Reliable Pants Alteration: Colette Clovers and Me

I’m working out a methodical way to use my Pants Block (I can make you one too!) to reliably alter skinny stretch pants.  The block works really well for reliably altering woven trouser-fit to loose fit pants*, but after fielding a few requests for help altering the Clovers, I knew I had to work out a system for stretch.  The information here is correct, though it is still somewhat incomplete.

Just to review, “fit” does not mean tight.  In the case of the Clovers or stretch pants in general, it does mean closely fitted but it does not mean tight.  Let me say that again-

Good fit is never tight.

“Tight” is not the same as a good fit.  “Tight” is like a sausage casing, smooshing the body and filling in the wrinkles on the pants.  “Tight” does not allow the kind of mobility that you’ll need in your double life as Wonder Woman.  “Tight” makes you feel fat.  “Tight” is also kind of indecent (camel toe, anyone?).

Fit relies on the shape of the seams.  The seams will be shaped differently for every body.   With a block, you’ve worked through the little twerks of the pattern to ensure that the seams match the shape of your body.  (If you’ve been working with me and your seams don’t do that yet, let’s get back on it!  Email me.)  The block is a template of your seamlines- think of it that way.  When you use the block for alteration, you get the benefit of using a commercial pattern (with design details, instructions, and cutting layouts) and peace of mind knowing that your finished pants will fit you properly.

There’s many ways to use a block to alter a pattern.  It is the right way if it works and fits you.  This is one way, I think it is the simplest to explain.  It may seem like a lot of steps, but that’s because I’m showing both the front and back.  The method is pretty straightforward once you get your hand in.

Begin by tracing off the pants size closest to your own.  I fall between 10-12 for Colette’s sizing, I started with the 12.  It’s *always* easier to make something smaller than to make it bigger.

On the block, draw a line in another color 3/4″ (2cm) to the inside of your regular inseam. We want a very short front crotch, and less excess fabric on the inseam. You can mark this line “For Stretch.”

On the pants pattern, mark the seamlines, at least on the front crotch and inseam. If you want, you can go so far as to cut off the seam allowances but I usually don’t bother.

Lay the pants pattern on top of the block. Line up the point where the crotch curve meets the inseam on both pieces. Hold your finger in that place.

Rotate the top layer (the pants pattern) as necessary so that the grainlines on the pants pattern and on the block are paralell. I marked my block grainline in red in this photo, the pants pattern grainline is under the ruler.

Once you do that, you can pin the two layers in a few places to keep them from slipping if you’re worried about it. Then re-trace the front crotch seamline, using your block as a template. (Note: I’m kind of weirded out by how flat the front curve is here.. I almost never need to alter my front crotch seam; the flatter seam left unaltered will lead to kitty whiskers on finished pants…)

At the top of the pants pattern, mark the seam allowance.

Slide the block on top of the pants pattern, line up the front crotch seamlines and make sure the grainlines are still parallel. Then mark the waistband seamline from the pants pattern directly onto the block. I labeled the line so I know what it is later.

Set the pants pattern aside for now. Using the block, pin out the dart. Just bring the lines together and pin it. This is the shape (more or less) of the waistband.

Mark the seamlines on the waistband piece from the pants pattern.

Lay the waistband pattern piece on top of the block (with the dart pinned out). The lower part of the block won’t lie flat but it doesn’t matter, you are only interested in the top of the block. Match up the CF foldline to the CF line on the crotch curve. My front waistband pieces match up just fine, I don’t need to change anything. But it’s always good to check.

Time to correct the back pattern piece. Mark the seamlines at the back crotch and the inseam. Do not touch the back inseam on the block yet, but just lay it flat and lay the pattern piece on top of it. Match up the inseam/crotch points the same as for the front.

Rotate the pattern piece (holding that inseam/crotch point in place) until the grainlines are parallel.

Correct the seamlines. First I corrected the crotch line. I marked the little dart from my block, the dart from the pattern is about the same size so I decided to use the pattern’s dart. Then I got a surprise- I’m not a 12 through the hip, so I expected to take a little bit off but not such a large amount. I checked my work, the paper pattern and the sizing chart several times. In the end, I went with my seamline because I know it’s correct for my body. I was slightly concerned that the pants would be too big, but I *always* err on the side of leaving extra fabric (which can be taken out) rather than shorting myself.

Trace the seamline at the top of the pants pattern.

Transfer that seamline to the block the same as for the front.

Pin out the dart on the block.

Mark the seamlines on the back waistband piece.

When I laid the waistband piece over my block and matched up the CB foldine on the pattern piece to the CB line on my block, I saw an irregularity. That’s understandable, I had to change the back side seam. I simply followed the seamline I traced on the block onto the waistband piece. Then I added the appropriate seam allowances. I also checked the width of the piece at the CB and made sure the width at the side seam was the same. Because I’m a stickler for getting pattern work right, I also checked the new side seam by matching it up with the side seam on the front waistband piece. It’s all good.

*After* I altered the back pants pattern piece, I cut an additional 3/4″ (2cm) off the back inseam. I just recently made some great fitting skinny leg pants, I know this is correct. At least, incompletely correct. We’ll explore the wonderful world of the back inseam through the thigh area in an upcoming post. But taking off this much will get you set up for stretch fitting. The refinements (which I’ll go through) will work differently for every set of thighs out there…

Once I altered the pattern, I quickly basted together the main pieces to be sure I wasn’t making a massive mistake. They’re not incredible, but they *do* fit through the hips/crotch seam. That’s the tricky part- the part the block takes care of. I have no kitty whiskers.

LOTS of excess fabric. This is a semi-heavy cord, I can’t be swinging around all that extra fabric on “slim cut” pants. By the bye, what do you think of my pocket flaps? The rest of my wardrobe was picking on these pants for being so plain, so I’m adding some fun details to quirk them up…

The side seam is perpendicular to the floor, as it should be. Note to self- that flap looks awkward there… Double check before sewing…

No problems in the back, either. I took the photos without the waistband, but it’s sitting where it should on my body. The problem is a LOT of excess fabric below my bottom and above the knees. We’ll get to that.

If you’d like a guided tour through your own personal pants fitting journey, do let me know.  The block (including fit tweaking and help altering your first pattern!) costs $30 until midnight on the 6th, when I raise the price to $40 for postal delivery and $45 for a pdf.  I really enjoy the process, it’s all at your own pace, I do answer odd theoretical type questions to the best of my ability and I’m not happy until you are.

Alternatively, if you’d like to tune-up a pair of pants you’re already working on, email me and we can work something out with the Consulting Dressmaker.

If you live in/near Brisbane, check out the Perfectly Fitting Pants day-long workshop I’m running next month at Piece Together.  The spaces are filling up, so do hurry so you don’t miss out!  It will be much like this blog post (except using the pattern of your choice + the Block), plus some great technical sewing skill-building.

Tomorrow- Pants Block Success around the blogosphere*, then later I’ll spend some time rabbiting on about back inseam negative ease and adjustments.  And then I’ll talk about the crazy crazy cuffs and pocket flaps I want to put onto these pants.  And at some point we’ll have a finished object!  I’m really focused on the Clovers right now, I’m pissed off at the blazer because my fabrics are just short and I can’t buy more.  So I’m pouting for now, then I’ll do some creative seaming and it will be fine.

*(I have some great blog posts to feature tomorrow showing nicely fitting pants made by clients- if you have made a pair of pants after using a block I made for you and you blogged it, send me the link -{or a photo if you’d like be included and you’re not a blogger}- and I’ll feature your work!)


  1. This is a super post. I’ve always shied away from the Clover trousers simply because I thought I’d struggle with the stretch and the close fit. Now I’m a little more confident. Just that blasted stash to sew through before I’m free to buy more fabric then I’ll be on it. (I promised The Husband I’d sew stash fabric before shopping for new. It’s killing me. The jeans were an exception!):-0

    • Aw thanks! Stretch isn’t so bad, as long as the stretch isn’t expected to do the work of fitting… I’m off to go scope out your jeans! (By the way, I owe you an email. I suppose I should write one instead of saying I need to. Silly.)

  2. This is very interesting, I’m waiting impatiently to see how you deal with that excess fabric. I hope to be coming to you for a block in 2-3 months, it’s such a good idea.

    • Thanks, Starry. I’m sure there’s a way to change the pattern so the thighs magically fit every time, but I need to reverse engineer it… Should be fun, hope it helps..

  3. Thats a surprising amount of excess on the thighs! I’m not sure about the pocketflaps.. they look very interesting from the front, but from the side they’re very pokey-outy.. but then I like my clothes very plain and boringly cut, with all the interest from the fabric itself – whether its the texture or colour or pattern or whathaveyou – so I’m probably biased.

    • Well, they still have the seam allowance, etc… They were just stuck on there to see… The finished ones will be less obnoxious. ;)

    • Thanks, Maddie… I hope it’s helpful, but I’m always doing stuff like this and never documenting it properly… And it’s quite tricky to try to explain in words only…

  4. Oh, I like this! I’ll have to remove some fabric from the inside seams of my stretch trousers and see how that improves the fit… once I have some time. Tonight I’m procrastinating by playing the Sims, as I’m too sleep deprived for sewing. :)

    • Take from the back inseam first, and probably only. That’s where it has to come out. We’ll talk about it in a few days. ;)

  5. I love this approach, and I’m also itching to get a good stretch skinny pant block. At this point, I’m waffling back and forth about whether to rub off/copy an existing pair or start with something like the Clovers. Either way, I pick up a lot of good fit ideas from you. Thank you for sharing how to use another block to get closer to fit!

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