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MY SKILLS IN GOOD KNICK! It's pant-astic to make your own underwear, says master seamstress We wear them every day. But how much attention do you pay to your pants? As a new knickermaking workshop launches in Warwickshire, environment reporter MARY GRIFFIN hears why homemade briefs are the latest craft craze.

KNICKERS aren't usually a controversial topic, but a new trend for make-it-yourself underwear certainly seems to be dividing the nation.

There's a community of crafters who can't wait to get to grips with knicker elastic, mastering French seams and personalising their pants.

But for every wannabe knicker maker, there are several less crafty creatures who can't understand why anyone would spend their weekend hand making a garment that's readily available on the high street - and cheap as chips.

When the Guardian's weekly craft section turned its attention to the craze with a how-to guide on turning old T-shirts into new knickers, the article drew dozens of comments from supporters and critics.

The latter remarked: "Hard times, eh?", "Better, I suppose, than wearing a T-shirt made out of old knickers..." and "As long as you avoid the armpit bits of the former t-shirt, knock yourself out."

But crafters gave a spirited defence, explaining that "the point is to enjoy making something".

And for Leamington's Roisin Muldoon, knicker-making is not just enjoyable - it's political.

Roisin works in Coventry as a civil servant by day, but is a crafts master by night, designing and stitching her own vintage-style dresses and writing an illuminating blog about fashion and craft.

Originally from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, Roisin moved to Warwickshire for a degree in film studies at the University of Warwick and liked it so much she stayed.

"A few years ago one of my friends in Leamington taught me crochet," she says. "I took to it quickly and it really re-ignited that desire to make things."

When cashflow allowed, Roisin bought herself a sewing machine and, using a Reader's Digest guide to home sewing, her journey began.

"I made a lot of mistakes," she says, "but that's the only way you learn, and there's so much information you can find online.

"There's a very vibrant online community of like-minded home seamstresses who talk on Twitter and comment on each other's blogs."

It was through this community that Roisin discovered knickermaking, attending a one-day workshop in Bath. And she launching her own knicker-making workshop for Warwickshire crafters. Classes in DIY knickers have sprung up right across the country, with Bristol's Flo-Jo Boutique developing a buy-online "Fancy Pants knickermaking kit" for PS15, complete with sewing pattern, fabric and step-by-step instructions.

Even local authorities are backing the homemade knicker revolution, with Kent County Council's adult education arm offering a course.

And last year, queen of the high street Mary Portas acted as a catalyst to the movement when she embarked on her own televised mission to reclaim British knicker making.

Dubbed "the great British knicker experiment", it was a bid to breathe new air into the deflated UK textile industry.

Having seen the industry dwindle as manufacturing was sent abroad, her show, Mary's Bottom Line, launched the Kinky Knickers brand, getting a new factory in north Manchester up and running and, in the run up to February 14 (the knicker-selling peak of the calendar), taking thousands of or-ders from big high street names such as Boots, John Lewis and House of Fraser and online superstore Asos. Their initial production run of 5,000 briefs led to orders of 45,000 and the factory is now expanding to make a range of bras, vests and men's pants.

So what is it about making your own knickers (or in Mary Portas' case, buying knickers made locally on a small scale) that is capturing the imaginations of Britain's crafters? Roisin says: "I think it seems to be almost a reaction to the way craft is seen as being a bit "twee".

"I personally don't have a problem with Kirstie Allsopp, but she tends to do programs where she's crocheting a case to put an apple in. Pointless, fiddly things. It's nice to make something and it doesn't matter if it has a function, but there's a real movement now towards getting back to a self sufficiency model, with people having allotments and baking their own bread, and I think knicker-making is an extension of that.

"Knickers are something we all need and we spend most of our lives wearing them.

"So, for me, it was really exciting to know at the end of that one-day course I had been given that skill and if I never wanted to buy another pair of pants again I wouldn't have to.

"I think that's really radical!" Critics and doubters point out that knickers can be bought for less than PS1 a pair in Primark - so what's the incentive to never buy another pair? "A lot of people would feel that way," says Roisin, "but at the same time, there's an increasing awareness of the social, economic and human impact of going into a shop and buying three pairs of knickers for a pound.

"If you're not bothered about that, you'll see the whole idea of making knickers as pointless.

"But if you've ever stood in a shop and thought about the whole price of an item, its back story and its true cost, it's a different story.

"Cotton has to come from somewhere and the number of people who are aware of and interested in the ethics behind these materials is growing.

"I'm not some ethical crusader or anything, but the more you think about it the more you question the human cost of an item like a pair of knickers, and that's one of the reasons it really appeals to me.

"It's not going to appeal to everybody but, to me, it's a basic survival skill."

Action 21 is hoping to arrange knicker-making sessions over the next few months. To find out more call 01926 339 077 or email

" There's a real movement now towards getting back to a self sufficiency model. I think knicker-making is an extension of that.


CREATIVE BRIEF: Roisin Muldoon says making your own knickers is great fun. Below left, Mary Portas, who put the issue in the TV spotlight.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jan 31, 2013
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