There are a few reasons I make knickers, a main one is to cut down on waste (lets face it, home sewing can be pretty wasteful if you consider the amount of fabric left after cutting out) – especially of the lovely (pricey) scandanavian organic knits I’m addicted to so fond of, but also I like my undies bright and colourful (something that can be hard to find in the shops) and anyway I find making them pretty satisfying. So, when I discovered that my friend struggles to buy underwear for her daughter who likes all things bright and colourful and hates pastels, hearts and general cuteness, but most definitely wants to be wearing girls clothes, I quickly ascertained that my friend has a sewing machine and persuaded her that it would be the easiest thing in the world to make some herself. I also got her to join the stashbusting sewalong group on face book, where I spend a lot of time hanging out online. So, when she introduced herself there and said she was currently fighting with fold over elastic trying to make pants, several people questioned her sanity in starting off with such a difficult task. Whoops, mea culpa, hands up.


Now with added seam allowance

I’ve been meaning to try out different methods of elasticising  underwear for a while, so I decided the time was now and I’m documenting it here, for my friend and beginnerish sewer and anyone else who may be interested, not that I’m an expert mind. I managed to cut three sets of knickers out of scraps of the same fabric (that was frustratingly not big enough to make me some undies, the joy of kids smalls is that they are indeed small) and then I got testing. One pair I cut with a larger seam allowance on the leg holes, you’ll see why in a minute.


Half trimmed gusset (deliberately inserted so the inside will be the unprinted reverse of the fabric as it’s softer for this fabric)

I only have 2 pattern pieces in this self made pattern (that I have used before for The Girl)  as I use a rectangle for the gusset and then trim it to shape after it’s sewn on (it’s easier and prevents misaligned gussets).  (Learn how to draft your own pattern from Cal Patch here or download So Zo’s for free and buy her a coffee as a thank you).DSCF0808.JPG

For my experiment I sewed up the pair with extra seam allowance and one of the standard pairs, but I didn’t sew the side seams on the third pair.


Then I added fold over elastic to the side of that third pair. I used a triple (stretch) zig zag in a contrast colour. I find starting the FOE the hardest (I use a pin and try and get one stitch in without stretching it to get it started), after that I just line up the next section so that the edge of the fabric is along the fold, then tug the elastic a little to stretch it, fold that section over, hold in place and sew up to that spot, then repeat until I get to the end.


Then I made them up, pressing the side seams open (but I didn’t finish them, bad me) and then going over the stitching just around the side seams to hold everything in place and stop the raw edges peeping out. The top is then finished with some slightly wider FOE (only cos I had some), but before I sewed it down I added a little tab made from scrap fabric to the inside center back to help show which way around they go.  Helpfully you can’t see it in this shot, but it’s there, I promise, a little elephant.

Next up, the pair with the extra seam allowance on the leg holes. First the waistband, which I used some “proper” waistband elastic for. I really like how the rainbow goes with the cloud theme. I made an educated guess how much shorter to make the elastic, sewed it into a loop, marked the quarters on both elastic and pants, then pinned them, pinned inbetween the quarters, and then sewed it from the right side (it would’ve been easier to sew it from the wrong side, but I didn’t have a bobbin wound in purple thread and I was feeling lazy). Basically, this is how you sew on picot elastic (which the recipient has ruled out so isn’t included).

Next up, the leg holes. I used some standard flat elastic (albeit purple) for this and I tried to make my seam allowance twice the width of the elastic. First I sewed the elastic to the inside of the leghole using a straight stretch (lightening) stitch, so that the outside edge of the elastic matched the edge of the pants. This was quite tricky and I wondered if I’d’ve been better not to sew up the side seams on this pair either. Then when I turned them right side out, I discovered I hadn’t managed to catch both layers of fabric in places around the gusset, so I redid those bits from the right side. Maybe I should’ve basted the gusset and front together before adding the elastic or maybe sewing them flat, not in the round, would’ve helped here too. Finally I folded over the elastic and topstitched in a (triple) zig zag. This was quite tricky at the back gusset seam, as there were 6 layers of fabric there. The finish is ok, a bit scruffy on the outside. This particular elastic is fairly smooth and thin, if you had average flat elastic and/or someone who was sensitive to elastic, I guess you could add more seam allowance and turn under twice, but then you’d have 9 layers of fabric at that back gusset seam. Also, the finished result doesn’t seem very stretchy to me, not sure if that is the method, my accuracy or this elastic.

Anyway, pair number 2 complete (no tag this time, I’m hoping that the back seam in the elastic is enough to help get them the right way around).

Finally pair number 3, which I finished with bands like the Barrie brief pattern that I have (but it doesn’t however go this small).  To calculate what height to cut your band, chose the height you want the finished band to be, add your seam allowance and then double your answer. So, as I was using a 1cm seam allowance and I wanted the band to be 1cm tall, I cut it 2 x (1+1) = 2 x 2 = 4cm. For the width of your band, start by measuring the opening in question. Then I multiplied this by 0.85 for the jersey leg bands and 0.7 for the ribbing waistband (as ribbing is stretchier). Round to the nearest half a cm or 1/4″, and then add on twice your seam allowance. And voila, cut your band. Make sure the width goes accoss the stretchiest part of the fabric.


Once the band is cut, fold in half (short edges together), stitch the short edges at your seam allowance (to make a loop), press them open, press the band in half (long edges together), mark the quarter points (I use a pin) and mark quarter points on your opening, pin , sew, turn and press. I like to then stitch my seam allowance down (I used a normal zig zag above) to stop the insides from getting all crinkly and messy. Oh, and I deliberately didn’t line up the seam in my loop with a side seam, to reduce bulk, rather I staggered them slightly.

So here they all are for comparison. I think the bands gave the neatest result and the best shape, and the ordinary elastic folded over twice looks the scruffiest. The fold over elastic was probably the fastest for me to make.

They have now made it to their destination (complete with the secret spider, can you find it?) and are waiting for the young woman in question to return from her hols and give her verdict on fit and comfyness.

Do you have a favourite way of finishing underwear or any top tips? I just noticed that Zoe has tips for a flat elastic option and  I have in the back of my mind that some people use shirring elastic….



2 thoughts on “Thunderpants

  1. Fab undies, I can’t find the spider though 😦

    • It’s a black spider shaped button sewn onto the centre front of the navy blue ribbing waistband, very subtle in the photo’s but by the time I realised that they were in the post and too late to take another shot

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