My projects,  Sewing

Finnish underwear at the turn of the 20th century – part 1: Drawers and my hand-crank Singer 12

There are several patterns for Victorian and Edwardian underwear. However, I wondered what kind of garments Finnish women were sewing during the time period. I managed to find a wonderful old book C. H. Lydecken’s Tyttöjen käsitöiden johtamisen ohjeita kansakouluja varten (“Instructions on leading girls’ handicrafts at elementary schools”) from the year 1892. It contains miniature patterns and pattern drawing instructions for basic articles of clothing such as shirts, drawers and dress bodices. I used it to draft a pattern for these pretty drawers. I then went and sewed them using a genuine hand-crank Singer from 1877.

Drafting the pattern for the drawers

Tyttöjen käsitöiden johtamisen ohjeita

The book contains instructions for two different drawers and I chose the first pattern for closed drawers as I’m not yet comfortable with the idea of the open drawers.

I made a toile out of some old sheets and found out that they were very roomy at the… well… butt. They reached below my knees and were not very pretty.

Lowering the back of the drawers.

However, I took out a lot of height from the back and shortened the drawers to a length that I have seen Edwardian women wearing in many pictures online. I also split the pattern in two and added width to the hem while taking out some extra width from the waist. This made the drawers more skirt-like.

Shortening and adjusting the width.

My hand-crank Singer 12 (K)

Sewing on insertion lace with my Singer 12 hand-crank machine.

I bought this sewing machine during Easter. I felt so lucky having found it in such a good shape and in perfect working order. It even had a huge pile of different feet and accessories included in the “secret compartment” under the wooden case.

Singer 12 feet and attachments.

The serial number (next to the stitch length adjustment knob) points to the year 1877, so this lady is old. Some of the decals are a bit worn and the wooden base and the bentwood case have been painted red at some point. Otherwise, it was in great condition (and I actually love the red!). After oiling it, it was good to go.

Singer 12 was originally called Singer New Family and it came out in 1856. It soon became available in the UK with a name Singer 12 K. It was the first high volume mass-produced sewing machine according to Singer Sewing Info. The curvy base got the name “fiddle base” because of its characteristic curves. The model was so popular that it stayed in production for 40 years.

Compared to newer sewing machines Singer 12 is tiny. It’s the first thing that I remember thinking when I first saw it in real life. It has a long bobbin that looks like this:

Singer 12 (K) bobbin.

The bobbin-wounder otherwise works nicely but I couldn’t make the thread guiding part work right. So, I have got used to guiding the thread onto the bobbin with my left hand while my right uses the crank.

It took me a while to figure out how to thread the shuttle bobbing case. It doesn’t have a screw to adjust the tension. Instead, the thread is woven in and out a series of holes which creates the tension.

The Shuttle bobbin system of Singer 12 K.

The full bobbin then is inserted into a shuttle that moves back and forth underneath the needle.

Singer 12 only sews straight stitches and doesn’t go backwards. Compared to modern machines, sewing is slow but the stitches look the same. The machine has only one feed dog, so sometimes it causes some difficulty to a sewist that is used to two feed dogs that modern machines have. Mostly you’ll notice this when sewing over a bulky seam where all the bulk is on the right-hand side.

Sewing the drawers

The first thing to do was to add the insertion lace. I pinned the lace onto the fabric and sewed close to the edge. Then I cut out the fabric underneath the lace and pressed the seam allowances out. Another row of straight stitches holds the seam allowances in place and keeps them from unravelling.

Finishing the lace insertion.

I decided on French seams that are easy to make even with this old machine of mine. Then I made a slit to the left-hand side and finished it with bias tape. After that, I gathered the waist and attached a waistband. For the gathering, I used the longest stitch length to sew two rows and then pulled the bobbin threads to gather.

As I was now following 19th century sewing instructions, I made my buttonhole by hand. However, I still had to go with a plastic button since I didn’t have a better one that would have suited the drawers.

Hand-made buttonhole.

To add more femininity I splurged on this lovely lace at Inkuri. It is polyester but it feels super soft and thus it suits well for underwear even though the material isn’t historical. I first joined the ends of the lace strips and then gathered them to the cuffs. I finished the seam with bias tape that covers the raw edges. Finally, I added another strip of narrow cotton lace above the cuffs.

A lace cuff detail.

Now to those scandalous pictures of me in my underwear, like I promised.

The finished pair of drawers

These came out almost exactly as I imagined and I am happy! The fit is very nice. I know that they are not meant to be worn together with a corset cover but bear with me as I don’t have a short chemisette to work as a top.

A front view of the finished pair of drawers.

The back is still loose enough even with me taking a big wedge of the height.

A back view of the drawers.

The drawers close with a slit at the left-hand side:

A side back view of the drawers showing the slit at the left-hand side.

The next post in this series will feature the chemise that I made using instructions from the same 1892 book. Again, I use only my hand-crank Singer!

I hope you liked this post and do subscribe so that you don’t miss any new posts! Happy sewing!


I am a mother of two. I sew, knit and create and blog about it.


  • Kim Corbi

    You are wonderful. I just love all of your projects. You look as though you have stepped into a different time, it’s just great, I am enjoying the trip. Best of all what a memory you brought forward for me. I learned to sew on that same Singer machine and it was a real trip down memory lane seeing the bobbin and things that I had long forgotten. Thank you so much.

  • PatB

    Another lovely fun post. I too am amazed at the diversity of your enthusiasm and skill with wonderful results. I learned to sew as a child on the family Singer Treadle machine and remember the rhythm of the feet and hands and the accomplishment of making clothes. My Father used the same machine for Upholstery, even leather. My Mother sewed and repaired our clothes. I was the only one of 5 children to use the sewing machine. In this time of “stay safe at home”. I am so grateful I am never bored, always thinking, or making, adjusting or checking out blogs and Instagram.

    • kk

      Yeah, I can really never get bored. There is so much to discover! Well, I do get those ”nothing inspires me moods” but I usually use them to do mending and to fix old projects.

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