June 25, 2012

Eventual Success(ish)es

In my last post at the Sew Weekly, I mentioned that I wanted to make tap pants. Probably as my next project.

Actually, I've been wanting to make tap pants (also known as French knickers) since I found out that such things existed. I can't remember the last time I wore a skirt without a slip underneath, but sometimes even a slip feels inadequate in the modesty-making department--like when you're biking in a shortish, very lightweight, half-circle skirt, which is exactly what the dress I just made has. I wound up wearing an existing pair of bloomers with it, and they got the job done, but weren't quite right. So I figured what better reason to go ahead and make some tap pants?

And I actually got right to it. Over the weekend, I made not just one but two pair.
set 1 cu
There are several pattern/tutorials online for tap pants or similar garments. But most of them have elastic gathered waists, which I thought would be too bulky under a close-fitted waist. I have some paper patterns for regular shorts and trousers that have flat waists, but they all accomplish that with darts, and I didn't want to do darts in what is essentially lingerie.

So I started with a pattern from Vera Venus, for 1930s-style circular French knickers. (It comes as a free PDF, with instructions for drafting to your own size.) The pattern is, essentially, a circle skirt with a gusset for the crotch. Even though I somehow made the waist several inches too big, and (predictably) did a terrible job with the gusset, I really like the pattern. I think that if I'd done things properly and used a less stiff fabric, these would be really nice. As is is, I actually think I used the wrong fabric in both cases (albeit for different reasons). With these, I think that even if my gusset insertion were perfect and smooth, the fabric is too stiff to drape nicely.
set 1
This was also the only way I could get them to photograph at all nicely. Just imagine there's no drape.
I initially wanted to make the tap pants out of chambray, for a really exact match with my dress. (As you can see with this first pair, I bound all the edges with more striped bias tape.) Of course, though, even including the scraps I had left over from a previous project, I had nowhere near enough for even one leg. The only other light blue I had in my stash was this smooth, semi-shiny, almost waterproof-looking (it's not actually waterproof; I checked) stuff that I was pretending I thought was taffeta, but now actually think is taffeta. It matches the description in the Simplicity Fabric Guide exactly, and it's extremely similar to a vintage slip I have that's actually made of taffeta. It even makes the noise. Since it was the right color, and since I had a taffeta slip that seems to work (and also because I couldn't imagine making anything else with it in the near future) I decided to use the stuff.

The taffeta--for ease of description let's just assume it really is that--does not drape well, even on the bias. I mean, it drapes kind of, but not the way other things drape. With the taffeta, it's more like it folds and it falls. With the combination of its stiffness and the fullness of the design, this version of tap pants could almost be worn as a mini petticoat. Really.

Ultimately, I decided that I could deal with the stiffness, the lousy gusset, and the too-big waist, but that these would still not work for my purpose. Because of the legs. Oh, god, the legs. Don't get me wrong, I really like the design, and I still might try making this pattern again, but my intent here was to create an extra buffer between the outside world and my underpants, should the wind rise, and these, um, won't do that. You'll remember I said that the pattern is essentially the same as that of a full circle skirt? Yes, and that means that the leg openings at the hems, which are only an inch or two below the crotch, are about four feet wide. Yeah, not happening.

After some thought, I decided to try a different pattern, also from the 1930s--a Haslam pattern for "step-ins," via Frilly Bits. This also has a flat waist, but the leg openings are much narrower; the pattern looks a lot more like what you'd expect for traditional shorts.

These were cut in four pieces, so sewing took a lot longer, but--there's no gusset!--it was all pretty straightforward (there are no instructions provided for sewing, just how to draft the pattern, but I just followed the steps for sewing a normal pair of shorts--worked fine). It would've been even more straightforward if I hadn't somehow managed to draft these several inches too small; I had to add two strips of fabric down the edge of each leg and put a placket/opening thing on either side (the pattern calls for just one) to make them fit. But they do fit now, and a lot better than the circular pair. The leg openings are also of a size that they'll keep me feeling covered whilst on my bike.

set 2
Unfortunately, while I also like this pattern, I think the shorts I've produced are really ugly. Again, I think a lot of that's down to the fabric. By the time I got to these, I had pretty much exhausted my supply of striped scraps for making bias tape (as well as my enthusiasm for making any more), so I just used white tape from a package, and that doesn't help either. They really remind me of my middle school track team shorts. Maybe if I made them with lace, and without, er, racing stripes--and maybe also with a less-stiff, less-shiny, more-lingerie-looking fabric, that would not be the case. I guess since they're meant to be worn under my real clothes, it doesn't matter that much anyway. We'll see.

Of the two, the second, smaller, pair are the ones I'll most likely be wearing more. But if I were to make a third pair...

Assuming I could widen the pattern to accommodate my huge hips without making the waist way too big (normal waist-to-hip slopes never work for me, which I always forget until I have nearly finished sewing something), the Frilly Bits/Haslam pattern seems a lot more functional. But, I was also thinking, if the circular Vera Venus pattern could be adapted to a half-circle, that might be good, too.

Should you be debating which of the two patterns to work up yourself--and, I suppose, to help my own theoretical decision--I have prepared a pros/cons list for each pattern.

Vera Venus' 1930s-Style Circular French Knickers
  • They're prettier, and have a more vintage look
  • Very quick and (aside from the gusset) easy to cut and sew
  • Very thorough instructions
  • They seem to take a bit more fabric than the other pair (although the others probably waste more around the edges, so unless you have some way of using scraps, it probably evens out)
  • You have to sew a damned gusset
  • They will be utterly useless in terms of protecting your modesty; you're basically wearing a very short, wide skirt with a small scrap of fabric attaching the front and back pieces between your legs
Frilly Bits' 1930s Haslam Step-Ins
  •  They are easier to sew--no gusset
  • Without being skintight, they will actually contribute something to modesty when worn under a skirt as intended
  •  They seem to require a bit less fabric (although, as mentioned above, they probably waste more in scrap, so it likely evens out)
  • The drafting instructions are somewhat fiddly/incomplete, and there are no construction instructions at all
  • There are more pieces = more seams = more time to cut and sew together
  • They're kind of unattractive. Sorry.
All that said, I think I kind of want to have one more go at each. But I'll probably try the Vera Venus version modified to a half-circle first. I'm worried now that these are going to become my new obsession.

I still have more than a yard of that blue taffeta left, too. No more tap pants from it, I don't think, but maybe there's enough for another slip (that'd be another new venture for me). I do love that one...

Here are the condensed project details, too:
Fabric: Less than 1/2 yard each of 60" blue taffeta from SCRAP, ~$0.75 each; blue and white striped cotton scraps for bias tape
Set one: Vera Venus' 1930s-Style Circular French Knickers; set two: Frilly Bits' 1930s Haslam Step-Ins 
Year: Set one: contemporary (1930s-inspired); set two: 1930s; fabric: thrifted, no idea of age
Notions: Four buttons
(two each), $0.40 per set; one pack bias tape for set two, $0.75
Time to complete: ~3.5 hours each

Sewing soundtrack: Adam & the Amethysts

First worn: Not yet

Wear again: Set one: not sure; set two: yes

Total cost: Set one: $1.15; set two: $1.90 = Not too bad, I think.


  1. I'm so glad you tried out my 1930's Circular Knickers. Your pros and cons are helpful to see.
    I have just posted a new French Knickers 2 drafting pdf as well as a separate sewing pdf.... more like the 1940's shorts style which you may like and no gusset either!
    Those circle ones are airy, I agree. The secret to their success is using a very soft and floaty fabric.

    1. Well, thank YOU for creating the pattern and instructions.
      I've had a glance at the new knickers and they look wonderful. I'll definitely sew up a pair-- once I've finished all the other things I'm supposed to be working on... Hopefully I can manage that in time for your sew-along--I'll look forward to that.