Chaps, originally worn by cowboys as a protective covering for wild terrain riding, are used today for show as well as practical horseback riding. Due to the popularity of Western films, chaps are also used in cowboy costumes for Halloween and other dress-up events. Whatever your purpose, you don't need to purchase expensive custom chaps to dress like a cowboy. To make your own cowboy chaps for riding, Halloween or play, complete the following instructions.
Things You'll Need
Chaps pattern or muslin fabric
Marker or fabric pencil
Sewing equipment and supplies
Leather, suede or faux-leather fabric
Drafting the Pattern
Choose the type of cowboy chaps you would like to make. Riding chaps come in 3 major types: chinks, which are short and have fringe; batwings, which are wide and flared; and leggings, which are long with a small flare. Find a few reference pictures of your preferred chaps style, to base your cowboy chaps pattern on.
Find a chaps pattern in your size in the style you like, or draft your own pattern. If you are making your own pattern, have a friend help you drape a large piece of muslin fabric around one of your legs, over the pants you plan to wear under your chaps. Pin the fabric together at the center back of your leg with a few safety pins, letting several inches of fabric hang loose on the outside edge. Using a marker or fabric pencil, draw a line directly on the fabric where you would like your chaps to end. If you are making chinks, this is usually mid-calf, while batwings and leggings end at the ankle.
Mark out the top of your draped muslin, creating a curved line from the center back of your leg, just below the crotch, to the beginning of your front pants pocket. At the top of the back, mark out where you would like the outside edge of the chaps to meet the belt. This is usually at the inside edge or center of the back pants pocket. Also mark out the level of your waistline at the front and back, where you would like the chaps to meet the belt. When finished, mark out placement for snaps along the center back leg seam, on both sides of the muslin.
Remove your muslin and lay it flat on a table, then neaten all of your markings. Trim the muslin at the top and bottom edges, adding 1/2 inch extra to the top. Trim the excess fabric at the center back outside edge to the width you want, which will be very wide for batwing chaps, very small for legging chaps and somewhere in between for chinks.
Find the top marking on the outside edge of the center back and draw a gentle convex curve from that marking to the edge of the fabric. At the bottom of the outside edge, do the same, so that your chaps will have rounded outside edges. Trim away all excess fabric. On a separate piece of muslin, or a sheet of paper, draw out a pattern for your belt. Make sure that the belt pattern is several inches longer than your hip measurement, and no more than a few inches wide. Taper the edges, and if desired, you can make the center section wider or more elegantly-shaped, so long as it is symmetrical.
Sewing the Chaps
Determine what material you will make your cowboy chaps from. Real cowboy chaps are made from leather or suede, which will require a more heavy-duty sewing machine and needles, while costume chaps are often made from faux-leather or faux-suede, and can be sewn on any home machine. Make sure that you have enough material to make your chaps, based on the size of your pattern.
Pin your pattern pieces to your fabric and cut each piece from the fabric. Cut 2 opposite pieces from your leg pattern and 1 piece from your belt pattern, or as directed if you are working from a commercial pattern. Be sure to cut your leather very carefully, so that the edges are neat.
Create decorative stitching around the outside edges of your belt, and add any leather tooling detail that you would like to have there. When you are completely finished with all detail work on the belt, loop one end of the belt around the middle piece of a belt buckle and stitch the belt end in place. Put the belt on and determine where you need to make buckle holes, then poke the holes using an awl. Put the belt back on again, buckle it, and, using a fabric pencil or a few pieces of masking tape, mark the front placement of the leg pieces, which start at the inside edges of your pants pockets.
Remove the belt and pin the chaps legs to the inside of it, from your markings all the way to the back end of the legs. Use that extra 1/2 inch on the legs as a seam allowance here. Stitch the legs to the belt, following your decorative stitching so that the stitches are attractive from the top side.
Attach snaps or straps at your snap placement markings. Add any extra detail to the chaps legs, such as outside stitching all the way around the edges. If you have made chinks, shred all of the outside edges into fringe that is at least a few inches long.
If you are making your chaps in fabric, not leather, add an extra 1/2 inch to all edges for seam allowances. You can also add detail work to your chaps by creating holes in the leather at the belt or strap lines and lacing strips of leather through the holes like shoelaces, or by attaching decorative buttons over your snaps, on the outside of the fabric.