Ask the Expert: Questions for Norma!

Orange Lingerie, cream lace bra

Today I’m going to turn the floor over to Norma Loehr, our guest bra-maker. She has been so gracious in joining the sew-along group and offering her expertise in bra fit and construction. I feel like I’m in bra bootcamp, don’t you?

You all had some great (especially fitting) questions for her and it was really hard to boil them down!

Q; The underwire size that fits me comfortably is about 2 sizes bigger than my bra size, and the wires are really high. I can’t find any shorter wires in this size. I’ve been cutting them off on both sides, filing and dipping them in adhesive. Do you have any tips to make this easier?

Yes, I frequently have to cut underwires to get them to fit into the bra. I use a DeWalt wire cutter that which snaps right through the underwire in one clip. To seal the edges, I use Household Goop which you can also find in the hardware store.

For both tasks I put the wire into a table vise so I can have both hands free and also don’t forget to wear eye protection! Those wire ends sort of fly off when you use the wire cutter.

I hope this makes the process simpler and faster for you!

Q: I have a prominent sternum and regularly have issues with the center wires digging in–especially if they are very tall. What sort of changes to my pattern do I need to make to accommodate this?

You should not need to make any pattern adjustments but you will need to reshape the underwire. I had a client with this exact issue and it was solved by bending the underwire in an outward arc, away from the body. The arc to accommodate your body should also help avoid the digging in at the tips of the wire because the wire won’t be tilted back in toward your body. You will need to experiment with the arc that works for you but do so in small increments because once wires are bent then do not go back to their original shape.

Q: I’m a 32A and most of the bra patterns I see seem like overkill for what little I have! I love the 15 minute set on your blog; do you know if there is an available pattern for something like that?

Lucky you! With an A cup you can wear whatever you want! Don’t worry about “overkill”, just make whatever style appeals to you.

If you like the 15 minute set the Kwik Sew 3167 with a band rather than the stretch lace at the bottom would be similar.

Q: I have a bit of a problem with east/west direction in my cups. What sort of seaming and other tricks do I need to do to achieve more front and center lift?

East/west really depends on where the pattern places the apex of the breast. A vertically seamed cup will be best at directing the breast tissue toward the center front.

In terms of lift, start with underwires and a band that fits properly. Look to the fabric and inner support to enhance the effect. In terms of fabric, use no more than 50% stretch for the band and a maximum of 25% stretch the cups. You can add inner cup support in the form of a power bar to also move the breast tissue out from the underarm and direct it forward and up.

Q: Is there anything essentially “wrong” with non-wired bras? My comfiest bras only have single straight bones at the underarm. The centre does not have a bridge and consequently doesn’t fit quite flat to my chest but this style is not particularly unflattering on me and is the only RTW one I can wear.

Underwires are the best way to get lift and support in a bra. Without underwires, both aspects will be decreased. It really is up to you and your preferences which is most comfortable and flattering for your figure. I suspect based on your comment that the wireless does not go back to the chest wall that you may be best off with an underwired bra.

Regarding wire size, I alway fit clients in an underwire separately from the cup sizing by trying the wire on them on its own. Getting the wire diameter correct is key for a comfortable wearing experience. It sounds like you have yet to find the right wire size so I would focus on that first. You can always cut the wire height down to fit into the bra.

Regarding the cup size, you should use the size that fits you best then combine the correct cup size with the correct wire size for your bra. This may require extending the cup at the underarm to fit the frame that corresponds to your underwire size.

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One helpful thing she shared with many of us while fitting our bands: “I test band size by inserting two fingers perpendicular to the body under the hook and eyes fastened at the loosest setting. If the band will accommodate more than 2 fingers it is too big. Less than two fingers it is too small.”

She has written much more about customizing bra fit on her blog, too!

Thank you so much, Norma!

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Comments

  1. Vicki January 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Thankyou ladies for this post. A couple of questions (actually maybe more).
    1. What is Household Goop? International translation needed.
    2. What is a power bar referred to above
    And just generally, i noticed that nearly all my bras have the plastic boning under the arm and the band only stretches from here to centre back. What is the benefit of this?
    Thanks :)

    • Norma January 16, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      Hi Vicki!

      1. Household Goop is a permanent bonder/sealer. It is available in hardware stores.

      2. A “power bar” is a support mechanism that extends the vertical length of the cup on the underarm side. Its role is to move the breast tissue toward the center of the body and hold it there. Just another support option in the bra maker’s tool kit!

      In terms of the boning on the side of your bras, it is placed between the frame and the band to act as another layer of support and to help prevent rolling of the band.

      Regards,
      Norma

  2. maddie January 16, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    Amy, you said it perfectly. I feel like I’m in bra boot camp!

  3. Stephanie January 16, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    Great questions, there is so much learn about my owns bras much less bra-making!

    • Amy January 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

      Hey Steph! I know, right?

  4. Louisa January 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    This has all been so eye-opening for me! Norma’s answers to my questions are just what I needed. My new tester wires and a larger pattern are officially on their way to me so I’m stalled until the postman brings my package. But in the meanwhile I’m learning sooo much. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  5. Emily January 16, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    I’m having a blast doing this! It’s always fun to learn something new. Once I get myself sized right, I’m going to make one for my sister too! Oh, and she lives several states away and wears a significantly different size cup so I know I will have more questions then….but me first. :)

  6. Eva January 17, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Silly question…do I need a three-part zigzag or will a regular zigzag work?

    • Amy January 17, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Hi Eva, it’s helpful to have a 3-step zigzag just because it’s stronger. But I have used regular zig-zag and it still does the job! (I had to do this when I didn’t have my regular machine.) Occasionally, regular zig-zag stitches have a tendency to pop if you are rough when putting on the bra.

  7. VictoriaR January 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    I am interested in the wire comments. I have never had an underwire bra that was comfortable all day. I recently was fitted and ended up buying a 34D and it fits well, but I never forget the wires are there. What sizes of wires should I try to see which might be the best fit?

    • Amy January 17, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

      Hi Victoria, yes we had a lot of discussion on different underwires in our Flickr group! It’s perfectly normal to need a wire from one size but the cup for another–something you can do when making your own bra. It’s ok to bend your wires to fit your shape, or clip them down. Regarding size, it really depends on your personal shape. You can always try out the next wire size up and see if that feels better!

  8. M-C January 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    The east/west problem is also very much addressed by a smaller center piece and possibly narrower strap placement in the back. Read about thoracic shaping on fashion-incubator.com, the best discussion on this issue ever..

  9. Kim February 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    Hi,
    I’m a little bit late for the sew-a-long, but better late then never I think. I have a question regarding the band, it won’t lie against my ribcage in the middle part. There is like an inch of space there. Apart from this the bra is very comfortable and the wires don’t irritate at all. I’m thinking that the cup size might be too small? I’m working from a pattern I’ve drafted myself. And since the size of was 2 inches bigger I’m working with a b-cup..
    Hope you can help, I don’t have a gmail account so I wasn’t able to join the flickr group.

    • Amy February 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

      Hi Kim, it’s hard to say without seeing it in pictures. (You are welcome to email me and if you want you can send me a photo so I can see what’s going on.) Do you mean that the size of the band you drafted was two inches longer? Often when the wires don’t sit against the chest wall, it’s either because the cups are too small or you don’t have the right wire size, or both.

      oh, and you don’t need a Gmail account to have a Flickr account. You do create an account through Yahoo or possibly Facebook but this is just for the purpose of having a username and password for Flickr. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have use their email or services. (I don’t.) I’d be happy to send you an invite so you can see some of the other fittings we did.

  10. Sarah January 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

    Hi Amy, do any of the currently available patterns have a powerbar option? I seem to recall reading this somewhere but now can’t find it.
    Thank you for the great sewalong, Sarah

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