What I’ve learnt about sewing undies

19 Jul

Undies, knickers, panties, those things! Being an Aussie I’ll refer to them as undies, m’k?

A personal goal of mine is to make my own lingerie, inspired by the likes of Bloom’s Endless SummerHandmade by Caroline, Sewaholic, and all the lovely patterns and blog posts on sewing lingerie to be found in the online sewing community. I figure ‘if you guys can do it, then so can I!’ Right? Right!

(I’m sure I got this at attitude from being a little sister. All my life I’ve watched my older sister do stuff, and I’m thinking ‘If SHE can do them, then so can I!’ Mum reckons this attitude always annoyed my sister no end. Poor Kylie!)

Sewing lingerie is a pretty daunting goal though, so I divided it up, starting with undies.

What do I want in a pair of undies?

I feel kinda crazy talking about the different roles of undies in my life! But there’s no point in sewing undies I won’t wear, be them ever so pretty in my lingerie draw, so bear with me?

I need to:

  • be able to walk over an hour in them
  • dance over and hour in them
  • bike ride an hour in them
  • do a pilates class in them
  • not have to adjust them just at that moment I am sighting a feral pig down the length of my arrow – or even having just gotten out of the car, for that matter
  • not have them show under my clothes
  • look suitably cute and appealing when viewed by my partner

Gosh I don’t ask much, do I!

There’s a few rtw styles that fulfil the requirements – the ubiquitous Bonds hipster bikinis(left) and Parisian knickers (right).

I can buy them fairly easily, so why am I so determined to make my own? Well, the Bonds bikinis are BORING. The Parisian Knickers are hard to find in cotton – polyester undies in this climate? No thankyou O_O. But mostly because they just don’t last long . I suspect this is a climate issue – the lycra in the fabric dies within 6 months. It happens with t-shirts with lycra in them too.

Heh, and I bet too, that now I’ve told the world how much I like them, they’ll both be discontinued by this time next year.

Oh yeah, and, I like a challenge:-)

Patterns patterns patterns

I made a pattern from each rtw style.

Next I pulled out the most likely suspect from my pattern collection, a Kwik Sew boyshorts-style pattern from an op-shop. The pattern envelope has long gone so I don’t know the pattern number, sorry 😦 However here is the pattern after I’d muslined them for a one-way stretch cotton knit. (More on muslining later.)

I also looked online for more inspiration. I fell in love with the Granny Panny from Sew Vera Venus. She offers a number of truly awesome patterns for free, including the Granny Panny.

And lastly, I have a pattern from off the internet that I’ve thrown away the original printout, and on the tracing I kept, all I wrote on it was simply ‘Pretty Things’ . I have NO idea who or what Pretty Things undies are, but if you do know, please tell me so I can a) acknowledge them properly, and b) thank them, because they are really comfortable!

What I made!

The RTW undies: When made in similar fabric to the originals, both the Parisian Knickers and the Bonds bikini were almost exactly the same as the rtw. This surprised me. I had my doubts that copying a rtw pair would produce anything much useful, but it was actually really effective. Yay!

I don’t have a picture of the me-made Bonds bikini, but could you just take my word they were very comfy? Here are the Parisian Knickers:

Photo

For these, I used stretch lace fabric found in the scrapbooking section of Officeworks. Seriously. *rather bemused* All I can say is it is a good advertisement for the value of reaching out to touch every textile you ever see 😀 It was only when touching it that it became obvious it was stretch lace. Why you’d need stretch lace for scrapbooking, I don’t know…?  The fabric is modal jersy/lycra from Dharma Trading and I’m sadly disappointed by it. It’s a nice comfy stretchy cool fabric – that pills the moment it’s washed. And I have a front loader I only use cold water with, so I am not butchering them 😦

The Kwik Sew supposed boy-shorts in one-way stretch cotton from Spotlight (This is how they ended up after adjustments to make them fullfil the Undies Requirements. Not exactly boy-shorts anymore, are they!)

My version of the Granny Panny (Oh why isn’t my photo all neat and shapely like Sew Vera Venus’s?), in a very funky purple polkadot cut a dress I found in an op-shop. I never took to the dress, but as a pair of Granny Pannies? LOVE!!!

 

The mysterious Pretty Things undies, in modal rayon/lycra from Dharma Trading, and stretch lace from Spotlight. Very comfy!

Hey Imogheena, just get to the good stuff already!

ok ok, So what have I learnt?

Patterns…

  • Why have more than one pattern? The patterns have very different layouts – some take up a lot of fold, some barely use a fold. Some are made of one big pattern (nice and easy to work with!), others two or three smaller pieces which fit on small scraps of fabric better. For eg I got 2 Parisean briefs out of a singlet top requisitioned to undies-making. If I’d used the Granny Panny or even the Bonds bikini, I’d have only gotten one pair from it. Conversely, with the modal rayon/lycra, I could get more Bonds bikinis than any other type. However it was so slithery, the Granny Panny with only one main piece, would actually have been easiest to use.
  • Crotch style (eg attached only at the sides/a seam down the centre/no seam/sandwhiched onto the front and back etc) has a huge bearing on how comfortable undies are, and there seems to be as many different versions of crotch-linings as there are undies patterns!  I found it’s pretty easy with a bit of judicious tracing and perhaps a seam added or taken away, to adjust most undies from one crotch-lining style to another. The increase in comfort a crotch-lining in your prefered style creates is well worth the effort.

Muslining undies…

  • Muslining is really really useful. And I HATE muslining, so I don’t say this lightly! Often quite small differences in stretch and recovery between fabrics can make a huge difference when on your body.
  • It works an absolute treat to literally draw with a pen where you want the exact leg-opening and waist-opening to fall on your own body! It was perhaps the most useful thing I worked out about sewing undies. Yeah! Go me!
  • If you do draw the openings on your muslin, it helps to have fabric to draw on, so cut extra length in the leg and waist openings.
  • There are tutorials out there that teach you how to adjust the pattern to different fabrics. (Using this principal in this tutorial by Cloth-habit) However they don’t take into account the lengthwise stretch or lack, of a fabric. But this is important for the comfort. You can do the same calculations for the length, but neither of these approaches necessarily made the leg opening fit well. (Noooo I’m not finicky! Honest!) I found muslining the easiest way to solve all of these issues at once.

Elastic and stretch laces…

  • The width of the stretch lace needs to be calculated into the fit. ie if the fit is perfect with 2cm wide lace, if made with 4cm lace it isn’t gonna fit right, especially through the crotch which will now be 4cm wider than drafted. Yeah I know. Obvious when spelled out, right?! Fortunately it’s easy to just cut that extra width off the pattern pieces before applying elastic.

How much elastic/ stretch lace to apply to each opening?

Like fabrics, different lingerie elastics and laces all have a different stretch and recovery. You want to get this bit right. After all a leg-opening that binds is a misery; too loose a waist and you might lose your duds, too tight and you’re back to misery. I decided the best thing to do was just experiement. Make 200 undies! (Well, not literally. I  mean the 200 zips concept) figuring eventually it would all make sense. And it did! Phew!

Firstly I simply measured each kind of elastic around the relevant body part at the taughtness that felt comfortable. Boy did that not work! Often the elastic I’d cut would be longer than the opening it was supposed to pull in. Huh? Even when it was smaller than the opening, once applied it was usually just too loose.

Eventually I realised that so long as the undies fit nicely, all you need is to cut the elastic a bit smaller than the circumference of the opening. DUH!! So obvious – well, now I’ve worked it out…

The caveat is: the ‘bit smaller’ varies with the stretch/recovery property of each elastic, and I haven’t yet found a way to work out how much by other than trial and error. I’m open to suggestions!

Fortunately I’ve now done so much trial and error I’m starting to intuitively know how much smaller particular elastic needs to be.  The 200 zips principal at work. YAY!

THEN I discovered that like bras, elastic in undies loosens as it ages. *facepalm* (I blame the Bonds hipster bikinis that I didn’t know this already – the fabric dies long before the elastic does.) So now I add that into my calculations too.

Construction…

This is the easiest way I’ve found, it means you’re applying elastic to a long edge rather than in the round, making it a lot easier to handle and match the elastic evenly along the fabric.

  • Sew the crotch seam and sew or baste the crotch lining in
  • Apply leg elastic to both leg edges
  • Sew up one side seam
  • Apply elastic to waist
  • Sew the other side seam up

 

Applying Elastic…

I’ve seen many suggestions for applying elastic, and duly tried them all. I’m really sorry that I can’t credit these suggestions correctly because they were gleaned from many late nights vegging out on pinterest and following links and I’ve long forgotten who said what. They’ve come from tutorials on adult lingerie, children’s undies (Do children have lingerie???) and swimwear for both adults and children. One day I intend to sort my Pinterest sewing boards a bit better, when I do I’ll come back and link to the lingerie-sewing board.

The suggestions:

‘Stretch the elastic more across the back than the front leg opening.’ IME it makes no difference and is a pain to do, so I don’t do it.

‘Stretch the elastic and the fabric a bit’ and conversely ‘only stretch the elastic to fit to the fabric’ IME this also makes no difference. What DOES matter is that you have good control of both fabric and elastic. Some elastics sit better on fabric that is stretched, others on fabric that is lax. Some fabrics are easier to sew the elastic to when stretched, others not. I do what works best.

The other important thing this impacts on is the stretchiness of the seam itself. I discovered the seam itself needs to be very very stretchy. If the seam is any less elastic than the lace it feels binding. The zigzag chosen needs to be very wide, and not very long.

And not elastic but still a common suggestion, ‘You can cut up old t-shirts to make undies!’ Hmph. See the point about muslining. By the time you’ve muslined there probably won’t be any fabric left for the Real pair. However if you’ve sewn 200 undies (or thereabouts ;-P) you’ll have enough experience to use t-shirts effectively. But when learning? IME it makes it harder, not easier.

 

Pretty pretty undies all cut up (from two singlets I wasn’t using) and ready to sew up 🙂

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4 Responses to “What I’ve learnt about sewing undies”

  1. Summerflies July 19, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

    Phew! That’s a lot of experimentation and explanation but all very good advice. I’m glad you’ve gone through the heartache to make it easier for me 🙂 I’ve made a few pairs of undies and I still needing to perfect my fit. The first sets I made (all the same) the crotch width was too wide by about 2cm! I thought that was a lot. I have some others cut out but a few things in front of the line.

    Like

    • Tropical Threads July 19, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

      I’m glad it might help you and others. I’ve been working on learning how to make them in between other stuff for about a year now. I’ve been trying out woven fabric undies too.
      Ow crotch width too wide is annoying!
      I’ll look forward to a post from you on the new ones, when you get to it!

      Like

  2. Josie Brady July 20, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Too hard to take in at such an early hour of the morning. My head is spinning!

    Like

    • Tropical Threads July 20, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

      Euw, morning euw!
      Hey when your head is no longer spinning, did you ever sew your own underclothes? or that of your boys? If so, how did you do it and with what kind of materials and elastics?

      Like

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