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.
But then I was like NO. MUST COMPLETE MISSION. SEW IT OR THROW IT OR ELSE.
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.
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.