Make My Boxerbriefs: The Sequel (Part 1)

I decided recently I wanted to make another batch of boxer briefs, as I had done before. Making underwear is a great way to use up the scraps of knit fabric lying around in your fabric stash, and get a result that fits great and is comfortable. In my case, I had also bought yardage specifically for the project, and I got some knit fabric at swap meets that would be perfect for the project.

But, the project has turned out to be a bit of an albatross. It’s become something of a UFO (un-finished project): I started it this past winter, put it aside because other projects and teaching commitments became a priority, and now I’m not feeling the enthusisam to finish. But, finish it I will because I firmly oppose UFOs.

But first, let’s talk about boxerbrief patterns.

The Thread Theory Comox Trunks

At school, I took the class “Sewing with Knits and Stretch Fabrics”. This short class covered various types of knit and stretch fabrics and how to sew them. After we sewed a basic set of stitch samples and very simple knit garment, we completed two major projects: a top (I chose a T-shirt from my Japanese pattern book) and a bottom.

I decided to give the Thread Theory Comox Trunks a try. My instructor tells me that I was the first student ever to sew men’s boxerbriefs as a class project; why was I not surprised?

The blue pair below was the one I submitted for a grade. I finished it in the classroom, using a twin needle stitch on a conventional sewing machine to finish the hems and attach the waistband. For the orange pair I used my coverstitch machine at home. The classroom had a coverstitch machine available but I was not in a hurry to use it. Coverstitch machines are difficult beasts to work with, and I didn’t want to learn what way the machine was going to ruin my project.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_20180808_123332-978x1024.jpg

On the conventional machine, to keep the hems from going wavy I basted them into place before sewing. The basting thread stabilized the fabric and prevented it from stretching as it went through the machine, which is what causes the waviness one often gets sewing knits on a conventional machine.

This was actually a fun pattern to sew. The fly has an opening which offered a fun opportunity to use the binding for a pop of color. But there are some things I don’t like about this pattern, and I definitely would not make it again as-is.

The legs are too short. This is clearly a subjective thing, but for a pair of trunks the legs were just too short for my taste. At least another inch, perhaps two, would go down the leg far enough so they don’t bunch up when you put on a pair of jeans.

The legs are too loose. They’re just a bit too big to sit securely on the legs, so again this contributes to fabric bunching up. Not comfortable.

Eventually, both these pairs found their way to the discard pile. Perhaps I could solve many of the problems by going a size down, but I was following the pattern measurements. There are other things I like about this pattern (mainly the construction of the fly, and the crotch panel gusset). So I am considering altering it to fix its problems, for reasons I’ll go into below.

The Freesewing.org “Bruce” boxerbrief

This pattern comes from the freesewing.org website. When I created this pattern a few years ago, the website was called makemypattern.org. Since then it has been renamed, updated with a slicker user experience, and has a wider range of patterns on offer. The appeal of this pattern (and indeed everything from freesewing.org) is that it is made to your measurements, and so it offers a nice fit.

I decided to simply re-use the pattern I had already made for myself and for the domestic partner. I cut out ten pairs for each of us, from various types of jersey knit. The partner unit liked the batch I made for him some time ago and his, like mine, had expired.

It was when I sat down to sew the problems presented themselves. I quickly noticed matching seams on the pattern are not the same length. The front and back side seams differ by about 5/8 inch. The crotch seam also differs by the same amount front to back. And a curved seam on the front panel also has pieces of unequal length.

A professional pattern maker, whether they work for retail clothing production or for the home sewist, checks the pattern pieces carefully to make sure matching seams that are sewn together are the same length. Unless, that is, there is a deliberate reason (such as a princess seam, where shaping is taking place) for them to be unequal length. In those cases, the pattern maker places notches at the start and end of the unequal area on both pattern pieces to tell the sewist how the pieces must be aligned. (This is one reason why you should pay attention to notches when sewing your projects!)

Generally, an error of more than 1/8 inch usually creates a problem for the sewist and causes problems in construction. (And I have found commercial patterns, both Big 4 and independent, that have these types of errors).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_20200706_180734-1024x768.jpg
The side piece is at least 5/8 inch shorter than the back piece, along the side seam.

Here, it looks like there is a glitch in the software algorithm that drives the pattern drafting. 5/8 inch is a really serious problem for a sewing pattern, especially one like a brief that doesn’t have long seams to absorb that much difference.

I don’t know how this got past me. I assumed since I had made the pattern once before, all was good. Either I didn’t notice this issue the first time around, or else I did and I didn’t think it was that big a deal and promptly forgot about it. Since I had already cut out 20 pairs of briefs, I decided to press ahead and hope for the best.

I made up for the differences by stretching the seams to match as I ran them through the serger. This worked out OK for the side seams, but for the curved seams it gets difficult to stretch the pieces while simultaneously running a curve through the machine. It gets especially difficult for some lightweight jersey knits that curl along the edges when you stretch them. So in some cases the seam came out a bit wonky, or there were open bits along the seam where the serger stitch didn’t catch both pieces of fabric. So I had to go back and clean those up. For an OCD perfectionist like me, it’s all pretty annoying.

I plan to go back to freesewing.org and run another pattern, to see if the glitches in the pattern draft have been resolved. I made this one a few years ago and there has been plenty of time for the site (and this pattern) to improve. If not, then I’ll have to make a decision which pattern I’d rather fix – the Thread Theory pattern or the Freesewing pattern. Or if I’d like to try making one of my own.

Next time

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_20200706_181046-1024x768.jpg

We’ll go through some construction steps with the coverstitch machine and view the finished project. See you then.

6 thoughts on “Make My Boxerbriefs: The Sequel (Part 1)

  1. Sandra

    This is the first time I’ve ever read a man discussing underpants ‘bunching up.’ Bunching is an issue I always battle when it comes to knickers. I thought it was because I essentially have no backside for fabric to “grab” onto to prevent bunching.

    Reply
    1. mportuesisf Post author

      It’s an issue right around the leg openings. If they ride up because they’re too loose for the thigh, all of that excess fabric has to collect somewhere. It’s an issue with jeans and other tighter-fitting pants. Once upon a time most guys wore briefs, but they have their own issues, namely leg bands that cut right into the crotch at the start of the leg.

      Reply
  2. SJ Kurtz

    Despite the fit issues, these look great. Your technique is great.

    Is there still a place on the Freesewing website for technical issues (which I think your mismatched pieces are a result of) and comments? I know they would love to know about it.
    My problem with underwear sewing is attaching the elastic band to the knit body. I screw it up ever time. Something about sewing through elastic to a knit is a fail for me. I need to practice more.

    Reply
    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Thanks for the compliment. No promises, but I’d like to make a video where I use the coverstitch to make the hems and attach the elastic band.

      Reply
  3. Lewis Wheeler

    Thanks for the blog, this was really interesting and a project I’d like to try some day. Sounds like the thread theory one would be the simple adjustment. Perhaps the shortness is for the look when they are not hidden by jeans though… :)

    Reply
    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Lewis, if you click through the link to the Thread Theory website you can get a good view of the jeans-less look.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *