Top Down Center Out with the Eve Trousers

When I first encountered the Top Down Center Out pants fitting method, I didn’t understand it. Why so much emphasis on the waistband? How am I going to get pants to fit if I can’t redraft the inseam, crotch curve, or leg angle? What about the balance? I’m used to slashing, spreading, and redrafting every pants pattern to fit me, and this method didn’t seem like it was going to be enough. Friends, I was wrong.

Top Down Center Out cracked my understanding of pants fitting wide open. It is an inclusive, body-neutral approach that works by fitting the pattern directly to the 3D landscape of your body, rather than identifying problematic body parts and adjusting for them. The method is based on the extensive scholarship and experimentation of Ruth Collins (@ithacamaven), and it offers a set of practical guidelines for how to choose your size, manipulate the toile to fit, and transfer the changes back to the flat pattern. 

Fitting with Top Down Center Out

I picked the Eve trousers by Merchant and Mills for my first foray into Top Down Center Out. Eve is a relaxed fit trouser with a high waist, cropped hem, and no side seam pockets. This pattern is available in two size ranges, up to a 122.5cm/48.2 inch hip and a 145.5cm/57.5 inch hip (note: the higher size range has an elastic back waist whereas the lower size range does not.) 

For this post, I’m focusing on what I learned by using the method and how it changed the way I think about fitting pants. The complete, stepwise instructions for Top Down Center Out are in the summer 2022 Threads issue (“The #TopDownCenterOut method for successful pants fitting“). Ruth’s Instagram is also a good source of information if you are new to the method. Additionally, I’ve saved a detailed walk-through of how I used Top Down Center Out to choose a size, prepare a trouser pattern, and fit a toile in my Instagram highlights (3 part highlight series called “TopDownCenterOut”). 

The first phase of Top Down Center Out is to fit the waistband by itself. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of this step, I certainly did. According to the Eve size chart, my waist measurement is between a size 10 and 12, but my customized waistband ended up between a size 12 and 14 because apparently I like a little more ease. If I had treated the waistband as an afterthought like I usually do, I would have made the waistband one size too small on the finished garment. This was the first major win for Top Down Center Out: a bespoke waistband that was guaranteed to be comfortable and stable.

Things really got interesting after constructing the toile. My one-legged Eve toile looked decent, and I had about ½ inch of vertical ease in the crotch seam with about 3 inches of ease at the hip, which seemed very wearable. But it also had the typical fit issues that I always see with pants: the grainline skewed inward and I had long drag lines in the back from the crotch to the knee. 

Normally, I would try a combination of adjustments to try and eliminate these issues: a back crotch hook extension, a full thigh adjustment, a knock knee adjustment. If I really got desperate I might resort to scooping the back crotch curve. The resulting pattern piece would be significantly different from the original. 

But with Top Down Center Out, all of those tools are off the table.  I could only adjust the fabric at the top and the sides of the pants. How could I ever make these pants fit? I didn’t think this experiment was going to work. 

Thankfully, Top Down Center Out gives you a structure for how to go about adjusting your toile, what to focus on, and in what order. You also can unpin and repin if your first adjustments don’t work, so you can iterate much faster because you don’t need to cut an entirely new toile each time.  After initially trying several large adjustments (1 inch increase in rise, for example), I discovered that to correct the issues I was seeing, I only needed a 3/8 inch increase in the front and back rise, tapering to nothing at the side seam (I also took in the side seam and lengthened the leg by 3 inches).

This seemingly inconsequential adjustment to the rise straightened the grainline and resolved the drag lines in back. And yet I’d only changed the pattern by mere fractions of an inch from the original draft.  How was this possible?

My theory for why this adjustment worked has to do with intended ease. The pattern was drafted with an assumption about how much ease there would be in the crotch seam. On my body, the trousers have less crotch ease than this intended amount, even though the crotch didn’t feel tight at all. By adding 3/8 inch to the rise front and back, I’m lengthening the crotch seam by a total of ¾ inch, and lowering the “saddle” of the pants, where the crotch hooks meet. Since I’m not adding length to the outseam, this adjustment also effectively lowers the inseam relative to the rest of the pants. And that pivots the leg, rotating it to correct the grainline. 

This example is proof that I’ve been dramatically underestimating the importance of the waistband and its role in fitting pants. Changes to the pattern around the waistband can affect the entire garment, which makes sense given that every major seam hangs from the waist. Even small changes at the top can have dramatic effects at the bottom.

Would my usual adjustments to the crotch hook, thigh, and leg angle have worked just as well as Top Down Center Out? Maybe, and I may do that experiment in the future. Top Down Center Out is not about replacing the traditional fitting methods (especially if they are already working well for you!), but more about providing an alternative for anyone who is frustrated by them. In my hands, the method was a more direct path to a well-fitting pair of trousers. And, in taking that path, I avoided reinforcing the idea that my body parts are problems to be solved. I wasn’t really focusing on my knees or my thighs, I was just making a pair of trousers that looked great. 

What is fit? 

All of this left me asking one big question, one that Ruth had posed to me rhetorically in my DMs as I was trying to wrap my head around what I had just done: What is fit? How do we define a “good fit” for a pair of trousers? Why do we define it that way?

For me, a good fit has always been: 1) comfort/ease of movement, and 2) absence of drag lines. The emphasis is usually on the former, but if I’m honest, sometimes the latter has equal weight thanks to the many popular pants fitting guides that tell us we must eliminate wrinkles to be successful. Top Down Center Out argues for alternative criteria instead of evaluating drag lines: preserving design intent. 

I didn’t understand this concept when I first started reading about it on Ruth’s IG. Design intent refers to the pattern designer’s overall vision for how the pants fit on the body. It’s the distribution and amount of ease and the precise way that the pattern pieces are drafted to come together around our curves.  Top Down Center Out advocates that respecting the design intent of a pattern is fundamental to the fitting process. 

I’ve been ignoring design intent because it didn’t seem relevant to me; it is impossible to preserve design intent if I’m using a body-part-centered approach to fitting. If I want the pants to fit, then I must fundamentally change the pattern because those are the only tools I’ve had up until now. It’s the classic “give me a hammer and everything looks like a nail” example. I’m so used to chopping up my patterns to correct for a flat seat or knock knees, that it seems preposterous that anything else could work. But Top Down Center Out opened another door. By preserving the intended amount of ease in the Eve trousers rather than redrafting them, I was able to achieve a great fit with not only minimal adjustments, but also minimal effort.

And here is where things fundamentally shifted for me.  I remembered the 1998 short story, “Story of your Life” by Ted Chiang (the basis for the 2016 movie, “Arrival”). I won’t spoil the story if you haven’t read it, but it has to do with the idea that the language you speak shapes the way you think and how you experience the world. Top Down Center Out feels like speaking an entirely new language for fitting. It redefines how to evaluate good fit. After practicing it just once, I gained a new respect for the pattern drafter’s intent and why it is so important when fitting. I changed my understanding of how pants work (it’s all about the waistband), and I no longer feel like my body parts have to get in the way of a good fit. I’ve only spent about a week with the method, but I’m positive that I’ll never look at pants fitting the same way again.

Top Down Center Out and other fitting methods 

The next question is: how and when does this method work with other fitting methods? A different way of asking this would be: what are the limitations of Top Down Center Out? Are there common fit issues or patterns that Top Down Center Out can’t handle? Having only used it once, I can’t answer this question, but there are hundreds of examples of the method working beautifully on a diverse range of body shapes and sizes. I am confident that the method is robust and well-validated.

As I mentioned above, one experiment I may do in the future is a head-to-head method comparison, revisiting old patterns that I’ve adjusted using other methods to see how Top Down Center Out compares.  I also plan to try Top Down Center Out on different types of pants, like jeans and slim-legged trousers, for example.  Both are challenging to fit successfully, but with Top Down Center Out, I find myself actually looking forward to the fitting process, rather than dreading it.

Above all, I think Top Down Center Out will be a valuable fitting tool in my collection, and I still have so much to explore about it. If you’ve been frustrated with other fitting methods, or if you are looking for a more accessible, inclusive entry point to successful pants fitting, give Top Down Center Out a try.

15 thoughts on “Top Down Center Out with the Eve Trousers”

  1. This method seems similar to tissue fitting that Patti Palmer made popular. I have just come across this top down center out method so I am just learning this method. Do they seem similar to you?

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    1. There are similarities to tissue fitting, yes — you are working with half of the pattern to fit in both methods, which works quite well. I think a big difference with Top Down Center Out is that you are working with fabric, rather than tissue, so you really get to see the drape of the cloth as you go and things like a slightly shorter back inseam (like the Eve trousers have) will contribute to the fit of the toile and help you evaluate it. Top Down Center Out also emphasizes changes to the toile primarily at the waistband and outseam, whereas the Palmer Pletsch method says you need to adjust for specific body parts wherever you see fit issues. It is an interesting comparison to think about, and you can be successful with either method.

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      1. Thank you for your insight. I am very intrigued by this method and will hopefully be able to put it into practice very soon. Thank you for your blog posts as well at the instagram posts and videos. I am devouring all of them as well as Ruth’s posts gearing up for trying this method.

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  2. I have been literally waiting for this blog post. Yet to read it in full, and I am sure I will have questions, but thank you for writing in such great detail. I have been intrigued about this method. The pants look fantastic. It’s a pattern I hope to visit soon, so thank you again!

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  3. Thank you for such a detailed review. I have been following you on Instagram and it has been a learning curve. I am looking forward to trialling this method again. I did try and got quite a good result, but can see where there is room for improvement in my method.
    Good looking trousers!

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  4. Thanks for this post and all your detail. I have struggled with making trousers from patterns and a self drafted block (under tuition) and don’t quite get the fit that I think I want. I have read a little about this method and didn’t quite ‘get it’ but this post has made it a bit clearer for me!

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  5. After religiously following your comparison of 2 indie pants patterns, I knew this would be a “thorough” and thoughtful review of TDCO. Thank you for sharing your process! Your drawings and commentary are so helpful. I would like to know if you feel the concept can be applied equally to elastic waist pants? They are definitely my go to at this stage of my life.

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    1. Yes, it can work for elastic waist pants! Ruth’s article mentions the option of using this on a stretch waistband. I think you’d still want to construct a mock waistband (elastic + casing, with seam allowance where pants would attach) for the fitting process, and I believe I’ve seen examples of elastic waist pants in the IG hashtag. Worth a try!

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  6. I am glad to have read your review of this method. I’ve been following Ruth for a while, and read all of the posts about TDCO on Instagram, but struggled to grasp the concept (I’ll admit I didn’t give it my full attention). This is, now, really clicking with me! I’ve got tons of fitting books, all for the purpose of pants fitting, and have taken a pants self drafting craftsy class (yikes! It took 8 toiles to get something wearable), but now I’m off to check out the method link because it’s looking like this method has a lot to offer. Those pants look awesome. I’m amazed at how little adjustment that took! Thanks for the post!

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  7. I’m fascinated by this, particularly because I feel like with traditional fitting methods I end up with relatively the same pant every time, instead of the pant the designer intended. Plus I have that same grainline shift in all my pants and never have been able to fix it. Very intrigued.

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    1. Yes! This is what I think is so cool about this method. I was starting to believe that there was only one type of trouser draft that fits me well, and everything else had to be modified to resemble that. But if you follow Ruth’s IG, that’s one of the main takeaways — there’s not just one crotch curve that fits you and one ideal pattern for your body — any pattern can fit on any body. It feels very liberating.

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