Doing image searches for "knickers" (NSFW) bears out my suspicions: search from google.co.uk, and you get close-fitting underwear, some quite revealing; search from bing.com, and you get a mix of frou-frou, flirty, faux-vintage stuff, and stuff that looks like costuming from a cabaret production of Oklahoma. (Google.com also shows the baggy kind, but not as much as Bing. Try your own searches, though not from a work computer!)
Well as it happens, I rather like old fashioned, not skin-tight knickers, and see them as a fun alternative to a slip when wearing skirts on breezy summer days! After all, a slip is just another skirt, and just as prone to blowing up to the waist in high winds, so a bifurcated garment makes more sense. I have experimented with drafting patterns for knickers. I have a pair I call my "ruffly undershorts", based on a pajama pants pattern, just made shorter with a ruffle added. They are great under my hibiscus circle skirt, a fetching but dangerous garment that's very... how shall we say... mobile when the breezes blow. I always wear them when bicycling in a skirt. If knickers are long enough, they are sometimes called tap pants.
Vintage-style knickers often have lots of interesting details. I love Anya's knickers in the "I'll Never Tell" number from Buffy (Season 6, Ep. 7: Once More With Feeling). They have a yoke to reduce bulk and provide a smooth line down the front, with swirly legs, and slits (or lace insertions? or sheer net?) in the outer thighs. So fun!
Today, I shall share an interesting version of knickers that I examined in a vintage shop and re-created at home. The original knickers were beautifully hand-sewn in sturdy but supple silk, and came with a label saying they were made by nuns in France (why?). Wasn't that a thing in the 1940 movie Rebecca? The creepy housekeeper tells the new bride how the former wife's fine underwear was made by nuns? I wonder if people thought this was a sign of status (nuns work for God... and you), piety (you are supporting nuns), or purity (via associative magic: you partake in the nuns' purity by wearing the work of their hands). Well, I was amazed by the minute and perfect stitches, but equally intrigued by the pattern, which had no curves to it. In fact, to my un-trained eyes, it looked really simple: just a pencil-skirt pattern with a slit cut up the Center Front and another up the Center Back. An angular gusset was set into the slits, and became the inside legs when the garment was worn. The thing closed on the side with buttons in a placket. So I went home and made myself a pair:
I already had a pencil skirt pattern, so I shortened it and slit it front and back. It's important not to make the slit too long, since it shouldn't go higher than the crotch. To draft the gusset, I opened the slit like a V, and drew a chevron which would fit inside (don't forget some overlap for seam allowances). The length of the gusset was the depth of my body, which I measured by wearing the pencil skirt and measuring from front to back through the legs. The chevron shape was on each side.
BETTER INSTRUCTIONS FROM JACK KIRSCHNER
Although I figured things out through reverse engineering the vintage pair of knickers, and took no pictures along the way, I later found good instructions in an old text book. Jack Kirschner's Lingerie Patternmaking and Grading Simplified: A Manual for the Student and the Worker was published in 1950; it's now in the public domain, and can be downloaded through The Perfect Nose's Friday Freebie feature. Her post is here. Scroll down below the copyright info to find the "Get It" link. It's well worth downloading! Here are pages 67 and 68 of the book, showing the exact knickers I made, here called "step-ins":
The difference between his and mine? His step-ins seem to be longer than my knickers (he has a six inch cut for the gusset!); his crotch piece curves inward more than mine (mine has straight sides, not concave ones); and his skirt is cut on an A-line (mine has darts to fit at the waistline). Otherwise, it's the same.
Kirschner, Jack. Lingerie Patternmaking and Grading Simplified: A Manual for the Student and the Worker. New York 3, N.Y.: Fairchild Publications, Inc., 1950.
Here are a few pictures of my knickers being worn, which show the gusset in place, as well as the side closure (which I didn't make as flush as I could have). Click the pictures to zoom up and see captions.
I made these golden knickers in 2015, but since have done more research, and found a wonderful resource in VeraVenus. Go to the Free Patterns and Tutorials page, scroll down 3/4 of the way, and you'll find the French Knicker Tutorial and the Circular French Knickers. (Or you can type CTR-F and search for "Knicker" to find them.) There are drafting instructions for two different styles (1940's, and Circular), as well as a sew-along with instructions on the fiddly bits. The best part is how little fabric is needed, so it's a nice way to bust your stash. If you buy fabric, you can splurge on expensive silk, knowing you don't need a lot! It's lovely to put something luxurious next to your skin.
Having worn several styles, I prefer the ones with the crotch curve integrated in the leg pattern, rather than the ones with a separate gusset, because the gusset version pools in the lap area when I sit. See picture number 5 in the gallery above: it's the fabric in the front that pools, not the gusset itself.
Quilting, dressmaking, and history plied with the needle...
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