Dewey Decimal DD646 DD746


Small children are widest at the waist. For this reason, their pants are always held up with shoulder straps or suspenders, or they include some sort of upper garment.

There is a great deal to be said for the former practice of keeping all babies in smock-like dresses until they are old enough to dress themselves, and even more to be said for the even older custom of allowing un-housebroken children to go naked in warm weather.

Adults, on the other hand, tend to be slimmer around the waist than around the hips, which makes it easier to keep their pants up, but harder to get them on. There are four common methods of dealing with the problem: suspenders, drawstrings/elastic, slit openings, and broadfalls.


Suspenders are usually an extra support added to slit-opening or broadfall pants; the only pure suspender pants I can think of are fisherman's waders. Though bib overalls fit loosely around the waist, they do unbutton for easier on-and-off. Bib overalls are much used for heavy work in hot weather, because they fit loosely to let in air, provide extra protection to the chest, and support all sorts of pockets and tool-loops without falling down.

Because of the loose fit, women can wear men's overalls comfortably, so there is little point in making overalls at home.

Combination Garments

A more extreme version of suspenders is to cut the shirt and pants in one piece, or to sew a shirt to the pants. (At one time, small boys' pants buttoned to their jackets, and this was called a "skeleton suit".)

Though shirt-pant garments hop in and out of fashion under such names as "jumpsuit", "boiler suit", "catsuit", etc., in most years you'll find them only as union-suit underwear, bathing suits, and protective coveralls.

Most coveralls protect against dirt, but hazmat suits are usually coveralls, and coveralls come in insulated and electrically-heated versions. Coveralls can be donned quickly, but at the expense of requiring to be removed almost entirely when one answers a call of nature, so they are seldom worn for all-day work unless that work is very dirty, or involves crawling under things. Coveralls are frequently popped on over another outfit, like aprons.

In combination garments, the problem of holding the pants up is replaced by the problem of getting in through a neck opening. Bathing suits solve it by using large neck openings and very elastic fabrics. Coveralls have a long zipper or button placket down the front.

Coveralls designed for women are even harder to find than other women's work clothes, and when found, are not likely to combine the correct pant size with the correct shirt size, so don't expend too much time on searching before you start designing.

Most emergency-equipment coveralls, however, fit women but little worse than they fit men.


Drawstring pants are the easiest to make: the waist is made large enough to pull over the hips, and drawn in with a string or elastic, or with elastic adjusted by a string, or with a string incorporating elastic. This style is much favored for athletic wear, underwear, and garments that must be sterilized or incinerated after wearing.

Elastic is a suitable support only when the garment weighs very little, or when it fits so tightly that it must be pushed all the way to get it off.


Slit-opening pants are the oldest form, and still the most popular.  The upper part of one of the seams -- in men's pants, always the center-front seam -- is left open. This slit was covered by various flaps and pouches until someone got the idea of sewing on a fly to provide a place to sew on buttons.

Thirteen-button fly openings weren't very convenient, and the zipper was eagerly adopted long before the bugs were worked out of it. In men's pants, the fly was retained to protect delicate parts from the teeth of the zipper. In women's pants, which opened at the side, the fly served no purpose, and was left out.

In fly openings, one side of the zipper is sewn between the fly and the outer fabric. The other side of the zipper is usually sewn to a facing the same shape as the fly, and the facing is then sewn to the outer fabric. This produces a fly-shaped line of stitching on the outside, and people who don't sew associate the word "fly" with this line of stitching, rather than the fly itself. In addition, it has been customary to leave the word "opening" out of the phrase "fly opening".

So in common parlance, "fly" means an opening at the center front of men's pants.

The "fly" in a cheap pair of women's "designer jeans" will probably have no fly. Sometimes elastic-waist jeans will have a "fly" which also has no zipper and no opening!

Broadfall pants

Broadfall pants are more complicated in design than slit-opening pants, but they are easier to sew, and most of the complication consists of a pair of side-seam pockets that you'd probably want anyway.

Broadfalls are so called because, in the men's version, the entire front of the pants drops to answer a call of nature. (Where a "fly" is a flap sewn on at the side, a "fall" is a flap attached at the bottom.)

In broadfalls, you hem the top few inches of the side-seam allowances on the fronts of the pants, then baste the pockets underneath, so that the upper part of the pocket fills out the missing part of the front seam allowance. The result is that the side seams are open at the top, but the pockets extend underneath, so that it appears to be an ordinary pocket opening.

In the men's version, you sew the usual waistband to the back and pockets, but between the pockets, it is only a belt. The "fall" is hemmed, and buttons or hooks onto the belt.

There is no reason why a lady's pants should stay up when unbuttoned, and a woman needs dart control in the front, so women's broadfall pants have two waistbands: one extends from side-seam to side-seam in the front, and the other covers the back and the pockets. Broadfall openings are particularly suited for women's clothes, as the waist can be adjusted by four full inches, allowing for monthly variations and even the first few months of pregnancy. If you wear overshirts, or don't mind the let-out look, you can sew on extra eyes and wear your pre-pregnancy pants a month or so extra.

Any skirt or pants pattern can easily be converted to broadfall opening. Adjust a straight skirt or an A-line that fits closely around the top in the same way as pants (see Designing & Assembling Broadfall Pants). Make a pleated or gathered skirt by using the pockets and waistbands from a pants or straight-skirt pattern.

If the skirt is supposed to flair out from the waist, and a side-seam pocket would distort it, hem both sides of the opening, and sew the pockets into the back waistband so that they extend under both front and back. Size the waist so that the front and back just meet when the waistband is adjusted to its largest size, and overlap for other settings. This causes you to reach uncomfortably far to your back when putting the skirt on and off, but a skirt of this type is for special occasions.

If your arthritis is acting up, put the skirt on with the active opening -- one opening is just for adjusting the size, and the other is for getting in and out; women of my generation are accustomed to finding openings on the left, but some of my younger friends like for their clothes to open on the right. Happily, broadfall openings don't require you to know which side you prefer before making the garment.

As I was starting to say, if you can't reach an opening that hooks too far to the back, put the skirt on a little sideways, with the service opening where you can reach it, then twist the skirt straight after it is fastened.

Another expedient is the fore-and-aft tie strings used on eighteenth-century petticoats. Some petticoats of that era pleated onto two bands with tapes sewn to both ends of each band -- like two aprons sewn together, with the tops of the side seams left open. The tapes sewn to the front waistband were longer than the tapes sewn to the back. A lady would put the petticoat on by wrapping the strings of the back around her waist and tying them in front, like putting an apron on backward, then she would wrap the strings of the front all around and tie them in front too.

It is conceivable that some ladies made the back waistband a bit too long, instead of sewing tapes to it, and worked buttonholes in, or sewed hooks to, the front band where it overlapped the back band. You can see that this is exactly the same as the broadfall opening, but without the pockets underneath, the openings have to overlap, which would mean reaching around to your back to fasten the buttons or hooks.

David Coffin calls his version of broadfalls "A Movable Waist". His article explaining it is printed in the August/September 2009 issue of Threads (#144), and amplified in seven entries on his blog, . The first entry is at extras-part-1.html

Though altering a pattern to use broadfall pockets is easy, my description turned out so long-winded that I broke it out into a separate file, posted at Designing & Assembling Broadfall Pants ROUGH045.TXT : GARMENTS: designing & assembling broadfall pants

Leg width

A fellow who feels his stocking slipping down shouldn't have to take his pants off to hitch it up.

The leg-seams of work pants should follow the straight grain from the knee to the hem. This width may look floppy if the current fashion for dress pants is pegged, or skimpy if the current fashion is flared, but it's wide enough to put on after your shoes, and it doesn't catch on things except in situations where you'd insist on ankle- garters, pants protectors, gaiters, or tights no matter how narrow your pants legs were.

For pants to be worn in those situations, you can sew a couple of three-cornered tabs into the side seams near the hems. Hooking, buttoning, or snapping the tabs together eliminates the need for bicycle clips, and the triangles lie flat when not in use.

A cyclists' pants protector: If you need to ride a bike in dress pants, cut a trapezoid of black bull denim or heavy, black, plastic-coated nylon ÄÄ Cordura, for example. Make the finished width a little more than half the circumference of your ankle at the bottom, and a little more than half the circumference of your calf at the top. Attach Velcro straps at the top bottom, and middle. D rings will also work, since the flapping ends will be on the side away from the machine, or you can tie tapes in shoe-string knots.

Work pants should never have turned-up cuffs. Cuffs collect wheat chaff, lathe turnings, or whatever, and they are capable of catching in machinery.

Making pants that can be buttoned close is better than making them narrow at the bottom. If you do decide to make pants narrow in the name of safety, then make them so narrow that you have to put in ankle zippers. (Knit pants may have ribbed cuffs instead of zippers.)

Ladies' pants: An alterable Waist

Men's suit pants feature an extra-wide seam allowance at the back, and a back seam in the waistband with matching extra-wide allowances. This is to allow for letting the pants out as the man matures. This strikes me as more like wishful thinking than practicality: the stitches will leave holes, there will be wear at the crease, and the exposed fabric will fade more than that folded to the inside. Not to mention that the expansion of a man's waist is on the other side! However, many women envy this feature, so you should consider whether it is useful to add it to your pants. If the pants are to be made of good all- wool suiting, it's more desirable, since wool shows wear less than other fibers do, and is expensive enough that you will probably save them back for good, and still have them when you have gained weight. An expansion seam is a particularly good idea if you expect to get pregnant before the pants are worn out.

This is a very easy alteration to make to any pattern with a center back seam: Make the seam allowances wider by the desired amount at the top, and taper them smoothly into a normal-width allowance through the crotch. (It will probably be a good idea to mark the stitching line directly on the fabric.)

Cut the waistband pattern in half, and add seam allowances that match or exceed the allowances on the back pieces. Set the waistbands on the left and right halves separately, and seam them together afterward. Make a bar tack to secure the top of the seam and encourage the thick waistband to stay folded. Or sew a belt loop right over the seam, using two bar tacks to attach it.

Slanting hems in pants

Sometimes dressy pants will be too short in back while resting on the shoes in rumples in front. It is easy to slant the hems to avoid this. Decide how long the pants are to be in front, and mark a line at right angles to the straight-of-grain at center front. Do the same in back. Tape the front pattern to the back pattern at the side seam and draw a smooth S curve to join the two marks. Tape the inseams and draw the curve on that side. The hemline will be arched up on the front pattern, and bowed down on the back pattern.

Add seam allowances and make a facing pattern. The facing needn't be in two pieces -- one seam at center back will be less lumpy than two seams that pile up on the seams in the pants.

Do be subtle about this alteration. It's supposed to look straight; you slant it to the back to correct an illusion that it's slanted to the front.


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