Fashion Processes: How do you make lingerie?

As my involvement in burlesque has developed, so has my interest in lingerie. It seems to be an appropriate thing for me to write about on this blog too as lingerie pretty much sits at the intersection of feminism, body image, sex/relationships and fashion. However, although I have done a couple of short courses that have expanded my knowledge on how the garments I wear are constructed (Beginners Corsetry at Prescott & Mackay and Knockout Knickers at The Make Lounge), I don’t really have a great deal of general knowledge on the subject of underwear and so just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to learn a bit more and try my hand at making something new.

So, with a great deal of excitement, last week I attended a 5 day lingerie workshop at the London College of Fashion. Billed as “a chance to recapture the skills of traditional couture lingerie, especially the feminine 1930s bias-cut styles and other similar themes and updating these into 21st-century lingerie”, this seemed like the perfect way to expand my knowledge in a way that could be applied through my writing as well as at the sewing machine.

Our tutor was costume historian and designer Carolyn Richardson who started the week off with a quick lesson in 20th century lingerie, illustrated by many garments from a case of vintage treasures that she had brought along to show us. When you’re used to mass-produced underwear that uses elastic and is fastened with hooks and eyes, this was quite an experience! However, Carolyn had also brought with her some modern pieces from Topshop and ASOS to demonstrate how old shapes and techniques can be updated.

Before long we were into the practical part of the class, learning how to draft a pattern for a bias-cut nightie by draping fabric on a stand to create a test garment (aka toile), which was rather good fun. Later in the week, our toile was made from a flat pattern that we’d drafted on paper from a basic bodice ‘block’ and adjusted to create a simple bra. Well, I say ‘simple’ but it took rather a lot of time and patience to produce.

Over the course of a few days, we learnt about pattern creation and adaptation, design research, fabric and trimming selection, different types of seams and hems, embroidery techniques, and fastenings. Carolyn gave us plenty of information on the techniques applied to mass production and also couture garments, so that we had knowledge and skills that would be useful for sewing at home, making samples for our own lingerie line, or even for one-off made-to-measure pieces.

Whether or not I go on to design/make something myself, at the very least I now have a greater understanding of lingerie design and production. I also now know why beautifully designed well-made silk bras are so expensive, so there will definitely be no more whining about high prices from me!

Main image via the LCF Lingerie Making Short Course page. Other images taken by lipsticklori during the course.

UPDATE: The course I took doesn’t exist in the same format any more, but there are now lots of other lingerie and swimwear short courses available at LCF. This short video gives you an overview.

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