Reuse and Refashion: Silk and Lace Takes a Second Life

Not that long ago at a resale store, I happened across a small stash of 100% silk, over sized, and slightly outdated “Victoria’s Secret” lingerie.  At the cheap prices they were sold at per piece I bought all of what I found, with the specific intention of refashioning, or at least reusing, the high quality silk and lace.

One item in particular has been refashioned first.  I transformed a black silk camisole into a pair of 1920’s style tap pants.  Even before I checked out I already knew, foresaw practically, what a certain item was going to become.  That foresight was one of those amazing “Eureka!” moments…I love it when they come because I know something great is in the making.

100_2161aTHE FACTS:


FABRIC:  one size extra-large “Victoria’s Secret” camisole, in black satin finish 100% silk (original as I bought it in pic at right)100_2008a

NOTIONS:  I only needed to buy a few inches of black snap tape; nothing else but black thread and bias tape was needed, and I always have plenty of those on hand

PATTERN:  I didn’t use one!  I did have plenty of 20’s inspiration, though, which I’ll talk about below.

TIME TO COMPLETE:  the total time to refashion was not long at all – only 2 hours.  I finished them in one evening, September 23, 2013.  The final touch – my hand stitched Art Deco monogram – was done in an hour or two on January 15, 2014 

THE INSIDES:  The camisole had very nice seams, with French seams at the sides, so I made sure to keep all that by only adding on seam of my own – the waistband.  My new waist band seam is neatly covered in bias tape that also serves a channel for the draw cord.

FIRST WORN:  I don’t remember; but I do remember wearing my tap pants very soon after they were done.  I have been wearing them quite often!

TOTAL COST:  the camisole was only $3.00, and the snap tape was under $1, which makes my total for fine silk, vintage style tap pants less than $4.00!  What a deal.

McCall 7832 old tap pants patternHISTORICAL ACCURACY:  I cannot claim anything directly to definitively give a pinpoint answer.  However, I believe my refashioned tap pants are quite accurate for the 20’s, based on my research of period patterns, movies, and sewing techniques.  This 90 year old pattern envelope picture (at left), which I found during an online image search, was a big verification of the accuracy of how I wanted my tap pants to be refashioned.


      My main idea came from watching the movie “Broadway Melody of 1929”.  There is one scene where the two sisters, placed by Bessie Love and Anita Page,  quickly (and shockingly) undress in public hall down to tap pants and tank top so they can try out for a part in a dance scene.  I find it amazing – how skimpy for early talkies, but so modern for us!  

I tried to emulate the “Broadway Melody of 1929” movie look in my pictures.  Believe me, I am not so keen on the idea of posing in something that gets worn under clothes.  In the spirit of being historical and thinking of this as a sort of “dance” outfit, my new silk tap pants do feel quite fun.  100_2162

Unlike the 30’s style tap pants I made Spring of last year (click here for link), these refashioned tap pants have the gathered waist and tighter fit like the black ones worn in the movie picture above right.  Getting this snug is all that my bum could manage…if the camisole was any smaller my re-invention would not have worked.  Talk about a close call!

To get a waistline, I cut across the top of the camisole, above the bust line, leaving the sides under the armpit intact.  I basically only took off 4 small triangles under the spots where the shoulder straps join at the front and at the back.  Then I also cut off the two straps hanging from the center bust closure and sewed up the entire front of the lace where the front was open.  Now there was one solid front and back.

100_2163     My biggest problem was how to get rid of (decrease) the excess bust gathers from the camisole front. Darts? Small tucks?  The right idea came to me when thinking, “what vintage sewing ways were used to gather in excess fabric above/below where it poufs out?”  I looked at my old early 30’s patterns in my file cabinets, and thought of shirring. See my back picture below right.  Doing the shirring was very fun, different, and not as hard as I expected, just a bit challenging.  Besides, doing this shirring gives me practice before I intend to do it on some really good fabric or on a bigger project.  I didn’t even have any glitches doing the shirring, but I did realize the importance of doing the rows of stitching and gathering straight and even.   I didn’t bother to pre-mark or measure my shirring rows, as I considered these tap pants an experiment to be worn under clothes.

The waistline edge had been folded under inside and covered by sewing down a skinn100_2164y strip of bias tape.  Since the area below the rows of shirring gave the perfect spot of generous room for my behind, I chose that for the back of my tap pants and made an opening in the side front of the waist casing for the tie.  The tie running through the waist casing also re-used, made from the two ties that had been hanging at the front of the camisole, tacked together, and made into one long waist cincher. 100_2028

Just to make bathroom trips not as much of a hassle, I opted to install a few inches of snap tape horizontally along the center hem to form the crouch of my tap pants.  Yes, kind of like an infant onesie (I guess as a parent of a little one, the idea for this closure is second nature).  I can’t find out how authentic to the 20’s this crouch closure may be, but, hey, they had snaps then, so let’s say I’m an innovative woman.  The snap closure gives me a tad bit more room than if I were to have sewn together the two bottom seams.

With such a snug fit and the shirring and snaps and everything you might think these aren’t that comfy and why wear them?  Well, actually you would not believe how comfy a well washed silk can be on a bottom, and they do make the perfect solution to any of my dark, shorter skirts and dresses.

Wearing tap pants does give a girl a sort of freedom.  A gal can still wear her feminine skirts and swishy dresses, but with tap pants underneath you can still be active and have all the fun possible while feeling incredibly fancy.  When it comes down to it, though, I find it hard to wear something meant to do dance routines in and not feel like kicking up my feet and dancing.

broadway-melody-1929_bessie-love-and-anita-page_5     How about the Charleston, anyone?!  I’m ready!  But I will leave my skirt on, unlike this funny “Broadway Melody of 1929” shot at right.

One last word…only recently did I get around to completely making these tap pants my very own with some hand stitched monogramming.  I drew out three different letter styles that suited the era and my taste, too.  As you can see, I picked the Art Deco letters ‘K’ and ‘B’, sewing to the left front side.  I think I’ll save the Art Nouveau and Moderne letters for another monogram, perhaps.


History Under Cover – My 1920’s Tap Pants

An interesting facet of fashion history is the rather quiet and not so well known area of what is the first layer, what goes hidden -and often forgotten- under peoples’ clothing.  I personally would consider it a good thing to bring back at least some of the beautiful and practical vintage lingerie, especially tap pants (or tango shorts  and French knickers as they are also called).   There was, and still is,  an easy decency, discreet fashion, and happy practicality about these pairs of little culottes, especially for under skirts.

Tap pants hit popularity, among many reasons, on account of being worn by tap dancers doing their routines…ladies of the 20’s and 30’s wanted their legs to ‘sell’ (help them get coveted dancing roles) and their bosses could only see their nimble moves with short culottes.  Just watch Ginger Roger’s solo tap routine in the 1936 movie “Follow the Fleet” if you want a classic use of tap pants. (click here to watch the movie’s clip)  I would almost, but not really, love to strap on my tap shoes and do a photo like Ginger in that movie.   Tap pants were also an ingenious way to allow women to be much more active while still wearing skirts and dresses.  They were cute enough that, if seen, it wasn’t too shocking of an issue.  As tap pants are really underwear,  I will let this one post be lacking a model 😉

100_1292THE FACTS:

FABRIC:  ivory polyester satin, 1 yard bought on clearance for just under $2

NOTIONS:  I already had ivory lace floating in my stash, had the thread,  plenty of sharp needles, 1/4 inch ivory bias tape, and small metal snaps. I even used one of the buttons leftover from making my 40’s satin blouse

PATTERN: Past Patterns No. 501, Ladies and Misses 1920’s Combination 100_1295Undergarment

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The whole assembly took only 3 1/2 hours!  They were finished on March 6, 2013

THE INSIDES:  The back center seam is a lapped seam, the waistband is bias bound, and every other seam is a french seam. Perfection!

Excuse the wrinkles on my tap pants…they’re actually a good sign.  I  do wear these quite a bit, and not just with my vintage fashions.

100_1294     I can’t say enough about how much I liked this pattern.  It was simple to put together, easy to change/adjust,  fits amazing, and -best of all- cut on the bias.  The pattern called for there to only be two seams, one down each hip, but I added a seam to the center front and back so I could adjust the fit better and also add a back placket, like most historical tap pants.  For my placket, I sewed seam tape (for added stability) into the top 5 inches of the back top center seam, then tuned it under, sewed it down, and stitched on the snaps.  At the top, where the placket and waist meet, I added a small button with an elastic loop to make sure the placket stays closed.100_0947a

The pattern calls for an elastic gathered waist.  I didn’t want the bulk of that type of finish, so I opted for the 1930’s hip clinging, waist skimming fit.  I was inspired to do this, as well as the placket detail, in good part from Leimomi Oakes Sew Weekly post and from an old 30’s two piece set on display at an exhibit at our History Museum (see right picture).  You’ll have to take my word for it, the fit of my tap pants turned out beautifully!

A good part of the short completion time was spent on adding the lace, but it was so worth it.  It was not hard to get a professionally finished look.  I made a straight stitch along the thicker, curvy edge of the lace so I would have it tacked together.  Then I set my machine to the smallest stitch – the button hole stitching- and took my time following and covering my previous path.  When I was done, I cut away the excess satin covering up the underside of the lace.  Much of the RTW slips and lingerie don’t even bother to finish off their lace edges this well – another reason to make 100_1294your own garments!

The crouch seam was the only real tricky part.  However, with some forethought, it is nothing to fret over.  Maybe the fretting was completely my deal because I’d never sewn a crouch seam before.  I’ve sewn everything else under the sun but not a single pair of shorts or pants.  Now I can rack up another small ‘first time’.

Look for some upcoming blog posts of some of my recent 20’s fashions.  I will have these on under my period attire (not to fuel any imaginations) so I can feel authentic, learn about history, and be truly vintage both under and out!

100_1296P.S.  There is an interesting article about the history of undergarments in the just released in the June/July 2013 “Vogue Patterns” magazine.  It’s quite a nice overview!