This blog post is sponsored by Craft + Thrift: an Etsy store of curated deadstock, vintage and thrifted fabric for the sustainable sewist. All thoughts/opinions are my own.
I’ve always tried to use each sewing project as a chance to learn something new- whether its a new fabric or a new technique. It’s all an opportunity to become a better sewer, right? Yeah yeah yeah. I can tell you that that is NOT what I was thinking as I wrangled my twisted jersey from under my needle plate for the billionth time.
When Amy @Craftandthriftshop asked if wanted to work with her on a post of course I said yes! I love discovering new fabric shops, especially ones with a sustainable ethos. I was browsing through the fabrics and noticed she did underwear kits. Oo-er. I’ve always been curious about sewing underwear. Truthfully I’ve never had the urge or interest to sew them! My only experience of underwear was sewing a bra on The Great British Sewing Bee. I actually kind of enjoyed it- until my bra *literally* fell apart during judging. So yeah- I wasn’t exactly rushing to recreate that experience! (Imagine that happening in the shop!)
But I’ve been sorting out my fabric stash and despairing at the annoying remnants I have- too big to put in the rag bag for recycling and too small for anything proper. Sewing underwear kind of makes sense…But then I looked into it and all these elastics and notions put me off. I just didn’t know what I should be looking for/buying. And this is where kits come in! I didn’t really get the point of kits before but I am 100% converted. Honestly it takes so much of the brainwork out of things and means you have more time just to get onto the fun bit!
So I asked Amy to test out her underwear kits. These are £17 and include deadstock jersey in three colourful shades (0.5m) and FOE (7m), enough to make around 3 undies. I think I could manage more out of the fabric (sewing a medium size). BTW the packaging is top notch with regards to recycling etc. The jerseys varied in type as well, some were slightly weightier jerseys and some thinner with less stretch. Its a bit like a lucky dip but I think if you’re used to buying dead stock you generally know to be more open about what you’re getting.
I bought the Sophie Hines Median Knickers pattern after looking at the samples Amy has on her store pictures. There are plenty of free patterns but I liked the look of these and I know this is a controversial thing- but I really love enormous underwear! Give me ALLLLL the coverage. I also really liked that the colours were not ones I would usually pair myself- it was a really nice way to step out of my comfort zone and play with colour blocking.
So I dived in, naively thinking: “these pieces are so small I’ll be done in no time”. Nope. I almost threw my sewing machine out of the window. Taufiq actually came over and gave me a pep talk. It was bad guys, it was bad. But he was right, I needed to step away and try again later. So I sucked it up and you know what? I think I’ve figured it out! Rather than ramble on and share the downs of my learning curve, let me cut to the chase and tell you what I learnt.
- It’s like pancakes: the first pair you make are probably going to be a ‘test’ pair. Don’t use your nice fabric for it! I sewed a Large based on my hip measurements but the pattern comes up high on the waist and was way too big so I downsized to a medium for my proper versions. You may also want to adjust how high the crotch piece comes. Aside from fitting, I also struggled with my machine and it not eating up my fabric so that test one has a few holes… which brings us on to:
- Test your stitches: the pattern recommends a triple zigzag stitch for ultimate stretchiness, but any stretch stitch can work. Again I can’t stress this enough: TEST TEST TEST. Test your stitch on the sample of the jersey you’re working with. I found my tension was completely off and after changing every setting I could think of I went back to basics and just rethread my bobbin and top thread. 3 times. And then suddenly it worked. As annoying as it is, sometimes it’s just going back to basics that helps. I also found that if I started stitching from the end of the fabric the lightweight jersey would get chewed up by the feed dogs. So instead I started 1-2cm in from the edge and then came back to finish it off. For the blue/yellow pair I used the triple zigzag and I finally got the hang of it. But I found some of the stitches stretched my fabric, almost felt like it was being dragged along. Things that helped were: reducing the foot pressure and using the IDT system on the Pfaff (like a built in walking foot). For the black/brown/pink pairs I used an overlocker and simple zigzag to top stitch.
- Make sure you have the right needle– you need to be sewing with either a stretch needle or a ball point needle otherwise you will find you get skipped stitches.
- Friend or FOE? FOE (fold over elastic) is a specialist bit of elastic used in underwear/sewing jersey. I’ve never used it before. It basically folds over to bind the edge of the fabric. There are loads of good blog posts on how to sew with it. Karu @Studio Costura has an amazing FREE ebook on sewing underwear which I really recommend. Mercedes also recently did a whole series of blog posts on her underwear journey which is so thorough. Some say to do a ‘double pass’- sewing one edge first, folding it over and then top stitch, whereas Sophie’s instructions say just fold it over the edge and stitch. I tried both- the double pass was neater but gave a slightly thicker finish and tbh I am all about shortcuts so prefer just folding and sewing. So I think it depends on the finish you want. I wasn’t too fussed about uneven stitching! The other thing I realised through trying different methods is that I actually prefer leaving the FOE flat for the waistband- just feels more comfortable. I think my next pair I’ll leave it flat for the legs too so it doesn’t dig in.
- Check the stretch of your fabric– this seems really obvious but by my last pair I forgot and the black jersey has slightly less stretch which means this pair is slightly small. It’s fine for small areas in colour blocking, but for that particular colour block it was the back piece and I need the extra stretch across my bum. As my daughter said the other day pointing to my bum- “Mamma! Your bottom is SO bottomy”. Children eh?
- Underwear sewing is just the same as regular sewing– yup. Isn’t that a revelation? But seriously, it’s easy to forget this! Like with all patterns you will probably need to make some adjustments to get the fit just right for you. But isn’t that the best bit about sewing? Not having to live with a constant wedgie, having too little coverage or too much? I found the Median underwear went a little too high for me. I mean we’re talking about underwear coming close to my bra line. I like full coverage but even that’s a bit much for me. But I’m a petite person! So this makes sense. I shortened the pattern by 6.5cm and it’s perfect for me now. I think the next change I’ll make is to make the crotch come higher too (p.s. I used cotton jersey for the inner crotch piece out of personal preference).
The only other thing to mention is that for my brown pair I used the jersey for the binding. The reason I did this as because I noticed that the brown was the perfect shade of Nude for me. Honestly, this was a happy dance moment for this Brown girl. Nude underwear has been such a game changer for me in the summer. But Brown shades of nude don’t come cheap. I paid over £25 for a single pair last year. Yikes. Anyway, I wanted to keep it’s nude-credentials and not add a bright coloured FOE binding. Looking at my RTW underwear I noticed some of the pairs used jersey for the leg bindings. Lo and behold, after a quick search on Instagram I found this tutorial! And I actually really love this pair. I overlocked the bands and then topstitched the seam allowance down with a twin needle. It’s super comfy and perfect if you want to start making underwear without the faff of more elastic. But be sure to check the stretch of your fabric and recovery (i.e. how easily it pings back or does it stretch out and stay stretched out). No one wants underwear sliding down their bum as the day goes on! Next time I think I’ll make my waistband binding slightly shorter as it has a minor gape at the back.
Anyway, I’ve been road testing these undies and I really do love them. I see why people sew their own underwear! I love the freedom of colour choice and shapes. Plus it does get easier, after a couple of pairs I knew what I was doing. The only stage that takes longer is the elastic part but even then you get a ‘feel’ of the elastic and can sew it down quicker. And even if you end up with really wobbly seams/finishes- don’t be disheartened, a careful steam with a steamy iron will ping that elastic right back down and even if it isn’t ‘perfect’ you won’t notice it when it’s on.
So there you have it. I’m fully converted! Keep posted for some more underwear adventures…
Thank you to Craft + Thrift for sponsoring this post. You can find Amy on:
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