Monday, 16 September 2013

The Pants Block Part 1

Dear Sewists,

As part of Beverly's challenge for Scary September I chose to face something I had been putting off for much of this year, doing a pants block. A pants block is a basic shell that fits the body without any features except darts. It is used for fitting purposes and as a base to add your details, amount of ease and styling later, if you are a professional. 

A sloper is a block with seams and some ease added that is used by sewists for fitting purposes. Slopers used to be put out by all the pattern companies but are hard to find now, except  Vogue and they call it a 'fitting shell'. For some reason they've always scared me and I have been reluctant to use them. Maybe because I know the Vogue crotch curve does not sit right on me. More about why and more about The Dreaded Crotch in Part 2.

Readers I am a longtime hobby seamstress, not a professional but I happened to stumble upon a clearly written professional book on pattern cutting at a craft fair which I bought and will use as my reference for my pants block.

My aim is to have a block that fits me and ultimately to make my own pants, adding features from purchased patterns to my base. I will share what I am doing, unflattering pictures and all, because I have received much inspiration from others who have done the same.
This series will take a few posts.

Ok, as mentioned before I am using the book Pattern Cutting by Dennic Chunman Lo by Laurence King Publishing.

I am sure there are many resources out there that walk you through a block. If you know of a terrific one please tell me and I will list it in my resource list at the end of this series. 

I like how this author explains things and also that he gives some baseline measurements as a starting point as the book is aimed at students who will ultimately draft patterns for commercial garments. 

The frame
The first step is to draw two parallel frames, the centre back frame and the centre front frame 15 cm apart. There are detailed instructions on how to figure out the dimensions of your frames.
It all starts with measurements. Lots of measurements. I found it easiest to do my own measurements over my normal underwear and some long bike pants. I measured and recorded everything in a notebook then measured again to check. Is all of this confronting? Yes it is, but sewing has taught me you have to get real to ultimately get flattering results. It is hard to even write that sentence.  I missed out on supermodel stature. Deep breath. But I will work with what I've got and thank God for it. Exhale. Did I mention I am no psychologist either?

In regard to measurements and pants fitting generally there are two books that I have found very useful in the past. One is a book that may be out of print called Pants for Any Body by Pati Palmer and Susan Plestch.  Pants for Real People by Mario Alto which is also good. link

The other book I have found useful for pants and other fitting issues is Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina.

Anyway, armed with my multitude of measurements I got out my paper and rulers and drew my frames. In regard to the frame I found my measurements differed in two respects, the length from side waist to floor, which for me is104 cm instead of 108cm, and the body rise - where the crotch starts - which on me is 30.5cm rather than 27 cm, a significant difference already!

Luckily the width of the front and back blocks matched my measurements.

In regard to measuring 'body rise' or what I think of as crotch depth, there are three ways of measuring. 

1. sit on a chair and measure from side waist to chair
2. subtract the inner leg-to-floor measurement from the side waist-to-floor measurement (most commonly used for men)
3. measure from your front waist just above the belly button to mid way between your legs, to where a tight fitting jeans seam lands

There is probably more room for error with no 3, my method but I used it to check the accuracy of no 1. Guess what? It was.

The two frames are 15 cm apart. The next step was to mark 5cm in from the CF body rise and 10cm from the CB body rise. This is the crotch point.

Then I put the marks at waist level for the shaping of the side seams. I left out the one at CF that would have brought the CF seam inwards by 1 cm because from experience this does not suit my body and the book says that for slim fitting pants or jeans this mark is eliminated. I like a front zip to be on the straight grain of fabric and bringing the front crotch-to-waist seam inwards doesn't make sense to me unless you have a significant hip-to-waist difference and need to do it.

I don't have the 10 inch (25.5cm) hourglass ratio. Even during my teenage years when my measurements said that I did, I was really a skinny apple, not a true hourglass. My skeleton is balanced shoulder to hip but whatever weight I gain goes to just under the waist then proceeds to creep upwards. Not that I plan to let it...

Whoo! Is your head reeling yet? Mine is. 

In the next installment I tackle the crotch.

Happiness with whatever you are sewing,


  1. That is great, Valerie! What a great goal. I have that book and have leafed through it. It looks like a great book but I haven't used it yet. Good luck!

  2. That looks an impressive start, you will be so pleased with yourself when you have achieved this, not only facing your sewing fear, but having a trouser paper pattern that will actually fit, still havent tackled my bra.

  3. Wow, Val, I'll be watching this series with interest. I tried making a shell from one of the commercial patterns a few years back, but the pants turned out worst than my usual trial and error methods! Been thinking I'd like to make some linen pants this summer, so will follow what you do. Happy sewing to you too.

  4. Hi Valerie, I'll be watching too - I used a shell years ago and found it not easy to fit, then I used a Surefit draft - and it was way off and had a really funny hang from the front crotch. Strangely, the Surefit Skirt fitted me.So I'll be cheering you on and wishing you the best with this project.

  5. Thanks ladies, my sewing is actually ahead of my blogging because I am researching as I go along. More to come soon.

  6. This is great, Valerie! I've been watching for your foray into drafting...

  7. I have been trying to work on pants for a while now and keep hitting the wall, what you have shown is very interesting and I will be following your journey with great interest.

  8. Wow, I'm going through a pants fitting nightmare right now and am so glad you have chosen to share your findings! I'll be interested in following your findings. Thanks so much.

  9. Looks like a great book. I'm all in favour of block drafting - especially for the bottom half. You should consider doing classes at Studio Faro in Marrickville.

  10. Great post Valerie. I must have a closer look at that book. I also will watch with interest. Good luck

  11. Love the progress you've made. And you have some great resources too!

  12. I own this book too! I will first be using it for a bodice shell but I do want to create three pairs of pants for this fall/winter season so I will be watching this very closely. Good luck!