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Tutorial: sewing picot elastic on underwear and camisoles

If you are here from the Britex blog, welcome!

I’ve been sewing a lot of silk underwear lately; I’m positively addicted.  There is something thoroughly satisfying about making something that is beautiful, useful and a quick sew.  And it might even be cost effective, considering how little fabric is needed.   In this post, I’ll show how to sew the picot edging and straps to make camisole and panties.  For my matching set, I used this sophisticated tiny Houndstooth stretch silk charmeuse, with hot pink picot elastic and matching 1/2″ lingerie strap elastic. For the patterns, I used the Clara camisole and Grace panties from Ohhh Lulu.

Just an FYI: if using stretch silk (which I highly recommend!), I would suggest going up one size.  The fabric is stretchy, but not to the same degree as a knit, so I found the garments more comfortable in a bigger-than-normal size.

I’ll begin the tutorial after the main body of the panties have been sewn–all that is left is attaching the elastic to the legs and waistband.

First identify the “right” and “wrong” sides of the picot elastic–the right side is raised for this type, but other elastics might be the same on both sides. Measure the correct length of elastic: go ahead and wrap it around your waist or legs stretching until comfortable, then add 1/2″. Stitch the ends together (overlapping by 1/4″ or so) to create a loop.  Fold the loop in half and mark that point with a pin. Find the exact center of the back and front of your sewn panties and mark both with a pin.
With right sides together, position the elastic with the non-frilly edge aligned with the raw edge of the waist.  I usually position the seam of the elastic at the center back of the panties, with the other pin matching the center front.  The elastic will be shorter than the fabric, so stretch the elastic and pin at a few more locations around the waistband.  
Baste with a medium zigzag (on my machine: 2 width, 3 length) close to the picot edge, stretching the elastic evenly without stretching the fabric.  This take some coordination and practice, but I usually lightly pull the fabric from behind the foot to help the machine along, while stretching the elastic with the other hand in the front.  As you can see in the photo above, the elastic is not quite lined up with the fabric–with slippery fabrics, this happens, so sew slowly!
Next, turn the elastic to the inside.  Now the lacy picot edging should be visible from the right side of the garment.  Using the multi-stitch zigzag on your machine (or a regular zigzag if you don’t have that feature, but either way set for length=2, width=3), topstitch close to the fabric fold to secure the elastic.  Again, stretch the elastic so that the fabric isn’t gathered at all, sew carefully and slowly.  You may have to lightly pull the fabric from behind the foot to get it to sew evenly over seams (or maybe I just need a new machine!).
The best part about sewing your own panties is that you can make the elastic as tight or loose as you like!  And you can unevenly distribute the “stretch”, if you want.  For instance, at the leg holes, I prefer that the elastic be tightest around the back (under my butt area 🙂 and looser around the front and hip area, so I differentially stretch the elastic lightly or firmly in the correct area.
Here’re my completed panties, with picot elastic edging!
This same technique can be used when fold over elastic (FOE) is suggested, too.  The Clara camisole has instructions for applying FOE, but for my matching set, I wanted to use the same picot elastic and 1/2″ lingerie straps.   While a small change, this variation is not insignificant!  The order of attaching straps and picot are important, otherwise, the picot can’t turn to the back properly.  So, here’s the “big picture” summary of the following images and steps:  baste strap first, baste picot elastic along the “inside” edge of the camisole cups (toward center front), sew garment together, then baste picot elastic along the “side” edge of cups and back, and finally topstitching all around.  Okay, now for all that in more detail….
To start out, sew both of the two-piece camisole cups, then position a length of lingerie elastic with right sides facing as shown.  Baste across the strap to secure. Then, pin the picot elastic along the “inside” edge of the cup, stretching the elastic for a closer fit.  Make sure there is about 1/2-1″ overlap at the point where the picot elastic meets the lingerie elastic (see below).  
With your machine set to a medium zigzag, baste close to the picot edge, stretching the elastic (but not the fabric!) as you go.  
Sew the other camisole cup in the same way, then sew the rest of the body of the garment.  
Measuring or estimating the length of elastic to finish the rest of the camisole is difficult.  Try on the camisole and see how the fabric sits around your body.  If the fabric around the top of the back is loose, you may want to stretch your elastic more as you pin it around your garment to create a snugger fit.  If the fabric is already snug around your body, you don’t need as much stretch to hold it up.
So with an idea of how firmly you will stretch the elastic, and starting at one of the left strap, pin the elastic, right sides facing along the edge, stretching as you go.  Pin at the side seam.  Then, pulling the elastic, stretch to the other side seam of the camisole.  Continue around to the right strap and pin in place.  You may have to redistribute the elastic to ensure even gathering around.
Below, the elastic is pinned in place around the back of the garment.  
Baste with the same zigzag, close to the picot edging.
Now, turn the elastic to the inside.  At the strap-attachment point, tuck the loose ends of the picot elastic behind the straps to hide them and pin in place.  Topstitch around the entire edge with a multi-stitch zigzag, being sure to keep the strap and picot elastic ends in place.

 The unfinished reverse side is shown below:

Trim and handstitch the picot elastic ends to the strap to secure and hide the raw edges.  
And from the front:
The hardest part is determining the length and amount of stretch of the elastic, but once you get the hang of that, I can almost guarantee you’ll be hooked on making your own fancy pants! 
Both the panties and the camisole are wonderful patterns–simple, yet comfortable and stylish.  The only major change I made was to do a small bust adjustment (using the method described in this post). I can also recommend the Betty High Waist Panties, which I sewed up here in this incredible navy dotted stretch silk.  Go sew your unmentionables!

Thank you to Britex for the fabric, elastics and silk thread (silk thread to sew silk underthings–does it get any better?!).

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