Last month I published a Patternmaking Guide on Women’s Pants and I’ve been meaning to post a tutorial on how to sew some of the trickier, yet often unavoidable details, such as the fly front and the pockets.
I know there must be different ways to sew these, but I’ll show you the way I sew them.
As it happens, we’ve had a lockdown here in Milan for the past month and the shops have been closed, so I haven’t had a chance to go buy fabric and notions for this project. In the end, I searched through my stash and found just enough fabric to make the shorts; so here is a tutorial on how to sew pants.
A Look At How To Sew Pants
Strangely enough one never has exactly the right kind (and amount) of fabric in The Stash… 😀
I must confess that I usually avoid making pockets or more time-consuming closures for my pants. That’s why the palazzo pants pictured on the left are my favorite! But for the purpose of this tutorial I made an exception.
The Materials For You Sew Pants
For the shorts, I used a 60cm long piece of pinstripe wool. I used pretty much all of it. It was a bit too heavyweight, but I didn’t have options so I made it work. I think I got this piece from a friend of mine who used to work for high-fashion brands and this was some kind of leftover fabric. So it’s probably pretty good quality wool.
There was also a small piece of lining fabric for the pocket bags and the inside of the waistband.
I added stay tape to the front pocket opening seams. And found 5 buttons in my button stash for the closure. If you want a fly front opening, then you’ll need a zipper and one button.
You’ll be using some interfacing, too.
These are the pattern pieces. The shorts have a centered button closure, shaped waistband, front pockets, faux welt pockets at the back, and turned-up cuffs.
For a light-weight fabric you can use the main fabric for the pocket bags, but as mine was more like medium-weight – and it was not enough for the pocket bags anyways – I cut two facing pieces in the main fabric and the pocket bags in the lining fabric. Also the waistband would’ve become too thick had I made it in two layers using the main fabric, so the inner layer is in lining fabric.
With pinstripes I chose to cut the pieces in a single layer to make sure that both sides would be identical. So, first I cut one side, then flipped them over and used as pattern pieces to cut the other side, matching the pinstripes.
When cutting pants, it’s important to follow the grainline carefully.
Of these pieces I interfaced the welts, the smaller front pocket facings, and the button placket and welt pocket areas. Also the top layer of the waistband should be interfaced, but as usual, I just added an extra layer of cotton inside the waistband. For light-weight fabric you could also interface the back pocket facing.
Sewing the Pockets
The first thing to sew are the pockets. It’s easier to do when the front and back pieces lay flat. And also, if you make a mistake, you can just replace one piece (if you have enough fabric) without having to dismantle the pants.
Like I said, my example has the facings to be attached. If you are using the main fabric for the pocket bags, you can skip the first step.
1.The facings will be sewn on top of the lining piece. Press the inner edges of the facing pieces under before sewing near the edge. You should also stitch the outer edges to keep them in place.
2. Close the pocket seam. I chose a French seam. Then attach the pocket bag to the pants front by stitching along the pocket opening. You can add a stay tape into the seam to prevent stretching.
3. Finally, press the pocket and stitch it in place as shown.
Now your front piece shape is complete.
The Faux Welt
I have never actually used the back pockets of my pants, but I do like them as a detail. And that’s why these shorts have faux welt pockets! Why go through the trouble of making the pocket bags if you’re not going to use them, right?
The construction is pretty much the same as with normal single welt pockets. You just have a little facing piece instead of the pocket bag.
To begin, press the interfaced welt piece in half. Interface the area of the pocket on the pants back piece, and mark the pocket placement.
Sew the welt and the facing piece on the pants (right sides together), matching the pocket placement. The facing piece is at the top.
Then cut a slit in the center as shown, and pull the facing and welt to the wrong side through the opening.
Press carefully, giving the welt pocket a nice rectangular shape.
Then stitch the triangles at the short ends as you normally would with welt pockets.
And finally attach the lower edge of the facing to the seam allowance of the welt, closing the pocket.
I finished the edges with a zig-zag stitch as my serger thought it was too much to handle…
Here’s how the pocket looks like. It’s not the prettiest welt pocket I ever made, but you get the idea. 😀
You could even hand stitch the upper edge of the welt so that it remains completely closed.
The Button Placket
The front piece also has the button placket to be prepared. Later, I’ll show how to sew the fly front, too.
I know pants usually don’t have a centered button placket, but that kind of drives me crazy, as I like to see symmetrical things. That’s why I made a different choice. However, if you prefer, you can also easily change it into a decentered version.
In any case, interface the button placket area and press the two folds like you would with shirts.
Then sew the lower edge of the button placket (in this case it’s just 1.5cm bit) right sides together.
Trim the corner, and clip the crotch seam so that you’ll be able to turn the right side out. Press.
Finish the button placket by sewing the open edge as shown. Both sides of the button placket opening are identical.
Uniting the Pants Pieces
Now that the front and back pieces are prepared, you get to unite them. I find that it’s easier to sew the side seams first and press them. In this case the fabric is so thick around the pockets that I decided to top stitch the seam allowance towards the back after having serged the edges.
Then I closed the inner seams, too, ending up with two separate pants legs.
Especially with long pants it’s important to sew both seams of the pants in the same direction.
I serged the hemlines.
Before uniting the pants legs I finished the turned-up cuffs. It’s easier when the two sides are separate.
Using the measurements from the pattern I pressed the folds first. This allows you to be more precise.
Once you have the folds, you can then proceed organizing the folds to get the final look.
Pin the folds and then stitch the facing in place from the wrong side without catching the outermost layer of the folds. The idea is that the stitching remains hidden. You can either use a sewing machine or stitch by hand.
Fix the upper edge of the folds in place at a few points with hidden hand stitching on the right side.
Then you may unite the two pant legs by sewing the crotch seam.
The shorts are still missing the waistband. So, prepare it by sewing the front and back pieces together, the two layers separately. And then unite the layers and press.
Sew the top layer to the pants waistline, right sides together. Press the seam allowance towards the waistband. Then press the edge of the remaining layer of the waistband under and pin in place.
Now you can either sew this part with a sewing machine or by hand stitching. I chose the latter option, as my lining fabric was really wobbly and I decided it would be impossible to sew neatly with the sewing machine.
As usual, I created a button placket template to mark the buttonholes and button placement.
The buttonholes go to the right side on women’s pants.
When the buttonholes and buttons were done, I finished the button placket by securing the lower edges of the two sides together with extra stitches. This also strengthens the crotch seam.
And here is the button placket! Yeah, this was the only color of buttons I had in my stash in the right size.. Normally I would’ve opted for black, dark blue, or grey. Even white! But I guess this goes, too, as a contrasting color.
And so the pants are done! Does this shirt look familiar? I made it as part of the Make Nine Challenge over a year ago. Now it works nicely with these shorts!
Pants Fly Front
The more usual closure for pants is the fly front zipper. I started another pair of shorts to demonstrate how to sew this option.
Shortening the Zipper
You’ll need a regular zipper. Often you end up having to shorten your zipper to match the opening. Here’s how to do that if your zipper is made of nylon and has a little metal stopper that can be pulled out.
I marked the zipper with a pin to know how much to shorten.
You can use different kinds of pliers with a narrow tip to pull the stopper off. I also used a large needle because the pliers weren’t narrow enough.
Once you manage to extract the stopper, try straightening the pointy tips of it with the pliers so that it’s easier to stick it back (higher up) on the zipper. When you’re done, just snip off the excess length.
I know many prefer to simply create a new stopper by stitching with the sewing machine. So that’s another option. And the only option if your zipper doesn’t have a metal stopper such as this one.
If your zipper has metal teeth, then it’s better to shorten it from the top by pulling off some extra teeth with pliers and cutting. You can even pull the stopper piece off from the top and re-attach it.
Sewing the Fly Front
Now that the zipper is ready, we can finally sew the fly front. Notice, that normally your pants would be all sewn at this point with the front and back pieces united. Only missing the waistband.
Your pants should have two different sides. For women’s pants, the left side is narrower and that’s where you’ll attach the zipper at first.
Use the zipper foot to sew near the edge.
Prepare the shield piece by closing the lower edge and pressing. This piece should be interfaced by the way.
Then place it underneath the left side of the zipper you just sewed. If you’re following my pattern instructions from the booklet, the overlap is 3cm and the left side is 0.7cm underneath the right side to better hide the zipper. With this information, pin the shield so that you get the correct overlap measurement. Otherwise you can adjust the waistband piece to match the overlap afterwards.
Sew the shield in place. If you’re pro, you can also sew the zipper and the shield in one go. But I recommend basting in that case.
Finish the edges with serger or zig-zag stitching and then press the right side exactly along the c-front. Pin near the edge to keep the fold in place.
Thanks to the previous pins you should have the correct distance where to attach the right side of the zipper. Pin and sew. Don’t catch the shield.
Final step: mark where to topstitch and then stitch. This time you should make it so that you do catch the shield piece at the lower edge. You can also do that with separate stitches afterwards.
Now your pants fly front is only missing the waistband to complete the closure. Add a button to the waistband.
Although these are not the shorts I was making here, they are similar and with a fly front opening. I made them some years ago. The front pockets also have a different shape and there’s a straight waistband. These are made in the kind of fabric I would’ve wanted to use for the pinstripe shorts, too: a light-weight wool.
Back Welt Pocket
The Women’s Pants Patternmaking Guide has instructions for two different types of welt pocket patterns. There’s the easier version seen earlier, and then there’s this one. It’s not actually so difficult to sew, it’s just different. I’ll show you the single welt option.
So, if you want to sew pants with these kinds of back pockets, here’s how you would go about.
The main difference is that the welt piece is united with the facing piece instead of them being separate. The sewing order is therefore also slightly different.
Interface the welt+facing piece and mark the pocket opening. Do the same for the pants piece.
Sew right sides together, matching the marks. You can draw guidelines to make it easier to sew. The facing side is on top.
Cut the usual slit in the center and then pull the welt+facing piece to the wrong side through the hole.
Press the facing side first creating a nice symmetrical hole. Then press the welt in half. It should cover the hole completely. You can adjust the size slightly by changing the position of the fold.
On the right side you’ll already see your welt pocket looking like a welt pocket at this point, but you still need to secure the short ends as usual, and stitch the other edge of the welt in place.
Finish the facing edge with a serger or zig-zag stitches.
Then there’s the pocket bag. As it’s made in lining fabric, there has to be a facing. It’s attached around the pocket opening area by top stitching.
- Sew the edge that is furthest away from the facing to the seam allowance of the welt. Just make sure that you pick the right side; test folding the pocket bag. If the facing ends up inside the pocket, it’s the correct side. Press.
- Flip the free edge of the pocket bag over, folding it where your notches are. Pin the (inner) facing edge to the lining.
- Stitch in place.
4. Now you can close the pocket bag seams by sewing and serging.
5. Attach the upper edge of the pocket bag to the pants waistline by stitching. You might have some excess pocket bag fabric that you need to trim off.
This is how the final pocket looks like. As you can see, the facing ended up covering the opening so that there’s no lining fabric showing. The pocket bag attached to the waistline also prevents the welt pocket from collapsing.
I hope that with these instructions you’ll feel more confident to sew pants for yourself. If you’re interested in learning how to draft the patterns, you’ll find the Guide at the Shop page.
If you have any tips on sewing pants that you’d like to share, feel free to add in the comments! 🙂