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Tablecloth Trousers

Added Aug 8, 2012

by harrietbazley

London, United K...






When Nature decided to endow me with ‘curves’, she did it in two stages – first the pelvis, and then a set of crocodile-jointed thigh-bones jutting out like steps several inches lower down. Slimming will never reduce my thighs (though cycling a lot doesn’t help): my widest point is hard bone, and instead of having a raunchy curve I simply appear to have a reverse ‘muffin top’! Unsurprisingly, I find it very hard to buy flattering trousers – particularly since the fashion for dropped waistbands came in.

Back in the 1980s, however, I used to be a ‘perfect 12’: clothes just fitted straight off the rail. So when I was offered my choice of ‘swaps’ out of an online shop in return for a set of vintage patterns I couldn’t use myself, I had the brainwave of throwing in a bonus request from the 1980s section: very non-glamorous, very cheap, but there were two $3 trouser patterns there in my size with waistlines that actually reached the navel. I went for Simplicity 6433 because it offered specialist ‘Fuss-Free-Fit’ guidance in making adjustments, trousers being notoriously difficult things to get right.

To my surprise, however, once the pattern arrived and I’d taken the stipulated measurements it seemed that I wasn’t going to have to make any changes at all. The only place where my size didn’t already match the design size of the pattern was leg length, where I was a good two inches short – I blame it on the high heels in the photo….

Having learnt to sew largely on vintage unprinted patterns, I found myself at a bit of a loss as to how I was going to transfer the markings from a fully printed pattern onto a working copy without being able simply to draw around the edges! In the end I bought two large and expensive sheets of tracing paper from the local art shop and traced off the seam lines without seam allowance, so that I could just stitch my markings round the edge of the pattern pieces: where tucks, darts and so on had to be marked I ended up cutting out holes as in a ‘normal’ unprinted pattern, in order to avoid weakening the tracing paper.

To make a toile I deployed a large circular orange tablecloth, somewhat faded and rather more stained than I had expected. It had been made in two halves sewn together with the selvedges down the middle, and I spent a lot of time unpicking the seam so that I could salvage the selvedges, but only one half was really usable in the end due to the stripes of sunlight-fading and the spill-marks on the other, evidently the side that had faced towards the window. Cutting pieces ‘double’ was impossible due to the difficulty of lining up the grain accurately on this circular material, let alone positioning around the various stains, so I was forced to go the couture route and pin everything multiple times. In fact I actually cut out one back leg on the ‘wrong’ side of the fabric by mistake – you’d never know the difference.

When my toile was finally tacked up I was astonished to find that it did indeed fit perfectly: no ‘smile’, no ‘frown’, no straining over my thighs, no trouble sitting down. Apparently in the 1980s I really was a perfect specimen type! And in fact the colour wasn’t nearly so obtrusive as I was expecting, so I decided simply to go ahead and stitch up the tablecloth trousers as my final project.

All the machine-sewing, including the topstitching on the belt carriers and pockets, was done on the 1916 vibrating-shuttle machine my great-grandmother had received as a wedding present (being manufactured in the middle of WW1, it bears the pointed legend “English Made” in the centre of the machine bed, in contrast to its German and American rivals!) Since this doesn’t have a reverse, let alone a zigzag, I had to elaborate on the pattern instructions a bit in order to ensure that all the internal seams had a proper enclosed seam finish, instead of just relying on zigzagging the edges. The outer leg seams are flat-felled (on the inside, due to the constraints of enclosing the pocket edges in the same seam), as is the crotch, and the inner leg uses French seams. The pocket bags were made with very narrow French seams around the curve,and even the fly extensions had to have their raw edges trapped under the zip seams. To finish the hems I used my great-grandmother’s leftover bias binding in order to match the navy blue brass-toothed zip: the latter not a ‘vintage’ design choice, just the only secondhand seven-inch zipper I happened to have!

The button, an almost perfect match for the faded cloth and exactly the right size, came out of my assorted Vast Box of Vintage Buttons. This was my first attempt at using genuine buttonhole twist (also ‘vintage’) and also my first attempt at doing a ‘proper’ buttonhole with one square and one round end. From a functional point of view the thick thread created a perfect row of purls to guard the raw edge of the buttonhole, but in spite of all the care I tried to put into it the buttonhole still isn’t even, alas. Exquisite accuracy is just not my strong point.

The only change I made from the toile was to take up my usual swayback adjustment to account for my very arched back: I do wonder if I overdid this slightly as the tops of the pocket facing have a tendency to wrinkle slightly at the sides – but as this was for some reason the only unstayed area around the waistband it’s also possible that they stretched during the months of trying-on and picking up the project by its waistline.

Otherwise, these high-waisted, wide-legged (believe it or not, this was the tapered variant!) ‘granny trousers’ are an ideal fit, and highly flattering. The front tucks in place of darts create the appearance of a flat front instead of a bulging abdomen: the shaping above the buttocks gives the illusion of lifting the rump, while the loose cut below conceals the remainder in a straight fall to the back of the knee, to give a ‘Humphrey Bogart effect’ (these trousers would be good for male impersonation!) – they even manage to make you look good when you bend over. My only grouse would be that the pockets came out a little shallower than I like, though they look capacious in the flat… an easy fix to make next time round.

And I’ve been told that there should definitely be a ‘next time’ – really good trouser patterns being like gold dust!

Material Notes

An old tablecloth! Seems to be some kind of heavy-duty cotton, but it makes for relatively lightweight trousers. I was given a spool of pale brown/beige thread for this project by a friend: the button was at least fifty years old and the zip was in a bundle of second-hand oddments acquired by my brother twenty years ago, and the pattern was a swap; so the total cost of the trousers was about one pound sixty for the tracing paper….



Related Techniques


Spring, Summer, Fall
Garment Type
Casual, Classic



3 Comments Sign in to add a post

  • Forburda_large

    Aug 9, 2012, 12.18 PMby skeeler

    Well done!

  • Tea_party_qui_large

    Aug 8, 2012, 11.41 PMby jacquipardue

    The trousers look really nice, lovely fit. I like the higher waistband, it accentuates the small waist.

    1 Reply
    • 121bcd6a71a_avatar_large

      Aug 9, 2012, 04.53 PMby harrietbazley

      The great thing about these trousers is that the waist doesn’t actually look ‘high’, either from the front or the back (and believe me, I’ve had ones where it did!) – it just looks right :-)

  • File0012_10_large

    Aug 8, 2012, 11.08 PMby jennyrecorder

    All that work certainly paid off, they look great and they fit you like a glove. Very flattering :)

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