Knickers Tutorial

Gorgeous, sustainable, recycled knickers from charity shop finds! No more boring knickers for you. Follow this tutorial (if you have enough experience to make up the bits I don’t mention) or if you’re too chicken, book on a course with me!

Sewing with stretchy fabrics is a little scary if you’ve never done it before, but this project is a great starting place, as it doesn’t need anything but a normal machine that can do zigzag stitches. You might also want to use a ball-point needle, or at least a fine needle to minimise that wiggly distortion as you sew, but it’s not a deal breaker if you just use whatever needle is in your machine.

Without further ado: whip out those awesome charity shop garments. Anything stretchy will do, though I recommend natural fibres. You will also need some elastic. I’ve used 5mm flat elastic in a not-entirely-clashing colour.

Also whip out a pattern. Haven’t got one? Here’s what one looks like. Measure a pair of your own knickers for a guide size and wing it. Or book on a course with me.

First, lets do some fabric prep. Open the garments up, typically by cutting along a seam, so you can lay them flat.

Do a stretch test. With no tension on the fabric, grab two points about 30cm apart. Now stretch til it’s about the maximum you’d want it stretched while it’s on you.

Your pattern will add up to less than your hip measurement, because knickers are stretchy. How much less is decided by how stretchy your fabric is. If your stretch was about 10% (it stretched to 33cm) you’ll want to make your pattern about 10% smaller than your actual hip measurement. Normal t-shirt material is about 10-15% stretch. Some rayon and similar with an elastane content is super stretchy, like 30%, so you can trim your pattern hip width down for those fabrics. Just wing it, this project is pretty forgiving, and if it’s very wrong, you can change what you do next time. Be brave.

Lay your pattern pieces on your garments and cut so as to maximise the number of knickers you’re going to get. Waste not want not, even if you are already recycling. I highly recommend using a cutting wheel and mat, but if you are a scissors person, that’s fair.

Don’t forget to cut two of the gusset pieces*.

One front, one back, two gussets.

Line up the two gusset pieces, right sides together, sandwiching the front piece between them, with the crotch seam lined up. Pin if you’re a pinner. I’m not a pinner most of the time. Sew with about a 5mm seam allowance and a normal straight stitch, as this seam won’t really ever have any stretch put on it in the course of normal wear. Try not to put any tension on the fabric as it goes through the machine to minimise the wobbly distortion thing.

That’s your front crotch seam done. Now we need to do the back crotch seam, right sides together, with the back piece sandwiched between… awkward…

Here’s a magic trick: Turn the gusset pieces back face to face, with the front all bunched up at one end. (Any resemblance of the below picture to a diagram of uterus and fallopian tubes is purely coincidental)

Now, sandwich the back piece inbetween the gussets as before, but with everything semi-awkwardly bunched up between them. Line up the three edges carefully (I’m doing a curved seam here for extra skill points) and…

Yeah, ok, pin it. Curved seams are a jerk to do unpinned.

Sew it up with a 5mm seam allowance and turn them right side out. You can trim the edges to perfect neatness now too. Starting to look like knickers!

Sew up the side seams with a normal straight stitch as well, and we’re ready to add the elastic.

You can use all sorts of fancy elastics, but I’ve gone for a plain 5mm flat elastic hidden in the rolled edge. It’s simple, elegant, comfortable and straightforward to do. Start at a side seam. Leave about a 2cm tail before you start, and fold over just enough of the edge to cover the elastic. Put the foot down and set the machine to a narrow zigzag, about 3mm wide.

Prepare about 5cm of elastic at a time; don’t worry about anything but the next few cm. Stretch the elastic a little bit (not a lot) and lay it along the edge, folding over just enough edge to cover it and clamping it with three fingers. Don’t be tempted to try to prepare more than that, if you get ahead of yourself here you’ll find it really hard to make this neat.

Run it through the machine, doing a zigzag stitch down the middle of the elastic, removing the clamping finger carefully as the fabric goes under the foot. This takes some practice to get it really neat. Repeat the stretch, fold, clamp and sew all the way around the opening.

When you get to the end, snip the elastic so about a centimetre overlaps with the original tail. Fold, clamp and sew the last bit.

If you are a bit careless, or just a beginner, your edge may look like this in places. You know what? It’s fine. Perfectly wearable. Practice more if you want perfection. Or just get over it, that’s what I do.

Repeat for the other two openings and there you are: the proud owner of the lowest-carbon, most sustainable, most deeply awesome pair of knickers on the block.

And may you make many, many more. Have fun. Make crazy variations. Send me some pictures! And wear with pride.

*Remember when I said to cut two gusset pieces? There’s an alternative version where you cut the front piece with the outside gusset piece together in one piece, so it looks about like the picture just above the uterus/fallopian tube-looking one. This variation is a little more difficult to cut efficiently, but results in a less bulky seam at the front of the crotch. Nobody wants bulky pants.