I’ve got a small shelf devoted to books about lingerie design and sewing. And I mean small, since lingerie sewing is a niche craft and not nearly as well-explored as, say, tailoring jackets, hand quilting or fitting pants.
That doesn’t stop me from collecting whatever I can find, if just for the inspiration, funky illustrations and that little bit of lingerie history.
Sew Lovely was an independent line of patterns for intimates, nightgowns and lingerie in the 60s and 70s, designed by Laverne Devereaux. Her booklets and patterns were some of the early entries into sewing lingerie or patterns with stretch. There are two booklets: Girdle and Bra and Slips and Panties. They’re small things, the weight of some patterns, but surprisingly there is a lot of technical information packed within each.
Have I mentioned how much I love the 70s? The best period in fashion illustration, ever. EVER.
In older books you come across some unfamiliar fabric terms, and that is especially true of technical fabrics made with nylon or spandex. Some fibers became so popular or so heavily marketed by Dupont, the original nylon manufacturer, that the fiber name itself became synonymous with a certain type of knit. Back then Antron was a popular nylon fiber for apparel; today it is Tactel and Supplex. Lycra was still new and Lycra® with a capital “L”, and not the catch-all term for any fabric with spandex. “Lastex” (yarn-wrapped latex) was still popular in swimsuit fabrics.
One of the more interesting fabrics the book lists for bra-making is “nylon marquisette”. Marquisette is a sheer net fabric with a leno weave. It was common in vintage clothing as a sheer overlay material, and stiffer nylon marquisettes may have been used as lining materials in bras. While bra fabrics haven’t changed very much–my vintage 60s bras contain materials nearly identical to what manufacturers use today–the fabrics tend to be much softer than they used to be. Most bra linings are warp knits (tricot), made on machines that can knit sheer and soft but very strong materials.
This book has a nice, balanced mix of construction methods and light patternmaking. Now that I’m thinking about it, many of my vintage sewing books mix “how to stitch” equally with patternmaking. The skills of altering existing patterns, using them as tools to create new styles, seemed much more integrated into sewing than they are now.
I particularly liked the section on girdles. Yes, girdles! Think Spanx if that makes it sound better.
There are some basic illustrations to adjusting a pattern for a gusset, which I haven’t seen in many other lingerie or patternmaking books. I often call the piece that connects the front to back of underwear a “gusset” but a real gusset is much more than that lining piece. A gusset is a rhombus-shaped piece added for movement. It can create a better fit in leggings or any kind of underwear whose leg line reaches the thigh. (Look at your yoga pants!)
This book would make a lovely addition to a sewing collection, especially if you love vintage treasures or lingerie. You never know when you might find some tricks hidden in pages somewhere. There are a many ways to finish a bra cup neckline and this book has a couple of methods that are still in use!
Of course there are many areas of bra-making that can be refined and I would use it in conjunction with a more modern book—or tutorial on the internet!
Title: Sew Lovely Girdle and Bra
Author: Laverne Devereaux
Garments covered: Bras (non-wired), Slip Panty, Body Shirt, Basic Panties, Girdle.
Patterns included: none
Patternmaking/Fitting/Sewing Techniques: Mostly sewing techniques in a step-by-step construction order. Some easy pattern adjustments for different styles. No fitting.
Where to find: You can find copies on Ebay, Amazon, AbeBooks, Etsy, etc. for pretty cheap.