Just over a year ago I decided I’d like to learn to sew my own bras. The above bra was the sort of thing I had in mind plus some foam lined t-shirt bras for everyday wear.
Well I got there in the end but it has taken a lot of mistakes on and off over the last year, some of which I’ll try and share here, just in case anyone else fancies doing the same thing and avoiding some of the same pitfalls. But if you’re not interested in bra making you’d probably be best to look away now…Rewinding to December 2015 I started my research. I read lots of blogs to glean inspiration and information and spent the most time on these ones…
The first step was to get my head round the terminology – good post on that here.
And then the particulars of the fabrics and findings needed for each part of a bra – post on that here, but in summary the wings of the bra must be out of a stretch fabric (with good recovery) the cradle (or at least the bridge) must be completely stable and the cups need to be somewhere in between depending on the style and amount of support required.
Understanding the fabric choices was simple enough, sourcing them was another problem altogether. This was in part because in different countries the same materials go by different names but also because seemingly there are not a great number of suppliers of some of the more specialist fabrics and even less with all the fabrics/findings in one place.
To start off with I gathered what I could and bought a pattern -I decided to try the Pin Up Girls Classic Full Band Bra for my first attempt as I had read good reviews and the instructions were said to be thorough.
For the most part I found that to be true, but I didn’t have much success and was fairly disheartened by the experience. The instructions for sewing the elastic etc. were good so I did end up with something that looked like a bra, but it didn’t fit at all and there were no pointers included to address that. I also didn’t like the shape of the bra design either. Looking back I know that the poor fit was down to bad fabric choices, as I was trying to use scraps where possible, (not enough stretch in the wings) and the fact I was sewing the wrong size, even though it was the size I measured using the patterns instructions and most other measuring systems. At the time I thought I should just alter the pattern pieces and try and make it work in a design I would prefer.
And here comes the worst bit about making bras – you really can’t tell if a bra is going to fit (unless it’s way off) until it is about 99% finished, and then if it doesn’t you have to unpick millions of tiny stitches in delicate, easily ruined fabrics. As a result I didn’t save the fabrics from my first attempts but did for the most part manage to reclaim the findings and elastics.
The changes I made to the pattern were actually pretty good in getting something that fitted, but the wire for a 32 band size were still digging in at the sides and the cut and sew foam I was using warped horribly so created a very wobbly silhouette. Not something I think anyone wants from their bra. At this point I thought I was using the foam wrong. It turns out I just had the wrong foam. Despite having bought it from a lingerie supply specialist it was totally unfit for purpose.
At this stage I was close to giving up, but luckily it was around the time of my birthday, and a bra-making course proved a perfect gift/treat.
It was a great course (I’m not listing it because I was asked not too, as it’s small scale and already usually oversubscribed). I haven’t been on any courses for years and I absolutely loved the experience of being taught something rather than having to learn from mistakes alone. It was also my first sewing class.
It differed from most courses I’ve seen offered in that we got to work with beautiful fabrics – silks and laces etc., consequently I really learnt a lot about working with fine fabrics and some great techniques for more bespoke application of lace. The down side was we worked on a set size pattern so I got no closer to being able to make a bra that really fitted me, or so I thought…
The pattern we made in the class was in a size 34 c, and featured cups that were stretchy not rigid so unsurprisingly probably fits more shapes than others. In fact apart from the band being far too wide it fit really well. When I took it home I altered the band size at the back and it fit nearly perfectly. The gore or bridge is a little wide so the wires cause just a little discomfort in the middle. The most important discover was finding my correct wire size so I could move forward and make bras that really fit.
By underbust measurement (29″) most bra patterns put me at a 30 or 32 band size which leads to the choice of an underwire that I now know is much too small. The cradle and wires of a 34″ band fit perfectly (with a narrow central gore/bridge), and the wings just need to be shortened to fit a 29″ underbust measurement. Then using sister sizing from my original measurements I can make sure the cups are the right size too.
To someone starting out I would probably give the advice on using the measuring systems listed in the bra pattern of choice but also order a few different wire sizes before you begin to make sure you have one that suits you before decided on a size. There is a good post about fitting one here.
Using that system of sizing/fit I set about my next attempt (about 8 months later), this time using a free pattern. The Maya bra by AFI Atelier comes in a huge range of sizes and is available here. I made it using stretch lace from Ebay and the same terrible cut a sew foam. The sizing turned out to be pretty perfect. (I altered the pattern by making a 34C but narrowing the bridge and reducing the length of the wings as described above). But the horrible cut and sew foam looked destined to ruin things again. I posted pictures of the problem to a bra making forum on Facebook ( that is an enormously useful resource) and awaited help. It came in the form of many helpful suggestions about stitch length and foot pressure, but I sort of knew I got those bits right. Then someone suggested another UK supplier of foam (Elise Patterns) and I ordered a piece. The picture below show the difference between the old foam and the new, sewn on exactly the same settings. They also explain why I’ve spent most of this post cursing the original foam, as if it had been the right product in the first place I would have made progress so much faster (and with less frustration).
The next problem to solve was not having wires the right length for the pattern. I’ve given up trying to source wires of the right length as well as the right fit, so I am now cutting them down to length, filing and then sealing the ends with heat shrink tubing. There is a tutorial on this method here*.
*I didn’t find I needed the vice or the hot air gun.
Now on the right track I made another version of the Maya using stretch lace and mesh over foam.
Keen to try out a different design and shape, particularly one with straps set a little wider apart, and tempted by the beautiful new pattern by Cloth Habit (even more so as she is donating the proceeds to refugee charities) I decided to try it. By the pattern’s measuring guide the size of choice would be a 30DD, but after measuring the pattern pieces against the Maya I decided to stick with the sizing system I was using for that and so went with an adapted 34C (although I didn’t make any adjustment to the gore on this one).
For my first version I adapted the pattern to use cut and sew foam (instructions for that are not included in the pattern but apparently their will be a tutorial for it soon) covered with stretch lace and using white power mesh for the wings, with just a hint of yellow from the underarm elastic. The fit was pretty much perfect first time though the shape is a little ‘pointier’ than I’d usually go for.
For the second version I experimented with my materials incorporating a woven cotton in for the bridge and lower cups (which I lined with cup liner and interlined with cut and sew foam. The top cup is stretch lace and the wings powermesh. There are some patterns out there designed for woven fabrics but this isn’t one of them, although it turned out fine but the pointy shape is even more pronounced.
For my latest attempt I altered the pattern pieces slightly to create a rounder shape. I used the principle explained here. With a little more confidence I incorporated a bit of luxury in the form of a small piece of Chantilly lace trim from MacCulloch & Wallis. The cups were made with the lace and lined with a light beige/ pink sheer nylon tricot (from Fit2Sew). I used the same tricot for the cradle to keep some consistency in the colour but lined it with another more stable sheer (but white) tricot. The bands were blush pink powermesh which matched perfectly with the elastic, fancy straps and findings (all bought at Elise patterns). I’m not sure (or experienced enough) to know if it was the pattern alterations, the behaviour of the different fabrics or a combination of both but the changes worked to create the fit and shape I hope for.
There will be more – more bra making, more mistakes and more to learn, but after a disheartening start I am thoroughly enjoying the learning curve.