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1940’s style french knickers. DIY

French knickers-a.k.a.tap-pants, petti-pants…. whatever you call them I love them, wear them and keep making more. These are my most recent efforts:

 As a rule I draft my own patterns and while doing these it occurred to me that there is no reason anyone else couldn’t do it too, to their own measurements. It’s a simple skirt block turned into a culotte block. Cut it out in soft thin fabrics, gussie-up with lace and there you have pretty french knickers. The pattern is also the basis for making 20’s/30’s style pyjama bottoms similar to those I made to go with the 1930’s style top I posted a pattern for on my blog a while back.


So to that end I’ve written a knicker  drafting tutorial for the DIY pattern-making inclined. At the end is included how to turn the pattern into an elasticated-waist wide-leg 30’s lounging pj style as well. There is also a brief text-only knicker sewing tutorial that accompanies it.   However, in a couple of weeks I’m hosting a full french knicker sew-along for those who’d like more pictorial step-by-step sewing instructions. (If you don’t wish to draft your own I even posted a pattern in two different sizes UK 10&14 (US 6&10))

   The lace bow appliqués..fun to do!.. were inspired by an article in 1939 Marie Claire magazine I bought a few weeks ago.

To make them you take a length of lace, tie it into a bow and tweak it about until you like it. Anchor it with a few pins onto your ironing board and gently press it flat. Carefully place and re-pin it in position on your fabric. I used a small straight stitch to sew it on…without basting first. But I will admit basting would have been a good idea; all the pins really got in the way and there is a big risk of breaking a machine needle. A minor miracle but this time I didn’t.



About the author: Professional costumier & pattern designer and it’s also what I do for fun… usually 1930s & 1940s style.

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • EmSewCrazy August 27, 2012, 3:23 pm

    Those are quite lovely! I really like the bow detail!

  • Harriet Bazley August 27, 2012, 8:12 pm

    I’ve got an old silk dressing-gown that is busy coming apart at the seams – I have secret plans to turn it into some airy underwear 🙂

    I do actually have an original wartime slip and underwear pattern, very battered but only one size too large for me (the bra pieces are missing, alas) – but your fitting instructions might well help with that!

  • Charlotte August 28, 2012, 5:12 am

    The outline on the reverse itself is very pretty!

  • Agnes Deer August 28, 2012, 6:34 am

    Those two are amazing! It would be quite difficult for me to choose! Maybe the mint ones… 🙂

  • Sarah Hodgson August 28, 2012, 8:14 am

    Love them both. Thanks so much for sharing. I want to make some now.

  • savagespider August 29, 2012, 7:33 am

    Gorgeous, I love the colors!!

  • VeraVenus August 29, 2012, 7:42 am

    Thank you all for your comments 🙂

    @Charlotte- a nice idea for a quilting pattern maybe, I hadn’t looked at it like that. Thanks for the thought!

  • Jessamyn August 29, 2012, 6:16 pm

    So, so pretty! The pink ones are obviously silk charmeuse but what are the aqua ones made from? The “body” in that fabric makes them extra-flattering!

    • Jeanne August 29, 2012, 6:34 pm

      Thank you! The aqua fabric is a washed silk broadcloth. It does have a nice body to it… makes up beautifully for shirts too.

      • Jessamyn August 30, 2012, 2:51 pm

        Ah, yes! A very popular blouse fabric in the late 1980s/early ’90s. This makes the wheels start turning about repurposing thrift-store shirts…

  • tina vines August 30, 2012, 8:46 pm

    GORGEOUS!! these are so lovely! I really love that bow detail! Trims that look fancy but are actually easy to do are so wonderful. Thanks for explaining your process & including the great photos.

  • Debbie August 31, 2012, 10:32 am

    Love that bow detail. I think I might try that on a baby garment.

  • Jess Lee October 12, 2012, 10:28 pm

    Thank you so much, I have been looking for a french knicker tutorial for so long, loved the style, beautiful

  • Kenny May 8, 2013, 4:18 am

    I love the look of french knickers, also called tap panties, or step-ins (pettipants are generally longer). They look sweet, innocent, romantic and o- so-sexy. These French-inspired underthings were all the rage during the 1930 and 40s and uinto the 50s, although they have enjoyed periodic revivals since then, thanks to the leadership of certain lingerie designers. The early forms buttoned at the waist with little pearl buttons, usually set into a placket. By the late 1930s, the side-buttoned tap panties were gradually replaced with elastic waists, although side button plackets persisted until at least 1944 (see: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2209&dat=19440713&id=YoJAAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xqQMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6284,642610.
    Before the Hayes Code tightened the production of Hollywood films in 1934, there were a number of films in which such female stars as Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Barbara Stanwyck, and Joan Blondell were seen in their step-ins, including “Our Blushing Brides (Crawford) A Man of Her Own (Lombard), Rafter Romance (Rogers), The Girl from Missouri (Harlow), and Night Nurse (Blondell and Stanwyck). Then, the Hayes Office moved in and spoiled all the fun. After that, we just had to imagine what lacy bits of frippery the female stars wore beneath their clothes. YouTube has a sweet little exercise video called “Bend Down Sisters,” in which two lovely ladies exercise in their side-button step-ins. Go to:
    In my view, nothing has replaced the romanticism of french knickers. They are classic lingerie that should never go out of style.

  • serena da costa June 18, 2013, 8:22 pm

    how come you don’t have the pinterest option…I would love to pin this..


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