Battle of the Bras {Orange Lingerie Marlborough, Pin Up Girls Classic and Pin Up Girls Shelley}

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Is the world of bra sewing confusing and daunting? Yes. Does it require a bit of engineering, guesswork and prayer? Yes. Is it worth doing anyway? Hell yes.

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I’ve been sewing bras for a couple of years now and I’m at the point where there are no longer any store bought bras in my drawer and there hasn’t been for a while. Why sew bras? Well, considering you can grab one at Kmart for the princely sum of $10, it’s not cost.  Why then? Fit, baby. And if you can get store bought bras to fit you like a glove, then you’re probably scoffing at me right now. That’s ok, I can take it. I didn’t really realise how badly my bras were fitting until I starting making my own and actually researching what a well fitting bra looks like. I no longer want to burn them by the end of the day. Plus they can be sewn in a rainbow of colours and prints.

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Wanna know? Here’s some general fit guidelines (for wired bras):

– The bridge (that bit in the middle) should sit flush against your chest

– The straps shouldn’t dig in or slide off your shoulders

– The back band should sit parallel to the floor and not ride up

– The wire should encase all of the breast tissue, not cut through it or dig under your arms

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Now, we are all different and unique individuals with different and unique boobs. Different shapes require different bra designs, who knew?! Here are my quirks:

– Close set

– Side boob that wants to head, well, sideways

– Underarm flab

– Broad back

– Very little upper cup fullness

Being close set means I need a narrow bridge, my wires need to kiss in the centre to fit flat to my chest. The broad back and underarm flab means that I have a preference for nice wide bands, at least 3 hooks in the back but 4 is better. My lack of upper cup fullness (this could be pregnancy/breastfeeding, age or even genetics-related) means I gravitate towards full cups – I basically ‘fall out’ of demi cups. A power bar is ideal to direct that side boob back to front and centre. Isn’t it funny that it’s taken me about a year to realise all this stuff?

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Let’s talk wire because omg, that confused the hell out of me for a long time. When I first started sewing bras I would just shove any old wires (from old rtw bras) that would fit into my new bras. Wires that probably never fit me in the first place. When I decided to refine my fit a bit more, I did a lot of reading and found out you can find out your wire size first and then basically reverse engineer a bra to fit. Order a few different wire sizes, stand topless in front of a mirror and measure those babies against your breast root to find the Cinderella wire. Turns out mine is a 44, which corresponded with the bra sizes I was already making, but good to know, right? Here’s a helpful post about wires.

Of course, within those wire sizes are variations on length and style. But cross that bridge when you come to it.

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The two bras I make the most are the Pin Up Girls Classic (shown above in the gold lace and leopard satin) and Orange Lingerie’s Marlborough Bra (the blue lace). The Classic has a full band and full two piece cup, while the Marlborough has a full band and 3 piece cup (with a power bar). Here’s how they fit:

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The Marlborough is my favourite, but only by a tiny bit. The combination of slight plunge in the front with the power bar pushing everything front and centre makes it a winner. I still get a good amount of lift from the Classic too.

There’s another Pin Up Girls pattern which I’ve only ever made once, the Shelley bra. It’s similar to the Marlborough in that it has a power bar and a full band, but has four pieces in the cup. The one I made was a bit small in the cup (going by the designers directions for measuring, bras always end up too small in the cup for me). So I decided today was the day for a bit of a scientific comparison, because I am nerdy like that. I traced off my new upsized Shelley and sewed it up to see if I liked it as much as the Marlborough, after all – how different could they be?

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That’s the Shelley in the red satin and lace on top and the Marlborough on the bottom in the red and black. I did raise the underarm on the power bar and band of the Marlborough so the wire sizes could be exactly the same in both. I mean, for proper science they would both have to be created from the same fabric, but I was hoping to get two wearable bras out of this and who wants two exactly the same? Variety for me, please.

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As you can see, they ended up quite different! While the Shelley feels supportive, it gives me no where near the same amount of lift (look at that bottom cup in the side on view) and it feels like it actually flattens out my upper bust. Plus there is a heap of breast tissue bulging out at the sides, which has all been pushed forward in the Marlborough.

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I’ll just keep sewing all the Marlboroughs then, ok? Ok.

PS Most of my supplies for bras come from Booby Traps and Sew Squirrel. All of the bras pictured are lined with bra lining to keep everything from stretching out. That’s really important.

 

 

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Bra-Bra-Bra, Bra-Bra-Bra-Anne {Orange Lingerie Marlborough Bra}

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Over the weekend I had a craving for some rock solid bra sewing. Can you have sewing cravings? I do. I love bra sewing for the same reason I love swimwear sewing. It’s very different to sewing a dress, it’s a bit challenging and it’s one of those things that really throws people when you tell them you made it. I always feel very accomplished when I have a bra that fits.

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Of course, the extra level in bras is the fit. Especially wired bras. I always say that sewing them isn’t the hard part – it’s the fit that can drive you nuts. Once you have that down though, you’re golden.

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Even though these aren’t my first Marlborough bras, I went the extra fitting mile this time and compared wire sizes to my breast root. This basically involves standing topless in front of a mirror and holding up a variety of wire sizes along the underside of your breast to check which size fits best. Then you make the bra to fit the wire, rather than buying wire to fit the bra you made. The theory is the fit is more accurate and I totally agree.

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So, turns out I had been making the correct Marlborough size all along (a 40D, although my measurements put me in a 40B according to the pattern), but using a slightly different wire size has really elevated the fit. They are so comfortable. I used to scoff when people would say that you don’t feel the wires in a correctly fitting bra, but it’s definitely true in this case.

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The floral print in the first bra is Cotton and Steel cotton spandex jersey. Not recommended for this particular pattern because it stretches, but I’ve lined it with bra lining to counteract that. The fabric for the second is a rigid lace from The Remnant Warehouse and the fabric for the third is some sort of mesh with velvety stripes (also from The Remnant Warehouse). I wasn’t even sure that fabric would work for a bra because it’s quite heavy, but it turned out really well. All are lined with bra lining and the seams are enclosed.

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All the side panels in the knickers are non stretch, which meant I compensated by cutting the front and back panels a bit bigger. The top pair use that lovely cotton lycra for the main part and I’ve used nice stretchy black spandex for the other two pairs. Bra hardware, strapping and elastic is all from Booby Traps.

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Is there anything that boosts your self esteem like well-fitting, comfortable lingerie?

 

 

Reinventing Ready To Wear {Ohhh Lulu Romy Bra}

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I do love me some creative strapping on bras and swimmers and have quite a few examples in my wardrobe. My most worn is probably this one piece by Disturbia. I lurrrrrve it. I’ve always been a bit hesitant to try and recreate it when sewing though because it all looks a bit complex and maths have never been my strong point.

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I have some unsuccessful RTW examples. You know the ones that you purchase online, hoping for the best but that just never work? This is one of those:

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I wanted to love it but the shape is all wrong for me. It holds absolutely nothing where it should, the front is too wide, the boning at the sides bends out and the bottom band (or lack of) is useless. It gapes at the back where that strapping sits. Ugh. Then earlier this week I stumbled across this Iron Fist Sports Bra and neeeeeeeded it. My inner nerd loves how the straps look like a spine and ribs. But of course, it’s out of stock. Which got me thinking, could I recreate it myself so I know that it works for me?

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Yeah, worth a try. I already have Ohhh Lulu’s Romy and know that it fits me because I’ve made a couple of versions (here and here). This sort of fancy back would also be ideal for the strappy back of the Sincerely Rylee dress that I made. A bra that’s less ‘ooops you can see my bra’ and more ‘OH YEAH THIS IS MY BRA AND IT’S FANCY AS HELL’.

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And look how pretty it is! The fabric is by Dear Stella. I’ve noticed lately that a lot of my favourite fabric companies (Cotton and Steel and Timeless Treasures also) are coming out with knits. It’s brilliant. I love the prints and the quality is very high too.

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The sparkly strapping is from Booby Traps. As a rule, you’re not really supposed to use strapping as the upper and lower bands on a bra because it’s generally pretty firm – but this strapping is pretty soft and stretchy (more like elastic). I’m thrilled with how it turned out.

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An inside out photo if you’re interested to see how it all fits together. I was a bit haphazard with the whole thing but it worked just fine. I decided to shorten the back band pattern piece where it starts to curve down and narrow for the strapping and back closure. So that whole part has been omitted and the straps start there. The inside isn’t as pretty as the outside but I can deal with that. I’ve lined the whole thing in power mesh for support, as I always do with wire free bras.

I figured out the length of the back straps using the very complex method of comparing it to one of my existing Romys.

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I wasn’t going to bother taking pics of me wearing it because I wanted to wear it right away, but I grabbed a couple when I first put it on this morning anyway. So I do apologise for them being a bit unplanned and rubbish. You can see that it still provides decent support and shaping. The power mesh lining and princess seams help that. I’ve used pale pink hardware cannibalised from an old bra and matching pink bows.

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Ooops – out of focus. Best of a bad bunch. It’s hard to take a pic of your own back. Haven’t even brushed my hair. Cool though, right? Nothing buckling (even though I’m mid adjustment, sorry).

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I’ve worn both the bra and knickers in public all day and am pleased to report that I was super comfortable and everything stayed in place. So that’s a win. I really want to try a swimmy version next, but the thought of having to make all the strapping is daunting!

The Mysteries of Bra Sewing {Pin Up Girls Shelley}

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Have I told you before how much I love bra sewing? I do believe I have. And you might think I’m nuts, but it’s seriously some of the most rewarding sewing I’ve ever done. Plus it pays off. I haven’t bought a bra for at least a year and I very rarely wear my RTW anymore. In fact, most of them have been sacrificed for their wires and hardware. I wore a RTW bra earlier this week and it only last until lunch time before it was off and turfed into the corner. NO. They are so uncomfortable.

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Why are they uncomfortable? Quite simply, they don’t fit. I mean, I’ve been fitted and they probably fit as well as they can for RTW. But we are all unique snowflakes and our bodies have their own quirks which just can’t all magically fit into a mass produced item like a bra. And for the record, I used to think my bras fit – until I made my own.

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As I’ve also mentioned before, I had my first bra pattern (Pin Up Girls Classic) languishing in my sewing room for nearly twelve months before I plucked up the courage to sew it. It was the most intimidating thing I’d ever seen. So tiny, only a few pieces and yet scary as hell. It was Beverly Johnson’s Craftsy class that finally gave me the shove I needed to make my first bra. I do thoroughly recommend it if you need the encouragement. It’s amazingly helpful and seeing it all done step by step makes it seem just like any other sewing – put those pieces together in the right order and you’re golden. Of course with bra sewing you’ve got the complex fit challenges. That’s the hardest part – not the sewing at all. Something like a dress is much more forgiving fit-wise than a bra. But when you get it right, the light shines down and those angles start singing. I swear.

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The lovely Georgina from Sew Squirrel drop me a message last week and asked if I’d like to try one of her new bra kits. Would I?! Don’t need to ask me twice. She mentioned that they were velvet and I pretty much purred. I already have a few velvet bras but will always make more. It’s a bit of a temperamental fabric to work with, but worth it. She gave me a choice of colours and I chose grey, which is pretty much my personal version of nude. I have a few grey bras now, which sounds so blah but I love it. She even sent me the wiiiiide strapping and hardware. I love my wide straps.

Kits are perfect if you’re just starting out in bras because you get the perfect amount of all the right pieces. This isn’t the kind of stuff you can buy at generic sewing shops. It’s pretty specialised. Knowing the difference between your picot and strapping can be really confusing when you’re new to bra sewing, so I’ve done some handy labeling for you.

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This is the Shelley bra pattern, which you can also purchase via Sew Squirrel with the bra kits. So handy. The kit didn’t have the lace, so that’s from my stash, but these images show what goes where. I used the neckline trim for the under arms because using lace meant I didn’t need it at the neckline (though the lace is stabilised with yet another type of elastic, sometimes it’s clear but in this kit it’s black, which is way nicer to work with). Then I had enough leftover fabric to make matching knickers! Hooray! I used the narrow picot from the kit for the leg elastic. The waistband elastic was from my stash.

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Here’s some tips I found really helpful when I started sewing bras:

  • Do I use stretch or non stretch fabric?

    Generally wired bras require non stretch and bralettes require stretch. Hence me lining this one – the velvet is stretch and without the lining, there would be very little support and everything would stretch out. Even if you don’t line the whole thing, you’ll generally need to line the bridge for extra strength. The band always needs stretch, but you can get varying types of power mesh, some firmer than others. I prefer the firm, but I like my bras to feel like they’re giving me a hug. When I sew bralettes I usually line with power net, for that extra support. I need it. You might not. But do follow the stretch/non stretch requirements of your bra pattern. It’s really important.

  • How do I know my size?

    Much like any sewing pattern, your size won’t correspond to your RTW size. AT ALL. You have to let go of all that and roll with it. Promise. Each bra company has a different method of measuring – follow it. For example, I’m somewhere between a 14DD or 16D in RTW (they are sister sizes). The Shelley above is a 38C (my size has changed lately). In Ohhh Lulu I’m more like a 36D, in my favourite Kwik Sew bra pattern I’m a 38C and in Orange Lingerie’s Marlborough I’m a 40DD.

  • So I just take my measurements, sew up my size and I’ll be golden?

    Maybe, but probably not. I don’t think there are many lucky women that get their bras to fit straight off the pattern. Sorry. It’s more likely you’ll sew at least two or three before you find your groove. And there are probably standard adjustments that you’ll make to most patterns – I can’t deal with a partial band so always have full bands. I often have to move straps because they sit too far to the outside of my body and I usually have to raise it under my arm (which I totally forgot to do with this one and it shows).

  • Ok fine, what can I use for a toile so I don’t cut into my fancy stuff and waste it?

    This one divides bra sewists. Some will sew their practice runs in a cheapy fabric to test the fit, but you really need to find something very close to your good fabric to have that work successfully. Fabrics will behave differently and stretch and warp and curve all in different ways. I personally use the good stuff as bra sewing doesn’t take a lot of fabric anyway. Yeah it sucks getting to the end and not having a wearable bra, but you will learn heaps in the process. And yeah, you just read right, you have to make THE WHOLE THING – elastics, closures and all. You can’t really test the fit until it’s complete. It just makes victory all the more sweet. You’re allowed to cry and swear though, I certainly have. Lucky my dog is deaf and the kids are at school.

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Yeah she’s not perfect, but she goes alright. The bra too. HA. I hope that was somewhat helpful and not too blabbery. I do like my bra talk. Let me know if you’re going to try some bra sewing or if you already have.

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