Year of Open Source

One year of trying to use only free software, libre hardware, and option source options for all aspects of life.

Open Source Undies?


In hardware, Open Source techniques (collaborative working, sharing experiences and experiments, transparency in production) are designed to democratise the design and production process. To take what traditionally was a difficult and expensive task done only by experts, and provide the tools and methods to make it more accessible, faster, and more efficient.

Not all aspects of my life will provide great opportunity for open source improvement, however – particularly anything that already is fast, cheap, and easy to produce. For example, anyone can produce their own toothpaste in the same time it would take to brush their teeth. Here’s proof:

(this video is my first attempt at using open source editing software- OpenShot. It’s basic, but everything was easy to work out!)

To make toothpaste there’s no special equipment needed, no expensive materials. This recipe is just a variation on the WikiHow one: 80ml baking powder (NaHCO3.), 30ml hydrogen peroxide solution (3%, H2O2), 10ml glycerin (C3H8O3) (or you can use xylitol – C5H12O5), 2 drops peppermint oil. You can get hydrogen peroxide, peppermint oil and glycerin at most pharmacies. There’s not a great deal of variation or strong opinion on different toothpaste flavours, so although I’ll be using this open source version throughout the year, I’m not expecting others to get excited about it.

But what about more complicated matters? What about open source underwear?

I’m somewhat worried – I haven’t threaded a needle since the horrific experience of winning the school prize for sewing when I was 11 – it was a co-ed school, and my gigantic tribal beach baggies had for some reason impressed the judges. But I don’t just want to make undies for the sake of undies – I’m interested in seeing how Open Source methods can change clothing production.

There are already interesting ideas in the world of fashion with regards to crowdsourcing and technological innovation, and there are people working collaboratively and sharing their designs with others.

My thinking is based on the simple idea that not everybody is a perfect small, medium, or large. Most people are not shaped like shopping mall mannequins. Even mannequins only fit their clothes because they’re pinned at the back. My chicken ankles make any pants other than stovepipes flap listlessly like spinnakers. My shoulders wouldn’t even look broad in an ’80s power suit, and I think my hips are wider than my chest. While a fit 60-year-old might proudly boast ‘I have the physique of someone half my age‘ it’s not ideal for a 28-year old. I’m not worried about my body shape, it’s just an inconvenience when looking for clothes.

One of Da Vinci’s lesser known drafts, before he really nailed that circle.

But if I were to go to a shopping mall on the hunt for a jacket, I’d have to hope that one of these multi-national chains happened to have a style I like, that suits my body shape, and doesn’t have any stupid piping, or contrast-coloured zips, or whatever else the mass-produced version of this season’s style is.

So finding something I like is already an unlikely proposition, even before thinking about the sizes available. Instead of finding just the right jacket for me, I might end up buying 2 or 3 articles on sale (‘saving’ money) which aren’t necessarily quite the right style, colour or fit.

It also seems that manufacturing clothing in the countries with the lowest wages and then shipping it in bulk to the countries with the highest incomes is hardly an agile system, and difficult to achieve efficiently. We’ve taken this frustration of clothes shopping for granted for a very, very long time. But what other option is there? Tailoring is too expensive, and making things yourself is too difficult, right?

Well, one goal of my project is to get people to consider how an open source method might work in different areas, and I think there are plenty of opportunities in clothing.

For example:

-Imagine an online community, (kind of like a thingiverse version of openwear), where people could share their designs freely with others. These designs would be electronic patterns, readable by a software program.

A user could download a pattern, alter its design to their own taste, and release it back to the community as well.

-If this software program could parametrically alter the designs – for example, if I took my chest, neck, waist and arm measurements as inputs, the program could calculate the necessary changes to the pattern and provide the correctly shaped and sized pieces to be cut out.

-On a private section of your online profile you would have all of your measurements recorded so you could instantly adapt any pattern to fit. (Of course, your measurements might need to be adjusted should you switch to a Paula Deen-inspired diet.)

-Then you would be able to print and cut out the design to sew together. This could be done in a low-tech manner (print out on paper, pin to material, cut out with scissors) or a mid-tech manner (use a computer-controlled plotter to draw the design on material, cut out with scissors) or a high-tech manner (a computer-controlled laser cuts the parts directly)

Now this idea does not solve all the difficulty of actually designing or sewing the clothes, but the focus is on removing or streamlining the computational aspect of a tailor’s work, and leaving more time for creativity in design and high-quality crafting.

In order to illustrate the concept I would like to make my own boxer shorts. I’ve chosen boxer shorts because they’re one of the simpler articles of men’s clothing, and they really only have one key measurement – the waist. There’s generally a bit of give and take in terms of the length and leg circumference of boxer shorts, and I’m sure you could adjust them in a ratio with the waist measurement.

Is anybody keen to help me? I’m not trying to build a huge software program, just develop or adapt:

-a boxer short design (I guess in vector graphic format?)

-an equation which would adjust the size of pieces in accordance with the waist measurement

-a way of linking these together.

Who’s in? There’s a perfectly-fitting pair of boxer shorts in it for you…

Send me an email (sam at or just come along to Open Design City at 7pm on Monday, to discuss the future of undies, to take part in a few activities, play with textiles, work out some techniques/methods we could use, and meet some other interesting folk.

We’ll be discussing, visualizing and quickly prototyping our ideas, focusing on the following core questions:

– democratizing design – how can people without a fashion design background bring their ideas into their garments?
-democratizing manufacture – how can people without a background in sewing put clothing together themselves?
– what possibilities are there for open source development in the field of smart fabrics etc?
– how can current clothing distribution models be improved and updated?
-how could collaboration and community sharing work in a fashion/clothing context?

People of all backgrounds and interests are welcome.

This is a preliminary brainstorming session – in a few weeks we’ll be putting some of our ideas into action at a further workshop.

19.00 Monday 13th August, Open Design City, Prinzessinnenstr. 19-20, Kreuzberg.

Let me know what you think in the comments – could this kind of clothing system work? is there anything like it already? is the future for open source toothpaste really as dead as I assume?


11 thoughts on “Open Source Undies?

  1. I am excited to discover Open Shot!

    Re underwear – another simple design alternative is a male G-string?

  2. There is a German web-based community called (like your toothpaste^^), which is mainly for alternative / gothic clothing, but you will find all sorts of garment tutorials – mainly for girls though. They exist for more then 10 years now and designs are freely shared through the page and the community forum.
    Also interesting, but with a different emphasis, is who teach you how to integrate electronics into your garments.

  3. Have you had a look at Burdastyle? You can search by free patterns, some of which are uploaded by users.

    • It’s a step in the right direction! though officially they’re free as in beer, not as in speech: “Unless otherwise noted with respect to a particular item or items offered through the Site, you may use the Site only for your personal, non-commercial purposes, and you may not modify, publish, retransmit, create derivative works from or otherwise exploit the Site or any of the contents thereof.” but you could definitely expressly license a design under creative commons on the website if you wanted to.

  4. Are you familiar with ? Not sewing patterns, but knitting and crochet – there are thousands of free patterns and all members can upload their own patterns and of course make modifications in what they knit or crochet from existing patterns.

  5. That electric spinning wheel is cool, thanks for the link! A drop spindle is probably easier and cheaper though.

  6. If there’s no fluoride in the toothpaste (which otherwise sounds like a great deal), you might want to chew xylitol gum or something to keep your teeth better protected, or just be aware of the fact that your teeth might be in a bit more vulnerable situation without fluoride. I was reading that plant-based materials and minerals can bring protection but not as well.

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