Monday, 2 August 2021

Sew your own period underwear - a comprehensive introduction

This is the first of a series of posts that I will be sharing on sewing your own period underwear. It’s a bit of a whopper!

Warning: this post contains frank and personal discussions about periods. Please feel free to scroll away if this you are not a fan of TMI.

TMI intro – what has led me to make my own period underwear

Periods and I have had a difficult relationship, even though we’ve muddled through together for nearly two decades. I used to absolutely dread it, because I would be curled up into a ball and drugged up for a day or two each month due to deliberating cramps. It was always an embarrassing thing to explain to my managers and colleagues as well. Now, after baby, my cramps have eased (thanks Freya!) but I’ve swapped them for hormonal migraines. The joy!

I could never get on with tampons at all, so have been a pad user for the majority of the time. I started using a menstrual cup a few years ago, and after a dodgy start (think – late arrival at work due to lengthy retrieval of cup😅), I’ve grown really fond of it. It has transformed my sleep (no more waking up at 5am fearing a leak), my exercise (it gave met the confidence to show up at pole classes in my little pole shorts) and made me feel a lot better about sending less disposable products to landfill. I also enjoyed learning about my “flow” as well. However, on most days (when I'm out and about) and at night time, I still used a pad as back-up for fear of leakage (even though this hardly ever happens).

A few years ago, I became aware of Thinx, and as a result, period underwear as a new concept. However, the price tag and the international shipping from the US put me off. When ASOS UK started stocking them, I invested in a pair but wasn’t happy with the fit. However, a seed was sewn in my head from then that perhaps one day, I will make my own.

Fast forward a few years, I've gone all out and made 6 pairs in one go! This entire project was finally prompted by potty training my toddler, which made me look into making reusable training underwear for her, a project that would require similar materials. By now, not one pair of toddler training underwear has been made, but mummy has 6 pairs of period pants prototypes 😉 The truth is, once I got started, and my juices flowing (no pun intended), I couldn't stop (and could barely sleep). There were so many options and so many ideas! 

sew your own period underwear pants panties thinx

My objectives

  • I want to have reusable, more sustainable period underwear which are pretty, well-fitted and comfortable.
  • I want to feel good during this challenging part of every month!
  • I want them to be hygienic and leak-proof, without any weird tell-tale rustling noises😄
  • I’d like to minimise bulk, and definitely want my own versions to be slimmer than the disposable sanitary towels which I would otherwise use.
  • To create these using only FREE underwear patterns (which are tried and tested for my everyday use already), so that you can see how they can be easily adapted.
  • I want to use up scraps that I already have for the “main fabric” and wicking layers (I have Merino, Supplex, Tactel and Bamboo in my stash). 
  • I plan on wearing period underwear as cup back-up for certain days and night-time, and on their own for the lighter days in the last couple of days. I also want to use the light (!) flow ones for when I’m anticipating it.
  • I want to add my personal touch (as if making your own period underwear is not personal enough!), which is expressed by those little labels at the front. These are really easy to make (see my tutorial here), and I think the exclamation marks are pretty fitting for period products. 

 Some personal preferences

  • Life is too short for a drawer full of black underwear, am I right? We need colour and prints!
  • I hate elastic which digs into my bum cheeks, like, I absolutely cannot stand it, for both comfort and aesthetic reasons. As a result, my cut elastic around the legs tend to be longer than what most patterns call for.
  • I prefer lower rise underwear.
  • I prefer natural fabrics against my skin to synthetic.
  • I prefer black gusset linings so that I don’t see the stains. 
  • I don’t mind investing in specialist fabrics (like Zorb, and Stretch PUL lycra) in half metres (though I did get samples first), because I know they will be enough for lots of pairs (and to make training pants for Freya).

Points to note

The pants that I’m showing you today are my prototypes. To this end, I’ve tried to mix up materials and methods so that I could perfect it as we go. Whilst they have been carefully thought through (it’s taken me a while!), they have not yet been “road-tested” so I’m not in a position to share a proper tutorial yet. What I'm sharing in the table below are some notes (for you, and also for me!) that I've made from making these. So, if you are an experienced sewer and can't wait to make your own, this might help give you some ideas. 

I plan on coming back once they’ve been tested (possibly both by “cough medicine” and by actual use), and to provide feedback and tutorials if they would be useful. In the meantime, if you have questions or requests, let me know and I’ll try my best to help.

If you are new to making underwear, I’d strongly recommend that you try out a “normal” pair first. Any of the below patterns would be a great starting point (including the Flo). I should warn you though: it's seriously satisfying, and you may end up swearing that you will no longer buy ready-to-wear underwear!

I haven’t actually worn or road-tested shop-bought period underwear (the pair of Thinx that I did buy didn’t fit so was returned). I’m therefore basing my “branded lookalike” judgement on the aesthetics and absorbency levels by assessing the online info only; do take this with a pinch of salt, and feel free to suggest other ideas. 

Finally, I bought my Zorb and Stretch PUL jersey from Cuddle Plush in the UK, who is a local stockist for Wazoodle (Zorb manufacturer) based in the US. I don’t use affiliate links, so where links are included, they are for your convenience only.

OK, so here’s the big round-up (click on the table below to expand):

sew your own period underwear pants undies comparison table notes

Some additional notes and pics:

sew period underwear panties thinx cheeky light flow Ohhh Lulu Celeste panties
Light flow (left: seagull, right: blue flowers)

To me, these are still sexy (even you you may not be feeling it during that time of the month!), and the lace trims add another dimension. The concave bum curves make these nice and cheeky, without being eaten up by your bum! These are light flow (!) only, and the layers (both options, FT or 2x CL) are so thin, that you wouldn't notice the difference between these and your normal underwear. To me, these act like pants + a pantyliner (but wider). The pattern alternations here are actually quite simple (moving a couple of straight lines), making this a straightforward sew for someone who is comfortable with underwear making. 

sew period underwear pants medium flow Zorb bamboo Indigorchid TSHIRT
Medium flow (left: Wonderlust Boho, right: Garden dreams (official names given by Art Gallery Fabrics))

The T-shirt underwear pattern is one of my favourite everyday underwear patterns. In my opinion, the medium to full bum coverage (see the basically straight bum cut line) and wide crotch makes it perfect to be hacked into period underwear. I’m trying out a couple of different approaches with these (see table above), and will report back which works better.

sew period underwear pants Thinx Hiphugger Modibodi Hipster Megan Nielsen Acacia Seamwork Flo

Heavy/night (left: Summer Shine (another AGF name), right: marble swirl)

I’m quite excited about these two. The Acacia is such a popular underwear pattern, and I loved how the hacked version came out, and am excited to wear that to sleep with the big leakproof layer. The bum curve here is a convex one, providing full coverage. Part of me wanted the label to say Zzz rather than !!! but for now, I stuck with the !!! for consistency. I like the shaping of the angled panels (I played around with this a bit and this was my 3rd iteration), and also want to make these with mesh side panels as well! The pattern alterations here are the most involved, so I wouldn’t recommend this for a beginner.

But the Flo pattern appears to be the first FREE pattern out there that is specifically designed for period underwear. This is a great place to start! My FOE length point above is more to do with 1) my personal preference against elastic digging into my bum, and 2) how ridiculously strong the wide FOE is (I had bought it to be straps for sports bras, so it needed to be supportive), than with the pattern itself. l also adore the inclusive sizing of this pattern!

So, this is my "back to front", Ta-Dah type intro on sewing your own period underwear. Well done on reading this far! I'd love to hear where you stand on period underwear, and in particular, whether you are thinking about making your own! I know that blogs are perhaps not as "cool" these days as Vlogs or Instagram posts, but they sure are an excellent forum for including lots of details and over sharing 😁. So, over share away, my friends, and I'd love to hear tips, requests, questions or any comments that you might have! 

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this! I've got a handful of period panties in my drawers, and I also have been using a cup for the last year or so. All the underwear patterns I've tried haven't fit particularly well, but this has inspired me to try some more so I can make some uplifting period panties for myself :-) I look forwards to your follow up post!

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    1. Yes yes yes! I'm so pleased to read this. Thank you for stopping by. I'll be back shortly with some tutorials and some additional follow-up posts, I promise ;) Watch this space.

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  2. hello, I found out about these panties on Instagram, what I'm interested in is knowing what kind of elastic you used for the thighs and how you sewed them

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    1. Hi Valerie, these are foldover elastic, where the edges are scalloped. If you google sewing FOE or sewing foldover elastic, you'll find some helpful tutorials. There are different ways to apply these, and I attach these in one-step either with a 3-step zigzag or with my coverstitch machine (I much prefer the latter but sometimes I don't have the right thread cones for the coverstitch). Hope this helps!

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