In North America alone, close to 20 billion sanitary napkins, tampons and applicators are sent to landfills every year. Here at Spoonflower, we spend a lot of time thinking about how we can use our skill and talent as sewists to make small changes towards more sustainable living that have the potential to make a big impact. Many of us have vowed to cut back on our paper towel use, opted for fabric produce bags instead of plastic ones, and wrapped up our leftovers with DIY reusable food wraps, but what about period products?
Spoonflower Ambassador Rumana opened up recently on Instagram about her experience switching from disposable products to menstrual cups and period pants. As soon as we read it, we knew we had to get her on our blog to share more about how sewists can make their own period underwear, which is traditionally a pretty expensive item to purchase in retail. She took on the task of sourcing the best materials and finding the smartest methods to create your own that not only provide practical, reliable protection, but look stylish, too.
Rumana: Like a lot of people, I’ve tried to make changes in my day-to-day life that are more environmentally friendly. One of the biggest (and probably the best) changes I’ve made was changing to reusable period products.
Not only have I drastically reduced my waste during that time of the month, but I’ve also found it so much more practical than the traditional pads or tampons. Now, this didn’t come without a bit of trial and error and I’ve written some blog posts about my experiences of specific products. For me, I found the perfect combination was the menstrual cup and period pants. I use the period pants for lighter days/night-time or just as a “backup” to the cup (instead of a liner). I found these so much more comfortable than reusable sanitary pads.
But the biggest holdback for reusable period underwear is that they can be pretty expensive and let’s be honest, a bit boring in style! Depending on how heavy your periods are (and how you plan to use the pants) you might need a whole week’s worth or more. This is where being able to sew helps. Luckily, period underpants are actually not that hard to make yourself!
I used some lovely prints from Spoonflower (in Cotton Spandex Jersey) to bring a little more fun and personality to my period wear. I love them so much, I’m planning to make a whole set for me to use! I used the Fill-A-Yard horizontal split yard template to get two prints per yard.
Today I’m going to show you how to hack any underwear sewing pattern to make your own period wear. All you need is a sewing pattern for underwear (I’m using the free Stevie Knickers pattern from Paper Theory) and some specialist materials for the gusset.
How To Make Your Own Reusable Period Underwear
There are lots of materials out there that can be used for period underwear. The three main elements for the gusset, the piece that sits at the bottom, are:
- Top layer: This goes against the skin, so it’s best to go for a cotton jersey material. You’ll also want to choose a darker color for this so you don’t get obvious stains.
- Inner layer: The business layer! There are lots of different options for this and it depends on how absorbent you need it to be. Some people opt for natural fibers e.g. layers of quilted bamboo jersey/wadding. Or you can go for something like Zorb, a specialist fabric made to absorb lots of liquid, and quickly! This is often used in reusable nappies for babies.
- Outer layer: This is the waterproof layer that will sit on the outside against your clothes, which is why you need it to be waterproof! Again, there’s lots of options for these, but most are polyurethane (PUL) covered.
Now, that’s a lot of layers, and it’s completely up to you what you use, but I wanted something that wasn’t too bulky to wear under my clothes and also fuss free to sew up.
I went with the Zorb 4D Organic cotton dimple fabric which has all three of those layers already built in (great for lazy sewing!). The fabric is thick (as you’d expect) so be sure to test your machine with it—I found my serger was happy to stitch through it but did not want to be cut with the blade.
Anyway, enough about fabrics and onto the pattern hacking!
1. Mark the Stitch Lines
Take your pattern pieces and mark out the seam allowance for the stitch line, the line where the fabric will be stitched together. For this pattern I’m sewing 1/2″ (1 cm) from the edge. I also folded the pattern in half to find the center of the pattern pieces and marked this to help me line things up in the next step.
2. Tape the Pattern
Match your pattern front to the front of the gusset along the stitch lines, then tape the pattern piece down. Repeat for the back piece so you have one giant pant pattern piece!
3. Draft a Custom Gusset Piece
Now mark your new gusset lines (shown in red below). With period pants you want to have good coverage on the front and back— this might vary on preference, your own individual anatomy, and how you plan to use it (e.g. if you want to wear it at night you might want more coverage across the back). Most people suggest adding between 1-2.5″ (3-6 cm) extra. Draw new curves for your extended gusset piece. Cut along these lines to make your new pattern.
4. Add Seam Allowance
Tape your new pattern pieces to some scrap paper and add back the 1/2″ (1 cm) seam allowance. You’ll need to do this for the front and back pieces as well (only the gusset piece is shown here).
5. Cut Your Fabric Pieces
Cut your pattern pieces out of the fabric. If you’re using different fabrics for all the layers of the gusset then make sure you cut the gusset out in each of these. Since I’m using the Zorb 4D fabric, I only had to cut this out once.
You can then follow the sewing instructions that your pattern provides, with a little help from my tips below for gusset construction.
Tips for Sewing Reusable Period Underwear
1. Finish the Gusset Edges
Overlock/serge the edges of the gusset before you construct the underwear, this will help to flatten all those layers and make it easier to sew through. I also found it stopped my Zorb fabric from shedding everywhere!
2. Sew with Right Sides Together
If you’re finding your gusset seams are getting bulky, you might want to skip out on the “burrito” style most underwear patterns recommend. This is where you sandwich the gusset and other pieces together to hide the seams. However, that works best when there isn’t many layers to work with. Instead, sew the gusset as you would for normal sewing, right sides together. Then topstitch the seam towards the front and back pieces, and flatten the seam out of the way (I actually took inspiration from looking at how my ready-to-wear period underwear are sewn!).
3. Avoid Pins
Don’t use pins when holding your gusset in place—you don’t want to make tiny holes in the waterproof layer! Use quilting clips instead (you can find these at any sewing supplies store). If you’re using fold-over-elastic (FOE) for the binding of the legs, you might want to use a slightly wider type for these as you’ll need the extra width to bind the thicker gusset.
Now that you’ve learned Rumana’s tips and tricks for making your own period underwear, take a deeper dive on how to choose the right elastic for your undergarments with Meghann Halfmoon of Halfmoon Atelier.
Rumana is a doctor from London who uses sewing & crafts to unwind and destress after a long day. She shares her passion for crafting through her Instagram and blog, The Little Pomegranate, and is also a campaigner for increased diversity within the sewing and craft communities.