When perusing the aisles at my local thrift shop, I notice that there is an abundance of knit tops in wonderful colors and patterns. And I started thinking about how comfortable knits are and how uncomfortable my bras were so, naturally, I thought I'd try to make some bras and panties out of some old knit tops.
My basic style is all about comfort. Sure, I want to look good but if I'm not comfortable, if things are tugging or squeezing me or I have to worry about falling out of my clothes then it doesn't matter how great it looks on me, I'll probably never wear it again. So the idea of having bras made from those comfy knit tops was appealing. (After a little research I learned that my - and most women's - discomfort with bras is that they wear the wrong size. Here is a great article to help you find your right size. It works). Equally appealing was the idea that I could actually match my bra and panties. For some reason, this is important to me. And so began the adventure of making my own. I've thought about making my own underwear for quite awhile but I was intimidated by it. The reality is that panties are so easy I doubt I'll ever buy another pair. Bras, on the other hand are a little bit more challenging.
To get started, you need a pattern. I decided to draft my own. For the panties, I just copied a pair that fit well and I got a good fit on the first try. The bra was more complicated and I followed directions given in the book 'The Bra Makers Manual vol 2
' by Beverly Johnson. This is not a project for the faint of heart. I was pleasantly surprised to get a decent fit on the second try but that still entailed measuring myself, drafting the pattern, sewing up a mock bra, testing the fit, going back and redrafting the pattern and then sewing up another version and then going back to redo the pattern for other design details (such as lowering the bridge, figuring out straps, etc).
Of course, if you are not the masochist like me, you can always buy a pattern. But I suspect you'll still have to make adjustments.
Next, you need supplies. For the panties, all you really need is elastic. You can buy "lingerie" elastic which has a picot edge that will add a pretty touch, but you can get by with some regular elastic. I prefer the knit or braided elastic and use 3/8 or 1/2 inch wide for the waistband and either 1/4 or 3/8 for the leg openings. I did buy a sample pack of different colored lingerie elastic but I was disappointed in the quality as the picot trim started to unravel after a couple of washes.
For a bra you will need underwires, underwire casing, hook and eyes, slides and rings (for the straps) and elastic. You'll probably have to order most of these online but they aren't expensive.
For my fabric, I chose a woman's knit top. I easily got a pair of panties and bra out of one large top. You'll need to keep in mind that knit fabrics have different amounts of stretch. Jersey or t-shirt knits generally have about a 30% stretch factor, which means if you place your fabric on a ruler and mark it at 10 inches (or 25.4 cm if I've done my math correctly) your fabric should be able to stretch to 13 inches (or 33 cm). Knits with Lycra will stretch more. My point is that if you are drafting a pattern it needs to take into account the amount of stretch your knit has because, unlike with wovens where you need to add fabric or ease, you will reduce the size of your pattern to accommodate for stretch.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you want the stretch to work for you. That means placing the stretchiest part of your fabric where it will do the most good. For underwear, you want it to stretch horizontally across the body.
As for the bras, you will probably want to get some powerband. It is a very durable and stretchy fabric used in bra making. I used it in the back band. You'll use very little so you don't have to buy a lot.
The last thing you need to consider is how you are going to sew your bra and panties. You really only need a straight and zig zag stitch. If you have a 3-step zig zag (I don't but I do have a running stitch but I didn't like how it looked), you can use that. I used a universal needle and regular thread. For the bra, it did help to have an edge stitch foot when it came time to put in the underwire casing to make it neat but, again, not necessary.
I've got the pantie pattern down pat and now have a more than adequate supply. I am still refining the bra pattern. The fit is good but there are little things that I need to change. I made adjustable straps but if you can tell on the picture, I have the slides and rings in the front. They need to go in the back. I also need to adjust the bridge (that is the piece of fabric that is between the cups), it's a little too high. Of course, adjusting the bridge height means that I have to adjust the upper cup. It's a continual process until you get a fit and design you like.
Even if I never make my own bras, the process was educational. I learned a lot about fit, pattern drafting and sewing stretch fabric and elastic, not to mention a couple of tricks to add to my sewing repertoire.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Lynn Burdick is a designer, author and Kaizen Muse Creativity Coach who loves the thrill of the (thrift store) hunt. When she isn't playing with yarn/fabric or helping others follow their bliss, she can be found jogging, cooking, drawing, reading, dreaming of her own garden or plotting her next adventure. You can learn more about her at www.LynnBurdick.com.