Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Underwear Underworld

You know my great fashion passion item is lingerie - well, it's also cashmere, but that's more of my passion textile. If only it were practical to wear cashmere bras.

Since I started sewing I've tried to make many different sorts of garments: pants, tops, skirts, dresses. But one thing I never thought I'd have the chance to explore is bra-making. You want to talk about a lost art...

Commercial bra construction has evolved tremendously over the past 50 years - even as home sewing has dropped off. The fabrics available, shaping, line - the size of breasts - all of these things have changed and evolved but who's making the handmade version now?

I know a woman (in design school, admittedly) who is doing her major in corsetry. She's made some bras. When I spoke with her about this for the first time, not 2 months ago, I told her flat-out that it wasn't something I would ever dream of tackling. Then, I discovered (miraculously) Heather's blog, wherein I saw in photos that someone - a real person not in design school - actually is making these things. And you don't need tiny fashion boobs.

The world of sewing blogs is challenging to navigate - but once you get hooked up, you can find the most remarkable, talented sewists! Heather kindly shared her experience with me and also introduced me to a special, private lingerie construction blog (like freemasons but with undies!) I applied for access to this invitation-only community and, happily, it was granted. Now I can benefit from the talent of about 50 women who have made bras - in some instances, many bras. What a tremendous gift!

In the last couple of weeks I have learned the many fascinating channels for obtaining bra-making fabrics, accouterments, patterns and instruction manuals. Imagine my surprise at finding that, perhaps the most fabulous of all the bra-making supply (and instruction locales) is in Hamilton, an otherwise unremarkable steel-town about an hour away from where I live.

Bra patterns are not easy to come by in any size, much less the larger cup-sizes. But they are out there, along with the right sized wires and powernet and delicate fashion fabrics that barely stretch (but have give). And I am beyond excited to know more.

I bought the newbie kit from Bra-Maker's Supply - which comes with all the stuff to make 2 bras (except the wires, which aren't expensive), a pattern and a manual. In truth, with careful cutting, I think it probably makes 3 bras.

I've also checked out the few European sites that cater to this niche hobby. I think I may prefer the shape of those bras; it remains to be seen.

I'm in the process of constructing my very first piece right now - what a trip! Apparently, one's first attempt must be viewed entirely as a grand experiment, from fit perspective anyway. I'll keep you posted, of course. I have an intuition there will be many fun outcomes here.

PS: Just in case you're freaking out, imagining I might actually model underwear on my blog, ain't gonna happen. Dad: I'm sure you're very relieved.


  1. With your new hair, I expect you to model your undies!

    You're the first blog I've seen take on such a personal process, from creation to outcome. I'm sure you'll learn charming, even outrageous histories of the undergarment. When you do, share some faq's please.

    Also, I'll give you brownie points if you make a chastity belt. Heck, I'll model it for you.

    Oh, and since we're talking amongst ourselves I have modeled a pair of handmade beaded thongs when I was in college. A girl in a jewelry/textile design class needed an amateur model and I was her gal.

  2. Hey, if I post in my undies..... LOL, just kidding! I always erase everything but the bra anyway. I emailed you just a bit ago!

  3. Dunno if I'd ever have the gumption to tackle under garments. I have enough trouble getting up the motivation to sew at all!

  4. haha! that was my question! it's really not so bad... not that different than a bikini :-) keep us updated on your progress.

    I can not tell you what divine timing this post is to me :)

    Renee xx


  6. Me too, me too!! I sew and I am forced to buy super expensive bras due to my size. I follow Heather as well because it never occurred to me to make my own bras (somewhat akin to doing my own surgery in my mind...).
    P.S. Hair looks hot!

  7. Lydia: You are endlessly fascinating! And I'm tempted to make a chastity belt, just to get you to model it :-)

    Heather: Thank you for the continued encouragement!

    Ambika: It's very, very finicky work. But easier than larger garments, in a way. Now, if only my bra fit...

    Stacy: You're right, not so diff than a bikini. And yet, not modeling :-)

    Renee: Email me if you'd like some deets.

    ebinbaby: Thanks! And Heather is such a find!

    Miss C: It's more crazy than anything :-)

  8. wow! i am thoroughly impressed and curious to see what your creation looks like! i keep reading in designers' interviews that a bra is composed of something like 30+ different parts and is supremely difficult to make...what an adventure in DIY! :)

    by the way, my made by niki bra from ASOS arrived and it's heavenly! such a fun and comfy design, yet it's the fanciest bra i now own!

  9. Sophie: I'm so glad your love your bra. I'm not quite ready to reveal my wares yet - I feel I need to find a more attractive bra than the one I made, to debut. But I'm sure you'll be seeing one sometime soon :-) And they do have zillions of parts - I'm trying to think of the number. 30 seems about right.

    Jos: Oh, it's a scary one! Thanks :-)