I love fashion etymology. My friends have been getting an
earful education in lingerie definitions–things like nursing sling, cookie (you know, that insertable floating foam thing in bra cups), and longline. The distinction between a tanga, a boyshort, or a cheeky. (For example, the Ladyshorts pattern is drafted in a style of cheeky.)
Outside of poetic retail descriptions that often lump really different styles under the same terms, there are many distinct cuts and styles in underwear.
In the first chapter of Bra-makers Manual II, Beverly Johnson reminds her readers that there really aren’t any standard naming conventions–in lingerie or in any apparel category. “The more a bra style evolves,” she writes, “the more specific its definition becomes.’ She uses the example of padded bras, which twenty years ago referred to any bra with any kind of foam or fiberfill lining, but are now a distinctive (extra-padded) idea in the sea of foam-lined bras.
Among underwired bras, one could at least divide them into two main types: those with a frame and those without. The frameless bra is sometimes known in sewing as a “partial band bra”.
In frameless bras, the underwire and its casing are sewn into the cups, since there is no frame or cradle running under the cups. The wings and bridge have to be completely finished before sewing them into the cup.
The cup seams are different than a framed bra, since there needs to be enough room for the wire to go into the cup. One of my patternmaking books calls it the “hook-up bra”, which I’m guessing means that the wings and bridge are “hooked up” to the cup?
I never really noticed the difference between the two types before I started making bras. When I looked through my older purchased bras, nearly all of them were frameless. So by default, that’s what I made for my first-ever bra. Since then I’ve veered into all kinds of new styles. I just love longlines, and that you can’t do with a frameless bra.
There are pros and cons for each.
Frameless vs. Full Frame
I find that the frameless bra is just a bit easier to sew, but it is also harder to modify into new styles. I tend to put more plusses under the full-frame bra since it can be a foundation for all sorts of other styles (bodysuits, longlines, strapless).
On a frameless bra, there is a limit to how wide the band can be which is a con especially for larger cup sizes. A too-narrow band wouldn’t put enough balancing force in the back, causing the front to drop down. I think of the band as a lever, balancing the weight in the front. Wearing it more tightly is one solution but then there is the potential for pinched skin and pushing the elastic–and fabric stretch–to its limits. Then the straps want to absorb some of the pressure. All that to say, a wider band can alleviate strap pain, pinching, and help with a little smoothing.
But I still dig the frameless style, so I had a go at designing one of my own.
Last summer I spied a cute little leopard bra in one of my favorite lingerie shops and wrote it down on my “project idea list”. Oh that long wishlist. The muse did strike eventually, when I found the right fabric, an unusual jacquard mesh. I made the knickers right away but kept them neatly folded in a sewing drawer until I could get around to a matching bra. I’m just that particular about finishing. My studio is happily strewn with bits of lace lying about like lines of half-started poems. I also have notebooks full of just lines, phrases I hear right in that half-dream state when I’m about to fall asleep.
I’m so glad I experimented with this pattern. I drafted the cup with a single dart and used a plunge wire for a demi style. It’s the shortest cup I’ve made so far, but I really love how it fits and it has turned out to be a good style for me. The undies are a simple high-waisted knicker (the same pattern from which I based my bodysuit).
Now how did I end up putting levers, red leopard and poetry in the same blog post?
Main Fabric: leopard mesh from Etsy
Lining Fabrics:stretch mesh and sheer tricot lining, Fabric Depot Co.
Plush and strap elastics: Fabric Depot Co., a few from stash
Elastic and Lining Dye: Rit “Scarlet”