February 12, 2013

And a matching bra!

Time seems to fly these past weeks! I didn't manage to do anything for Sew Grateful Week and, in fact I haven't done a lot of sewing at all.
I did, however, take a big hurdle on the 'sewing lingerie' front. 
Maybe it's just me, but I always feel like sewing panties isn't the real thing. Sure, panties are underwear, lingerie, dessous etc. They are just not that complicated. Bras are a different matter entirely. Even buying the right bra is something loads of women don't manage... 
Sizing- and shape-wise, it's a minefield. A minefield which I have (in RTW) so far been able to walk across at no great expense. Which is the benefit of a small cupsize. Recently, I bought some new bras because that small cupsize had become a bit bigger, putting me into an even easier-to-buy size (for some reason, my breasts grew from a 75A to a 75B this winter).
However... Maybe it's all the lingerie sewing going on in the blogosphere or maybe just the realization that I make all my other clothes... I had to try and make my own bra.

A few years ago, I followed M's lingerie sewing workshop, working on drafting and sewing bra and panties. It didn't amount to much because, back then, I was still using my first sewing machine: the knit-eating Toyota. 
The experience put me off sewing lingerie for a while although it did give me the background knowledge to try my hand at making swimwear (see my elaborate bathing suit and last summer's much easier bikinis). And somehow it made me justify buying lingerie supplies if I found nice ones, sold cheaply.

Last weekend, I decided to try again. I should add that I habitually complicate matters further by trying to draft my own pattern. 
Of course, I could have cut a corner there and bought a commercial pattern. The thing is, I'm so used to drafting my own stuff by now... And commercial patterns don't come with a fit-garantee either. And I really like how drafting something gives you an idea of how such a garment 'works', both in construction and on the body.
I had three different drafting tutorials to choose from: Magreet ten Dam's Een Tweede Huid (which translates as A Second Skin. The book has only ever been published in Dutch and has been out of print for years. It is highly sought-after which is why I only have photocopies of a few pages from M's copy), Ann Haggar's Pattern Cutting for Lingerie, Beachwear and Leisurewear and Pattern School's instructions on the subject.
I mostly looked at the books and found those to be very different in their approach. Ann Haggar has you make a zero-ease sloper and draft all bodywear based on that. This seems like a great way to deal with different body shapes and, according to the drawings in the book, would result in the 'downward hike' in the back strap which is the favorite way of may bloggers to adapt their bra patterns. The handling of cup size, however, seemed a big sketchy. 
Margreet ten Dam, on the other hand, has you draft the bra as a seperate thing and seems to focus completely on supporting to breast. Her method is based on drafting a 'standard size' sloper and grading that up or down to your size. This may sound complicated but it is explained really well. 
In part because I didn't have anyone around to take the kind of super-acurate measurements needed for a zero-ease sloper, I decided to go with the latter method.
I made one major change though: according to both books, a difference of 12 cm between underbust measurement and bust measurement puts me at cup A. But I have never known the sizing in any sewing pattern or drafting instruction to run significantly larger than sizes in stores AND I remembered that my first efforts with bra patterns from this book (the bra at the workshop and my first try at a bikini top last summer) were both clearly too small. So, I drafted a 75B. I made a muslin in non-stretch fabric and it fit. Succes!

Then, it was time to start on a real bra. Of course, I wanted to match the panties I had just made, so it would be in grey/green lycra and lace. Last week, I finally found non-stretch netting (at the market, costing only 1 euro a meter!) in a sort of skintone, so I used that to line the cups and to stabilize the front of the bra. In this I followed, what I found in most of my RTW bras:

Not only is the (in most RTW bras rather narrow) bridge completely rigid, there's a seam a couple of cm past the underwire, that's where the non-stretch interfacing ends (in the picture, you can see there are two layers of net left of the  bound seam). In many bras this is not just a seam, there's a tiny piece of boning there. As far as I know, this is especially useful in strapless bras and for larger sizes as it lends more stability to the whole thing.

I stayed pretty close to the original, full cup draft. I just lowered the center front a tiny bit and planned the placement of the lace. I'll wrestle with a tiny little seperate center front bit later...

The cups are lace over lycra, lined with the netting. I stabilized the front edges (and the top of the bridge, and those extra side seams) by understitching with a narrow ribbon. 

I see a lot of bras on other blogs which use normal picot elastic for the bottom band, but all my RTW bras use a more substantial elastic there. I had lots of nice, heavy black elastic (actually a 1.5 cm wide shoulder strap elastic), so I used that for the bottom of the bra. Because the colour didn't match, I stitched it on so it wouldn't show on the outside. If the bra is flat on the table, this stronger elastic causes ugly ruching at the front but this is pulled out when it is worn. 
At the top of the bra, I used the same satin edge elastic as for the panties. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to buy shoulder strap elastic in this colour when I bought the other bits. The beige straps are only there until I find some in the proper colour. 

It's finished now and it fits (although really not on the dummy, she has the weirdest breasts)! I was nervous about that near the end, fearing the cup shape was wrong after all and/or it was still too small. I guess it just looked small because I'm more used to foam cup bras and it really goes to show you can't really try on a bra until all the bits are attached.
I like the sort of baroque look of the floral lace on the cups and I like the proportion of bra and panties when worn. 
By the way, this picture on the dummy is the only one done with flash and, as a result it shows the colour most acurately.
Now, just one question remains:

Should I sew this little ribbon flower on the front, leave it plain or attach a little mother-of-pearl button, like on the panties?

P.S. I'm really getting into this bra-making thing. If you're interested I could do a post on the many issues of bra-sizing some day soon.


  1. Bra making is addictive! Can't wait to see what you make next.

  2. I would leave the little flower off! I think it would be a tiny bit too much. But great work! It looks fantastic

  3. A button would be more classy, imho. So interesting to see all the different home sewn bras on the web, and I quite agree about using thicker elastic on the lower edge.

  4. Gorgeous! I like the little flower, but would probably go with a button to match the undies. And I'd love to hear your take on the endless bra-fitting discussion. :)