Adventures in bra making

Well, radio silence for a while there, not really intended, just life getting in the way.  I also have a massive backlog of finished things to photograph and then blog, will get there eventually I expect.  In the meantime, have some musings on my recent foray into the world of making bras.  I’ve pondered on this for a while, and you’ll be glad to hear that there are no photos of said bras actually on me in this post.  The world’s not ready for that…..maybe one day…..

I’ve been thinking about making bras for a few years now.  I came across the Cloth Habit blog, and her bra-making sewalong, thanks to Pinterest, probably about 5 years ago.  It always seemed a bit intimidating to be honest, but then I felt like that about making jeans and that wasn’t nearly as scary as it seemed once I tried it.

I finally took the plunge back in May, according to Instagram.  The turning point came when I saw that Craftsy had an offer of a free class for new customers – I took the ‘Sewing bras – construction & fit’ class, and I found it incredibly helpful.  After that, the most intimidating thing was gathering all the different fabrics, elastics and notions.  This was made more complicated by the fact that my measurements put me somewhere between a C and a D cup – and in bra making apparently that’s a big dividing line, with different elastic widths being required.  So I was gathering two sets of different supplies of elastic….and who knew how many different types of elastic existed?!  Eventually I managed to round up all the necessary bits and pieces, and embarked on my first bra…..

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This was the Marlborough bra from Orange Lingerie – I did a bit of research and this pattern seemed to be a good starting point for a beginner.  I have to say the instructions were not all that comprehensive – if I hadn’t done the Craftsy class I would have been completely lost.  I bought the grey Simplex fabric from Sewing Chest (they don’t seem to have it anymore), along with the hook & eye, rings & sliders.  It’s a knit fabric but with very little stretch – as recommended on the Craftsy class, and specified in the pattern.  The grey powernet for the back band came from The Bra Shop on Etsy, and the elastics were gathered from various places – Sewing Chest, The Bra Shop and various sellers on Ebay.  I then discovered, on a bit of a fitting odyssey, that a metre of fabric goes a long, long way when making bras!  Unfortunately the colour’s a bit hard to photograph well, but it’s a really useful pale neutral.

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I started with a 36C, based on my measurements – but I obviously went wrong somewhere when measuring myself because my first version was way, way, too small.  I can’t remember exactly which sizes I then went on to make, but I made 4 or 5 bras in different sizes before getting to a point where I had the right starting point at least.  This ended up being a 38D.  It was a slightly frustrating process, but on the plus side, all those non-fitting bras were perfect for practicing the bra making techniques that were mostly new to me – particularly applying the various elastics and underwire channelling – precision sewing isn’t something I do a lot of usually……

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quite pleased with that underwire channelling topstitching….

It’s not a perfect fit, it looks and feels fine when I put it on, but wearing it for the whole day I start to feel like I’m spilling over the cup on the left side – I’m not sure if this is the effect of needing the straps to be brought in narrower, or if it’s just because the power bar has too much of a push-up effect for my tastes.  I’ve avoided trying to work out how to bring the straps in a bit – the Craftsy class shows how to do the alteration, but on a normal cup with just an upper and lower cups.  On this pattern the strap joins on to the top of the power bar – and I think trying to move it would change the shape of the cup entirely, and I’m not brave enough yet to try and tackle that!

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My next attempt was Orange Lingerie’s Boylston bra, using the same fabric – I felt like I had a chance at starting with the right size at least, with it being from the same pattern company!  Unfortunately I still had problems – the bridge of my bra wasn’t anywhere close to touching my chest wall but floated way out between my breasts.  Everything I read said that this fitting problem meant that the cup size was too small.  So I made two bras in larger cup sizes, but the same problem was occurring, this time along with cups that were blatantly just too big.  After some mental huffing and puffing in frustration, and some googling, I discovered the book ‘Demystifying Bra Fitting and Construction‘, also by Orange Lingerie.  This recommends starting the fitting of a bra by fitting the bridge, on its own.  It has you isolate the bridge, if your pattern doesn’t already have it isolated, and cut into 2 halves out of card, with ‘seam allowance’ so you’ve got something to be able to clip together.  You then use this adjustable bridge (as in the photo on the left below) to find the shape that fits your chest wall and under-breast area.

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Well, as you can see on the right, my new bridge shape was slightly different to the original, and I wasn’t sure how much difference it would make to the overall fit – but it worked a treat!  I went back to the 38D, used my new bridge pattern piece, and hey presto, one brilliantly fitting bra.  The only other adjustment I made was to bring the straps in quite a bit – an inch – I think I must have narrow shoulders.  I’ve always wondered why every bra I’ve ever owned has had an uncontrollable urge to slip off my shoulders all the time…..  I brought the straps in both at the back and the front, following the Craftsy class method of doing this.

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I wear this bra all the time – it’s a useful colour, feels comfy and has a really flattering shape.

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Some more fancy topstitching…

I really like this pattern, and I’ve now gone on and made several more bras using it – in some very different fabrics.  It’s really interesting to see how the same pattern seems completely different, just with a change of fabric.  My first variation was made using a kit from The Emerald Studio – I started reading Erin’s blog recently and I find it really inspiring.  The main fabric is a wicking knit fabric, again with very little stretch, with white powernet and white notions.  I also did the topstitching in white, mainly because I was too lazy to change the thread in my machine, but I really like the effect.

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This one is also really comfortable to wear, and is in regular rotation.

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My most recent bra was made from some gorgeous gold lace fabric, also from The Emerald Studio.  I was a bit nervous about working with lace, but again it wasn’t as scary once I’d actually tried it.

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This bra is by far the most glamorous piece of lingerie I own, and I love wearing it.  Surprisingly it’s also comfy to wear, probably because it fits really well.

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The nude elastics also came from The Emerald Studio, and the nude powernet came from The Bra Shop on Etsy.  I definitely feel like I’ve got more of a handle on all the different bits and pieces you need to make a bra, and have found a few different places to buy from.  There is a lot more available from US and Canadian suppliers, I have to say – but at least bra fabrics and elastics are light, and you don’t need much of them, which keeps postage costs down.

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I’m officially addicted to bra making now.  I’ve bought three more patterns to try – one from Make Bra, one from Merckwaerdigh, and one from Simplicity.  My next task is to find a pattern for pants, so that I might even have some matching sets……not something I currently own.  My one difficulty is that the bra patterns I’ve used so far specify low / no stretch fabrics, whilst nearly all the pants patterns are for stretchy fabrics.  Will have to keep hunting I guess….

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in bra making

  1. These all look great Liz! But that gold one is gorgeous!
    It’s all a bit of journey isn’t it? I found the Marlborough to fit A LOT smaller than other bra patterns, and then I made the same size in the Boylston, but then the cups didn’t fit right. Currently, my favourite pattern is the Shelley, by Pin Up Girls. It has lots of great seams and the cup fits really nicely. I think the tricky part is that you can’t really make a “muslin”. You have to use all the elastic and nice fabrics. 😉

    • Thanks Heather, I love the gold one! Might have a look at the shelley pattern……tempted by Pin Up Girls sports bra too…

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