Introduction: High Waist Sailor Pants

Need a pair of pants for your steampunk costume? See a very small variety of pants online that do not look like what you envisioned and are EXPENSIVE? Never fear! Embark on a journey to make your very own pants using my fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method!

*This method can work for anyone, even those not-as-familiar with sewing. It just takes a little patience and drive. Experience is only a bonus!

Step 1: Supplies

To get started acquire these necessities:

  • pants *see below for specifics
  • thread
  • sewing machine or hand-sewing needlesmeasure
  • scissors
  • seam ripper
  • pins
  • measuring device (tape, ruler)
  • buttons
  • fabric marking device (crayon, chalk, pencil, not sharpies!)
  • interfacing
  • fabric (small amount for backside of front panel - want stiffer fabric)
  • iron
  • ironing board

Optional List:

  • elastic
  • bias tape
  • fray check
  • grommets
  • paracord/lacing
  • model/helper

*NOTE ON PANTS - The pants you will need to find must have a couple features:

  • larger than your regular pant size
  • a lower crotch so you can have them go higher up your waist
  • be long enough to where you would like them to be (hiking up the pants can take away from the length)
  • If you want tighter pants, you will need to find pants that have a little stretch to them

Step 2: Figuring Out Your Pants

Before any cutting and sewing will begin, you will want to figure out how big you want your front sailor panel to be. First, find the center front seam of your pants. Using a measuring device, find a good length and measuring from the center front seam, mark on both sizes the width of your front panel. I wanted my front panel to be 8 inches, so I had the 4 inch mark on the center front seam and put white pencil marks at the 0 and 8 inch marks.

**Special note: You will normally want to have your pants inside-out to mark them so there will be no chance your measurement marks will be seen when your pants are finished.

Step 3: Preparing to Cut Front Panel

Once you have the width of your panel figured out, you will want to detach the waist band from the top of the pants using your seam ripper. You will only need to remove the stitches around where you need to cut your panel, unless your pants have extra features around the waist band that you want to remove. My pants had decorative pleating in the front, and since I wanted the front to be flat, I used my seam ripper to undo the pleating as well.

After freeing the top of the pants from the waist band around your front panel marks, you will want to figure out how tall you want your panel to be. Take your measuring device and line it up with the marks you made earlier for the front panel width. Measuring down from the top of the waist band, mark the bottom of your front panel. I made mine 6 inches tall. Repeat on the other side of your panel.

**Special Note: Once again have your pants inside out when making marks so there will be no chance you will have marks showing on your finished pants!

Step 4: Cutting Your Front Panel

When cutting your panel cut a bit OUTSIDE your marks. The reason for this is because you will fold the fabric on the edges over to create a nice, clean edge for your pants. This is also the reason you need to have pants that are bigger than your normal size since you will be losing a couple inches from folding over the edges.

** Special note: If you want to use bias tape you can cut directly on your marks since the bias tape is making the clean edge for you.

Step 5: Strengthening Your Front Panel

Now that your front panel has been cut out, you will need to reinforce it. This will help later when creating button holes and when you are actually wearing the pants.

1. Cut out a piece of interfacing that is just smaller than your front panel and not including the waist band since it is double-layered already.

2. Once your interfacing is cut out, figure out which side of the interfacing should be fused with the fabric.

-the side you will fuse to your fabric will either look shiny or have small textured dots

3. With your pants inside out, carefully iron on the interfacing, making sure your fabric is completely flat. You do not want to iron creases into the front panel of your pants!


1 .If you accidentally start ironing the interfacing with the fusible side up, the interfacing will stick to your iron, become sticky and eventually burn. To get the nasty sticky stuff off, clean off your iron by ironing a dryer sheet.

2. If you accidentally fuse your interfacing to the front side of your pants instead of the inside, all is not lost! Before sewing your fabric piece over your interfacing, fold over the top and bottom edges and sew along them to create a finished edge. Place this piece over the interfacing on the front of your pants, sew it down and keep on going! You can either use fabric that matches your pants or have a contrasting but matching color for a bit of pizzazz!

Step 6: Preparing Your Interfacing Cover

Since this piece of fabric will be on the inside of your pants, you don't have to finish off the edges all fancy-like with a serger or hemming the edges (unless you want to of course!). But depending on the fabric you are using, you will want to do something to keep your fabric from fraying. See exhibit A. My fabric is the type that frays almost as soon as you cut it. To take care of this issue, fray check is an easy and fast solution. (see exhibit B) It is a liquid that soaks in to fabric and hardens like glue to keep your fabric fibers in place and prevents the edges from fraying.

First cut off the extra fraying pieces of fabric (exhibit C). Then use the fray check on the edges of your fabric and let dry for a couple minutes (see exhibit D). It's as simple as that!

**Special note: Fray check smells terrible so have some ventilation going. It also helps not to have your face two inches from the fabric you are using fray check on.

Also if you are hemming the edges of your fabric piece, only hem the top and bottom, not the edges. The edges will be hemmed when you hem the edges of your front panel or cover the edges with bias tape! If you hem the side edged of your panel piece it will make the edge thicker and harder to sew through, and can cause you to break sewing machine needles.

Step 7: Sewing on Your Interfacing Cover

First you will want to pin your fabric piece over your piece of interfacing. Pin your fabric just under your waist band and at the sides of your front panel to prevent it from moving around.

Next you will want to sew the panel to your pants from the OUTSIDE. The reason for this is though a sewn line may look good from the backside, it may look completely different from the front side. If you are paranoid about accidentally sewing over your pins, transfer them one at a time from the backside to the front side so you can see them better.

Knowing where your interfacing cover is with the pins as your guide, sew along the waist band and sides of your front panel. For the sides of the front panel you will want to sew fairly close to the edge so your stitch lines will not be visible when you hem the edges.

Step 8: Hem the Edges Around Your Front Panel

Before you can get on with the hemming, you will want to do two things first.

1. Sew a couple stitches back-and-forth right underneath your cut marks to prevent your pants from splitting open in the future. This can be done by hand or by machine. If you would like to do this with a sewing machine, chose a zigzag stitch, turn the stitch width up and the stitch length to zero. Stitch away!

2. Depending on how much of the waist band you seam ripped from the top of the pants, sew the waist band back on.

Hemming the edges

  • Bias Tape method:
    • fold the end of your bias tape inside itself to create a finished edge
    • pin your bias tape to your fabric with the fabric crammed as much against the center crease of the bias tape as you can manage (my bias tape was thinner than I would have liked, but I had it on-hand - I would reccommend using 1/4 inch or wider)
    • sew along your bias tape, making sure to keep your fabric crammed in to the tape as much as you can
    • when you get near the end, cut your bias tape a little beyond the edge of your fabric so you can fold it under like you did at the bottom to create a nice edge
    • Repeat on both front panel sides, and if you feel like it repeat this for the other unfinished sides of your pants next to your front panel
  • Fold under method:
    • the waist band itself will probably not want to be folded under twice, so either fray check the edges of your fabric or serge them if you have a serger
    • looking at your front panel with the right side out, fold the edges under once, pinning as you go
    • sew along the edges of your front panel and repeat for the other unfinished edges next to your front panel edges

Step 9: Preparing to Add Button Holes

Buttons give a nice feel for closing the front panel of sailor style pants. Before sewing a single stitch you will want to make sure you know where your buttons will be going!

First of all flip your pants inside-out again! I didn't do this because black fabric is pretty forgiving, but other fabrics may show the marks you made to mark where you wanted your buttons to go.

Moving on, lay your buttons on your front panel to see how many you want, then take a measuring tape to lay them down more exactly. Once you have the buttons where you want them, mark their positions with your fabric marking device, making sure to mark the top and bottom edges of your buttons so you know how big to make your button holes. If you have a button hole sewing foot and know how to use it, go right on ahead.

**Special note: When marking the top and bottom edges of your button, you may want to mark just a smidgen above and below your button to make sure the hole will be big enough for the button to go through the hole once it has been sewn. If you do make the hole too small, just seam rip along either the top or bottom edge of your button hole and sew along the new edge of your button hole.

Step 10: Sewing Your Button Holes

Machine sewing instructions with the button hole stitch

  • If your sewing machine has a button hole stitch, there will be three different stitches
    • back-and forth stitch to use at the top and bottom of the button hole
    • a thin zigzag stitch to go down the right side of the button hole
    • another thin zigzag stitch to go up the left side of the button hole
  • When sewing the back and forth stitches, you only need to go back and forth 3-4 times. This is especially important when sewing the bottom of the button hole because if you make more stitches your machine sewing foot may get stuck when trying to sew back up the left side and you will not end up with a very nice looking button hole

Machine sewing instructions without a button hole stitch

  • If you have an older sewing machine, you may not have a button hole option
    • Your machine should still have an option for a zigzag stitch, and this is the only stitch you will need
    • If you do not know how to change your stitch length and width on your machine, either find your instruction booklet or look at instructional videos on youtube. Knowing how to do these two things is the key to making a successful buttonhole with this method
  • Once you know how to adjust the stitch length and width, start by constructing the top of your button hole
    • Use the zigzag stitch at the widest width with a stitch length of zero
    • You only need to go back and forth 3-4 times or else your sewing machine foot will get stuck on the stitches and not create a nice button hole
  • Next you will be sewing down the right side of your button hole
    • First make sure your needle is upright, not in your fabric
    • Adjust your stitch width to a lower setting, around 1 or 2
    • Adjust the stitch length to just barely above zero, less than one if your machine has that option
    • Pick up your sewing machine foot and adjust your fabric so that when you put the foot down and start your zigzag stitch down, your thin zigzag stitch will go down the right side of the button hole and align with the upper right corner of your first button hole stitch
  • Once you get to the bottom of your button hole
    • Make sure your needle is in the upright position and pick up your sewing machine foot
    • Switch your settings to the setting you used for your first stitch, the width as wide as it will go and the length at zero
    • Adjust your fabric so the zigzag stitch will be aligned with your upper stitch
    • Once again stitch back and forth about 3-4 times so your foot will not get stuck on your stitches
    • When ending this stitch make sure the needle is down and in the bottom left corner.
  • To begin the final stitch that will complete your button hole
    • Keep the needle in your fabric!
    • Pick up your sewing foot and turn your fabric with the needle down so you will be sewing this last stitch towards you
    • Once your fabric is positioned, put down the presser foot and lift up your sewing needle
    • Adjust the zigzag stitch so the width is around 1-2 and the length is 1 or below, but above 0
    • Pick up your sewing machine foot and position the needle to sew from the upper right corner of the button hole to the lower right corner
    • Once positioned, put the foot down and finish sewing your button hole stitch
    • There should be a small space between the two rows of zigzag stitches that you will cut open to allow a button to pass through
  • To finish the button hole
    • Same as the other method, cut the center of the hole open with the seam ripper
    • Use fray check to keep the button hole in good condition

Finally the hand-sewing method:

  • Secure your thread to the underside of your fabric
  • Carefully sew around the mark you made, making sure to have your stitches just toughing each other as you sew around the button hole
  • Leave a space in the middle as you sew around
  • Once finished, secure your thread again
  • Cut open the space in the middle of your button hole
  • Use fray check to finish off the button hole if you wish

Step 11: Sew on Your Buttons

Now that that kahuna of a step is over, using the placements of your button holes to guide you where to place your buttons on the edges of your fabric next to your front panel edges.

Attach your buttons securely and BAM you're done!

Button sewing tips:

  • Double or quadruple your string together - using just one thin strand is a sure way for your thread to break and your buttons to fall off. No one really wants to see your underwear hanging out the front of your pants.
  • When you are finished sewing your button on, add a dot of hot glue or fray check to the knots and a little fray check to the threads under the button to keep the knots from coming undone and the thread from breaking despite doubling or quadrupling.
    • Extra note with the hot glue, so you don't have a raised dot that rubs against your skin uncomfortably, blow on the dot of glue to cool it enough so you can smoosh it down with your finger to flatten it. Hold for a couple seconds to allow the glue to set and take your finger off. Voila!

Step 12: Fitting Your Pants

Remember when I told you to buy pants that were larger than your own pant size? Chances are the pants could still be loose on you or you want to change how to pants fit to suit your tastes.

Once again you will want your pants inside out. This will help you to see where the seams currently are and when you start drawing lines all over the place no one but you will know. Ahem.

Moving on, a small warning is these next steps are more of a how-you-want-to-adjust deal, there is no clear and cut method. Warning and frustrations aside, these steps are also the steps to give you a custom-fit pair of pants that will be exactly how you want them if you have the patience to do, undo redo. Having a friend for this step is a good idea, though with your friend you have to understand that you either have to let them push pins through fabric that is close to your body, or if your friend is similar in size to you, you will push pins through fabric that is close to their body. Use caution. c:

Once you are ready to begin and someone is wearing the pants inside-out

  • First pin the waist band so it is the width you need it
  • Next pin up and down each leg as you like, as close to or far away as you want to give you either closer or further away fitting pants (think skinny jeans vs. straight cut jeans...unless you really want bell-bottom sailor pants. Hey, it's really up to you here.)
  • After pinning, take the pants carefully off with the pins still in place to make sure you can get out of the pants
  • Now put the pants back on. Yes, with the pins still in.
  • With your fabric-marking tool of choice, draw a line along your line of pins so that when you start sewing after you remove a pin you still have a reference guide
  • Now you can start sewing your pants. But be careful to feel the fabric on the underside and watch the fabric on top so you don't get lumps and bunches in your seams. These will show on the outside of your pants as puckers and you will have to seam-rip and re-sew to get rid of them.
  • Once you are done sewing along your lines, try on the pants inside-out again. Do NOT trim the seams just yet, just in case if you don't like the fit of the pants.
  • If you like the fit of your pants after the first try
    • Cut away the excess fabric, but leave at least half an inch extra fabric along the seam. This is just in case if you ever need the pants altered in the future so you CAN alter them instead of wishing you didn't cut the seams too close!
    • Finish off the raw edges of cut fabric with either fray check or a serger if you are lucky enough to have and know how to use one
  • If you do NOT like the fit of your pants, keep adjusting until you are happy with the fit
    • If you need to make the pants smaller in areas, pin and draw lines again as you had done before
    • If you realize you need to make areas wider, seam rip along the areas you want adjusted, pin, mark and sew as before
  • One more thing to keep in mind, you may need to add darts/adjustments to your pants at the corners where the front flap and sides of the pants meet. I needed to do this, mostly because my pants had pleats and when I took them out there was a bunch of extra fabric I needed to get rid of.
  • To create a dart
    • Have the pants on inside-out and pinch up the excess fabric
    • Pin where you will sew, and draw sewing lines if this helps
    • The dart should form a triangle
    • At the tip of the dart where you will sew off your fabric, do NOT back stitch. Instead, knot your loose strings together. This will cause the dart to lay flatter when ironed.
    • Finally trim off the extra fabric away from your seam and iron the seam open. But make sure to know what temperature to have your iron at or sometimes not even iron your fabric at all depending what your fabric is made of.
    • Psych! There's one more step, and that is to finish the raw edges of fabric around your seam. Fray check is your friend.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Remember to leave room at the cuff of the pants so your foot can go through. If your pants are stretchier, you can leave less space but try not to cut off your circulation!
  • For the ladies try not to sew the hip areas too tight unless your fabric has lots of stretch or else you will find problems when you try to take off or on your pants.
  • If you still want your pants to be tight in the hip/butt region, you may need to add alternate means to get in and out of your pants. A couple options are zippers or a lace-up back. Just remember with a lace-up back you may want to add a privacy panel so people cannot see your underwear. Or if you don't want to add that but use a bustle to cover up, that works as well.
  • You can also add elastic to your waistband to more easily get in an out of them or just to keep them up without needing a belt. (if your pants didn't already come with elastic - mine pants came with elastic in the band and I found it to be helpful)
  • The sky is the limit! Try out different things, don't be afraid of messing up and keep trying! You will eventually end up with a pair of pants that you will absolutely adore!

Step 13: Put on Your Newly-Made Pants and Be PROUD

With all the blood (possibly literally), sweat and tears you put in to your pants, you definitely deserve to enjoy them!

Pair your pants with Victorian boots, spats, bustles and other accessories to start your very own Steampunk outfit, or pair them with outfit pieces you already have. Go, be proud, and take tons of pictures!

I hope you enjoyed my tutorial. There are many MANY instructions inside, and I may have forgotten a step or two so do not hesitate to ask questions and I shall try to answer them as best as I can. I am by no means a professional seamstress and am self-taught, but trying to sew things for years I have picked up a trick or two along the way. Have a great day and happy sewing!

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