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Lingerie School: The Little Black Lingerie Project

By Karolina

My first term of my ‘lingerie degree’ is beginning to draw to a close. It’s quite scary how time has flown by! A couple of weeks ago we began our first proper ‘design’ project: the ‘Little Black Lingerie Project.’ Up until now we’ve just been learning basic techniques so it’s almost like a test to see how much we’ve taken in.

(You may also like: The Story of a Bra in 8 Steps, pt. 1)

At the beginning of term we were lucky enough to visit the Snibston Discovery Museum, home to one of the world’s largest corset collections. As much as I wanted to spend the day staring at the gorgeous corsets, that wasn’t the aim of the trip! We were meant to choose a single inspiring object and create a sketchbook based around it. This sketchbook is now acting as our project’s inspiration.

We were put into pairs with the aim of creating a bra and pair of knickers as the end product. We began by choosing our inspirational images. The object I’d found myself most inspired by was a preserved ‘Death’s Head Hawkmoth.’ I was particularly interested in the shapes in its wings, especially the strong linear patterns.

I took charge of making and designing the bra whilst my partner decided to work on the knickers. I started out with sketching a few ideas before deciding on a strappy eyelash lace demi-bra.

The next stage in the design process was to begin modelling the bra on the stand. This involves marking out the shapes of the bra on a mannequin to create a bra pattern. These mannequins are specially made for lingerie design – they are an industry standard size of 34B/UK 12 and have specially placed seams to aid the design process.

(You may also like: The Story of a Bra in 8 Steps, pt. 2)

After plotting out the design with fashion tape, I then had to somehow transfer the designed pattern onto paper. This is done with calico, a cheap rigid fabric. It’s pinned and cut over the taped shapes and then has the pattern lines drawn on. These are then removed, trimmed off and traced onto paper.

Sounds simple? If only! Unfortunately the pattern pieces taken from the mannequin will rarely work together. Once on paper, these then have to have 6mm seam allowances added to the appropriate areas. They are then cut out and ‘walked’ around to see if they fit. Unfortunately they rarely do, so an arduous process of redrawing each piece with the appropriate modifications begins. This has to go on until the pattern at least works in theory with each piece fitting together in the ‘walking’ process!

(You may also like: What Everybody Should Know About the Difference Between Real Corsets and Fake Corsets)

Unfortunately, even with a pattern that fits together perfectly, a garment may still not work. This is why toiling is always necessary. Toiling is a process in which either parts of or a whole garment are made up to test the fit. You’ll rarely use the fabrics for your final design in the toile, as these are often too expensive! Instead you’ll use cheaper ones with similar properties. Here’s a picture of my toile – using a cheap white rigid lace instead of my more costly eyelash one.

I’m very glad I finished this toile – I managed to identify lots of issues with my pattern and construction that I simply wouldn’t have been able to resolve if I’d launched straight into my final bra. Small things like seam finishes and elastic tension can make a huge difference on something so small.

(You may also like: The Look for Less: The View from the Designer)

So here is my final garment in all its glory – I’m actually very pleased with how it’s turned out considering that this was the first pattern I’d made all by myself! Unfortunately I’m nowhere near the end of this project. There are still lots of elements that you wouldn’t necessarily consider a part of the design process – highly detailed technical drawings, specification sheets, and so forth – that aren’t nearly as exciting as creating actual garments….

Readers: What do you think of this design process? Is it simpler than you’d imagined or could you see yourself tackling it?

Karolina Laskowska

Lingerie designer. Spends most of her time sewing bras and getting excited by chantilly lace.

14 Comments on this post

  1. Anna says:

    Hi, i know this is an old post but I’m wondering if you have any information on lingerie courses in New York. I’ve seen two but they are only offered as part of a design bachelors degree Any help from you or any contacts you have in NY would be so appreciated!

  2. scarlet says:

    Where did you take the lingerie design course? Also, could you please recommend a reputable place that may offer summer courses in lingerie design…anywhere. Thank you very much.

    • Devii says:

      Scarlet I’m currently looking for any lingerie design summer courses as well! Check out Milan fashion campus and the university of the arts-London. Those are the two I’ve found so far. Email me if you’d like: [email protected]

  3. Nene says:

    I love your piece! Different and beautiful.

  4. Amaryllis says:

    That’s really pretty! I can see why you would need the seam on the lace – how about extending the line upwards to attach onto the strap above though? Then there’s some continuity that might be more pleasing on the eye than an abrupt stop, and a continuation of the strappy theme… just a thought from my perspective!

    I’m really enjoying reading these posts, I make all my patterns in fabric because I could never get curves to work properly on paper. It’s fascinating to read about the proper way of doing it!

  5. Valentina says:

    Love love love reading about your progress! Please keep writing about your course, even as projects and deadlines build up. The bra is really pretty, well done for a fantastic first bra! x

  6. Karolina says:

    The Lingerie Lesbian – thank you so much! I’m sure we’ll be tackling patterned fabrics at some point :)

    Ana – I’m afraid that technically we haven’t yet learned how to sew underwires and weren’t really expected to for the project. Also with the seam on the lace I could really think of a way to avoid it – there needs to be a seam there so that the lace curves properly otherwise it doesn’t sit properly (not that you can particularly see it in the photo!). I’m sure once I get the hang of grading I’ll be able to manage a 26FF ;)

  7. Ana says:

    Not bad for a first at all! Although I personally would have used underwires and would also have tried to find an alternative for the harsh seam on the lace (maybe place it on the opaque part of the bra?). If you ever make one in a 26FF let me know :P

  8. Trueing is the process of both walking and correcting the pattern in US fashion language. Using a dress form and a calico fabric, which we call muslin, to create the pattern is called “draping” here.

  9. Ooh, lovely. I like how clear your signature style shines through. It would be lovely to see you work with patterned fabric also.

  10. Karolina says:

    Robert – thank you so much!

    Marianne -34B, industry standard size! Bit big for my back sadly :( In all fairness my sketches were done over a body template so that I could work out where to place everything… I have such trouble with drawing things in proportion! I can’t say I’ve heard the term trueing before, I assume that’s the American equivelant of modelling on the stand? To be honest I wish I’d just done this flat on paper because I’m not 100% happy with the fit… But at the same time I’m not entirely cocmfortable with flat pattern drafting either so this would’ve probably ended up looking like the ”medium support bra’ we did earlier!
    Yes they’re contoured mannequins – I hate standard mannequins, I have one but it’s absolutely useless for anything lingerie related. Saving up for a contour mannequin but god they’re pricey :(

  11. Sooo Karolina… what size is that bra? :)
    Your sketches are so tidy! I’m impressed. They don’t really do the final piece justice though.
    The trueing process is a big part of why I don’t enjoy draping (compared to flat pattern drafting). If i’m going to have to do that much work trueing it on paper anyway, I’d rather just start on paper! Obviously that’s not always feasible, though.
    I take it you use contoured mannequins? The unreality of standard mannequins is another reason I don’t like draping – the form is too inaccurate to drape on, with their blended busts and asses, and broad ribs.

  12. Gigi says:

    Gorgeous bra Karolina! I want one! ;)

  13. Robert says:

    I’ve always been fascinated with lingerie! I’ve done some research on my own,and never realize all the hard work involved in the designing of a bra.. You’ve done a fabulous job!
    This bra is very sexy in design,It looks like it offers great lift,shape and support.. Most important,i think it would be a very comfortable bra to wear…Thanks!

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