By Marcy Montgomery Jones
Sewing shapewear (or girdles if you’re “old school”) requires patience and skill. The high stretch and slickness of most of the fabrics, combined with the presence of multiple plies, makes attention to fabric handling very important. As a designer of intimate apparel, I’ve learned some useful tricks over the years to make the process more successful. These tips can also be used when making swimwear, dancewear, or panties since sewing these items creates similar challenges. Here are seven tricks for sewing professional-looking garments.
1. Make sure to use the proper stitches. When the fabric is rigid, you can use a straight-line lockstitch machine. But when it’s stretchy, do not. This would result in cracked stitches and open seams. Instead, use a two-, three-, or four-thread overlock machine. If you’re attaching elastics or panels where stretch is needed, use a zigzag or triple-zigzag machine.
2. Make sure your machine tensions are set properly. If they aren’t, the result will be cracked stitches, roped (raised) stitching, or rough-feeling threads that will sit on top of the elastics.
3. Be careful when handling your fabrics. Don’t rest your wrists on the fabric. The tension produced will stretch the fabric and result in stretched garments. Guide the fabric with your index and middle fingers on top, and your thumb on the bottom; you’re less likely to push it this way. Also, don’t pull or push the fabric through the presser foot; let the feed dogs do their jobs.
4. Remember attachments, attachments, and attachments. These guides exist to make your life easier and your work look more professional. Most throat plates include seam allowances, but if you need additional guidance, add a strong magnet. Additional must-have attachments include folders for bindings and guides for elastics.
5. Choose your needle carefully. It’s best to use a fine gauge needle. Depending on your materials, the wrong needle can cut fabric, cause Lycra® run back, or create needle penetration holes in your final garments.
6. Spend some time in the intimates section of your favorite department store and study its garments. You’ll begin to recognize repetitive machine stitches, and the sequence of operations needed for whatever you’re sewing.
7. Test your machine, attachments, and needle-and-thread set up on a scrap of your final fabric before you sew your final cutwork. Be patient. You may rip a lot of seams with your first several tries.
High quality construction, resulting from an attention to detail, will make the difference between shapewear you’ll fall in love with and garments that will fall apart on you.