Ask the Costume Goddess
Ask the Costume Goddess:
How to Make Harem Pants
by Dina Lydia
Dear Costume Goddess:
I hope I didn't miss it, but I've been poring over this fantastic
site... Is there a relatively easy way to make the pantaloons?
The Costume Goddess Responds
Harem pants are worn under a skirt, or worn alone. Typically
they are very full, measuring six to twelve inches or more larger
than measurement of hip and thigh. Each half is a single piece
with no side seam.The pants keep the legs (and underwear!) covered
during floorwork, spins, and outdoor breezes, as well as for
those who prefer to cover legs for whatever reason. Even sheer
pants appear more modest than bare legs.
Cheap and Easy Tip: Try using a pair of pull-on pants several
sizes too large for you, if you can find some in a suitable fabric
(see below — not doubleknit!), perhaps in a secondhand store.
After adjusting the leg length and cutting the waist lower, sew
casings at hip and ankle and thread elastic through as described
below. Then adjust elastic until you get a satisfactory fit.
Trim if desired.
For those with more time, the classic harem pants are easy
to sew because once your pattern is perfected, only two seams
and two casings are required. I suggest starting with a generously
sized pattern piece — the pants can always be taken in if you
wish. Or make a mock-up of the pants in cheap muslin, perfect
the fit, then use this muslin as a pattern for your costume fabric.
Often the front and back of the pants are exactly the same.
My version has a slightly smaller front that dips an inch lower
than the back, to avoid bunchy material in front. But if you
want to skip that step, fold my pattern in half vertically to
make a pattern piece that is exactly the same front and back.
Variations: The side may be slit to leave an opening, which
may then be outlined with decorative trim, and the two halves
connected with beaded strands, metallic ribbons or other decoration.
Panels or scarves can be added front and back for vertical
interest, and sewn directly on the pants, or attached to a separate
elastic band, which is then covered with a hip scarf. If you
are wearing a cabaret belt, the scarves may be sewn to that (see
red costume in photo gallery).
The pants may be cut slimmer and tapered with darts as illustrated
for an "Indian" look. Slimmer rather than fuller pants
flatter the more petite figure. Beware a balloony look! If short-legged
(like me!) you may appear to be standing in a hole. A taller
or long-legged dancer can wear the fuller pants gracefully.
For the classic full harem pants:
- Metallic sheers
- Metallic knits
- Cut velvet on chiffon
- Lingerie satin
- Blouse-weight silk
For a folkloric look:
- Sheer to medium-weight soft cottons
Avoid stiff fabrics such as:
- Bridal satins
- Thick velvets
- Heavy brocades
(But these stiff fabrics may be worn as panels.)
The slim style pants can use a slightly more firm fabric,
since they dont need to drape.
Amount of Fabric Needed
Depending on size and height, 1-1¼ yards (or meters) of 60-inch
(153 cm) wide fabric; 2-2½ yards (or meters) of 52-inch (132 cm) or 45-inch (115 cm) wide fabric.
A sheer or very light fabric will need more fullness, so buy
- Measuring tape
- Pattern paper
- All-purpose thread
- Dressmaking shears
- ½ inch (13 mm) elastic for ankles
- One inch (2.5 cm) wide elastic for hip
Tie a piece of ½-inch (13 mm) elastic around abdomen snugly.
Move this elastic higher or lower to decide where on your hip
you would like to wear your belt, from navel down to barely legal.
Measure this line, using the measuring tape. This is your belt
line. Now measure from this line to the floor. This is your pants
length, or skirt length, for costume purposes (leaving an inch
(2.5 cm) or so for hem). Now measure the largest part of your hip, probably
several inches lower. This is your hip measurement. Measure the
largest part of your thigh for thigh measurement. Sit on a chair
and measure from the beltline to chair. Add an inch (2.5 cm), or two inches
(5 cm) for very roomy pants. This is your crotch depth.
Start with a rectangle of paper the measurement of your pants
length, plus 2 inches (5 cm) for casing and blousing at ankle and 1 1/2 inches (4 cm)
for casing at hip. For classic harem pants, add 6 to 12
inches (16 to 32 cm) to hip and thigh measurements for the width - depending
on how loose you want pants. For slim harem pants, add 4-5 inches (10-13 cm)
to hip and thigh measurement. Remember that the pattern is one-half
of belt line at top, but a full leg.
Use diagram to adjust your rectangle and draw pattern. Note
that the belt line is curved one inch (2.5 cm) lower at front. This is
optional. Remember when measuring that an inch and a half (4 cm) is
allowed at the top for one-inch (2.5 cm) elastic, ¾ inch (2 cm) at bottom
of leg for ankle elastic, and ½ (13 mm) for seam allowances.
When pattern is complete, determine how much fabric youll
need, using the diagram.
Pin pattern to fabric and cut out.
Sew center seams, then inseams.
Finish edges of casings nicely with ¼ inch (7 mm) turn under,
overlock, or zigzag, then turn under 1 ¼ inch (3 cm) at top
and ¾ inch (2 cm) at ankles, and topstitch. Leave small opening
Using a safety pin or bodkin, thread elastic through casings, to body
measurements, pin the elastic shut, then try on the pants. Pull
elastic to adjust the size of the openings. Elastic should be
snug but not uncomfortably tight. Pants should blouse slightly
at ankle, but not enough to touch floor. If pants seem too long
or beltline seems too high, pick out the stitching and trim edge,
When fit is correct, sew ends of elastic and sew shut opening
Add a line of trim up the side, if desired.
The "Indian" style pants are made the same except
that thay are cut slimmer, and tapered with darts from the knee
down to make an ankle opening just big enough to fit your foot
A point at foot front is optional.
For open side: Allow an extra inch of width. Cut pattern along
side line. Turn under this edge and finish nicely, then cover
this edge with trim or decoration. Sew the side front and back
together at top inch or two and bottom inch or two. Connect the
remainder of slit every few inches as desired, a half-inch to
two inches apart, with ribbon, trim, or strands of beads. Experiment
until you achieve a pleasing look.
--The Costume Goddess
Additional Comments from Shira
If using elastic instead of a drawstring for the top edge, I strongly recommend using the non-roll type of elastic. It has ribs that opposite the direction o the stretch, as shown in the photo to the right, and is less likely than braid elastic to twist inside the casing when you are wearing the pants.
For the ankle casings, braid elastic should be fine. Ankle elastic generally doesn't have the twisting problem that hip line elastic does.
If the pants are made of a heavy fabric such as brocade or glitter dot, it may be better to use a drawstring than elastic for the top edge. If the pants fabric is too heavy for the elastic to hold it up, the pants can fall down. A drawstring won't have this problem.
When I insert my elastic or drawstring into the casing, I personally prefer to use a bodkin (shown in the photo to the right) instead of a safety pin. I find it easier to deal with. Although safety pins certainly get the job done, I find that the process goes more quickly with a bodkin.
Other articles on this web
site related to use of harem pants in belly dance costuming include:
About the Costume Goddess
Dina has been sewing for more than twenty-five
years (yes, she started as a toddler!)
She's also an artist (Maryland Institute of Art) and perfected
her sewing techniques apprenticed to various designers, freelancing
for small theaters, restyling vintage garments, and altering
Dina fell in love with belly dancing costumes upon her very
first lesson. Now the pleasure of wearing her own designs, and
seeing others wear them, offers as much pleasure as dancing. She's
become expert as well in altering those troublesome ready-made
Egyptian costumes, and modifying designs to flatter individual
She holds workshops in Seattle to teach design and construction
of cabaret costumes, and analysis of figure characteristics.
She will also give private lessons, or resize or repair a secondhand
costume. She's thus earned her Costume Goddess title.
The Costume Goddess Tells All Costuming Books
Dina has published six books of her own on belly dance costuming
as well as writing nearly all the costuming section for The
Belly Dance Book. For information on her series of books, The Costume Goddess Tells All, see her web site at www.costumegoddess.com.
For reviews here on Shira.net of some of her books, see:
Costume Goddess Photos
To view a photo gallery featuring pictures of Dina, costumes
she has designed, and her friends, either click on the choices below or visit her web site:
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