You know what Wikipedia has to say on bras? “A bra is a form-fitting undergarment suspender designed to support or cover the wearer’s breasts.” And then “bras are complex garments made of many parts. Up to 85% of women may be wearing the wrong size”. Say whaaaaat? Yes, you read right. Here we are contemplating our next intricate and beautiful dress never thinking about what we wear underneath it, how it is made and how we might make our own. But I bet you think about your bra every day. And every evening you take it off hear Mel Gibson shout in the background “freedooooooooom”. Am I right?
At least for me, that’s the case pretty much every day. Bras are uncomfortable and a stupid necessity. Or so I thought. Thinking back on the juxtaposition that 85% of women wear a wrongly sized bra there is something we, as sewists, can do about it: Sew our own! I have made a few so far and I am convinced that it’s easier than sewing a button-up shirt! So, let’s dive right in into my little two-part introduction.
Notions you need and where to get them
Apart from fabric (and we get to that later) there are a few things you need:
For our intricate suspender-design we need elastics of course. There are a lot of different elastics, believe me, but you can group these loosely into three categories.
- Strap elastic: Strap elastic is needed to make the straps obviously. Some have very neat designs on the upper side and are (sometimes) plush on the side that goes against the skin.
- Band elastic: Band elastic is used to stabilize the underbust area (where most of the weight of the breasts is actually carried – it’s not at the straps, girls!) and most of the time the underarm area. These elastics come in very different widths. While you can use the smaller widths on the underarm area I definitely recommend using wider elastic especially for larger cupsizes on the underbust area (go for at least 1.2cm or 1/2″). Almost all of these types of elastic have a picot edge and a plush underside that goes against your skin. You will not see the “right” side of this type of elastic on your bra and that’s why these are nothing special to look at.
- Fold-over elastic: This is one of my favourite elastics. You can use FOE (fold-over elastic) to cover raw edges on bra’s necklines (even the underarm area, though I prefer band elastic) and panties. Basically you can just go wild with it. The FOE has a “designated” fold line in the middle which means that the fabric will be sandwiched between those layers of elastic and then you stitch from the top with e zigzag. Love it, really! FOE has often a shiny and a matte side and there is no rule as to which one goes on top 🙂
Hook and eyes
Hooks and eyes are what’s used to close the bra at the back. There are multiple designs available out there. Two rows, three rows even a whole band to make corselets.
Rings and sliders
Rings and sliders are needed to make adjustable straps. Usually you need two rings and two sliders to make a bra but consult your pattern instructions on this. I have a larger cupsize so I try to stay away from plastic rings and sliders. I have never had plastic ones to be honest but the thought of them just gives me horrors. Make sure your rings and sliders match your width of the strap elastic.
Underwires and underwire casings
If you do not want to make a bra with underwires you can just skip ahead. For all you others out there, there are a LOT of different bra wires out there. First of all it’s important to decide on the shape of the wire. Most women will fit into the standard wire shape. But some might like having a little higher rise at the arm or a lower rise on the center.
Think about the area where your breast is actually attached to your ribcage (I know it sounds super weird but bear with me, you will understand). If you needed to draw a line (“circle”) on this area where the tissue is connected, would this be a round one? A standing oval? Or a flat oval? This shape should, if possible, somehow be reflected in your wire. For example, if you have a very round breast and try to fit this breast into a wire that is more of a tall oval shape, your breast might not drop nicely into the wire/cup and you might experience pinching in the center front or in the underarm area. You see what I mean? Of course this is something you might like to work on after you’ve made your first couple of bras but if you’re having trouble for cup fit this might be the reason why.
Next of course you need to pick the right size. Consult your pattern Instructions on this. Internationally I have seen that the wires are always in reference to a B cupsize. So if you are a 36D you need to add 2 to your number each size you go down on your way to the B cupsize and you’ll find the correct wire which in my example would be a 40B (contrary to common believe there are always partner sizes to each cup, e.g. 40B, 38C, 36D, 34DD). But don’t worry your pattern will tell you, what you need.
You could also measure your breast with a stable measuring tool (e.g. flexible ruler) that will make shape and length transferrable to paper. Most underwire companies will provide a printable where you could place your transferred shape on top to figure out shape and length. Or you could print the printables onto some sturdy paper and start cutting out the wirelines from small to larger to figure out where your breast might best fit in.
Underwire casings are where the underwires go in. Some patterns suggest that even if you do not insert underwires you might want to sew in the casing for stability.
Where to get them
I get my many supplies from these suppliers within the EU/Switzerland:
If you live in the US or CA you’ll have access to
- Tailormadeshoppe (shipping to the EU and Switzerland possible)
- Bramakersuppies (also for EU and Switzerland but the shipping costs are steep)
Before you go crazy and on a shopping spree: Firstly, think about what you want to make. Are there any old bras you don’t want to use anymore? You might want to cut them up for their hooks, eyes, rings, sliders, wires and sometimes even the straps altogether. Secondly: Think about colors. I have seen people buying only white notions and fabrics and dying them in badges so all supplies have the same color. As of now, I have not yet done it, but I will definitely switch to this method because I can say from personal experience that matching those colors is an absolute nightmare.
On patterns and where to get them
I have tried patterns from the following companies:
There are a lot more:
On suitable Fabrics and where to get them
Think about the bra you want to make. Is it sort of a comfortable bralette that allows for a lot of movement? Do you want an underwire bra with great support and structure? Do you prefer a luxurious lace bra for a special occasion? You need an answer to this question first before you dive in. Usually bras are not stretchy all the way around.
There has to be some stretch (which of course could also be mechanical give e.g. bias-cut fabric) to make you feel comfortable. But if the cups are too stretchy your goods are going to bounce around like crazy. Also the bridge (that is the part between the breast should not be too stretchy either because it is meant to support all the tissue and the cups. Where the most stretch comes in is at the (side and) back. With this in mind, let me dive in:
Knits vs. Wovens
Now as I just said, you could make the front part of a bra out of woven fabric (cut on the bias) but it will fray like crazy and that is something a knit fabric will never do. So, definitely go for a knit. You can use ordinary cotton/spandex jersey, stetch lace, powernet, bamboo knit, lycra (I recommend lining the cups and the bridge if you go for support), etc. There are even very very stable knit fabrics with practically no stretch that will not fray (e.g. Duoplex). Just make sure, it’s a knit!
Lining vs. Bra tulle
Speaking of lining. There are instances you want to line your cups (or part of the bridge) with lining fabric or bra tulle (same as stretch mesh). The difference between those two is the following. Bra tulle is very fine and you can see through the fine holes. It should be soft to the tough and stretchy both ways. Because this is quite stretchy it will not alter the shape of the cup when you line your bra with this but it will also not lend itself to great support. If you want support and stability you need to layers of it with the greatest stretch perpendicular to one another.
Bra lining has practically no stretch and has a different structure to it altogether. Is is lovely and soft if you need a stable lining, but definitely not suitable to make the back band out of – or you will have a corset-like contraption.
Powernet, Powermesh, Stretch Mesh and so forth
There are a lot of different names for a lot of different fabrics that seem to do the same or a similar thing. All these fabrics are stretchy but not all of them in the same way. Also there are great differences in stability. The most stable is powernet as it could be used to make shapewear. So this one is very stable and strong. Since it’s used in shapewear you could also use it to alter the shape of your breasts and make an minimizer (difference in appearance only, no wonders to be had here).
Powermesh is a lot sheerer that powernet and has a “meshy” structure. You could make an entire bra out of powermesh if you like it. It is stronger than regular stetch mesh (bra tulle). Again, if you want stability you might want to add lining to the cups.
Lace and Foam
You can add lace to your bras however you like it and even make an entire bra out of lace. Just make sure it’s stretchy. You might also want to line the cups with bra lining to give it more stability.
For foam there are a two different options. There are preformed foam cups you can cover with fabric or you can buy cut and sew foam and sew your own cups with it. This is pretty easy and a lot of fun I might add.
I know it all sounds very confusing. But if you are unsure about the kind of fabric you want to use, contact the shop and they might send you swatches. If you already have supplies cut a sample for yourself and add some notes to it so you always have an exampleto remind you of the different qualities.
Lets get started
Measuring, Cutting and tips and prep
Most patterns will tell you to measure yourself under the bust, the full bust and some even the high bust. Follow the instructions on measuring and picking a size to a T. That’s an order!
For cutting I recommend using a rotary cutter, weights and a cutting mat. The pattern pieces are teeny tiny and if you pin the paper to the delicate fabric you might pull a thread and therefore ruin the fabric. Also, by lifting the fabric and/or pattern pieces with your scissor you’re distorting the fabric. You get to most accurate fabric pieces if you use a rotary cutter. But take great care not to cut off anything of the pattern piece. It happens to me all the time, so I made sure to trace my pattern pieces beforehand so they do not get smaller and smaller every time I use them.
Pay close attention to the direction of stretch. I know, we all have tendencies to optimize how much fabric we use (and have left over) but do not change the direction of stretch and by that it is always meant the direction of the greatest stretch.
Prep all the fabric and notions for your project and lay it flat on your surface have your instructions ready.
Sewing. Different stitches and their purpose
For making your own bra, there are a few stitches you will need regularly. Also, if you have a walking foot this might be helpful. First of all, of course, you’ll need the straight stitch. On my BERNINA I used a 2.5 length and that seems to work fine.
For some parts you will need a zigzag (BERNINA length 2, width 2) and a three-step zigzag. The three-step zigzag is No. 18 on my machine (350 PE). I used the length 5 and width 1.
Here is where I stop but don’t fret. This article will continue with the assembly and some adjustments in August and you will not have to wait a whole month just a week 🙂
Until then happy sewing,
PS: Part II is online now. You can read it here. (August 3, 2018)