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.
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…..
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.
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.