Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Latex-Free Underwear, Sewing, and Me

I'm a responsible adult, so instead of writing here about my Big Election Feelings, I'm going to write about my undergarments.

I've been thinking about this for a while, and apparently I have a lot to say about it, so here goes. 

Most ready-to-wear underwear is kind of horrible. Especially if it's "affordable." 

I grew up not thinking about it a lot. I bought undies by the handful out of the cheapo bin at the department store or at Victoria Secret. The elastic always wore out in about 6 months. I used to get very uncomfortable skin tags from the leg elastic rubbing and binding up on me. I never guessed there were better options and I had more important things to spend money on, like film and photo chemicals. 

Then, around 17 or 18 years ago, my twin sister told me she had a latex allergy and I should be on the lookout for it, too. We both researched a lot in a quest for cute, affordable, latex-free underwear. I mean, lots of clothes can contain latex, but bras and underwear are the worst offenders. Even if the elastic used is latex-free, a lot of companies use latex in the thread. It just doesn't seem worth it to increase my exposure to latex on the wing and a prayer that the 3-pack of undies at the mall for $22.50 hasn't done that.

We hit on Decent Exposures pretty early on, and I can't recommend them, as a company,  highly enough. Their customer service is impeccable. I lost a bit of weight and ordered some undies that were a size smaller than the pairs I had ordered 6 months before and they emailed me to make sure I hadn't made an error when I was ordering. Fantastic.

$15 per pair for latex-free panties isn't unusual, and the Decent Exposures undies that I wore for years cost between $16 and $28 (that's with shipping, the more expensive pairs are organic cotton). They are worth every penny. From their website: 

"We try hard to be a socially responsible business. All our products are made in Seattle where our employees receive good wages and benefits and the flexibility they need for themselves and their families. We use recycled products whenever possible and pass on large scraps to those who can use them (give us a call if you're interested). We neither buy mailing lists nor sell ours, so you need not worry that your name will be given to others."

From another section: 

"If you need customizing of your order (i.e. latex free elastic or other modifications you have had to previous orders), use the 'Special Instructions' box when checking out to make your requests."

They also last for years. I had pairs that I wore for over 4 years. They didn't even wear out, exactly. I lost some weight, so they just didn't work for me, anymore. I still wear an Un-Bra from them and I absolutely love it.

Around the beginning of this year, I decided to try my hand at making undies. I found this article online at the Very Purple Person and was like, ok. This looks pretty easy. I started out by buying t-shirts at Goodwill and using latex-free elastic from Bravo Bella. All of their elastics and trims are latex-free and they have rocking customer service. I'm their customer for life.

Things learned from my first experience: 

- Seriously, mark the centers of things. Pattern pieces for panties are little, but that also means that if you're off by a bit, it matters a lot. I started out using snips to mark, but now I use Clover Wonder Clips.

- If you're printing a PDF pattern, make sure to check the width and height of the printing box. I didn't do this and my first pair of undies fit well in width but was about 20% shorter than it should have been. Not cute. I mean, I like a hipster style, but it really didn't fit well in the legs.

- I pulled too hard when attaching the leg elastic and ended up with undies that made it look like I'd been fighting off a school of tiny piranha all day. Also not cute.

Overall, ok, but not perfect. 

A few weeks later, I bought the Scrundlewear pattern from Stitch Upon a Time. I'd read a lot of rave reviews about the pattern and I thought it would be cool to try an elastic-free kind of undie. 

I made several pairs. They were good. I loved that I could either use elastic or replace it with a fabric band. I liked the "burrito" method I learned from the Very Purple Person, so I actually altered the pattern so that I could use that technique. The original is drafted so that you cut on the crotch as part of the front pattern piece, so I had to change that to get what I wanted and have a completely enclosed front and back crotch seam. I imagine her method is faster to sew, but I don't mind taking a little time on something that I'm planning on wearing about once a week for (hopefully) a few years.

There was something about the Scrundlewear pattern that I didn't like, even with my alterations. The fit was just...not right, in the back. I admit to having a rather bodacious booty, and in the comment boards and Facebook group of Scrundlefans, many suggestions came up for this, including "just use a size larger in the back." But, the width across the main part of the back was fine. It was just right at the bottom of my rear that was a problem. I considered shortening the crotch piece to pull the bottom of the undies forward, but that didn't make sense. When the fit on the leg bands wasn't just a little tight, the undies rode up like they were late for a gunfight at the OK Corral. That's not comfy, but neither are tight leg bands.

Then, I looked again at the Very Purple Person tutorial and had an "aha" moment. Her crotch pattern pieces weren't symmetrical. They're larger in the back. Because, well, so are we.

In May, I paid a little more than I usually do for patterns and scored a Stretch & Sew 2046 (Brief, Hipster and Bikini Panties) from The Sewin' Asylum. Again, awesome customer service. LOVE her. I made about 5 pairs of hipsters. They have a crotch piece that is asymmetrical and curved, which I think is a little harder to sew, but gives a really fantastic fit. 

Ann Person's method for the leg elastic is to measure your body, then reduce the length of the elastic by a set amount (I think it's either 2 or 4 inches), and work the ease of that evenly around the entire leg. It works ok, but I still wasn't getting the results I wanted.

Then, two things happened. 

- I took Beverly Johnson's Craftsy class on Sewing Panties: Construction & Fit. In the class, she has you measure yourself and draft your own pattern, from scratch. I'm sure it's awesome, but I haven't done it, yet. What I have done is use her method for measuring and attaching leg elastic. It's awesome. It's perfect, for me. You can even make a jig so that all of your panties will fit the same way in the leg elastic. GENIUS! She also does all of the construction "in the flat," which is easier and faster than in the round, in my opinion.

- I made a cami a little while back from this 1986 Stretch & Sew pattern (2072), and I didn't show it to you all because it was kind of a disaster, but when I picked up the pattern, again, to try another one, I noticed that it included a French Bikini. My favorite style.
1986, baby!

The crotch piece on these is curved in the back and straight across in the front. The fit is excellent. 

So, very long story short, I'm using a 30-year-old sewing pattern and construction techniques from Beverly Johnson to make the cutest underwear I've worn in almost half my life. I'm very, very happy.

I topstitch all of the elastics using the coverstitch on my serger. This keeps the edges of the elastic from flipping over and rubbing on me. 

It's cheaper, too. Even with shipping, the elastic and stretch lace I buy from Bravo Bella runs about $2.50 per pair. I could make it cheaper if I bought a ton at once, but I'm enjoying trying different styles and patterns. I bought my cotton fabric as a promotion through Purpleseamstress Fabric on Facebook. Back in January, she said she was drowning in little half-yard and one-yard cuts of cotton-blend jersey, so said if you bought a certain amount of other fabric from her, she would put in 10 of these cuts for free. The white lining is from a set of undershirts I bought at Costco, so I think of those as, essentially, free, too.

If I ever run out of these fabrics, I'll probably spring for organic cotton jersey. Let's say that's $8 per yard. I could definitely get at least 2 pairs out of a yard, and maybe more like 3. But, pretend it's just 2 pairs of undies per yard.

I could have organic, cute, latex-free undies for $6.50 a pair and less than 1 hour of work. Cheaper than the three-pack at the mall.

...and now I think this is the longest post I've written on this blog, and it's about underwear. Also, ads for underwear will now follow me around online for weeks. Perfect!

I contacted Dritz, which is the brand I encounter the most often in stores, and they sent me a list of which of their elastics are latex free. Not all of these work for underwear, but I figure that anyone who finds this page looking for latex-free sewing options might want this information, too.

Latex Free Elastic
Dritz 9325W –3/4” plush back  stated on package

Also latex free
9344 – 5/8สบ  Glitter Elastics, black, gold and silver
9346C – lightweight elastic, clear
9347 – 5/8” buttonhole elastic, black and white
9348 – 3/8” stretch lace elastic, pink and white
9350w – 3/8” Non-Slip elastic, white
9577 -1 ½” soft waistband elastic, berry, green, orange, purple and tile blue
9387  – 1” Fold Over Elastic, black and white
9388 W– 5/8” double ruffle elastics, 20 SKU’s (maybe this means 20 different colors?)
9389 – 5/8” Fold Over Elastic, 17 SKU’s (17 colors?)

11346 – Lightweight Clear Elastic
11166 – 1” Fold Over Elastic

Babyville Boutique:
Fold Over Elastics:

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