At Last Leggings

About 6 months ago I purchased the Espresso Leggings pattern from  patterns. It sat for a while waiting for the flurry of brides to subside and this week I was able to open the huge worksheet and do all the measurements and tracing of my custom pattern. Now, you all know that I moan on and on about people who never measure themselves and their paper patterns and assume that it comes out of the envelope all ready to go…so did I.

What could go wrong? I measured, I traced, I used high quality Ponte knit from Marcy Tilton and here are the steps for those of you who are thinking about jumping into this project:

1-charted Looks great doesn’t it? So simple…nice crotch curves front and back, no side seam…only 2 seams and some elastic fold-over at the top…a breeze right? Let’s trace it with my favorite tracing material and lay it on the fabric:2-layout So far so good:3-cut-out I’m ready to baste!4-crotch-too-low Here’s the first shock…the crotch is a full 2 inches too low and the pants legs will not allow me to pull them any higher…how did this happen?5-side-view The side view is horrible…the hem is supposed to be a cropped style but because the pants won’t pull up higher, they sit on my ankles…what to do?6-slash-open-side-seams Since there is no side seam…let’s create one…slash the full length from waist to ankle.7-added-strips Adding and pinning in 4 inch wide strips might help.

.8-fold-over-top OK, so the pant legs pull up and now there is a 4 inch fold-over at the top but happy days…the crotch is where it should be.9-side-view The new pinned side panels don’t bother me and at least I can get them on and off.

So, after all this messing and adding, I wondered what exactly was the magic formula that was used to make this work sheet for this pattern.

I went back and measured ALL the dimensions and discovered: my waist measures 37, the pattern minus seam allowances measures just over 32 inches…so the pattern removes 5 inches from my waist for a knit…OK but how in God’s green earth will 32 inches with elastic waistband fit over my hips at 42 inches? The waist dimensions do not get larger for the hips, they go straight down to the crotch curve.

You are asked to measure your upper thigh…it measures 25 inches but the pattern measures 21.5 minus seam allowances….so almost 4 inches are removed from the actual body measurement for a knit. Nowhere is there anything for a hip measurement…is it not necessary to clear that region on the way up or down?

The next measurement we make is the knees…simple right? My knee circumference is 16 and the pattern measures 13.5 again for a knit. Now granted Ponte is mentioned as a fabric choice on the envelope and you all know how much it stretches and it should at least get up over my butt but it could not without a huge struggle.

Could I have used something else, sure but this is my fabric of choice and without the (4 inch) 3 1/2 inch minus the seam allowances strips, NO amount of swearing would get those pants to fit.

3-cut-out copy

My leggings now have 7 inches added from top to bottom and the waist is 39 inches before elastic casing, (will slide over my hips) each thigh is 25 inches like mine and the knee is 17 inches. I have cut off 3 inches from the top fold-over so there is just 1 inch to fold and insert the elastic. Want to see the almost finished leggings?

To start with, I wanted the long new 4 inch wide strips to lay flat toward the pant legs, not flip towards the strip…do you know the secret? Whatever you want on the top to be seen has to have the right side of the serging. So that means serging/overlocking in opposite directions to get the right side of both edges…make sense? I know you all have been taught to sew in one direction your whole entire lives but if you have ever worked in a factory that is just a joke. All garments are sewn on a circle with the presser foot never without fabric under it, all seams are fed into the machine right after another with no breaks, so you have my permission to sew one side up and flip it and sew the other side down. See how nice my new seams will lay flat:10-inside-patch Some more views of the almost finished leggings:11-side-view13-front-view and with the eventual shorter length after hemming:12-shorter-length What have we learned from all this messing?

If your leggings pattern measures LESS than your measurements…BEWARE! Wrap your knit fabric of choice around your waist and drag it down over your hips to discover what circumference you need to get them on and off. Do the same for your thigh…wrap one and drag it up and down. Do the same for your knee. This will vary from knit to knit so no one pattern will work every time…SORRY!  Using a very stretchy knit might work with “minus measurements” but only you can decide how tight you want to wear them. Making a muslin using cheap fabric will not always mimic the real fabric.

Adding 7 inches at the waist and hips makes my leggings wearable and sit-able. Adding 3 1/2 inches at the thigh and knees allows my legs to bend and recover without bagging or feeling like I have a tourniquet on.

One last thing…I promised a cool bustle so here is your moment of fantasy….this dress had a huge beaded focal point and I used 5 points to feature it and get the dress off the floor for some dancing:10-close-up-bustle15-bustle I use colored safety pins to mark bustle points and also include under the lining, a memento of the wedding date if the bride wants it. It is embroidered, and hand sewn so that it can be removed later if they want it to be framed or made into a pillow:label

Happy sewing everyone!

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44 Responses to At Last Leggings

  1. Sandi B. says:

    My Gosh Mrs Mole….now you know why I don’t sew garments anymore:) I think you could have bought a pair that were less expensive than spending time you took to make them. How much would you charge to make a pair for me??:)

  2. Gjeometry says:

    Hey, good save! I think I prefer pants with side seams because it seems that they would be so much easier to adjust/fit, wouldn’t they?

  3. mrsmole says:

    Yes, Catja, without side seams there is no compensation for hips which usually run 10 inches bigger than the waist…expecting the knit fabric to bridge the gap is asking a lot. So now you know…you can add side seams at the paper stage or later.

  4. I recently made a pair of leggings for my son. I think it took me less time to draft them than it took you to adjust this pattern :)) But yes, that amount of negative ease is quite massive.

  5. mrsmole says:

    It would be interesting now to compare other brands of pattern to see what their “magic formula” is for knits….anyone have a pattern out there who can measure it for us?

    • Susan says:

      Sorry for the late reply, but after reading todays post about your Ponte Knit warning, I decided to check out this leggings post. I have used Kwik Sew 3636 and the leggings turned out perfectly. There are two options given on the envelope, one for “Close Fit” – (no ease) and one for “Very Close Fit” – (smaller than body measurement) They recommend a fabric with 50% stretch across the grain. If you were to make the Close fit option, the finished garment at fullest part of the hip is 42.5 for the large, the standard body measurement chart on the envelope for the size large is 41.5 – 43.5. The extra large finished hip measurement is 46, with the Standard body measurement chart being 45-47. So they appear to be pretty close. The pattern does not give finished garment measurements for the “Very Close fit” option, but it appears to be about 3-4″ narrower in the hips.

  6. mary anne says:

    perhaps they expected you to use cheap (really stretchy) swimwear goods to make
    these? I am going to stick to sweet, classic childrens’ clothing for my grandchildren.

  7. mrsmole says:

    The envelope says: Jersey, double knit/ponte, stretch velvet, stretch mesh, ITY, stretch lace. Quite a wide range so the buyer would have to test her own knit on her body, I think?

    • JohnnYingling says:

      Based on the negative ease in the pattern draft, only 4 way stretch Lycra can be used for the leggings. Even then I highly recommend a muslin test in equally stretchy fabric.

  8. poppykettle says:

    Yikes! That’s a LOT of adjustment for what should really be a very simple pattern. And one seriously gorgeous bustle 🙂

    • mrsmole says:

      It will be a very simple pattern now that I make the changes on the paper. I have more Ponte to use up in the stash so at least the future ones will fit right from the beginning. Thanks for dropping by Poppykettle! Please send me some photos of your wedding dress so far!!!How exciting!

  9. Trish says:

    As Sandi B said: ‘now you know why I don’t sew garments anymore’!
    It’s difficult enough trying to do the fitting on yourself, but with the patterns these days being such weird shapes and measurements, you have to have more patience than I have been blessed with!
    If it was such a challenge for someone as talented and experienced as yourself, I wonder how the average weekend sewer copes. Not at all I’d imagine…

    • mrsmole says:

      Maybe using a very stretchy knit, a 4-way would do better but Ponte is my choice and the choice on the envelope. We all have to try new things and being able to make leggings in Ponte in any color I want is the challenge and the advantage of sewing…like where can you find fuchsia leggings in your size if you want them? I’ll make this pattern again but add plenty!!!

  10. twotoast says:

    Urgh – what a nightmare! So glad that you got a great pair of wearable leggings but what a lot of ‘futzing’! I love your idea of wrapping yourself in your fabric and pulling it up and down to check for ease – it really is so obvious when you think about it and it a great way to try different knits for stretch.

    • mrsmole says:

      You know how the pattern companies say cut a 4 inch square and stretch it to see if it works for the pattern…well I just thought…why not try 37 inches and see if it clears your hips or 25 and see if it clears your thighs…way simple!

  11. That’s a lot of work for a simple pair of leggings, and a lot of stretch to expect from the fabric. I guess maybe a thin jersey would stretch that much? but ponte is so much more flattering for leggings. I haven’t made leggings as such but I’ve made the Anita ‘ponte pants’ (a pattern by Tessuti fabrics) and they look like leggings to me but have an outside leg seam and a bit of a curve for the hip :).
    Thanks for your pants fitting suggestions on my blog post – I haven’t had a chance to get back to the pants muslin since, but I really appreciated your comments and will be trying the changes you suggested very soon I hope.

    • mrsmole says:

      I’ll have to check out that Tessuti pattern for leggings and see what their “magic formula” is for fitting knits to legs. I have seen many of their dress patterns that look like they have been traced around a dead body lying on the floor…no darts, no fitting seams…ha ha. I’m always here for pants fitting issues…happy to help when you have photos, Gabrielle.

  12. Pella says:

    That’s a lot of ‘negative ease’. Being mathematically challenged, I just went to the percentage calculator, It seems the waist measurement has 13.51etc per cent reduction. I don’t think I’ve come across ponte that stretchy in the width. Lovely beaded decoration idea on the bustle btw.

    • mrsmole says:

      Thanks, Pella…I love bustles that have some pizazz! Wow…13 percent reduction in the waist…who can even enjoy a meal sitting down with that constriction? Lord knows the elastic would even be screaming! ha ha

  13. Awesome review! I had to laugh as I recalled my desperate conversation with you about my client’s pants.
    So true about using cheap muslin fabric not always working. I learned the hard way. And, no, you can’t always sew your seams in the same direction… well, you can… but, I guess by working in a factory, too, that sometimes it’s necessary to bend the rules. Your pants look great! I love that bustle!
    SN: The pants finally went home… I’ll msg. you more on that. 😉

    • mrsmole says:

      So glad you pants client has left the building along with her impossible growing pants.What we seamstresses get ourselves into….madness! You know working in a factory everything is done in the round so a shirt is sewn from one hem to armhole, shoulder to neck, neck to shoulder and armhole to opposite hem…speed is everything, the presser foot is never without fabric under it. We were timed for speed and accuracy. Have you made leggings recently and what is your magic formula. Alethia?

  14. June says:

    When I read about you unhesitatingly creating a side seam, my first thought was “Fearless!” Great tip on wrapping the fabric around the crucial body parts to confirm the size needed. Some years earlier, I’d made leggings for my daughter whose measurements corresponded spot-on to a specific size. I too skipped flat-pattern measuring (because why would I need to, when she was exactly the same dimensions as the pattern company indicated), and the leggings were tighter than sausage casings. I now make sure that stuff I sew for her at least has similar dimensions to current clothing, and I pretty much ignore the size chart. (I’d wrap stuff around her, but I tend to sew when she’s sleeping.)

    • mrsmole says:

      You make me laugh, June….let sleeping dogs/children lie! Even when children are awake it would be hard to make them stand still long enough to drape knit around them!

  15. gilliancrafts says:

    What an interesting post! I’ve made heaps of Espresso’s (including a pair of pants that I just made as an experiment), and I think it’s a perfect pattern for 4-way stretch fabric. I know Steph says that you can use ponte and 2-way stretch for the pattern, but I really don’t agree! The only ponte leggings I’ve made had exactly the same issues as yours. The fabric just isn’t stretchy enough, plus the knees became terribly baggy by the end of the day. As far as I can tell, leggings need to stretch just as much vertically when you sit as they do horizontally when you pull them on. I’ve had good luck with athletic knit, cotton spandex, and even drapy rayon. If you ever sew the leggings again, I hope they work better for you in another fabric! 🙂

    • mrsmole says:

      Thanks for your support, Gillian! Leggings are a strange breed of garment…the fabric has to do ALL things in ALL places and still not look like your grandma’s pajamas at the end of the day! Ha Ha…I’ll continue to drain my stash of Ponte and then move on to more stretchy fabrics before the hot summer comes and then cotton is king. Can you send me a photo of your successes?

  16. That is a definite ‘aargh’ pattern. You really do hope not to have to put as much work into a leggings pattern as that. Ponte is wonderful fabric but maybe it didn’t have as much stretch as the patternmakers were expecting? It is useful to have a minimum stretch guide with a pattern. I have just finished a pair of leggings for my daughter made from a block from the Kristina Shin underwear book. It took little time to do the block, very little time to sew, and I have high hopes of it being a good fit. She is only 5’1″ tall and training for a marathon so any pattern I bought would have needed as much ‘fiddling’ as yours.
    Well done for persevering, and the next pair will take no time 🙂

  17. mrsmole says:

    Good luck with your daughter’s leggings! How cool to have a mom who will sew custom workout wear! I’ll have to check out that book for ideas! Thanks for your comments, Kim! Always appreciated!

  18. Bunny says:

    Jeepers, you just remade the whole damn pattern! Should we have to do so much with a pattern? I know others have had some major issues with Cake patterns. Congrats on re working this wheel. They look great.
    That’s a great tip on the serging. FWIW, I have heard Nancy Zieman say the directional sewing is hooey and she doesn’t ever bother with it. Works for me!

  19. mrsmole says:

    Thanks, Bunny, in the meantime I have been checking out all the other sites that show how to measure for leggings without a paper pattern and none have “minus measurements”. The Tessuti leggings that Gabrielle suggested do in fact have real side seams and it got me to thinking…Hell, just use a regular pants pattern (Coni Crawford) that fits and use the seam lines that measure my exact dimensions with no ease and go for it. That way the hips and thighs will work. Directional sewing must have been invented to make home sewing more frustrating and to sell books.

  20. Mitch says:

    I popped down to my sewing room and pulled out Jalie 2920. It has no side seams either but it specifies 4 way stretch with at least 70% stretch. Size Z specifies body measurements of waist 35 & hip 44 – it measures after taking away seam allowances waist 31 and hip 34. Since I’ve only made it for skinny little girls, I hadn’t noticed a problem. I just bought some lovely pink supplex with a fleece back(stretches as much as plain supplex) and was planning on making my teenage daughter some leggings – I think I’ll measure up a pair that she loves to get a better idea of fit.

  21. mrsmole says:

    Thanks, Mitch, so glad my adventure into leggings has pushed sewers to measure bodies and paper patterns more often before cutting. I’d love to see those new pink leggings when they are done! Good luck, they sound so nice!

  22. theresa says:

    Oh god, I have a pair of leggings cut in my “to do” stash. They have been there since last Jan. I think. I could give a measure on them though, they are a McCall’s pattern I think….

  23. mrsmole says:

    At least you know if they have side seams or not, you can add strips to make them fit. Are you back home, Theresa?

  24. sewruth says:

    That’s a lot of work for a ‘simple’ pair of leggings. McCalls 6173 (my only leggings pattern) has one inside seam – for my 40″ hips the pattern measures 32″ but I must admit that mine are more like tights than trousers!

  25. mrsmole says:

    Thank you for measuring, Ruth. Expecting a 32 inch waist to stretch to 40 is probably about right with the perfect knit fabric. I was hoping the Ponte knit would be a little looser than tights since all my days are spent on the floor and I need sturdy and comfortable at the same time.

  26. Andrea says:

    I’m going to chime in and agree, that was a whole lotta work for a ‘simple’ pattern, but! Your skill saved your good quality Ponte and you came out with a good pair of leggings, in a great color, besides. Thanks for that serging tip, I learned something new today. That sewing in the same direction is phooey!

  27. mrsmole says:

    Well Andrea, your sewing room is absolutely delightful! I remember turning 50 a long time ago and getting 50 roses from your hubby is just wonderful! But back to the leggings…yes, I don’t mind doing extra work on my own stuff…it is so infrequent! And I only just decided to make a concerted effort to figure out why some serging flips one way nicely and the others flip the opposite…so always have the right side showing to be dominant. See Andrea’s sewing room at

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  29. Pingback: Ponte Knit Warning | fit for a queen

  30. JohnnYingling says:

    I do freelance design and product development, and a few times I had to do leggings. The biggest problem during production was the back rise had no stretch when the contractor used their normal 4 thread Juki serger. I had them rip out that seam and use a stretchier three thread serge, and the result was a stretchier seam that did not pull up into the butt crack. How do you handle that back seam on tights and leggings?

  31. mrsmole says:

    I have used a lightening zigzag stitch and then a 3 thread edge treatment. In 40 years I have never used the 4 thread function on any of my sergers.

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