November 1, 2012

Antique Undies Up Close and Personal

So you're back to see all the teeny tiny details of someone's 100+ year old chonies eh?  Well, you're in luck.   Fair warning, this is a very picture heavy post!  You can click each photo to see it larger.

Laid flat.  Of course, it wasn't until I was writing this
that I noticed they were inside out in this photo!

Aaaand we're right side out again.  Good.

These are open crotch, straight legged drawers complete with pintucks and eyelet trim.  I picked them up from an antique store last year.  As you'll see, every seam is finished in some way or another, making these washable and durable.   They are fitted with darts and a drawstring, and tie in the back.

The most obviously pretty details are the pintucks and eyelet trim.  Both were sewn prior to stitching up the inner seam of each leg. The pintucks are each about 1/8” wide, and are sewn in two clusters of four pintucks each. Within each cluster they have about 1/8” of space showing between them. The two clusters have about ½” of space showing between them. 

Crooked pintucks!

I was happy to note that while the drawers were obviously sewn with great care and good workmanship, the pintucks are not perfectly even! I am obviously not the only person in the world that can't get those motherf***ers straight. 

The eyelet trim appears to be machine made.  Even so, it's far more perfect and beautiful than the crappy eyelet you can get at most fabric stores today.  It's slightly gathered to fit the bottom of each leg opening.  As mentioned above, the eyelet was sewn on prior to each leg being sewn up.

Inside join where eyelet meets leg

On the inside, the seam where the eyelet meets the leg is covered by a narrow strip of cotton.  This strip is cut on the straight of grain and is topstitched just 1/16" away from each edge.  The two rows of stitching are visible on the outside of the leg as well. 

Outside join where eyelet meets leg

I'm still wrapping my head around how that was done so perfectly, but anyways, moving on!

As you can see from the beginnings of my pattern here,  there are two "gussets" at the inner parts of each leg.  I can't decide exactly what to call them; if the two legs were fully sewn together rather than being open I would certainly call them gussets, but maybe they're more accurately just pieced in fabric.  The ones on the front of each leg are triangular, as seen above.

The extra bit at the back of each leg is shaped like a long, skinny trapezoid.  Each of these is sewn to the main leg using a tiny tiny felled seam.

The seam in the foreground is the outside view;
the one in the back is the inside one.

Each flat felled seam is only 1/8" wide!  As with the pintucks and trim, these "gusset-whatevers" were sewn to the leg piece while it was still flat, prior to the inner leg seam being sewn up.

Inside view of side dart

Inside view of back darts

Darts!  There are 12 darts in total on these drawers; one on each side, and five on either side of the back opening.  Each dart is about 4 1/4" long.   The back ones overlap a little; the way that they overlap tells us that the backmost one was sewn first, then the rest from back to front.  Each of the back darts is pressed towards the front; the ones at each side are pressed to the back. 

Side dart, outside view

Back darts, outside view

It's a bit hard to see in these photos, but after being pressed to the side each dart was topstitched down.  The stitching is 1/16" in from the seam of each dart. 

The inside seam of each leg is sewn up with a French seam.  Why a French seam when felled seams were used earlier?  I don't know, but perhaps it cut down on bulk in areas where multiple seams met.  In any case, as you can see above, these seams are where the only really noticeable  damage is.  French seams are not as strong as flat felled!


There's a facing appled to the inner edge of each leg to finish the raw edge.  The facing was cut on the straight of grain.  It was sewn along the front edge, then turned to the back, the edge folded under and topstitched.  The photo above left is the inside of the facing, while the one on the right is how the finished edge looks from the outside.   The finished width of the facing is 1/2".

Just noticed as I'm writing this- for whatever reason, the facing was cut in two strips and the two sewn together before it was sewn to the leg as described above.  Seems like more work that way, but perhaps there wasn't a lot of fabric to begin with?

The two legs are only attached to each other for a few inches along the top edge.  They are overlapped about ½” and stitched down for about four inches. Below that, each leg is separate. 

The stitching and overlap look perfectly aligned from the front, but from the inside you can see it got a little wonky!

The waist is finished with a facing that does double duty as a casing for a drawstring. 

The facing/casing is cut on the bias, which is a good thing since all those darts give the back edge a wicked curve!  From the bit that has come loose on the end, you can see that the facing/casing is a bias strip folded in half, sewn to the right side of the drawers, then flipped to the inside and topstitched.   The ends were merely folded in; they were not stitched down.

 Up 'till today, I had assumed the drawstring was a simple cotton cord.  I hadn't bothered to even look at it.  When I finally did, I realized that it was really a length of 1/2" wide cotton twill tape!  Apparently twill tape will roll up into a cord-like shape when washed and left to its own devices. 

For those of you who made it to the end, congratulations!  You now know way too much about someone's old underwear.  If you wish to know still more, stay tuned.  I'll have a pattern and detailed instructions just as soon as I finish my next repro pair.


  1. Hi,
    I'm just guessing that the gusset-thingies are put there either
    a) to be easily replaced as they would be the most easily soiled part or
    b) the person got fatter/needed more coverage than first estimated so gussets were added for modesty.

    What are your thoughts? I'm just researching before sewing my first drawers though so my thoughts will likely change after having tried them :)

    1. Good luck on your drawers!
      Those are good guesses, but I don't think they work for this particular pair. The gusset thingies are attached with felled seams and then a facing has been applied to the whole opening, so they'd be a total PITA to get off to replace. The main pattern piece isn't shaped correctly for drawers; only the addition of the extra pieces makes it work, so I don't think they were added later. I'd guess that it's a case of not having enough fabric, leading to creative piecing, or an attempt to waste less fabric in cutting.


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