This is the first installment in a series I’m calling How and Why, which is as close as I can get to doing tutorials. I intend to share the best and most fulfilling of our alternative lifestyle stuff: with a little bit of How and a little bit of Why. If there’s anything in particular you want to hear about, let me know!
A couple of people have asked me to tell about my homemade underwear. I would like to do that. Actually I’d love to do that, just as much as my five year old loves to read his book called The Underpants Zoo. But first I have to explain something about my marriage.
Because, you see, in this house the husband makes the underwear. If I weren’t married to him, I wouldn’t have any homemade panties, and I also wouldn’t be embarking on a grand adventure to become self-sufficient on three acres of wild land. I would be reading books somewhere. I probably would impress you with the number of books I could read, often about very important things. And then I would get myself another cup of tea. And then meditate for a while. And then have another cup of tea.
My husband isn’t like that. Actually he doesn’t read much, not because he doesn’t like to read, but because it’s hard to read and run a table saw at the same time, and he’s generally running a table saw. Or a welder. Or a sewing machine.
Opposites attract. We are similar in other ways: we’re both introverts, we’re both youngest children, we both like to drink beer and play Neil Young songs poorly on the guitar. But we are different in this way, and it is the source of most of the conflict and also most of the passion in our relationship.
A perfect example of this is my underwear.
I’ve told this part before: a couple of years ago I became very concerned about global capitalism in general, and the garment industry in particular, and, being the stubborn and soap-boxy kind of person that I am, completely stopped buying clothes. About a year later, I started buying clothes again but only at thrift stores. About a year after that, Nick did my laundry one day and said, “Can I please buy you some underwear?
To which I replied, “Absolutely not. You may not buy me any underwear, because underwear is made in sweatshops, and I don’t believe in sweatshops, and we’re not giving those rat bastards a single penny to carry on their nefarious actions overseas.”
He said, “Huh.”
And then he said, “Well, then, can I make you some underwear?”
I didn’t object to that. Here’s how he did it.
[materials: t-shirt, elastic, pattern, sewing machine]
If there is one thing that you get when you work in technical theatre, it is t-shirts. You get shirts with show logos, and you get shirts with theatre company logos, and if you’re working in the office, buying materials, you might get t-shirts from your vendors. We have worn them, we have let the kids play dress up in them, and we have used them as rags and in rag rugs. Now we also make underwear out of them.
The elastic, unfortunately, is not reclaimed at all. If Nick had asked me, I would have told him he needed to pull the elastic from the edges of old fitted sheets, which is probably why he didn’t ask me. He went ahead and spent about three dollars per pair on fold over elastic or stretch lace, and then told me about it later.
He made a pattern by cutting up a pair of my underwear that I had previously refused to allow him to throw away. But if you don’t have a pair of underwear you want to cut up, you can get pretty close by folding it up and tracing it, or you can find a pattern on the Internet. Try here.
And Nick’s sewing machine is an antique that used to belong to his grandmother, currently set up in his brother’s garage. But any sewing machine will do. (You probably could even knock it out by hand if you were determined enough.)
My favorite thing about making underwear out of t-shirts is that you get to repurpose the logo. I love an author named Thomas Frank. I like his books okay, and his blog, but what I really love are his old salvos – I think that’s just a pretentious word for essay, but I’m not sure – in the journal The Baffler, in which he bemoans in very high language the way in which business interests colonize every inch of our personal spaces, like, by putting logos on our t-shirts.
So this is what you do. You pick up your corporate branded shirt, that intends to colonize your back, and you take a pair of scissors to it.
Then you lay out your pattern in such a way as to repurpose the logo, preferably in a way that will provide maximum entertainment to you (and/or your spouse).
This one is my favorite.
But this one is pretty good, too.
(That’s stretch lace on the thighs. The one above was fold over elastic.)
Once you have your design figured out you will have less trouble staying motivated. You’ll stitch together your new underwear (see below), and spend the rest of the day thinking about (a) your underwear, or your spouse’s underwear, (b) how awesome your marriage is, and (c) that it can be kind of fun to resist the sweatshop model of global economics.
In perfect seriousness, Nick and I weren’t going to make it unless we started doing crazy things like this. I don’t mean the underwear. I mean our whole lifestyle. We are both too talented, too passionate and too stubborn to settle for anything less than what we really wanted to do. And when we allowed our options to be defined by the corporate world, our passions threatened to lead us right away from one another. In our case, it took a little ingenuity, and some willingness to rebel, to come up with a plan that truly points us towards each other.
And that’s the story of my homemade underwear. Make some of your own, take on those multinational corporations, and let me know how it goes!
Here are a few details for the stitching of the underwear. When cutting, add seam allowance only to the short sides of the pattern, where the pieces are joined together, no seam allowance on the long edges that will become the thigh bands and waistband. Cut two pieces for the crotch. Stitch the short sides together into your underwear shape, then press down your seams and stitch them flat. For the crotch it works well to enclose your seam allowance. Then sew the elastic directly onto the thigh and waist edges, using a zigzag stitch and keeping a consistent amount of tension on the elastic so you don’t get bunchy spots. For a great tutorial with more detail, try here.