My friend Jillian is ready to continue her discussion of designing bras for UK KK+ cups, and I couldn’t be happier to post her latest edition. As I mentioned before, we have seen too many women who are outside of what traditional manufacturers produce and are forced to make due with a poor, sometimes even painful, fitting bras all for the sake of support. Jillian has been crafting her own bras, refining them with each new version, and the results have been exciting to watch. I hope you enjoy this next installment as much as I have, and if you missed her previous posts, you can find them here and here and here.
P.S. Today’s post is perfectly timed to coincide with Jillian’s birthday! Happy Birthday!
Hello bosom buddies!!! It’s Jillian back with another entry about bra making. Today’s submission will discuss my bra sewing arsenal and how I prep for the construction of my custom bra design.
I apologize for the extremely long hiatus. My life took several twists and turns in the interim. Laid off from a job. Moved out to a new place. Became a nanny to my darling nephews. Gained a new nephew. Lost my mother….. She was my greatest supporter, my sounding board, the person who challenged me to think differently about my projects, and one of my best friends. She taught me how to sew and nudged me to take this sewing journey in the first place. I think she would want me to continue my craft and continue sharing it with you. So here I am, ready to begin again.
In a previous entry, I spoke of the base materials I used up to that point. Since then, I’ve acquired the lovely powerhouse fabric DUOPLEX in black, chocolate, beige, white, pink and ivory. I would like to thank my mom for the boost to my reserves that she gifted upon me before her passing; she was always there for me. So yeah… I chose an “exciting” array of color, but until my pattern is perfected, I think my project and budget will fare better in the long run. Non stretch bra lining fabric and heavyweight techsheen both in black and white are also new to my stockpile. Super support is the name of the game. My bust feels so uplifted and my shoulders feel almost nothing with this combination of fabrics. Commence happy dance!!!!! And possibly happy tears but that’s another story.
I made a few alterations to my previous pattern, hoping to finally correct the remaining issues. The pattern went from a seven piece cup to just five very carefully drafted pieces. I tested the design with practice materials. Now I’ll attempt it with the real thing. Normally I make the very first bra with all black materials so it can disappear underneath clothing (and so mistakes can disappear, hee hee hee). That color choice would have made it difficult to photograph. So I’ll be using mostly beige and white for this version. My sister dubbed this “Ice Cream Shoppe”- beige duoplex, heavyweight powernet, and underwire channeling; multi colored polka dot mesh; white bra lining, picot edge finishing elastics, strap elastic, hook and eye tape, and strap hardware; white and beige threads; and chocolate fold-over elastic. Although I’m unsure of whether or not the bra will be that elusive perfect fit, I’m still going to wear that sucker!
Not all of you are sewists. There may be foreign tools and terms mentioned and techniques that I employ that will seem strange. It will seem that I am using too many items to make one tiny garment. It will seem like I am taking WAY too many steps just to complete the task. Each step I take has a purpose. I utilized and adapted several techniques I’ve learned from The Fairy Bra Mother, Foundations Revealed, Cloth Habit, Orange Lingerie, Make Bra, a few other lingerie enthusiasts, and some techniques I picked up from my other sewing projects. There is a method to the madness. Major companies have different departments and an assembly line to get the product made quickly. One person does the same task over and over then passes their stack to the next person and the next and so on. So in making your own bra, you are the CEO, CFO, the design team, the research and development team, and the factory. You get to control the quality and the luxuriousness of your product. And it feels so good to finally be in control of what you will look like under your clothes.
So let’s get to it!
You may not need/use every item on the list and that is alright. Also, some items may not appear in the pictures due to my need to replace said item.
- Machine oil and lint free soft cloth (or paper towels); always oil sparingly and wipe your machine well after every few projects. Follow the instructions in your machine’s manual and this will optimize your stitch results.
- Lint brush/soft toothbrush and/or can of air; make sure your machine’s gears are clear of lint. Be gentle with the can of air- you don’t want to freeze your machine parts!
- Ballpoint or stretch needle of appropriate size. Dull or damaged needles can create skipped stitches, catch on the fabric or create holes so replace needles accordingly.
- Check the tension for the upper and lower threads and the presser foot by testing it on swatches of scrap fabric; follow the machine’s manual to make the proper adjustments for smooth sewing.
- The right presser foot/walking foot; working with knit fabrics can be tricky. How easily the fabric moves through the machine will make a difference.
- The stitches you’ll primarily use will be the straight stitch, the zig zag stitch, and <maybe> the triple step zig zag.
- Rotary cutter (preferably small diameter; better for navigating around pieces during pattern cutting)
- Self healing cutting mat; cut atop this or else you will damage the table/floor and your rotary blade.
- Pattern weights or large metal washers; when using a rotary cutter, pins normally are not used. Weights keep the paper pattern flush against the fabric so you can cut smoothly. I sometimes use pins anyway….
- Shears; cutting the other materials (not paper!)
- Duckbill scissors; makes trimming and grading seam allowances much easier.
- Tracing wheel and marking paper; I love the waxy marking paper that was sold at Greenberg & Hammer in NYC. They have since closed but Richard the Thread sells it online (thank goodness!!!!).
- Marking pencils and pens; read from one of my corsetry friends that Frixion ink pens are awesome to use. The heat of the iron makes the ink lines disappear but you still need to test washing it out
- Tailor’s chalk
- Clear rulers
- Silk pins; check as you go to make sure you’re not using bent pins or pins with burrs. They could mess up the fabric. But still, PINS ARE YOUR FRIEND!!!! I cringe every time I hear someone say that you can eliminate pin usage. Pins were created for a good reason- USE THEM!
- Hand needles and contrasting thread; sometimes pins are too bulky in a tight area. Baste pieces together and sew around them. Basting thread can be removed later.
- THE IRON IS YOUR FRIEND!!!! I was taught that the iron makes all the difference between something looking home sewn and professionally sewn. Because I like to keep things close together, I use a mini craft iron with interchangeable heads and a spritz bottle for water.
- Pressing cloth; can keep the iron from scorching the fabric. Any sturdy fabric will do but several people use large swatches of silk organza since it allows you to see your work through it.
- Pressing ham and/or sleeve rolls; drape curved seams over them and then use the iron so unnecessary folds aren’t created.
- Test the heat of your iron on a swatch of your fabric; some fabrics can MELT under too much heat!
- Hammer/mallet and wooden board; some seams can be bulky enough that a few good whacks with a hammer can help flatten them. Plus hitting something is very therapeutic…
PATIENCE AND TIME!!!!!!!! Rushing will only make costly mistakes, possible injury and take joy and comfort out of the creative process. Speed and dexterity will come with time and practice.
- Choose a color palette and motif for your fabrics, findings, and notions. And triple check your pattern by truing up the seamlines (that means making sure they are the same length where they are supposed to be).
- Before starting, make sure to have as much of your materials prepped and easily accessible as possible. If this were cooking, it would be your “mise en place”.
- Rest and map out your time wisely. DO NOT cut when tired. DO NOT sew when tired. DO NOT iron when tired. AND DO NOT DO ANY OF THESE WHEN DISTRACTED! Doing any of this while distracted or tired can result in cutting mistakes, yanking a broken needle and/or stitches out of your finger or treating an iron burn.
- Cut out all the pattern pieces and have them marked on the wrong side of the fabric with seam lines and corresponding notches or info. Or at least do not separate the pieces from the paper pattern until you are ready to use them in order.
- Come up with a sewing and pressing strategy that is good for you. I like to sew as many seams as I can on one stitch setting before going back to the iron, trimming, changing the stitch setting, etc. That way my machine’s gears aren’t being jerked around.
- Sew SLOWLY; it prevents skipped stitches, broken needles, tangled threads and accidentally sewing the wrong pieces together. Speed and dexterity will come with time and practice. Yes that’s the second time I’ve written that sentence. It’s IMPORTANT!!!
The order of construction for MY design is:
- The bridge, side wings and the back wings; topstitch where needed.
- The cup pieces, the lining pieces, and the strap pieces; topstitch where needed.
- Lower band elastic.
- Cups into the band.
- Underwire casing.
- Finish lower band elastic.
- Upper band elastic.
- Insert underwires and finish neckline.
- Attach hardware to main strap elastic and back strap elastic.
- Attach back hook and eye closure.
- Attach hardware and strap elastic to bra.
- Attach any final embellishments.
- Try on bra and REVEL IN ITS AWESOMENESS!!!!!
- GO TEAM BOOBIES!!!! Let happy dance ensue!
So onto the actual construction . . . in the second part of this installment!