Boxerbriefs Progress Report

Time for a report on the boxerbriefs project.

Truth be told, this may be a project where I have bitten off more I can chew. I’m making a total of 20 pair assembly-line style, which means a lot of repetitive work, and each step takes a long time. Plus, it’s been several months ssince I began this project, and my enthusiasm has defintely evaporated since the project began. But, I don’t like UFO projects and so finish this I will.


Restarting the project, the first order of business was to join fronts to backs, easily done on the serger. The next step, hemming, is a real chore for me even doing just one pair; 20 was just too much to contemplate!

I had intended to do the hems on the coverstitch machine. But when I brought out the coverstitch machine for cleaning and lubrication, I discovered the looper arm was out of adjustment; at the top of its travel it was making contact with the needles and bending them past vertical.

Clearly something was out of adjustment; I took the machine to a local repair shop. The next part is my mistake; I didn’t check the machine out as soon as it got home. Instead, after procrastinating for three weeks I threaded the machine and discovered the shop hadn’t fixed the problem at all. I don’t know what happened here; I thought I had explained the issue to the repair person, but in the days of COVID where you have to remain six feet away while having a conversation, perhaps something was lost. It’s a bit late now to go back to the shop and claim there is still a problem.

Anyway. I decided to hem using a twin needle on the conventional machine, using wooly nylon. I don’t like twin needle hems in knits not because they don’t look nice (they do), but because I’ve had problems with popped stitches. My hope is that with the added stretch of wooly nylon I can avoid those sorts of problems.

Prepping the hems

First, I turned up the edges 5/8 inch as the pattern called for. I use a sewing gauge constantly to make sure the measurement is as even and consistent as possible, then pinned the hems in place.

Once the hems on all 20 pair were folded, I pressed the hems with the iron to stabilize them. Since jersey knits don’t keep a finger press well and tend to curl at the edges towards the right side of the fabric, I actually kept the pins in place while I ironed. This has resulted in some pin impressions here and there, but honestly this is underwear we’re talking about. (Make sure your pins do not have plastic heads if you try this).

Wooly Nylon

Generally, when you use wooly nylon on a conventional machine it goes in the bobbin. I’ve seen lots of recommendations to wind the bobbin by hand, and not to stretch the thread while winding – the thread should be just taut enough to accumulate on the spool, but not so taut that the thread is stretched on the bobbin. But, I followed this YouTube video for loading the bobbin using the bobbin winder. The trick is to hold the thread lightly with your fingertips as the bobbin winder runs, and give it just enough tension to keep the thread winding smoothly on the bobbin.

The Twin Needle

I used a 4.0 millimeter wide jersey (ball-point) twin needle to sew the hems. My sewing machine requires I set a special “twin needle” mode in order to sew with it. I’m not sure what that does, but the manual does say the machine sews slower in twin needle mode. (I suspect it also prevents you from damaging the machine by attempting a too-wide zig-zag stitch). Also, the manual has specific guidelines on threading; if you’re using a twin needle it’s worth carefully checking the manual for your machine.

I made test stitches on some scraps of fabric, lowering the top tension a few notches in order to lessen the “tunnelling” effect one often gets with the twin needle on knits. A “tunnel” is where the fabric bunches up, forming a ridge in between the two lines of stitching. I also lengthened the stitch to about 3.0, again in the hopes of making a stitch that won’t pop when the garment is worn.

Finally, I pinned each hem perpendicular to the hem in order to stabilize the fold as it went through the machine. The hem is sewn with the turnup facing the feed dogs.

I stitched the hem at 1/2″; this places both lines of stitching just at the raw edge of the turned-up hem. I cheat and mark the 1/2″ allowance with a line of tape on my machine; the added precision really helps to keep the stitch line up perfectly with the raw edge.

Removable tape is a great sewing hack for consistent seam and hem allowances.

I overlapped for a stitch or two or three, then I drew the threads to the inside with a hand needle and tied them off.

The hem overlaps very slightly at the end of the stitch.
Front and back sides of the twin needle hem. The back side shows the zig-zag of the wooly nylon thread alternating between the parallel lines of stitching.

Presser Foot Adjustments

Many/most sewing machines have an adjustment for the amount of pressure exerted by the presser foot. A common hazard with sewing knits on a conventional machine are “wavy” seams and hems. Knit fabric is stretched out as it runs through the feed dogs. The pressure from the presser foot “squashes” the fabric, and the stitch helps set the waviness into the fabric. By lowering the pressure a bit, the fabric is stretched less and the stitch comes out flatter and more even.

My boxerbriefs use several types of knit I pulled from my stash. Lowering the presser foot pressure worked well for most knits, but for the thicker blueberry interlock knit in the photo above it actually caused problems. Without the extra pressure, the heavier layers of this knit actually shifted, causing the fabric to mis-feed. I had to stop and correct some jammed stitches before I had restored enough pressure to keep the problem from happening. The hems came out a bit wavy (as you can see in the photo above) but I hope it will improve a bit after it goes through the wash. We’ll see.

Next Time

Waistbands; the final frontier.

5 thoughts on “Boxerbriefs Progress Report

  1. MadebyMeg

    Oh my! I confirmed that I HATE batch sewing when I made about 49 face masks earlier this year. I feel your pain! Good luck :)

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Yeah, I’m with you on batch-sewing face masks. I think I sewed around 75 total and then couldn’t cope any more. I do plan to sew more but not in big numbers.

  2. SJ Kurtz

    I have all these problems (except the excessive number of boxers to make). Bless you for the tutorial link for bobbin filling. I am not in love with the coverstitch I have, and I really can’t see keeping it (except that it weighs a ton and shipping it out of the country to the person that wants it is just not happening). So the twin needle issue, which you have SOLVED FOR ME.

    As a (cough cough) professional hem sewer, I always iron over those pins, so I don’t have to sew over them. The pin head marks come out (and I do test first).

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      I’m not in love with my coverstitch machine either. I can’t justify paying for another repair considering its replacement cost. I looked into adjusting it myself, then discovered the procedure requires a special measuring tool that costs $150-$180 – obviously something only a service shop would consider purchasing. I’m trying to decide how much I like twin-needle hems.

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