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Sewing your own lingerie can be intimidating because of the combination of materials and techniques, but with expert guidance and knowledge it's fun and rewarding, especially when the fit is perfect. Read on to learn how to easily sew lingerie fabrics that are notoriously stretchy and slippery to work with and discover essential tools that help achieve a professional finish.


It's important to use the right needle for the task at hand.

Stretch needles are used for very stretchy fabrics and designed to easily pierce the fabric and prevent skipped stitches.

Ballpoint needles are used for very fine fabrics that snag or easily break fibers. The needle tip is rounded in a ball shape, allowing it to slide between the fabric fibers instead of cutting through fibers.

Sharp universal needles have a point that lasts longer than ballpoint or stretch needles. Use when attaching elastic trim that tends to easily snag. Select a size 60/8 or 70/10 needle for projects.


Even though lingerie fabrics are very thin and fine, there are often many layers to sew through when attaching the hook and eye, sewing underwire channeling or securing underbust elastic. Select a strong, high quality synthetic thread that withstands different fabric and trim weights.


When working with woven fabrics, the pattern pieces have the grainline marked on each piece. Stretch fabric patterns have the same marking, but are designated for the direction of greatest stretch. The direction of greatest stretch varies between different fabrics, but the pattern piece is still placed horizontally along the direction with the most stretch to achieve the intended fit.

To determine the fabric stretch, cut a 4"-long strip away from the cut edge on the yardage. The cut edge has less tension than the interior fabric, so it stretches more and causes an inaccurate measurement.

Gently pull the fabric across a ruler and measure how far it stretches. Each inch the fabric stretches indicates 25% stretch. Don't pull the fabric taut, pull just as much as would be comfortable to wear.

Measure both the lengthwise and crosswise grain. Whichever direction has the most stretch is the direction of greatest stretch.


Use sharp pins on soft and delicate lingerie fabric and elastic to prevent snagging. Glass-head silk pins work best because they're extra fine and are especially made for working with slippery silk.

If using slippery synthetic fabric, such as power mesh, always check the fabric after pinning the pattern pieces to make sure there are no folds or creases in the pinned fabric.


Accurate cutting is essential for precise sewing and correct fit. When cutting knits and lingerie fabrics, scissors often disrupt the fabric and pattern pieces, causing inaccurate cutting. Instead, use a rotary cutting system to keep all the fabric and pattern pieces flat during cutting.

Cut each elastic piece separately instead of measuring one piece and then cutting the remaining pieces against the first. The elastic stretches and all the pieces end up different lengths.

Keep elastic flat and un-stretched on a flat work surface. Place pins and the cutline, and then double-check the measurement before cutting.


Always select a stitch that allows the fabric to stretch. A straight stitch prevents knit and stretchy fabrics from stretching at the seamline where sewn. Discover different stretch stitches that are more suitable for lingerie sewing.

Zigzag: Use as a tack to secure areas under stress, such as straps and hook-and-eye closures. Increase the stitch width and decrease the stitch length to create a tack with a lot of stitches for extra strength (1).

3-Step Zigzag: Use for lingerie seams. Slightly different from a standard zigzag stitch because it has three stitches for each point instead of one and the extra stitches allow the seam to stretch with more flexibility. It's also strong and less likely to pull apart (2).

Understitching: Use for a seam that's under stress, such as a neckline or side seam. Understitch the seam to transfer the stress to the fabric and not the stitches. Also use understitching to control seam allowances when working with sheer fabrics or panels. To underst!tch a seam, press the seam allowances toward one side, and then zigzag the seam allowance to the fabric to secure (3).

Overlook: Use a serger to stitch and finish the seam allowance in one pass. Always test-stitch the chosen overlock stitch on scrap fabric to ensure the seam stretches (4).

Coverstitch: Use a specialty coverstitch machine to create a hem stitch to attach elastic. This machine has two straight rows of stitching on the right side and finishes the raw fabric edge on the wrong side (5).


The key to a smooth, professional finish on handmade lingerie is finding the correct settings on the sewing machine to achieve beautiful seams. Test stitch a double-layer fabric scrap to determine the correct settings.

Experiment with the stitch width and length until a smooth seam that doesn't ripple or distort the fabric is achieved. A proper stitch lays flat without any puckers, but has enough stitches to easily stretch. Wider stitches add elasticity to the seam, and longer stitches decrease the tension that creates rippled edges.

If the stretchy fabric isn't smoothly feeding through the machine, decrease the presser foot tension.


The most common issue with sewing knits is that instead of the needle piercing the fabric, the fabric stretches around the needle and is then caught under the throat plate. It causes a thread knot under the fabric known as a bird's nest.

If the fabric is stuck during stitching, stop sewing immediately. Sewing faster creates a larger bird's nest that requires more time to fix.

If the fabric Is stuck in the throat plate, cut the bobbin thread and remove the bobbin. If the fabric doesn't release, carefully remove the throat plate and fabric from the machine. Gently trim away the thread nest until you can push the fabric out of the throat plate, making sure not to pull the fabric out, which will damage it. Replace the throat plate and remove the remaining threads from the fabric.

To prevent bird's nests, lightly pull the thread tails at the beginning of a stitch, but make sure not to pull the fabric through the machine. Pull with just enough tension on the threads to make sure the fabric edge moves smoothly under the presser foot.

Don't begin sewing on the fabric edge. The edge has less tension and Is more likely to be pulled Into the throat plate. Begin stitching 1/8" from the fabric edge.


To evenly pin elastic, begin pinning the ends to the fabric edges. Determine the fabric seam and elastic center, and then pin the elastic to the fabric at the center. Stretch each fabric and elastic half together to evenly disperse the fabric; pin.

If applying elastic to a waistband or leg opening, stitch the elastic short ends together to create a continuous piece. Quarter-mark the fabric edge and the elastic. Pin the elastic to the fabric edge at each quarter mark. Stretch the fabric and elastic together to evenly disperse the fabric; pin.

Zigzag Application: The easiest way to apply elastic is with a zigzag stitch. This method results in the raw fabric edge concealed behind the elastic. It's also good for applying stretch lace and waistbands that need to lay flat (6).

* Pin the elastic right side up along the fabric-edge right side.

* Stitch along the elastic inner edge using a 3-step zigzag stitch.

* Trim the excess fabric below the elastic.

Folded Zigzag Application: This method uses two zigzag seams to create a finished fabric edge that's perfect for waistbands and leg openings. Use this method to apply decorative elastic, such as picot or ruffle elastic. Don't use for delicate fabrics that easily stretch out (7).

* Pin the elastic wrong side up along the fabric-edge right side. If using decorative elastic, position the decorative edge away from the fabric edge.

* Stitch along the elastic Inner edge using a 3-step zigzag stitch.

* Fold the elastic to the fabric wrong side. Repeat to 3-step zigzag stitch the remaining elastic edge to the fabric.

Basted Zigzag Application: This method creates a finished fabric edge with one zigzag seam. It's best for fabrics that easily stretch out, such as necklines, cup edge or underbusts (8).

* Pin the elastic right side up along the fabric-edge wrong side. Baste along the elastic lengthwise center.

* Fold the elastic to the fabric right side. Stitch along the elastic inner edge using a 3-step zigzag stitch, making sure not to stitch over the basting.

* Remove the basting.


TIP: If you encounter skipped stitches even when using a specialty needle, rethread the machine. If that doesn't work, install a new needle.
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Author:Hines, Sophie
Publication:Sew News
Article Type:Instructions
Date:Oct 1, 2018
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