Lisa’s Lounge/Harem Pants… A Lesson in Reproduction

Wednesday nights, my friend Lisa and I often have a ‘Date Night’… Not a real date of course but it does get everyone guessing if they ask what we are up too 😉 Basically we sit and have a good gossip and put the world to rights. On one of these evenings Lisa was preparing for a holiday and complained that she had a wonderfully comfortable pair of Harem Pants that she had purchased a few months previously. She desperately wanted more of them but had been unable to find any.

No Problem I say… Pass them over…

The pants are basically made up of a front piece with a cut out for a pocket, 2 pieces for the pocket itself, a back piece, a wide waistband and a whole lot of shirring elastic 😀 Easy peasy.

First off I set about marking out the front section of the pants. Gently lay the pants out as flat as possible and mark the two side seams. Remember to add at least 1/2in to each seam for your seam allowance or your garment will come up considerably smaller than your original! I started with the inside leg/crotch seams. The elasticated waist does distort the seams however you can use pins or weights to help you. For the most part the seams are pretty straight in this style of lounge wear. For extra accuracy you can stretch out the seam with a tape measure as well. Next I marked the outer leg seam and marked off the opening for the pocket. At the cuffs I simply continued the side seam straight down to the correct length as the shirring will bring the gathers in nicely.

Next I repeated the process with the back of the leg. Looking at the pictures the crotch seam does look very small but remember there is a wide waist band to be added.

Next I made up the pattern pieces for the pocket. I drew on the pattern how large I wanted the pocket to be and then traced off the two pieces, one the inner pocket and the other the outer pocket that extends up to the waist band completing the ‘whole’ front leg pattern piece.

For the waist band I used my tape measure. Starting at the seam I simply stretched out the fabric along the measure to get the overall length right round the waistband. And then measured the depth. This will be a simple rectangle that will first be folded over twice along its edge to form a hem that will have elastic threaded though it before it is shirred and attached to the trousers. In practice the waistband actually came up a little narrow (in depth) so for future makes I will make this pattern piece at least an inch wider. By the way don’t forget to mark all your pattern pieces with garment details, size, name, seam allowance or any other information you may need as you won’t remember everything when you come back to make the pattern up again. 

This style of pants needs to be made in a soft lightweight floaty fabric which can, quite frankly, be a nightmare to work with! Such fabrics are highly moveable and distort very easily when cutting out. If you don’t cut them out well they will be difficult to sew up well. I have at least 4 such fabrics in my stash and Lisa chose the red and the green for her new pants.


When cutting out soft floaty fabrics there a number of things you can do to help you. Firstly make sure you have plenty of room to lay your fabric out flat. If you are using a table you do not want the excess fabric hanging over the edge of the table or it could pull the fabric down and distort it. If you have a large floor space you can use without killing your back or knees (old age creeping up on me) you can avoid this but you may have problems with the fabric sliding around the floor instead. One way of solving this is to lay out some tissue paper, the kind they use for wrapping fragile objects will do fine. Secure it down at the corners and keep one long edge nice and straight. Now lay your fabric down aligning the selvage edge of the fabric along the straight edge of the tissue. Smooth the fabric out so it lays perfectly flat and in shape and secure it with little bits of tape. Now add another layer of tissue on the top making a nice fabric sandwich. Now all you need to do is lay your pattern pieces on top and cut them out going though all three layers of tissue and fabric together. Also it helps to cut each piece separately, it makes the process longer and you must remember to turn the pattern pieces over for left and right legs but the more accurate the pattern is cut out the better the finished garment will be. Now most people will have a fit at cutting paper with their fabric scissors, me included, but its only tissue paper and it doesn’t really have that much of an effect on the sharpness of your scissors. If you cut a lot of fabrics like silk, chiffon and organza using this method I’d recommend you get your scissors sharpened every 3 months or so.

Any way… back to the sewing… Each pair of pants takes about 1 ½ meters of fabric dependant on the fabric width. My fabric is 60in wide. I cut out both pairs before starting to sew.

DSC_0167You will notice I cut the legs in both directions… fortunately for me these are fairly random busy patterns so there is no need for pattern matching. So long as the grain is in the same direction its all good 😀 First I stitched the pocket inner to the front legs. Each curved seam was trimmed and notched before turning out, ironing and then topstitched with two lines of stitching.


Next I stitched the back of the pocket to the inner pocket and the stitched across the top of the pocket within the waist seam allowance and down the outer leg seam to keep the pocket in place nicely.


Next join the two front legs together down the crotch seam. Repeat with the back leg pieces. You will also notice from the photos that I have an overlocker that I use pretty extensively especially on fabrics that tend to fray. I do sew my seams with a regular sewing machine first and then finish the seams with the overlocker. If I’m making a vintage pattern I try to make it more authentic by using pinking shears or using a zigzag stitch to neaten the seams.

Now with right sides together join the front and back legs together down the entire inner leg seam. Now turn up a small neat hem on the bottoms of the legs.

Now it’s time to get shirring. Shirring is actually very easy to do. Remove your bobbin from your machine (bottom sewing thread) and set it aside. Now with an empty bobbin being to wind your shirring elastic onto the bobbin. A lot of people seem to think this should be done by hand so that the elastic isn’t stretched out at all whilst filling the bobbin. Personally I do mine on the machine however I do not wrap the elastic around any part of my machine as you normally would when filling a bobbin with sewing thread. I simply let the elastic run freely around my finger as the machine turns the bobbin. I generally keep 2 or 3 bobbins full of shirring elastic in my bobbin case too just for speed of sewing. If you have them fill at least 2 bobbins with shirring elastic as you will need a lot of it! Once full load the bobbin into the machine and use it exactly as if it were normal sewing thread with TWO exceptions. Firstly set your stitch length to as long as possible, around 4mm usually works well. And secondly make sure you sew with the RIGHT side of the fabric facing uppermost so that the bobbin thread/shirring elastic is one the wrong side. This does mean that you will need to mark your shirring lines on the right side of the fabric. If you want to practice try using gingham or striped fabric as it will give you a nice line to use as a guide 😉 I personally use the edge of the sewing foot as a guide to keep my lines straight but I’m a bit lazy when it comes to marking shirring! However you choose to mark your lines make sure it comes off easily as it does need to be on the right side of the fabric where it can be seen if you can’t remove it. Tailors chalk is ok but you will be repeating line after line and it wears off very easily so you may find a few lines in to your shirred section and your carefully set out marks have vanished. There are of course a variety of sewing feet that are designed for accurate spacing of sewing lines. Some sewers recommend back stitching 2 or 3 stiches at the beginning of each line to secure the elastic however I’ve never had much success with this method so I don’t bother unless the shirring is in the middle of pattern piece and won’t be secured by a seam.

After you have practiced a few lines on a scrap piece of fabric and you are happy with the results start on the bottoms of your trouser legs. The amount of shirring you add to the ankle cuffs is entirely your choice. I stuck with the 4ins or so that were on the original garment and added a length of narrow elastic  into the hem on the red pair of pants however Lisa told me then tended to ride up her legs so in the green pair I omitted the elastic and added less lines of shirring and they are perfect.


Once both ankle cuffs are finished and you are happy with them move on to shirring your waistband piece. Hopefully you have already stitched in the top hem making it deep enough to thread some narrow elastic through. Now, starting next to the hemmed edge shirr all the way down the waistband in exactly the same way. Once happy remove the bobbin and replace it with normal sewing thread… the times I’ve forgotten to change the bobbin and ended up with an elasticated side seam I didn’t want! Lol

Now you have lots of threads hanging off the edge of your fabric that you need to secure. The best way I have found to do this is to use a French seam. So with WRONG sides together match one leg outside seam together ensuring the bottom ankle seam is even and sew a narrow seam all the way down the leg. Make sure all the loose ends of the shirring are pulled out to the side as you sew. Once secure trim off the threads. Turn the leg inside out. You may find it beneficial to press the seam at this point… me, I’m lazy and I roll the seam between my thumb and fingers so it is nice and flat and pulled right to the previous stitching line. Now sew a second seam thereby encasing all the raw edges and providing a second line of sewing that will secure the shirring sections of your pants.


French Seam seen from the inside of garment



Almost done now. Next thread a length of narrow elastic through the top of the waistband that will fit the wearer comfortably and secure at either end by sewing within the seam allowance. Now fit the waistband to the legs. I marked the center of the waistband and pinned that to the leg seam I’d just sewn (French seam), pinned the two sides and them pinned evenly along the whole length. Once happy I stitched my waistband in place.

Now all that is left to do is repeat the French seam up the second leg of your pants this time including the waistband seam. Again ensure all the shirring threads are smoothed out to the sides so they don’t get caught up in the seam. Trim them off, turn your leg inside out and sew the second part of the French seam. And your done!

A good press checking over for loose threads and your good to go… or rather Lisa was. Don’t press the shirred sections of the garment, just hover a steam iron over these parts to keep your shirring nice and neat. Job done, happy Lisa now with three pairs of Harem pants and I have the pattern safely stored so I can make more anytime I wish.

Luckily I’m about to make another extended pair for the lovely long legged Christine so any photos that are missing will appear in the next week or so but in the beige floral fabric. I get so engrossed in my sewing I tend to forget I’m going to blogging it all soon and forget to take the photos! I will get the hang of this blogging lark soon I promise. Whilst typing this it has occurred to be that I could add a separate reference/tutorial section for hints and tips, seam types and technics and for tools like sewing feet… have so many of them it could take a while but will hopefully help other sewers 😀

 In the meantime Happy Sewing everyone…

Lainey x

About acraftteacuppa

Vintage kinda gal loves all things 40s 50s and art deco. Loves all kinds of crafts especially sewing. addicted to fabric, antiques and shoes. Have two sons and two Akitas that I adore. Passionate about our armed forces, WW1 family history. Living on WW2 Rations for Charity for a whole year. Would one day like to have a tea shop/haberdashery/sewing rooms to relax chat and teach/share all sorts of craft skills in <3
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1 Response to Lisa’s Lounge/Harem Pants… A Lesson in Reproduction

  1. Pingback: More RTW Woes…. Chrissy’s Dress | ACraftTeaCuppa

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