Craft & Design Yarncraft

By Haley Pierson-Cox
For me, summer in NYC means two things: 1) I will eventually wear a light skirt into the subway when my hands are full, and 2) on that day, when I step onto the stairs of the station, a gust of wind will come barreling up from below, lifting my skirt and showing my backside to anyone who cares to look. This year, on the very first nice day, my skirt flew up not once, but twice. In the same commute. Grumbling and scrambling to pull it down, it hit me: I definitely needed a pair of tap pants.
In case you’re not familiar, tap pants work like a slip, but they’re actually shorts, making them the perfect solution to my summer skirt woes. I’m pretty sure that every gal with a skirt and the chance of a breeze needs a pair!


Fabric, 1-2 yards nylon or silk
Foldover elastic, 1-3 yards, depending on whether you use a serger
Lace, 2-3 yards, optional
Measuring tape
Pattern paper
; you can also use newspaper
Sewing machine
Serger/overlock machine
, optional
Fabric scissors/rotary cutter
Straight pins
Water-soluble fabric marker


Step 1: Create the front pattern
To get started, use a measuring tape to take the following measurements. I’ve included my measurements below so you can follow along through the process.
a. Hips: Measure around your hips (use the widest part of your hips/butt).
My hip measurement: 40″
b. Crotch: Sitting upright in a chair, measure the length from your waist (wherever you like your waistband to fall) between your legs down to the chair. I started measuring just below my belly button. Keep in mind that tap pants should sit at the hips, below the natural waist.
My crotch measurement: 8 1/2″
c. Shorts Length: Standing up, along one side of your body, measure from your waist to the length where you would like the tap pants to fall when finished.
My shorts length: 10″
d. Thigh: Measure around the largest part of your thigh.
My thigh measurement: 23″
To make the pattern, plug your measurements into the formulas below to get the line lengths. (Don’t run away from the math – it’s really easy!) Again, I’ve included my measurements below, and the formulas are written near the corresponding lines in the photograph above. These formulas DO include a generous seam allowance to smooth out any cutting mistakes or sewing mishaps. If you’re an expert at the machine, add 1″ less to the shorts length line for a standard 1/2″ seam allowance.
a. Draw the top line: (Hip divided by 4) + 2″ = top line length
My top line length: (40″/4) + 2″= 12″
b. Draw the shorts length line at the left side: Shorts Length + 2″ = shorts length line length
My shorts line length: 10″ + 2″ = 12″
c. Draw the bottom line: (Thigh divided by 2) + 3″ = bottom line length
My bottom line length: (23″/2) + 3″ = 14.5″
d. Draw crotch length line: Crotch + 2″ = crotch line length
My crotch line length: 8 1/2″ + 2″ = 10 1/2″
e. Draw the right side line: Draw a vertical line from top to bottom on the right side, connecting the end of the top line to the crotch line below it.
f. Draw your leg opening line: Draw a vertical line between the crotch length line and the bottom line. Your pattern should now consist of two rectangles.
g. Draw the curve: On the line you drew in Step 5, measure 4″ up from the crotch line and make a dot. Connect that dot with the end of the bottom line, creating a triangle. Find the center of the line you just drew (the triangle line), and make a dot 3/4″ towards the middle of the triangle. Draw your curve, making sure the deepest part intersects with your dot.
Confused? Visual learner? Check out the excellent shorts pattern tutorial at – it’s where I learned! (Keep in mind that the formulas will be slightly different from mine, as tap pants are short and loose.)
Step 2: Create the back pattern
To create the back pattern, you will angle the top line up slightly, and extend the bottom/crotch line. Trace your front pattern onto a new sheet of paper. With a ruler, measure 3/4″ in from the right side of the top line, then make a dot 1/2″ above that measurement. Draw a line from the left side of the top line horizontally to the dot you just made. This is your new top line. From there, draw a slightly angled vertical line down to the 4″ measurement at the top of your curve. This is your new right line. Finally, extend the length of the bottom/crotch lines an inch or so, angling the curve down slightly.
Tap pants are short and loose-fitting, so there isn’t as dramatic a difference between the front and back patterns as there can be in longer, more tailored shorts patterns.
Step 3: Cut out your pattern pieces and arrange them on fabric that has been folded in half with right sides facing. Cut out the front and back sections. You should have two pieces each of the front and back that are mirror images of each other.
Step 4: If you would like to add lace, and prefer having the lace sewn into the seams on both sides, you may add it now to each front and back piece. To do so, line up the edge of the lace with the bottom edge of the fabric pieces, right sides together. Serge along the bottom edge to attach the lace and finish the hem, repeating this step for all 4 pieces. Fold the lace down when finished so the serged edge will be on the inside of the leg hole. See step 8 if you would rather attach the lace in one piece.
If you don’t want to add lace, sew foldover elastic around the bottom edges of all four pieces to finish the hem. Do not stretch the elastic as you sew. (Unfamiliar with foldover elastic? This video shows you how to use it.)
Step 5: With right sides together, line up the inner side seam edges of one front piece and one back piece. Stitch them together. If you aren’t using a serger, use foldover elastic to finish the edge. Repeat for the second set of fronts and backs.
Step 6: Open up each stitched-together set, lining them up and pinning them together with right sides facing. (The curves should line up.)
Open the curve wider, giving you more room to sew, and serge along the curved edge, connecting the two front-and-back sets. This will be your center seam in the front and back. Again, you can also finish the seam with foldover elastic and a sewing machine.
Step 7: Line the center seams up in the middle of each side with right sides facing, revealing the inner leg seams you made in Step 5. Sew across both seams in a straight line, reinforcing the crotch and making sure that all pieces are completely connected.
Step 8: Line up the side seams and stitch them together, either using your serger or the foldover elastic method.
If you prefer to wrap lace around the bottom of each leg hole in one piece, you may do so now, and include the lace ends in your side seam.
Step 9: Because slippery fabric frays easily, it’s a good idea to serge or zig-zag stitch around the edge of the waist opening before installing the waistband.
Step 10: Cut a length of foldover elastic that fits comfortably around your waist plus 1″. Starting at the back center seam, install a foldover elastic waistband using your sewing machine and a wide zigzag stitch. (Again, this video will help.) Because you’re not using stretchy fabric, you’ll want to make sure that you pull the elastic to full stretch as you sew. Once I got the hang of it, I found that sewing faster helped me get a more even stretch.
Foldover elastic doesn’t fray, so you can finish the waistband by cutting the end to length and stitching over it a few times.
You’re done! (And you’ll never be afraid of a subway grate or gust of wind again!)

About the Author:
Haley Pierson-Cox is a Brooklyn-based craft writer who loves granny glasses and loathes extraneous apostrophes. She blogs about crafts, cats, domestic bliss, and DIY goodness at The Zen of Making.

29 thoughts on “How-To: Make a Custom Pair of Tap Pants

  1. I totally have that happen to me all that time (skirt blows up as bus pulls up, embarrassment commences)! Totally laughed out loud, but thankful I’m not the only one. Great tutorial!

  2. I used to wear tap pants all the time years ago (late 70’s early 80’s) when they were popular. Now, can’t find any. Thanks to you, I can make my own and be a happy camper once again.

  3. Fantastic – just the tutorial I’ve been looking for. I often resort to wearing leggings under skirts and dresses but I like the idea of having a cute pair of pants underneath. I also cycle in skirts and dresses so this will give the drivers something else to look at when my skirt blows up too high! I’ll stitch some up this weekend. Thanks for sharing. :)

  4. Tap pants are actually short-like underwear, without elastic, from the times before widespread use of elastics came in the 50s.. Say 20s to 40s at their height.
    I don’t believe that in sweltering NY I’d be setting myself up for double underwear :-). But still, good pattern.

  5. Awsome tute! Thanks so much! I usually wear either men’s boxers or cut off leggings under my skirts because not only does it get windy where I live but I have a bad habit of forgetting I’m in a skirt and um sall I say forget to sit like a lady lol.
    This sounds better than boxers or leggings though because not only is it cuter but I would think that the silky material is going to act more like a slip and keep the skirt from bunching up and sticking to your butt like boxers and leggings do.
    Thanks again! Can’t wait to make myself a pair.

  6. Wonderful instructions. Looking at this, I might be able to use a pajama pant pattern to make my paper pattern. It would for make it easier for these old eyes and hands.

  7. Love these! Those jersey tunic tops always cling to my butt. Perfect way to keep everything hanging properly.
    BTW mens boxers are a good idea too thought they may not fit well since they’re made for more straight up and down types. That ain’t me ;-)

  8. Excellent idea. When ever I travel up to the big smoke (London) in winter I always wear knee length silk bloomers under my skirts, partly for warmth but also because, like you, I would rather preserve my modesty on the tube. But silk bloomers are far too hot for summer so these look brilliant. I shall make a few pairs!

  9. Thanks for the instructions on something so necessary to maintain my dignity. I need all the help I can get in that department:) Would you also happen to know how to make a matching cami top to go with these for sleeping purposes here in the South? I also used to wear these when I was younger. Can’t seem to find them anymore and want to make my own but unsure of how to until I saw your post on Pinterest. Love the glasses!

  10. Happy to help! I don’t have a go-to cami pattern, but they’re pretty simple, so I bet there are a ton of sources online. You could even use the same fold-over elastic from the tap pants to finish the neckline and make straps. :)

  11. Cute pattern. Tap pants are far sexier than thongs. The add a touch of romance. More is less. My man loves me in these as well as silky cuff leg briefs.

  12. I read recently in an online dictionary that the term “tap pants” was not used back in the 20s, 30s and 40s. The first recorded use of the term was in 1977. To wit:

    Definition of TAP PANTS: a loose-fitting woman’s undergarment of a style similar to shorts formerly worn for tap dancing First Known Use of TAP PANTS: 1977.

    Thus,It appears that the modern term was projected backwards and a fiction created that they arose from the shorts tap dancers wore. In earlier decades, they were simply called panties, pants, flare leg panties, step-ins, or, in England, French knickers (because panties in England are called knickers and the French variety had wide legs making them saucier). Whatever they’re called, they’re cute and romantic. I love wearing them under skirts and slacks, and for lounging.

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