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.

Knitted knickers

I am still occupied by the idea of homemade underwear. You may remember me mentioning my friend Seema, who makes her own knickers. She recycles old t-shirts and the suchlike as a way to avoid buying new items in order to reduce her environmental impact.

It turns out that Seema and I are not the only people interested in this subject. A number of courses have been brought to my attention at which I could learn to make my own (in some cases very fancy) knickers. But places like The Make Lounge and Emiliana Underwear are a long way from west Wales (although the latter does sell kits) and I simply can’t afford the time and travelling expense.

So, I turn to the internet for further inspiration and discover an abundance of patterns for knitting your own knickers… many from the 1940s. Fabulous forties fashions, for example, sell patterns for knitted knickers, vests and the marvelously named ‘pantie-vest’… a garment that seems to be designed to be impossible to extricate oneself from without disrobing completely! They even sell a pattern for crocheted bras!

I confess, however, that discussions with ladies who experienced such garments in their past reveals (not literally) their propensity (the underwear not the ladies) for bagginess and I suspect that, even using modern yarns containing lycra (or similar), they would still be saggy and almost certainly rather bulky… not to mention the likelihood of chafing! Several ladies have also described having knitted swim-wear when they were girls, including the horrors of emerging from the water in a progressively enlarging costume! Fortunately I am young enough never to have been exposed to such traumas and I’m not about to start now.

So, I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll give underwear making a miss for the time being and stick to knitting socks, cardigans and snails!

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