To All The Bras I’ve Made Before

…I’m not gonna lie, I’m incredibly proud of that blog post title. I don’t even care that To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is a) a fluffy rom-com aimed at a demographic roughly a decade younger than me, and b) came out at least six months ago and has already faded into the shadowy background of the zeitgeist. It was an adorable movie, and has allowed me to make a clever referential joke, and now I’m going to talk about bras before I lose what minuscule readership this blog has. (But seriously – if you somehow missed that boat, and you love a good rom-com, TATBILB is a good rom-com. Watch it. It’s on Netflix!)

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ANYWAY.

My bra-making journey started sometime in the vicinity of my first year in New York, circa 2015-2016. I moved to the city with a single suitcase, spending my first month subletting from a friend while I frantically searched for both a permanent apartment and a job. I’d left my sewing machine back with all my other worldly goods in Ohio, and while I’d blithely assured myself and others that I’d be fine being separated from it for only a month, I hadn’t anticipated how much free time I’d have weighing on my hands as I waited to hear back from job and apartment applications and tried not to think about how alone I felt. It was around this time that I started really diving deep into the sewing blog community. I’d started out a Gertie junkie (I own most of her books, although I don’t make a lot of vintage style stuff anymore), and I’d already found Closet Case Files (back when it still was the Files!) and Oonaballoona, but with lots of free time and not a lot of connections in NYC yet I started seriously clicking through all the links they provided and falling in love with the online sewing community. This felt like home! And one of the blogs I discovered early on was Madalynne.

Unfortunately a lot of the more personal content from her original blog is gone now, but when I first started reading Maddie’s blog she was a lingerie sewist and blogger with impeccable taste and a truly inspiring belief that anyone could make a bra. She still retains those qualities, but has turned her love of lingerie sewing and design into a successful business that encompasses bra-making workshops, sewing patterns, and even custom retail lingerie. (This is not an ad, just a plug for someone I’ve admired and followed for years through the online sewing community! Girl’s got serious hustle, and it’s paying off.)  I spent a lot of time on her blog when I first discovered it, fascinated by the exotic world of bra-making. Elastics! Negative ease! Stretch lace! Powernet! There was so much detail, and on such a limited scale – I’ve always had an intense love of miniature-making for just that reason, and although bras are made for regular-size boobs, it felt like the garment sewist’s version of miniature work.

This was right at the beginning of Maddie designing her own patterns, and while I know I have a Sierra bra I made floating around somewhere (I think I gifted it to my little sister and it ended up in a drawer in my parents’ house), I knew that her emphasis on airy bralette styles and what started as a focus on smaller-busted silhouettes weren’t really my thing. It didn’t feel structured enough, and my girls are all about structure! They like to feel like I’ve got them under control. However, in my deep dive into the Closet Case Files archive, I’d run across Heather Lou’s many iterations of the Cloth Habit Watson and thought this looked more like my thing. True, I hadn’t worn a bra without an underwire since roughly high school, but every blogger I could find who had made the Watson raved about it, and with the NYC garment district at my disposal I knew I could find the materials  I needed easily enough. I bought and printed the pattern, measured my boobs most carefully, took a field trip to Mood and Pacific Trimmings, and jumped in. By this point I’d found both a job and an apartment, and had been reunited with my beloved Joni, so I could finally make things again!

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A recent photo – I’ve started trying to embrace my older me-mades more!

It turned out better than I expected! The only fit issue I had was the nipple area – I made the curve of the center cup seam a little gentler, as I was experiencing a subtle but unpleasant bullet boob effect. I had a few places were my elastic tension was more or less than it needed to be, and the finish at the center front where the cups and cradle all meet is not my finest work, but I had made a bra and it fit me. Still, even a more structured bralette didn’t really fit into my day-to-day hustle, and I wound up only pulling out my Watson when I knew I wasn’t going to be leaving the house. Lounge bra, check! I loved the feeling of making such a thing for myself, but was still a little intimidated by the notions and knowledge needed to really get into bra-making, so I let it go at that and moved on to other projects. However, I never quite got that bug out of my brain, and I was on the lookout for the next push that would propel me further into the world of me-made lingerie.

It came in early 2017, when Cloth Habit dropped the Harriet and my favorite bloggers went wild over it. Underwire, three-piece cup, option for lined or unlined construction and specifically designed for stretch lace – it’s a gorgeous pattern, and bolstered both by the fact that I’d successfully sewn a Cloth Habit bra before and that everyone and their bestie was raving about how well-drafted this one was, I bought the pattern and started doing my homework. I’d been surreptitiously collecting elastic, stretch mesh and lace, and findings since my brief dance with the Watson, but I couldn’t find everything I needed locally. It took some time for the underwires and bra lining to arrive from Bra Makers Supply, but once they did I was ready and raring to go.

One thing I will probably always find frustrating about bramaking is that it’s damn near impossible to test fit without almost fully constructing the bra. I chose a size based on my measurements (although I cannot for the life of me remember which size that was – whoops), dove in with some black powermesh and pretty blue printed mesh I’d found at my local fabric shop, finished everything beautifully, aaaaaand… the bra didn’t fit. Like my Watson before her, Harriet had a weird bubbling going on around the nipples where the curve of the cup seam was just a hair too sharp, the cups themselves gaped at the top, and the cradle was too wide with too-big underwires. However, the finish was better than I was expecting, and my larger-busted roommate was more than happy to accept poor little Harriet into her lingerie drawer. So a sort-of win!

Feeling a little more secure in bramaking, and with the summer of 2017 already upon me, I turned back to my beloved Closet Case Patterns to try my hand at swimwear – specifically, the Sophie Swimsuit. It was my first time working with swimsuit elastic or cut-and-sew foam, and the finish was far from perfect, but I loved that I had made myself a swimsuit!  That fit! With underwires, and foam cups! This version was always intended as a wearable muslin, but it’s served me well for two years now – someday I’ll take the plunge again, but if my only swimsuit at the moment is a classic black two-piece I can live with that.

The next Harriet I made, I overcorrected in the size department – the band was too tight, the cradle too narrow, and although I straightened out the bust curve, the upper edge of the cup still gaped slightly where I didn’t pull the elastic tight enough. On this one, I also experimented with using stretch lace, but it was an apparel fabric with waaaaay too much stretch and nearly no recovery that almost immediately started to bag out over the sheer bra lining I’d backed it with. (It also started pilling while I was still working on the bra – see below.) I also for some reason underlined each piece with the lining, instead of treating the lining and outer pieces as separate, so the finish on the inside was a little ragged – you can see below where the raw seam allowance has just been trimmed back to the topstiching line.

Still, a bra! A bra in pretty white lace, with blue topstitching because reasons. And I do wear it from time to time – it’s not a perfect fit, but it’s passable if I have nothing else clean or I just feel like wearing something I made.

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My next bra, I was determined to get the fit right – I found the happy medium in size between the first two I’d tried, cut out and basted my lining pieces to see where I needed to straighten out the bust seam and then traced off an adjusted upper cup pattern piece with the appropriate amount removed, and really took my time with construction. I’d found a lovely printed mesh while I was visiting my sister in the UK that I was determined to use – it was black, with gold glitter polka dots and ecru printed flowers, and I was determined to make a bra from it because GLITTER BOOBS! Paired with nude lining and black powermesh from my stash, I fought the urge to use contrasting elastic and thread in order to let the fabric shine, and I made the bra of my dreams.

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#sewphotohop Day 10: Fresh off the sewing machine – technically I finished this last week, but since I haven't finished anything since I'm counting it! This is the @clothhabit #harrietbra size 36DD with a little fullness shaved off the upper cup pieces, and SWEET BABY JESUS IT FITS ME!!! This is the first bra I've made that I'm 100% happy with the fit (don't be fooled by how it sits on Anne-Marie, she's not padded out to my current measurements), and now that I've got it sorted I'm planning to bang out a few more to round out my lingerie drawer. The only downside is that the glitter on this fabric does get all over me when I wear it, but is that reeeeeally a downside?? ✨#bringontheglitterboobs #sewphotohop2018 #sewing #bramaking #imadethat #makersgonnamake #nysewist #tobeblogged

A post shared by Joni Long-Legs (@jonilonglegs) on

The caption says it all. Recently, I finally got around to padding out my mannequin and taking better pictures (I had to include the one with the flamingle hat though):

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I’m still so proud of the finish I achieved with this bra. The inside has no visible seams, the seam allowances are all neatly trimmed so they appear uniform where they show through the mesh, the tension on all the various elastics is right where it needs to be – it’s not perfect, but it’s as close to it as I could get! And with an adjusted pattern, I had all the tweaks I’d made down on paper and easy to replicate – I could make as many of these babies as I wanted!

Which of course means I waited around five months to make another. I know, I know! But in my defense, I’d used all my underwires, and ordering more is always a bit of a chore because I’m impatient and I hate waiting for shipping. Still, I finally got my procrastinating rear in gear when I realized I didn’t have a nude bra that fit, and took the opportunity to order four sets of underwires, some nude lace powermesh, and a findings kit in beige from Bra Makers Supply. However, something about the wait messed up my bramaking mojo, because I kept having irritating little problems.

Number one, I didn’t order what I needed. When I received the findings kit, it seemed light on strap elastic, and when I read back through the product description it literally said that the kit was designed for fabric-strap bras and that you might need to order extra elastic for a bra with all-elastic straps. This wasn’t heartbreaking, because I have pretty easy access to elastic, plus the strapping and hardware sent with the kit were 1/2″, which I find too wide and clunky-looking for my personal style. Still, annoying! Then when I went to pick up those extra findings, I also grabbed matching thread – which when I was halfway through construction, I realized was 100% cotton quilting thread. Not ideal in a garment where several major components need to stretch and be held at tension when it’s worn! Still, I was halfway done, and had also not ordered enough powermesh to re-cut any of the pieces I’d already trimmed seam allowances on, so I tried to make sure I didn’t skimp on the zig-zags of any attached elastic to avoid putting stress on the thread, and prayed a little for good measure.

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I did have a snapped stitch here the first time I wore it – you can see where I had to re-stitch over the old zig-zag

However, the last minor indignity didn’t hit until I’d assembled the bra and tried it on. Everything was looking GOOD – the finishing was neat, the bra itself was fitting – but there was something a little off about the underwires. I’d noticed when I was putting them in that they seemed a little long, but I remembered having extra length on the previous bra too so I’d brushed it off. However, on my body, it felt like these came just a hair too far out on my ribs at the sides, so I pulled out the black glitter bra to compare the arch.

I’d ordered the wrong underwire size.

Correction: I’d ordered four sets of the wrong underwire size. In my hubris, I’d thought I just remembered which number I needed, and ordered enough to make me several new bras. However, I’d remembered wrong – I’d ordered size 44, when I think my black bra was made with size 42. The bra still fits, but I can tell it’s not offering quite the support I need, especially at the sides – it feels like rather than being pushed up and in, which is ideally what this style of bra does naturally and one reason I love it, my boobs are listing slightly to the sides. Never fun, and although it’s slight enough that the bra is not unwearable, I do have plans to re-order the correct size of underwire and replace them so I feel better about wearing this bra. Because not gonna lie – she looks damn good.

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That shine! That cute picot trim! The not-quite-sheer of a beefy lace mesh that gives me coverage while still being pretty!

Also, who doesn’t love rose gold hardware?

In case it isn’t apparent, despite the minor foibles of its construction, I really love this bra. I’m incredibly proud of how neatly finished it is, how generally comfortable it is to wear, and how I feel knowing I made that all myself. For those of you interested in how this bra looks on, click through – I’d rather not put my girls directly into a post, but I know it’s nice when choosing a bra pattern to see how it fits!

So that’s my bramaking journey so far! While I now have the Harriet pattern perfected to where I want it, I’m starting to look farther afield for new patterns to try – I’d love to give a foam cup bra a go, as my usual ready-to-wear bras have always had foam cups; and I think I’d like to try something with a partial band. The Orange Lingerie Lansdowne Bra is definitely on my radar for both reasons (and also because I love a good plunge bra), as are several other Orange Lingerie patterns! And Evie la Luve has some truly tempting bralette and panty patterns that I might take for a spin. Then again, I do need more activewear in my life, and I’ve had the Papercut Patterns Pneuma Tank and Sports Bra pattern in my queue for months now…

This is why it takes me so long to make another bra! There’s just too many pretty things out there to choose from!

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All three Harriet bras currently in my lingerie drawer – a rainbow of (semi)neutrals!

 

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