Zero Waste Underpants

Yep, on the weekend I made a pair of zero waste underpants. The pattern is by Zero Waste Wardrobe; it’s a free pattern that’s part of a personal design project by clothing and costume designer Saara Jolkkonen.

Zero waste underpants sketch

The mission of the project is to provide a free (creative commons licensed) collection of zero waste patterns which could form the core of a woman’s wardrobe. It aims to make the zero waste design method and process visible, and to encourage people to try making clothes themselves.

The current patterns in the project are: 2 types of bra, 2 types of t-shirt, a collared long sleeve shirt, a casual dress (shirt dress style), 2 types of hoodie and sports leggings. Coming later are a sports top, quilted jacket, jeans, party dress and light jacket. The garments are all one size (38) but the underpants come in S-M-L-XL-XXL.

As far as I know, this is the only zero waste pattern for undies available. There isn’t one for men.

The website is in Finnish. Go to the home page and click on Vaatteet in the top right hand corner, then scroll down to see all the projects.

The underpants were featured in the Open Source Fashion Cookbook. @sewnotcomplicated made them in bamboo jersey as part of her #makenine2021 challenge.

I do wear homemade undies – I’ve been making them since my late teens when I was a junior at Jem Leotards. One of the perks was that we were allowed to use the machines during lunch break, and we could buy fabric at staff discount. Everyone there made their own undies and kept their own personal pattern at work. I actually don’t make undies very often because homemade ones last such a long time. The current set has been in daily rotation and weekly wash for the past 5-6 years and are all still fine. I admit I prefer wearing sturdily constructed full briefs, to give a better line under clothes, and honestly they’re so large I sometimes fleetingly mistake them for children’s t-shirts when I’m hanging out washing!

The style of these zero waste underpants is panties/briefs and the pattern is a pdf. I made a size M (I have hips/seat 40″ and waist 30″). For fabric, I had some mauve cotton lycra at home and used that. I wasn’t sure how stretchy it should be (the pattern calls for organic cotton jersey – as in t-shirt material??) but it turned out to be just right.

Zero waste undies pattern layout
This is the pattern (English words added by me).

The instructions aren’t illustrated but they’re not hard to follow.

I sewed mine with a mini zig zag on my regular machine (6mm seam allowance). For the leg hems, gusset attachment and waist elastic I used a pretty stretch scallop stitch.

Sorry, I can’t bring myself to put photos of me in underwear on the Internet, so here’s a flat lay photo instead.

Zero waste undies front view
Zero waste undies back view

I admit I was hesitant to make undies with a central seam in the gusset. Would one notice the seam while wearing them? It turns out that one doesn’t feel the seam, although if I were to make another pair I would switch the central seam to the back and have a seamless front (then there wouldn’t be a seamed front and a seamed gusset). So it wasn’t a big deal after all.

The other point I was doubtful about was that the legs are just finished with a 1cm hem, with no elastic. I resisted tweaking the pattern in the spirit of accurate reporting. I wore the undies for an afternoon and most certainly the absence of leg elastic did move the back leg holes into the abyss, but this is fixable; I’ll just thread narrow elastic through the hems and that should hold things in their place. For a future pair I would either sew in elastic or (more likely) cut bands of the same fabric to finish the legs. Again, not really a big deal.

Zero waste undies basted together for a fitting
Here’s a tip: sew them together using a long straight stitch, in the correct colour thread using a stretch needle. Try them on to check the fit, then sew the seams properly over the straight stitch.
Zero waste undies with the gusset pinned in
Here’s the gusset pinned in, ready to sew in place.

The verdict:

Like many zero waste patterns, this one is fabulously economical on fabric. Mine took 48cm x 32cm, which would give me 3 pairs in just 32cm of 150cm wide fabric. That’s 9 pairs in less than a metre (and at $24pm, it’s only $2.56 per pair for undies that last years).

What about the fit? The front is excellent – leg cut and crotch width are great. The back has less bottom cover than this full-brief wearer is used to, although bear in mind I wore them without any elastic in the legs. If you’re comfortable wearing this style of undies I would recommend trying them.

If you’ve never sewn undies before, I think these would be fine to try out as your first pair.

Cheers!

Update: I revisited this pattern the following week and made full briefs and the week after that resolved the non-zero waste gusset.

20 Comments

  1. Kristen Shaw on March 22, 2021 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks for adding the English, Liz. I’ll definitely check this pattern out, though I can’t imagine finding anything I like as well as my big girl panties (Stitch Upon a Time Scrundlewear.). It’s always good to try out new techniques and try for the zero waste approach.

    • lizhaywood on March 22, 2021 at 1:10 pm

      Thanks for reading, fellow full-briefs wearer 🙂

  2. Jill on March 22, 2021 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks for such a great review. I’ve tried making undies before but my full panty types look horribly unsexy! Must try these in a better fabric.

    • lizhaywood on March 22, 2021 at 5:36 pm

      Give them a whirl, Jill. Trialing undies is a very small investment in time and fabric 🙂

  3. Adele on March 22, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    You beauty! A zero waste stretch undies pattern! I though they didn’t exist. I have 1930s instructions (Gertrude Mason?) for drafting zero waste bias cut knickers using a square of woven fabric. I’ve drafted it out in what might be my size. And put it to one side. I’m feeling just a bit nervous about the aesthetic :-).

    • lizhaywood on March 22, 2021 at 5:47 pm

      Yes, I’d say 1930s undies have a definite aesthetic!
      Think this is the only zw stretch undies pattern in existence.

  4. Claire on March 22, 2021 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve made the hoodie and t shirt from this site. The t shirt is great, but the hoodie needed a lot of work to make it wearable and is now a sweatshirt instead. I may well just try the pants

    • lizhaywood on March 22, 2021 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks Claire, I wondered what the other things were like.

    • Michelle Cahill on March 23, 2021 at 10:06 am

      What didn’t work about the hoodie? That’s the other design I really wanted to try.

  5. Helen on March 22, 2021 at 7:59 pm

    My favourite part was your comment “ the absence of leg elastic did move the back leg holes into the abyss” … that CRACKed me up 🙂

    • lizhaywood on March 23, 2021 at 9:42 am

      🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. Carol Young on March 22, 2021 at 9:11 pm

    Great review Liz. It occurs to me having had a quick look at the pattern, if you wanted to make a higher rise adding about 5-8 cm to the width and height of the fabric would give a rectangle of that would provide the necessary yoke..there may be a wee bit waste but only the tiniest of scrap. I think I will need to experiment.

    • lizhaywood on March 23, 2021 at 8:31 am

      Maybe just adding a wide band at the top is the answer – @sewnotcomplicated did that with hers to avoid using elastic but it wasn’t very wide.

  7. Michelle Cahill on March 22, 2021 at 11:47 pm

    Great review! This is just what I’ve been looking for since I ventured into lingerie sewing. I imagine the legs could also be finished off with lace trim.

    • lizhaywood on March 23, 2021 at 9:12 am

      I think you would enjoy making these Michelle.

      • Michelle Cahill on March 23, 2021 at 10:05 am

        I think I would too. Fold over elastic should work as well now that I think about it. I’ll let you know!



  8. Donna on March 25, 2021 at 3:53 am

    Thanks for the inspiration Liz! I’ve been looking for a pattern to make no VPL knickers to wear under my workout leggings, so I just made a pair from some swim fabric I’ve had lying around, no need to hem! I cut Zero Waste Wardrobe’s pattern in size small (ie have 68cm waist so was a bit worried that the small might be too small as they said 61cm), but they fit perfectly. I’m afraid they weren’t 100% zero waste as I prefer to have cotton next to my lady bits, but I used a bit of old t shirt for that and followed the instructions in this video for attaching it – magic how the gusset suddenly ends up inside the knickers! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXegct1n4og. The finished garment fits great – as you suggested I put the centre seam in the back, I like the low rise, although they are a bit ‘cheeky’ so thinking next time to not cut the gusset and keep that as part of the back panel for more coverage. We’ll see how they go for workouts – I find swim can get a bit hot so might need to search for a more breathable fabric that doesn’t fray. And no, I’m not going to model them either! Thanks again and thanks to Saara Jolkkonen for her free pattern. Very quick and easy to sew!

    • lizhaywood on March 25, 2021 at 4:44 pm

      Cheers, Donna! These could be your new tried-n-true 🙂

  9. Sue on March 25, 2021 at 5:08 am

    Not quite zero waste, but I make all my undies from worn t-shirts, with waist and leg bands of lycra-containing fabric.The bands never seem to wear out, though the main body pieces do get holes after a few years. When that happens, I rip the seams and re-use the bands on a new pair. I’ll never go back to storebought.

    If my caboose were not so generously sized I’d try this pattern in a heartbeat. Thanks for posting it!

    • lizhaywood on March 25, 2021 at 4:41 pm

      I’m with you Sue – don’t think I’ll ever go back to storebought. Good tip for the bands.

Leave a Comment