Sewing Lingerie with Scuba Fabric

 Lingerie patterns available sewn up in scuba fabric

Lingerie patterns available sewn up in scuba fabric

Recently I've been seeing Scuba fabric every where, and although I had my reservations how this would translate into lingerie, I thought I'd sew it up in the following patterns, Harriet (high waist brief), Tippi (window back brief) and Birdie (high apex bra pattern not yet released).

For those who have yet to handle scuba fabric, it's a double knit fabric, (but not with the foam insert like wetsuits) with a great stretch and recovery.

So what did I think:

The positives of sewing scuba fabric

The positives: It's really easy to cut, you can leave the edges raw if that's a look you want, or use cut out lace would be a dream to sew and cut behind. It gives amazing support with good stretch on the bra, I had the side cup lined, but I don't think that it would necessary. It has a good recovery, so if you do stretch it whilst sewing then it tends to go back to original shape. You can also get some great colours and prints out there to sew with.

The negatives of sewing scuba fabric

The negatives: It was really hard to iron, there was a crease across the front of the Harriet brief and I couldn't get rid of it (look at the pictures and you can still see it), it's a nightmare to unpick, I attached the lace the wrong way around, and any unpicking resulted in holes, in the end I cut out two new pieces and started to re-sew the lingerie brief again. The seams are quite bulky, I incorporated lace into the design, but the seams still seamed (haha no pun intended) bulky. 

Also personally I wasn't in love with the fabric, maybe if I had chosen a print or softer colour I would have been, if I was to sew with it again I would overlay the fabric with a mesh. I prefer more natural fabrics like cotton etc. I'm not sure how this will feel in high summer.

Tip for sewing scuba fabric

* If you are going to sew with scuba fabric I recommend using larger stitches than you normally use and a ball point needle.

Understanding sewing terms

Understanding sewing terms (you may know it as a sew meaning or stitches meaning) so you can produce your lingerie by a factory. Or you may simply want to understand how you want to sew up your lingerie.

The "How to write a Bra and Brief Tech Pack" covers the descriptions of the common sewing procedures.

So for example SN is single needle which is your regular straight stitch. Securing OL : overlocking is usually done by a Bra tack (a group of closely sewn stitching - sewn back and forth from side to side with a zigzag stitch). Below covers: Bartacking, Butting, Edge stitch, Double needle top stitching, Flat felled seam, Fluted overlock, Zig zag, Overlock, Pin tuck, Rouching, Single needle stitch, Two needle stitch, Top stitch and 3-step.

Below is an extract from the booklet  

 Extract of Sewing meanings from the book How to write a bra and brief tech pack

Extract of Sewing meanings from the book How to write a bra and brief tech pack

 Sew meanings from the book How to write a Bra and Brief Tech Pack

Sew meanings from the book How to write a Bra and Brief Tech Pack

Choosing the right needle to sew bras and briefs

You've probably never thought about it but choosing the right needle for sewing the lingerie your about to make is very important. Covered already in a previous post about why your stitches skip - choosing the right needle can equate to beautifully seen lingerie made with ease to, well, not so beautifully sewn lingerie.  

Let's start with the needle widths: different needles are different widths to use on different weights and types of your fabric.  There are two needle sizing systems: the European and the American. The European range from 60 to 120 and the American range from 8 to 20. You will usually see both sizes on the packet. Basically the larger the number the larger the blade  of the needle will be and the heavier the fabric you can sew.

choosing right needle for lingerie sewing


As well as all the speciality needles out there the three main types of needles that I use for the majority of my sewing are:

  • Universal needles: These have a slightly rounded tip, and I use this for general purpose sewing for wovens as well as some sturdy knits.
  • Jersey needles: These have a medium ballpoint tip, and I would use these  for knit fabrics. The needle slips between the knit fibres and does not break or damage the fabric while sewing.
  • Stretch needles: These often confused with Jersey needles, they also have a medium ballpoint tip, but these have a special eye (the hole in which you thread the needle)  and scarf (the indentation on the back of the needle - which allows the bobbin hook to grab the thread when it goes under the plate of the machine to create a stitch). These needles are designed for extremely stretchy fabrics and elastic, so applying elastic to lycra etc. It would be this needle that I would use the most.

A look at needle sizes

- 8/60, 9/65, 10/70 use on very fine fabrics such as fine silk, chiffon and fine lace.

- 11/75, 12/80 use on light weight fabrics such as cotton voile, silk and lycra.

- 14/90 use on medium weight fabrics such as cotton, velvet and jersey,

- 16/100 use on heavy fabrics such as denim and leather

You wouldn't really use the next two needles in lingerie but for information

-18/110 use on very heavy fabrics such as upholstery

-20/120 use on fabrics heavier than upholstery

Also remember to change your needle often, the average needle lasts roughly 6-8 hours of sewing use.

How to attach elastic with zig-zag stitch

For a clean finish on your brief or top of the bra cup, the zig-zag stitch allows the elastic to stretch as when used on stretch fabrics like jersey or mesh.

1. With the right side of the fabric facing up, place (pin) the elastic on the edge of the fabric with decorative side facing in.

2. Sew the elastic with a zig-zag stitch to secure the elastic into place. You want the stitch as close to the decorative edge as possible and the edge of the fabric not to poke out past the elastic otherwise you'll be trimming the fabric before the next step. Keep your groove of your foot in line with edge of the elastic to ensure a straight stitch.

how to attache elastic with zig zag stitch

3. Turn the elastic back on itself so the elastic is now underneath when the right side of the fabric is facing up. You should just be able to see the edge of the elastic peeking out from the fabric. Secure with second row of zig-zag, the zig-zag should be near the edge of elastic so the elastic doesn't flip up and the edge of the fabric doesn't poke out. 



How to sew a hidden gusset

If you don't own an overlocker, being able to sew a hidden gusset, not only keeps your work neater but it allows you hide all raw edges of the top of the gusset piece. It's not a hard thing to sew, however if you have tried, you've probably ended up with a twisted inner or outer gusset, and had to unpick and re-start again, I know I have in the past.

The way I am going to show you, is the easiest way I have found without twisting seams and attempting to hold all the pieces together and ending up with some pieces stretched. Apologies for the garish nature of the fabrics, I hauled together all the brights so you could see exactly what was going on and did the top stitching in lilac and bottom stitching in black.

Roll up the front piece, and sandwich between inner and outer gusset, ensuring you have the right sides and wrong sides correct. See above.

Turn upside down, and lift the inner gusset back, roll up the back piece and place onto the outer gusset, again ensuring the correct sides are together.

Flip the inner gusset back over and pin together the with the outer gusset and back piece.

Sew together.

Pull out the front and back pieces, and the seams connecting them to the gusset pieces will be hidden. Sew the inner and outer gusset together which will make applying the elastic easier.

The final piece - all seams hidden.

Five items to always be found in a lingerie designers tool box.

Ever wondered what's inside a toolbox of a lingerie designer? Well here's a quick look into mine.

1. Needles, needles, needles. You will always find a good supply of needles in the box. There is nothing as annoying as sewing up a sample and running out of them. I even have a container to put the blunt ones in, so  can keep a track of them i.e. not find them on the floor later and wonder if they are any good or not. 

2. Sewing machine attachment feet - I think my most used one apart from the standard foot, is the button holder foot. I put the bow underneath to hold it. Exactly how is here.

3. Little Scissors - I have more than one pair of little scissors, for some reason when I'm un-picking stitches I switch from one pair to the other ( and the stitch ripper) when I think my progress is slowing up. Whether it works or is all in my head - I don't know - I just know that un-picking stitches can be boring, tedious and plain annoying.

4. Big Scissors - The shears - pretty obvious - for cutting patterns from the fabric, I often use the cutting wheel as well, it depends what type of fabric I am using.

5. Screw Drivers - These are mainly used to tighten the bobbin case, and to open the side of the machine to get access to the bulb wen it goes.

Items not featured that are usually in the box, are thread, bobbins, accessories such as buttons, hooks and eyes, pens, and measuring tape.

Items that I have had in the past and need to re-stock on - magnetic wrist pin holder and a magnetic extendable pick-up tool. This is invaluable if you are a student, with so many pins that drop on the floor and never get picked up, you can whizz it around the floor and never need buy pins again for your duration in the studio.



How to fix skipped stitches

Having made a toile of the 'Betty' Brief (which pattern will be made available in the up coming months) I suffered what is every seamstresses nightmare - skipped stitches. Even though I know it's fixable it still annoys me, especially if I don't notice it straight away.

how to fix skipped stitches

So what causes stitches to skip? And most importantly how do you fix them?

1. Needles, needles, needles - if you didn't get it, then I shall repeat and say neddles, 9 times out of ten it will be your needle. Needle tips only really last about 6 hours of sewing. Even if you can't see an obvious bluntness, if you've sewn a few sets of bras and briefs then it's time to change your needle.

2. Needle again - yup still on about the needle. Have you go the correct one for your fabric? Just as there are many different fabrics, there are many different needles to go with your fabric. Choosing the right size needles is important to the fabrics you're about to sew.

3. Thread - What thread are you using? That thin 6 pack that comes free with the machine? Change it. It does make a difference, buy the best thread you can, your sewing will thank you, and remember to use the same quality, on the bobbin and on the spool.

4. Pulling - How's your grip on that fabric? Relax, let those feet feed your fabrics through and not your hands. Don't pull it!!

5. Dials - This is usually the first thing people want to change, but to be honest, you will rarely have to, (unless it's really obvious), most machines will have been set to a factory mid point for you.

6. Go away - weirdly sometimes going away, grabbing a cuppa, sitting back down and re-threading your machine for some reason sometimes works.

6. If stitches are still skipping, it may be time to take it in somewhere and get a tune up.

how to attach bows neatly

When I use to make samples, or hand-make short runs of orders of lingerie that shops had placed; the one thing that always slowed me down was the attachment of the bows. To start with I hand sewed them all on, to gain the neatness i required; as I didn't have an industrial bar tacker (a machine that stitches side to side in the same place to secure bows).

how to sew lingerie bows on neatly

I tried to practise with putting my domestic machine on a zigzag and going slowly back and forth, but it just resulted in a messy attachment with zigzag stitching on the bow and on the lingerie. 

And then.... one day whilst sewing a button on, I had the idea - could I put a bow underneath the foot for it to be held in place for me to sew. Result. Treating the bow like a button, place it under the button foot with the bow secure under the prongs. Place so the stitch will go over the centre of the bow, and with the stitch on zigzag, it forms a stitch without the bow or garment moving.


What sewing machine to use

I often get asked what sewing machine I use to make samples. And it's my trusty domestic machine. Don't get me wrong I would an industrial machine and yes they do finish the garment in a more professional way however having moved around for the past years from country to country it's been my 'Brother' that has followed me. 

what sewing machine for lingerie designer

The Brother XL5500 is what I do most of my samples on (before Brother I had Janome). 

I'm a writer on my machine - I have penned marks where I need to pull the elastic too for the right tension. I write on where I need the dials to be for certain projects.



What I look for is being able to move the needle left or right so I can work out seam allowance quickly.  And the stitches I use most are number 2: zig zag to attach lace for elastic, number 3: straight stitch to construct the garment and number 6: 3-step to attach elastic. 

How to make a Soft Bra

Following on from the tutorial 'How to make a pair of briefs'  is 'How to make a soft bra'. Using just a sewing machine and the same fabric as the briefs, the following is how I would put a bra together. The style is inspired from the 1950's with a high apex (where the strap meets the top of the bra). The size is a 34DD, I have chosen a bigger size to show you that this style can go up to a bigger size but will be fully lined for support. If you were making a smaller size then you wouldn't have to line it, but you could just use tape or ribbon over the seams to hide them. As this bra is being fully lined we are using the fabric to hide the seams. 

An important factor when making a (soft) bra is that the outer part of your breast is the heaviest so this is the area which will require the most support. With this mind when I line a bra I ensure the outer fabric stretches the most, across the fabric, and the inner piece stretches at a 45 degree angle of the outer piece, this ensures that the fabric stretches at different amounts at certain parts of the bra (this only really works with a two way or four way stretch fabric), which will give support of the breast. Also the front underband is curved under the breast so when worn it straightens out for added support.


how to sew a soft bra

The first thing I would do is sew together any piece that is doubled up and is not turned to hide the seams.  In this case it was the front cups.

 Front cup pieces sewed together

Front cup pieces sewed together

Next the neck elastic needs to be attached, this is zig-zagged on. Depending on your skill or the width of the fabric the elastic can be applied on the right side with the elastic edge going inwards then turned and sewn into place, or simply fold the edge of the fabric and place the elastic underneath and zig zag attach. The elastic needs to be sewn with tension so it needs to be pulled slightly, I find the best way to do this is to physically mark your machine and pull the elastic to the mark to get consistency. 


The neckline should slightly bow due to the tension you applied. This will then lie flat against the body once worn. 


To complete the cups, the front and side sups need to be sewn together. As we are hiding the overbust seam, the front cup piece will be sandwiched in-between the both side cups. 


Sewing on top of the seam through the liner of the side cup, will offer strength and neatness. 

 As you can see the grain of the liner of the side cup differs from the front cup.

As you can see the grain of the liner of the side cup differs from the front cup.

 The cups should look like this.

The cups should look like this.

Next the underband is sewn on,  again the cups are sandwiched in-between the outer piece of fabric and liner, so the seams are hidden. At the centre front of the bra I have crossed the cups, on the smaller cup sizes I would just butt the cups together as smaller breasts are naturally set further apart.


The wings are sewn to the edge of the side cups. Again the cups are sandwiched in so to hide the seams. On this style the side cups may look bigger than the wing, this is because the seam is designed to match up with the side seams of your clothes giving you a clean silhouette and profile. The wings angle down for fit, so when they are on the body they will straighten out and give support, creating a shelf type support for the breast. If you're starting out designing bras I would recommend that all your wings/underband slope down. I have designed bras where the band was straight , but these tended to be specialised balconnette bras, and by straightening out the underband you have to adapt the underband and then the angle of the boning.


Next attach the brushed back elastic to the underband and underarm. I have attached the elastic on top of the bra with zigzag then turned it underneath and secured it with a further zigzag stitch. 

 The elastic on top of the bra with the first zigzag row attachment.

The elastic on top of the bra with the first zigzag row attachment.

 A close up of the stitching of the inside of the bra.

A close up of the stitching of the inside of the bra.

Next I attach the bra strapping to the back of the bra. This is zigzagged on top of the curve at the back (Leotard strap attachment), I would recommend the curve on the wing at the back when doing larger cup sizes, as the weight of the breast is distributed through the whole curve, rather than inserting the straps into the wing (camisole strap attachment)  where the weight of the breast would be just on the two anchor points going into the strap. 

The elastic is then threaded through the ring and secured with two rows of stitching going back and forth. In production this would be bar-tacked. 


The hook and eyes are sewn on the wings at the back, if I am sewing them on just using my sewing machine I start in the middle so not to have to ease or pull the wing in to make it fit, and I sew down, keep the needle in, turn it around, go to the top, turn it again and finish where I started, this also ensures strength with it having two lines of stitching on top of one another.



The straps are threaded through the middle bit of the slider and sewn to secure them in place, then they are threaded through the rings and back on themselves through the slider again. To attach them to apex, I have placed the straps under the meeting point and secured by sewing in two places, to hide the seam you could place bows over the join. In production the two right sides are usually placed together, turned, then bar-tacked into place, but this can be quite bulky if you are doing it on your normal sewing machine.


To finish the bra off, I added a black 3mm bow at the centre front. I attached it using the zigzag stitch, if you're finding it hard to keep the stitch in the same place, when I was first starting out, I used a button foot attachment which clamped my bows in place.

 Finished bra

Finished bra