Tuesday, 8 December 2015

knickers x 3 - and tips for beginning sewing underwear!

After spending quite a long time amassing the vast range of materials required, I've been making some first forays into lingerie sewing. Continuing to make good on my ambitions to sew items that I need and use in daily life, here are my first three attempts at sewing everyday knickers...

1. The experiment.

Very quickly knocked up out of viscose jersey and some really pretty lingerie elastic that had been hanging around in my stash for ages. The pattern is a free pdf from So, Zo.

These knickers are very bad, as you can see - I didn't really have the hang of how to stretch the elastic as I sewed it in. Additionally, I found that the pattern came up very large. I was pretty ecstatic about sewing my very own pair of knickers though, so I wore them all day - and they didn't fall down! I called it success.

2. Pretty in lace.

I wasn't overly sold on the cut of the So, Zo knicker pattern as it was more of a 'shortie' kind of style, and a bit clunky on me. This pair was made from the bikini pattern included in the Watson bra pdf (not free). I made this pair from stretch lace and much-less-luxurious picot elastic from Barnet & Lawson. The elastic was of poorer quality, but I had a much better hand at stitching/stretching in the elastic this time round.

I liked the cut much better, though these knickers really are brief! More improvements were needed though, as the elastic stretch wasn't distributed symmetrically enough for me.

3. Secretly scarlet.


My third pair was yet another experiment. I had a red cotton T-shirt hanging around from who-knows-where and decided to utilise it for sewing. I had the idea of sewing pretty, scanty knickers but with a red gusset. Ladies, is there not an understanding of keeping a few pairs of 'period pants' in your underwear drawer? Namely, those old, worn out, ugly but (debatably) comfortable knickers for the 'time of the month'. Well, I really hate owning ugly things, especially lingerie. Periods are uncomfortable and an inconvenience - why make things worse by giving yourself depressing underwear? The red gusset is invisible when worn because the knickers are so skimpy that the gusset tucks completely between your legs. It's there 'in case of emergency', so that you don't risk totally ruining a beautiful pair of undies.

I was looking to further improve on my elastic sewing skills here. I'd been following the mostly-lingerie-sewing blog Madalynne, where she staunchly advocates sewing the elastics in flat rather than stretching them. I'd also read some advice online from an experienced costume maker who specialised in stretch costumes. She said to stretch the elastic more over the bum than on the front of the leg. This makes complete sense: your legs move forwards more, so the back leg-hole will need to stretch to cling to the body and accommodate movement. So, I decided to try to combine these two approaches on this knicker.

The result? Not that successful! Perhaps I should be taking larger seam allowances at the side seams, but without stretching the elastic, these knickers are far too loose on me. They're not falling down, but nor are they clinging properly to my body! I think that stretching more over the bum is a good idea, and my handling of the elastic was improved yet again - the stretch was distributed nicely and evenly. But I believe that you do need to stretch the elastic when sewing it in. 

A big difference between the knickers: the ones which I sewed the elastic in flat are 2" larger!
Think about it: you're using stretch fabric, so you can pull the garment up and over your body, no fastenings needed. But it needs to stay on! The elastic both seals the fabric up, preventing it from stretching out; and holds the garment up! Negative ease is necessary.

Conclusion: advice for knicker sewing beginners 
  • Work out how to sandwich and flip the gusset so that you end up with two neat, completely enclosed seams.
  • Try on the knickers quickly before sewing in the elastic, to check if they are too loose or fit fine. This varies greatly with the fabric that you're using.
  • Sewing in the elastic does take practice. Your first pairs of knickers will inevitably have sections where you've pulled too tight or too loose. Don't give up!
  • Try to stretch the elastic more over the back leg holes, and 'just enough' over the front leg holes.
  • Lastly, don't forget to stretch a little around the waist - that's what's holding the knickers up!

The white knickers make a set with my first bra! But that's a subject for another post...


  1. I actually only stretch the leg elastic from the back gusset seam to 1/3-1/2 up the back to pull it in under my butt and the waist elastic for the centre 2/3 of the back to pull it in to my waist, the rest is all one to one. I use stretch lace instead of elastic though and basically rely on the stretch factor of the fabric to keep them up.