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Best Books for Contour Fashion - Patternmaking for Intimates + Swimwear

Venturing into the world of crafting lingerie and swimwear is an exciting journey, but it's no walk in the park. Unlike the straightforward simplicity of a basic t-shirt, creating bras, undies, and bikinis demands a unique set of skills. What sets contour fashion apart? It's the intricate details like hook and eyes, underwire, boning, and elastics, coupled with the nuances of specialty fabrics such as lace, power mesh, tricot, silk, and satin. And let's face it, achieving that perfect fit, especially for all those curves, is no easy feat!

Graded pattern piece for a bra made in Clo3D software.

Generic pattern-making books won't cut it here; they’re a little too basic and don’t touch on what we need for body-skimming garments. So, where does one begin to unravel the mysteries of intimate and swimwear patternmaking? Allow me to share my top 7 patternmaking books for intimates and swimwear from my trusty library. I’ve referenced these books countless times during my 14+ years in the industry. Like me, each one will serve as an essential companion on your journey to mastering contour patterns. Let's dive in!

Book cover for lingerie design: a complete course by Pamela Powell

Discover the art of lingerie design with Pamela Powell's comprehensive book. Learn how to create stunning lingerie, sleepwear, and foundation garments from start to finish. Follow step-by-step instructions for drafting basic blocks and transforming them into various styles. Gain valuable insight into working with specialty fabrics like knits, power stretch, and bias-cut materials. 

In addition to patternmaking, this book delves into construction techniques exclusive to lingerie. Master the use of boning, elastic, and lace placement, as well as closures and hardware such as hook and eyes, rings, and sliders. Visual learners will appreciate the abundance of helpful photographs and diagrams throughout the book. I know they’ve helped me in a pinch!

Book cover for Bare Essentials Bras Construction and Pattern Drafting for Lingerie Design by Jennifer Lynne Matthews Fairbanks

Discover my go-to book series for lingerie patternmaking and construction. Each book in the Bare Essentials series is dedicated to a singular product category, which makes it perfect for technical designers and sewists specializing in a niche garment. 

Unlock the secrets of bra design with this comprehensive guide. You’ll learn how to create basic slopers, manipulate patterns into more complex designs, grade patterns, and construct bras using methods for elastics and stretch fabrics. It's a one-stop resource for all your bra-making needs.

Bare Essentials: Bras covers every type of bra imaginable! From bralettes to backless bras, strapless bras to nursing bras, front closures bras to mastectomy bras, and even asymmetrical designs - this book has a plethora of great info!

Perfect for both novice and experienced designers and sewists alike, the clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions make it easy to grasp even the most complex concepts. Plus, with included bra patterns ranging from sizes 30A through 40F, you'll have everything you need to bring your lingerie creations to life.

Book cover for Bare Essentials Underwear, Panties, and Knickers: Construction and Pattern Drafting for Lingerie Design by Jennifer Lynne Matthews Fairbanks

Another gem from the Bare Essentials series, this book is dedicated to the art of crafting panties. Similar to its counterpart mentioned above, it's a comprehensive guide covering fundamental panty patternmaking aspects such as creating basic slopers, intricate pattern manipulations, pattern grading, and construction techniques using elastics and stretch fabrics. It's truly your go-to manual for all things panties.

Bare Essentials: Underwear doesn't just stop at the basics; it briefs and boyshorts, which you can jazz up into bikinis or thongs if you're feeling extra adventurous.

Whether you're a newbie or a seasoned pro, the book's got your back (and your bum!) with its clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions. It's like having a lingerie guru whispering in your ear, guiding you through every stitch and seam.

Book cover for Patternmaking for Underwear Design by Dr. Kristina Shin

This book is a fan favorite of our 3D designer, Trudy. She references this book quite often to create patterns for our team. 

Dr. Kristina Shin's introduces common bra pattern-making techniques used across the industry and then dives into her own innovative approach called Shin’s method. This method introduces two intermediate block patterns crafted with Shin’s flat pattern-making concept. It's designed to empower novice pattern-makers to craft various bra designs with a commercial fit quality. Additionally, Dr. Shin also provides a bra grading method so that readers of all shapes and sizes who aren’t an industry standard 34B can adapt the patterns to fit their measurements.

Book cover for Vintage Lingerie: 30 Patterns Based on Period Garments Plus Finishing Techniques by Jill Salen

Attention all vintage enthusiasts and history buffs! Get ready to swoon over this gem of a book. With 30 meticulously crafted examples from 1850 to 1970, it's like stepping into a time machine of fabulousness. From 1920s French knickers to 1950s pin-up brassieres, Jill Salen covers it all – corsets, brassieres, girdles, petticoats, and beyond. Each piece comes complete with a full working pattern, photographs, drawings, and a historical overview of each piece. 

But wait, there's more! Salen doesn't stop at just showcasing these timeless pieces; she also provides two step-by-step projects to ignite the creativity of budding costume makers. Perfect for fashionistas and costume designers alike, it's a must-have for anyone aiming to capture the essence of a bygone era. Whether you're bringing historical accuracy to the stage or simply channeling your inner 1950s starlet, consider this book your ultimate guide.

Book cover for Pattern Cutting for Lingerie, Beachwear, and Lingerie by Ann Haggar

If you're on the hunt for a book that spills the beans on patterns and construction methods for both swimwear and lingerie, look no further! This book is your one-stop shop for all things contour fashion!

Ann Haggar doesn't just throw patterns your way; she breaks down the nitty-gritty of cutting methods, explaining the why behind the how so you can adapt these tricks to any situation. And let's be real, nobody wants their creations to scream "homemade" – fear not! This book is chock-full of insider tips to give your garments that polished, professional finish. You’ll also learn to consider how your choice of fabric and its properties will affect your pattern. 

This book's got everything from sassy thongs to chic tankinis, from flirty basques to supportive bustiers. Consider this your ultimate intimates and swimwear playbook.

Book cover for Sew Lingerie: Make Size Inclusive Bras, Panties, Swimwear, and More by Maddie Kulig

We couldn't resist including this gem. In fact, our very own Trudy lent her artistic touch to create the illustrations. This book isn’t exactly a pattern-making book, but it’s a great reference to ensure your pattern-making skills are on the right track and you’ve got the right construction down.

Inside, bra guru and designer Maddie Kulig from Madalynne Intimates teaches how to sew lingerie that shapes and supports your body. From delving into the history of lingerie to mastering various styles and fabrics, you'll be sewing confidently in no time. Get ready to explore every aspect of lingerie construction, from tweaking patterns to suit your body to solving those pesky sewing problems and picking the perfect fabric.

Highlighted box around book illustration credits to Trudy Gardner

Whether you're itching to whip up a comfy bralette or dive into a sultry bodysuit, this book has it all. With options ranging from 3 bralettes and 3 panties to 2 swimsuits, 1 underwire bra, 1 sports bralette, and 1 bodysuit, there's something to spark every sewing enthusiast's creativity.

Diving into the lingerie and swimwear patternmaking world demands more than a basic skill set. It's about understanding the nuances of materials, construction methods, and fit. Each book we've highlighted provides a unique perspective and essential guidance for anyone venturing into this intricate realm of contour fashion.

P.S. All of our links are from independent bookstores or publishers. If you can support small businesses versus Amazon, please do so.

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