Creating A Pants Sloper

Pants sloper, pants sloper… try saying that five times fast!

LOL – but in all seriousness, what exactly is a pants sloper?  Well basically, it’s a permanent pants sewing pattern that is created from your body’s measurements.  It’s called a sloper because it conforms to those specific measurements, ‘sloping’ around your body.

Sewing pants is a pain in the…   Well, you get the picture.  It is the most difficult of all the garments to sew, because a large amount of the fit is dependent on the center seam that runs from front to back, through the middle of the body.

Any woman who shops for ready-made pants will tell you that shopping for pants is a pain in the… same place.  It’s difficult to find a brand that fits us well in every area – waist, hips, inseam, length.  So often, we sacrifice one or more of those areas in favor of the pants, either because we like the design or because they fit our pocketbook.  But then we have to wear a belt or they slip down our hips; or we are constantly pulling them down at the thighs when we stand up because they ride up at the inseam.  All too often, we are spending way too much money for a barely passable fit.

Well, I personally am in absolute rebellion to that idea.  I refuse to buy one more pair of ready-made pants.  I don’t care what it takes, I am going to have pants that fit me right, in all those areas!

I had started sewing recently again, and all because I’d found a pair of almost-finished, wide-leg, sailor-style pants that I’d begun a year ago at my daughter’s apartment.  In the process of finishing those, I found things about them that I liked, and things I didn’t.  Since this summer, I’ve made 3 pairs of pants, including that first pair.  And, just like the commercial ready-made pants, there were things I liked about fit, and things I didn’t.  They weren’t the ‘perfect pants’ I thought they’d be.

In reading one of the books I’d recently bought at the Book Nook, I’ve had a series of ‘aha moments’.  This book, Shortcuts to a Perfect Sewing Pattern by Rusty Bensussen, should have the words, “awesome” and “wow” in the title.  Such an incredibly good sewing book should have a really eye-catching title.  The purpose of the book is to teach an absolute sewing newbie how to create their own slopers, for shirts, skirts, and pants.  I just can’t say enough how eye-opening this book is.  I’ve been taking it to bed with me to read at night.  It’s my little buddy.

The book does something really amazing:  it shows you how to take exact (and I do mean, exact) measurements of your body, front and back.  Usually the measurements I’d been instructed to do for patterns were more of the measure-the-girth-of-x kind of thing.  On the back of a pattern package, you should be comparing your girth measurements to the pattern measurements, and sewing accordingly, rather than going by the size of ready-made clothes you wear.  Now I’m familiar with that, but this book takes measuring yourself into a whole new league.  I’d read a number of sewing books over the years, but I hadn’t ever seen measuring the seated distance from waist to chair so that your pants don’t ride up -or down- in the back when you sit.  Wow.

So, Bensussen is talking in the book about this all-important crotch seam, and how where that seam meets the inner leg seam  is crucial to how the pants fit; not only in that area, but whether they hang straight, and whether the waistband fits right.  I get that, because other books have talked about it, and I’ve had my own battles with both ready-made and sewn pants over it.  I’m all set to get this measurement done, and as I read on, she tells me to hang a plumb line from a string that runs between my legs and attaches to the waist on either side.  Say what??? But she goes on to explain that by doing this, you find the center of the body.  And that makes a difference in how the pants fit.  Ohhhhh...

You need a friend to help you in doing these measurements, and it must be someone you really, really trust, because let me tell you, it’s gonna get awkward.  Now, for Allen and I, was much fun in this process; if you are married, I recommend it for a prelude to intimacy, if nothing else.  We had a goofy time taking these measurements, and there were a lot of aha moments about it.  Looking in the mirror doesn’t ever prepare you for what the measuring tape says.  My hips don’t lie.

So armed with your measuring-tape-ambush and this book, you head to a sewing pattern that you’re going to turn into the base pattern for your sloper.  (This isn’t the sloper yet – it’s just the pattern for it.  The sloper will later be made out of an inexpensive woven fabric, like broadcloth or muslin.)  Now, this tissue pattern should be a very simple slacks pattern for a woven fabric, with no decorative elements — no pockets or pleats.  It can have a center-seam zipper (back zippered pants are more flattering than front zippered ones, did you know that?) but aside from that, and darts, it should be very straightforward.  You begin by comparing the measurements of the center inseam to your own, and make adjustments on the paper pattern.  The inseam, then waist, tummy, hips, and thighs all get remarked on the paper, making sure to keep length and width lines straight.

Boy, talk about some major ‘aha moments’ happening in the process of doing this.  I found out why those teal pants that I made from this pattern were so baggy; I have a short front inseam, and the pants front is 3 inches too wide for my hips!  Now armed with this information, I redrew nearly every line on the front panel of these pants.  I narrowed the legs, shortened the inseam, but added some tissue for my middle-age tummy.  I think the only thing that stayed the same was the dart… and I’m not so sure that’s going to stay there, once I make the broadcloth sloper.  Minor adjustments will be made from the broadcloth, which will be sewn with basting stitches, that get pulled out and changed every time an alteration to it is made.

By now, you’re thinking this is an awful lot of trouble to be going through, just to get a pair of pants!  On the one hand, yes you’re perfectly right.  It is a whole lot of trouble;  it took me a couple of hours, between the measuring and the adjustments to the paper pattern.  And this was only the front of the pants – I still have the back yet to do.  But I only have to do this once.  In the long run, any pants pattern I buy will be able to be quickly adjusted to my exact measurements by using the broadcloth sloper, and therefore the pants will always fit me perfectly, regardless of the design.  For that, I’m willing to invest any number of hours now, to save myself hours of frustration later.  Not to mention the hours of shopping and trying on different pairs of pants, and going to different stores, and complaining about how much money the pants cost me, and how I have to deal with the parts that don’t fit right.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marty
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 13:16:03

    The author Peg Bracken had a term, “Round-bottomed pants stretcher.” That would be me. I buy jeans, but all my other pants are homemade. I definitely have that round bottom!


  2. Cat
    Oct 07, 2010 @ 13:32:20

    LOL!! “Round-bottomed pants stretcher” — I never knew we had our own special term. 🙂 Delightful. Thanks, Marty!


  3. Liz
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 20:13:46

    wow! wish i knew how to sew…and, you are right: that is so cool to find out how to do things RIGHT! 🙂


  4. Cat
    Nov 06, 2010 @ 20:20:38

    Liz, let me encourage you to give this a try!! There are lots of sewing boks available at used book stores, and all you need is a basic one, though I’d recommend the book in this post I was using. Please don’t be afraid to look for an old sewing machine at a thrift store. As a general rule, the older machines are very simple mechanisms of gears, and can be easily restored by a vaccuum or sewing machine repair shop for a small price. Most machines from about 1950 to 1980 won’t have computerized parts and therefore will be easy to maintain, too. All they need is a straight stitch, zigzag, and button hole, and you can sew any basic garment or project. There are sewing patterns geared toward total sewing newbies, that will help you to get started with sewing your own custom projects.


  5. Liz
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 21:09:32

    i always say i have some kind of “sewing machine curse”–because pretty much EVERY time i get on one, i break the needle… i’ve sewn a few things (under supervision)–took a sewing class. the teacher would be standing over my should saying “Yeah, that’s perfect” and we’d flip it over and none of the threads would be looped together (if that makes sense). then we’d go at it again and “ker-chunk”–goodbye needle. which doesn’t mean i’m totally out of the game forever, it’s just to say that it doesn’t seem to “come naturally” to me!! boohoo. 😉


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