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icon freeI'm back with a tailoring topic that some of you requested and I'm more than happy to supply: how to cut and sew a pair of gentlemen's trousers.

This article was supposed to be released a couple of months ago, but was delayed by my book. Now I'm happy to present this to you fine people as this is also a preview chapter from my book! YAY! I of course edited it just a little to fit better in the context of an article and I also added some bonus material. I hope you enjoy it and find it useful.trouser_plate



Trouser Draft

 The draft provided below is from W.D.F. Vincent's The Trimmer's Practical Guide. The draft was originally published around 1888 as a prize essay for the National Federation of Foremen Tailors. It was a draft that he had personally used since the early 80's, and that had been around since the 1870's.

If you know the fashion width that you want at knee and bottom/ankle (a chart is provided below) you can easily use this draft for any period trouser from the 1860's on. In my opinion though, this system is best suited from the mid 1870's to the late 1880's.

Download a large, printable version of the Trouser draft  


How to Measure for Trousers

Measuring for trousers is quite easy, but might be a little uncomfortable for the person being measured since you have to become quite “personal” when taking the leg-seam measure.

You should always take your measures in this order, so at a glance you will know what they are for. It'll make measuring faster and easier if you do it in the same order over and over again. So when writing out the measures, they should always be taken down in order: Side, Leg, Waist, Seat, Knee, and around the Bottom.

1. We first take the side length as from 1 to 2. Point one is located at the top of the hip along the side of the leg. Point two being the top of the heel if wearing period shoes. If not, measure from point 1 down to the floor, with no shoes on.

Note: this is only taken at the top of the hip bone, as no-one wears period rise trousers. If they *are* wearing such, then measure from the top of the trousers, otherwise add between 1½"-2" to the first measure: this is the full length of the side-seam.


Measurements for Trousers2. The Leg Seam is measured from point 3 to 4. Point 3, being the uncomfortable measure. Have the person being measured pull up their trousers and while kneeling next to them on their right side, take the inch tape in your left hand and reaching from behind, place the end of the tape well up into the crutch. Slide the right hand along the tape, down to point 4 (inside heel) and take note of the measure.

3. Waist and Seat measures are fairly simple. Take the waist measure around the NATURAL waist with a little ease, then take the seat measure around the most prominent part round the bum. The seat measure should be taken a little closer (tighter) than the waist measure.

4. The Knee and Bottom (ankle) measures only work if the person is wearing period trousers. If not, refer to the chart below as a starting point.

To measure the Knee, take the trousers at the knee area, pinch between your fingers and pull tight straight back towards yourself. Take the tape and carefully measure the stretched out bit of cloth. Repeat for the Bottom measure. It takes some practice to take this measure properly.

Fashionable Knees and Bottom hems

The following chart is an example of the knee and bottom measure from the mid 1870's to the early 1880's, to be used as a general guide in making your trousers. All of the measures were taken from period proportionate trouser model patterns.

If using the chart below, you will need to grade the measures to your seat size. Generally speaking, a proportionate Seat to Knee width proportion is 2:1, ie. the knee should be one half the seat.  This, however, does not reflect fashion. The best way I have found to grade the knee and bottom measure is to widen a ¼" for every size of seat. For example, the starting knee for a 36 inch seat is 17 inches; to find the knee width for a 40 inch seat, we figure from 36 to 40 is 4 sizes, so the knee for a 40 inch seat would be 18 inches.Retrato_de_don_Jose_Ballester-Ulpiano_Checa

As we see in the chart, the fashionable widths of trousers ebb and flow through out the period. In the early 70's the fashion was for slim, straight trousers and by the middle of the decade it was common for the knee to be narrower than the bottom measure. The 1880's get back to straight trousers followed by the knee again widening.













36 1/2











17 1/4

17 1/2







Drafting a Simple Period Trouser

The Measures to be used are: 1) Length of Side seam; 2) Length of Leg Seam, from fork (crutch) to bottom of leg; 3) Waist Measure, the size of waist taken fairly easy on the natural waist; 4) Seat Measure, taken fairly close around the prominence of the seat; 5 and 6) Fashionable size of knee and bottom.

For example, your measures are taken and written thus: 44, 32, 30, 36, 18, 17 .


Tip: Always take and write down your trouser measures in the order given. This allows you to reference the numbers quickly when drafting.


new-trouser-draft_aDraft the top-sides (trouser fronts), Dia. A.


Having trouble following these instructions? Tell us in the comments below so that we can help!

 Draw a line as O C O, this is the construction line.

 Mark from A to B the Full Length of the side-seam (including the 2” extension if the waistband is included). ( “A” is any arbitrary point at the top of the construction line allowing enough room below to draft the trousers.)

From C to D one-sixth the full seat measure.

B to E one-fourth of bottom measure.

Draw the centre-line from D through F down to E.

All lines are then squared by this line- thus, square by F, D to C, and continue to H

 D to H is also one-sixth the seat, and G is midway between H and D.

Line J/I is then drawn at a right angle to G/D. I is one-sixth the seat measure ABOVE G, and line J/K is squared out from line J/I at the hollowest part of waist.

(An easy way to determine this is to subtract the side-seam measure from the leg-seam measure and then subtract two inches (if added). This will give the “rise” to be measured from G to J.)

From J to K is one-fourth waist measure, above which it is sprung out to L, if you are not comfortable free handing this, simply square up two inches and then square out a quarter of an inch to find L.

Now start the outline of the pattern by connecting L to K with a little hollow and then continue on to C, well rounded at M, which is one-twelfth seat measure above C.

Now finish the side-seam by locating F on the centre-line:  Measure down from D one-half the leg-seam measure and subtract two inches, mark F and square out to N which is one-fourth the knee measure.

Once N is found complete the side-seam from C through N down to B with a graceful curve.

We now turn our attention to the fork, and make G to S ¼" more than half of H to G. (S is out from G at a 45° angle.)

Now draw the curve, slant the curve at I, running it through S to H.

To take out Dress (optional), measure in from H 1 to 1 ¼ inch and mark 1. Draw a straight line from 1 to O. Now redraw the fork line from 1 to I slightly hollowing the curve as per the diagram.

From F square out to O one-fourth Knee measure, then square out from E to P ½" less than the quarter measure of the bottom. Once these points are found, draw the leg-seam.

Quickly check the measure of the leg-seam by measuring from H to P.

To complete the top-side, hollow the bottom at E ½ or ¾ an inch.

At this point it is wise to make your pocket facings as well by drawing your facing starting at K towards M about 6" or so long and 1¼"-1½" inches wide.


new-trouser-draft_bThe Undersides (trouser backs). Diagram B.

Take the cut out top-side pattern (draft A) and lay it onto the cloth in a position that will allow you to expand the pattern for the under-sides. This takes some practice so do not be discouraged if you have to reset the pattern to make room.

Alternatively, it may be easier for you to not cut out the top-side pattern, instead draft the undersides on top of the topsides pattern.

Whichever way you proceed:

Draw the seat seam from H through I up and beyond where W will be (I being one-sixth the measure above G).

Mark out from H to Q 1½ inches, dropping Q about ¼ inch lower than H.

Go down the leg-seam and mark R an inch from O, thus allowing for seams. Move down and add about an inch from P to S as well.

Draw the leg-seam from Q through  down to S.

Round the bottom at Z about half an inch, and draw the bottom from S through Z to B.

Now measure up the size of seat. Measure across the top-side; first from the fly line (G/J) straight across to M, as per double line in diagram B, then apply this measure to T, and continue measuring across to U half the seat measure plus 2 inches.

As T seems like an arbitrary point an easy way to find T and U is to extent a line straight out from M, then taking up your square, place one arm on the seat-seam line drawn earlier, now slide the square up and down until the line extended meets the measure applied from T to U. Mark U.

Continue by measuring J to K and apply that to W and measure to V the half waist plus 1 inch. To find where V will lay, a sweep will need to be made.

Using N as a pivot, sweep from K out (about 6 inches will do).

Now take up the square again and, resting the arm on the seat-seam again, measure out to the swept line until the measure falls on the line, mark X and V.

Once marked draw the side-seam from V, starting with a little hollow and then rounding out a little to just above N.

To finish, spring out from X by ½" and come in 2¼" and square up 1½" to find Y. Connect the outline and the trouser draft is completed.

Having trouble following these instructions? Tell us in the comments below so that we can help!

This may seem difficult, but I assure you this is probably the easiest period draft and once you do this a couple of times it become super easy and if drafted a few times, you should be able to draft a well fitting trouser from memory.


Transferring the pattern

Now that your pattern is drafted, transfer it to a heavier paper or card. The heavier paper/ card allows precision and a neater line to be traced on to your fabric. Simply lay your card on a table, place the cut out pattern on top, and use a tracing wheel to transfer the outline and construction marks onto the card.



Munkacsy_Borsos_1874CUTTING FROM THE CLOTH.

Your patterns now being ready, you need to arrange them on the cloth.

To start, take the cloth and lay it down on the cutting board (table). The first thing to notice is whether there is a nap or pile, or if there is any pattern on the cloth which would interfere with the lay. If there is any nap, it must be arranged so as to run down, except for velvet or velveteen (which is cut with the pile running up to give the velvet a richer and warmer tone).

Take care to have the different pattern parts of the garment running the same way. A longer length of material may be necessary to accommodate lays with nap, stripes or checks. You should also try to cut the patterns economically; Victorian tailors, like ourselves, were enthusiastic to cut the garment out of as short a length of fabric as possible.

When cutting the patterns out, rest your shears on the table and slide them forward on the blade and bow of the handle as you take your cuts. Also take care that the shears are perfectly square in relation to the table. If your shears lean one way or another or you lift the shears from the table you could throw your cuts off.

Lastly, do not squeeze the shears to make your cuts. Smoother cuts can be had by pressing your thumb and palm down toward the table, if the shears are square you use the leverage of the table to make the cuts. This, in the end, will save your wrists.

Trouser Inlays



...is a very important one, and should receive the proper attention. Think of them as insurance against a wrong cut, or an oversight where you didn't alter the pattern enough for a "disproportion" in the figure. There is no need to have extensive inlays at all parts of the garment, as this can lead to confusion and can be detrimental to the general fit. You are better to reduce them to the smallest possible number, and try to avoid leaving them on hollow seams if possible.

Inlays are typically freehanded on after the pattern is put to cloth. You will notice you will have two lines on the pattern just chalked, one (the original from the pattern) which is your actual edge, with your seam line ¼" inside this, and the inlay line, which is the line you cut.



Trimming for trousers is fairly straightforward.

We will need: 

  • A metre/yard of fine linen such as collar/French canvas or preferably Holland linen.  (We will not use the whole metre/yard but it's nice to order a little more in case of “oops!”, or if the cuts are not well squared, the leftover can be used at another time.)
  • A half metre/yard each of some sort of pocketing, preferably cotton drill or cotton twill
  • A lining material such as silesia or a striped cotton sateen
  • One metre/yard of stay tape
  • A piece of black silesia for fly lining and facing.


Marking the Linen

The last thing we will cover in this instalment is marking up your linen for stays. Take notice of the diagram showing the layout of stays and how they should be marked. Bear in mind this is a general lay-out and you will need to compensate for larger sizes.

To start, shrink your linen well by soaking it in cool water for about 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the linen from the water and press dry and flat. Once dry take up a straight edge and your chalk. As linen typically comes in 24 to 32 inch widths, we will take our stays on the straight. If the linen is 36 inches or more wide, then take the stays from the cross.

Trousers - Linen stays


Lay the linen flat in front of you with the selvedge edge towards you (if less than 36” wide).

Then square and trim the right hand raw edge.

Starting at the bottom right hand corner, measure to the left, along the selvage, 36 inches.

Square up on the left hand edge and trim.

Take up your chalk and straight edge (ruler) and measure up from the selvedge nine inches at each end and in the middle. Chalk a line straight across these points. Now divide the length into thirds.

Now divide the right compartment into five strips, which will come to 1.8 inches per strip which will later be trimmed to 1.75 inches.

In the left compartment do the same, once divided you will need to make two curved lines as represented in the diagram for your fly stay.

In the middle compartment draw a centre line from the top right hand corner of the compartment to the lower left hand corner. From this line make a parallel line 2⅝” on either side. This will make a stay 1.75 inches wide when folded three times.

All that is left is to draw in the fork stays. There is really no method to do this other than good old fashioned experience, but in essence they are crescent shaped. Once all has been drawn, blow across the linen removing the excess chalk dust and fold up.

Having trouble following these instructions? Tell us in the comments below so that we can help!

A cheat, I guess you can say, for forming the fork stay would be to draw a circle and draw a line down the middle. When it comes to placing the stay cut out the circle and lay it under the fork, lining up the ends of the centre line with the fabric and then draw the curve by tracing the curve in the fabric.


Bundle Up

Now take up your cut trousers and lay out smoothly, in the middle place your folded linen and on top of this place your trimmings, cut pocket facings, button stand and fly. Wrap the trouser around it into a neatly folded bundle. Take your stay tape and tie it around the bundle with an easy slipknot and set the bundle aside until the next instalment of this series.

Victorian Trousers, pt 1
In Diagram A the distance CB appears to be important, but the instructions don't say what it is? Perhaps I misunderstand the diagram...
Victorian Trousers, pt 1
Yes, sorry.

After drawing your construction line and you mark B, measure back up to C the leg measure in this case 32".

Then square from C to D one-sixth the full seat measure.

B to E one-fourth of bottom measure. This finds the centre line which all others are squared from.

Despite the seemingly complex nature of the draft it really is a basic and easy trouser and after a couple of drafts the points become second nature. So don't give up this is real tailoring :D


Victorian Trousers, pt 1
Scratch "Then square from C to D one-sixth the full seat measure." This will throw off the measures. I've been doing it so long it's second nature.
Victorian Trousers, pt 1
This looks wonderful! I can't wait to try out this draft on the man in my life. As someone who owns a huge number of tailoring draft books and magazines from the 1890s through the 1930's - this helps a great deal in making sense of them. I'm going to have a lot of fun this week with this article in one hand and some of my books in the other!

Thanks for all of your hard work on this.

Janyce Engan
Vintage Pattern Lending Library

Victorian Trousers, pt 1
Looks like I should make a video supplemental on drafting the trousers, as being shown what to do is a lot different than being told what to do.

If there is enough interest I will do it :)

Victorian Trousers, pt 1
Yes - lots of interest for the video! ;-)
Victorian Trousers, pt 1
Ditto on the video too. I find I 'get it' alot easier when shown. Brilliant article. Thanks.
Victorian Trousers, pt 1
OK but the video will have to wait until after part 2 :)
Victorian Trousers, pt 1
So everyone knows I have realized a slight problem in the draft. Mr. Vincent was good but not with-out faults and since this is a very early draft some errata has taken place so I will clarify once Pt. Two is up. I will try and do a video, if not I will do a line by line step process of the draft and how to get the most out of it.

Thanks for the patience


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