bramaking sew-along

Bra-making Sew Along: Grand Finale!

Friends, it has been a wonderful ride and it’s time for a wrap-up. I love season finales. You know, the kind of plot ending where all the characters–even the ones who mysteriously morphed into into their evil twin two seasons ago–return to the screen for one final blow-out episode. Plot loopholes be darned, closure is good for the heart.

My finished bras!

pale green lace bra by Amy

This bra fits me like a dream. If you’ve been following along you’ve probably picked up on all my little (and not so little) alterations. I altered my cup to a vertical seam. I also used shorter underwires, lowered the neckline about 3/8″, and widened the straps in front–more of a demi style. My bra is made from mostly stash materials that I dyed to match the pale grey-green lace. (I’m really into blushing mints right now!)

pale peach longline bra by Amy

My friend’s bra is made from Elan 645 using a bra kit from Fabric Depot Co. I made some alterations to her cup seams to fit for a softer look and lengthened her band a bit–both around the body and lengthwise for a longline bra.

Some highlights from the Flickr group and beyond…

knit & lace set, Handmade by Carolyn

Carolyn made Kwik Sew 3300 in a lovely blue marled knit and cream lace. And she’s a fellow knicker-making fanatic. You can read about these lovely laceys on her blog Handmade By Carolyn. Thanks Carolyn, for your amazing participation and encouragement!

Sewy Rebecca by Michelle Sews

Michelle joins me in a passion for collecting bra patterns. She started out with Danglez DB3 but decided she’d be better off trying Sewy’s Rebecca bra (above). Rebecca is a fantastic pattern, especially for larger cups. Michelle also informed us that Bra-makers Supply was about to release a new pattern called Shelley–as of today it’s available here. For those Sewy Rebecca fans and others who need the option of a side cup piece and multi-seaming–this one’s gonna be a big hit. I just know it. Hop over to Michelle’s blog to see a she drafted a Shelley-type bra from her Pin-up Classic pattern.

black lace by, by Mirza of Let's Tweed Again

This is Mirza’s stunning black lace and red-trimmed bra from Pin-up Girls Classic pattern. You can see more gorgeous pics and read her review en le français on her blog Let’s Tweed Again. Oh Mirza, what a delicate beauty!

satin bra by Ginny

Ginny finished her first bra and isn’t it so beautifully made? This one uses a matching kit from Summerset on Etsy–more on her blog GinPins. I just love the ornament idea!

black lace set, Melissa of Fehr Trace

Melissa of Fehr Trade got the kick to revisit her bra patterns and made this decadent bra from Elan 330. In her post about this set, she also included a great tutorial about a way to finish off the top of a cup with multiple layers.

lace and satin set by KazztheSpazz

Kazz went on a bra-making spree, y’all. Here’s her post about this set. I think I’m going to have to pull out all my black lace now because wow. Wow. She took the “Hack Your Bra” idea to heart and is just killing her Elan 645 pattern with all kinds of styles–bustiers, longlines

Did you make a bra and would you like to share? Let us know in the comments! Understandably, I got behind on all my blog reading, so I may have missed you if you blogged about it. If you were a secret sew-alonger you can email me, too. I’d love to hear about your project and how it went.

Over at the Flickr group we had quite the fitting expedition. I’m even in the process of custom-drafting a bra for someone! I really want to thank Norma Loehr and her generosity in answering so many of our fitting questions. And there were many!

It was such an honor to host this sew-along, chat with many of you, and I hope it inspired y’all to keep on at it! You caught the lingerie bug, didn’t you…

Note: All photos here are © their owners.

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Bra-making Sew-Along: Elastic, Channeling and Finish!

Time for all the finishing bits! Okay, so there are a lot of finishing bits, so get on your elastic because this post is going to be picture heavy.

Band Elastic

If you’ve made other lingerie goodies with picot elastic, you’re probably familiar with how this is done. The first side is sewn with the fuzzy side up and a regular zig-zag, getting very close to the picots.

sewing band elastic

band elastic zig-zag

If you want to cut your elastic to measure, a good general rule of thumb is to cut a length about 85% of the seamline of your hem. I like to “feel” it in as I am sewing–just something that happens from experience with sewing elastic. How much tension I put on the elastic depends on the elastic quality.

I flip and on the reverse, stitch the elastic with a 3-step zig-zag. You could also stitch from the elastic side. I prefer doing it fabric side up so I can keep the puckers away:

band elastic 3-step zig-zag

I set my 3-step at 4.8 width and 1.2 length. (I wrote all my bra stitch lengths on a little post-it note on my machine so I don’t have to look it up every time I make a bra or panties!) The 3-step is just security to keep stitches from popping. But if your machine doesn’t have a 3-step, you can use a regular zig-zag and experiment with smaller stitch lengths.

Channeling

I know the channeling gets finicky. Readers have asked me about how I did this on previous bras so I thought I’d show in pictures!

I usually attach the channeling first, before putting in the band elastic. It’s easier to make that first pass without the elastic in the way but it adds another step and I wanted to make this simple visually.

First I lay down the channeling so its seam is right on top of the cup seam and start stitching right on that seam. To make sure I don’t accidentally stitch into the cup, I hold the channeling in my right hand, lift it up, re-arrange it as I go–while using my left hand to guide the cup seam. This has worked really well for me.

stitching channeling to seam

I stitch all the way to the top of the front but stop and backtack about 1/2″ before I get to the end of the underarm seam. It’s good to leave a little extra hanging off each end. This helps to finish the channel neatly later on.

After stitching the channeling I grade the seams if there are a lot of layers–and there’s quite a few here!

channeling seams

Before I do anything else, I close off the channeling in the front. Since the seams are still free and not topstitched down, I grab the top of the channeling with the cup seam allowances and fold everything else out of the way:

closing front of channeling

Then I stitch a really tight zigzag that almost looks like a bar-tack. Whatever it is, it needs to be secure!

closing top of channeling

The closure is invisible from the outside. (On my friend’s bra–I forgot to snap a pic of my mine!)

closed channeling bridge view

Time for the topstitching! I switch back to my straight stitch foot (ok, I just found out my machine calls this a “patchwork foot”). I turn the bra over and arrange the cup seams and channeling so they are folded under toward the band. If you’ve ever done an understitch on a facing, this first part is just like that. I hold the fabric on both sides a little bit taut, and start topstitching about 1/8″ away from the edge of the cup seam.

edgestitching channeling

I have to keep feeling to make sure this stitch is going into the channeling. If you sewed your first pass with the channeling seam on top of the cup seam, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Then I do another line of topstitching with the first line of stitching lined up right under my foot edge. This is about 6mm on my foot. Don’t forget to stop your topstitching 1/2″ away from the underarm so you can fold it out of the way for your elastic.

channeling outside topstitching

Underarm Elastic

Now’s the time to put in my underarm elastic. I do my first pass just like the band elastic with the fuzzy side up. I use a bit less tension in this elastic than I did with the band.

When sewing in the elastic I have to fold away the channeling–that’s why I stopped stitching it 1/2″ away:

applying underarm elastic

Before folding over the underarm elastic I put in my underwires, sliding them in from the open underarm sides toward the front.

inserting underwires

At this point you need to decide whether you want your channeling to be closed on top of the elastic or folded into it. I’ve done both and it really depends on how thick the channeling is!

Right below my thumb is where I’m going to close the channeling with another “bar-tack” again:

finishing channeling

I need enough room to fold down my elastic and stitch another 3-step–this is where that wire play I talked about comes in handy. I can’t tell you how many times my underwire has reached right to the fold of the elastic–a recipe for underwire and needle disaster!

After closing off the channel and stitching down the underarm elastic, this is what it looks from the outside:

channeling backtack

Almost there! Now I attach my straps and finish off with my hook and eye. Every pattern has a different width at the end of the band for a hook & eye attachment. You usually need to adjust that to fit your particular hook and eye width before you sew in your strap elastic:

attaching hook & eye

That’s it! My bras are done and I’ll be back Monday with photos and some roundup questions. Happy sewing weekend everyone!

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Interlude: Bra Straps

finished straps

Hey all, I’m gonna take a little pause today before my final construction post. I’m running a little behind but I hope to be back tomorrow! In the meantime, a strap interlude…

This might seem ridiculously simple but I could never figure out which end went where through the slider. Maybe it’s because I’m lefthanded–the visuals always look backwards. So this one’s for the lefties out there!

First I cut my straps. I like to cut each about 19 inches for insurance. The left side is going to be in the back. The right side will connect to the front cup with a ring.

1. Threading the end through slider, with the wrong (often fuzzy) side of the strap facing up. I fold this bit down and stitch a secure seam.

threading strap through slider

2. Looping the right end up and over and threading it through the slider…

pulling strap through slider

3. Pulling it all the way through to the left…

finished strap

The straps are sewn at the end but it’s always nice to have them pre-assembled. And I’m glad I checked–I forgot to take my own advice and buy extra strap elastic! The Bra-makers notions kit includes less than 18 inches of it. So you can see in the top photo I changed my game. Thank goodness I had a small bit of my silk left from which to make straps–and they had to be small. They were made super easy thanks to Steph’s very clever rouleau tie tutorial at 3 Hours Past.

My straps are assembled similarly to the nude ones, except the adjustment is going to be in the back rather than the front. How do you like to do your straps? Do you favor the adjustment in the front or back?

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Bra-making Sew Along: Band & Cup Construction

finished-cups-and-cradle

Starting to looking like a bra now! Today I’m going to assemble the band and insert the cups.

Since I am lining the cradle of both bras, I used the lining to finish the top of the bridge. With right sides together, I stitched a 1/4″ or 6mm seam across the top. I turned this right side out, pressed and topstitched about 1/8″ away from the top.

lining the bridge

lining the bridge #2

If you don’t have a lining and interfaced this part, you can turn down the center top by 1/4″ and topstitch. Another idea: if you’re using fusible interfacing instead of a lining, you could also sew the fusing to the top of the bridge glue side up, turn and fuse for a totally hidden seam.

On my bra, I wanted the band seam to be hidden inside the lining so I sandwiched the band pieces into the cradle and lining and stitched the side seam and top of the bridge at the same time.

band sandwich!

Then I turned it all ride side out and basted the layers together so they can be treated as one piece.

basted band & lining

On this one I sewed the band in separately…

finished-band

Now it’s time to sew in the cups. I think this is the trickiest bit by far. Everything else after this is a breeze! But I promise, that with some practice, you’ll be kicking it out!

There are a lot of different techniques for sewing in cups. I like to sew both sides with the cup on top and the cradle on the bottom and–as I mentioned yesterday–I go at it without pins.

I start with the left cup. Remember how I cut with the scallops with the lowest point at the seam? I line up that point right with the seamline on the bridge and start sewing.

sewing left cup

The band is facing up and the right side of the cup is facing down. I sew all the way around the cup to the underarm, lining up the notches.

lining up notches

You can also see in the above picture how I keep the two curves opposing each other right up to the edge of the foot.

On the right cup, I start at the underarm.

sewing in right cup

When I get close to the top of the bridge, I slow down and release the presser foot a few times to rearrange the layers, so that the scallops meet just at the end of the stitching line.

sewing cup toward the bridge

sewing-in-cups6

If you’re having trouble with puckering, it helps to release the foot pressure every so often if the layers start to bunch together. Speaking of which, it’s totally normal to end up with a few puckers now and then. Just like sewing sleeve caps. I unpicked one bra like 5 times–ugh… That was actually my impetus to go cold turkey on pins. Since then no more puckers and I stopped cursing my machine. (I know my mom is reading this–I remember you yelling at your machine, too! There was that velvet Christmas dress…)

Happy sewing y’all. I’ll be finishing off the bra tomorrow!

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Bra-making Sew Along: Sewing the Cups

finished bra cups

Alrighty, how’s it going y’all? I’d love to hear. I know some are still fitting and some of you have made two or 10 bras by now! Me, I’ve made better friends with my Canon than I ever thought possible…

Before I break out the sewing machine, a couple of things that I’ve been using on my bras.

A straight stitch foot. I use my foot as the seam guide–the distance between the needle and the edge of this foot is exactly 1/4″.

straight stitch foot

Of course, don’t forget to switch to your zig-zag foot when sewing your elastic. There’s a big Ask How I Know. Which is why I have extra needles…

I use a stretch needle, size 11/75. This has been perfect for elastic and lycra, but also seems to work best on all the tricot-type fabrics. For lace I sometimes go to a very small needle. I’m always experimenting!

assemble the cups

How you proceed on your cups depends on whether you are fully lining your cup, or just lining one part (like the bottom)–or not lining at all.

On my friend’s bra, I’m using lace only on the top cup, as an overlay on the regular bra fabric (in this case, simplex from a bra kit). I want the cross cup seam allowances to be totally hidden inside the seam, so I stitched the three layers together with the lower cup sandwiched in between.

lace cup with an upper lining

lace upper cup with lining

“sandwich” turned right side out, before topstitching…

On my bra, the outer cup is entirely lace and the lining is interfaced silk charmeuse, so I constructed the two layers separately:

separate lace cup and lining

To flatten the seams, I turned the seam allowances over to one side and edgestitched onto the allowances, just a tiny width away from the seam.

sewn cup after edgestitching

Your pattern may have instructions to press open seams and topstitch on both sides. Or topstitch the seam allowances together to one side. This is really up to your preference and how thick your material is! Most often, I like to edgestitch which flattens the seam enough for me.

So when I was first starting to make bras, I struggled with rippled seams across the cup. Oh the dreaded rippled seam in knits! Since seam rippling is usually caused by one or the other layers stretching too much, here are a few things to try:

  • If your machine has this ability, try lightening the foot pressure.
  • As you are sewing, try not to pull or stretch the fabric in any way–let your hands simply be a guide.
  • Try sewing without pins! When sewing two different curves together, or concave and convex curves, pinning pulls one layer into the direction of the other which can cause the length to stretch. It takes some practice at first, easing off a pin here and there. Eventually I went cold turkey pin-free! Which has improved my curves sewing and feel for fabric handling.

finish the top of cups

At this point I want to finish the top of my cup! If you are sewing a continuous trim that finishes both the cup and bridge, you’ll wait till you’ve sewn your cups into the band.

Both of my cups have two layers on top–the scalloped lace and non-stretch lining. To finish the edge of the lining, I tried a technique based on one of my fave strapless bras. I sewed a strip of sheer tricot along the outside top of the cup with a 1/4″ seam allowance.

sewing tricot facing strip

Then I turned, and top-stitched this down along the inside. I could have done this in reverse, too–which would totally hide the seam. It’s pretty soft as it is. The tricot is cut along the least stretch so it stabilizes things a bit.

topstitching tricot facing strip

To keep the lace from shifting around on top, I tacked it down in three spots with a small back-and-forth zig zag stitch (almost like a bartack!). I saw this done in an Elle Macpherson bra and liked its invisibility.

tacking lace to upper cup

Since my bra has a vertical seam, I tacked down the lace to the lining with a couple of straight stitches right at their joining seams.

tacking lace to vertical seam

After you’ve finished the top of your cup, you can baste the layers together around remaining edges, so that the cup will be treated like one piece. I do this just inside the seam allowance–it’ll all get hidden underneath channeling and elastic! When basting stretch lace, it sometimes wants to stretch past the lining, as you can see in the above photo. It’s just the nature of stretch–I try to keep the excess toward the bottom of the cup and just trim it off!

other cup finishes

There are loads of different ways to finish the top of your cup! I’m always experimenting.

top cup finishes

l to r: foldover elastic as a binding, decollete or clear elastic along the bottom of scallops, picot or piping elastic, lace and lining layers sewn right sides together for an invisible finish (which I wrote about here).

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Bra-making Sew Along: Cutting

cutting bra pattern

The time has come to cut our bras!

By now if you’ve been making tester bras or alterations you probably know your bra pattern inside and out. And that’s a good thing! Understanding a pattern makes sewing so much easier, don’t you think?

Before I start cutting, I like to double-check a few things on my pattern:

Check the cradle seam to make sure it has enough length for your chosen underwire. The cradle seam should be the length of your underwire PLUS 5/8″ (or 16 mm).

underwire length & cradle length

This extra length gives your wire about 8mm wiggle room on each end (called “wire play” in bra drafting). If you have ever tried to sew a bra without that allowance, you might know the pain of breaking a needle because you hit the wire while sewing down elastic (CHECK!) or your wires have strained and popped the channeling seam (CHECK!). If you end up needing more length you can add a bit more to one side or the other, or both. Don’t forget you’ll have to add this new length to the corresponding cup seams.

The distance between the cradle and elastic seam lines should be at least the width of your band elastic (otherwise you’ll be sewing elastic into your cup!).

bra band elastic width

After that, it never hurts to walk your seams in your cups and cradle to make sure the actual stitching lines match–especially if you’ve been making alterations!

lining or interfacing

You may have already figured this out in some of your tester bra experiments, but there are many ways to stabilize a cup and remove some of the stretch. You can either sew a lining underneath your main cup fabric, interface it, or both!

For my bra, I’m cutting my entire cup and cradle out of lace and lining it with silk. I really wanted to try silk on this bra!

For stability, I interfaced the silk with a fusible knit. You can see I blockfused my fabric before cutting. I’m a fan of blockfusing, especially when it comes to small pieces that get finicky and time-consuming to interface.

interfacing cup & cradle fabric

For my friend’s bra, I’m using simplex from a bra kit with lace on the top cup. I’m new to this fabric and debated over whether to fuse it–it’s stable but has a lot of drape which I suspect will make the cup drop a little. She’s definitely going to get another bra after this anyway!

The cradle or bridge area should not stretch at all horizontally. Again, I don’t think a lining is necessary for simplex but I went ahead and cut one out of sheer tricot.

cradle-lining

stretch directions

All of your pieces should have a line which indications the stretch direction. Bra fabrics can have their greatest stretch in either direction, so test your fabric to be sure! Even the more stable bra fabrics have some mechanical stretch.

Regardless of the pattern, I usually cut my upper cups with the neckline running parallel to the stretch. Unless I’m stabilizing it, I don’t really want this piece stretching up and down as it will stress the strap, nor on the bias which tends to permanently stretch.

stretch direction for cutting cup pieces

stretch direction cradle

If you are using lace, 4-way stretch fabric or a print that you want to run in a particular direction, it can be lined or interfaced to stabilize it.

cutting lace

There are many ways to use lace in a bra and I really love working out lace puzzles!

When cutting the lace, it is helpful to have your seam lines marked in your cup and cradle pattern. I usually cut one side of the cup first to center the motifs. I make sure the stitching line of the upper cup is lined up with the lowest point of the scallops:

centering lace scallops

I also try to line up the piece so that the stitching line that meets the bridge hits a bottom point of a scallop. When the bridge and cup are sewn together it will match up nicely:

lining up scallops with stitching lines

I usually cut one side first, then flip over the cup pieces to cut another mirroring side. It just so happened I have a 2nd pattern piece that I can flip:

cutting matching side on lace

But often when I’m cutting a bra, I simply cut the first piece, flip it to find a matching side and carefully run a rotary cutter around it.

cutting matching side of lace

Some galloon laces have mirroring motifs, some don’t. If not, I try to get close so the motifs are similar on both sides.

All cut!

cut bra pieces

cut bra pieces #2

cutting notes

I mentioned this before, but I like to transfer my master pattern to something like card stock or in this case oak tag (same paper as manila file folders). I’ve even scanned my pattern so I can print it out multiple times onto weightier paper. (No more re-tracing!) This not only preserves the pattern but gives me an edge on which to trace around with tailor’s chalk directly onto the fabric:

tracing pattern on fabric

I use a small weight (or just my hands!), chalk around the pattern, then cut away the chalk lines. I like doing it this way because it gives me a really accurate cut, while pinning sometimes distorts the fabric (especially lycra and lace). This is just a cutting method that I’ve picked up from pattern-makers–it takes me all of 5 minutes to cut a bra pattern!

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Bra-making Sew Along: Vertical Seam Variation

(Hack Your Bra Part 2!)

I love a diagonally-seamed cup because it is especially pretty in lace, with an unbroken line of scallops across the top. But it’s been fun to play around with seam directions for different style and shape options.

vertically-seamed cups

In today’s tutorial, I’ll share two pattern variations you can make to your cup: 1. adding an additional seam to your lower cup for a 3-piece pattern and 2. changing the entire cup to a vertically-seamed one. I’m using the 2nd variation for my own bra which you will see in action next week!

A tip for these alterations: The main seams in a cup should cross over your bust point. In some patterns, there is a notch at that point–usually right at the apex–if not, find it on your bra and mark it on your pattern so you know where it is. After your alterations, walk your pieces and double check that the lengths of the actual seam lines match.

Adding a Seam to the Lower Cup

ONE: For a second seam in the lower cup, mark a line going from your bust point down to the bottom seam line.

lower cup seam #1

It doesn’t matter where the line ends at the bottom so feel free to experiment! In this example, I’m dividing the lower cup into two relatively equal pieces, which will result in a seam that runs perpendicular to the main seam.

TWO: Cut the pattern piece along the lines and trace your two new pieces. Draw in a smooth, even curve connecting the top and bottom seamlines. The curve should be fairly subtle.

lower cup seam #2

THREE: That’s it–your new pieces! Don’t forget to walk the seamlines and add 1/4″ allowances to the new seam.

lower cup seam #3

Vertical Seam Alteration

For this alteration, first mark where you want your seam to start and end. A vertical seam doesn’t have to be straight up and down–you could slant inwards or outwards. I found my starting points by marking these positions on a previous bra. It just so happens that my pattern–Pin-up Girls Classic–has a notch right at the center bottom, which is usually where a straight vertical seam starts.

ONE: Mark the bust point of your pattern.

vertical seam alteration #1

TWO: On both pieces, mark in lines on the top and bottom cups, going from the desired starting point of your new seam to the bust point. I rotated the bottom cup in this example so I could draw a straight line down the two.

vertical seam variation #2

THREE: Split these pieces apart on the lines. You should now have four pieces total.

vertical seam variation #3

FOUR: Line up the top and bottom pieces along the sides until the seamline along the sides of the cup form smooth curves.

vertical seam variation #4

The cross-cup seamlines will match each other for a short distance, but will not come together at the bust point. Trace off the these new inner and outer pieces.

FIVE: Depending on your pattern style and where the apex is, one side may have smaller “dart” than the other. In this case, the outer cup has the smaller dart, so draw your new seam line on this side first. Draw in a smooth curve connecting the two upper and lower pieces close to the bust point.

vertical seam variation #5

On the inner cup, draw another curve of equal length. Because the “dart” on this side is so wide, the curve will not go around the apex. (You need to take some out from that “dart”, if that makes sense!) You can use a measuring tape to find the right curve length.

ETA: The flatter these curves, the less length (and volume) the cup will have. In your fitting, experiment with them to find the shape you like. If you’d like to pull things in more, you can experiment with making the inner curve slightly flatter than the outer curve–a good tool to use in shaping!

SIX: Smooth out all the new seam lines, mark your bust point notch, and add seam allowances.

vertical seam variation #6

In the above illustration I’m also smoothing off that strap extension from my pattern, because I’m not going to use a fabric strap.

There ya go–a totally new cup!

I hope these are clear, so let me know if you have any questions!

Have a beautiful weekend, all. And get ready to start the engines–on Monday we’ll finally get to sewing and I’ll start with some cutting and layout tips. See you then!

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Bra-making Sew Along: Hack Your Bra #1

I have to admit that this part of the sew-along is the part I was most excited about! I love the process of thinking about shapes, of sitting down with paper and rulers (or lately, Illustrator) and drawing new design ideas. I know pattern-making can seem intimidating but bras are such a great way to jump in and exercise your secret hacker. It all involves so little paper and fabric!

So in the spirit of my Lingerie Fridays, I want to share some of my favorite bras with you along with some ideas on how to generate them from your base pattern.

band style

How about a longline? (Cool examples: Freya, Fortnight…) I love these for style but they’ve got a function, too. The wider the band, the more supportive it is. And I think they look pretty sweet underneath thinner tops. I’ve made this alteration to a few of my bras:

purple silk longline bra

You can lengthen the band straight from center front, side seam and back, as the lines in red demonstrate. The longer these lines get, the narrower the band will at the bottom so if you need more width you might have to try lengthening at a different angle (lines in blue).

longline bra alteration

strap style

How about fabric or lace straps?

stella mccartney silk bra with lace straps

Again, style and function–the less elastic the strap, the longer it lasts. This beautiful Stella bra uses a scalloped lace and a silk satin strap in the front.

The back design is really up to you. I love having options in back strap designs. It’s easy to change your pattern back and forth from a u-back to a camisole back.

changing from u-back to camisole back

In a camisole style, the elastic works best if it is tacked down to both the top and bottom of the band.

bridge style

You can do a lot of funky things with the bridge, too. If you are using longer underwires but want create a little plunge effect, you can try using separator wires, as in this lovely Huit bra.

using separators in bridge

These wires come in all sorts of shapes. The construction would be a fun puzzle, as you either need channeling or a tunnel to insert the wire. I may try this on my next bra and I’ll let ya know how it turns out!

demi cups

If a demi style appeals to you, you can always take some of the height out of your cup and bridge. This is an Elle Macpherson demi bra with similar seams as some of our patterns. To do this you’ll need shorter or plunge wires, or clip your own.

Elle Macpherson demi cup bra

alteration for a demi bra with strap extension

I love playing the game of “How Did They Do That?” and often do a little investigation in the stores (it must look funny, as I look inside the seams–the things you do when you sew!). So I hope this gives you some fun ideas as you continue your bra-making adventure.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking the pattern-hacking a bit further with a tutorial on adding vertical seams to your cups. After bit of a breather over the weekend, on Monday we can finally get down to the business of sewing our bras. Woo!

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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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Bra-making Sew Along: Cup Adjustments

bra cup adjustments

Continuing on with fitting adjustments, today we’ll talk through some possible alterations to your cups.

Some tips for working with these alterations:

  • Mark in your seamlines on your pattern so that you can measure exactly how much you want to adjust.
  • The best way to determine your alteration is by pinning out excess along the cross-cup seams, neckline or arm edges of the cup to see if that helps things fit. If you need more room you could cut a bit into areas of your tester bra to see what alleviates tightness. Measure how much you needed removed or added and write it down. I keep the pins in the bra so I can measure my little “darts” after I take it off.

Overall volume adjustment

If you simply want to add or remove more overall volume in the cup, pinch out darts along the main seams until the cup feels comfortable. Measure out this amount along the cross cup seamlines. Spread or close the dart and redraw the seams.

cup adjustment #1

I’m just showing one adjustment right at the bust point but if you are adding or removing a lot of volume, you may need to make several little darts or slashes along the seams so that you make an even shape adjustment across the cup.

Adding or Removing Lower cup volume

If you notice excess fabric pooling at the bottom of your cup, you may need to remove some of the volume from the lower cup. Pull up the lower cup and see if you can pin some of it out. This adjustment could also help lift the cups.

cup adjustments #2

You will have to adjust the length of the uppercup seamline to match the new lower cup seamline. The illustration above shows one way to do that, by cutting and overlapping to shorten the seam.

Smoothing the apex

If the cups are just too (yes I’ll say this!) pointy, you can always smooth out the apex curve of the cup. When doing this adjustment, start small so you don’t remove too much of the seam length. This is pretty similar to doing the above adjustment. Maddie of Madalynne has a great post explaining cup alterations, particularly this one!

Adding Lift

Both of the above adjustments will add some lift to the bra in some way. If everything fits and you still want a bit more lift, you can try flattening the seam of the upper cup. The flatter this seam is, the more lift a bra has. (Balconette bras with 3-piece seaming often have a totally flat upper piece.)

cup adjustment #3

To make this adjustment work, you will have to remove some length on the lower cup seam so that it matches the new upper cup.

Gaping at the Side of the cup

cu adjustment #4
Pin out the excess along various points of the cup to determine where the excess is. Transfer this to your pattern by slashing and closing the darts, as in the examples below.

Adding underarm coverage

This is an alteration I did to my bra. It could help if you want some extra coverage or support along the side of your cup, depending on your figure. This alteration requires both your cradle/band and the cup pieces which run along your underarm.

cup adjustment #5

Line up the cup pieces and cradle right along their seamlines.

Draw in the new underarm line starting from the band and going up toward the cup. In this illustration, I’m also making my straps further apart on the top of the cup.

Adding more coverage the top of the cup

If you have more breast tissue at the top of your cup and want more coverage, you can always raise the top seamline. Most of the patterns we are using aren’t entirely a “full cup” bra.

cup adjustment #6

This new line can be either totally straight or just slightly curved–a curved line will add a bit more length.

That’s it–I hope these give y’all some good ideas! Tomorrow I’ll be featuring some of the great fitting questions you had for Norma.

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