Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Don't Ask, Tell

I know I suggested that you refrain from asking me about bra-making. It so happens that I appear to have been getting with the program, despite myself.

A couple of things slowed me down:
  • Disinterest in making another bra that doesn't fit
  • The RTW bra pattern I drafted (and then cut fabric to size) was missing key seam allowances (the ones on the seams that attach the 3 cups to one another). You may wonder how I made that mistake, given that I deconstructed an actual bra, having actual seam allowances(SAs), to get the measurements. Well, one of the things you do when you sew bra cups together (the inner ones that meet at the apex of the bust in a 3 piece cup) is top stitch on either side of each seam, to flatten it, and then remove the excess floppy fabric to the right of the top stitch. These SAs were the ones I missed because they were not part of the bra, unlike all the other enclosed SAs retained during the bra's factory construction. They were cut. Upshot - I had to redraft the pattern and recut the fabric. Hello 90 minutes of extra work.
  • I needed to figure out which of the 8 zillion wires I own and which of the many band elastics in which widths would work on the particular bra I'm making. Remember, I'm copying the original religiously. I thought I was missing a couple of things but it appears I have what I need, more or less.
These are just 3 of the many excuses legitimate reasons I offer to explain my delay.

When I started to make this thing I realized pretty quickly that I was not going to be able to refer to any pre-existing instructions. I'm not saying that there aren't any out there - but the type of bra I'm making is distinct from any of the others I've made for which I have direction.

In what way is it predominantly different? Well, in most bras (either full band or partial band), each cup attaches at one side to either the bridge, the back or a channel that runs between those two.

All Drawings from Bra-Makers Supply

The way it generally works is that the bridge (a triangular piece that sits between the breasts). The bra back, obvs, is the part that attaches to the side cup. And the "channel" as I am calling it (because I don't actually know what it's called) is the part at the base of the bra, that skinny piece between the bridge and back. Note: This bra is a molded cup - not a 3 piece - so I'm only using it to describe the band pieces.

Often, whether you are making a full band bra (one with quite a bit of depth under the cups - as one often sees in large bras and the one above - though it's not strictly speaking necessary to provide support) or a partial band bra (one which more or less conceals any width under the cups), you attach the bridge to the back by extending the bridge a couple of inches (to the centre point of the cup bottom) and extending the back (to the centre point of the cup bottom).

That way they meet at the centre bottom of each cup. Among other things, it gives you something to sew the cups to, which is pretty key when you're trying to attach all the finicky pieces that make up a bra. The fact that you don't see that thick, underband structure when you look at a partial band is because of the way you sew it up.

I can only imagine that this is next to impossible to picture with words alone and, if I could locate a program on my new computer that would allow me to draw, I'd mark this up for you. Hopefully I'm being vaguely clear with language.

Anyway, the bra I'm making will look like a partial band bra, but it doesn't have a channel connecting the bridge to the back. This means that I'm attaching my "channeling" (just to confuse matters, I'm now referring to the hollow fabric cylinder which is actual called channeling; it holds the wire that goes entirely around the cup) directly onto my cups with no support structure.

That hasn't been so bad, actually. What's been tough is figuring out when and how to add the back piece to the structure. You probably don't notice this every day when you put on a bra, but there are numerous elastic pieces - of different sizes and degree of stretch - holding it in shape (and, to some extent, together). There's a super complex interaction of bits and pieces to make it all work. It's pretty standard once you do it 10 times, but when you're working on a new construction order - esp. when there are no instructions - it's a fucking, stitch-ripping, pain in the ass. Which is why I'm not finished the bra.

But at least I can't say that it doesn't fit.


  1. Yay, bra progress! As usual, I gaze on in awe.

    As to drawing programs, I would recommend GIMP or Inkscape, depending on whether you like regular or vector graphics. They're both free and available in Mac and PC platforms (though they originate, like most good freeware, with the Linux crowd) and fairly full-featured if not quite as slick as Photoshop or Illustrator.

    Also, I'm pretty sure I'd shoot myself rather than unlock a bra. Kudos.

  2. I totally feel your frustration with sewing a bra that actually fits (I'm 0 for 3 right now).

    I've got KwikSew 3300 which is a partial band bra and I think it has the underwires in the way you're describing... The instructions for it are freaking awesome, and I'm just wondering if maybe it's worth getting a pattern like that JUST for the instructions?

  3. As a flat chested one, I cannot comment except to say that I enjoy your pictures and thoughts.

  4. It stuns me that you're attempting bra making at all! They are so complicated.

  5. My mind is literally blown. I'm so theoretically interested in what you're doing... but in practice, I'm not sure if (a) I'd ever have the patience or (b) the skill. I'll keep hunting the sale racks at Macy's for my old standby-Wacoals... although it's so hard to find my size!

  6. I both love and hate making bras. They often turn out looking so pretty and fitting so poorly. It is truly an exercise in rewarding frustration and I'm glad I'm not the only one feeling somewhat mixed.

    I've made a few now. My favourite was Elan 510 (front closure) until the front clasp snapped. I've tried making it again and somehow I end up shrinking the satin or cutting it a bit short or making mistakes with the strapping so it twists... sigh. But I did love the one that worked, I felt so good wearing it.

    Soon, I will try again and damn it, this will work.

    I highly recommend the Beverly Johnson book Bra Makers Manual, it's a great resource. I know it's helped me when I couldn't quite get what Kwik Sew/Elan were saying.

  7. OMG, I still applaud you for dealing with foundations. I feel your pain!!! And doesn't it completely suck that it takes more time to rip than it does to sew sometimes?

  8. making a bra is probably the most challenging sewing/design project ever. there needs to be a sewing olympics so you can win the gold in all categories! :D

    inspiring me to dust off my schmancy sewing machine and finish that wool dress from my 'fashion sewing' classes last fall.

  9. OMG! I feel your pain. Do I attach the back to the cups or to the channelling? What seam allowance to I allow for it? You are a brave woman.

  10. Tanit: Thank you for that info!

    melissa: Very good idea.

    Susan: Thanks.

    Imogen: It's one of my bigger adventures.

    Patty: You of all people have the patience - you make 16 muslins of dresses!

    Chutchings: I have the Bra Makers mini manual - not the large book but the starter one. It's been helpful but there are so many typos...

    Stacy: I'm starting to doubt my ability to make this happen - and not because I can't manage it. I just don't know if the appropriate supportive materials are available to home sewists.

    Sophie: Can't wait to see that dress, btw.

    Carla: You know what I mean!!