Undercover research

For those of you of a delicate disposition look away now….

A long, long time ago, some of you may recall, I decided that it would be a good idea to make my own underwear. Looking back I discover my first attempt was in 2016 and I was (with hindsight) excessively optimistic about the whole project. I started by experimenting with fabric from old t-shirts, but it soon became clear that, because we generally wear our clothes to destruction, I wasn’t going to have much joy taking this route… and in addition ordinary cotton t-shirts just don’t have the stretch required after they have been worn a lot. I quickly moved on to new fabric and that helped, but I hit two snags – my old sewing machine struggled with the zigzag stiches required and the original pattern I selected was not, in fact, as comfortable as I had hoped. The sewing machine problem was rectified by buying my lovely old Bernina, which has absolutely no problems with stretchy jersey fabric, elastic or zigzagging. The second problem turned out to be much more of a challenge.

The thing with underwear is that it’s very personal – both in terms of it being private, but also with respect to what each individual likes. Just because a design suits one person, does not mean that it will be right for another. Thus, personal recommendations are useless, apart from giving an indication of whether the pattern is well drafted. So, having decided that the original pattern I bought wasn’t right for me, I tried a kit – that was better and taught me quite a lot, but still wasn’t right. Then I tried a self-drafted pattern, using an old pair that I liked. Again, it was better, but still not exactly what I wanted. Finally, I bought another pattern and it turned out that this was “the one”.

It wasn’t just the pattern, though. The whole process of finding it meant I spent time experimenting with different sizing (don’t believe the patterns) fabrics and elastics. The latter was quite a learning experience, but I now have the skills and understanding to use stretch lace, fold-over elastic and various sorts of lingerie elastic. Width is an important characteristic of lingerie elastic – too narrow and it digs in, plus it’s really fiddly to work with, too wide and it’s uncomfortable around the legs. But, again, it’s very personal and really trial and error is the only way to find out what suits you. At one point I was making one pair of knickers one day, then wearing them the next day, so I could improve on the design the following day. As a result, even when I was very focused on getting it right, it wasn’t a process that could be rushed.

However, I have finally settled on a design that I like, fabric that I like and trimmings that I like. As a result I have been able to make a pile of new underwear that’s comfortable and functional. I can still wear some of the prototypes – they aren’t perfect, but they are acceptable. I’m sure that I could have learned some of the techniques more quickly and with less experimentation, but the process of working through different designs, materials and techniques has been very satisfying.

And now, at last, I can get on and make some clothes that other people will actually see!

-oOo-

Resources:

I got some great cotton lycra from TFG Fabrics; they also sell picot-edged elastic (although it’s not my favourite).

The Bra Shop stock a range of good lingerie elastic. I would avoid anything less than 10mm wide.

Flamingo Fabrics sell some colourful scalloped-edge elastic that’s nice to work with (the blue and red in the last picture came from them).

Minerva crafts are good for fold-over elastic and elasticated lace.

The first pattern I tried was from Scrundlewear – it didn’t suit me, but others rave about it

I had a go with a Flo-Jo Boutique stretch knicker-making kit bought from Cloth Kits which was ok but not perfect for me. There’s also a non-stretch version, which I didn’t try, plus Flo-Jo sell various sorts of elastic.

The pattern that I finally settled one was Kwik Sew K3881, available from various suppliers, but I bought mine from Minerva. It works with various sorts of elastic and there’s instructions for these included.

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27 Comments

  1. I’m very impressed! I’ve been pondering the same route, especially since the last ones I bought, from M and S, turned out to have a very short life before they literally began falling apart. I haven’t done anything about it yet because I’m already working on so many other things, but I’ll get there eventually. I’d be interested to hear more detail about what fabric and trimmings you’re using, where you get them etc.

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  2. Congratulations on sorting out your me oh mys! Quite an achievement from the sound of it, enjoy your knickers.

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  3. You are a wonder, that’s what you are. Very snazzy underwear, and it looks oh so comfortable, too.

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  4. They are really pretty!

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  5. The knicker subject came up on another blog this week and I commented there that I embarked upon making my own some time ago and bought lots of different elastics in anticipation of a new hand made undies era. Unfortunately, the first pair were not a success so I was put off. The pretty elastic gets unearthed now and again and makes me feel guilty so I wonder if now’s the time to give it another go. I definitely won’t be going down the hand made bras route as a dainty bralette would be as useful to me as a chocolate teapot so I’ll leave the supportive ones to the structural engineers.
    I’m off now to my swooning couch to loosen my corset and sniff the smelling salts.

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    • It’s taken so long to get to the point of making successful knickers, but now that I have done all the experimentation, I can make as many pairs as I like relatively quickly. It is so difficult, though, to find the right pattern and the only way to know what’s right is to make ’em and wear ’em. Anyway, I’ve just added a resources list, so you can see what worked for me.

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  6. Well, now we know who wears the pants in your house…
    I’m not sure if I’ll ever get around to making my own knickers but I’d certainly like to. For obvious reasons a customer isn’t allowed to try on any underwear before making a purchase (here at least, I don’t know about elsewhere), which means that I sometimes end up with knickers that are too small (even though they are the same size as ones I already have), too big (same reason), or too high in the leg or just cut too high at the back. Very annoying.

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    • Yes – no trying on here either. Finding the right pattern is fraught with the same issues, which is why it took me so long. However, now I’ve found one that is right for me I’m happy that I will be able to make them as the need arises… mind you, five years seems a very long time to get to this stage.

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  7. Thanks for the update Jan, like many others it is something that would be good to make rather than buy. But with so many other projects on the go, it will have to wait. I have though, taken note of your resource list.
    Many thanks. BTW, I don’t know if you saw it, but the poncho worked out really well, and I wear it a lot round the house. Again, big thanks for your help, advise & encouragement. X

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  8. Love the post – a number of years ago a underwear specialist told me which was the best buy for my body size and yes she was right. But last shop-up and that type wasn’t there in my size so I bought another type – appears to be just as good as other shape…I actually can’t stand “lacy edges” on any bit of underwear – so go for solid edges.

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  9. How enterprising. You seem to have quite a pile. Can’t see me trying though, my pants seem to last forever even the ones I bought that are a bit big because they didn’t have my size but I needed to get some. 🙂

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  10. Bravo on achieving pants that aren’t, well, pants!
    I’m never going to attempt that particular garment myself, but I do appreciate a comfortable and well-fitting pair. Cheap is such a false economy, since the elastic is inevitably both too narrow and gives way in a short time. One problem we struggle with here is that elastic perishes much more quickly in the heat…

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    • That probably explains why there is a version of the Scrundlewear pattern that is elastic-free… because the designer is Australian. I’m not sure that I would have started on the experiment if I’d know just how long it was going to take to achieve good results, but now that I know what works I can at least make new ones whenever I want; plus I’ve learnt lots about sewing stretch fabric.

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  11. Going Batty in Wales

     /  January 29, 2021

    I admire your persistence! I like the idea of making my own but have a lot of other things on my list and my machine doesn’t like stretchy stuff either and I can’t justify a new one so I will not be following your good example. Luckily I have 2 M&S vouchers which will top up stocks for quite a while!

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    • We can’t all do everything, and this is a project that has taken an inordinate amount of time to achieve success. Was it worth the effort? Well, maybe not, but once I’d started I was determined to get it right!

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      • Going Batty in Wales

         /  January 31, 2021

        I think terriers suit you! You are one yourself – once you have your teeth into something you don’t let go!

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  12. Victory at last! it’s good you figured it out and they are very pretty as well. I have made a number of things for myself and do alterations, but have not tried underthings yet.

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  13. that’s brilliant. I have pants envy.

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