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Needles, Thread & Stitches for Lingerie

by Maddie Flanigan

I wish I could say that bras and knickers can be sewn the same as ‘regular’ clothing but that’s not the case. Special needles, thread, feet, and stitches must be used in order for the garment to be sewn neatly and correctly.

Sewing machine

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If using a woven fabric, a regular needle is okay to use but if using a knit fabric, then a ballpoint, universal, or stretch needle must be used. Ballpoint needles have a rounder tip that allows the needle to glide through the loops instead of piercing them. The stitches ballpoint needles produce are not as straight as stitches produced using a sharp needle but this allows for some 'give' in the stitch.

Universal needles are halfway between regular needles and ballpoint needles. The tip of the needle is not as sharp as a regular needle but not as round as a ballpoint needle. Universal needles can be used on both knits and wovens but if skipped stitches occur, change to a ballpoint needle.

Stretch needles have a deeper ‘scarf’, an indentation that allows a longer loop to form, increasing the chance that the thread will be caught by the hook in the bobbins portion of the sewing machine. Stretch needles are used primarily for fabric with high amounts of spandex (i.e. swimear).


There are four causes for skipped stitches: damaged or wrong size needle, dirty machine, needle inserted incorrectly or timing on macine is off.

Industrial sewing machines

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Fabrics used for bras and knickers are usually thin and therefore require a small needle - size 8/60, 10/70, or 12/90 - but when applying elastic, be sure to change to a size 14/90 or a 16/100 needle.


For most construction, use a high quality polyester thread. It’s stronger than cotton thread, stretches slightly, and will withstand the stress, and the wear and tear exerted on bras and knickers. If sewing a sheer fabric like chiffon, then use extra-fine thread such as embroidery thread. For decorative topstitching or embroidery, it is okay to choose thread based on aesthetic, as opposed to function - such as silk or rayon thread.

Presser foot

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For most construction, an all-purpose or general presser foot is used. When edgestitching, use an edgestitch presser foot. It ensures an edgestitch is exactly 1/8” – 1/4” from the seam throughout the entire length of the seam. If experiencing difficulty when attaching elastic, use an elastic presser foot. It sews elastic evenly and has a dial on the side of the presser foot that adjusts how tight the elastic is sewn.

A binding foot can be used in attaching fold-over elastic. A roller foot can be used when sewing knit to help the fabric roll through the machine with
minimal stretching.

Woman sewing

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For vertical seams on both woven and knitted fabric and bras and knickers, it is okay to use a straight stitch. For horizontal seams on both woven and knitted fabrics and bras and knickers, use a zig zag stitch, an s-stitch, or a three step zigzag stitch. Both one step and three step zig zag sitches allow fabric to stretch without breaking.

Although a one step zig zag stitch is strong, it is not as strong as a three step zig zag stitch, which takes three stitches in each zig zag step. Both have a purpose and both are used in sewing bras and knickers. For sewing horizontal seams and in the first step of attaching elastic, use a narrow one step zig zag stitch (stitch width = 1.5 / stitch length = 2.0). For topstitching and in the second step of attaching elastic, use a wide three step zig zag stitch (stitch width = 4.5 / stitch length = 1.5)


There are two ways to increase stretch on a zig zag stitch: widen the stitch width or shorten the stitch length.

More advanced and older home sewing machines have an s-stitch, which is a stitch  that stitches forward a full stitch, then back half a stitch, and then forward a full stitch.

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