My First Month in Lingerie College: Adventures in the Machine Room

By: Karolina

So it seems that I’ve officially been a Contour Fashion student for over a month now – how time flies! The past few weeks have been almost a complete overload of information and yet this is only the tip of the iceberg. I thought that I knew a fair amount about lingerie before starting the course but I seem to be realising that I knew next to nothing at all…

I’ve been puzzling for quite a few days now over how to share my experiences so far with the readers of this blog! I’m still overwhelmed by how much I’ve already learned, so I’ve decided to introduce you to my new acquaintances in the machine room and the garments that I’ve made so far.

One of my greatest fears upon starting the course was admittedly the machine room. The industrial sewing machines have always struck me as far more threatening than my relatively compact domestic. Some of them only seem to function at hyper speed so I’m always wary of losing the odd finger.

So here’s the first one I met: the lockstitch machine. It’s possibly the friendliest of the lot but that’s not saying much. I was surprised at just how much this varied to a domestic machine – the analogy our tutor used is that of a car which I actually find very accurate! Using this felt like learning clutch control all over again. This is the machine that’s responsible for the straight stitch that you’ll find in almost all of your clothing – also known as a lockstitch, hence the machine’s name!

The second piece of equipment to make my acquaintance was the overlocker (also known as a serger in the US). This is the machine that’s responsible for fabric edges, especially in stretch fabrics such as jersey. I am particularly wary of it knowing that it has a blade that cuts the fabric whilst you sew…

The third one that I became friendly with was the three-point stitch machine. This is what is used to sew in elastics – the zig zag stitch means it all stays stretchy, a feature that’s particularly crucial in lingerie!

And then the final machines that I hadn’t even known existed: the bone caser/taping machine. These have made construction so much easier than I expected. They have twin needles and cover seams with either tape or bone casing – a complete must in the world of underthings!

We all started off very gently in the machine room, at first only tracing wavy lines on a piece of paper with the lockstitch machine to learn some basic control. It was then in our first properly taught week that we got started on our first garment: a basic bustier.

Now, although I’ve made various pieces of lingerie before, it has never been done ‘properly’. My method has always been to make things up as I go along and hope for the best!

Now I’m learning to make everything to a certain size (the industry standard 34B) so that everything can be adapted to create other sizes. A big change to simply pinning things to my own body so that they fit! So without further ado, here are the first three pieces that I’ve learned to make…

Bustier – admittedly not the prettiest piece of lingerie, but this was our introduction to a lot of the machines mentioned above. It was also our introduction to the importance of precision – lingerie seam allowance is usually only 6mm – quite a difference to the 1cm of outerwear!

Soft bra – probably the most basic bra possible yet also my favourite out of everything I’ve made so far. Not at all supportive but nevertheless very feminine and delicate. It was with this bra that we were introduced to stretch fabrics and the various ways they can be manipulated. Although this bra is made of the same stretchy lace throughout, certain parts have been backed onto denier – a stabilising rigid fabric.

Medium Support Bra – now, despite its funny shape, bras like this are supposedly some of the comfiest ones around. This bra’s shape is very closely modelled on Triumph’s ‘Doreen’ bra – statistically the best selling bra in the world. They must be doing something right! The shape on this bra is relatively old fashioned and is far more similar to the 1950s ideal bust shape. In the industry this is apparently referred to as a ‘beaky’ bust!

It’s a whole lot more satisfying making a piece of lingerie knowing that you’ve used the correct methods and will be able to replicate it. Even though everything I’ve made on this course so far has been basic and not exactly exciting in design I still feel very proud of them!

So there’s the first month of my life as a lingerie student… Although it might not exactly be fascinating for the average lingerie addict, I’m hoping that once we get started on proper projects I’ll be able to give you a much more exciting insight into this degree!

12 Comments

  1. Rae-Emily Smith
    10/11/11 at 14:46

    Nice post! Brings back memories… this time 3 years ago i was just starting out on the Contour Fashion course too! Will look forward to seeing more of your creations and hope you are enjoying the course!

    x

  2. Karolina
    10/11/11 at 14:52

    Thank you so much :) I can imagine it's a bit of a blast from the past for you! x

  3. En Bouton
    11/11/11 at 12:20

    This is a fascinating post! I'm currently in my foundation year at art college and figuring out my options for degree study, so it's really useful to read an inside perspective on a course like this.

    Out of curiosity, is there any difference between the industry standard 34B and a typical 34B from high-street or mid-priced brands? I know very little about bra sizing from a designer's or sewist's point of view, but I'm interested in how standard sizing advice (add 4 inches, etc) relates to the actual construction and grading of different sizes.

  4. Karolina
    11/11/11 at 13:18

    As far as I'm aware there's no major difference, although on the highstreet sizing tends to vary from brand to brand. I've only just started to learn about grading so I'm afraid I can't really offer much information there as I don't fully understand it myself yet! As for the 'add 4 inches' advice that most high-street bra sizing offers, it's mostly nonsense as far as I'm aware… That generally throws sizing way out in my experience!

  5. Zoggi
    12/11/11 at 5:56

    I would be really interested to hear about size grading too. I did costume rather than contour fashion, so when I learnt corsetry it was all draped or drafted to the measurements of the performer so there was no size grading involved. Whenever I have made lingerie I've applied the same principle to stretch fabrics. My instinct would be that if the wearer has an underbust measurement of, say, 30 inches, then the stretch fabric would be cut smaller so that it will stretch up to that measurement, plus a small amount of ease to allow for breathing. What I would be interested to know is, does an industry standard 34B actually measure 34 inches around the band when worn?

  6. Marianne Faulkner
    17/11/11 at 1:23

    I'm definitely kind of jealous of your program, despite being about 4 weeks from completing my MFA in fashion design at this point. I'm doing lots of lingerie in my final collection, but with everything except the corsets I'm kind of making it up as I go along.

    That soft bra is indeed very pretty! Now Karolina it up some more!

    At first I was like, "What is a lockstitch??" Here in the states, we often call a straight stitching industrial a "single needle." Or just "industrial [sewing] machine." We use "serger" and "overlock" interchangeably; I kind of think of "serger" as being a more… home sewing-ish term, or maybe just older. You can add the bone casing machine to the list of things I am coveting for sure!

  7. Marianne Faulkner
    17/11/11 at 19:27

    PS: I used to be scared of the overlock machine, too, until someone pointed out that there's actually a guard on the blade to keep you from chopping your finger off.

    My advice: 'ware the grommeter, lest you lose a circle of flesh to its maws!

  8. Bianca
    22/12/11 at 12:39

    Hey! I’d love to know where can I find a Contour School in Los Angeles area, I live in Sao Paulo and I am already studying it, and I’d love to spend a year or two abroad as a student, and I’ve already looked everywhere in Los Angeles, and couldn’t find it, thanks in advance.

  9. stephaie
    31/03/12 at 14:20

    ^^ There is only currently DMUin Leicester, LCF partly do lingerie in London in England and HongKong Polytechnic that officially do Contour

  10. Maria M.
    10/06/12 at 1:21

    What’s a Contour Fashion course? Can I take one too? How much does it cost? Where can I find them?

    Is there any other sort of courses you would recommend for learning to make bras?

    I would love to learn how to make my own bras and perhaps make some for my bustier friends for practice.

  11. 23/02/13 at 11:17

    This is fabulous, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us. I’m taking first steps in this sort of direction so I’ll be checking back for updates. Cheers!

    Bitz x

  12. 12/11/13 at 1:29

    Hello, I’m really curious about that three-point stitch machine. I need precisely that for my business and I was wondering if there are particular makes or models of that machine that you recommend. Or even the best channels to find used ones. Thanks thanks!! –Prima

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