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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon



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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bra report in stages: the pattern, adjustments and thoughts

OK, it has been a flat out week with all my projects but here is the bra report. I am going to post this in stages with different headlines to get my thoughts in order.

I have made two cotton/lycra bras, (one with cotton eyelet overlay in the upper cup, one with stretch lace as a second layer in the upper cup),  one with one shiny tricot with woven lace layer in the upper cup, and one sort of matte heavy weight knit with stretch eyelet over lay in upper cup.

None of these bras are as fancy as those I have seen other sewers make, but they fit me well, are comfortable (the cotton interlock are of course my favourite), and have got me to the point where I am construction confident enough to get more creative. I have four more cut out in black.

First of all this is a really well drafted pattern. Things that need to be the same size so they fit together later in construction actually are and actually do. This hardly ever happens so I am pleased. I also really like that the straps are made of fabric to match the fronts well over the shoulders.

My first bra was so weird even Rascal laughed, it looked like something that a 90 year old would have worn in 1922 if you can picture that, but I quickly realized that I had the same problem Robin reported when she used this pattern and that was that the pieces under the arm were too large, that explained why it was falling forward on my front. Robin solved this with an underarm dart and I did essentially the same thing by changing the angle (straightening them really) on the front and back pieces that met in the side seam to eliminate that extra. Worked great and my fitting issues were 90% solved. The final 10% was achieved by taking in the cup seam a little as it neared the underarm.

The bad thing about fitting a bra is that you have to actually complete the whole thing before you can access fit (make you first one with your worst stuff) the good thing is that there are so few seams that there are really a limited number of places where you have to adjust and small adjustments make a big difference.

If you can face making one or two bras to perfect your fit (about an afternoon each if you are just learning) you will have a reliable pattern to make something for next to nothing that can cost a fortune in the stores. Next to nothing if you are working with leftovers or have collected the materials along the way. More on supplies later.

As I wanted to make a wireless bra I did these things for extra support:

1. The pattern calls for one layer of lingerie type tricot for the under and between the breasts part on the front. I substituted a layer of Powernet which I think worked quite well.
2. All sewn bras have at least one seam, as this one does across the cup. This has some disadvantages for T shirt wear (and I have posted a picture of one bra in a too tight T shirt so you both see what I mean and so you can see the kind of non-wireless support I got). The instructions tell you to use a single layer for each and to top stitch the seam allowances open. I don't do that all that well with 1/4" seams in tricot and in some cases (like the one shown here) did a triple zig zag instead. I am not happy with this as of course it articulates this seam even more, so in later versions ( I made four successive bras) I cut the bottom cup twice and sandwiched the upper cup between the two and flipped it up, encasing the seam, which was much nicer.
3. On the subject of cups I did all the lower cups double (see above) and I would advise that.

Finally how supportive are these wireless bras? Pretty good I would say and enormously comfortable. I have some wires and will do another version soon with those to see, but putting them up to my bras I would say they do add shape to the cup and definitely move the cup in at centre front right up to your sternum that extra little bit.

My analysis: if bra less is 0% support, these wireless are about an 87% and I figure the same bra with wires would be about 93-94%. 100% would be my expensive bra that holds me up and completely rigid and leaves bright red marks in my chest bone and all around my body.

I also calculate that my wireless version is about 11-13% more comfortable than the same version would be with wires. But that needs to be field tested.

You do the math.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

OK why I tried to sew bras

First, well this month I have the time and in bursts of buying enthusiasm acquired the supplies and patterns to do it. All that stuff has been making me feel guilty and as I explained to Rascal this week we were going to allow ourselves three tries at bra-making and if that didn't work we were going to take all our bra stuff down to the dumpster and throw it in and put it all behind us for life. We have other projects. This is our moving on vacation as expressed in our sewing.

Also I have had another idea in the back of my mind ever since my daughter was pregnant. 

I had an odd moment when maternity shopping with 
my daughter when the sales person told us why a non-maternity bra couldn't be worn when nursing. She showed us some underwires and said " They put the wires forward to push your breast tissue out to the front to add to the cleavage and of course that cuts off the ducts and will make you engorge." Her maternity wired bras had the wires set way back. 

That got me thinking though that all this underwiring might not be all that good for you. When you think about it your poor old breasts are just mammary tissue and we are applying all this wire and foam and stuff to them to change them around and maybe we are not doing that with a lot of respect. I mean I am as appalled as the next fashion conscious woman by sagging boobs, and personally consider a good well-supported bustline  essential to looking good, but as I had read that the real support was in the band and that the wires were just to keep the cup in shape, I decided I wanted to see if it was possible to make a non-wired, supportive bra, that was just well more sympathetic.

I wondered if it would be possible to make something just as pretty and interesting that would support a D cup without the wiring.  

THis is the pattern I used from Bra-maker's Supply:

Sewing bras- why bother? And why bother not

OK this is going to take several posts so bear with me.

We will start with the reasons to sew your own bras:

1. Other sewers are doing it and the results are impressive. No one has said it was too hard to do. There are some great photos on the now closed Pattern Review Lingerie contest.

2. This is one area where you can actually save money sewing and there aren't many left. In a moment of trance-like madness I got a proper bra-fitting last year (worth every penny because I have been two band and cup sized wrong my whole life) and walked out with a $250 bra. Am I insane? Apparently that day yes. Well this bra is now the only one I have that really fits and I'm not paying that again, obviously.  Cheaper right size bras haven't fitted well at all and they are just too structured with too much gear for me.

3. You can get exactly what you want. I often wish I had a supportive cotton stretch bra that had support but didn't look like a runners bra. I don't run except to the fabric sales.

4. These are small things and there is the possibility to get creative and make matching sets with scraps of fabric.

5. You might get more comfort. 

Reasons not to sew bras:

1. As Robin points out you don't know if this thing is going to fit until you are done. So by definition these projects have the potential for considerable sewer's rage, throwing wadders across the room, doubting yourself as a capable seamstress, and buyer's remorse over all that cash you spent on supplies for such a Stupid Idea. (I didn't actually experience this, much, but could visualize it as I understand my sewing personality).

2. It would look homemade, like something that got put together in the Depression from feedsacks.

3. Come on you can't make everything and sewers every where need to be careful of exposing themselves too often to those moments where you actually go inside a store and find that the thing you spent so much time and money perfecting with online fabric purchases, plus shipping, 400 hours on online pre-sewing education to fine-tune fit and technique, and 4 different patterns, is on sale in the discount store in exactly the right colour, size and fabric for $15.