Book Shelf: Sew Lovely

Sew Lovely vintage lingerie sewing books | Cloth Habit

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.

Sew Lovely vintage lingerie sewing books | Cloth Habit

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.

Sew Lovely vintage lingerie sewing books | Cloth Habit

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!

Sew Lovely vintage lingerie sewing books | Cloth Habit

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!


Book Details
Title: Sew Lovely Girdle and Bra
Author: Laverne Devereaux
Published: 1971
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.


  1. Michelle says:

    What fun! I’ve been looking at my bookshelf in my sewing room for a while now and thinking I’m going to clear everything non-sewing related off there. You just might be my inspiration to do just that.

    Charming book & pattern. Do you think you’ll ever make up the pattern?

    • Amy says:

      Hi Michelle! I’m clearing out my bookshelves too. Lots of magazines that need to go… I don’t think I’ll make up the bra pattern, but it is fun to have for historical reference!

  2. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the info! I’m a sewing bookworm myself and collect vintage sewing books too. I think you do phenomenal work and I appreciate the love you put into all your sewing. 😉

  3. Ha! I have those books in my “library” too! Mine are actually on “indefinite loan” from my MIL though, along with the Singer Lingerie book. She has the most amazing selection of books, including the entire Singer series, so I’m always sneaking a few out when I visit. 🙂

    • Amy says:

      Oh I love that Singer series. You’re lucky to have them! That book is the one lingerie book I don’t own yet. (Unless there are some mysterious others I haven’t heard about but I’m a huntress on ebay… I am turning my attention to European books now!)

  4. Great post. Have you made any of her patterns? I have one of her slip patterns and just picked up the book. I love my vintage sewing and knitting books. So much fun to pour over them. Thanks for sharing the section on girdles and talking about gussets. I’m going to attempt adding one to my TNT leggings pattern. Wish me luck!

    • Amy says:

      Hi Gwen, no I have not made up this pattern or her others. I have some groovy 70s swimsuit patterns too. They are so fun to have but there are just so many updated methods that work better for me. However, if sewing in vintage methods was my thing, I’d definitely give it a shot!

    • Amy says:

      One of the bras in this book (and the pattern above) is basically patterned and styled like an underwire bra but just no wire inserted! Have you tried to make an underwired pattern leaving out the wire?

      • Leila says:

        I just tried taking the wires out of a bra I’d made years ago. Both the upper and lower cup are made of knit fabric, and with the wires out, the bra didn’t provide enough support to be comfortable. I’m sure the bra would’ve worked fine for me when I was younger and didn’t need the support, though. When I have time, I’ll try making a bra with cups made of woven fabric.

  5. Sabrina says:

    I agree, illustrations make the sewing process so much easier. You are so lucky to have them on your shelves. You have inspired me to give bra making a try and hopefully in the the future I will.

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