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How to Make Knickers

by Maddie Flanigan

A good fitting outfit starts with a good fitting bra. I usually spend approximately one month
perfecting the fit of a pattern. Until recently, I never gave thought to perfect to the fit of what I
wore underneath. That changed when I started sewing bras and undies and realized that my
clothes fit and felt better.
Bras can be unlined or lined with jersey or mesh. Personal preference and function should be
used when choosing whether to line or not.
There are four main components to a bra- band, cup, strap, and closure.
B A N D
Depending on the look and the support needed or wanted, bands can be many widths. A full
band wraps around the entire circumference of the body and has the cups set into it. This band
– a full band - provides the most support and is best for fuller figures. A partial band attaches to
the sides of bra cups and has a center front section that joins the cups (called a center gore).
The band – partial band - provides less support than a full band.
With the exception of bralettes, a wider band provides the most support. This – a wider band – is
the main attributes of maternity, nursing, and full figured bras. The same can be said for the
opposite - a thinner band.
C E N T E R G O R E
A center gore is the piece that connects bra cups at center front. The shape, the width, and the
material used for the center gore all affect the amount of support provided. A center gore
made with non-stretch fabric provides more support than a center gore made with stretchy
fabric. The wider and the more curved a center gore, the more support provided.
C U P S
Cups need to provide ‘projection’ or ‘volume’ and to do this, shirring, darts, or separate shaped
panels are used. Cups can be one pattern piece and if this is the case, a dart or shirring is
added to provide ‘projection’ or ‘volume.’ Cups can also be made of 2 or 3 vertical or
horizontal pattern pieces that are shaped to provide ‘projection’ or ‘volume.’
The silhouette of bra cups varies according to the amount of coverage provided. Until I started
sewing, fitting, and patterning my own bras, I condemned full coverage bra cups to the more
endowed woman. In my mind, full coverage bras were reserved for moms-to-be, new moms, or
older women – they looked schoolmarm. But while fitting and wear testing my me-made bras, I
was forced to compare how each silhouette fit and I was surprised that although I was not a
well-endowed woman, I liked the fit of full coverage bra cups the best. The silhouette you like is
completely a personal choice but my advice is to try them all before casting judgement.
B R A & U N D I E S
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T Y P E S O F B R A C U P S I L H O U E T T E S
FULL COVERAGE: cup covers most of the breast and extends higher on the chest than a
demi or plunge bra. This silhouette provides the most support and coverage of all
silhouettes
DEMI: cups are cut lower. This silhouette is halfway between full coverage and plunge
(covers 1/2 to 3/4 of breast) and is a good everyday choice for deep or V necklines
because it creates cleavage that is not overwhelming
PLUNGE: cups are cut so that they ‘plunge’ from strap point to center front and are thus,
very narrower at center front. This silhouette is an extension of the demi and is meant to
create cleavage and lift.
BALCONETTE/SHELF: cups are cut with a sweetheart neckline. This silhouette is meant for
aesthetic –to create cleavage and uplift - and not support
MINIMIZER BRA: the curve of the cup is reshaped (reduced at bust point, increased
around bust point, and tapered to 0” and sides) to redistribute fullness and reduce
bustline by one cup size. This silhouette is meant for women who experience drag lines
between bust points when wearing a t-shirt, top, or blouse
TIP?? FOR?? SEWING?? CUPS:?? ALWAYS?? HAND?? BASTE?? FIRST.?? BECAUSE?? BRAS?? ARE?? SO?? CLOSE?? FITTING,?? EVEN?? AN?? 1/8”??
OFF?? IN?? SEWING?? OR?? PATTERN?? MAKING?? THROWS?? OFF?? THE?? FIT.?? YES,?? IT?? TAKES?? MORE?? TIME?? TO?? HAND?? BASTE??
AND?? THEN?? MACHINE?? SEW,?? BUT?? IT?? TAKES?? EVEN?? MORE?? TIME?? TO?? RIP?? OUT?? STITCHES?? AND?? RESEW?? A?? SEAM.?? ??
S T R A P S
Straps can be made of elastic or self. If a bra fits correctly, wide, self straps are very
comfortable. Elastic straps are used in mass-manufactured bras because bras are meant to fit
many sizes.
TIP?? FOR?? FALLING?? STRAPS:?? IF?? STRAPS?? SLIP?? OFF?? SHOULDERS?? WHILE?? BEING?? WORN,?? SET?? CLOSER?? TO??
CENTER?? BACK??
C L O S U R E
A bra can have a closure or no closure. If there is a closure, it can be either at the front or the
back. If the closure is at the back, it is usually a hook and eye closures but it can also be an
elastic band.
O T H E R S I L H O U E T T E S
Above, I listed and described bra silhouettes that were based on cup shape, size, and support
but there are other bra silhouettes that are based on fit, underwire, band size, etc.
B R A & U N D I E S
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BANDEAU: strapless bra that is usually just a band of fabric with shirring. It has minimal
support and is best for small-busted women
BRALETTE/SOFT BRA: soft cup/no underwire bra that resembles a crop top (band is longer
than ‘normal’ bra). It has minimal support and is best for small-busted women
CONTOUR BRA: bra with shaped cups that are almost always padded or lined and have
underwire. The shaped cups are meant to mimic the natural shape of a women’s breast.
It provides a lot of support and control and is a great choice for women looking for a
structured silhouette
CONVERTIBLE: bra with detachable straps that can be worn in many ways – normal,
halter, criss cross, or one shoulder – depending on the silhouette of the top being worn -
boatneck, halter, assymetrical
FOAM LINED: bra that is lined with foam lining. It differs from padded bras in that the
lining does not add size but provides shapes and prevents nipples from showing through
garment
FULL FIGURE: bra that is designed specifically for women who wear a band size between
38 and 56
FRONT CLOSURE: bra that has a closure at center front
U-BACK BRA: bra in which the back is U-shaped (as opposed to a straight rectangular
back). The U-shaped back helps to prevent straps from falling off shoulders
MATERNITY BRA: bra that has wider straps and are made with more comfortable fabrics
for women who are pregnant
NURSING BRA: bra that has detachable straps to allow easy access for women who are
breast feeding
PADDED BRA: bra that has pads and lining inserted to increase but size, shape, and
cleavage
PUSH UP: bra that has graduated padding (padding that is thicker at the base of the cup
and tapers to nothing towards the top of the cup) and angled cups which is meant to
increase cleavage to its maximum
RACERBACK: bra that has straps that scoop in or cross over in the back. It is designed for
racerback tops
SEAMLESS: bra that has cups with no seams and is a great choice for knit, jersey, or other
clingy tops
SPORTS BRA: bra that is designed to be worn during exercising. It is made with specialty
fabrics that wick (transfer moisture away from body) and provides maximum support
CHANNELING
B R A & U N D I E S
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The most difficult step in sewing a bra, an step that I still have trouble with, is applying the
channeling at the bra cup seam (where the underwire is inserted).
STEPS TO SEW CHANNELING:
1. Lay bra flat so that the bra cup is face up and seam allowances of the bra
cup and the band are facing out
2. Position channeling so that when stitched, stitching aligns with stitching of bra
cup.
3. When stitching channeling to bra cup, it is important to pull channeling as it is
being sew to help it roll to the inside.
4. Press channeling down and edgestitch 1/8” or less from cup seam and again
3/16” from first stitch.
S T I T C H E S
Bras can be sewn using a straight stitch, at least the vertical seams can. As we move throughout
our day, the bras need to be able to withstand our movement but most of type of movement
requires bras to stretch horizontally (bigger and wider) rather than vertically (longer). Because of
this, straight stitches can be used for vertical seams while zig zag stitches must be used on
horizontal seam. Personally, I like using a straight stitch on vertical seams because if the bra or
the undie is not lined, the straight stitch is gives a cleaner look and the seams are easier to press
open.

Knickers weather the most movement and the most wear and tear of any garment, even more than bras. They walk with us, sit with us, run with us, and stand with us. A poorly fitting pair of knickers can be noticed in less than ten minutes after putting them on. There is nothing worse about an outfit than a pair of knickers that rides up, shifts, or are uncomfortable.


Sewing thread
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SILHOUETTES

Knickers are divided into silhouettes based on the amount of ‘behind’ coverage, the cut of the leg opening at the sides, and how high they are worn at the waist. Silhouettes are completely a personal preference based on comfort and function.

CLASSIC BRIEF: sits at or just below the waist, has full ‘behind’ coverage, and has leg openings that extend below the hip.

HIGH CUT/FRENCH BRIEF: sits at or just below the waist, has full ‘behind’ coverage, and has leg openings that extend above the hip.

HIPSTER: similar to classic and high cut/French brief except it sits at the hip; leg opening is similar to classic brief.

BOYSHORTS: inspired by men’s briefs, boyshorts sit low on the hip and have leg openings that are level with or below the crotch.

BIKINI: the most widely worn silhouette. Similar to a hipster except that the sides are narrower, sometimes a string, and the ‘behind’ coverage is less.

THONG/G-STRING: worn at the hips with no rear coverage and very narrow sides; crotch extends to the back and a strip of fabric is worn between the buttocks.

All knickers are constructed with a crotch lining. Usually made with comfortable fabric such as jersey, crotch linings are clean finished to back and front panels and are usually left unfinished/serge at front (crotch linings can be clean finished at front for a nicer finish).
 

Floral knickers
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ELASTIC

Because a lot of bras and knickers don’t have a closure (bras with hooks and eyes is just one exception), they need a way of stretching the garment out to get it on and off. This is where elastic comes into play. Along with stretch fabric, elastic is what makes lingerie work. Elastic gives garments the ability to stretch well beyond its relaxed measurement and return it to its pre stretched measurement so that it fits the body like a glove.

First of all, what is elastic? Technically defined, elastic is a series of rubber or spandex cores that are bound or wrapped in polyester, cotton, nylon, or a blended thread that are then braided, woven, or knitted together to create elastic. Said more briefly, elastic is thread and rubber strings that are interlacing in varying ways. The way the elastic is constructed – braided, woven, or knitted – is what classifies it.

CLASSIFICATIONS BASED ON CONSTRUCTION

BRAIDED: braided elastics narrows when stretched and are not high quality. Because it loses elasticity when sewn, it is used mostly in casings (i.e. waistands on pyjama bottoms).

KNITTED: knitted elastic is soft, strong, and the preferred choice for most garments. It doesn’t narrow when stretched and is great on lightweight fabrics. Because it doesn’t lose elasticity when sewn, it can be applied directly to a garment (not inserted in a casing).

WOVEN: woven elastic is strong, thick, and often referred as “no roll” elastic. It has a basket weave pattern (horizontal and vertical ribs) and doesn’t narrow when stretched. Because of its thickness, it is used mostly on heavy weight fabrics such as upholstery and canvas.

POLYURETHANE/CLEAR: polyurethane/clear elastic is rubber free, transparent, and stretches 3-4 times its length with complete recovery to size and shape. It can be sewn directly to fabric or is inserted in side seams to help maintain shape. It is also used in lace lingerie where the elastic does not want to be visible. A downside of polyurethane/clear elastic is that it deteriorates quickly.

TIP: FOR SEWING CLEAR ELASTIC

When joining/overlapping, place a piece of paper behind the help stabilize and reduce slipperyness. Remove paper after sewing by tearing away.


Knickers white
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OTHER TYPES OF ELASTIC

PICOT: one or both sides have a series of small loops that create a decorative edging.

PLUSH: one side is brush or felted for comfort.

STRAP: usually satin and are most often used on bras.

VELVET: a nonconventional and couture choice that can be used in place of regular elastic.

STRETCH SATIN RIBBON: another nonconventional and couture choice that can be used in place of regular elastic.

RUFFLE EDGE: one or both sides have a ruffle attached.


ELASTICS ON BRAS & KNICKERS

BRAS: I usually sew two types of elastic on bras – one type for the upper bra band and bra cup and one type for the lower bra band. The elastic at the upper bra band and the bra cup is softer and thinner while the elastic at the bottom edge of the bra is thicker, has tighter tension, and has one plush side. Both types of elastic usually have one or two picot edges. Please note that the type of elastic used on the upper and lower bra band and cup is completely a personal choice. Depending on aesthetic and function needed, many types and combinations of elastics can be used.

KNICKERS: I usually sew one type of elastic for knickers – the same type of soft/thin elastic used for the upper bra band and bra cup (I have never used elastic with one plush side on a pair of undies). The elastic usually has one picot edge.

DECOLETTE: 1/8” clear or knitted elastic is sometimes sewn at top of bra cups and before cups are attached to bra band to help bra cups lie flat. This type of elastic is usually found on bras where the fabric for the bra cups is lace

ELASTIC SEWING TIPS

Tension must be adjusted when sewing elastic. Because elastic stretches when sewing, cut ½” shorter than desired relaxed length (Example: if the waist on a pair of knickers is to measure 15” relaxed (waist measurement taken flat), elastic length before sewing should be 14 ½”).

Stretch elastic numerous times before sewing to reduce the amount elastic will stretch during sewing. When attaching elastic, align elastic join seam with a seam for a clean finish. When attaching elastic to garment, stretch elastic only (do not stretch fabric).

Always attach elastic in the round. Example: if sewing a pair of knickers, do not attach elastic at front waist, back waist, front leg, and back leg, and then sew side seam. This is a production friendly way to sew a pair of knickers because elastic is quicker to sew and easier to handle in this order of operations. For the home sewer though, it takes more time because aligning the elastics when sewing the side seams is very difficult and time
consuming.

Apply elastic evenly to leg opening. There is a theory that easing fabric more on the backside of knickers will prevent them from riding up. I do not believe this theory because pulling fabric from the side of the knickers towards the bottom of the them will cause the pattern to be off balance and will result in drag lines. To eliminate knickers from riding up, length should be added. If leg opening is pulling when worn, elastic was not applied evenly.

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