Finding Your Way with Sewing Lingerie Fabrics

Posted by on Apr 2, 2013 in Sewing | Comments

Sewing Lingerie

The toughest aspect of sewing lingerie is dealing with the tricky fabrics that lingerie requires. Silks, lace, velvet, and all the other slippery fabrics that are most commonly used are the hardest to work with. Fortunately, lingerie is usually only seen by you and those you love, both of which should be forgiving of your sewing! Let’s break down some of these challenges ahead.

I heard somewhere a million years ago that cutting silk is like trying to cut water. Yep, that’s exactly how it feels. Just when you think you have it held in place and on grain, you realize that with one little touch, it is totally off grain and sliding off your cutting table. Curses.

What silky fabric needs is stabilizing and one of the best ways to do this is to cut the fabric sandwiched between two layers of paper. I know this sounds crazy, but I learned this trick when I worked at a fabric shop fresh out of high school and believe it or not, it really works.

Here is how to do it: Tape the paper down to the table and spread out your silky fabric on top lining up the selvages and having the silk open with no center fold. Very carefully lay paper down on top of it, making sure not to move anything out of place. Using silk pins, pin your pieces down on the paper through the silk and the under layer of paper. Because nothing can be cut on the fold, you will need to draw the mirror image of any piece that is to be done on the fold. Pin along every edge, close to the edge so that once you un-tape it in the next step nothing will move out of place. Once everything is pinned, un-tape the paper from the table and cut as usual.

You might flinch at the idea of cutting paper with your fabric scissors, but this is a worthy reason to dull them, since you want to cut the silk with your sharpest scissors. Just be sure to plan a sharpening shortly after.

When sewing with silk or other semi-sheer fabrics, even with silk pins, it is best to keep your pins inside the seam allowance in case they mar the fabrics when being punctured with the pins. You might also want to consider using French seams so that all the seam allowances are hidden and pretty inside the garment.

In addition to silky fabrics, velvet is a luxurious choice for entire pieces or just for trim. The amazing thing about velvet is its fluffy texture, but if handled incorrectly, that pile can be crushed and can never be undone. Much like when working with silks, use silk pins and pin your pattern pieces to the velvet in one single layer. Folding the fabric can create a permanent crease.

Only pin on the back or wrong side of the velvet and handle the fabric with extreme care. Keep a light hand when marking notches, darts, and the like. Typically the nap goes down the garment, but that is a personal choice. The important element is consistency from piece to piece so that the nap goes the same way around the body.

The key with all of these fabrics is to take your time and handle with care. Silk and velvet are some of the loveliest fabrics to wear, so don’t be afraid, just move to and from each step with a plan and everything will work out!

Don’t forget to join us here on the Craftsy blog on Friday for a fresh roundup of free sewing patterns to celebrate Free Pattern Friday!


  1. Rochelle New says:

    Good to know! I have a few vintage lingerie patterns in my stash that are not getting the attention they deserve because I haven’t been sure where to start. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction :)

    1. Yay! Go for it lady! Don’t be afraid… you’re a great seamstress!

  2. Rosemary says:

    Great tip! I had never heard of using paper to minimize problems with slippery fabrics. “Way back when” I took many classes from Stretch and Sew to make lingerie and had a blast. I learned how to make underpants, slips, even slippers. I still have those multi-sized patterns in my collection for use with stretch fabrics as they were all the “rage.”

    1. Fun! I have some Stretch and Sew vintage patterns in my collection. Glad this has inspired you to return to sewing lingerie!

  3. Jennifer Boyd says:

    Does Craftsy have a lingerie instructor/class? I search the internet for instructional DVDs on this type of sewing and come up empty. I’d love to take a lingerie class.

    1. jc says:

      Kwik Sew (now owned by McCalls) has some excellent lingerie pattern books. They are very well drafted. I got mine off amazon a few years ago. May be able to get a deal off amazon or ebay. I’d do a search on these sites, then maybe go to kwik sew’s site (they still have the URL). Hope this helps. :-)

      1. JB says:

        Thank you, JC.

    2. Colette Patterns also has two great lingerie patterns that you can find here:

      1. JB says:

        Thank you, Christine.

    3. Fashion Fan says:

      Would love a class in lingerie/swimwear especially with bra under-wiring.

  4. Debi Naanes says:

    A similar method that I adopted after much frustration was to spray my paper with Dritz spray adhesive, then lay the silk out. This allowed me to minimize the pins to just the pattern. The adhesive is lightweight so I didn’t run into any problems while sewing and it easily washed out.

    Thanks for the reminder about making our own lingerie! I’ve been looking for inspiration to do a little Spring cleaning on my nightwear and this article hit the spot!

    1. Yes! You can use the spray adhesive or a stabilizing spray as well for handling silky fabrics. It’s not my preferred method, but I know a lot of people love doing it that way! Glad this got you thinking about making lingerie!

  5. Monica says:

    What stabilizer do you use when quilting w/silk?

    1. I have never quilted with silk, but I would think that the spray stabilizer or the spray adhesive that was mentioned in the previous comment would help tremendously for keeping it in line for quilting!

  6. carolyn asplin says:

    i think a grant thing

  7. Lynn Waugh says:

    I spray my lingerie pattern pieces with quilting stabilizer spray like 555 and then press them onto material. Easily repositioned / removed and easily cut ! I store the patterns with wax paper between pieces ,although they may be fine without it.

  8. Naomi says:

    Amy has posted a fantantastic bra making tutorial on her blog Cloth Habit. Craftsy should contact her & invite her to do a basic bra making class. It’s loads of fun & extremely gratifying to make a bra that fits. A class featuring advance design options and lace application would be a great follow up to her popular sew along earlier this year.