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How to Make a Turkish Salwar

Research by Charles Mellor. May be reproduced if properly credited.

This pattern is based upon extant Turkish garments in the Topkapi museum, along with patterns for similar pants shown in Tilke. It is appropriate for Persian costumes from about 1300 to 1620. I have used a loom-width economy method of cutting since it is so easily adapted for this style of pants and gives the correct fullness.

Both men and women wore this garment. Aside from scenes showing bathing, hard labour, the pitifully destitute or some type of undress, these pants are part of every person's clothing shown in the paintings.

Based on paintings of the period, a very drapey, softer fabric was most common. I have seen no evidence in paintings that the super-starched Turkish look was ever used in Persia. Based on paintings, appropriate fabrics would be: brocades with small, over-all geometric patterns, brocades with small over-all patterns of Chinese motifs (most typically cloud-scroll patterns), brocades with arabesque patterns, brocades with foliate or acanthus in either over-all or serpentine runners, solids with gold embroidery or stamping randomly applied or applied to hem and wrist, Turkish style brocades, Venetian style brocades, plain solid fabrics. Even though everybody thinks stripes are typical of Middle Eastern design, stripes are never shown for use in most garments in Persian art, except for peasant/labourer class clothing. Sometimes the salwar will have stripes, but they are not plain stripes, but very intricate paisley/Indian border patterns arranged as stripes. On women's pants the stripes generally stopped at mid thigh, leaving the plain white fabric showing. Based on extant garments of a later period, there is some evidence that these are actually embroidered motifs. Typically the fabric of the pants matches one of the under-layers rather than the outer caftan.

Fitting tips

Unlike western patterns, for these pants, the larger your behind, the longer you need to make them. Otherwise, when you sit down they turn into Capri pants that will strangle you calves. The fit on these should be very wide and full. I have a pair that made from 56" fabric, so that comes out to about 110" at the waist, and I have a 34" waist. The crotch on these pants rides a little low, because the crotch will also ride up and be unkind to you when you sit down. I have on pair of a stiffer fabric for a Turkish outfit and the extra crotch fabric will kind of waggle like a duck's tail behind me if I let it get away from me. This problem does not occur in a softer fabric.

To determine how wide to make the ankle, point you bare foot like you are a ballet dancer. Measure around the heel and over the ankle. (This is the widest circumference you can find on your pointed foot). Add * inch plus whatever you wish to use for seam allowances. If using a heavy or stiff fabric, add 1 inch plus seam allowances. This is the minimum measurement to use. You can use a wider measurement, but will then need to fold it over and button it to fit. You can also use a narrower measurement and leave a seam open to get your foot through and buttons to close it. Remember that loops or tabs were used rather than buttonholes in this period. If you do use buttons, put them at the back or outside. On the inside of your ankles they will constantly catch on the other leg until they rip off.

You can make these extremely long by extending the narrow tapered ankle part, or you can just lengthen them by cutting them longer and evenly grading the taper from crotch to ankle. If you extend the taper from the narrow part, rather than the crotch, this is similar to Indian pants. If you lengthen them by grading evenly from the crotch, you need to be careful not to make them so long you trip.

This pattern only shows * the garment (one leg's worth). You need to cut two leg pieces and four crotch gussets. Sew the crotch gussets on each side of the leg pieces and then sew each leg up the inseam. Then sew the two legs together at the crotch seam. Then sew the drawstring casing at the waist and finish the ankles with a narrow hem.

When you sew the crotch gussets on, you have a choice of sewing that seam as bias-to-bias or bias-to-straight. Whatever you decide, it needs to be the same for all four gussets. I usually decide by looking at it both ways and seeing which direction makes a natural looking crotch curve. (You need to know how mundane pants patterns look for this to make sense to you) Depending on how wide your fabric is it could go either way. Depending on the weight of you fabric, this will also alter the drape of the pants (sometimes you get a sort of "swag" draping in a light fabric). I have never decided if I like that look or not, but it would probably look good for dancing.

When I sew the crotch seam, I will usually curve it slightly rather than following the straight line of the fabric. Depending on the angles involved based on your width of fabric, sometime you will find the fabric forms a sort of upside down "V" right at the bottom center of crotch seam. When it does this, I just sew straight across or in a gentle downward curve and trim of the excess fabric.