[disclaim]Update: Since writing this post, I’ve had a few occasions where the Plasti-dip coating peels off while inserting it into wire channeling. (The same with Household Goop.) Lately I have been trying heat shrink tubing as suggested in the comments below. I don’t file the edge of the wire, since the tubing seems to form enough of a smooth edge. You can find heat shrink tubing at hardware stores. I purchased mine on Amazon.com. The 3/32″ size seems to work with most wires.[/disclaim]
When I first started making bras, I was surprised by the discovery that no two underwires are the same. I simply thought I’d buy a wire in my current size and presto!–I’d have one that fit just like my store-bought bras. But when I started taking apart my old bras I discovered that they were different in widths/diameters, curve shapes, lengths, and wire gauges. Some were really lightweight steel, others quite thick.
Underwires are the foundation of modern bra drafting. They determine breast diameter, circumference, and depth, and lingerie companies don’t go around picking wires out of a pile. There are a lot of specs and sizing research that go into wire manufacturing. What brands design depends on the style, their target demographic, costs and fit profiles. I’ve been on the phone with a few manufacturers and the choices are mind-blowing if I wanted to make them to order. So are the costs for a small independent retailer. I mention all this because it puts my attempts to find the “perfect” wire into perspective! It also makes me thankful for the independent shops that continue to source them.
And even though many shops now carry a variety of different wire sizes and shapes from plunge to strapless, I’ve been wanting to just cut my own. One of my favorite handmade bras recently bit the dust, so I pulled out the wire and found it rather out of shape…
I cut it out because I really wanted to trace it off, before it got too late to discern any possible shape. The builders at my local hardware store directed me to copper wire cutters which would be great for picture-hanging wire but not the wires I’m cutting. I already talk about lingerie far more than is publicly acceptable so I had to make up something about “really thick steel jewelry!” to tell them why I needed a vise and plumber’s cutters!
The vice and cutters cost me about $15 total. I needed the cutters anyway, because I do cut jewelry chains occasionally.
It’s very easy to cut existing wires. If the wires you bought are too long, even just a smidge in the front or sides, you feel it, right? Why not have a totally customized wire? Just mark off the spot you want the wire to end and snip. Definitely wear glasses for this–the snipped part will fly across the room! Here’s a set of wires, one before cutting and after (black tips). I took off about 3/8″ on each side.
To coat the wire ends, I used Plasti-Dip. Plasti-whaa, you say?
It’s basically a liquid rubber tool dip, and makes a perfect soft coating for the end of cut wires. It first became popular as a colored rubber coating for tool handles and auto wheel rims. A design-savvy friend informs me that dip-painting silverware was all the rage last summer, right next to overdyed Oriental rugs. Plasti-dip latched onto this trend and has a Pinterest board devoted to crafty dipping ideas. Chairs, jewelry, toothbrushes, kitchen appliances, shoes (great if you wanted some Comic-Con boots). Stopping short of small pets, it seems everything was getting dip-dyed. Or dip-rubbered, that is.
I also tried Household Goop, which I’d read about on a few corset-maker sites (it’s often used to tip bones), but I found it a little difficult not to “goop” a big messy blob on the end of the wire. If you make a mistake, both the Goop and Plasti-Dip are easy to peel off after a few picks with a utility knife.
Even though wires are invisible, I’m kind of a color fanatic. I like the idea of dipping my wires in a fun color, and Plasti-dip has a color mixing kit, which I bought because I think I’m going on a silverware dipping binge at some point! It took two or three dips to get a nice smooth end that properly covered the raw metal:
Presto–my perfect wire!
One more tip for using Plasti-dip: Once you dip your wires, it starts to dry rather quickly but takes about an hour for the dip to fully settle and dry. Find a way to hang your wires upside down, so that the dip forms a nice rounded edge at the tips.
Would you like tips and inspiration in the craft of lingerie sewing? Sign up for my weekly eletter The Lingerie Maker.