Monday 2 August 2010

How to Construct Undies with a Serger and FOE

Here we go people, the very thing that you've been asking for and I've been promising to deliver: a how-to on pants/knickers/panties/undies construction. After a fair bit of examining my shop-bought pants, I did some experimentation with different construction methods and types of underwear elastic (a lot of which has been previously documented on this blog) to work out how best to make my own. This is my favourite technique for creating great-looking and comfy pants!


  • Pants pattern. Either make a pattern by tracing or deconstructing an existing pair or download my hipster pants pattern (to be uploaded to Burdastyle in the near future and available for free download). Make sure there are three pieces: front, back and gusset
  • Knit fabric. You can upcycle old T-shirts or use any piece of pants-appropriate knit fabric. Remember, standard crew-neck T-shirt fabric tends to have less stretch quality than a lot of knit fabric (particularly those with an elastane content), so you may want to add an extra 0.5 - 1 cm at each side seam if you want to use the less-stretchy type to give yourself an extra 2 - 4 cms in total for comfort.
  • FOE (fold-over elastic). You can use any type of elastic you please, but seeing as I prefer FOE for it's ease of use and clean finish, that's what I'm using for this tutorial. It is available in some haberdashers, and many ebay sellers stock it in a variety of colours and finishes.
  • Serger/Overlocker
  • Standard flatlock sewing machine that can make a three-step zigzag stitch or normal zigzag stitch.
  • Thread
  • Large handstitching needle

Step 1:

Serge/overlock the top edge of the gusset to create a neat finish.

Step 2:
To create the main gusset seam lay your pattern pieces on top of each other as follows:
Lay the front piece right side up. Lay the back piece on top with the wrong side up. Lay the gusset piece on top with the wrong side up.

Step 3:
When the edges are lined up, pin the layers together.

Step 4:

Serge/overlock them together making sure you catch all three layers in.

Step 5:

Open out the pieces so the front and back pieces are lying wrong side up and the gusset is positioned towards the front with the right side up. The seam will be hidden inside.

Step 6:

Pin the sides of gusset to the front piece.

Step 7:

With the right side up, start at the side seam and apply FOE around each leg hole. The FOE folds in half and traps/sandwiches the fabric edge inside it. Using a three-step zigzag (or a normal zigzag if your machine doesn’t have the three-step) topstitch along the FOE. I usually use a 90-gauge sewing machine needle and haven’t had any problems before.

I would recommend practicing with the FOE and scraps of your fabric until you feel comfortable with this process. It can be a good idea to very gently pull the elastic as you are stitching to create snug-fitting pants. The sides of the gusset will get sandwiched in between the FOE as you stitch (don’t forget to remove the pins as you go!).

Step 8:

You should now have two elastic bound leg holes!

Step 9:

With the right sides together, serge/overlock one of the side seams together. Don’t forget to leave tails of thread, you can stitch these in later to create a neat finish without the risk of unravelling.

Step 10:

Now it’s time to apply FOE along the waist edge of your pants. Just as you did with the leg holes, start at one end with the right side up and sandwich the edge inside your FOE, topstitching with a zigzag stitch as you go.

Step 11:

With the right sides together, serge/overlock the final side seam together.

Step 12:

You should have three tails of thread hanging loose, one at the bottom of one side seam, and two at the other side seam (one at the top, one at the bottom). With a large handstitching needle, like a wool needle, thread the tails of thread back inside the seam overlocking so that the ends cannot be pulled out.

Ta da!!!!! Finished pants! Don’t forget, you can add anything, for example, lace, ribbon, small buttons, appliqués, bows, ruffles, embroidery, ricrac etc. to make your pants super-special!

If you need any stage of this how-to clarified, please leave a comment on this post and I'll try to demystify my meaning! If you don't have a serger/overlocker, don't fancy making or downloading a full pants pattern or don't feel like acquiring FOE, I would recommend Cal Patch's Make Your Own Underwear how-to for a slightly different approach to the one detailed above. Good luck and happy undies making!


Alessa said...

Awesome, thanks for the tutorial! I've been on the lookout for FOE but haven't found any, yet (it's not the same as Y-elastic, is it?). As soon as I do, I'll try this out. :-)

Michelle said...

Yay for a great tute! I will be using this modified a stitch to make some maternity undies. My big belly is making store bought undies uncomfortable and maternity undies are super pricey (don't ask me why, it's ridiculous!)

Unknown said...

Yay! Thanks for writing this tutorial! I can't wait to make my own pants!

Minnado said...

Thank you Zoe, this tute looks great. I am away from home at the moment but am keen to try this when i get back. I have the t shirt pile ready and waiting.

Ali said...

Thanks! I'm looking forward to trying my own :)

Alana said...

So cool - thanks for the really clear step by step :)

Alexandra said...

Thanks so much for this tutorial i can't wait to have a go...i'm going through everyone's t-shirts later :) xx

Gail said...

Great tute. I hate side seams on undies. I'd be interested in your thoughts about changing this pattern to eliminate the side seams and have one seam up the centre back. This would lock the seam into the hip elastic and the gusset but would it ride up?

lexi said...

Thanks, Zoe! I made my first pair a few weeks ago and they weren't brilliant - now I think I have some extra tips to make them work. Am looking forward to trying with FOE!

Carolyn said...

Thankyou for taking the time to make a tutorial! Very clear and straightforward. And your finished undies look so cute with those little bows and buttons on the front, a real nice touch! Thanks!

Crystal said...

YES! Thank you so much! I hate store bought underwear, and now I can make a custom-fitting pair! So happy, you're the absolute best :)

The Long & Winding Bobbin said...

Oh I have been waiting for this! on the edge of my seat...
Can't wait to get home and try this out tonight! will let you know how I go...
Thanks Zoe :-)

Marie said...

Thank you for an excellent tutorial! Must getting practising now ;o)

Michelle said...

Thanks for the tutorial! I made my own underwear, in a slightly different way, last year, and it's my favorite pair. I will definitely be trying this pattern soon, probably next week. Thanks again!

Jet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Susannah said...

Poifect! Now I can get cracking on all those old band t-shirts I don't wear but can't bear to pitch.

Thanks for the tutorial!

Anna said...

Hiya, Did you ever upload the pattern to Burdastyle? I've just had a quick look but can't see it (I don't use the site much so I may well totally be missing it). I do have a pair that I will try and trace a pattern from but I'd be interested to see how it measures up to yours! Thanks!

Kirsty said...

Hi Zoe, just made a pair using this tutorial. Thanks so much for posting it.

metaslim said...

meta slim
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

Kristi said...

Thanks for the awesome tutorial! I made a pair and they fit great... Except for the elastic. :( for some reason once I put the elastic around the top the waist was BIGGER. I'm guessing this has to do with the stretchiness of the fabric I used. I'll have to take it off and try again. Also, when I sewed the leg elastic on I had a few problems. First it's not stretchy on the gusset. I guess this isn't a problem because they're still comfy, but I think the elastic should be stretchy all the way round. Also, and this is on all of the elastic, it's wavy when I take them off. So they dont sit all pretty like yours. I am using FOE for the first time and I think I need to find some tips on how to use it. Any ideas?

Thanks again!

Kristi.griggs86 at gmail dot com

سیلر said...

step up

Aaahh it is very interesting posting nice work like your topic

Unknown said...

What is the sewing settings you use for the serger for this project? The stitch length, overstitch, and tensions, etc?

Unknown said...

What are the sewing settings you use for the serger for this project? The thread tensions, overstitch, and stitch length, etc.?

Carol said...

I used this pattern this evening and now I have a new pair of undies made from my husband old t-shirt. And it fits almost perfect. Thank you so much for making it available for free!

Ronja said...

My sewing machine died as after I cut my pieces and was testing out the tension on some scraps. So annoyed since I was really ready to have some of the comfiest pants ever.

Kim said...

Im the happiest I could possibly be, sporting my newly made underwear from your pattern.
I used a bit of leftover stretch rayon spandex knit, fold over elastic and no time at all!!!!!
I added three inches to the top, as I wanted pants that would stay put! and they absolutely do!
Honestly, Im so excited!
Home made all the time, from now on.
thanks for the pattern, thanks for sharing, thanks for the effort with all the construction,
Im clicking my heels. :)

Renae Kerrigan said...

Thank you! I made one using an old race shirt, and it worked out great! I'll try making the cami next!

Anonymous said...

Lovely pattern with clear instructions I can't wait to try it

Arslan said...

Nice Air bra is a good product

Emma Edwards said...

Useful instructions. A slightly better way of doing it than the instructions in the Kwik Sew pattern I used the other day where you sewed all seams first, then added the elastic.

Lynda said...

HI Zoe
Thanks so much for the pant pattern. Do you have a guide for elastic for around the top and the legs?

Unknown said...

Please can you post the pattern measurement for 40-75 junior panty. then it will easy or me to understand and make it.

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