Some Thoughts About Sewing Leggings


I’ve been wearing leggings more these past two winters.  I love how warm they are under my skirts.  The fit though, often leaves something to be desired, so I decided to try making my own.  Good decision!  These are totally the comfiest pair I own.  I’m more than a little behind on sharing them, but the plus side of that is I can already report that I took them with me on our spring and summer travels last year, and they served me really well as a base layer under dressier clothes when the weather at shows was chilly, for hiking, and as PJs when camping in cooler weather.


green wooly leggings 4


I used the Espresso pattern from Cake.  I love that it’s designed so that you transfer your measurements in both length and width right to the pattern to make your own custom size.  Overall the amount of ease the pattern added worked great for me.  These fit just how I’d like them to: not too tight or constricting, not to loose or wrinkly, but like a second soft wooly skin.  The only problem I had with the way this pattern is drawn out is that it doesn’t allow for curves between the booty and waist.  One look at my body would tell you that a straight vertical line in this area isn’t going to cut it.  After a couple of iterations I ended up taking a huge curving dart out of the center back seam, from the waist down to nothing at the widest point.  But since the fabric is stretchy and I basted the seams together first, it wasn’t hard to do.  (I highly recommend basting the seams if you’re making your first pair.  Long straight stitches are just amazingly easier to pull out than zigzag.  Once I had the fit I wanted, I trimmed the seam allowances to match the new seams, pulled out the basting, and sewed the seams with a narrow zigzag.)


green wooly leggings 2


Once that was settled, I tried them on and marked with pins where I wanted the waistband to sit.  I just don’t like constriction, especially elastic, around my natural waist, and I tend to cut the waistbands of trousers and skirts so that they sit just below my belly button.  I knew that I wanted the leggings to sit a little below that, so they’d layer well with the rest of my wardrobe.


green wooly leggings 3

I would NEVER wear only these in public, or show you my booty in leggings on the internet.  And I just need to get this off my chest, because I keep wanting to say it to young women I see on the street: leggings aren’t pants!  But somehow, I’m OK with you seeing the fit on the dressform, even though the whole point of this dressform is that it’s as close to my actual shape as possible … go figure. 


I decided to add a wider waistband, which I hoped would make the top more stable and also give it a little more recovery.  I cut two pieces about an inch less wide than the leggings are at the top, and 3″ deep.  I sewed those pieces together, and then to the inside waist of the leggings, also including clear elastic in the top seam.  Then I flipped the waistband to the outside and zigzagged it in place just over the raw edge, and again at the top just under the seam allowance.  I didn’t want the bulk of another turned-under edge at the bottom, and it’s worked out pretty well, the fabric has fluffed up only slightly around the cut and sewn edge.

But, they didn’t stay up.  To be clear, I don’t blame the pattern at all for this, since I was off on a choose-your-own-waistband adventure by this point in the process, all learning around the waistband issues is my own responsibility.  And I did fix it; after considering taking things apart and/or adding more elastic, I decided to try a thin ribbon drawstring, a trick that’s worked for me in the past on a strapless elastic top.  Since I already had a small channel at the top of the waistband from the topstitching, I cut a tiny hole there at each side of center front on the inside, and reinforced it with a little hand stitching around.


green wooly leggings 5


Then I used a little safety pin to thread the ribbon around.  When I’m wearing these, I tighten the ribbon to the fit I want, and tie it in a firm bow.  Sometimes by the end of the day, I get ever-so-slightly irritated by the one fairly tight, unmoving place around my hip.  But would I gladly trade that for leggings that stay up all day, exactly where I want them, with no dropping crotch?  Yes, yes I would, quite happily.  And when I make another pair, I may experiment with some stronger elastic at the top.

This fabric is mostly wool, with a little stretchy stuff, from The Fabric Store LA.  They have the best selection of fine wool knits I’ve found (also where I got the lovely stuff for these tops).  It’s a bit vague on the site whether or not their swatching service is up and running, but it totally is, just call them and tell them what you’re looking for.  Last time I got a generous selection of organic wools and leggings-appropriate fabrics.  I went with the pattern recommendation of minimum 5% lycra/spandex added, and chose this green with black, double layer knit.  This is about as thick a fabric as I would use, as you can’t avoid a few wrinkles around the knees, etc., but they’re wonderful to wear!  I love the slightly plush inside of this fabric, it makes the leggings even cozier and comfier.


green wooly leggings 6

Putting a little tab of ribbon at the back is another idea of Steph’s I like!


I’m definitely a sew-your-own-leggings convert.  A fit this good is hard to argue with.  After years of knowing that the only way to get pants/trousers to fit my legs & booty was to make my own, I’m kind of surprised that it wasn’t more obvious what a difference custom-fit leggings would make … but there you have it.  Plus they only take a yard of fabric (on me), have only one main pattern piece, and once you have the fit down they would make up lightning fast.  What’s not to love?

Update: for what I figured out about elastic at the waist in next versions, and making these from repurposed sweaters, click here.



13 thoughts on “Some Thoughts About Sewing Leggings

  1. The leggings look really nice! I’m impressed. I agree that leggings are not pants and it’s very tiring to see all those bumpy rear ends in public! Hee hee. Like running around in underwear! But at least we have that little freedom to wear what we wantbin public.. Oh well.😀

  2. Awesome! Those are absolutely perfect, and I love the fabric. Try finding a wool blend pair of leggings out there that don’t cost an arm and a leg – not happening. Love your do-it-yourself fixes. You’re amazing!

    • Ha, thanks! I think I’m just brave or crazy enough to go ahead and try things … but I know what you mean about buying wool leggings! This is definitely one place where we actually save money by sewing. Plus I’ve had weird fit issues with even supposed quality/pricey brands, like the legs being clearly too short for my short-legged figure—what the heck?

  3. I love the expresso pattern too. I made mine quite high waisted though. Which is fine under dresses etc. But my next pair I want to be slightly lower
    Interesting alterations you made. I love the look of the waistband. 👍

  4. Thank you for sharing your legging making journey. I made a pair of Kwik Sew yoga pants which I really like but can’t decide if I want to make a second pair and continue the tweeking process to make them perfect. I admire your desire to make another pair.

    • I’m usually all about the second pair, or the third, or whatever … I always feel like the most work is the fitting on the first go-round, and after going through all that my reward is to make another well-fitting thing with much less trouble! Sometimes I fantasize about being able to cut and sew a pair of pants straight through, without even worrying about trying them on to check the fit. Probably that won’t ever completely happen, since fabrics behave so differently, but I love getting to the point with a pattern where I don’t have big fit worries, and I can concentrate more on the process of sewing, which I love.

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  7. thanks so much for this! i live in leggings under skirts all winter and considered making some new ones recently when my smartwools all got way too many holes. i chickened out (and also can’t say i had the time to play and tweak) so i found some nice organic cotton / responsibly made ones, but i am now feeling empowered to try making some for next winter! i hadn’t considered using thrifted sweaters for this, but will try that too now that i can see where a seam can be made to make that quantity of fabric work. taking an idea from a toddler legging pattern i’ve seen, i also might try to find some spandex/cotton for the waistband in lieu of using elastic.
    thanks again for another great tutorial with photos of your process!

    • Thanks Janice, I really appreciate the thoughtful comments you write! Even with tweaks these are pretty simple/quick to make, and I predict you’ll love the custom fit if you give them a try … if you use another fabric for the waistband I’d be curious to know how that works out!

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