Monday, 7 October 2013

Pattern Review: Mrs Depew 1930s Tap Pants

Last weekend I went off with a bunch of female friends for a 1930s themed weekend away. There was a full programme of 1930s themed activities, so I needed a wardrobe to match! Most of what I needed I already have in my vintage collection plus my own wardrobe of vintage style modern clothes, but of course I couldn't resist using the excuse to make a whole new outfit for myself.

For sometime I have been salivating over Mrs Depew patterns on Etsy:
She has a range of different vintage patterns, up there, including a number of 'draft yourself' patterns taken from books used for home sewers at at the time. It provides the opportunity to get authentic vintage patterns in your exact size reasonably cheaply and instantly because they come as downloads! The bonus is that once you have the patterns, you can redraft them in other sizes if you're making for other people or just happen to change sizes yourself.

There are two downsides however: firstly having to actually draft the patterns yourself - initially it looked initimidating, and is additional effort and cost of the paper of course. Secondly, the pattern books of the era assumed you were good at sewing, and so there are no directions for actually making up the piece!

I wanted to make a day dress, but I decided to test out the pattern drafting process with a cheaper and (so I thought) simpler pattern: a pair of Tap Pants (which are generally known as french knickers over here in the UK). This is the pattern I chose to use, as it is just one piece and is from the 1930s, but there are other variations avalable too:

I chose to make these from a black satin remnant left over from a previous project, but the satin is rather poor quality and I think this affected how well the pattern worked greatly, so should be bourne in mind when looking at the finished product! A higher quality, softer fabric would work much better, I think.

The drafting process

On buying the pattern, this seemed the most intimidating part of the process - but in fact it was very simple and easy to do, and a satisfyingly neat method as well! The instructions that come with the pattern don't necessarily explain it all that well, but the tutorial on Mrs Depew's blog explains it very clearly indeed (to the pont that I think she should include a copy of it with the download rather than the original instructions): . It's one of those things where, once you understand it, it is incredibly simple. You take your measurement (check you have the right one for your pattern - for dresses it tends to be based on bust, for these tap pants it was based on waist measurement), print out the relevant size 'tape measure' at 100%, cut it out and stick together. Then using a pin you attach it to the X on the pattern, then move round the pattern in a circle, marking in your paper at the relevant number shown on the pattern for each point. Then simply play join the dots, and if relevant add required curves instead of straight lines. One thing to check carefully is whether the pattern you have includes seam allowance and make sure you add those if they don't!

Attach your 'measuring tape' to the pattern at the X with a drawing pin
Rotate the measuring tape round the lines on the pattern, marking on your paper at the measuring tape numbers indicated

This should leave you with lots of dots marking out an enlarged version of the pattern
Join the dots with a ruler, add some curves where needed, and hey presto! you have a pattern in your size


This was where things got a little more complex. This pattern was only one piece, but if anything that made it harder to work out how it went together. With no instructions, I wasn't even sure how many pieces of fabric to cut out, or which ends were top or bottom! I fiddled around with pinning together just two pieces, and oddly I think it might have worked out well as a pattern for cycling shorts in stretch lycra!

1930s cycling shorts? OK, maybe not...

 But it was definitely not french knickers, so clearly four pieces were needed. After fiddling about a bit, I was certain of which bits to sew to what:

Four pattern pieces, pinned together: much better!

Sewing the bottom hems

I sewed these together and hemmed the bottom seams, but this left me with a huge waistband, and from the image of the tap pants I could see they were supposed to have darts in the front. This took some guess work and experimentation to get right, as there are no markings on the pattern to indicate how big they should be or where they should be positioned. I experimented with just having a pleat in the waistband - with the stiffness of the cheap satin, this made them far too voluminous - until I ended up sewing the pleats down flat to four inches down from the waist band. Even this left a lot of volume in the knickers, but I think this was greatly to do with the fabric rather than the pattern.

experiments with pleats

I then added a waistband. I'm not certain the method I used was the one intended by the pattern. You have to measure and cut the waistband yourself, one is not included with the pattern, but the two inch wide piece of fabric it tells you to cut seems rather stingy and thin with the fold over method I used. If doing it again I would use a four inch wide band of fabric, which after sewing would leave me with a waistband about 1.5" wide.

Ideally you should add placketts to the side open, but as this was effectively a toile I didn't bother and just hand sewed close the ends of the waistband and added a hook and eye.

The final tap pants looked like this:

The finished product


I was very pleased with how easy this was to draft, however as a self taught sewer with a fair amount of experience, I still found that the lack of instructions for how to make up the garment quite challenging! We are rather spoiled by the age of Simplicity patterns, I suppose.... As an experiment, I was fairly happy with the result, but the fabric means the knickers are too voluminous to be worn with many of my 1930s outfits. The longer knickers that also come with the pattern might work better, but using better quality lingerie fabric would certainly make this work a great deal better. I also wasn't using 'proper' lingerie making techniques, which you really should for really good result - this project was 'quick and dirty', as my Mum would call it, to test out the method. Mrs Depew has lots of useful information, tutorials and sew-alongs on her blog that explain a lot of these techniques, as well as a downloadable copy of an original period manual of lingerie making techniques, which I shall invest in if I ever decide to make some really nice versions of this underwear! However, if I were to make french knicker again, I think I will try one of the more fitted 1940s patterns for a sleeker look.

Would I recommend Mrs Depew patterns? Well... yeeees, in that having done thiese, I did choose to buy and make up one of her day dresses (of which I shall post about at a later date). You shouldn't be put off by the drafting process - that's ridiculously easy to do - but whether these patterns are for you probably comes down to how confident you feel about sewing without instructions and just working it out yourself. Mrs Depew is providing an amazing resource for vintage sewers, if you have the skills to make use of it!

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