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Dec 5, 2011

Suit Pants Day 2 or "The Botched Crotch"

Cabrera/Meyers, Classic Tailoring Techniques, p. 178

So I've hit already my first snag, readers, and I've hardly even started.
Things got off to a rather good start.  Yesterday I experimented with stitching and pressing my pinstripe wool.  Using standard Coats & Clark thread and my Singer 201 set at approximately 12 stitches per inch, I stitched together a few sample pieces of my fabric and pressed open my seams, using a piece of thinnish muslin as my press cloth and lots of steam.  The results were pleasing.

Next, I attached my pocket facings and yoke to my side pockets pieces.  For pocketing I'm using high quality black cotton shirting -- the last of a roll I found on the street two years ago.  I really loved that fabric.  Tailoring books would have you use special pocketing fabric called "Silesia," but I don't think they have it even at Steinlauf & Stoller.  Anyway, this is more than adequate and very, very strong.  All good.

Now here is why I wanted to skip the Cabrera Classic Tailoring Techniques: A Construction Guide for Menswear.  They suggest you make something called a crotch reinforcement.  Friends, I have never made a crotch reinforcement before, but the idea makes sense.  You're making a pair of pants that's not going to get thrown into the laundry on a regular basis, and as anyone who has working knowledge of the male anatomy knows, leaks do occur.  A reinforcement also makes the crotch area stronger and less apt to stretch.

I followed directions, cutting a 7" square of cotton, folding it in half along the bias, and ironing it into a....wait -- you can read the directions in the top pic.  Unfortunately, my reinforcement would curve only so much, and edges certainly didn't match those of my pants.  Perhaps with a more shallow crotch, this could work, but not my pattern.

I stitched it on as per the instructions, but it looked awful.  Was the fabric supposed to lie flat or not? The instructions don't say and the photo is vague.

I shot a frantic email to my friend Mainley Dad, who copied me very similar-sounding instructions for a crotch reinforcement in David Coffin's book Making Trousers.  It sounded to Duane like the reinforcement was supposed to lie flat, however.

I also referred to Jane Rhinehart's OOP book, How to Make Men's Clothes.  Her crotch reinforcement looks flat, and is cut as a single layer.  (Remember that the area will be rounded in the final garment, hence my uncertainty.)

Readers, this is why having too many tailoring books can be confusing.  Finally, I decided I would simply deal with this issue tomorrow, meaning today.

I even looked through the few pair of dress pants I own, but sadly none of them have crotch reinforcements like this, though I did discover a wide variety of funky looking messes down there. 

Friends, how would you tackle this problem?  Do you or a man in your life own pants with a crotch reinforcement you wish to share with us? -- without the man in them, of course.  Is this a solution in search of a problem, like the Pintastic?  How necessary is this and can the need be alleviated with better hygiene?  I should mention that the instructions for my pants, McCall's 4359, never mention a crotch reinforcement.  Maybe I'll look for a sample pair of good pants at the Salvation Army -- you'd be surprised what can be found there or maybe you wouldn't.

I remind myself that these will not be the last pair of dress pants I make, and that I will no doubt learn a lot from making these, crotch reinforcement or no crotch reinforcement.

In closing, I hope you haven't found today's post in any way distasteful.  We're all adults here, or very mature teens.

Would you skip the reinforcement altogether?  Cut the reinforcement flat to meet the edges of my fabric?

What would you do?


  1. Interesting quesiton. Maybe a tailoring forum would yield the correct answer. But I checked my BF's off-the-peg suit trouser, and guess what, even that has crotch reinforcement. But funnily, it's only attached in the corners.

    It's made of 2 pocket type fabric triangle sitched together on the long edge. The long edge runs along the crotch. One end is tacked to the the front crotch, the other end to the back crotch. The remaining end tacked to the leg inseam. So it just hang loosely in the trouser. It's hard to tell if it would lie flat or not as the trouser is already made up, so 3D.

    Good luck with your quest. Looking forward to finding out what the correct answer is. BTW I also have the Cabrera book. And nope, I haven't made any men's suits. But the techniques are still interesting. Like the custom shoulder pad - after reading that, my Vogue shoulder pad instructions seem as naff as cheap ready made ones. And it's technique for dealing with uneven shoulders. Oh yes, one day I'll master it. Maybe.

  2. I would rip out what you have. If it doesn't lay flat, it doesn't lay flat. If you still want crotch reinforcement, I'd cut the piece differently, so it fit. Perhaps even in a single layer with a serge finish for the exposed edge.

    I like the protection of the fashion fabric this reinforcement gives. If it isn't deemed necessary, then 1/4" cotton tape would do the reinforcement job.

  3. I'd cut the reinforcement flat to meet the edges of your fabric. It's got bias for stretch, right, for when it needs to curve round the body?

    And why would you want to risk an extra-bulky crotch? (Is that a reinforcement in your inseam or are you just pleased to see me?...)

  4. Can you bast the leg together and see what happens? What about emailing David Coffin? It may be that you didn't do anything wrong, or maybe the fabric needs to be one that can be formed along the seam lines more. Maybe the reinforcement is just a tad too short? Maybe this is one of those things that looks like h*ll until it all comes together? How many of us sew collars flat, and then wonder why they don't look great when worn? Maybe I should stop spewing questions?

  5. i have no idea about crotch reinforcement....but i must say i'm glad the last meal of the day was finished some six hours ago LOL i wouldn't have wanted to read that post just after dinner; the visuals in my mind were not pretty!

    On other sharing news: today I put an online bid, at a local antique auction, for a Singer 99. Hope i get it, she purred like a kitten when i had a test run of her was my first time on a knee control lever and it was lovely!

  6. I checked the (average department-store) suit pants in our closet and found the same answer that overflowingstash did: in this case the lightweight cotton fabric is a single layer, diamond-shape, hemmed on all edges, and tacked only at the corners to the back seam, base of front fly, and the two side seams. The reinforcement piece is fractionally smaller than the pant area, so it would not lie perfectly flat if sewn down.
    I always thought these little panels were for comfort - to prevent seams from chafing sensitive parts. Now I know the truth!

  7. I've only made men's bathrobes, t shirts, and jams. No crothch reinforcements. I am having a little trouble imagining why crotch reinforcement is needed.
    Love your writing, Peter. I've been lurking over a year.

  8. I use this technique from Cabrera, and it's been really good for the long life of my trousers. You must stretch the bias of the triangle (the folded part) HARD, with a steam iron, starting from the middle and going towards both ends. This will result in pulling the triangle out of shape and curving the sides more so they tend to fit the trouser pieces better. This -- and a little bit of trimming along the seamlines -- should work well. I use this every time I make a good pair of trousers and as I said, it has been very good at prolonging their life (and avoiding wear in that area).

  9. Thanks, guys!

    Richard, how do you attach the triangle -- along the entire edge of the pants, matching edges? Should the pants piece be able to lie flat?

  10. Loved this post! This kind of post (completely tailor-nerdy!;-) is what makes my following blogs worth the while. Thank you.

    I agree with overflowingstash and Katrina Blanchalle about the more loosely fastened "horizontal" crotch reinforcement. I think it helps to create that tailored form, feel and movement in suit-pants.

    Unfortunately though, I have no experience in making them.

    Keep up the lovely work!

  11. Peter, I have some pictures for you of the crotch reinforcement in my husband's suit pants. But, just briefly, the crotch seem is bound. The edges of the reinforcing piece are bound. The reinforcing piece is tacked to the seam allowance in four different places. Not stitched down anywhere. Let me know if you want me to e-mail you the pics.

  12. Peter, after you've stretched the triangle on the folded edge (a lot), lay it on top of the pants piece. It will buckle a little bit, but since it's on the bias (the long, folded edge) it will eventually smooth out. Match the seam allowances as best you can; I usually trim the triangle a bit to get them to match better. I then attach the triangle to the edges of the pants; I usually hand-baste them first so I can adjust them before machine stitching if I need to. It may not lay perfectly flat, but it will ease in wearing. I have trousers I've made 20 years ago using this method and the pants have not worn between the legs -- a problem I've had with ready-to-wear trousers that don't have crotch guards.

  13. We had to do this at college (I studied tailoring), we would stretch a curve into it as Richard says, but also I think maybe you're trying to match the shapes - don't. Just let the edges of the reinforcement piece hang over the edges of the seam and overlock (serge) off the excess. Easy!

  14. I like 'protect the fabric from moisture' better than your leakage story....

    On the video with David Coffin's book he presses the folded pieces while stretching them to create the curve needed. Than he places the piece under the fork (if that's the right word for the point where the four seems meet) with only a part of overlap. My guess is half is under the pant's piece and half is not. The reinforcement does not go beyond the front seem. The excess reinforcement he just cuts off. I see no wrinkling in his video.

    Hope this helps. If all the other advice didn't already get you past this bump in the road.

    Good luck!

  15. Thanks, folks. I will never suffer from moist crotch again!

  16. Great post and helpful information! This is the gents' equivalent of the ladies' underarm shields, yes? Helps lengthen the garment's life in more elegant condition, saves the wearer from the embarrassment potential of leaking liquids, but is tricky to maneuver the first time. After this, smooth sailing. Thanks, Peter, for blazing the trail.

  17. Hi Peter. Interesting post as usual. Could you maybe try some fabric that has a bit more give in it than the fabric you are using at the moment. Some fabric stretches on the bias more easily than others don't you think? I definitely wouldn't want it looking puckery if the bias didnt stretch enough. After all, the purpose is to reinforce the seam and a bit of extra protection and any fabric will do this.

  18. Are you able to get to a men's clothing store, one of the nicer ones and elude sales staff to the point of having some privacy in the dressing room and turning some dress slacks inside out for a very close inspection?

  19. my vogue Calvin Klein pattern from the seventies (I've seen it recently on ebay) had a saddle shaped protector-more abrasion avoidance than perspiration protection it was cut from 4 pieces each sort of circle with a smaller semi circular shape out of the top -you stitched all four together and turned it inside out. My tailors here in london make a much simpler cover -which is not that far from what other correspondents describe above describe above.

  20. when you fold it over, it isn't supposed to match perfectly. You slide it off the edge until it covers the area you want, baste it down flat, then trim the overhanging edges. The folded part gives you a finished edge.

  21. I work on suit pants constantly in my work at a local dry cleaner's. All of the crotch reinforcements I've seen are bound on the edges and just tacked to the pant seams in 4 spots - right below the fly facing and about 4" further down the seam.

    You could always just skip the whole thing and wear an extra pair of underwear :0

    Keep on sewin'!!!

  22. Good advice all this blog!

  23. Just wear Depends, everybody. ;-)

  24. It's actually called a fork stay, and yes some fabrics stretch better than others on the bias, butnasnsaidnearlier, stretch it hard with steam , lay it flat on the pants front and trim it as required. I was taught to keep it below the notch, but others place it covering the notch.
    Modern, manufactured trousers have a different technique and application.

  25. Peter, it does indeed look as if the folded triangle is stretched along the fold edge, laid on the pants piece and trimmed to fit along the raw edges, as Richard and others posted. I am following your progress closely, as dh wants me to make him an 1880s sac coat and I have never done mens tailoring before. If he likes the coat, he will probably request pants to go with.

  26. Well, looking at the instruction pictures, I'd guess you're supposed to stretch and press that folded triangle and then cut it to fit the pattern piece.
    However, I've never used anything like it. In my experience, a lot of (men's) wool trousers are partially lined to prevent bagging out and/or dirt. I've made tweed trousers for myself which have a full lining till a bit past the knee and my boyfriend's only pair of RTW dress trousers has a bit of lining fabric used as underlining at the top front.

  27. The 'moisture guard' (or, as it's rather charmingly known in some tailoring workrooms, the 'drip tray') is the piece that's tacked in at the end (that Paula mentions) - this bit that you're doing now is for reinforcement. Properly tailored trousers are supposed to last for decades (waistline permitting) and the fork is the area on trousers that's subject to the most strain, so it's an investment piece, if you like!

  28. Better a botched crotch than a blotched one.

  29. Peter,

    It's later the next day, and I have to divulge that I am as enlightened as I am appalled.

    Perhaps you'll recycle this topic soon?

    Wishin' and hope'n,


  30. I remember way, way back in the very early seventies that McCalls or Simplicity use to include a separate pattern piece for the crotch area. On the next pair I make I'm going to simply draft a pattern from the pants front and back, that seems to be the best less complicated solution to me.

  31. oh c'mon... those arent there to collect nasties or to rot away instead of your pants jeez. Pants should be washed regularly and we arent all leaky faucets. Its simply proper tailoring and proper construction for durability and comfort. The fact that so many dress pants miss such a thing these days is just because a lot of clothing is made in an horrible way.
    All the dress pants I own have that reinforcement, and even some more casual pants do.
    A lot of details inside garments can be skipped: noone sees them, people often dont notice when they buy stuff and many dont even know about them. Those details are some of the indicators of a properly made garment, no shortcuts taken. If you spend good money for a suit you want it to be well made inside and out (would you buy some nice shoes that are built without insoles like they were flipflops just to save a few bucks? I dont think so). And if you make something yourself take pride in making things properly and to the highest standard.
    Construction of these details might differ a bit from tailor to tailor and pant cut and style, can be a small piece of fabric covering the crotch or go as far as to extend to the front of the pant to half thigh (thats for comfort, which also depends on the fabric used), easiest way is to step into a proper store, turn the garment inside-out and start taking pictures of every detail. Other method is thrift stores or grandparents attic kind of garments, you are looking for old stuff made when things were still done well, doesnt matter the cut/style or size as you will be deconstructing something properly made, taking something apart is one of the best ways to see how things are done.


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