Bra Sewing Tutorial

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Materials and Supplies

When shopping, it’s important to locate your correct underwire size. If this is your first bra, I highly recommend buying underwires in the size you think you are and then one size up and one size down. Just 1/4 could make a massive diference in comfort. You might be surprised by what ends up″ being comfortable. (And yes, I was wearing the wrong size underwire for many years so I can testify.) What you choose for your bra fabric depends on your experience, and what kind of support you need or want. Those of you with experience in bramaking or who have a diferent pattern than the ones I chose may want to branch out and try some new fabrics or techniques.

FOR THE CUPS AND CRADLE

The patterns we are making require some kind of stable cup fabric that does not stretch. If you want to use a stretch lace, lycra, or anything with spandex, you’ll have to either line or interface the cup in some way. The bridge will always need to be lined or interfaced, unless you are using a very stable fabric.

Traditional bra fabrics: Duoplex, Simplex, bonded or fused tricot. Of these, (I personally like Simplex, which has a nice drape and is very soft on the skin.) These are all satin-y tricot/raschel fabrics and are easy to sew.

Natural fibers: Woven cottons or silk satin like a charmeuse–a beautiful bra fabric. Keep in mind that woven cottons don’t tend to be t-shirt-friendly (fabrics stick to it) and sometimes the seams won’t lay as smoothly. I love silk bras and I take good care of them, but they are not sweat-stain-friendly (living in Texas, ask how I know!).

Lace: A rigid lace made for lingerie is perfect as a cup fabric. Lingerie stretch laces are another option and usually more widely available. Sewing stretch laces do require a little bit of

experience in fitting. They will also need a stable lining as I mentioned above. Some of you may want to experiment with using lace or some kind of decorative mesh on the outside of your cups or cradle. There are many diferent ways to use it.

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For linings: 15 denier tricot or 40 denier tricot. In some places these fabrics are simply called “tricot” or net. These are very useful fabrics to have around in bramaking. The 15 is very sheer and stretches just a little. The 40 is more opaque. Some of the kits will include a bit of this for lining. I like to stash some in neutral colors because I use it everywhere. It is very useful as a stable lining for the bridge and cradle area (and almost all my RTW bras use it for this). Some bramakers like to use powernet for lining.

Instead of lining, you could also stabilize a fabric with fusible tricot interfacing, often used for knits. Look for something that can be fused at a cooler setting on your iron.

Left to right: 40 denier tricot, 15 denier tricot, fusible interfacing

FOR THE BAND/WINGS

Ideally, your band should use a fabric with about 50% stretch and good rebound.

Powermesh/powernet: Powermesh comes in many weights and qualities. Some women will need a heavier weight powermesh. I like medium weights if I can find them. They are soft and drape well but strong enough. Very lightweight powermeshes are useful as a lining for stretchier band fabrics but

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are really only good for the lightest of bras or even knickers. (The ladyshorts photo in my sidebar is made from a lightweight printed powermesh.)

left to right: heavy, med, lightweight powermesh

Lycra: These can be good band fabrics but check the descriptions as some lycras may be too lightweight or too stretchy for you. You’ll have more options in color choices, which is probably why folks making bras tend to use lycra instead of powernet.

For now, try to avoid using jersey as your band fabric. This is something you might want to try later but jerseys often get narrower as they are stretched and are quick to lose their elasticity. If you have allergies or need/want a natural fiber bra, you can try making a band from woven materials, but you will have to experiment with the pattern’s band length to find a comfortable wearing ease.

A note about lycra for those who are new to sewing lingerie or swimwear: For the most part, fabrics

labeled “lycra” by lingerie, swim or dance fabric shops are tricot and raschel knits made with nylon (sometimes polyester) with spandex for elasticity. The quality and weights of lingerie lycras will vary. Some of them will have a 4-way stretch, some 2-way. Sometimes suppliers may sell an uber-soft microfiber lycra, other times you’ll end up with something that looks more like shiny 80s swimsuit fabric. I try to read the descriptions carefully if there are any.

ABOUT BRA KITS

With a lot of kits, you will need to order underwires separately. Be sure to read their descriptions. Also, many kits seem to be short on strap elastic, so consider ordering a bit extra. For my bras, I need about 114,3 cm of strap elastic and I have a short shoulder-to-bust length. The Bra-makers Supply kits assume you are making the fabric strap in their patterns so they really don’t include much strap elastic at all.

Note that Merckwaerdigh and Elingeria kits are often entirely stretch fabrics so you will need linings of some sort.

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BASIC MATERIAL CHECKLIST

 Fabric for cups and cradle

 Lace for front of cups/cradle (optional)

 Stretch fabric for band/back of the bra

 Lining for cups/cradle or suitable interfacing (optional)

 Hook and eye

 Rings and sliders

 Strap elastic

 3/8 picot elastic for top of the band and armline″

 1/2 -3/4 plush picot elastic for the hemline″ ″

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 Underwire channeling

 Underwires (optional)

 Bow/rosette trim for front (I like making my own!) Other things you’ll need for the sew-along:

 clear ruler or way to mark seam allowances

 tracing paper

 a kick-butt sharp pencil

 some kind of heavier paper like cardstock for your final pattern

 tailor’s chalk or washable fabric marker

 stretch needles (70 or 75)

 zig-zag foot

 thread (at least one full spool)

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To find your band size, measure yourself snugly around your ribcage, right under the breasts. It helps to breathe in and halfway out, then measure. This measurement or closest even band number

up is your band measurement.

If this sounds too small to you, try measuring your high bust, just above your breasts and going under your arms. The closest even number to this would be your band. Basically, your band needs to be close to the width of your chest as if your breast tissue weren’t there!

My underbust is 29 /74cm and and my high bust width is 31.5 , and I usually use a 32 band. ″ ″ Sometimes I go down to a 30 in a bra with really stretchy materials. In European sizing, I use a 75.

Note: If your pattern tells you to add four/five inches to get to your band measurement, I recommend that you ignore it! When making a custom bra, you can always adjust the band for comfort by

lengthening or shortening later, and most likely you will do this anyway for diferent stretch fabrics.

Underwire fit

Do you know which underwire fits you best? The bra patterns I’ve suggested all use a regular length underwire, but in the future some of you may want to explore using a shorter or longer one,

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I found my best wire size by comparing 3 sizes of wires, going one size up and one size down from my usual size.

The wire should closely hug the natural curve where your breast meets your chest wall. No poking into the underarm, sitting on your breast tissue, or dropping below that crease. Underwires increase in diameter by about 8mm per size–that’s a really small diference but it could be a crucial one! If you are having trouble finding your natural curve, you could use a washable marker to draw on your crease and see how the wire fits into it. I know that sounds funny but some of us have probably squeezed our breasts into too-small underwires and seeing that crease helps!

I’ve made a page with links to wire charts, if you need them to compare wires. Elingeria ha regular length : http://www.elingeria.de/downloads/Buegelsatz.pdf

Find your cup size

For those who want to leave out underwires, one way to find your starting cup size is by subtracting the width of your high bust from your full bust.

I know this doesn’t work for every shape and you need to be wearing a good fitting bra while measuring.

Take your underwire size and compare it to your band size to find a cup size on this chart. My underwire is a 32 wire, so I move over to find my band size and its corresponding cup, a 32B. (In European sizing, a 75B.) My friend’s size is in green.

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I know US/UK cup sizing gets a little whacky after D but hopefully the chart makes sense. Some women with very large cup sizes may find that they need a larger cup to go with a smaller wire. Smaller busted women may need a larger wire with a smaller cup. If you have a feeling this might be your case, you can adjust the volume in your fitting

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Pattern Tracing

Let’s take a look at our patterns!

.I’ve been drafting diferent bras so I needed a quick and dirty way to test them without sewing in the elastic. So I’ll share how I’ve been doing that. There are some things you can’t predict in a tester bra or cups, and you may just want to skip this part. But if you want to save your materials for the good stuf and do some fitting and styling fun next week, give it a whirl!

Before I get to tracing, let’s take a look at our pattern pieces. This is an illustrated scan of the pieces in Elan 645, and most of your patterns will be in some combination of these pieces.

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If you are working with a three-piece cup (such as the Danglez patterns), sometimes the lower cup consists of two pieces, or there will be a side panel that reaches into the strap. A couple of the suggested patterns also include a fabric strap piece.

You’ll also notice that the band and cradle can have various seams, some with a seam below the cup, some with a side seam, or both. These are mostly just style diferences.

tracing the pattern

When tracing your pattern don’t forget to transfer pattern markings like notches, direction of stretch (the ‘grainline’) and bust point. I’m going to trace a 32D from the Elan pattern.

The Elan pattern also has a little facing piece for the top of the cup. I might not use it but I traced it anyway.

For my initial pattern, I’m using this vellum paper to trace of but later I’m going to transfer the pattern to oak tag or something like card stock. I find it much easier and more accurate to weigh down the patterns and trace around them with chalk, rather than pin and cut. You could do this straight away if you wanted.

the seam allowances

Now there’s one more step I like to do and that’s draw in the seamlines. Bras use small, precise seam allowances. The major seams are all 1/4 (6mm), and trust me, these small allowances help ″ with sewing precision, especially in sewing convex to concave curves! They also help the curves to lay smoothly.

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(Totally random prop with my little Czech car.) And for the Danglez cups:

The hemline and bottom of the entire band is 1/2 -5/8 (12-15mm) for your band elastic. Check your ″ ″ pattern to see if it has specifics. For the Danglez pattern, add the width of the elastic you plan to use.

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The center back and the strap seam near it do not have seam allowances.

Everything else is 1/4 (6mm). The center front of the band is either cut on fold or has a seam ″ allowance–check your pattern to make sure! (ETA: I totally goofed and had 1/4 at 8mm before–I still ″ don’t think in metric!)

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Bra-making Sew Along: A Trial Run

So these are my super purdy “bra muslins”. Or bra toiles, what have you!

If you’d like to try a fitting bra, here’s one way to approach it. I make a very quick bra using some leftover bra materials and scrap. And no elastic. If this is your first bra, you can get some practice on those curvy seams without the pressure!

Some suggestions for the cups: If you can spare some of your cup fabric for a test run, perfect! If not, try using some woven scraps like cotton muslin or quilting cotton. But testing your cups in a stable woven will obviously only work if you’re making your bra from a stable fabric. If your chosen cup fabric stretches–including stretch lace or any type of fabric with spandex/lycra–and you don’t plan on lining the entire cup, the fit will be diferent. The closer you can get to testing your cups in the same or similar fabric to your actual bra materials, the better.

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For my bras, I cut the cups from leftover Duoplex. I cut the cradle (or bridge) from muslin scrap, since that needs to be stable. I cut the band from the lycra and powermesh I plan to use. Every band fabric behaves diferently and I often need to take in some fabrics depending on stretch. I’ve unbasted the bands and re-used them if they fit!

I won’t get into construction details until we make our bras, but here’s how I put it all together. Sew the cups together. I added a seam to the center front of the bridge in case I need to adjust the spacing.

Then sew the cradle to the band. Some patterns have a side seam, some don’t. And now you get to sew those cups into the cradle. This part is tricksy at first but don’t be shy! I’ll have some tips for you down the road.

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And this is the really fun part. To get this to fit, find a way to get the underwire on that cradle seam. It will help pull the cup to the right position. You could baste in some of your channeling to the

cup/cradle seam allowance with a long stitch. This is what I do. It doesn’t have to be perfect and you can re-use the channeling later. (Cut it a little bit longer if you want to save it.) Alternatively, you could try sewing a tiny tunnel right on your seam allowance.

Baste in the hook and eye. I do this pretty loosely. To simulate straps I baste in ribbon or seam tape in the back.

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Band adjustments

In fitting your bra, try to pay attention to the fit of your underwire and band first and the cups second. Many problems can be solved by getting the right “frame”.

Adjusting band length

If you band feels too loose or tight, it’s easy to adjust the length. It should fit well on the loosest or at most 2nd hook. The hooks are there for you to adjust your band as the elastic starts to age. And it

will age!

1. Draw a line down the center of the band.

2. Cut the pattern along this line and spread or overlap by the amount you wish to take out. (Remember this amount will be doubled in your bra.)

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For a band that hikes up

If your band is hiking up, it may be too long so you can try the above adjustment. But sometimes shortening the band isn’t enough to keep it from hiking up. Perhaps your ribcage is narrower below the bust so you need less length along the bottom hem. And every pattern has a diferent band angle–experiment to find one that works with your body. This is also called a “downward hike adjustment”.

1. If you have a side seam, line up the cradle and the band along the seamline. If your pattern doesn’t have a side seam, draw a line about 2/3 up from the CB to the cup seam.

2. Extend the center back line down by the amount you wish your band to go and place a mark (blue). Extend the side seam line by 1/2 that amount and mark.

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3. Slide down and rotate the back band to meet these new points. If you did not have a side seam, you’ll have to slash the pattern along the dotted line. Retrace your new band line (in red, along the seamlines). Don’t forget to add back your seam allowances!

Gaping along the underarm

This is almost the opposite of the above alteration. On my bras, I often had gaping running from the underarm of the cup around the side seam, usually right where the channeling was topstitched down to the band. I finally figured out that this had to do with excess length along the top of the band. The band plays a role in giving some tension to the underwire, but since I had too much length, the excess was crowding at the point of least resistance right inside the cup.

1. Measure out the amount needed to take out the gaping and draw in dart along the front of the band at the seamlines (blue lines).

2. Cut the pattern along the blue lines and close the dart. 2. Re-trace the pattern and draw in a new smooth line (red) connecting the pieces.

Note that if you have a lot of gaping at your underarm, you may need a cup adjustment. Gaping problems won’t be solved by pulling elastic tighter around the cup. I tested out this theory on several

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bras: the ones in which I pulled elastic tighter actually resulted in more gaping. Pulling elastic tighter while sewing ends up removing more of the elastic tension permanently so it stops behaving as it should.

Bridge adjustments

This little space can take a lot of diferent shapes! If you find it feels a little tight or loose, but your underwires and cups fit you correctly, try making some adjustments to the bridge. Tiny adjustments, like 1/16 (1.5mm), can make a diference. Remember that whatever adjustment you make to half the″ pattern will be doubled.

These are just a few alterations I have experience with but hopefully they give you some ideas! Some great fitting questions have come up in the Flickr group. Thank you all, for being brave to share what you’re working on, and please be free help each other out because we all have diferent experiences. I’ve also posted some pictures of my tester bras so you can see the gory details. I’ve got a few adjustments to make myself!

Further fitting resources:

Bra-makers Manuals, Volumes 1 and 2. Both are available from Bra-makers Supply and Elingeria in book and CD form. These books explore every corner of custom bra fitting and construction.

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Cup Adjustments

Some tips for working with these alterations:

 Mark in your seamlines on your pattern so that you can measure exactly how much you

want to adjust.

 The best way to determine your alteration is by pinning out excess along the cross-cup seams, neckline or arm edges of the cup to see if that helps things fit. If you need more room you could cut a bit into areas of your tester bra to see what alleviates tightness. Measure how much you needed removed or added and write it down. I keep the pins in the bra so I can measure my little “darts” after I take it of.

Overall volume adjustment

If you simply want to add or remove more overall volume in the cup, pinch out darts along the main seams until the cup feels comfortable. Measure out this amount along the cross cup seamlines. Spread or close the dart and redraw the seams.

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I’m just showing one adjustment right at the bust point but if you are adding or removing a lot of volume, you may need to make several little darts or slashes along the seams so that you make an even shape adjustment across the cup.

Adding or Removing Lower cup volume

If you notice excess fabric pooling at the bottom of your cup, you may need to remove some of the volume from the lower cup. Pull up the lower cup and see if you can pin some of it out. This adjustment could also help lift the cups.

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You will have to adjust the length of the uppercup seamline to match the new lower cup seamline. The illustration above shows one way to do that, by cutting and overlapping to shorten the seam.

Smoothing the apex

If the cups are just too (yes I’ll say this!) pointy, you can always smooth out the apex curve of the cup. When doing this adjustment, start small so you don’t remove too much of the seam length. This is pretty similar to doing the above adjustment. Maddie of Madalynne has a great post explaining cup alterations, particularly this one!

Adding Lift

Both of the above adjustments will add some lift to the bra in some way. If everything fits and you still want a bit more lift, you can try flattening the seam of the upper cup. The flatter this seam is, the more lift a bra has. (Balconette bras with 3-piece seaming often have a totally flat upper piece.)

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To make this adjustment work, you will have to remove some length on the lower cup seam so that it matches the new upper cup.

Gaping at the Side of the cup

Pin out the excess along various points of the cup to determine where the excess is. Transfer this to your pattern by slashing and closing the darts, as in the examples below.

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Adding underarm coverage

This is an alteration I did to my bra. It could help if you want some extra coverage or support along the side of your cup, depending on your figure. This alteration requires both your cradle/band and the cup pieces which run along your underarm.

Line up the cup pieces and cradle right along their seamlines.Draw in the new underarm line starting from the band and going up toward the cup. In this illustration, I’m also making my straps further apart on the top of the cup.

Adding more coverage the top of the cup

If you have more breast tissue at the top of your cup and want more coverage, you can always raise the top seamline. Most of the patterns we are using aren’t entirely a “full cup” bra.

This new line can be either totally straight or just slightly curved–a curved line will add a bit more length.

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Basic Style alteration

Band style

How about a longline? (Cool examples: Freya, Fortnight…) I love these for style but they’ve got a function, too. The wider the band, the more supportive it is. And I think they look pretty sweet underneath thinner tops. I’ve made this alteration to a few of my bras:

You can lengthen the band straight from center front, side seam and back, as the lines in red demonstrate. The longer these lines get, the narrower the band will at the bottom so if you need more width you might have to try lengthening at a diferent angle (lines in blue).

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Strap style

How about fabric or lace straps?

Again, style and function–the less elastic the strap, the longer it lasts. This beautiful Stella bra uses a scalloped lace and a silk satin strap in the front.

The back design is really up to you. I love having options in back strap designs. It’s easy to change your pattern back and forth from a u-back to a camisole back.

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Bridge style

You can do a lot of funky things with the bridge, too. If you are using longer underwires but want create a little plunge efect, you can try using separator wires, as in this lovely Huit bra.

These wires come in all sorts of shapes. The construction would be a fun puzzle, as you either need channeling or a tunnel to insert the wire. I may try this on my next bra and I’ll let ya know how it turns out

Demi cups

If a demi style appeals to you, you can always take some of the height out of your cup and bridge. This is an Elle Macpherson demi bra with similar seams as some of our patterns. To do this you’ll need shorter or plunge wires, or clip your own.

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I love playing the game of “How Did They Do That?” and often do a little investigation in the stores (it must look funny, as I look inside the seams–the things you do when you sew!). So I hope this gives you some fun ideas as you continue your bra-making adventure.

Vertical Seam Variation

I love a diagonally-seamed cup because it is especially pretty in lace, with an unbroken line of scallops across the top. But it’s been fun to play around with seam directions for diferent style and shape options.

In today’s tutorial I’ll share two pattern variations you can make to your cup: 1.adding an additional seam to your lower cup for a 3-piece pattern and 2.changing the entire cup to a vertically-seamed one.

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A tip for these alterations: The main seams in a cup should cross over your bust point. In some

patterns, there is a notch at that point–usually right at the apex–if not, find it on your bra and mark it on your pattern so you know where it is. After your alterations, walk your pieces and double check that the lengths of the actual seam lines match.

Adding a Seam to the Lower Cup

ONE: For a second seam in the lower cup, mark a line going from your bust point down to the bottom seam line.

It doesn’t matter where the line ends at the bottom so feel free to experiment! In this example, I’m dividing the lower cup into two relatively equal pieces, which will result in a seam that runs perpendicular to the main seam.

TWO: Cut the pattern piece along the lines and trace your two new pieces. Draw in a smooth, even curve connecting the top and bottom seamlines. The curve should be fairly subtle.

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THREE: That’s it–your new pieces! Don’t forget to walk the seamlines and add 1/4 allowances to ″ the new seam.

Vertical Seam Alteration

For this alteration, first mark where you want your seam to start and end. A vertical seam doesn’t have to be straight up and down–you could slant inwards or outwards. I found my starting points by marking these positions on a previous bra. It just so happens that my pattern–Pin-up Girls Classic– has a notch right at the center bottom, which is usually where a straight vertical seam starts. ONE: Mark the bust point of your pattern.

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TWO: On both pieces, mark in lines on the top and bottom cups, going from the desired starting point of your new seam to the bust point. I rotated the bottom cup in this example so I could draw a straight line down the two.

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FOUR: Line up the top and bottom pieces along the sides until the seamline along the sides of the cup form smooth curves.

The cross-cup seamlines will match each other for a short distance, but will not come together at the bust point. Trace of the these new inner and outer pieces.

FIVE: Depending on your pattern style and where the apex is, one side may have smaller “dart” than the other. In this case, the outer cup has the smaller dart, so draw your new seam line on this side first. Draw in a smooth curve connecting the two upper and lower pieces close to the bust point.

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On the inner cup, draw another curve of equal length. Because the “dart” on this side is so wide, the curve will not go around the apex. (You need to take some out from that “dart”, if that makes sense!) You can use a measuring tape to find the right curve length.

NB: The flatter these curves, the less length (and volume) the cup will have. In your fitting, experiment with them to find the shape you like. If you’d like to pull things in more, you can experiment with making the inner curve slightly flatter than the outer curve–a good tool to use in shaping!

SIX: Smooth out all the new seam lines, mark your bust point notch, and add seam allowances.

In the above illustration I’m also smoothing of that strap extension from my pattern, because I’m not going to use a fabric strap.There ya go–a totally new cup!

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Bra-making Sew Along: Cutting

Before I start cutting, I like to double-check a few things on my pattern:

Check the cradle seam to make sure it has enough length for your chosen underwire. The cradle seam should be the length of your underwire PLUS 5/8 (or 16 mm).″

This extra length gives your wire about 8mm wiggle room on each end (called “wire play” in bra drafting). If you have ever tried to sew a bra without that allowance, you might know the pain of breaking a needle because you hit the wire while sewing down elastic (CHECK!) or your wires have strained and popped the channeling seam (CHECK!). If you end up needing more length you can add a bit more to one side or the other, or both. Don’t forget you’ll have to add this new length to the corresponding cup seams.

The distance between the cradle and elastic seam lines should be at least the width of your band elastic (otherwise you’ll be sewing elastic into your cup!).

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After that, it never hurts to walk your seams in your cups and cradle to make sure the actual stitching lines match–especially if you’ve been making alterations!

Lining or interfacing

There are many ways to stabilize a cup and remove some of the stretch. You can either sew a lining underneath your main cup fabric, interface it, or both!

For my bra, I’m cutting my entire cup and cradle out of lace and lining it with silk.

For stability, I interfaced the silk with a fusible knit. You can see I blockfused my fabric before cutting. I’m a fan of blockfusing, especially when it comes to small pieces that get finicky and time-consuming to interface.

For my friend’s bra, I’m using simplex from a bra kit with lace on the top cup. I’m new to this fabric and debated over whether to fuse it–it’s stable but has a lot of drape which I suspect will make the cup drop a little. She’s definitely going to get another bra after this anyway!

The cradle or bridge area should not stretch at all horizontally. Again, I don’t think a lining is necessary for simplex but I went ahead and cut one out of sheer tricot.

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Stretch directions

All of your pieces should have a line which indications the stretch direction. Bra fabrics can have their greatest stretch in either direction, so test your fabric to be sure! Even the more stable bra fabrics have some mechanical stretch.

Regardless of the pattern, I usually cut my upper cups with the neckline running parallel to the stretch. Unless I’m stabilizing it, I don’t really want this piece stretching up and down as it will stress the strap, nor on the bias which tends to permanently stretch.

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If you are using lace, 4-way stretch fabric or a print that you want to run in a particular direction, it can be lined or interfaced to stabilize it.

Cutting lace

There are many ways to use lace in a bra and I really love working out lace puzzles!

When cutting the lace, it is helpful to have your seam lines marked in your cup and cradle pattern. I usually cut one side of the cup first to center the motifs. I make sure the stitching line of the upper cup is lined up with the lowest point of the scallops:

I also try to line up the piece so that the stitching line that meets the bridge hits a bottom point of a scallop. When the bridge and cup are sewn together it will match up nicely:

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I usually cut one side first, then flip over the cup pieces to cut another mirroring side. It just so happened I have a 2nd pattern piece that I can flip:

But often when I’m cutting a bra, I simply cut the first piece, flip it to find a matching side and carefully run a rotary cutter around it.

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Some galloon laces have mirroring motifs, some don’t. If not, I try to get close so the motifs are similar on both sides.

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Cutting notes

I like to transfer my master pattern to something like card stock or in this case oak tag (same paper as manila file folders). I’ve even scanned my pattern so I can print it out multiple times onto weightier paper. (No more re-tracing!) This not only preserves the pattern but gives me an edge on which to trace around with tailor’s chalk directly onto the fabric:

I use a small weight (or just my hands!), chalk around the pattern, then cut away the chalk lines. I like doing it this way because it gives me a really accurate cut, while pinning sometimes distorts the fabric (especially lycra and lace). This is just a cutting method that I’ve picked up from pattern-makers–it takes me all of 5 minutes to cut a bra pattern!

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Sewing the Cups

Before I break out the sewing machine, a couple of things that I’ve been using on my bras.

A straight stitch foot. I use my foot as the seam guide–the distance between the needle and the edge of this foot is exactly 1/4 .″

Of course, don’t forget to switch to your zig-zag foot when sewing your elastic.

I use a stretch needle, size 11/75. This has been perfect for elastic and lycra, but also seems to work best on all the tricot-type fabrics. For lace I sometimes go to a very small needle.

Assemble the cups

How you proceed on your cups depends on whether you are fully lining your cup, or just lining one part (like the bottom)–or not lining at all.

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On my friend’s bra, I’m using lace only on the top cup, as an overlay on the regular bra fabric (in this case, simplex from a bra kit). I want the cross cup seam allowances to be totally hidden inside the seam, so I stitched the three layers together with the lower cup sandwiched in between.

“sandwich” turned right side out, before topstitching

On my bra, the outer cup is entirely lace and the lining is interfaced silk charmeuse, so I constructed the two layers separately:

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To flatten the seams, I turned the seam allowances over to one side and edgestitched onto the allowances, just a tiny width away from the seam.

Your pattern may have instructions to press open seams and topstitch on both sides. Or topstitch the seam allowances together to one side. This is really up to your preference and how thick your material is! Most often, I like to edgestitch which flattens the seam enough for me. So when I was first starting to make bras, I struggled with rippled seams across the cup. Oh the dreaded rippled seam in knits! Since seam rippling is usually caused by one or the other layers stretching too much, here are a few things to try:

 If your machine has this ability, try lightening the foot pressure.

 As you are sewing, try not to pull or stretch the fabric in any way–let your hands simply be a guide.

 Try sewing without pins! When sewing two diferent curves together, or concave and convex curves, pinning pulls one layer into the direction of the other which can cause the length to stretch. It takes some practice at first, easing of a pin here and there.

Eventually I went cold turkey pin-free! Which has improved my curves sewing and feel for fabric handling.

Finish the top of cups

At this point I want to finish the top of my cup! If you are sewing a continuous trim that finishes both the cup and bridge, you’ll wait till you’ve sewn your cups into the band.

Both of my cups have two layers on top–the scalloped lace and non-stretch lining. To finish the edge of the lining, I tried a technique based on one of my fave strapless bras. I sewed a strip of sheer tricot along the outside top of the cup with a 1/4 seam allowance.″

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Then I turned, and top-stitched this down along the inside. I could have done this in reverse, too– which would totally hide the seam. It’s pretty soft as it is. The tricot is cut along the least stretch so it stabilizes things a bit.

To keep the lace from shifting around on top, I tacked it down in three spots with a small back-and-forth zig zag stitch (almost like a bartack!). I saw this done in an Elle Macpherson bra and liked its invisibility.

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Since my bra has a vertical seam, I tacked down the lace to the lining with a couple of straight stitches right at their joining seams.

After you’ve finished the top of your cup, you can baste the layers together around remaining edges, so that the cup will be treated like one piece. I do this just inside the seam allowance–it’ll all get hidden underneath channeling and elastic! When basting stretch lace, it sometimes wants to stretch past the lining, as you can see in the above photo. It’s just the nature of stretch–I try to keep the excess toward the bottom of the cup and just trim it of!

Other cup finishes

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Left to right: foldover elastic as a binding, decollete or clear elastic along the bottom of scallops, picot or piping elastic, lace and lining layers sewn right sides together for an invisible finish (which I wrote about here).

Band & Cup Construction

Today I’m going to assemble the band and insert the cups.

Since I am lining the cradle of both bras, I used the lining to finish the top of the bridge. With right sides together, I stitched a 1/4 or 6mm seam across the top. I turned this right side out, pressed and″ topstitched about 1/8 away from the top.″

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If you don’t have a lining and interfaced this part, you can turn down the center top by 1/4 and ″ topstitch. Another idea: if you’re using fusible interfacing instead of a lining, you could also sew the fusing to the top of the bridge glue side up, turn and fuse for a totally hidden seam.

On my bra, I wanted the band seam to be hidden inside the lining so I sandwiched the band pieces into the cradle and lining and stitched the side seam and top of the bridge at the same time.

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Then I turned it all ride side out and basted the layers together so they can be treated as one piece.

On this one I sewed the band in separately…

Now it’s time to sew in the cups. I think this is the trickiest bit by far. Everything else after this is a breeze! But I promise, that with some practice, you’ll be kicking it out!

There are a lot of diferent techniques for sewing in cups. I like to sew both sides with the cup on top and the cradle on the bottom and–as I mentioned yesterday–I go at it without pins.

I start with the left cup. Remember how I cut with the scallops with the lowest point at the seam? I line up that point right with the seamline on the bridge and start sewing.

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The band is facing up and the right side of the cup is facing down. I sew all the way around the cup to the underarm, lining up the notches.

You can also see in the above picture how I keep the two curves opposing each other right up to the edge of the foot.

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On the right cup, I start at the underarm.

When I get close to the top of the bridge, I slow down and release the presser foot a few times to rearrange the layers, so that the scallops meet just at the end of the stitching line.

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If you’re having trouble with puckering, it helps to release the foot pressure every so often if the layers start to bunch together. Speaking of which, it’s totally normal to end up with a few puckers now and then. Just like sewing sleeve caps. I unpicked one bra like 5 times–ugh… That was actually my impetus to go cold turkey on pins. Since then no more puckers and I stopped cursing my machine.

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Bra Straps

Hey all, I’m gonna take a little pause today before my final construction post. I’m running a little behind but I hope to be back tomorrow! In the meantime, a strap interlude…

This might seem ridiculously simple but I could never figure out which end went where through the slider. Maybe it’s because I’m lefthanded–the visuals always look backwards. So this one’s for the lefties out there!

First I cut my straps. I like to cut each about 19 inches for insurance. The left side is going to be in the back. The right side will connect to the front cup with a ring.

1. Threading the end through slider, with the wrong (often fuzzy) side of the strap facing up. I fold this bit down and stitch a secure seam.

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3. Pulling it all the way through to the left…

The straps are sewn at the end but it’s always nice to have them pre-assembled. And I’m glad I checked–I forgot to take my own advice and buy extra strap elastic! The Bra-makers notions kit includes less than 18 inches of it. So you can see in the top photo I changed my game. Thank goodness I had a small bit of my silk left from which to make straps–and they had to be small. They were made super easy thanks to Steph’s very clever rouleau tie tutorial at 3 Hours Past.

My straps are assembled similarly to the nude ones, except the adjustment is going to be in the back rather than the front

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Elastic, Channeling and Finish!

Band Elastic

If you’ve made other lingerie goodies with picot elastic, you’re probably familiar with how this is done. The first side is sewn with the fuzzy side up and a regular zig-zag, getting very close to the picots.

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If you want to cut your elastic to measure, a good general rule of thumb is to cut a length about 85% of the seamline of your hem. I like to “feel” it in as I am sewing–just something that happens from experience with sewing elastic. How much tension I put on the elastic depends on the elastic quality. I flip and on the reverse, stitch the elastic with a 3-step zig-zag. You could also stitch from the elastic side. I prefer doing it fabric side up so I can keep the puckers away:

I set my 3-step at 4.8 width and 1.2 length. (I wrote all my bra stitch lengths on a little post-it note on my machine so I don’t have to look it up every time I make a bra or panties!) The 3-step is just security to keep stitches from popping. But if your machine doesn’t have a 3-step, you can use a regular zig-zag and experiment with smaller stitch lengths.

Channeling

I know the channeling gets finicky. Readers have asked me about how I did this on previous bras so I thought I’d show in pictures!

I usually attach the channeling first, before putting in the band elastic. It’s easier to make that first pass without the elastic in the way but it adds another step and I wanted to make this simple visually. First I lay down the channeling so its seam is right on top of the cup seam and start stitching right on that seam. To make sure I don’t accidentally stitch into the cup, I hold the channeling in my right hand, lift it up, re-arrange it as I go–while using my left hand to guide the cup seam. This has worked really well for me.

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I stitch all the way to the top of the front but stop and backtack about 1/2 before I get to the end of ″ the underarm seam. It’s good to leave a little extra hanging of each end. This helps to finish the channel neatly later on.

After stitching the channeling I grade the seams if there are a lot of layers–and there’s quite a few here!

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Before I do anything else, I close of the channeling in the front. Since the seams are still free and not topstitched down, I grab the top of the channeling with the cup seam allowances and fold everything else out of the way:

Then I stitch a really tight zigzag that almost looks like a bar-tack. Whatever it is, it needs to be secure!

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Time for the topstitching! I switch back to my straight stitch foot (ok, I just found out my machine calls this a “patchwork foot”). I turn the bra over and arrange the cup seams and channeling so they are folded under toward the band. If you’ve ever done an understitch on a facing, this first part is just like that. I hold the fabric on both sides a little bit taut, and start topstitching about 1/8 away from the ″ edge of the cup seam.

I have to keep feeling to make sure this stitch is going into the channeling. If you sewed your first pass with the channeling seam on top of the cup seam, this shouldn’t be a problem.

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Then I do another line of topstitching with the first line of stitching lined up right under my foot edge. This is about 6mm on my foot. Don’t forget to stop your topstitching 1/2 away from the underarm so ″ you can fold it out of the way for your elastic.

Underarm Elastic

Now’s the time to put in my underarm elastic. I do my first pass just like the band elastic with the fuzzy side up. I use a bit less tension in this elastic than I did with the band.

When sewing in the elastic I have to fold away the channeling–that’s why I stopped stitching it 1/2 ″ away:

Before folding over the underarm elastic I put in my underwires, sliding them in from the open underarm sides toward the front.

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At this point you need to decide whether you want your channeling to be closed on top of the elastic or folded into it. I’ve done both and it really depends on how thick the channeling is!

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I need enough room to fold down my elastic and stitch another 3-step–this is where that wire play I talked about comes in handy. I can’t tell you how many times my underwire has reached right to the fold of the elastic–a recipe for underwire and needle disaster!

After closing of the channel and stitching down the underarm elastic, this is what it looks from the outside:

Almost there! Now I attach my straps and finish of with my hook and eye. Every pattern has a diferent width at the end of the band for a hook & eye attachment. You usually need to adjust that to fit your particular hook and eye width before you sew in your strap elastic:

Figure

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