Let’s talk about gussets

Let’s all take a moment to talk about gussets – crotch gussets in particular, and what they can and can’t do, because there is just so much misinformation floating around about them. A gusset is a separate piece of fabric sewn into a seam, most commonly seen on underarms (especially in vintage styles) and on the crotch of trousers.

The purpose of a gusset is to increase the range of motion of the limbs nearby – so in the case of the vintage blouse, its because a dolman sleeve doesn’t really allow the arm to raise naturally due to the shape of the bodice/sleeve piece and the limitations on the non-stretch fabric. So a small gusset is added to the underarm will allow the wearer to raise her arms. The same principle applies to crotch gussets – the purpose of a crotch gusset is to increase the range of motion of the legs.

A crotch gusset will not magically fix a bad fit – if your leggings are fitting poorly, you need to address the fit issue, not add in a gusset. It’s kinda like papering over a large crack in your wall and hoping the underlying structural issues are now resolved! You can also use gussets to disperse bulk at seam intersections with heavy fabrics – so if you’ve got a very thick sweatshirting, it may not be comfortable to have four sets of seam allowances converging at your crotch, for instance. But for the vast majority of people, the term “gusset” should be synonymous with “range of motion”.

Again, for those at the back: Gussets are for range of motion, not for fit.

I decided to add a crotch gusset to the Yoga Bottoms design in my book for several reasons. First and foremost is that yoga requires the legs to go through a wide range of motions, so a crotch gusset here will limit the strain on the fabric in order to get into poses like our athlete model Jade is showing here!

Secondly, “Does your [insert name here] pattern have a crotch gusset?” is one of the most common questions I get asked, and I wanted to show people how easy it is to add a crotch gusset onto any pair of leggings. So now I can just refer these people to page 104 of my “Sew Your Own Activewear” book, bwahahah.

My own motives nonwithstanding, let’s think about various sports and exercises and think about the range of motion the legs go through and if you think a crotch gusset is necessary…

  • Yoga? ✔️ Lots of range of motion needed here!
  • Running? ✖️ Nope – your legs move back and forth a lot, but the range is not very wide
  • But what about track events like hurdles and long jump? ✔️ Sure, here the legs have to spread very wide apart when striding, much more than in normal running!
  • Cycling? ✖️ Your legs don’t move very far from the hips, and its likely a pad will be used overtop of the crotch seam intersection, too.
  • Climbing? ✔️ Yes! This is probably the sport where the most range of motion is needed.

As climbing is a great example of when you need your legs to move in extreme angles – one moment you’re spread-eagled with your legs almost in the splits, and the next you might have your knee even with your face – you can sometimes find crotch gussets much, much larger than usual in climbing-specific bottoms. It’s not unusual to have climbing crotch gussets that reach down to the knees – much larger than needed for yoga!

Luckily, it’s easy to increase the size of the gusset in the Yoga Bottoms if you need a greater range of motion than I’ve called for in the instructions. In Step 5 of the Pattern Change instructions, simply change the angle of your cuts to the Front and Back to reach further down the inseam. In the book I suggest 5cm (2in), but you could double this (or even further) to accommodate further range of motion.

Changing the size of the gusset doesn’t impact how you sew it, either. In my book I use a method where you can do it all on your overlocker (serger), so you don’t end up with one side looking wonky and the other perfect (as I’ve seen in some other activewear pattern instructions). And of course, you can use these same gusset instructions on any of the other bottoms in my book, too, so if you like the pockets and design of the Active Leggings, for instance, you can use the Yoga Bottoms instructions to add a crotch gusset onto those, too.


Add Yours
  1. 1

    Trail running requires a lot more range of motion, as you often have to negotiate obstacles, climb over tree trunks, jump creeks, etc. I also love gussets for removing the camel toe look as well!

    • 2

      You must do a lot more leaping on your trails than I do on mine (English trails are mostly mud, some filler!). If you’re experiencing camel toe, it’s a sign that you need a longer front crotch curve – adding a gusset without fixing this first is exactly what I was referring to about papering over a bad fit! Feel free to add a gusset after fixing the fit issues if you need it for movement, but using a gusset with a too-short front curve is just going to leave a wedge of fabric that’s still too tight in that area…

  2. 5

    What Melinda says too ๐Ÿ™‚ I put gussets in running leggings too – to reduce friction … love gussets (but I only adapt a pattern once Iโ€™ve got the fit right – then I add a gusset)

  3. 7

    Not forgetting martial arts either! Even the baggy gi trousers have a crotch gusset. Though I guess that because theyโ€™re woven – Iโ€™ve got away with training in suplex leggings / shorts without popping any seams.

    • 8

      I was just thinking about martial arts too! My karate gi trousers are basically two rectangles with a gusset providing all the shaping. The gusset goes to the knee, roughly. There are other people at karate with a gusset that doesn’t taper to nothing at the knee, but continues all the way down to the hem. I *think* it’s partly because the main bit of the trousers has the vertical grain going vertically, but the gusset has the horizontal grain going vertically. If you imagine the stretch you need for a high kick, the gusset is allowing you to take advantage of the “give” that you get in the fabric horizontally but not vertically.

  4. 11
    Yolanda bravery

    I can’t wait for your book, I always have fit issues with RTW – I’m sure this book will cure these problems (especially camel toe!!!). It’s my birthday on 2nd of February so it will be a perfect present for me!

  5. 12

    hi, I am completely fed up with pijama pants going into my crotch, the same with jeans, can this be used for other type of trousers as well? how much of a leg width I would have to add? would you have any idea?
    sorry for questions but I have never ever in my life made anything on sewing machine myself ๐Ÿ™‚ but want to start somewhere.

    • 13

      Anita, you certainly can put a gusset in PJ pants, and it would make them really comfortable to wear. Maybe not so good with jeans, as you would be able to see it and it would change the traditional jeans look and fit. PJ pants are a good starter project, although you may need an experienced sewer to guide you through putting a gusset in. And practice on scrap fabric first. Good luck!

      • 14

        thanks for replying so lightning-fast! But this sounds like she’s having fit issues, not the need for a gusset!! Also, you can totally have gussets in jeans – check out the legendary Chuck Norris vintage ad, or have a look at “climbing jeans” online, they’re pretty cool if you need to do those high kicks! ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • 15

          A gusset in pyjamas is for comfort and extra movement, particularly if you’re a restless sleeper. It’s not going to be for fit, as they’re loose.

          Good info on the jeans, I did mean to mention checking fit first but got distracted… I’ll go google the Chuck Norris and climbing jeans – have never seen a gusset in jeans before!

    • 16

      If your trousers are all bunching up into your crotch, this is a sign that your crotch curve is too short, NOT that you necessarily need a gusset! This is exactly what I’m talking about when I say “Gussets are for range of motion, not fit!”. Anita, you need to lengthen your crotch curve and work out your fit issues, not jump straight into adding a gusset!

      Luckily, I’ve got this exact fitting issue covered in the book (along with a bunch of other common ones) with diagrams of how to fix it. And in the Yoga Bottoms chapter there are illustrated instructions on how to add a gusset, should you find yourself doing gymnastic moves while you’re sleeping. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. 17

    I am trying to understand crotch fitting for the nearly 60 year old female body with the issue of less collagen resulting in a droppy butt. RTW Doesn’t fit the new changed older bodyshape. Pants hang with excess folds of material down the inner thighs. This is a fiititting nightmare for so many women. I have been wondering if the gusset could be utilized to get better fit with less excess material. Alowing a skinnier cut leg in woven fabric.

    I have figured out that the crotch shape very much impacts the baggieness but I cant find anyone really knowledgeble to get good answers to design a pants pattern that would really fit well. I found a pair of my dads wool ski pants from possibly the 40s and it had the long bias crotch gusset. I remember wearing them 20 years ago and they were so comfortable. I liked them better than leggings that were often short wasted back then. II saved them because I always immagined copying them.

    Do you think that a gusset could be used to get a closer fit that doesn’t constrict the upper thigh?

    • 18

      Hi Robyn. As I said in bold in this post, “gusset are for range of motion, not for fit”. If you’re having fitting issues, you need to address that – a gusset will at best paper over the problem. I talk through a range of fitting issues in my book, but I’m fairly certain “Pants For Real People” goes in depth on this very same fitting issue (I don’t have my copy to hand to double check). Fix the fitting issue and THEN assess if you need extra range of motion in the legs. Hope this helps!

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