Sew Over/Under: Diabetic Dilemmas

When I first saw this #SewOverUnder theme, I immediately thought of the project that has been flirting around in my mind for the last year. Okay, maybe even longer, but I am too ashamed to admit how long I have been putting it off!

The Dilemma:

You see, I am a diabetic who wears an insulin pump. If you don’t already know, an insulin pump is a little device that is attached to the body and works like an intravenous drip, delivering insulin as needed to the body. It has a port that is about the size of a nickel that attaches to your body (usually in the stomach area), and a very fine plastic hose runs from the port to a small case (about the size of a tiny flip phone). That case holds enough insulin to last a few days, a battery, and a screen that gives you status updates and lets you give yourself insulin when you need to. It works like an artificial pancreas. My kids have dubbed mine the ‘Exo-Panc’.

Image of an insulin pump, a black box  about the size of a tiny flip phone with a long, thin clear tube that ends in a clear-plastic port that connects to the body.
The ‘Exo-Panc’

 I love my pump!! It helps me stay in control of my diabetic numbers and saves me from having to give myself many painful shots every day. I am not ashamed to wear it or to let people see it, but sometimes there just is not a convenient place to stash it. The dilemma is that it needs to be accessible when sitting down to a meal in a restaurant, walking around at an event, or any time I eat or drink anything that contains carbohydrates (carb counts are what determines the amount of insulin needed). Since ADD is a concurrent theme in my life, I likely will not remember to go to the restroom and give myself insulin. (This is just a fact of life, so why not factor it in instead of making life harder for myself?) For me personally, the pump needs to be easily accessible at the time I am thinking about it.

When I’m wearing a skirt or pants that have pockets, the pump can easily just drop right into the pocket. Dresses are easier if they have sturdy pockets, but I still need to create a small slit inside the pocket so the tube can go from my abdomen to the pocket without having to loop the tubing down around the hem of the garment, pulling the hem all askew. Some women wear them in their bras (little pockets or clips in the center), wear a garter on their thigh that has a pocket to hide the pump in, or even just tuck it into their undies. The garter is hot and constricting, in my opinion, and I really would only wear if it were the only option available. Back in the day when I could wear a skin-tight dress (WAS there ever such a day?!), this would have been the only option, but I haven’t had to worry about that in a very long time. Hope springs eternal, but that is another problem altogether. In the bra, it is just uncomfortable to me, and if you are in public, pulling something the size of a pager out of your bra or panties is usually considered a bit déclassée. ;-/)

Nowadays, I like to wear loose tunics that aren’t constricting. I wear lots of yoga pants and leggings because I inherited my mom’s bottom, which isn’t really good at holding trousers up, since it is flat as a pancake! Leggings are very comfortable, and they don’t give me SPS (Saggy Pant Syndrome — yes, I did make that up). You can sometimes find leggings with side cargo-like pockets, but they are usually made from spandex in order to be able to support the weight of whatever you are carrying (HOT in summer!). Cotton knits are not usually heavy enough to support repeated use of a cell phone or pump without sagging or tearing the fabric.

My Solution:

Yes, finally, I am getting to the point of this post!!

I want to have an undergarment that will hold my pump in a position toward the hem of my tunic, so it can easily and surreptitiously be accessed without a major production. The garment needs to be sturdy enough to hold the weight of the pump, lightweight enough to wear without causing heatstroke in the summer, and thin enough not to add bulk under clothing. The fabric needs to be silky, so that the outer garment will fall smoothly over the pump pouch. (I’d also like to find a million dollars when I look inside, but even a dollar bill would thrill me!)

Lately, I am really into upcycled clothing, so I started thinking about a men’s shirt that I had seen at Goodwill. It was one of those moisture-wicking shirts that are so expensive. The fabric is usually thin, and some of them show every love handle and bulge, which is not always popular. I know several big guys that hate these, and guess what happens to them? After a year of not wearing the thoughtful gift she gave her husband, the dutiful and philanthropic wife (of course, I’m talking about a friend and not myself! ;-/) finally donates it to Goodwill with the tags still on it! For a couple of dollars, depending on the discount tag of the week, it’s all mine!

I actually bought 2 different shirts because I am making a half-slip out of the smaller shirt and a full slip out of the larger one.

Image of a men's black T-shirt and a men's dark blue tank top.
Goodwill Finds

Here is a simple pattern that I made up for the front of the larger shirt. (The back will have a higher neck opening.) I wear lots of A-lines, so I like my undergarments to be shaped the same way. If you don’t want to fly by the seat of your pants, there are several tank patterns out there that would work just fine by lengthening them. You can also adapt an undergarment you already have, using the same technique, and matching or similar fabrics.

Image of a men's black T-shirt with the pattern for an A-line slip placed on the shirt.
Trying to work around the arm pits, so the straps will probably need to be shortened.

The shoulder straps could end up being a little long, so I might need to shorten them, but I wanted to try without having an extra shoulder seam. The half-slip is a simple matter of cutting across the shirt just below the arm holes. (If you want a longer slip, it could be tapered higher into an a-line to make use of the shirt’s upper chest fabric.) The hems are already done, so why mess with a good thing?

Image of a men's dark blue tank top cut across from armpit to armpit and a pair of scissors.
This looks crooked, but it is just the angle of the shot…really!

The pump location moves every 3 days, so I want a pocket on both the right and left sides of the undergarments. (I can put my test kit in the other one!) Since the fabric is very thin, I want to keep the pockets from sagging and pulling down the section of hemline where the pump is stored. The pump weighs about a half pound, which isn’t much in a pant pocket, but it is too much for many knit fabrics to manage without distortion. Pellon Easy-Knit is an interfacing and underlining made for stretchy fabrics that will work great to give the pockets stability. I don’t want to line the whole thing, so I am just going to interface a 4″ wide strip from the hem to the underarm on either side. For the half-slip, it goes from the hem to the waist. Since it’s hard to see on the dark fabrics, I drew you a sketchy sketch. ;-/)

Image of the line drawing of a slip and a half slip showing that a strip of interfacing will be placed from on the sides of both garments and that a pocket for the insulin pump will be placed at the bottom of the interfaced strips.
NO usable patterns were harmed in this project!
I have a treasure trove of miscellaneous pieces from cleaning out my mom’s attic,
so why not use them for fun?

Here is a drawing of what my pieces look like after cutting them out:

Image of the pattern pieces for the full and half slips.
Sketchy Sketch #2…NOT to scale!
Simulated (HA!) polka dot pieces are interfacing.
Image of the sleeve of a men's black T-shirt showing how to use the bottom of the sleeve to cut the pocket pieces for the slip.
Using the hem of the sleeve for the top of the pockets saves you the step of hemming them!

Use the same interfacing for your pockets. Again, I am making them 4″ wide. One of the sleeves from the black shirt worked for pockets. The top of the blue shirt had plenty of fabric for pockets.

Although I do have a serger that would make this project easier and (hopefully!) more professional looking, I wanted to do this entire project on the regular machine. I don’t want someone thinking that this project is out of their league if they don’t have a serger. I do have a presser foot for my machine that is made just for an overedge stitch, which I used (the thinner fabrics want to bunch inside a zig-zag stitch). If anyone has a solution for this, please feel free to put it in the comments below. Also, remember to use a fine ballpoint needle for stretchy fabrics.

The flatter the seams are, the smoother the undergarment lies, so I’m flat felling the seams on the sides of the full slip (see picture further down of the flat felled seams on the black slip). The half slip is still in its circular shirt form, so I don’t have to do any side seams.

To attach the interfacing, just turn the garment inside out and put it onto the ironing board. That enables you to iron the interfacing over the side seams without much of a struggle. Very important: use a damp press cloth so you don’t melt your fabric! The bottom of the interfacing should end just before you get to the bottom of the garment unless you are hemming the project yourself. In that case, you would tuck it into your hem. The raw edges of the interfacing pieces can be sewn down with a zig-zag stitch to keep them in place after many washings.

Image showing detail of inside and outside flat felled pocket seams.
This isn’t the prettiest, but anyone who cares will NOT be looking at my bloomers! ;-/)
Image of the finished pocket for the full slip.
Finished pocket.
Notice that I just left the dri-power logo on the shirt instead of trying to work around it.
(see photo caption on the picture above to explain my view on bloomers)

The half slip gets an elastic waist. I think that next time I will use an attractive wide elastic that won’t need to be strung through a casing. A low-profile waistline would be nice, and more discreet under certain dresses.

The neckline of the black slip gets folded over once and zig-zagged.

Image of two pins holding the folded neckline hem ready to be sewn.
Neckline finishing

I did put a large buttonhole at the waistline of the full slip (both sides) so that I can thread the hose of the pump from my waist to the pocket. This can also be done to almost any dress with pockets—not a buttonhole, but a slit can be made. Just iron some interfacing to the upper back of the pocket, and make a slit that is discreetly hidden inside the upper part of the pocket. (Not too high or it will be seen; not too low or you will start losing things out of the pocket! ;-/) The interfacing will keep the slit from fraying.

Image of buttonhole place at the waistline so that tube of insulin pump can go through.
Buttonhole at waistline.
Notice the inverted V that was built into the original shirt.
Once again…bloomers!

All finished! Whoops! In all the excitement, I forgot to put a Velcro tab to keep it in place, but that’s easily remedied.

Image of the author holding her red and blue skirt up so that black slip with the insulin pump in its pocket can be seen.

This turned out to be a pretty easy project, and although I will change a couple things next time, I’m happy with the end result. The fabric for the half slip was a bit thicker and one layer of interfacing was great, but you can see in the picture that it still pulls a bit on the black slip. I will reinforce any light weight fabrics with a heavier interfacing next time.

The hardest part about this project was taking the process pictures and writing it up. The worst part was getting my picture taken. Why do I always have more chins in my pictures than when I looked in the mirror that morning? That’s the real dilemma!

Image of the author smiling at the camera holding her red and blue skirt up so that black slip with the insulin pump in its pocket can be seen.

I am a jack of many trades (ADD strikes again), master of none (because I get distracted by all the glittery things)! Sewing and crafting have been a huge part of my life since I was very young. Over the years, I have taught jewelry making, sewing, basic quilting, polymer clay, kombucha making, cake decorating, and a bazillion other things. My online persona ‘Willy Britches’ is an umbrella for several activities. For the last few years, I have been running used craft supply sales called ‘Crafters Cleanout & Stash Sales.’ It’s been growing steadily and now I’m even talking about taking the shows on the road.

Check out Willy Britches on Facebook and Instagram (I AM going to be better at posting more on Instagram… I promise!)