McCall’s 4501 and M5400, under-riffic

The Backstory:
Right, so I made a bathing suit, here, using a pattern from 1975. One fairly important pattern piece was missing, so I borrowed from a bathing suit pattern published in 2007. Right? Right. 
The ’75 pattern was granted Sew It status, while the ’07 pattern was hanging out in a weird limbo of having been sort of but not exactly tried out. 
So, in an effort to properly assign status to the ’07, and to have fun while making undies, I made four pairs of underwear, two using the bikini bottom pattern from McCall’s 4501 published in 1975, and two using the bikini bottom pattern from McCall’s M5400 published in 2007. 
Two pairs each because, you know, one each is hardly enough to really get into the project. 

First up was this:

This is the one from 1975, obvs. 
P.S., what is going on with the glasses of the girl in the yellow bikini? They’re like pale blue? As if they are that kind of indoor glasses that turn dark when you go outside, caught in a moment of transition between clear and opaque? Why didn’t the artist just make them be actual dark sunglasses and give poor Yellow half a chance at looking cool? Anyway…
This is the pattern I was most excited about. I thought the low waist and low legline would be super cute and fun and seventies, and instead they are the worst looking underwear of all time. 


Ok I know it’s hard to truly understand the badness in a photo where the clothing isn’t on a person, but believe me, they are bad. After trying them on I understood why the illustrator didn’t include a rear view on the pattern envelope. 
More about why and what is bad in a minute, but for now I’ll say that I almost gave up completely and didn’t even try McCall’s M5400, which was the whole point of the exercise, so dispirited was I by these underpants. 

So here’s McCall’s 5400, published in 2007. I did bikini bottom View F.

So much better! Like real underwear! 
What is responsible for this miraculous difference? The pattern right? No, not exactly! 
I have some theories on why the second two are better than the first two.

Theory 1: Fabric. 
With the first couple pairs I used satin for the back pieces and a medium weight four-way cotton Lycra for the fronts. I figured, based on some of the other seventies patterns I’ve done up, that the fabric probably doesn’t really even need to be stretch. But just in case, I cut the satin on the bias and used stretch for the front. Turns out the cotton Lycra is too thick and bulky, and the satin just look bizarre, feel strange, and puts a literal highlight on all wrong places. 
With the thickness and bizarreness in mind, I decided to stop being all crazy and just do it the right way and use an appropriate (thinner, softer, cotton) knit for the second two pairs.

Theory 2: Troubleshooting. 
The first pair I made, with the blue, looked gigantic before I even tried them on. And looks weren’t deceiving. Second pair (the pink) are cut the same size as the blue but I used a stronger elastic at the waist, plus pulled the elastic tighter, plus used a zigzag instead of the coverstitch. By the time I got to the second pattern and the two bird-print pairs, I’d abandoned the overlock and the coverstitch altogether and had brought out a pair of real, commercially made underwear as a reference for the construction. 
The result being, not only do the bird pairs look better, they also went together much faster: blue and pink took three and a half hours combined, while bird print took two hours combined, from cutting to finishing, for a total of one hour per garment. 

Theory 3: Maybe the pattern. The bikini bottoms for M5400, the 2007 one, which I did in the bird print, are described as having a high-cut leg, which is probably just plain better looking. I liked the low legline as part of a one piece bathing suit, but apparently it doesn’t work for me in a bikini. 

Theory 4: Practice. I am a professional patternmaker, but not a professional stitcher. The costume shop is a highly specialized world in which I’m expected to stay away from the sewing machine and let the stitchers, who are better at stitching than I am, do their thing. I hope that by doing these Sew It Or Throw It projects now, while I’m out being a mom, I’ll return to work a better patternmaker with a deeper grasp of construction. I think the improvement between underwear 1 and underwear 4 is at least a little bit due to practice. 

Other Things:
Here below is the difference in size between the blue and the pink. The other sides are matched, the pieces are cut the same, it’s all a matter of the elastic type and the zigzag versus coverstitch. 

Here below is a detail of both of the elastics, which I bought downtown at some kind of a studio closing sale. I think they’re pretty 

And this photo above showing how much the coverstitch flattens out the elastic. The elastic is just not strong enough to “return” against the pressure of all that stitching. 
Which brings me to a thought and a question:

While reading sewing blogs I’ve been impressed with the consistency of terminology. Here’s this international community, whose members posses every possible level of training in sewing, from various sources, and yet everyone has these terms for fitting. And these terms are universally understood. 
Contrast that to my life in costume shops, where we don’t have terminology for fitting adjustments. If the shop manager needed me to do a Full Bust Adjustment, she wouldn’t say FBA, because I wouldn’t know what she was talking about. She would describe it. Something like, “lower and deepen the dart and swing the side seam out a little.” Or more likely no one would use any words at all, I would just mark the dart lower, pin it deeper, and rip open the side seams in the fitting and then transfer the marks to the pattern later without even knowing I was doing A Thing. 
I was talking about this difference with my husband, and he was like, “where does the terminology come from, if it’s not coming from, like, theater training or fashion?” And I was like, “Sewing books??? YouTube???? The patterns themselves???? I don’t know!”
So anyway, I respect the international consistency of terminology. 
And I’m wondering if anyone can help me with this terminology:
Is there a word or phrase for what is happening in that last photo, where the overlock and the coverstitch are defeating the weak elastic and leaving it all flattened out? Anybody know? Otherwise I’ll just keep describing it. In long sentences. Maybe rhyming. 

Sew It or Throw It:
Oh right, there’s a pattern to be judged! McCall’s M5400 from 2007 is a sew. I’d like to make an actual bathing suit not underwear version of View E and H, the one illustrated in white with the tie-front. 

As for the underwear, I’m sending the blue pair directly to the thrift, maybe to be followed by the pink pair. I might make a dozen more of the bird version, if they wear well, with the goal of using a high order (to the factory of me) to cut construction time in half. Next time I might even cut them so the birds go the right direction on the front. 


12 thoughts on “McCall’s 4501 and M5400, under-riffic

  1. I have also made undies but just self-drafted. First pair I made from a one way stretch and while I could get them on let’s just say they were sporting an Afro and a smile and were not suitable for daily life and not attractive (particularly when stretched across my ass in a way that appeared they may give up at any point) for nighttime activities. I also had to try and work out the terms for stretchy lace in Dutch as we were living in holland at the time. The Dutch word for lace is kant, which is pronounced like a very bad English word for lady parts. All in all fun! Here in nz there is an awesome company called thunderpants who are fair trade, organic, and make big Nanna pants which I love.


  2. You may be talking about “elastic fatigue” as described here:

    Amy says “The more stitches and thread you put into an elastic, the more you impact its ability to rebound. A firmer plush elastic can handle the heavy stitching, but lightweight and very stretchy elastics will lose a lot of their rebound with a 3-step [zig zag]. This is the most frequent cause of wavy edges—when an elastic has stretched further than the actual length of the opening and is not able to rebound back to the original or smaller size.”

    Hope that helps! :)


    1. Elastic fatigue! That sounds exactly right. Gosh, now I’m wondering if I actually have heard that term and just wasn’t paying attention. That is a possibility.
      Thank you, this definitely helps!


  3. Hmmmm. Rubs chin. I like Beata’s answer! My undie making career involves top stitching wide stretch lace onto leg openings, using the Barrie pattern but copying the RTW method of my fave jocks. I’m still a total nuffy at applying thin lace like that to edges. I do find undie making highly satisfying and a fabulous use of scraps.


  4. I’ve only made a few pairs of undies. All from jersey scraps. I have a kit for woven cotton undies (it came with a sewing magazine, I think) but I haven’t tried it because I’m not sure I believe in woven undies. I know my grandma would have some choice words about the level of ignorance that underpins what I’m saying about underpinnings, but I think I’ll stick with the jersey for now.

    Inserting elastic is definitely my least favorite part of undie making, though. I’m glad I read through the comments above mine because I feel like I’ve learned something important. Naomi’s was wonderfully funny (and reinforced my resistance to woven undies) and Beata’s put a name to my fear of completely mangling the elastic.


  5. I had bought the Beverly Johnson ‘undies’ class from Craftsy some time ago – she is an underwear genius BTW! So I have asked the terminology question and she will no doubt get back to me pronto.
    I’m currently studying couture at fashion college in Melbourne and to be honest I’m floored by the lack of knowledge in the class. Discussing stuff just doesn’t seem to happen much in the professional world. Class members studying corsetry had never heard of coutil or used steel bones. They call a narrow rolled overlock a ‘babylock’ which to me is a brand. Yes, they’ve never heard of FBA’s SBA’s except the mannequins all have SB’s so it doesn’t seem to matter! One lass asked what twill weave was?
    I’m going to just come out and congratulate the sewing blogosphere for all the knowledge willingly and generously disseminated. The knowledge base of the modern sewist is incredible and I think we can all take a pat on the back for that – yourself included off course ;)


    1. That is sad to hear! I mean congratulations to all present parties of course, but sad about the lack of knowledge being brought to class.
      Are they young, or just starting? I knew pretty much nothing about construction when I started school: just enough to show potential, and that was as a design student not construction. I switched to construction later in school.
      Or maybe that’s part of it, maybe there’s a feeling of wanting to be the designer, not the maker? So, like, there’s not as much enthusiasm for learning all the exciting construction vocabulary and methods?
      Or maybe fashion is just different? I worked with a girl who had started in fashion and refocused later to costumes, she said they had a different method of pinning in fashion. Pinning! I mean, pin goes in fabric, there’s only one way, right? I never got her to explain it.
      Or maybe the students are bored and too cool? I mean, I’m sure they’re lovely. I shouldn’t speculate.
      At any rate, yes, pats all around.


      1. One has 30 years experiencing in high end Patternmaking and 3-4 work in bridal couture. Others have degrees and certificates. I get the feeling the problem is caused by a lack of desire to collaborate – something the blogosphere never seems to suffer from. In fact they speak with disdain about ‘bloggers’ and ‘YouTube instrcution’ with a roll of the eyes!! Their loss!


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