French Knicker Sew-Along: Day 2

So diving straight back in where yesterday left off todays post covers attaching the waistband, hemming your knickers with and without lace and (with reservations, you’ll see why) how to do a hand made button-hole as well showing a thread-loop. (By the way any picture will open full size in a separate window when clicked)


The edge of the green placket has been hand stitched with a tiny running stitch after the waistband and poppers went on. The reason for doing it later is so the poppers (snaps) can be sewn on without having to worry about catching the front of the knickers in the sewing. Plackets don’t have to be sewn down at all if you don’t like the look of it… however you may find that the opening pulls a little when you wear the knickers so if that bothers you then catching the front placket down either by hand or machine will help.

The peach knicker placket on the right was machine sewn on its edge (you can just see in the photo that the stitching is about 2mm in from the shadowy placket edge) I usually sew a top stitch like this from the outside of the knicker opening to keep my stitching as parallel to the edge as possible feeling with my fingers as I sew where  the edge underneath is -though you could do a quick thread-baste line as a guide if that seems better to you. If I sew my topstitching from the inside I find myself concentrating more on the inner edge of the placket- and if that happens to be a bit wonky the stitching will then look wonky from the right side too. Ideally of course it should look lovely on both sides, but doesn’t always go like quite  that. In the end I think the outside view is the more important of the two.
I already knew I was going to buttonhole the placket on the peach pair so did do the topstitch at this point. The hand stitching on my green pair was done after the poppers were sewn on.


1-Fabric waistband   2-Folded elastic waistband    3-Gathered by elastic (bloomers)


The sewing on of the fabric waistband is essentially the same as sewing on the placket:

  •  do a machine stay-stitch on the waist line a fraction away from the sewing line where it will be covered by the waistband .
  •  match right side of waistband strip to wrong side of knicker waist, pin in place smoothing any ease and sew.
  • The seam allowance of the knicker waist  really does need to be clipped into so it will lie flat inside the waistband strip. For all but the thinnest fabrics it is probably a good idea to also trim the seam allowance of the waistband down small as shown in the photo. Don’t trim the knicker waist down though as it could start to pull out of the waistband after a few wearings…. so simply clip into it like in the top photo.
  • press the seam allowances towards the waistband, press the free edge turning over and also press the seam allowances on either end in too. Pin in place and sew down by edge-stitching all the way around the waistband, the ends and top most edge too. It looks like photo below when all done ( I had just marked the top for the buttonhole)

Between the seven pairs of french knickers made for myself and a few pairs for friends I’ve used this finish on almost every single pair… so I’d say it’s my preferred one.

If you would rather do a hand finish on the inside edge and no top-stitching at all, then sew as for the hand stitched placket-  ie. start with the right side of the waistband strip  against the right side of the knicker waist and machine it on. Do all the same clipping of the waist as pictured above and on the wrong side just hand sew the inner turn and the ends in place with tiny slip-stitches.


Just to try something different I used a (new-to-me) lingerie elastic I bought in London that is specially made to fold in half over a raw edge giving a nice clean finish.

As a general rule I cut waist elastic 2″-3″/5cm-7.5cm  smaller than my waist measurement as the zig-zagging always seems to make it stretch it out.

  • Stay-stitch the waistline and pin the elastic to the inside of the waist. It will be  folded over to the front for the second line of sewing.
  • Holding it stretched as far as your fabric allows sew on with a zig-zag stitch. On my machine it is 3-4 width stitch and about a 2 length but machines vary. The point is not too small or too close together or it forces the elastic to spread out too much.
  • Trim off a little waist seam-allowance but not too much and fold the elastic in half over to the outside of the knicker waist and zig-zag again. I left the ends a little longer than the waist line, trimmed them back after the waist all was sewn and hand whipped them to finish flush with the placket edges as the elastic can’t be turned under itself like a waistband would and trying to zig-zag finish the small ends just started to chew them up.

So using this elastic even though the pattern waist only has 2cm ease more than my actual waist measurement still gives the waistline just that little bit of stretch which feels comfortable to wear but is still very flat.


Even though I’m not posting about a bloomer draft until next week now I’ll quickly go through how I apply a narrow elastic to a very gathered waist…incase you used your pattern to cut wide pyjama bottoms as I describe how to do in the drafting instructions.

  • For these I cut my elastic a full 7.5cm/3″ smaller than my waist (because when so much fabric is gathered onto it it often seems to finish a little loose otherwise) and overlapped and zig-zag stitched the  elastic ends closed.
  • Then, having pressed the 1cm waistline allowance down and having folded the elastic and marked out its quarter points with pins I match those to the front, back and sides of the knicker waist.
  • Next I stretch each quarter section and put a few more pins in the distribute the fabric evenly onto the elastic band.
  • On my machine I stretch sections flat and zig-zag in place. It is usually a wrestling match and takes some patience to stretch and keep the edges lined up at the same time…. but it gets there in the end. You can see again that my stitches are not too small when sewing the elastic on.
  • A small bow added at the front tells me the front from the back as it’s not so easy with bloomers 😉


I love love love tiny pin-hems! Next to bound necklines and armholes it is my favourite finish for thin and sheer fabrics.

It takes a little more practice to do on curves or bias edges but for the knickers at least not so hard to do.

It is all sewn working from the wrong side:

  • If  your hem allowance is 1cm turn about 7mm of that to the inside for the first stitching line. If you have more allowance than than it is better to trim it down to 3/8″/1cm for manageability.
  • with small sharp scissors trim the seam allowance very close to the stitches. Slowly! It is easy here to cut something you don’t want to cut.
  •  Position the start of the second turning under your machine foot and wheel the needle down so you can pull the fabric gently for a bit of tension. Do that, carefully rolling the little stitched and trimmed edge to the wrong side and sewing almost on top of the first line of stitching.
  • when done it should be about 2mm wide.

TIP:If you are aiming to make a pair of knickers with as little machine sewing visible as possible then sew the second line by hand with small slip-stitches and you’ll have a lovely hand-rolled edge.

This pin-hem is nice on its own and also gives a fine but strong edge to attach a straight edge lace trim to as I did on my bloomers:

  • Sew the lace on top of the right side of the fabric so the rolled hem is hidden behind the edge of the lace.
  • With a length of lace a few centimetres longer than the hem measurement I start sewing at the inseam and sew it all the way around until it meets at the inseam again. To join the lace ends I usually simply overlap them at the beginning/end point in-line with the inseam and either hand-whip closed or do a tiny machine zig-zag stitch and trim off any over hang of lace close to the join. By not cutting and joining the lace to an exact leg measurement before sewing it on allows for any bit of hem stretching which may  happen and means I won’t get all the way around only to find my joined lace is a centimetre too small.


If you would like a lace hem but with a shaped edge the photo shows visualising the possibilities. Pin or baste your lace over the raw hem and decide where it looks nicest from shapes suggested by the lace. The dotted black lines in the photo show where I zig-zagged my lace on for each hem.

For machine appliqué I do use a fairly narrow and close together zig-zag. Not as close as for a buttonhole but almost. Then it is all down to you and how much control you have doing curves while zig-zagging and how many times you are happy to lift the presser foot to pivot! Remember to leave the machine needle down every time you pivot or turn as it can be easy to pull the material out of line otherwise and then the stitching might have gaps.

This photo shows in detail the stitching on the pointy appliqué.

The top shows outside and inside before the lace and fabric were trimmed away and below that after trimming. I didn’t have an exact thread match for the peach so used a close-enough pink in my bobbin. Matching the bobbin colour to at least something close to your fabric looks nicer and more carefully thought-out than if it’s the same colour used for the lace.The img- left side shows the floral lace appliqué from the outside and the img-right shows it from the inside. Also there you can see a side by side contrast between machine and hand stitching where I sewed the little leaf on by hand next to the machined flower motif. It was too small a shape to get the ins and outs done nicely by machine.

 The original post describing how to do the appliquéd lace bows can be found here.


snaps, hooks and loops, buttons….lots of choice!

My own knickers have 5 poppers most of the time, 4 poppers with a button hole at the top sometimes and 4 buttonholes just this time.

Occasionally I  use a small hook and bar at the top  or a button with a thread loop but find poppers work the best over-all…though if the waist is even a little too tight a hook or button is more secure than a popper!

Now that I am finally over my “they will take too long” issues I will do hand-worked buttonholes more often.

I posted photos of my button-hole making below but while sewing them I made a discovery- I do my buttonhole backwards to how all 6 books I consulted show how they should be done…

 I work from left to right and all books I’ve seen say work the stitch from right to left. So other than showing photos of my steps and final results I won’t be saying much more on the subject as some confusion will surely follow. Best just study the stitch illustration, cut some practice buttonholes on a fabric scrap and give it a go… and working right to left not left to right like I do!

On thread for buttonholes: They just don’t work well with regular sewing thread… single is just too fine and when doubled it doesn’t lie flat and looks messy over all. A ‘top-stitch’ or ‘strong’ weight thread can be used with reasonable success-that’s what I used on mine- but really using purpose made silk buttonhole twist thread gives the hands-down nicest result. I didn’t think I had any but found some later and here is the difference: top is ‘strong’ thread and below is silk twist. Obvious it makes for a much finer buttonhole.

I do have a few suggestions that may help regardless of sewing direction:

  • Waxing the thread definitely helps keep it from knotting.
  • On such thin fabric I didn’t over-cast the cut edges first- I did a sample and the result was lumpy.
  • Beware the use of Fray-check. It often marks light coloured fabric. I stay away from the stuff in general.

I sewed  a ‘fan’ of stitches at both ends of the holes (my fans still need improving so the stitches don’t bunch up on each other on the hole edge) since it isn’t a tailored buttonhole but a small so-called ‘worked’ buttonhole- so to do the bar at one end like many instructions show just looked like over-kill to me. The beautifully made vintage lingerie photo further down is done with fanning of the stitches at both ends too. This photo shows my steps… the line illustration is the direction most books show it should be done… but I’m working in the opposite direction. Go figure. I may do a special buttonhole post at a later date when I finally figure out if it makes much difference which direct it gets done in. Best wa , as I said, was to just practice. I was going quite quickly by the last one and have at least overcome over my fear that hand made buttonholes are just too much trouble. They do have their moments.

This is an example of  hand buttonhole and thread loops from a 1930’s pair of lounging pyjama bottoms.Everything on them is done by hand… french seams , lace appliqué and all! Loops like these are simply a double thread loop with buttonhole stitches worked tightly over it from one end to the other. Sometimes I do one at the top of a knicker waistband so that will button and then sew poppers down the placket. Quite small flat ones can be made for hooks to hook into if you don’t want to use the metal bar. I’ve sort of raced through the various closings having realised they practically need a tutorial to themselves…

And that brings the sew-along to its end.

I hope this helps you in your efforts to sew vintage-esque knickers and any questions or comments are welcome… this being my first (and hopefully not last) sew-along your thoughts on it over-all are most welcome and any suggestions on what I could do differently in future ones.

The entire sew-along is now here in printable form.


25 thoughts on “French Knicker Sew-Along: Day 2

  1. Thank you for such a great tutorial! I had bought a pattern (Nutmeg by Collette) for French knickers, but I wasn’t pleased with the fit, so I tried my hand at drafting some following your directions and I LOVE them. They fit beautifully and are exactly what I was hoping for.

    This was my first time sewing a placket, so I ran into a few snags. I followed the machine finish directions, but I was confused how to tack down the bottom of the packet. The hand finished directions included, “Press the french seam below the placket towards the front and hand
    sew to bottom fold of the placket,” but I didn’t see this step in the machine finish directions.

    I plan to practice making plackets before I attempt another set of French knickers, but I’m imagining a lingerie drawer filled with customized knickers to match my bras. Thanks again for your thorough and detailed tutorial.

    1. Hi Jocelyn thank you for your feed back and I will give the placket instructions a re-read and see if I can clarify them further. I’m so glad my tutorial helped you make the French Knickers you were hoping for! 🙂 🙂

      1. My mom stopped by this morning while I was wearing my shorts (I made mine a bit longer for sleeping/lounging), and she was so impressed with my lace work and the fit. I showed her my placket and she laughed. She kindly agreed that my placket skills could use some work.

        I found a PDF version of the chapter on plackets from The Shirtmaking Workbook by David Coffin that was very helpful.

  2. I enjoyed this tutorial on knickers very much. You wording and photos and spot on! Thank you so much for taking the time to photograph the steps carefully and taking the time to share so we can all benefit from your experience. Very inspiring!

  3. Vera, this sew along project is excellent and wonderful (if slightly intimidating in the amount of information to digest!). Thank you so much for writing it. I will probably sew up some in about a month….and will share the results. This is great as I have procrastinated for so long about drafting up & altering bias-cut lingerie patterns from a book, now I have your lovely illustrated and informative directions to help me along my lazy way…

        1. It’s ‘bias cut dressmaking’, I think it’s now out of print but they had loads of copies at my uni library…

  4. Great knicker sewing results coming in! If you would like to leave a comment with a link to pictures of your results elsewhere on the web please do…. I’ve now set my spam filter to allow for one link in a post (you can add more links if you want but the comment will be held for moderation until I can make sure it isn’t from a spammer and then it will show)

  5. Well here is the finished result. I decided that this would be worn at night.Therefore I made it longer. Th result is fine for me.The material is rather sheer and fine batist. I have a difficult shape and yet it fits nicely
    I added a bolero jacket . The collar forms together with the sleeves a flounce. The lacetrim is added by hand I was very pleased to join in your fantastic sew-along

    1. Fantastic! Such a beautiful print. The lavender stretch lace pair are so pretty too, a great idea. I haven’t tried these with a stretchy fabric yet and am now adding the idea to my ‘to do’ list. Did you subtract much from the pattern to use with a stretch fabric or just use ‘as-is’?
      Thank you for joining in Marieke and showing your results.

      1. For the lavender/Lilac one I used your sketch.
        At the band I substracted 15 %, at the high hip I substracted 10 @ at the hip not any substraction (Otherwise the legs will not hang nicely , but sort of bend inwards.)
        In the hights no substraction. The band is 15 cm x (waist-4) and does not have elastics. It hangs just as it is.

  6. Thank you for doing the sew-along, and for making the pattern/drafting instructions available, too. I made up a simple sort of test version, but I’ll wear them as well–I really liked how they turned out.
    I was confused for a while with the placket, but finally decided to just follow the instructions like I was supposed to, even if I didn’t quite understand what I was doing or why–and it came out perfectly. Thank you for being so detailed; I would’ve made a huge mess if I’d tried to do that on my own.
    My post with the finished product is here:
    I’m excited to make these up again!

    1. Thank you for posting your results Zarah. Glad it all worked out in the end. Which bit of the placket instructions did you find confusing as maybe I need to re-word it a bit- but thank you for trusting that it would turn out all right if you followed them even so!

      About finding the crutch too long: you can either do a horizontal pleat in both your front and back pattern pieces mid-hip to pull the crutch up higher on your body or you can take off up to an inch from both front and back inseams to reduce the front to back crutch width… or a combination of the two.

      The draft does make a ‘skirty’ fit but not even as long in the crutch as some original 1940’s Simplicity knicker patterns I have and an original 30’s pattern I tried was like a knee length diaper!

    1. Pretty lace and fabric but they do look very long. Did you make a toile first to make alterations from the basic draft? I am so sorry you don’t like your results.
      I toiled and shortened my personal pattern so the inside leg seams finish 8cm from centre crutch to bottom of lace and the side seams from waist are 38/39cms. The picture from a few posts back of the pink ones are me wearing them- they did not make up so big. Maybe download one of the knicker patterns I posted and compare? The size 10 is what I made them and the newer sew-along green and peach examples from.
      But even so, yes, like the original 1940’s ones they are best worn under skirts or wide leg trousers! I wear a lot of 40’s style wool trousers in the winter and they are perfect under those.
      Stretch fabric sounds a good idea.

  7. for some strange reason, I couldn’t access your posts this weekend, so I had to wait until today – I’ve done another toile in plain white cotton, this time making an effort on reducing the width of the french seams, making a proper waistband, etc. I really liked the way you attach the placket (in 2 steps) it’s so much easier to make the seams match! Unfortunately at some point, my attention must have been caught by something because I did the crutch seams on the wrong side! oh well, it will be more comfortable this way: no seams on the inside 😀
    I’m still looking for nice fabric and or lace to make a fancier version. Thanks a lot for this great sewalong, I have learnt a lot!

    1. You are welcome & I like how you look on the bright side 🙂 I have pairs with plackets on the right hip and do still start french seams out wrongly… they are the worst to unpick!

  8. Despite every intention I couldn’t devote any time to making any knickers this week end and I also didn’t manage to get any nice lace or fabric as having made two rather basic pairs I wanted to make a pair a bit more lavish! So I shall return in a week or two when there is less pandemonium in the house and hopefully armed with nice fabric and have a really good go.
    Your posts are so wonderfully detailed and inspiring…You should write a book….I would buy a copy!!! Thank you for taking the time to share your enthusiasm and knowledge with everyone and when I have something produced I will let you know how I get on!

    1. Back-to-uni pandemonium takes precedence over knicker sewing of course! A bit of that ’round my way too.
      Thank you for saying so about the sew-along. I’ve been thinking perhaps it’s just too much information… But if a few find it useful it’s served its purpose 🙂

  9. I did happily finish my 70cm long knickers. The shape turned out well. I made the plaquet and the threadloop buttonhole. I am now working on a bolero to match. The lacetrim is attatched by hand. My mother taught me also a lot of older techniques. I think is is many years ago that I used them. Thank you very much and I am longing for your next post

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