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!



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.

Civil disobedience is homemade pants!

A few months ago I read a post by my friend Seema about making her own pants (or underpants as you would say in the US I think) that prompted me to start writing this entry on my blog. Somehow I didn’t finish it and has taken me until now to get back to it, but finally here I am…

Now, you might be wondering how making your own underwear resulted in thoughts of civil disobedience…

Apparently my homemade socks could bring down the government!

Apparently my homemade socks could bring down the government!

Well, Seema mentioned something called ‘The Compact‘, which started out as an agreement between a group of friends in San Francisco not to buy anything new for a year, with the exception of a few things, including underwear. Seema felt that it should be possible to make your own pants and thus further reduce the purchase of new items. I have previously written about buying secondhand socks, but perhaps secondhand pants are a step too far! The answer, therefore, is to make your own, and Seema tells you how.

This still doesn’t really explain the link to civil disobedience, does it? But, stick with me, I’m getting there.

In researching The Compact I discovered that this attempt to reduce consumerism and do something to live more sustainably has been widely criticised, because it does nothing to support ‘the economy’. If you watch the news or read newspapers in the UK, US and probably any industrialised country, you will know that governments want ‘growth’. And by that they mean more manufacturing, more purchasing, more exports. For example an article in the Star Tribune states:

The American economy depends on consumers willing to buy the latest in fashions, furnishings and flat-screen TVs. Indeed, in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, shopping was cast as a patriotic duty, a way to help prevent the economy from tipping into a recession.

And that sums it up – if you don’t shop and buy more stuff, you are going to bring down your country… the whole of the economic system that many of our countries rely on will no longer function. What can be more civilly disobedient than that?

But, I hear you ask, do I really want to bring down the economy of my country, even if it is by making my own knickers and not buying that new mobile phone that will make my life worth living once more? Well, for many people, the current economy is not working well – there is a huge gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and this is becoming increasingly difficult to govern. In addition, common sense tells us that all economies cannot continue to grow indefinitely – surely we should be looking at stable, sustainable economies, where the needs of all can be met without constantly trying to exploit either groups of people or the planet? Buying new things is driven, to a great extent by large corporations wanting to make money (I direct you once again to The Story of Stuff – do watch it if you haven’t already) rather than their desire to make you happy!

I have to confess that, as an inveterate bibliophile, I can’t bring myself to promise not to buy anything new, but I think that we could all reduce, reuse and repair in order to make the world a better place… and if that means I’m bringing down our whole economic system, then I’m fine with that


If you are interested in The Compact, there is an online community

And if you want to find out more about economics and alternatives to constant consumption, you can do no better than to visit the website of the New Economics Foundation… sounds dull, but it really isn’t!

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