds better than "Oh camel toe" doesn't it? If you find your pants cleaving to you in an unwelcome way (also manifested as vertical drag lines around the front crotch), simply scoop out that front crotch a little. It adds depth to the crotch curve, making more room for you. A 1/4" or even 1/8" can make a difference here.
FLAT PUBIS ADJUSTMENT
If your pubic bones is set a little further in, you may get horizontal wrinkles across the front crotch. Fixing this just means drawing a shallower crotch curve in, again working in 1/8" to 1/4" increments.
FULL TUMMY ADJUSTMENT
If you have a full tummy, you may see diagonal drag lines radiating from your stomach. The side seams may also come forward around the stomach, along with a little tightness in the crotch. To correct, slash along the center front to the hip and spread to add length and width through the abdomen area. You may also find you need to add a little length to the crotch curve by letting out the inseam.
FULL SEAT ADJUSTMENT
If you have a fuller bottom, you may notice drag lines all pointing to that back crotch seam and your back waistline may be tugged down. Essentially you need to add length and width to the backseat curve. The proper way to do this is by slashing and spreading in various spots to add length to the lower crotch extension and the center back, but you can also just add a little to the inseam and top seam as I am showing here (#quickanddirty). You may also find that you need a deeper seat curve - if you scoop out that curve more, please note you will have to add a little to the hip since you are removing width across the hip with this adjustment.
FLAT SEAT ADJUSTMENT
A flatter seat is indicated by bagginess under the bum and diagonal drag lines pointing to the hip. To correct it, try removing width from your inseam. You can also try shortening the overall length of the back rise by taking a wedge off the top (the proper way to do this is by slashing and spreading so that the top edge stays the same length).
LOW BUTT ADJUSTMENT
If the curve of your heiny sits a little lower than the pant has been drafted for, you'll find horizontal drag lines under your seat. Simply scoop out that seat curve a little bit to make room for your bum.
SWAY BACK ADJUSTMENT
If you have a sway back, your pelvis tilts forward, forcing your bum out and creating a shorter distance between waist and top of the bum. This generally manifests in pooling or folds of fabric at the lower back. Fitting & Pattern Alteration has a complicated adjustment for this involving numerous slash and spread adjustments, but I think you can do a #quickanddirty adjustment by taking a wedge of the top pant (or folding out the amount from your pattern piece and redrawing your seams). I've also found that you can take a quick wedge off the CB (including the yoke) to prevent gaping if that is also an issue. This will change the pitch of the pants so keep that in mind!
FULL THIGH JEAN FITTING ADJUSTMENT
If you need more room in the thigh, your pants will tell you with diagonal drag lines or wrinkles pointing towards your crotch inseam. Extend your back crotch at the inner thigh to give yourself more room.
THIN THIGH ADJUSTMENT
If your thighs need less room, you should see vertical drag lines along the back of your thigh. Taking width off the back inseam will help; you may also need to remove a little from the front inseam as well.
FULL CALF ADJUSTMENT
If you're spotting horizontal drag lines above the back of your knees, you will need more room in the calf. Cut your pattern as indicated and swing seams along your lower leg out to create more width along the back of your calf.
KNOCK KNEED ADJUSTMENT
If you're a little knock kneed (possibly the cutest sounding fit issue) you may find that the fabric is tight along your inseam and looser at your side seam. You'll notice diagonal drag lines radiating from along the side seam above and below the knee. With this adjustment you need a little more length at the inseam and a little less at the side seam. To achieve this, slash to a center point in the center of the thigh on either side and rotate the entire upper pant so that you are reducing the length along the side seam while slightly adding to the inseam.
BOW LEGGED ADJUSTMENT
Most jeans are cut straight in the leg so if your knees bow out, you'll notice drag lines radiating out from the side seam around your knee and calf. This is the exact opposite adjustment we made for the knock-kneed; you need more length on the side seam and less on the inseam. To achieve this, slash to a center point in the center of the thigh on either side and rotate the entire upper pant so that you are adding to the length of the side seam while reducing the length of the inseam.
Phew! Hope you find this helpful. Again, if you need more help, our Sew Your Dream Jeans sewing class is a great place to start!