I’m excited to bring you a quick sew along featuring Monica Bravo of Bravo Bella. Monica is the go-to person for learning to sew your own undies, bras and other lovely under things. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area, she has classes and retreats to learn all there is to making beautiful under garments. For those who can’t make it to her retreats and classes we have the next best thing: a sew along. Additionally, Monica made up a quick pair of undies on Sew It All episode 913 if you’re so inclined. And, we’re proud to have her pattern, the Bravo Bottoms #1 Pattern in our shop.
Monica has a lot to cover here in the first post, so kick back and enjoy. You’re a few short posts away to a wonderful pair of undies!
Welcome to one of the most fun sewing adventures you will ever take! Panties are what I consider the gateway of sewing all things lingerie. They are perfectly simple for a beginner, a great way to get your feet wet with sewing knits and elastics. However, the infinite creative possibilities keep even the most experienced seamstress enthusiastic and the speed of completion allows for near instant gratification –no pile of UFOs or never-ending projects here! They can even be a great way to introduce the younger generation to sewing. I stitched up my first pair at age five and have been addicted ever since!
With a vast array of style and fabric options it can be difficult to know where to begin. Fortunately, most of us have found something along the way that works. Are you a boy short fan? A lover of all things bikini? Maybe “gasp” you even prefer a thong or a full-cut brief (a.k.a. granny panties)! I recommend you start with a style that you already know you like and works well for your shape. Not sure what to call that pair that you love? Here is a quick guide to basic styles…
Waist heights on basic panties
Brief: Lands right at the natural waistline.
Hipster: Comes about 1-2” below the belly button.
Bikini: Should hit just below the hip bone and just above the top of the pubic bone.
Boyshorts: have a leg similar to shorts with a hem and no elastic on the bottom. Usually have a waist height about 1” below the belly button.
Tanga: generally has a center back seam with a back leg cut similarly to the front leg so that the elastic edge lands “mid-cheek”.
Thong and G-String: Very similar except that a thong has a narrow strip of fabric for the back and a g-string has a thin elastic for the back.
String Bikini: low- to mid-rise, this style has a full coverage back, front panel, and elastic without fabric at the front leg.
Control Brief: Generally cut a bit higher than a regular brief and made out of fabric with a firm stretch. Can also include a control panel in the front for extra shaping.
You can either find a pattern similar to the style that works well for you or draft your own pattern from an existing pair. In the Dec/Jan issue of Sew News I walk you through the steps to make your own pair of undies using a pair of ready-made panties as a pattern. You can even use up your scrap fabrics to make these.
If you choose to use a pattern, there are a couple of areas that you need to analyze to ensure a good fit. The first area is the crotch width.
Many patterns have a crotch piece that is quite wide – 3” or more. I have found that for most women a crotch width about 2.5” wide works well. Unless your structure requires the extra width, you should narrow the crotch piece on the pattern if it is too wide.
Another area to consider is the cut of the rear leg. Often the cut of the back leg on a pattern is nearly straight. Most of us need just a bit of curve in the leg in order to have full coverage and prevent your panties from visiting places that they don’t belong! You can redraw the leg of the panty to give yourself more coverage.
Alternately, you can also look for a pattern with a center back seam as these styles can give you more coverage for all those curves! The last consideration you should make is the side seam. How “brief” is your pattern? I have a panty called a brief with a 5.5” side seam, which happens to hit me right at my waist. I have a panty called a brief with a 9” side seam, which I happen to be able to tuck underneath the edge of my bra. Make sure the waist will land at an appropriate height for your frame size!
Once you have pattern in hand it’s time to get creative! The fabric and elastics you choose create endless possibilities for originality and comfort.
The biggest key to fabric choice is to make sure that the fabric has the same degree and firmness of stretch as the pattern calls for. A panty made of a lovely cotton jersey knit, which usually has about 25-35% stretch, from a pattern that calls for 50-75% stretch may look amazing but probably won’t make it past your knees. And don’t be fooled, not all 50-75% degree stretch fabrics are created equal! Sure, they generally all have a Lycra thread, but a sexy bikini will look much better out of an ultra-soft rayon/Lycra jersey than stiff powernet.
Both the powernet and the rayon/Lycra jersey have the same degree of stretch, which is the length that a certain amount of fabric stretches to, but the jersey has a much softer stretch and the powernet is very firm. A firm stretch will give more control, so those fabrics are best suited in shapewear.
Another aspect to consider in fabric choice is breathability. Natural fibers like cotton and rayon are much more breathable than synthetics like polyester or nylon. Regardless of what fabric you choose for the panty, I recommend that you always use white 100% cotton jersey for the crotch lining for health reasons. And a quick note: if you have created your own pattern, make sure to make a note of the degree and firmness of stretch that the original panties were made of. You will want to use a similar fabric in your new creation.
So exactly what fabrics can be used for panties? It’s time to clean out that stash since just about anything with the appropriate stretch will work!
My absolute favorite is rayon/Lycra jersey. It’s super soft, breathable, and stretchy enough for most patterns. A cotton or poly/cotton jersey is also nice for breathability, but generally has less stretch. ITY (stands for interlock twist yarn) knit is another great option since it is buttery soft and has good stretch and recovery. It is generally a polyester/Lycra blend. Tricot can make very nice, silky panties as well. It is usually 100% nylon, has about 25-35% stretch, and comes in a variety of weights.
And speaking of silk… silk can make wonderful panties! Look for a silk charmeuse as other type of silks may be too thick or rough. But what if your pattern calls for stretch? Cut the panties out on a 45 degree bias and you should be able to get 15-20% stretch. Still not enough? You can always make one size larger as well.
An all-over stretch lace is beautiful and comfortable. However, depending on the size and style you choose, a wide stretch lace can be fun, especially if it has a good decorative edge that can be used at the leg or waist.
Power mesh, not to be confused with powernet which has a very firm stretch and is too heavy for regular panties, is also a great fabric to use. It is lightweight and even though it is nylon, the tiny mesh holes make it breathable as well. If you want to incorporate non-stretch elements into your panties, like silk or lace, you can use panels of power mesh so that your panties still have enough stretch.
You’ve chosen your pattern and fabric, so what about the waist and legs of your panties? Does the thought of using elastics strike fear in your heart? It shouldn’t! With a few simple tips they will go on with a breeze – but more about that later! For now, you just need to choose which elastics you are going to use. Your choice should be based on desired look, appropriateness for the pattern, and (unfortunately) availability.
My absolute favorite finish is to use foldover elastic on both the waist and leg openings. It has the double bonus of being super easy to apply – 1 step! – and laying nice and smooth to reduce panty lines.
Stretch lace is a pretty finish that also lays quite smoothly. It can sometimes be difficult to come by, especially in colors, which is why I usually just stock up on white and hand dye everything to match. I generally use a narrower stretch lace on leg openings and something a bit wider on the top edge.
Not the lacy type? No problem! You can use plain lingerie elastic with or without a picot edge, or a plush facing elastic for a super soft finish against your skin.
And what can you use if you can’t find anything to match or coordinate with your fabric? My favorite solution is a simply 3/8” knitted elastic sewn to the wrong side, then turned to the wrong side and topstitched so that it doesn’t show. A comfortable, simple, and pretty solution.
Most patterns will recommend the width appropriate for the style of panties you are making, but there are some general guidelines you can use as well. Leg opening use a narrower finish, usually something 3/8-5/8” wide, while a waistband is usually wider, from 5/8-2 ½” wide. That being said, those are just guidelines! If you have a stretch lace with a big scallop, turn it towards the inside of the panty to make a beautiful decoration. If you have a 4” wide stretch lace, use it as a waistband for a stunning look. You can even use a waistband elastic, plush or regular, for a durable and stylish finish.
Whew! Who knew there would be so many decisions to be made for such a little garment?!
Now that your creative juices are flowing it’s time to go on a treasure hunt! Find your pattern, or purchase my Bravo Bottoms #1 pant pattern, dig out some fabric, and top it off with beautiful elastics and you will be all set for the next step in our adventure – cutting out your new bottom covers!
Of course, we would love to see what combinations you’ve come up with so post your pics of what you’ve chosen to use! I look forward to seeing how far your creativity can take you!