How to Make a Bra
by Maddie Flanigan
A good fitting outfit starts with a good fitting bra. I usually spend approximately one month perfecting the fit of a pattern. Until recently, I never gave thought to perfect to the fit of what I wore underneath. That changed when I started sewing bras and knickers and realized that my clothes fit and felt better.
Bras can be unlined or lined with jersey or mesh. Personal preference and function should be used when choosing whether to line or not. There are four main components to a bra: band, cup, strap, and closure.
Depending on the look and the support needed or wanted, bands can be many widths. A full band wraps around the entire circumference of the body and has the cups set into it. This band – a full band – provides the most support and is best for fuller figures. A partial band attaches to the sides of bra cups and has a center front section that joins the cups (called a center gore). This band – the partial band – provides less support than a full band.
With the exception of bralettes, a wider band provides the most support. This – a wider band – is one of the main attributes of maternity, nursing, and full figured bras.
A center gore is the piece that connects bra cups at center front. The shape, the width, and the material used for the center gore all affect the amount of support provided. A center gore made with non-stretch fabric provides more support than a center gore made with stretchy fabric. The wider and the more curved a center gore, the more support provided.
Cups need to provide ‘projection’ or ‘volume’ and to do this, shirring, darts, or separate shaped panels are used. Cups can be one pattern piece and if this is the case, a dart or shirring is added to provide ‘projection’ or ‘volume.’ Cups can also be made of 2 or 3 vertical or horizontal pattern pieces that are shaped to provide ‘projection’ or ‘volume.’
The silhouette of bra cups varies according to the amount of coverage provided. Until I started sewing, fitting, and patterning my own bras, I condemned full coverage bra cups to the more endowed woman. In my mind, full coverage bras were reserved for moms-to-be, new moms, or older women – they looked schoolmarm. But while fitting and wear testing my me-made bras, I was forced to compare how each silhouette fit and I was surprised that although I was not a well-endowed woman, I liked the fit of full coverage bra cups the best. The silhouette you like is completely a personal choice but my advice is to try them all before casting judgement.
TYPES OF BRA CUP SILHOUETTES
FULL COVERAGE: cup covers most of the breast and extends higher on the chest than a demi or plunge bra. This silhouette provides the most support and coverage of all silhouettes.
DEMI: cups are cut lower. This silhouette is halfway between full coverage and plunge (covers 1/2 to 3/4 of breast) and is a good everyday choice for deep or V necklines because it creates cleavage that is not overwhelming.
PLUNGE: cups are cut so that they ‘plunge’ from strap point to center front and are thus very narrow at center front. This silhouette is an extension of the demi and is meant to create cleavage and lift.
BALCONETTE/SHELF: cups are cut with a sweetheart neckline. This silhouette is meant for aesthetic – to create cleavage and uplift – and not for support.
MINIMIZER BRA: the curve of the cup is reshaped (reduced at bust point, increased around bust point, and tapered to 0” and sides) to redistribute fullness and reduce bustline by one cup size. This silhouette is meant for women who experience drag lines between bust points when wearing a t-shirt, top, or blouse.
TIP: FOR SEWING CUPS
Always hand baste first, because bras are so close-fitting even a 1/8" off in sewing or pattern making throws off the fit. Yes, it takes more time to hand baste and then machine sew, but it takes even more time to rip out stitches and resew a seam.
Straps can be made of elastic or self. If a bra fits correctly, wide, self straps are very comfortable. Elastic straps are used in mass-manufactured bras because these non-bespoke bras are meant to fit many sizes.
TIP: FOR FALLING STRAPS
If straps slip off shoulder while being worn, set closer to center back.
A bra can have a closure or no closure. If there is a closure, it can be either at the front or the back. If the closure is at the back, it is usually a hook and eye closure but it can also be an elastic band.
Above, I listed and described bra silhouettes that were based on cup shape, size, and support but there are other bra silhouettes that are based on fit, underwire, band size, etc.
BANDEAU: strapless bra that is usually just a band of fabric with shirring. It has minimal support and is best for small-busted women.
BRALETTE/SOFT BRA: soft cup/no underwire bra that resembles a crop top (band is longer than a ‘normal’ bra). It has minimal support and is best for small-busted women.
CONTOUR BRA: bra with shaped cups that are almost always padded or lined and have underwire. The shaped cups are meant to mimic the natural shape of a women’s breast. It provides a lot of support and control and is a great choice for women looking for a structured silhouette.
CONVERTIBLE: bra with detachable straps that can be worn in many ways – normal, halter, criss cross, or one shoulder – depending on the silhouette of the top being worn - boatneck, halter, assymetrical etc.
FOAM LINED: bra that is lined with foam lining. It differs from padded bras in that the lining does not add size but provides shapes and prevents nipples from showing through garment.
FULL FIGURE: bra that is designed specifically for women who wear a band size between 38 and 56.
FRONT CLOSURE: bra that has a closure at center front.
U-BACK BRA: bra in which the back is U-shaped (as opposed to a straight rectangular back). The U-shaped back helps to prevent straps from falling off shoulders.
MATERNITY BRA: bra that has wider straps and is made with more comfortable fabrics for women who are pregnant.
NURSING BRA: bra that has detachable straps to allow easy access for women who are breast feeding.
PADDED BRA: bra that has pads and lining inserted to increase but size, shape, and cleavage.
PUSH UP: bra that has graduated padding (padding that is thicker at the base of the cup and tapers to nothing towards the top of the cup) and angled cups which is meant to increase cleavage to its maximum.
RACERBACK: bra that has straps that scoop in or cross over in the back. It is designed for racerback tops.
SEAMLESS: bra that has cups with no seams and is a great choice for knit, jersey, or other clingy tops.
SPORTS BRA: bra that is designed to be worn during exercising. It is made with specialty fabrics that wick (transfer moisture away from body) and provides maximum support.
The most difficult step in sewing a bra, and a step that I still have trouble with, is applying the channeling at the bra cup seam (where the underwire is inserted).
STEPS TO SEW CHANNELING:
1. Lay bra flat so that the bra cup is face up and seam allowances of the bra cup and the band are facing out.
2. Position channeling so that when stitched, stitching aligns with stitching of bra cup.
3. When stitching channeling to bra cup, it is important to pull channeling as it is being sewn to help it roll to the inside.
4. Press channeling down and edgestitch 1/8” or less from cup seam and again 3/16” from first stitch.
Bras can be sewn using a straight stitch, or at least the vertical seams can be. As we move throughout our day, the bras need to be able to withstand our movements, but most of type of movement requires bras to stretch horizontally (bigger and wider) rather than vertically (longer). Because of this, straight stitches can be used for vertical seams while zig zag stitches must be used on horizontal seams. Personally, I like using a straight stitch on vertical seams because if the bra or the knickers are not lined, the straight stitch is gives a cleaner look and the seams are easier to press open.