Bra-making Sew Along: Measuring for Fit

measuring for fit

Hello everyone and welcome to the first day of the Bra-making Sew Along!

I am so excited to have such a diverse group of women from all over the world joining along. And I’m glad you all share my enthusiasm for sewing lingerie. New Year, new skills, new bras!

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to sew along with you and share how I like to make my bras. My personal passion is in design and pattern-making, and I hope to impart how easy and fun it is to do some design magic to a bra pattern. For the first week and a half, I’m going to focus on pattern fitting and alterations for style. A friend of mine enlisted as a volunteer to let me fit her a new bra (lucky gal), so you can follow along basic pattern fitting.

Along the way, please feel free to share your own tips and experience with each other, either here in the comments or in the Flickr group. 50 minds are better than one! And don’t forget we also have Norma from Orange Lingerie joining along with us. Norma is a custom bra-maker who has graciously offered to answer some reader questions in an “Ask the Expert” feature which I’ll include in some posts. Let’s pick her brain and experience!

On an organizational note, I’ve updated the schedule on the central Bra-making Sew Along page so you can see where we are at and what’s coming up.

So, let’s get down to business–measuring business! This will be the longest post but I want to get this out of the way right at the beginning in case you are new to bra-fitting.

bra sizing

The patterns I suggested cover everything from 30AAA to 30H and 32I, up to band sizes 48A to H. These are some of the better-graded bra patterns out there as they have some sophisticated differences between sizes. I know these are missing some smaller and larger band sizes. Bands are a relatively easy thing to adjust if you had trouble locating yours.

And few of us will get a perfect fit right out of any pattern. Two women with the exact same measurements may be different cup sizes. We have various breast shapes, muscle development, and bone structure, which affect our fit. This is why a custom bra can be so wonderful–no matter your size.

For an underwired bra pattern, I have found that the best way to find a starting size is by locating an underwire and band size. If I get those two right, the cups will be easier to fit.

find your band size

measuring bust and high bust

To find your band size, measure yourself snugly around your ribcage, right under the breasts. I exhale all the way out, then measure. If you want a very snug band, this measurement or the next even number up can be your band size.

If this sounds too small to you, try measuring your high bust, just above your breasts and going under your arms. The closest even number to this would be your band. Basically, your band needs to be close to the width of your chest as if your breast tissue weren’t there!

My underbust is 29″/74cm and and my high bust width is 31.5″, and I usually use a 32 band. Sometimes I go down to a 30 in a bra with really stretchy materials. In European sizing, I use a 75.

Note: If your pattern tells you to add four/five inches to get to your band measurement, I recommend that you ignore it! When making a custom bra, you can always adjust the band for comfort by lengthening or shortening later, and most likely you will do this anyway for different stretch fabrics.

underwire fit

Do you know which underwire fits you best? The bra patterns I’ve suggested all use a regular length underwire, but in the future some of you may want to explore using a shorter or longer one, depending on your support or comfort desires. It’s good to experiment!

comparing different wires

I found my best wire size by comparing 3 sizes of wires, going one size up and one size down from my usual size.

The wire should closely hug the natural curve where your breast meets your chest wall. No poking into the underarm, sitting on your breast tissue, or dropping below that crease. Underwires increase in diameter by about 1/4″/8mm per size–that’s a really small difference but it could be a crucial one! If you are having trouble finding your natural curve, you could use a washable marker to draw on your crease and see how the wire fits into it. I know that sounds funny but some of us have probably squeezed our breasts into too-small underwires and seeing that crease helps!

comparing underwires on a chart

For my friend I tried on several European underwires. Her best wire was an 85 and to find the corresponding U.S. wire size, I compared it to the Fabric Depot wire chart. I’ve made a page with links to wire charts, if you need them to compare wires.

find your cup size

For those who want to leave out underwires, one way to find your starting cup size is by subtracting the width of your high bust from your full bust.

I know this doesn’t work for every shape and you need to be wearing a good fitting bra while measuring. If any of you have tips for cup measuring, let us know! If you found an underwire that fits, you can get even closer:

Take your underwire size and compare it to your band size to find a cup size on this chart. My underwire is a 32 wire, so I move over to find my band size and its corresponding cup, a 32B. (In European sizing, a 75B.) My friend’s size is in green.

underwire & band size chart

I know US/UK cup sizing gets a little whacky after D but hopefully the chart makes sense. I don’t think any of the patterns I’ve suggested use the DD/DDD cup sizing anyway.

Some women with very large cup sizes may find that they need a larger cup to go with a smaller wire. Smaller busted women may need a larger wire with a smaller cup. If you have a feeling this might be your case, you can adjust the volume in your fitting.

I hope this information helps! We’ll get to tracing the pattern Wednesday and start in on our tester bras. If you are still having trouble finding your size, please don’t hesitate to ask questions!


  1. TottyB says:

    Sadly, from the bra patterns you suggested, I wasn’t able to find a pattern in my size 36J. Therefore, will you be showing any posts in grading up bra patterns? Otherwise would it be easier, if I used an old bra that used to fit (but underwires are sticking out) and completely take it apart to see what size underwire I need to use and to also use the dismantled cup as a pattern? What are your thoughts on this? Thanks

    • Amy says:

      Hi Totty, sorry to hear that. The Danglez DB3 bra might be a good option for you. To find your European size and if your underwire still fits, take it out and compare it to this wire chart at Elingeria. The only difference between a 36J and a 38I (or a 90J and a 95I) in this pattern will be in the length of the band along the side. I’ll definitely show how to adjust the band length because I do it often for different fabrics!

      And if anyone knows of another nice pattern in her size, please do share!

      • Andrea says:

        Hi Totty and Amy,
        Last September I was bra pattern shopping, but confused about sizing. I wrote to Bramaker’s Supply, and received an answer which may be helpful in your situation Totty. I’ve pasted the email question and response here:

        To Bramaker’s Supply:
        I am curious about your pattern sizing, and I do not see a size chart on the website. I typically wear a 34GG or a 36GG in UK sizes/brands. In the US, it”s a 34 or 36 I or J, but it is rare to find those sizes in US brands, so I typically wear the UK brands such as Elomi. Which is your sizing comparable to, US or UK?

        The Response:

        Hi Andrea,

        You would need to make a size 40H or 42H and make the band shorter to fit you. They are the equivalent in the cup size of 34/36 I or J. The pattern that have these sizes are the “Classic” full band #1245 and the “Linda” partial band #1245.

        Have a good day!

        I hope this helps in your situation, Totty.

      • TottyB says:

        Many thanks to @Andrea and Amy for suggestions regarding a suitable bra pattern for my size. However, as I am a UK resident I am going by the size I’ve been told by bravissimo, as I purchase their RTW bras . So I’ll follow Andrea’s suggestion and contact Bra Makers supply and see what the response is!!

      • Amy says:

        I had a look at Bravissima bras–so very pretty! After I did the UK conversion, I realized the Pin-up or Danglez pattern don’t offer your size unless you wanted to radically alter your band. I think you might like having a 3-piece cup for the shaping and support and cloning a bra would be a fun thing to try! The Bra-makers Manual also has a chapter on bra cloning. I don’t know how it compares to her article, but it’s a *really* great book to have if you want to get into making and designing your own bras. It’s also on CD if you want to get it a little cheaper.

      • Andrea says:

        I didn’t realize you were in the UK. I love the bras on Bravissimo! Gorgeous 🙂 A couple of the brands they sell I am able to get over here in the US, such as Panache and Fantasie. Freya is also available here, but they are not supportive enough for my figure. Panache makes my favorite sports bra.
        Contacting Bramaker’s Supply is a great idea. They were so gracious and helpful. Please let us know what they suggest.

    • Kemish says:

      Regarding a bra pattern, I am not sure if the patterns from Needle Nook Fabrics will work for you, but Ann St Clair who designed the patterns and runs the store maybe able to answer provide some assistance. She hasn’t a website, but you can contact her through her blog: Another suggestion regarding ‘cloning a bra’, Threads Magazine has a good article about this, Clone a Favorite Bra by Beverly Johnson, Feb/March 2002. What is nice about this article is that she shows you how to trace off the bra without taking it apart. I am not sure if this article can be obtained through the Threads website or not, but maybe your local library may have back issues? If not let me know, I have it. Hope this helps.

      • TottyB says:

        Sorry Kemish, forgot to include you and any other reader who has made a contribution to my problem , for which I am grateful to all suggestions made!! I did have a look at your blog so that I could email you regarding the threads article, but there is no email address. What is the best way to contact you via your blog? Thanks Totty

    • Kemish says:

      Hi Totty,

      Sorry for the delay. I have been out of town. hope this message gets to you. You can leave a comment on my blog and let me know where to send the article to (i.e. your name (dot) for instance. You are right I don’t have a contact email on mu blog . . . I will have to figure that one out. Thanks.

      • Yettie says:

        Hi Andrea, please where in the US can I buy the freya, fantasies brands please. I’m from the UK and now in the US and as tou know the bras are not comparable especially for big busts. Please help. Yettie

  2. One thing about underwire– from what I’ve learned, it shouldn’t be the right size before you make your bra because the tension on the wing ‘springs’ it open– making it larger than in its unsprung shape. Depending on the thickness of the wire, it will spring different amounts and you may have to adjust your pattern to fit that spring because it will have been cut to accomodate the spring of the wire it was drafted from. Also the wire you have may not be exactly the same shape at the wire the pattern was drafted from (there is no standard shape), so it may need to be adjusted to fit.

    • Amy says:

      That’s a really great insight. This is how I’ve been drafting my bras and the more you get into bra drafting and fitting the more you refine these little details! I like to adjust existing cradles to match specific underwires and their spring. This is why I’m curious about the fit of some European bra patterns because the wire line in the pattern is often very wide… but that’s another subject for another time!

      It’s true that if your wire fits, it will follow the bottom half closely and along the top half on the side could seem like it’s sitting a little too close.

  3. Michelle says:

    I was having a bit of a problem – both in ready-to-wear and bras I’d made myself. There was always a line about an inch under my bust where the bra would rest. I phoned Bra-Makers Supply and was told the underwires were either too big or too small. I was told the best way to check to see if the wires fit properly was to raise your arm over you head. That way you could see the true form of the breast. I found out the wires I was using were definitely too big.

  4. Rachel says:

    Well, I measured 28″ for my under bust and 30″ for my high bust. I typically wear a 32B in most brands. The 32B underwires I bought seems to fit pretty perfectly. I didn’t realize we’re sewing a test bra, but of course that makes sense. I bought a cool hand dyed bra kit from Hooks and Wires on Etsy (it looks like you may have too!) but I don’t mind using it for my test!

    Looking forward to it…thanks so much!


  5. Amy says:

    Hi Rachel, I just found your blog and love all the undies you’ve made! Sounds like you could try either a 32B or a 30C. I’ve had to pull in some patterns closer to the 30. You certainly don’t have to make a tester bra, but then there’s just so many little bits and materials and sometimes it’s helpful to *see* the silhouette and fit before committing. Or you could just make two ;).

    I dyed my own! I’m getting addicted to dyeing, too.

  6. Michelle L says:

    Hi Amy, I think you are going to be one busy girl!
    1st question: How did I get to be 53 yrs old and not know what bra size I am ?
    By all the calculations I am AUS 14 B or US 36B ,I purchased the appropriate wires and I have worn them in my swimmers today(it’s 42 oC here) apart from a little poking from unrestrained wires I think I’m confident to go with this size.
    2nd question: I am using Élan 645 ,there are no measurements with the size guide that I can see. There is a 36 B size is this US or European?

    • Amy says:

      Ouch that’s hot! Sounds like Texas in the summer!

      You got it–36B is US sizing which is what the Elan pattern uses.

    • Andrea says:

      Maddie, thank you for the link. I found the article really helpful. I followed the instructions to measure the “Breast Root Trace”, and found my underwires that I ordered are a good match.

    • Sue says:

      Great post! I’ve mulled over this springing of the underwire. I have a book by a different author, where the wire is not sprung, but merely traced. In the bra makers manual, are those wires sprung?

      • Amy says:

        Hi Sue,

        As far as I know, in industry bra drafting, the wires are sprung. Accounting for that helps the cradle fit a bit better as it accommodates the shape and tension of the actual wire that is going to be used. I can’t remember which book doesn’t do that but there are a lot of different drafting styles out there!

  7. Hannah says:

    If I am going to leave out the underwires and use the “find your starting cup size…by subtracting the width of your high bust from your full bust” method, how do I translate the difference into cup size?

    • Amy says:

      1″ is A, 2″ is B, 3″ is C, etc. Does your pattern suggest a way to measure? Use the band size you found here and see what that tells you…

      • Hannah says:

        Thanks! No, the pattern I’m planning to use doesn’t seem to have any instructions for choosing a size. I have Kwik-Sew 3594. I tried searching online for instructions and found some on the Sew Sassy website. They have instructions based on an out-of-print Kwik-Sew book. Its method of finding the cup size is exactly what you are suggesting: full bust minus over-the-bust with 1 inch = A, 2 inches = B, etc. I feel more comfortable having that confirmed. Its band measuring instructions involve adding 4 or 5 inches, which I will duly ignore.

  8. Jane says:

    Hi, I’ve only just found your blog so will need to get hold of patterns and supplies before I start to make my bra. I have a couple of questions; firstly the picture under the heading “underwire fit” doesn’t seem to be available on my laptop or iPad, is there a problem with it? Secondly I find buying bras an absolute nightmare as it seems almost impossible to get one that doesn’t stab me under my arm pit or poke into my chest. I take a 32D and find that the only bras that are remotely comfortable are a plunge shape; anything that comes up any higher leaves me with chaffing. I am sure I am wearing the right size as I have been fitted by Rigby and Peller who are reknowned for their fitting skills. One of their fitters recommended the plunge shape saying I was quite concave in the chest. Can you let me know which of the bras you recommend might be able to help this problem and do you think I will be able to get a good fit with the correct underwire?

    • Amy says:

      Oops, you’re right! I put the wrong file link in there… fixed!

      How wonderful that you were fitted at Rigby and Peller! In that photo I actually have a picture of different underwires. If you’re in the UK sell a wide variety of underwires and some of them are plunge/demi style. Their #9 wire is a nice plunge shape. You can lower the front of any of the patterns we’re making.

  9. nommh says:

    Ah, how I wish I had the time to sew along… I really like the careful way you describe finding the right sizes for band, cup, and wire.
    Me I had quite a shock when I found the correct wire size for me. I’m a 34C, and I always knew that C wires are too tight for me, but the wire that matched my curve was a DDD/F (severly clipped). So for me there is no going back to the shops!
    But I’m wishing you all a great time!

  10. Louisa says:

    I’ve already made at least 3 bras so far with the Pin-Up Girls Classic pattern and though it’s a very nice bra, I’m still not particularly comfortable even in the best-adjusted version. I just can’t find underwires that fit properly and don’t dig or slide down, larger or smaller! It doesn’t help that I don’t normally wear underwired type bras! I guess because I can’t find one that fits, huh? Perhaps I’m an odder-than-usual shape? I’ve tried to leave them out (since this pattern says underwires are optional) but that doesn’t fit quite right either because then the bridge doesn’t come anywhere close to my chest.

    I do have some lovely non-underwired bras that fit nicely so perhaps what I need to do is clone one of them. My favourite ones have a bit of straight boning in each side and that’s it. Thanks to whoever it was that mentioned the Threads article! I have that issue so I’m going to hunt it down now…

    • Amy says:

      Hi Louisa! This may be a good question for Norma, specifically about types of underwires. I don’t know your size but there are some specialty underwires that run less like a “semi-circle” and are made for specific shapes. I have also tried plastic underwires. They definitely don’t hold their shape as well but could be more comfortable for some.

      I was thinking today I might take some pictures of myself in various versions of the Pin-up pattern for the Flickr group so we can see some examples of how I changed the fit. If you were feeling brave, perhaps you could share one of your previous bras so we could see what’s going on.

      • Norma says:

        Hi Lousia!

        A bra that does not go back to the chest wall can mean the wire is incorrect, the spacing between the cups is not correct for your body or the cup is too small.

        I would start by making sure you have the correct size underwire. Have you tried the underwire on, on its own to test its fit?

        When a client is not comfortable in a wire that fits their breast diameter, I look at the length of the wire and the curvature of the wire. I do not hesitate to shorten wires or bend them to better accomodate the chest wall.

        If the underwire fits and the bra still does not go back to the chest wall, you can move onto checking the spacing between the cups and the cup size. Cloning a bra that already fits you can certainly help figure out these pieces of the puzzle!


  11. Allene says:

    Hi, I have a questions. I think I missed a step. Ribcage=36, High breast=38, full breast=43. So with a 5 inch difference between the high breast and the full breast what cup size would I use. I normally purchase a 38C from VS, but is sounds like I may be a D or E, is that correct?

  12. Deby says:

    Does anyone have any tips on how I can pick the correct size underwire without actually having any in front of me?
    We don’t have a supplier on my island so I will have to order from overseas. I don’t have a single bra that fits me properly and never have had which is why I am hoping to join the sewalong, albeit I will be a couple of months behind once my supplies arrive.
    I can see the wire size chart. Could I try to make some sort of paper underbust template and compare to the chart?

    • Amy says:

      Hi Deby! A paper template sounds like a neat idea. Also, have a look at this page on Foundations Revealed. It’s about drafting a bra but he shows how to make a “breast root trace” using a flexible ruler. I tried the ruler method and you have to really hold it with both hands to get it to follow very closely and hold your natural curve. Even then it will be a little wider along the side than what your underwire size will be. You could also try using something like copper wire. When you order, think about ordering a couple of wire sizes to compare. It’s really the best way to know for sure and could save some headaches!

  13. blacklabel says:

    Im not joining in on this Bra making sew-along but Im interested & still learning. Thanks for doing this. I think many women will learn lots of new things from your sew-along.

  14. Amy says:

    Some of you might already know this, but I just wanted to clear up any confusion regarding bra sizes:

    A 32D, 34C, 36B and 38A are the same cup and share the exact same underwire. If you look at the chart above under the heading “Band & Cup”, the sizes along the same line are the same in cup and underwire. The only difference between these sizes is in the band length, and sometimes a little bit of distance between the cups.

    So for example, if you need a 36C but can’t a pattern in that size, you can make a 34D and add length to the band, or a 38B and take in length.

    As I mentioned, most likely some of us will need to take in the band and bridge (distance between the cups) to customize the fit anyway, sometimes just because your fabric may stretch more or less. These are very easy adjustments to do and I’ll share how!

    As far as sizes and cups are concerned, of the patterns we are using *only the Elan* pattern does not go straight from D to E. It goes from D to DD. All the other patterns use an ABCDEFG etc cup sizing.

  15. Nina says:

    Hi Amy,
    I’m a little confused. I am an Australian size 12C bra size. I measured my underbust (32″) and my high bust (36″). This is a big difference. Also, I measure 37″ around the fullest part of the breast. How do I work out what bra size I should be? By the way, I am measuring myself while wearing an underwired unpadded moulded bra – which has (of course) been discontinued!!

    • Amy says:

      By this measurement, I would try a 34 band. It sounds like you are a 34C, which uses a 36 wire. In European wire sizes that is closest to an 85. (I layed a 36 wire on a European chart to find out.) This would make you about an 85B in European. The best way to know for sure is to try and print out one of the wire charts and lay your bra down and try and center your wire to find out the closest size!

      Does that help?

      • Nina says:

        Hi Amy,

        Thanks for your really helpful reply. It all makes a lot more sense to me now. I will see what I can find on the internet re conversion charts.

  16. sande cross says:

    i am totally confused about underwire sizing. i ordered bra kits from fabric depot, and the lady sent underwires based on the size bra i am wearing. they seem to be a perfect fit, even better than the wires in my current bras. but i have no earthly idea how i would choose a size on my own. are there no specific measurements to be taken around the breast or elsewhere on the chest to determine what the size would be?

    second question: both my underbust measurement and the over the breast measurement are 33″, so is it better to use a band measurement of 32″ or 34″ and why? thanks for your help!

  17. Vicki says:

    I’m a bit lost with sizing. I wear Australian size 10C or 10 D . I have both in RTW. My band measures 72. Full bust with bra on 87 and chest 81. I bought KS3300 as I could get that immediately (just found the sew a long). And the pattern says to use the size you would in RTW – but how do I know what sizing KS uses? Is 32 C the same as 10C? I noticed at the fabric store they had wires in sizes 10C. I could check those against a RTW bra and if they are the same purchase them. But then what cup size do I use with KS3300? Oh dear, perhaps I should stick to RTW 🙁

    • Amy says:

      Hi Vicki, you’re on the right track! 10C or 10D are equivalent to about a 32C or 32D in U.S. sizing, which is what Kwik Sew uses.

  18. sande cross says:

    hi, amy, is there some reason why no one has answered my questions? should i just go on anyway? thanks.

    • Amy says:

      Hi Sande, I’m so sorry I missed your comment! We have a lot of people here and only one of me ;). Most others aren’t flipping back through posts to see questions. Have you joined the Flickr group? It’s been a good place to ask questions and have conversations with others.

      As for your earlier question, I would try starting with a 34 band. What is the underwire size she sent you? If you don’t know, lay it against her underwire chart to find out.) Once you have that number, look at the chart above and move across the line to see what cup goes with that wire and a 34 band. That will probably give you a good start!

  19. pao says:

    Hi, I’ve been reading and re-reading, visiting the bra-making sites, and still trying to figure it all out. So far I’ve got: 36″ ribcage. 38″ high breast. 41″ full breast. 3″ difference which equals a C cup. right? How does that then translate into an underwire size? I can’t seem to figure that part out. Help, please.

  20. Amy says:

    Pao, it’s possible from your measurements that you could start at a 36C or 36D. I would buy both 38 and 40 underwires to see which one fits you best–that way you can start with the right underwire fit.

  21. Sarah says:

    Hi Amy,

    I’m planning to make my own bra in 2014. Even thought the sewalong is finished, I wonder if you could advise me. I usually wear a 32E, but sometimes go down a cup size depending on style.

    I’ve looked at a few patterns and am ‘at the edge’ between envelopes on the Pin Up bras. I’m inclined to go for Elan 645 or Kwik Sew even though I might have to frankenpattern a bit, as at least I can get all the sizes in one envelope.

    Am I on the right track?

    Thanks for a great sewalong resource,

    • Amy says:

      Hi Sarah, I’d suggest going toward the size up because it is easier to reduce than puzzle out where you need more room. They all seem like good options. Above a D cup, I find that Pin-up Patterns run a bit smaller than many are used to… and/or many women tend to measure themselves at too-small a size. If you decide to go the Pin-up route, the envelope with the 32E also contains a 30 E whose cup is slightly smaller. The band patterns on both can be adjusted so I wouldn’t worry about the band.


  22. Linda says:

    If my breasts are the same as you, I wear 32B. When I wear unpadded lace bra. I find the my breasts is not full in enough to make it look good. Should I down to 30C or 30B?

    • Amy says:

      Hi Linda, a 30C is the same cup size as a 32B so the only thing you will change is the length of the band. If your breasts aren’t filling out the cup then you need to try a smaller cup. The next cup size down would be a 32A or if you want a smaller band with that same cup, a 30B.

  23. Marie says:

    At a total loss for the best fitting pattern/size (especially if there’s hope of one without lots of extra adjustments needed)… rtw bra size isn’t seemingly too consistent in larger cup sizes at all, so it’s always been a try each one on kind of deal for me. I am okay making maybe 2 or 3 testers to find the best fit, but am fearing this might be as disasterous as online bra shopping (though at my size, a good bit cheaper of a loss and maybe even ending with more hope from gained insight?). Are sizing on sewing patterns any more consistent/reliable than rtw? Or should I plan more on trying an assortment of either different patterns or different sizes to unriddle my predicament?

    My underbust is 34 in, upperbust is 35.5 in, and overbust is 48 in. Any insight or suggestions on good starting points from that?

  24. Amy says:

    Hi Marie, bras are unique in that they are so close fitting to the body. Their sizing is very dynamic and include a lot of measurements so there is no consistency in patterns, either.

    My suggestion is to take your time with it to develop an understanding of your fit. When I first starting making bras for myself, I made a few bras that passed for wearability but I kept tweaking the fit with each new bra. So you don’t have to make a million muslins ;).

    With the measurements you’ve given, I would suggest starting around a 34J (UK sizing). This is a 34M in U.S. sizing and a 34N in European sizing. These sizes are hard to find–a good option might be Pin-up Girls Classic. You may want to call them and ask what they suggest. I’ve heard they are very helpful in deciding what size to purchase. That’s actually a good idea for any bra pattern–if you can contact the patternmaker she will be able to help.

    I hope that helps!

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