Make Your Own Upcycled Undies

Upcycled? Undies? Ummm, yeah. Those words probably shouldn't go together. That is, unless, you haven't upcycled ACTUAL underwear. Instead, do what I did - upcycle other knit clothing into comfortable, cute panties! I will be the first to admit that I absolutely love cheap, big-box underwear (Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, etc.). They are simply the most comfortable to me! The problem? The available prints are simply hideous. I have a few pair from Victoria's Secret that I like, too, but they're just too expensive. Besides, isn't it always more fun to make your own?!

So, grab your favorite pair (no matter what brand or how much you paid for them), and using some upcycled knit fabric (use some you already have or go on a thrifting adventure!) and a couple yards of fold-over elastic (FOE), you can whip these babies up in no time. It might seem a little time-consuming for the first pair, but once you have your pattern made, you're golden.

A little bit about fold-over elastic (I'll be calling it FOE from here on - mmmk?)... This stuff might have caused the best "AHA!" sewing moment I've had in quite a while. I first became familiar with it last year when I was making diaper covers for Harper. Since then, I've realized it's perfect for headbands, skirt waistbands and...of course...undies! You can order it online in a bazillion different colors, or you can check your local Joann Fabrics for it. I've found it recently in the special cloth diapering section. (It's much cheaper online, AND the selection of colors/prints is better. I get mine from Kids in the Garden.)

See? Even Chopstick likes loves FOE!

Here's what you'll need:

  • Upcycled knit fabric (check the kids' section for fun prints!) - it needs to stretch in both directions
  • Fold-over elastic - about two yards (more if you are a bigger girl)
  • Thread that matches the FOE
  • Pen or pencil to draw pattern
  • Scissors
  • Paper for making your pattern (I use the wrong side of wrapping paper)
  • Flexible ruler (optional, but it really helps)
  • Straight pins
  • Ball-point sewing machine needle
  • Sewing machine that does this:

Let's get started, shall we?!

First, gather some knit fabrics. For my panties, I used a little girl's dress, a women's tank top and a scrap of black-and-white striped knit I had left from another project.

Cut the fabric apart so you have flat pieces. Be sure to save any buttons, straps, etc. that you might be able to use for another project!

Using your favorite pair of undies, start drawing your pattern onto the backside of wrapping paper (or whatever paper you have on-hand). I used a flexible ruler to help me get the shaping right without cutting my panties apart.

Here you can see how much the flexible ruler helps...

See how I have the tabs drawn? I know, they're a little hard-to-see. Just try. :) Note that you don't need to add a seam allowance anywhere except where a seam will be formed. So, you will need to add a seam allowance to the sides where the front and back are joined. I use a 3/8" seam allowance on undies since I don't like additional bulk.

Here's that flexible ruler coming in handy again for getting the front shaping right without cutting up my undies...

Once you're done drawing your pattern, cut out half of the shape, and fold it in half to make sure everything is symmetrical. If it's not (and it probably won't be perfect), just cut around the bigger side to make everything even. Mark on your pattern where the crotch panel goes. DON'T YOU LOVE MY PATTERN PAPER! KEEPIN' IT CLASSY!

You can either lay your pattern flat on your fabric (as I've done), or you can fold it and place it on the fold of the fabric. I do it this way so I can see where the print is going to fall on my finished undies. Also, note that the tank top I upcycled for this pair of undies wasn't tall enough to accommodate the entire pattern, so I will be piecing it together. I will simply cut the back and front separately, creating a seam (and therefore adding a seam allowance to both sides) where the crotch panel is sewn into the back of the panties (see the dotted lines below).

Create a pattern piece for the crotch panel (just trace around your full undies pattern), and cut a crotch panel of the same fabric.

Whew! Your pieces are cut.

With right sides together, sew the panties together at the side seams. If you had to piece your front and back like I did, sew them together at the rear crotch, too. Hey, those are starting to look like undies!

The next step is a little tricky to describe in words...but hopefully I can do it. Pin the crotch panel into the panties, right side (crotch panel) to wrong side (panties) at the rear crotch seam (if you made one - if not, just mark on your piece where it goes based on your existing pair of panties) so that when its sewn, you can flip it over and cover the seam (or simply get rid of the raw edge along the rear of the crotch panel). You can serge the front edge of the crotch panel if you like. If you don't have a serger, don't sweat it. Knit fabrics don't fray.

Once you have sewn the crotch panel in at the rear edge, flip it over as it should be when the panties are done, and pin it to the panties at the sides.

Baste the sides of the crotch panel into place. You can see that I've serged my raw edge, but you don't have to if you don't have a serger. Knit fabric doesn't fray.

Now they're really starting to look like panties!

Determine the length for the waistband elastic by simply placing it on top of your existing panties. Alternatively, you can slip on your existing panties and put determine the elastic length by placing it on top of the existing panties while you wear them. Be sure too add about 1" to the length of the elastic so you can sew together the ends to form a loop.

For the legs, I used the flexible ruler to determine how long to make the elastic. Don't forget to add the 1". At this time, you might want to do a quick fit test by pulling the waist and leg elastics around your body where they will go to make sure they're aren't too tight or loose.

Using a 1/2" seam allowance and your normal straight stitch (and with right sides together), sew the elastic pieces into loops.

Trim the corners of the seam allowance to get rid of excess bulk.

Starting at the center back of both the panties and the elastic loop, carefully fold and pin the FOE around the waist. Be sure the panties are wedged as high as they will go into the crack of the elastic (pun intended). In other words, sandwich the knit fabric as deeply as possible into the FOE without it folding up at the top inside the sandwich. USE PLENTY OF PINS! PINS ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND!

Do the same for the legs. I like to match up the seam in the elastic loops with the side seams on the panties. They will look a little funny at this point. But don't worry...

...Be happy! Using a multi-step zigzag set at a 2 stitch length, a ball-point needle and the stretch setting, carefully sew the FOE around the edges of the panties (watch the video below - it's really helpful!). I like to start at the center back for the waist and the side seams for the legs. You will have to stretch the elastic a little as you go. Here's a not-so-high-quality (but informative) video of how I do this:

Aren't those some CUTE panties?!

Now, you might be thinking... "But I like string bikinis!" Have no fear! I am here to show you how to make those, too.

Start with your pattern as for the bikinis we just discussed. Ignore the color wonkiness that some of my photos possess.

Cut out your knit fabric and FOE. If you need to seam together the pieces at the crotch, do so. Cut out the crotch panel and apply it as above.

STARTING AT THE FRONT of the panties, pin the elastic to the LEG OPENINGS FIRST. I start at the front so I can save all the ease for the back where most of us need more room.

Did I mention how important it is to use lots and lots of pins?

Pin the FOE to both legs like so.

Sew the FOE to the leg openings using the multi-step zigzag. I'd like to tell you I used contrasting thread because it's the cool thing to do, but it was actually because I'm lazy and didn't want to go buy matching thread. I honestly think it's better to use matching thread since it can be a little tricky to keep your stitches consistent on knit fabric and FOE.

Starting at the center back, pin the waist elastic to the panties. The most important thing here is that there are equal amounts of string (elastic) exposed between the front and back on the sides. I just eyeball it, to be honest.

Aaaaaaand, bonk shikka wowwow! Nice panties.

I'm sure you could make thong panties this way, too... You'd just make it so only one piece of the FOE extends beyond the crotch in the back to go up to the waistband. They'd be a bit of a G-string style, or you could add a triangle of fabric in the center back for a little more coverage. You could also use this tutorial to make toddler and/or little girl panties in cute prints. Use your imagination! And don't even get me started on the possibility of adding pretty lace panels, buttons, gathers, bows, etc.