My last post I promised to tell you everything I learned about making pants. Well, I don't believe there is one "right" answer and I will also warn you that pants take practice and some trial & error (don't start with your most favorite expensive fabric for your first pair). I did make this pair that I haven't hemmed yet- I'm letting them (me) rest for a few days before I try them on again. If the fit is decent they'll get a hem and a button. I did like my idea of using a contrasting facing for the waistband. I thought it added some interest as well as some stability (the outer fabric is pretty stretchy and I used a cotton for the inside).
If you have no interest in making your own patterns, altering a commercial pattern is a viable idea. First warning: buy your pattern size by the measurements shown on the pattern, not your ready-made pants size. I was looking through my old patterns and I used to sew off of a size 12 Vogue pattern and that's when I was young and skinny and wore an 8 from the store. We won't even discuss what pattern size I would have to buy now, but just be forewarned- pattern sizes were based on some crazy sizing scheme from the 1930's or something. (Or in reality, ready-made clothes went on their own sizing binge.) The why isn't important, just pay attention to the measurements. Also, you still need to know something about what makes pants fit to size them properly unless for some reason you happened to be the model they used for the pattern. Towards that end, Reader's Digest New Complete Guide to Sewing has several pages devoted to reading patterns and altering them appropriately. And page 46 on adjusting the crotch would have served me well on the linen pants I started that will never see the light of day.
If you've never made a pair of pants before, this is where I would start. The patterns just take care of some things like your darts and zippers without you having to figure everything out. But even if you are a very advanced apparel sewer, there is no shame in starting with a commercial pattern. I think you can still get great results and if you are familiar with the pattern brand, can make the same alterations from pattern to pattern.
A side note on the Reader's Digest book. It is a great all-around reference for sewing apparel. It has excellent drawings and explanations for various collars, waistbands, buttonholes, zippers, pockets and other techniques.
The other method worth experimenting with is taking a pair of pants that you really like the fit and tracing them onto paper. Of course, if the fit isn't perfect, you're going to have to adjust your pattern again. I tried that on the aforementioned linen pants. I encountered a couple of problems. The pants I traced were a much different style than I wanted to make, so I traced and adjusted the pattern by guessing. (Widening the waistband, making it a side zip pant versus front.) That didn't even cause the biggest problem. The second problem was that my front and back crotch seam didn't match at all, so I had to do some adjusting on the fly and then I got to messing with the crotch until I made the pants too tight in the rear. Will that pattern work? Yes, if I go back and adjust it based on the messed up pair of pants. So this method requires a "trial pair" and pattern alternation. Again, if I had read page 46 of the Reader's Digest book before I started messing with the crotch, I might have been able to salvage the pants.
The other method I tried is taking my measurements and drawing a pattern from scratch. And I have to say, it was not as difficult as I would have thought and again, helped me understand better how pants fit. Of course, I didn't do this without help. The book, How to Make Sewing Patterns by Donald H. McCunn was a great resource for this. I had been threatening to "read" the book for weeks now (yawn), but surprising never got to it. But the great thing is that I didn't need to read the entire book-- I just turned to his chapter on "The Basic Pants" and started following his instructions for laying out the pattern. I then made a muslin pair of pants, adjusted the pattern accordingly, and finally went to "real" material. That is the brown pair of pants above. I haven't declared those pants a success yet, but I feel like they are very close. The only part of his patterns that I question (and it may just be my shape), but he recommends moving the front side seam out 3/4" and the back side seam in 3/4" to "give the pants a more pleasing appearance". I found it just moved the side seam off center. I highly recommend this book if you want to make your own apparel patterns as it is easy to follow and only $24.95 on Amazon.
After all that, I don't think any method is better than the other. All three methods take time and require fitting adjustments. And I would highly recommend a "throw-away" pair for any of the methods-- especially the two where you draw your own pattern. Commercial patterns do take some of the detailed work out (the darts, pockets, etc.), but as you make more pants, you'll want to change the details, so it is nice to be able to draw your own patterns.
After all this work, I am reminded why I accept ill-fitting pants from the Gap for $25! However, it would be nice to have a pair or two of nice-fitting pants. And I will get there! If you are a pants expert (or have a book by one) please post your secrets to great pants! (And being a size 2 with a small rear-end doesn't count as the secret!)