Designing Bras for K+ Women: Part II

Hello Everyone,

After her first installment, I know many of us were desperately awaiting the next post from guest writer Jillian on how she began her journey to making custom bras for her fuller-bust. Her personal struggles resonated with so many people, and I know all of us can relate to bra frustrations at one time or another.  As a result, I am exceedingly pleased to brighten up your Thursday with another entry!  Also, I want to note that there was some initial confusion with the first post.  At this time, Jillian is only designing bras for herself but plans on sharing her patterns and tips in future entries as well as offering personal advice to anyone hoping to pursue making their own bras.

Erica

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Hello! Jillian again, back with another installment about bra making. In my previous entry, I gave you the sordid back story of my particularly problematic endowment. Today brings the four year research and development pilgrimage to lifted boobies.

I should first say that the decision to sew your own bras does NOT only apply to those that surpassed the cup constraints of RTW. Custom bra making can benefit any and everyone. You will know your undergarments are tailored to you alone. No one else will have the exact same article of lingerie. Plus the sense of accomplishment you feel when the last seam is done- priceless!

Although I knew what my end result should/could be, I had no concrete plan of how to reach that point. So the initial stage of my research was deconstructing a retired bra and analyzing the components. I also collected materials to match the bra I currently wore. Cloning and altering the Panache bra proved to be a great decision- made me that a three part cup was absolutely awful for someone my size! I took the most straight forward approach by just opening up the cup via the centered lower cup seam. Everything, though now fully encased, just gravitated to the floor. It was as if the fabric tension and grainline didn’t even matter. I also concluded that the intended outcome is absolutely dependent on the materials as well.*Note to self: using actual muslin for a practice bra is a bad BBBAAAADDDDD idea.* Like a suspension bridge, the physics, design and materials of a bra must work together. So I invested in stronger practice materials to mimic the final product materials. Trying again with the altered Panache clone did not fare well. Nor did the third or fourth try. There was a lot of foul language directed at the failures in the beginning. Those were dark days….. 

The Panache Tango in 38K
The Panache Tango in 38K

I took a step back. Returning to the drawing board, I needed to better define myself and what I wanted if I was to solve the puzzle. Defining what I wanted was simple. I started a look book of bras I liked that also gave the shaping and lift effect I craved. Trips to lingerie departments and stores were made so I could get hands-on evaluations on different styles. I broke down the features and components in each one so I could pinpoint how many of them repeated. Those I kept in mind for the drafting stage. A list of other possible features was produced just in case the design needed a supplement or replacement.

Relisting the issues of the previous bras helped me narrow down what needed to happen in the design stage.

  • The octo-boob and the underwires not resting on the chest wall meant the cup needed to open up. A LOT!!!!!!
  • The octo-boob also meant the neckline edge was too tight and/or not deep enough and that the armhole was too big.
  • The sagging meant the band was too big and the contouring of the cup seam lines was wrong.
  • Straps digging in meant they were anchored too wide for my frame and they were too long/thin.
  • The underwires digging into my arm meant the underwire size was too long and/or too big and/or too wide.

Some of the other issues were both my fault and not my fault. The fabric ripping, seams popping and the wires snapping were due to the immense weight of my breast tissue and the fact that I didn’t have enough bras to rotate wearing. Repeated use of the same few bras shortened the life span of those bras. Understanding that made me want to hasten my progress to avoid experiencing that again.

Defining myself was harder than anticipated. I lacked the proper terminology to do so. Our beloved Erica, along with several other bloggers, have spoken about a person realizing how their personal breast shape and density dictates what style would be best (top/bottom/center/side heavy, firm, soft, grainy, pendulous, etc). But what do you do when some but not all of the attributes from each category apply to you?

After digging around the internet again, I stumbled into a few treasure troves of information including Beverly Johnson of the Bra Maker’s Manuals (also known as the Fairy Bra Mother) and Foundations Revealed (an online forum of articles and tutorials about corsets, vintage undergarments and modern undergarments). From Ms. Johnson’s manuals, I learned that I was an Omega shape. Imagine holding a round balloon against a vertical flat board- that is an Omega breast against the chest wall. Small at the base then immediately growing wider coming away from the chest wall. If gravity had never started pulling on my breasts, they would look like massive cantaloupe implants. Just discovering this solved so many of the problems I was having with my pattern drafts. Being an Omega, I needed vertical wires (underwires that are a more distinctive U shape and narrower) in a size matching the smaller root of my breast tissue, straps anchored closer to the center back, a well draped neckline and a delicate balance of lift, cup depth and bust projection. Factoring in my short ribcage, I also needed to accomplish all this in such a way that didn’t optically shorten me even more.

The revelations about my breast shape brought on the decision to change the style and method of construction. A three part cup only perpetuated the torpedo look. I wanted gravity defying, round implant looking boobies with more forward projection. My mother told me that the more seam lines you have, the better the fit. So I started to split the lower cup into more pieces while also adding in more of the cup depth and width I needed. Two pieces in the end became a five piece lower cup. To push the breast tissue more towards the center and forward, I blended the outermost lower cup piece and a portion the upper cup up to the strap base, creating a side bar. Tightening the armhole area began to contain side spillage. The base of the strap migrated closer to the center. I experimented with which type of straps would be best and how to attach them. Ultimately I decided to have a front tightening full elastic strap in a wider width attached by rings in the front and back. The six part cups would sit in a full band bridge style with a leotard back. And I decided to stay with either four or five hooks for the closure.

An earlier version
An earlier version

Several tiny tweaks came with the drafting stage. Curves in the cup that are too shallow or too straight on any side of the pieces create flat spots and the torpedo effect. That is no bueno. Curves too deep in the lower cup and along the upper cup’s cross line cancel out uplift. Straps too wide set and too short also negate lift- and are REALLY painful. A proper balance between the rigid front band and the stretch of the back area splay the underwires, create tension in the cups to hold the breast tissue aloft and smooth the sides of the ribcage. Reinforcing the seams at each stage of construction has helped greatly. All parts working together to do what you want them to do.

Recently I had a great breakthrough with the pattern and everything is nearly perfect. I feel little to no pain on my shoulders. The deep wells on my shoulders are disappearing as well. Almost all of my breast tissue is completely encased. However *grrrr….* I’ve run into a minor irritation. I decided to re-measure myself so I could start making better fitted clothing also. When I began this journey, I formulated this pattern based on my original measurements (clone of the Panache bra):

Upper chest: 40”; Bust: 52”; Underbust: 38”

Now that I am mostly in the cup and better supported, I’ve discovered just how evil an ill fitting bra can be. My new measurements:

Upper chest: 39”; Bust: 57.5”; Underbust: 37.125”

Seriously?!?!?!?! A 20” difference between the bust and underbust!!!!!!!! No wonder the damn thing didn’t fit! A 38K is only formulated for a 13-14” difference, give or take. I still have a bit of side boob to encase. I also have a portion in the lower center front of my bust still trying to escape the bra confines. The measurements will change again but at least I’ll be in blissful bra comfort and style.

One can understand why the major lingerie companies are hesitant to venture bigger than a K cup after reading my trials and tribulations. It took me a long time to get to this point and time is money. I don’t blame them but I’m still disappointed in them. The four years of work that I put into this project have been monumental especially since I’m home taught and self taught. Unlike major companies, I have a limited budget, only one sewing machine and one set of hands. But defeat was not, is not, in my vocabulary. If I can do this, so can anyone with determination.

Next installment, I’ll walk you through the construction method for my personally drafted pattern.

Designing Bras for K+ Women: Part II
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.

25 thoughts on “Designing Bras for K+ Women: Part II

  • December 11, 2014 at 2:55 pm
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    I love this post and I am seriously impressed by your results, Jillian. I’ve tried for years to make my own bras (32G, narrow roots, projected). I’m an accomplished sewist of all kinds of garments. I’ve done the research, bought the books (including Bra-Makers), own all of the best notions and fabrics I can find. I’ve made 15 prototypes. I’ve copied my favourite Empreinte bra. But I cannot get the lift I’ve come to expect from my RTW bras. Where did you source your stuff? (I’ve bought from Bra-Makers, Danglez and a zillion other places, local and online.)

    Reply
    • December 11, 2014 at 4:56 pm
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      Let’s see:
      -the cup and bridge fabric is the lingerie tricot from Hancock fabrics;
      -the band elastic, strap elastic, fiberfill, channeling, metal sliders and rings and back hook and eye closure are from sewsassy.com;
      -the heavyweight powernet is from spandexworld.com (or spandexhouse.com- honestly I can’t remember because I’ve bought from both and was extremely pleased!).
      -the vertical underwires are from Bra-Makers in Canada.

      But the lift you seek- I’ve found that the strength of the underwires, the spread of the neckline and the shallower dip of the cross cup curve have played a huge part in that. My greatest joy would be to find vertical wires in industrial strength nylon coated galvanized steel like the big lingerie companies use. The tension in those would greatly assist in the uplift. Until then, I’m going to play around with the idea of doubling up the flexi-weight wires available to home sewists.

      Reply
      • December 11, 2014 at 5:25 pm
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        Jillian, I *might* just be able to help you with wires, it may take some time though. I’ve just completed a project this term and had a German company CUSTOM MAKE high-quality nylon coated underwires for me because I could not find anything suitable. I had an Eva M. bra with a very vertical underarm side to the wire that I gave them the specs for and they produced a few pairs for me, along with others. They seem keen to continue to work with me on my final degree collection as I will be focusing on full cups, with my fit models being about 32HH. I would love to have them produce a range of wires for me to help demonstrate some of my theories. Would love to talk more with you – there’s not too many bra-making geeks around who love H+ designs 😉

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        • December 12, 2014 at 10:15 pm
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          I’m suprised that you managed to get wires made with such a small quantity produced. A lot of other people seem to indicate from their research that you have to have a sizeable run in order to get a wire of custom dimensions made, and the home sewist products just aren’t up to the job of supporting a large bust. Do you think this is because of your uni connections, or would anyone be able to get a tiny run on underwires?

          I’m another lady in a similar situation to Jillian, being outside the range of RTW bras and working on making my own, but I thought I was going to be stuck with either having to double up the home sewist products, just recycling the tiny handful of wires I have from old Ewa Michalak bras I own which are roughly the right dimensions, or seeing if there was any sort of hobbyist wire product which could be used.

          It’s exciting to me that you’re focusing your final project on the often neglected area of very large busts, with even many ‘full bust’ companies having either no, or very few styles which even extend above a G cup. (And progressively less above H, J, and well there’s almost nothing above a K cup at all)

          Reply
  • December 11, 2014 at 8:12 pm
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    OK that’s genius. Double the wires. The challenge, I imagine, is will 2 thicknesses fit into that channeling?

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    • December 11, 2014 at 8:19 pm
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      I was in Lane Bryant a few weeks ago. There was a bra where there was channeling in the interior and the exterior of the cups. Each had one underwire so possible friction was nonexistent.

      Reply
  • December 21, 2014 at 9:50 am
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    Wow! I am so interested in all of this. I have been considering making my own bras for quite some time. I’ve finally had the last straw as I attempt to find a comfortable everyday maternity bra and maternity sleep bra. This is my first child and I find that there is literally nothing out there for me. I guess I should mention my very natural and very unusual size: I measure 28.5″ under my breasts and 38.25″ around my bust which puts me in a…wait for it… 28J or 30I. I’m 5’3″ and, (without the current baby bump) 128lbs.

    I typically wear clothing that would never allow a person to see this on first glance. So imagine my fun walking into a Victoria Secret hoping and praying that maybe THIS TIME they’ll have a 28 lying around. And I’m sure you can see the looks of unbelief when I tell them I’m a 28DDD or F (pre baby). Their reply, usually with a smirk, “let’s go get you measured. I don’t think you’re that big of a cup.”

    When they do finally get me into a dressing room, the fun begins. Off comes my shirt and out pop their eyes when they realize I truly am as big AND small as I say. Crazy, it’s like I’ve been living with these things my WHOLE life.

    Someone even told me the other day, at a Dillard’s that comes closer to my pre baby sizes, that I should be wearing a 34 or 35 band size

    Reply
    • December 27, 2014 at 9:46 am
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      Oh yes, the “I work in Victoria’s Secret and therefore know more/better than you” smirk. I have received that look often especially in my younger years. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been kicked out of there so many times. I have also been kicked out for (1) halting a sales associate trying to push ill fitting merchandise on a disappointed consumer, (2) remeasuring a consumer after hearing them complain that the bra size quoted doesn’t fit and (3) giving them info on places to shop that may have their true size.
      Personally I like that Erica looks at the needs of the person first. She genuinely wants them to feel glorious, beautiful and pain free when wearing a bra.

      Reply
  • December 23, 2014 at 4:55 pm
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    Jillian, I applaud your dedication, persistence and sewing skill! If ever there was a perfect Kickstarter project, this seems to be one. Please keep us informed. My big breasts need your support and I’m willing to give you mine. Surgery, crippling back and neck pain, and and hiding away (I didn’t leave my house for several weeks after having my second child because my milk production made my breasts so large I couldn’t fit into any bra available) should not be the only option for women sized-out of the current bra market. And as a woman with an extra-short torso, small-band, close-set, big, soft tissue, bottom-heavy breasts, with slopping shoulders living in a bra desert, I’m sick of shelling out hundreds of dollars trying to find that holy-grail bra that fits like a glove and firmly puts my breast where I want them to, on the front of my chest, without impaling me with underwires in the process! I’d much prefer to spend that money either making (though I have no time for it yet) or having made for me (more likely) custom-made bras. Thank you so much for all your effort.

    Reply
    • December 27, 2014 at 9:31 am
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      Making the actual bra does not take too long once you have your perfect pattern and rhythm. Spend one afternoon just cutting out all the pieces you need (labeling the ones that look similar. Spend another afternoon just sewing the band together, Another sewing the cups and so on and so on. Depending on what style you choose and method of construction, some women can sew one or more bras together in one day. Don’t be discouraged! Perfect practice makes perfect.
      And thank you for your faith in my endeavors. I’m honored to be able to share everyone. Not being classically trained and having to find my way in the dark has been daunting throughout this journey. Maybe one day when I have more flexibility in my free time, I could start to think about grading and mass producing my pattern for people like us.

      Reply
  • January 10, 2015 at 2:21 pm
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    I think it is amazing that you are creating your own bra and providing hope for those above a UK K (US O cup). I am from the US with a 28G (US) bra size according to my measurements. I am a young teenager with some years of growing left, so it can be harder. I’m glad you learned to do this after fitting badly in a 38K. Apparently, you would be a 38MM (UK) or 38T (US) since you have a 20″ difference, which unfortunately isn’t made unless you ask for custom made bras. I’m happy you are providing hope for yourself and others in hard to fit sizes!!

    Reply
    • January 15, 2015 at 11:19 pm
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      I am now more like a 28 FF/G UK now (28 H/I North American)

      Reply
  • Pingback: Guest Post: Designing Bras for KK+ Cup Part III

  • July 5, 2015 at 3:57 am
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    Kudos to you Jillian! Though I have the completely opposite problem you have, with a larger ribcage and fairly small breasts, which is why I’m working on learning to make my own bras (it’s virtually impossible to find a 38AA anywhere) I’m also motivated by wanting to help one of my best friends since childhood who is built more like you are. Not only is it impossible for her to find a bra that truly fits her but her economic situation is such that she can’t afford to buy as many as she really needs. Being able to make bras for her is one of my goals. I’m cheering for you and watching for your next post!

    Reply
    • Erica
      July 7, 2015 at 12:56 pm
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      Amelia, I think it is awesome you are working on the larger ribcage/smaller cup market! That is also so under-served unfortunately. We have resorted to working with mastectomy companies in order to find something which fits. Regular bra companies not only do not offer AA cups most of the time, but then the cups themselves can run generous or very tall. I wish you nothing but success here!

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      • July 7, 2015 at 3:31 pm
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        Thanks! Sometimes I feel frustrated but I’m not giving up!

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  • July 7, 2015 at 8:01 pm
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    Enlightening, to say the least. I am a 33 G which, apparently is unheard of in Canada. Yours woes make mine seem minuscule. I have taken several bra and swimsuit classes, two with Beverly Johnson at the Saskatchewan Stitches Conference, and I am thrilled to say that I have worn no other bra but the bras I’ve made for several years now. I have two of Beverly’s bra books and they are my bibles. She also has two great classes on Craftsy and is constantly updating and adding new methods and styles. She updated my current Shelley pattern, a 4 piece cup for an exact fit, to eliminate a bit of pucker in the power bar. I’ve just made two bras from my custom pattern and the difference is amazing. There is a lot more support in just that one little change: next to no bounce! Keep plugging.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2015 at 6:03 am
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    Hi jillian,
    Do you know how far you are from being ready to sell your pattern?

    Reply
    • Erica
      December 10, 2015 at 12:31 pm
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      In case Jillian misses this, I wanted to respond that when she and I last spoke, she was fine tuning the pattern still for herself, but she did follow-up this post with a third entry with more details! 🙂

      Reply
  • December 15, 2015 at 11:08 pm
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    I am definitely waiting on her next entry!
    I’m a 34O and not even Beverly’s patterns go that high.

    Reply
  • Pingback: Guest Post: Designing Bras for KK+ Cup Part IV – Sophisticated Pair

  • February 26, 2018 at 1:46 am
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    Is there any help for me? I’m wanting to make my own bras because, well, the ones I purchase are either too big or pull where they shouldn’t. Where would one go to get a correct fit for a bra? I’m currently in a 46G but it slides up my back. I have no clue what the shape of my breasts are other than huge, flat, blobs(when my bra is off)! Please contact me if you can help.

    Reply
    • Erica
      March 23, 2018 at 2:11 pm
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      Hi Cheryl! I would see if you have a local boutique nearby which carries your size or consider a higher end department store if no boutiques are nearby. It sounds like you need to size down in the band if the 46s are sliding up your back. Check out brands like Goddess or Elomi. They have some great fits with very cute designs/colors.

      Reply

What are your thoughts?