First Adventures in Bra Making

Makers, I did it! I started my bra making journey! Buckle up, this is going to be a long ride.

If you’ve been following me for a while you know that learning how to make a bra has been passively on my goals list for a while. Its something I’ve always wanted to do, especially since bra making really took off in the sewing world and it felt a lot more accessible than it had before. However, I’ve equally always been slightly intimidated by it. Reading up on bra making posts it always felt a bit like alchemy or magic to me. I have a hard time finding well fitting bras in retail wear, combine this with having low trust in my own abilities and my perfectionist nature I always felt that I had to up my sewing skills massively before I even started to attempt this.

This summer though, I’ve been changing my approach to things I’m intimidated by. The thing is if I wait until my perfectionist nature thinks I’m good enough for things I’m going to wait a long time. It was hampering my skill development, because while waiting “until I’m better at this” very little was being made and in turn I wasn’t developing my skills any further. This summer I’ve been approaching everything I want to do and make with a different mind: If I’m not going to do or make this now, it will not happen at all, so I better just get on with it. I hope this mindset will stick cause, spoiler alert, so far it has made this summer and autumn the most productive in my sewing and making in general and I’ve also never been happier with the things I’ve made and tried to make.

So, why would you even want to make your own bra if it’s so intimidating I can hear you ask. Couple of reasons:

Well fitting, nice looking and affordable bras are UNICORNS. Why are they unicorns? Women make up half of the actual population on earth, why are we not catered for and given the awesome bras we deserve? I know most bra wearing people experience trouble with finding well fitting unicorns, because we are dealing with a sort of arbitrary implemented standard… which fits almost nobody perfectly. And some fit less perfect than others. If you are really lucky, nothing really fits and you just end up picking the bra size that irritates the least. Ahem, so, I am one of the lucky ones. I have a non standard/difficult bra size and friends let me tell you the pickings out there are really slim if you fall into this category. More so if you are looking for a unicorn that isn’t beige or pale white -sorry beige, it’s not you, but I’m really sick of you. Let me just point out here for a moment, that I think women deserve nice looking, happiness bringing underwear for themselves. I think wanting underwear that makes you happy because of the way it looks is just as valid as wanting to make underwear because you can’t find anything that fits well.

Anyway those are my reasons, wanting stuff that fits and isn’t boring, you might have your own reasons. I thought it might be helpful to go over some of the things I learned while making my first bra. I’m very much at the start of my bra making journey, but I feel like I already learned a bunch of things. I figured that other makers looking to make their own bras might be interested in knowing what I know now. So here we go:

What pattern to pick?

Some people advice that when you start making bras, you ought to start with wireless bras. I dove into the deep for my first bra. When I convinced myself to just jump in with bra making I also instantly decided to go for an underwire bra. Why? I am a firm believer of making stuff you actually wear or use, even when you are just beginning or learning the skills to do it. I think you learn best by doing something you are enthusiastic about, invested in and motivated for. Sure, chances that you will fail are there, but they are there anyway (Don’t get me started on knitting, I have opinions about dishcloths as a first project).  I never started my first bra with the idea that it would be instantly perfect or even wearable to be honest. But I did start it with the idea of making something that would learn me the skills to eventually make something that I could wear.

Where am I going with this? I only ever wear underwire bras. Does this come as a shock to anybody? I won’t judge because to be honest I felt the same when I found out that there are people of the bra-wearing-kind who hardly ever wear bras if they can avoid it. I suppose it helps (or doesn’t, depending on your view) that my bra size runs more towards the middle of the alphabet than the beginning. I need bras with a lot of support, or else my back starts to ache…ACHE. Since it just so happens to be that by far the most of the support comes from the bridge and wires, that’s what I needed for my first handmade bra.
I read on some bra making sites that larger busted people can wear soft cup bras but I don’t know. I’m just a bit sceptical because of my personal experience and based on what I read on the blogs of those more…uh well-endowed ladies. So far, I’ve only found one soft cup bra pattern that actually goes to my size, the Watson bra by Cloth habit, which does little to convince me that the type is suitable.

After deciding to go with an underwire bra, I had to make a decision regarding patterns. Sadly most bra patterns adhere to a particular, smaller size range. Most patterns I encountered didn’t even include my size (sad trombone). That was a bit of a come down to be honest, but I guess the silver lining is that I wasn’t overwhelmed with an avalanche of choices either. Orange Lingerie used to publish their bra patterns in bigger sizes, but with all their recent patterns they haven’t. I get get the feeling that they are not planning to return to the more inclusive size range policy for the time being, which is disappointing. They did say that by tinkering a bit with the patterns by using sister sizing you can up scale the sizing. As a beginning bra maker that just isn’t that appealing to me when there are more inclusive sized bra patterns on the market. Might keep the brand in mind for later though…if this bra making thing takes of that is.

In the end I narrowed it down to three options: The Marlborough Bra and the Boylston bra, both by Orange Lingerie and the Harriet Bra by Cloth Habit. I narrowed it down to these because they included a large size range, I’ve seen these about a lot and have seen them succefully made by bloggers and makers that I like and trust. In the end I went with the Harriet bra, on the basis of having seen a really glowing blogpost of someone with similar bra and fitting issues as myself. In absence of any other reason to pull me towards one of the other patterns this was the one I went with.

Things I learned before I even sewed my first bra:

-Kits, kits, kits. Shopping for parts has made me a big fan of bra kits.  There are a lot of sets online with matching fabric and lace, to which you only need to add the hardware. Alternatively you can order the fabric yourself and order a complementing or contrasting findings kit (this is a kit for all the bits and pieces that are not the fabric, lining or wires). The learning curve for bra sewing is pretty steep and even though I did read up (a lot!) on all the stuff that goes into making a bra I was really relieved to have all notions in one package as opposed to having to hunt them down one by one. I found that after actually making my first bra from start to finish I was already so much more familiar with everything, and had already start to form preferences for specific types of notions, but it still helped to have some basis to start from when looking for new materials later. 

-Fabric, fabric, fabric. Take great care what fabric you pick: The first bra I started was with fabric from a bra kit. Bra kits are great (see my previous point) however this fabric was some dark dark stuff. I mean, these days I’m not a newbie any more when it comes to stretch fabric but this was something else. This fabric wast not stretch fabric it was actual LIQUID. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was of course a nightmare to sew. It was also a solid colour. Now here comes lesson 3: 

-Don’t pick a solid fabric as your first bra fabric. Unless it is meant solely as a muslin. Solid fabric shows EVERYTHING. Bras involve a lot of top stitching. So here I was, top stitching on actual liquid fabric, in a solid colour which showed ANY wonkiness as if under a magnifier. I was sewing view A of the Harriet bra, which is the unlined version. The inside looked spectacularly untidy because – need I repeat – my fabric was liquid. To be honest all of this worked very demotivating and I will admit that I was pretty disappointed with my efforts.  Some doubt in my abilities started to creep in and I was wondering whether it had been a good idea to even start doing this. 

I started this bra over the weekend and at the time actually meant to finish this bra, but was so disheartened by it all and throughout the week it kept bothering me. In the end I decided that I needed a do-over. A re-start.  

So. That’s what I did. I kept the same pattern but ordered different fabric and ordered a findings kit with that (as opposed to an entire bra kit). I ordered this super bright stretch lace. It’s apparently hard to make yellow findings, or maybe the demand is just really tiny, cause I couldn’t find a cohesive offering. So I went with contrasting all white findings.

It sounds a bit counter-intuitive but friends, this lace was so much easier to sew with than the solid fabric I used on my first attempt. I could weep of joy when I finished sewing the first seam.

What I learned when I actually sewed my first bra:

Sewing a bra is not difficult, per sé. The stitches used are mostly basic straight lines and zigzag variations. There are a lot of steps though and takes a lot of those steps before it starts to look like anything recognizable. Some of the sewing  can be a bit cumbersome, but this is definitely something that will get better with a bit of practise. In fact I’ve already sewn my second (and working on my third!) bra and it was already a world of difference.

-Lined bras are awesome. This time around I went with view C of the Harriet bra, which is the lined version. It made a world of difference: and made the insides look neat and actually like a bra is supposed to look. If you are thinking about making a bra I would recommend doing a lined version. It looks better, is much more forgiving of small mistakes, feels better and sturdier and compares much more to retail bra finishing.

-The most difficult part of making bras is the fitting. Since I have such a hard time finding well fitting bras in stores this shouldn’t have come as a surprise and well…  it didn’t really. What makes bra fitting difficult it that you can only truly try the fit when it’s done. All the little bits and pieces will have an influence on the fit and you don’t know until the last frigging piece how it’s going to pan out. 

-There’s a lot to play around with! Like I said, I worked with a neon lace fabric and white notions. I decided to switch thread colours for the yellow and white top stitching and am glad with that decision. It was a bit finicky at the time, but I think it looks more professional this way. There’s just so many options: different contrasting notions, contrasting lining, heck, even different colours of lace or solids in one bra.

The verdict: How is the fit?

Well…it doesn’t fit (Sad trombone solo #4). I hadn’t expected this first bra to fit perfectly and it didn’t. But there were also some good things so lets go into some details about the fit:

I measured myself before deciding on a size with the measuring method included on the cloth habit website. The measurements I took matched the size I wear in retail bras, so that was a promising start. I read about other makers getting a spectacularly different size and consequently have huge problems getting it to fit. While making the bra, I did notice the cups seemed small… very small… certainly too small! I powered through because I could do little about it then, and you can’t completely assess the fit until it’s done.

When finished the cups were indeed too small. Laughably so. The bra is unwearable for me. The bands fit, albeit a bit on the tight side. There were also some good things though: the bridge is the best fitting bridge of my life. I don’t think I really knew how bridges were supposed to “fit well” until I’d made this bra. So that is good.

I’m super happy and proud of this bra even though I can’t actually wear it. It totally feels like I unlocked a long longed for achievement. Possibly the best and proudest thing I’ve ever sewn. It looks and feels like an actual bra. I’m proud for smashing through the mental block that making bras had become for me and pushing myself further. I also learned a ton about bra construction and fit and was able to take that knowledge further with the next bras that I made. 

Photographing bras is a bit of an issue. I lack both the confidence levels and trust in humanity (general humanity, not you guys of course) to model them on myself. I also live in a small apartment with two hobbies that already take in a lot of space, and another human who also has hobbies that take up space. As a consequence, I don’t own a sewing mannequin and am currently not looking to acquire one. Meaning you’ll all have to make do with these floating ghost-bra pictures. Which is not ideal, but better than nothing right? For the same reasons, I am not really comfortable with making my bra size googleable, I know it sucks because it can help other makers out there and I’d be willing to answer some of this via dm or something if you think it can help you.

I did warn this was going to be a long ride. As I said, I really enjoyed making this, and soon after, I already made another one, slowly fine tuning the fit. In all honesty, I had planned to split the content of this post between this bra and the next, but this just had to come out all at once. Thanks to all those bloggers out there preaching the bra making gospel: it’s been a very liberating experience so far!

4 thoughts on “First Adventures in Bra Making

  1. I've no experience with wireless bra's, so I can't be sure, but for me the wiring really wasn't the hardest part of the project. If you can topstitch & sew with fiddly lace parts you should be fine.

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