Disclaimer: this post contains frank discussion of feminine hygiene, menstruation and blood products. If you are squeamish about this topic, please scroll on, this is not the post for you.
I am thrilled to have my friend, Erin Beauchamp as the guest blogger today. She will be discussing the construction and use of period panties as a feminine hygiene option. If you aren’t familiar, period panties have an absorbent lining built into the underwear designed intended to trap blood products and wick them away from the skin. You can wear them for 8-10 hours at a time, and they look like just like regular underwear. They do not have a separate pad. It is a great option for menstruation or postpartum care. I’ll let Erin tell you all about it….
After my youngest son was born a few years ago, my periods became so heavy that I needed a back-up for my back-up. I was running to the bathroom at least every hour. A post-partum hospital grade pad was about the only thing that was practical for nighttime.
Things become desperate, so I sought after some waterproof underwear to contain the potential for embarrassment. I happened across the period undies from Thinx. At $34 a pop, I took a big, desperate leap of faith and ordered a few pairs, despite the fact that I have been committed to self-sewing my entire wardrobe for ethical and environmental reasons for at least five years.
I had read that Thinx runs a little small, so I ordered a larger size than I normally would have and found they were even a bit too small. However, they did the job and contained otherwise disastrous leaks, albeit with constant wedgies and sliding too low off my ample butt.
Every month for about two years I contemplated how I could make these myself and get a better fit, while still having the necessary absorbency and waterproofing without that crunchy toddler toilet training waterproof underwear sound to give me away.
Enter the Self-Sewn Wardrobe with Mallory Donohue Facebook group. The group often discusses Mallory’s podcast, the Self Sewn Wardrobe. I’ve been an active, contributing member of the group for about nine months now and it has changed my sewing forever. Mallory runs live broadcasts (and records those as podcasts) two to three times per week in the group, giving fantastic sewing advice, answering questions, and presenting challenges for us members to create our self-sewn wardrobes. Mallory and her mom, Zede produce another awesome podcast called Sewing Out Loud, which I highly recommend as well. (You can find both podcasts on several platforms like iTune, Castbox or Zede and Mallory’s site at no cost)
The Self-Sewn Wardrobe challenge for August was underwear. At first, I didn’t think I would participate in this challenge, as I didn’t need any more regular undies, but then my dear friend Aunt Flo came to visit, and I remembered the monthly debate I have with myself about the Thinx.
I posted a question to the SSW Facebook group asking for input and ideas on sewing these up for myself. The discussion sparked some controversy, but I didn’t know that there would be several group members well-versed in making period underwear already! I was immediately pointed toward charcoal bamboo fleece or Zorb as absorbent layers, athletic wicking jersey (AWJ), aka “quick dry” as inside lining, and PUL cloth diaper fabric as a waterproof layer. PUL is relatively soft and quiet, but waterproof. In this conversation, a lovely group member named Aisling coined the name Flowz for the self-sewn version of Thinx. She says that the greater the absorbency level, the more z’s you should add to the end!
I blindly ordered a yard each of original Zorb and stretch PUL from Wazoodle.com, and they were in my hands three days later.
In the mean time, I obtained a Russel Athletic brand quick dry shirt in a men’s XXL from Walmart to cut up for the lining layer.
I layered the three products together and experimented with a cup of water. At first, I poured a teaspoon or so on and it instantly disappeared into the layers. The athletic wicking jersey didn’t even look or feel damp! I poured a little more, then a bit more with the same result. Finally, I just dumped the whole cup of water on it and the Zorb not only sucked it up, but it didn’t even drip when I held it up! I was so impressed with this experiment that I recorded and shared a video of it in the SSW group. I couldn’t wait to get started on the project now that I had so much confidence in their absorbency. These were going to be Flowz with lots of z’s!
I drafted my pattern by examining the construction of my existing Thinx and some regular undies that fit well. I mashed the two together with much paper cutting, taping, and redrawing of seam lines until I was satisfied. I made sure that the Flowzzz would cup under my saggy butt and that the back rise was sufficiently high to cover up to a comfortable point for me. What I ended up with was two pattern pieces: a CENTER PANEL that runs from the front waist, through the crotch, all the way to the back waist and a SIDE PANEL (cut one left, one right).
I cut the center panel out of PUL, Zorb, and AWJ, and the side panels from a thin mystery stretch fabric from my stash (I think it was a poly/nylon blend). Layering the three center panels together, I “tried on” the underwear sandwich just by holding it up in front and back. I decided that running the Zorb all the way to the waistbands was going to feel too awkward and bulky for my taste, so I trimmed it down a bit at the front and back, leaving it only the rough dimensions of a super plus pad. I zigzag stitched the ends of the Zorb to the AWJ layer at the points where they met and tested it out. I wasn’t happy with how shifty it felt, so I eventually stitched through all three layers to join the Zorb in place. This left me with a little potential leak site where the needle penetrated the PUL, so I learned that if you hit it with some steam from your iron (hover, don’t touch the iron to it!), it slightly melts the PUL and closes up the needle marks. Popping it in the dryer for a few minutes works, too, but only a short time.
Next, I basted all the center layers together around the leg opening curve to keep things tidy. This was a shifty business and tough to keep the layers from rippling. Next time I do this, I’ll try a walking foot.
After basting, I serged the side panels to the center panel on the front and back (if you don’t have access to a serger, you can use a zig zag stitch). Then I found some fun fold over elastic from my stash to finish the waistband and leg openings. While I chose all black materials (except apparently the Zorb, which is on the inside anyway), I selected contrasting elastic, so I could more easily locate them in the laundry (more on laundering them in a moment.) Mallory recommended stretching your elastic more around the back of the leg opening than in the front, which worked well for this (except on the pair where I reversed that. Oops!). I zigzagged the fold over elastic in place and VOILA! Finished Flowzzz!
I made only one test pair at first. Then after Aunt Flo showed up, I couldn’t make more fast enough. I even tried free-flowing with my Flowzzz (i.e., no pad, tampon, cup, or other protection) and I was impressed at their absorbency. Since my flow is somewhat akin to that of Niagara Falls, I prefer to use my Flowzzz as the back up for regular days. If you have a more typical flow in which you don’t bleed a river, you might be pleased to save the environment a little and rock just some self-sewn Flowzzz. They are perfect for the beginning and end days of my cycle to use on their own, though.
As for laundering these, I recommend a quick sink or laundry tub rinse in cold water as soon as you take them off to remove the majority of the menstrual flow. Then hang them up to dry until you’re ready to run a load of laundry. At that point, I just toss them in the machine with my regular dark load on cold. When I switch the rest of load to the dryer, I remove and hang dry my Flowzzz. This is where the contrasting elastic helps so I don’t forget them! Back when I was first using Thinx and caring for them this way, I would hang dry in my laundry room, which is in the basement level of our house. I found that it might take two whole days to hang dry due to the humidity level and the waterproof layer, so I started taking them to my upstairs bedroom to hang dry, and I find that they are dry by the next morning this way.
I’m thrilled with my Flowzzz. I hope I’ve inspired a few folks out there to give them a try, too. I’d also like to add that care of our bodies during menstruation is a very personal decision. I’ve been courageous to have written and shared this post with the entire world. I ask that you are please kind, thoughtful, and respectful with your comments. Body shaming, insults, and other unkind comments are not tolerated.
Guest blogger, Erin Beauchamp has been sewing for more than 28 years. She worked as a professional seamstress in her family’s upholstery shop during college and graduate school. Erin has an almost exclusively self-sewn wardrobe now. In addition to her day job, Erin does custom sewing and alterations and gives private sewing and knitting lessons from her home in Virginia. She has coached three grand prize champion Original Sewing Expo Sewing’s Next Generation contest winners over the last four years. Her sewing tips have been published twice in Threads Magazine. She is a part of The Monthly Stitch sewing blog collective, The Self-Sewn Wardrobe with Mallory Donohue, and used to blog as Vint Hill Vintage. You can find her vintage sewing patterns and her knitting pattern designs on Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/vinthill. You can find Erin on Ravelry as Vint Hill Knits.