#AllButtsWelcome: To Scoop or Not to Scoop

Over on everyone’s favorite Sewstagram, a heated difference of opinions has been brewing: to scoop the crotch, or to leave that little curve alone, you rascal! Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a wide ranging variety of answers, from people who use the term “scoop the crotch” as a catchall for any type of crotch adjustment, to purists who believe that a designer’s work should be trusted without fail, to others who approach with caution, and those (myself included) who have no shame messing around with just about any shape, designer be damned.

My approach to patternmaking in general tends to be more “let’s try it and see what works.” I feel the best way to learn is often experimenting, seeing how things react based on your changes, and adapting as you go. In addition, most patternmaking books readily available in my part of the world, as well as instruction available at various levels, use drafting for a straight-sized Western/Caucasian body type: while the basic principles of adjustments themselves may be the same, further refinements and changes may be needed for other body types. (You can read further into my thoughts on the matter here.)

I was frankly surprised, and quite intrigued after reading further, how deeply opinionated folks can be on the subject of “Scooping the Crotch”. Leading me to think, what more perfect time than #AllButtsWelcome, to chat with a few folks about the whys and why nots?

But let me be clear — I’m not advocating one approach over another. I think it’s so important for people to learn on their own and make up their own minds. This piece is meant to offer a presentation of amuse-bouches, so people can taste, mull over, and figure out what approach might be right for them.

But first, what do we mean when we talk about scooping? According to most fitting books, including the one I link to most frequently, this terminology usually refers to dropping the curved line of a back rise, between the low hip point and the back crotch extension, in the interest of providing more room for the butt, if I may speak so freely. Common examples of why this pattern adjustment might be recommended can include: the pant rise seam is too far up and pressing into the flesh, or if the wearer needs more length in the rise, due to a lower / flatter mass / gluteus maximus. (This can also refer to changing the shape of a front rise, however the term more commonly refers to the back in fitting books.)

Diagram showing two examples of crotch shaping
Left side of image is a simplified example of a back panel piece, and the right side shows with a red dashed line where someone might “scoop,” or cut away, the back panel at the rise, to amend the shape of that curve. *Please note, image does not show further pattern changes that are usually required when a scoop is performed.

I wanted to reach out to a variety of different people, with a variety of backgrounds and experiences, ranging from ready-to-wear apparel manufacturing, to patternmaking, to home sewing, and talk about The Great Scooping Debate. I made up a questionnaire about Scoops, and other sundry pants fitting questions, and sent it out to some wonderful souls, who all generously agreed to lend their voice to this article. It is my hope that by reading more on the subject, our Gentle Readers will a) understand the issue more fully, b) be able to make up their own minds where they sit on the Scooping Spectrum, and c) gain greater insight into fitting bottoms, generally.

That said… drumroll please!

Introducing our All Star Panelist Lineup:

Collage showing three smiling faces and a rose
From left to right: Leila Kelleher, Lendrell Martin, Grace Jones, and Ithacamaven’s online avatar.

And, our All Star Panelist Lineup Viewpoints and Bios:

Indie Patternmaker: Leila Kelleher is a patternmaker, activist, and college biomechanics professor. Her independent pattern company, Muna and Broad, centres larger bodies in its approach to fit, design, and accessibility.

RTW Industry Professional: Lendrell Martin is a graduate of Drexel University’s Fashion Design program and created his namesake fashion line for men & women with an emphasis on jackets & outerwear. Lendrell also creates made to measure items, has represented the United States in international design competitions, and has over a decade of industry experience working for fashion brands.  Mentoring young men of color for career exposure and advancement is important to him and continues to support these effort through partnerships with several national organizations. Catch Lendrell on Making the Cut on Amazon Prime, starting July 16th, 2021.

RTW Industry Professional / Home Sewist Crossover: Grace Jones lives in Brooklyn with her husband and cat, and works in NYC as a technical designer for a garment manufacturer. She prolifically analyzes patterns and garments in her Instagram stories, and offers a unique perspective for the home sewist.

Home Sewist: IthacaMaven, who is continually inspired by Pantsuit Nation, has developed a fresh approach to pants fitting: a method termed #TopDownCenterOut that teaches sewers to fit pants by themselves.

First things first: who’s pro-scoop, and who’s anti-scoop?

Lelia: “Overall, I would have to say that I am anti-scoop. Or at least… anti- what I think most people’s fit issue is when they are advised to scoop. I am pro fix-that-crotch-curve though!”

Lendrell: “Pro-crotch scoop!!!”

Grace: “Ninety nine times out of one hundred, I am Team Anti-Scoop.”

Ithacamaven: “Generally anti.”

Let’s talk further about what “Scoop the Crotch” means — all of our panelists agreed that in their minds, scooping would refer mainly to the back rise.

Lelia: “I think that “scooping the crotch” means to remove some fabric from the curve of the crotch seam. I see it prescribed for “hungry bum”, when in many instances I think a crotch point extension would be more appropriate. Furthermore, “scooping” only, removes width from the pattern piece and if that’s not added back, it can cause further issues.”

Lendrell: “”Scoop the crotch” means to alter an original rise or crotch shape on a pattern. To adjust/widen the angle of the “U” shape created when you walk a front and back inseam of a pant together at the crotch, basically the shape of the rise that will sit between the wearer’s legs.”

Grace: ““Scooping the crotch” generally refers to reshaping the most curved section of the crotch in a way that deepens the curve and removes width from the pattern. The issue I have with this “method” is two fold. First, it removes fabric at the point at which the rise transitions from being a vertical seam to a horizontal seam, wherein it also turns a corner around the leg and moves from front to back / back to front. Because scooping the crotch is removing fabric at this point, it causes more strain on what is essentially a three-dimensional corner. Secondly, this “method” has been described as a solution from everything from fixing a camel toe to a low seat to a full bum. I have seen people say that something is wrong with their crotch and in the absence of certainty as to why or specifically what, they resort to scooping. The result is often a strangely shaped squiggly “L” seam. I adamantly believe that scooping cannot be a solution to every perceived crotch issue.”

Ithacamaven: ““Scooping” the crotch means changing the angle of the back rise and/or changing the curve of the crotch seam. It can be confused with a pattern alteration that involves using the crotch curve from a larger size in a multi-sized pattern.”

Why do you feel that your method is superior to the other?  Are there times when people might be justified in turning to the opposite school of thought?

Lelia: “There are definitely times when I’d scoop or unscoop (change the shape of the crotch curve) but that would be to change the amount of peach cupping (a technical term!) more often, in my practice.”

Lendrell: “I don’t necessarily feel it’s superior, just that the bodies I’ve fit on mostly seem to benefit from this school of thought/correction.”

Grace: “When I analyze the fit of the crotch, I rely on logic and my understanding of three-dimensional geometry. Patterns are flat/ two dimensional, but when cut and sewn from fabric, they become three dimensional. When trying to decide if I need a correction, I first always ask myself if the correction is to the length, circumference or depth (front to back), or perhaps a combination of them. The last one (depth) is the aspect that can be hard to visualize in the flat pattern, but it is directly related the crotch extension and the curve of the crotch. The basic measurements necessary for drafting pants that relate to the crotch are the waist, hip and thigh circumference, and the crotch depth. These measurements need to accommodate the wearer’s body measurements with intended ease. Assuming that they do, then the crotch extension (the part of the pattern goes between ones legs) needs to be wide/deep enough to accommodate the depth of the body from front to back. The amount of the crotch extension is a fraction of the hip measurement; the exact ratio depends on the intended style and fit.

I think this is where pattern makers can make mistakes. If the depth of the “saddle” (the “U shape the front and back rise create that the body sits in) from front to back is not wide enough for the body, it can feel like the crotch is pinching. In this case, I would sympathize with the inclination to scoop the crotch, as this does create more space in the saddle. However, it does not create more circumference in the hip. In fact, scooping the crotch curve removes fabric from the three-dimensional corner. If the pant is already a looser fitting garment with plenty of ease, this may not be a problem. However for close fitting garments this can cause strain at that three-dimensional corner, and if the hip circumference is then too small, the inclination is to add circumference back to the outer hip, but this distorts the out-seam in addition to the crotch curve, throwing the pattern out of balance.”

Ithacamaven: “More “scooped” crotch shapes result in the garment giving the appearance of a flatter rear ends, which can be a design intent or a personal goal of the sewer. But it also confines the bias area of the crotch curve to a smaller area with consequences depending on the type of fabric being used for the pant. Sewers scoop because information suggesting that it “works” is widespread, and it seems intuitive. Some scooping also comes from common pattern alterations and blending between sizes. Ann Rowley’s well-known “flat seat adjustment” to remove sagginess under the rear end is an example of this. The alteration results in a “scooped” crotch curve (and alters the balance of the outseam). It “works” in the sense that it makes the issue [excess fabric] go away in the same way that sweeping the problems under the rug make them go away. Depending on the style and the extent of the alteration, the consequences may have a negligible impact on other areas which explains why these types of alterations are successful in some cases and not in others. As much as you’d like to, sometimes you can’t just sweep problems under the rug!”

Always, there will be patterns out in the world that are not drafted correctly.  What is your best advice for how to look at / measure / visually critique a rise shape (front or back) before cutting fabric or a muslin?

Lelia: “Unfortunately, I think it comes with time and experience, and fitting garments on yourself.”

Lendrell: “Depending on the client build, using myself as example, having a higher butt projection for a guy, I typically will do a measurement cross check, along with a visual check of the shapes. So, if a back rise has too “straight” of an angle, I know it may require some tweaking in the long run. I would experiment up front if I’m going to make a muslin anyway.”

Grace: “A more relaxed style has more design ease, and this affects the angle of the front and back rise and how close to the body it is intended to be. The back rise in particular can vary a lot depending on the intended fit. Something relaxed like a palazzo or trouser have a lot of ease, and may have front and back rises that are almost completely vertical and may rely on darts and pleats to fit more closely at the waist. Contrast this with the back rise for jeans made of rigid denim where the fit is close to the body and the back rise becomes more slanted, relying on the bias stretch of the seam and the yoke and waistband shaping to fit the back side of the body attractively. Since the style of pant can influence the drafted shape of the rise, it is wise to be thoughtful about making changes to the angle of the rise and the shape of the curve.

One tip I have, is to take the pattern pieces and place the front and back inseam abutting, so that the shape of the saddle can be reviewed. Seeing the shape of the saddle can help to clarify how it relates to the shape of the body. I am personally becoming more critical of the height of the back rise in relation to the front rise. Due to the angle of my spine and waist, I often feel that the front rise is too tall and the back rise is too short. I have yet to settle on an ideal personal variance, but I’m working on it.”

Ithacamaven: “There are so many different styles of pants and trousers. In addition, expectations have changed significantly over time. I have a 1940s vintage pattern for trousers and the crotch seam line is shaped completely differently to anything you would see in a 21st century pattern, so it depends on the look one is creating.”

Diagram showing front and back pant pieces abutted at the inseam
Illustration shows how to align the front and back pattern pieces of a pant, in order to evaluate the “saddle” shape- the “U” created when the pieces are placed together gives an idea of how the pant will fit, depending on the style.

What are your top fit pet peeves when it comes to rise shaping?  (Either on patterns, or generic people-watching / street style.)

Lelia: “My absolute pet peeve is when the rise, depth, and shape isn’t appropriately adapted for larger bodies.”

Lendrell: “Butt munching rises! (Rises that are shaped without enough scoop)”

Grace: “Mono-Butt ™!! When one scoops the crotch in something closer or close fitting like slacks and jeans, this can be a sad (in my opinion) result. By removing fabric right at that corner, both sides of the rise must pull closer together, squeezing the cheeks together into one round shape. Stretch denim can handle the strain at the corner and the wearer may not feel the strain, but the shape of the rise becomes flattened around the back and causes the derriere to look less like a peach and more like an orange. It’s tragic… in my opinion.”

Ithacamaven: “Because fitting is so personal, it can be a very emotional process, particularly when it is frustrating and seems like guesswork. My pet peeve are pattern companies who are not transparent about sizing information and sewers online who seek fit advice without showing their pattern, pattern alterations and relevant measurements.”

Knowing that a lot of fit resources don’t take into account ethnic body types, realistic average heights, or larger bodies, is there any advice you have for making various corrections addressing fuller / flatter behinds and tummies?

Lelia: “I think the most important thing, is developing an eye to understanding what different changes in the different parts of the crotch curve do to the fit. For example, someone who has greater protrusion in the front, may require a front crotch point increase (i.e. increasing overall crotch depth but only in the front).”

Lendrell: “For black people, and men in particular, increasing crotch depth and saddle width usually makes for better fit in my experience, as most black guys, like women, have higher projection (rounder butts and fuller thighs).”

Grace: “Yes. Get to know your own body measurements and retake them often. The hip circumferences are of critical importance as it help ensure that the crotch extensions are deep/wide enough. The back extension should be equal to anywhere from 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 of the back hip circumference (plus or minus ease) depending on the intended fit. The front extensions should be equal to anywhere from 1/2 to 1/4 of the front hip circumference, plus or minus ease. More relaxed styles would have a wider crotch extension and close fitting styles would have smaller extensions.

To increase saddle width or lengthen the crotch depth, I like to trace a copy of the pattern to work with. Testing with a toile or muslin is always a good idea. Slash horizontally for crotch height changes. When slashing from the back rise to the side seam in order to increase the height of the rise, try spreading it out over several slashes, so that the back rise doesn’t gain a bump in middle of the seam. To increase the length of the crotch at the extension (depth change), slash vertically down from the crotch extension and spread to increase the extension width. Depending on the angle of the rise (front or back) I try to avoid slashing through the deepest part of the curve.”

Ithacamaven: “The principles of pattern alteration for fit are applicable across body types. Understand that pants and trouser fitting are a compromise where there are two pattern pieces have to simultaneously fit the lower torso and legs, with all the components this represents (waist, hips, stomach, rear end, thigh, knee, ankle). If you understand how the pattern works to create shape, you can alter the pattern to accommodate your unique shape.”

Lastly, do you have any tips or tricks that guide you through your own fit process, when it comes to pants / trousers? Anything that might be helpful to someone fitting themselves or a friend at home?

Lelia: “I would recommend making a toile/muslin cut with large seam allowances (3/4”-1”) and using a basting stitch. You can also baste in wedges or strips of fabric as required to test your hypotheses. Doing this even a single time will teach you so much about the way a crotch shape affects the 3 dimensional shape of pants. Once you have developed these skills I think you’ll be able to see what will work for your body in other pants patterns.”

Lendrell: “For myself and clients, always sit, move, tie a shoe in what you’re fitting. Give yourself a chance to “live” in what you’re fitting in real life.”

Grace: “I like to take pictures and short video clips of myself in my muslins to see myself from all angles. I have a tripod for my cell phone and I try to get at least ten feet away from it to avoid exaggerated angles. Seeing myself from the camera lens can help to clarify what I think I see in the mirror.

I also really wear my wearable muslins. This means I have a lot of pants that are too short in the inseam, but it doesn’t hurt to just live in something for a while, to really think about how the fit does and doesn’t affect the way one feels in a garment over the course of a day.”

Ithacamaven: “Social media, like Instagram, is great as a laboratory to see all types of bodies and inspiration. The hashtags that are the most useful I find, are: #PantsFitting, #SewingPants, #PantsPattern, #CrotchCurve, #TrouserFitting, #TrouserPattern, #PatternAlterations, #TrouserBlock, #ToilesandTribulations, #FittingPants, #PantsToile, #DIYTrousers, and #PatternGrading.

Also, keep good notes on your alterations that you can go back to and learn the process. A big help for me was when pdf patterns came along, so I could play around with shapes on the computer, making in silico mock-ups and practicing 3D thinking. This process has some of the appeal of origami with the added tactile element of fabric. Pants fitting by yourself is very doable. You need the ability to be able to look at your backside and being able to do so hands-free so you can see the impact of manipulations is a huge plus.”

Here are some other excellent resources for learning more about crotch shaping, and how it affects fit:

And there we have it, folks! An in-depth, long form chat about all things Scoop. Many, many thanks go out to our excellent and learned panel for sharing their wisdom and time. Thank you, Leila, Lendrell, Grace, and Ithacamaven! ❤️

How about you, Gentle Readers? Are you Pro-Scoop, or Anti-Scoop?

Gabby is a technical designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler. She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again. See her on instagram @ladygrift.

8/24/22- Edited Ithacamaven’s response to pro/anti-scoop stance due to contributor’s request.