What is a gusset? pt.2

The many comments and illustrations (thank you Carol!) posted in comments to Tuesday’s entry make me want to step back from this just a bit- to revisit some earlier topics on this site. With respect to Tuesday’s entry, a lot of confusion could be cleared up with a re-reading of the camel toe entries, particularly this one because wad and camel toe are but two sides of the same coin. Really, they are.

Then I find I should have followed up with an old entry in which I posed the question, what is a gusset? (which was inspired by this thread in the forum) but I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the comment responses (to the blog entry). It seems there remains a bit of disagreement as to what a gusset is. For many people, a gusset can be a join piece that really doesn’t do much more than move seams to a different location. For example, many would describe the crotch piecing in women’s panties to be a gusset. In my perhaps erroneous thinking, this is an extension or bridge piecing, joining the front to the back. We cut the crotch separately -if you think about it- more as a way to improve fabric utilization than a fitting function. Perhaps removing the seam also provides a bit of comfort too but it doesn’t extend the range of motion which I think is implicit in gusset definition.

As I’ve said previously, I think

A gusset is an insert of fabric bounded on all sides that serves to extend range of motion or fabric area. With this definition, the crotch of a panty isn’t a gusset because the crotch isn’t joined on two sides, only the front and back. The extension or trim edge (albeit functional) on a diaper is basically the same thing.

The jeans I described in Tuesday’s entry seem to be the seam displacement sort of gusset (not wholly but we’ll go with that). In other words, the traditional four way seaming of front and back pieces and leg bifurcation has been cut away, its area substituted with a diamond shaped piecing. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, quite the contrary because seam stressors have been removed from one spot and replaced with four offset stress points which are less likely to cause fit distress.

This is the crazy thing, I’m not certain that a gusset -the kind that extends range of motion as opposed to one that shifts seams around- even needs to be a separate piece. I have a quarter scale draft (more of a drawing really) that has a built in gusset in the crotch. I’m almost afraid to show it to you; it’s one of those crazy ideas you don’t want to tell anyone about lest they think one has taken leave of their senses. I developed it because I wondered about something having nothing to do with any of this… specifically, why is the bottom of zipper extensions in pants, curved? Why? It makes no sense if you think about it, none at all. Forget that it is tradition and we’re all so used to looking at it that we can’t imagine any other way -but it’s not useful. Sure, we’ve found ways to make it work, designed our methods around it but I’ve come to the conclusion that the curved edge is what amounts to a sort of drafting vestigial tail. That the curve formerly had another purpose in an age when we didn’t even use zippers because they weren’t invented yet. The most obvious thing is to do some research by examining old garments (I suspect civil war era pants or earlier) but I don’t have access to things like that.

I think the thing to do is for me to clean up these drawings or better yet, sew up a tiny little sample and have Carol illustrate the pattern for you because I think the curved end of the zipper stand in pants was a built in gusset at one time. Then you all can laugh at me. ~sigh~

In the meantime, we can continue the discussion I abandoned a year ago. Specifically, do you think a gusset is a gusset because its a separate piece that works to displace seams and lower fabric costs or do you think a gusset is a feature that extends the range of motion and even, that it need not be a separate piece from the body of the draft? I eagerly await your opinions…

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  1. theresa in tucson says:

    I agree with Terri, range of motion.

    As to the curved extension, in older tailoring books the fly opening is much longer and goes into the curve so I think we’ve just been copying that curve even though the modern fly is shorter. You could certainly square off the topstitching and make a rectangular fly shield but if the stitching isn’t perfect, wouldn’t it be glaringly obvious? I have a Laughing Moon pants pattern that was copied from a late 1800’s sample. I think I will dig out the insructions and take a look.

  2. Whatever it is, it requires extra sewing.

    Range of motion is a common reason to incorporate a gusset, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between that and improving fabric allocation. In traditional garments very close to 100% allocation is achieved by fitting t-shaped garments with underarm gussets. Modern garments provide range of motion without gussets, but fabric allocation sucks. (Sure, vestigial gussets might remain in the modern set-in sleeve pattern, but I don’t call ordinary modern sleeves “gusseted” for all that.) So is the underarm gusset in the traditional garment there to improve fabric allocation or wearability? I just don’t see how you would pick one or the other.

    If it requires extra sewing I’ll let you call it a gusset even if it’s partially attached to a main piece. Is that fair?

    For our next exercise we will decide whether Morocco is in Africa or on the Mediterranean, and whether Lebanon is part of the Middle East or of Asia.

  3. Jen in NY says:

    Interesting theory about the zipper extension curve. If I remember correctly–from a historical costume class I took something like 25 years ago–the legs on pants used to be separate in about Medieval to Renaissance times. (Hence, the cod piece). So it would make sense that some sort of bridge-the-gap gusset piece developed from that basic construction. The gusset/modesty panel then eventually evolved into our one-piece pants with fly/zippers. Sleeves used to be separate pieces too, and they were tied on to the garment. The tie-on sleeve to sewn-on sleeves progression would be a similar development, but of course, without the need for the zipper in that area…

  4. dosfashionistas says:

    Range of motion. It seems as though there should be an industry label for small pieces added in for better fabric usage, but I have no idea what you would call them.

    Re the previous post: I did not think of the extra fabric I introduced into the depth of the crotch as a gusset. It was an alteration for fit, not movement.

  5. Terri says:

    Regarding the fly extension,in menswear,the fly facing and extention were, and still are mostly sewn on, not grown on and the fly pieces extended right to the inseam. The shape had to be wide enough to allow for buttonholes in the buttonhole piece, and then narrow down to reduce the bulk below the fly notch. The top stitching to hold all of this in place generally followed the shape of the pieces, but on the inside, the ends of the fly pieces were finished and stitched in place by hand.
    I think since then at some point the long tail of the fly piece was done away with and the top stitching holding the facing back was truncated and a curve probably made visual sense.
    Its only a small jump then to a grown on zipper facing with a curved edge as it mimics the shape of what it used to be.

  6. Maripat says:

    Coming from an alterations perspective, I agree that it is a piece of fabric separate from the main garment. In my case, I am right in the middle of adding gussets to a bridesmaid dress. The girl is 6 months pregnant and needs extra room in the RTW dress in order to accommodate her belly. Although this is a rather extreme case, I frequently will add a gusset to the side seam area to allow the garment to fit better, or actually, to fit, period. I guess this might technically fall in the “range of motion” category. I wouldn’t consider this kind of gusset to be a design feature though, but more a necessity in getting better fit in a RTW garment.

  7. I am sending a sketch to Kathleen e-mail
    The only Gusset for bottoms that comes to my mind is the Crotch Inseam Gusset to extend Bk rise to create needed room for the body between Frt and Bk Rise and to achieve better fabric utilization.

  8. Anir says:

    I’ve seen, patterned and cut gussets in one with another garment piece, so Kathleen’s idea and, probably, draft is not crazy at all. It really depends on the what you want and need whether cutting it in one will work well or not.

  9. Liz W. says:

    I believe gussets were used historically to facilitate fit and reinforce seam joins a well as enhance ROM-look to 18-19th C men’s shirts where the neck opening is constructed from a straight slit in the fabric. Two small triangular gussets make the opening curve and protect the weak point.

  10. Laura says:

    To me a gusset is an extra piece to improve range of motion. My crotch gussets are cut on the bias, allowing me to have narrower legs in pants and still kick up to my shoulder.

    I cannot imagine cutting a gusset in one with another piece. Lack of experience.

  11. Paula Hudson says:

    I agree that Katherine’s idea is NOT crazy, and, in fact, would love to delve more into this. I immediately imagined dance pants with a cut-in gusset, reducing seaming and inherent stresses on seams! I love the idea and would happily participate in any way with the experiment. If you need me to do mock-ups, I’m happy to volunteer. And I’ll volunteer my husband to explore the male dancer opinion. I can give the female dancer opinion. My husband wants a very fitted pair of comfortable dance pants. The only possible way I can see to achieve this goal is gusseting.

    I’m in the gusset is a range-of-motion issue in a fitted garment. In non-fitted garments, it seems they aren’t for function, but a matter of either history or a design element.

  12. Paula Hudson says:

    Hmmm…had to append…. A gi (as Alison pointed out previously) aren’t fitted, but require a gusset. This I should know as my daughter is a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Tai Kwon Do!!! So another chalk mark in the ROM tally.

  13. vee says:

    Range of motion

    How is the fit?

    I would have actually wear the regular crotch and the gussett to find out which is more comfortable.

  14. Susan Wright says:

    I’d say both range of motion and fit. I’m thinking about my workout pants. They have a gusset and I would not buy anything that didn’t. My reasoning is that we are not inverted V’s at the crotch. It’s more like up, across a bit, then back down.

    So from a range of motion perspective, I think having a gusset is a little like moving the armhole closer to the armpit for greater ROM in that the edge of the gusset aligns with the top of the leg on each side.

    As for fit (or perhaps it is comfort although I think the two are equivalent), a V intersection at the crotch of the pants cuts into places I don’t want cut into. The gusset keeps it smooth in that area.

  15. Paul says:

    An underarm gusset would be primarily used to increase the range of motion without the sleeve shortening when the arm is raised. A crotch gusset would probably be more for the comfort factor, i.e. bicycle pants. Imagine riding a racing bicycle with a crotch seam and one with a gusset that displaces the seaming to the upper inner thigh. Which do you think is going to be more comfortable for a race like the Tour de France? This example also increases the range of motion and conforms the pants more closely to the body shape in the crotch.

  16. Barb says:

    I have a major pet peeve with styles that have what looks like a crotch gusset, but is really 2 separate pieces with a rise seam, and/or are cut on grain (non stretch fabric). There are a fair amount of outdoorsy pants like this on the market. It looks to me that some designer copied a look they liked, but had no idea the gusset was there for a reason. A well cut gusset does vastly increase ROM for someone who is skiing, rock climbing or doing something that requires a high step like that. Moving seams for comfort is more subjective, but that can be valid too. My fit models have differing oppinions about that and it also varies greatly depending on the style.

  17. Katherine says:

    The shorts I buy my husband are made by an Australian company that make a lot of rugged work wear. They don’t curve the zipper extension or flyshield and they don’t sew a curve in their topstitching…since seeing theirs, I don’t curve mine either, mostly because I’m less likely to have less-than-perfect top-stitching if there is no curve.

    I always thought that gussets were for range of movement, as I have only seen them in the crotch of pants and under the arms. I thought that it was cut as a separate piece, to utilise the bias of the fabric, allowing for more movement.

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