Under the Wire

Why would anyone choose to sew their own bra?

Whenever I’ve mentioned to anyone that I’ve made my own bras, either they think I’m crazy or they want me to make them one too. I guess the latter group of women are the ones who, like me, have had a hard time finding a really nice comfortable bra that’s pretty and fits well. Sewing my own bras is a fun sewing project and the fit is great. Really great. The best ever. I love that it requires a bit of precision cutting and sewing, uses multiple unique, fancy materials like laces and satins, plush elastics and various bits of hardware. It's also a lot quicker to sew than you'd think. And in spite of all the complex engineering that goes into designing and manufacturing bras, sewing them isn’t really all that difficult once you get the hang of it.

Several years ago I had a great opportunity to take a bra-making workshop with Anne St. Clair of Needle Nook Fabrics. I can’t remember why it intrigued me so much, (years of wearing ill-fitting bras, perhaps), and I signed up right away. If making a bra is so easy, why take a class? Well, I didn’t realize how easy it was at the time. What I did know was that fitting a bra is challenging. When sewing clothing, fitting is the biggest challenge, and especially fitting oneself. And Anne St. Clair happens to be a bra-fitting expert. Over the course of the 2 day workshop, I was personally fitted by her and I made the most comfortable bra I’ve ever owned. (She has two bra patterns of her own and she sells them, as well as all the fabrics and notions via her blog. You can e-mail or call her very helpful staff with any questions.) The aesthetic of this first basic bra was a bit utilitarian, but I was just getting started. Once you make a great fitting bra, it’s hard to stop with just one. It's hard to even imagine ever buying another. The Pandora’s box of bra-making has been opened and there is no going back. In the weeks right after my class, I made a few more of the basic everyday plain vanilla bras, just for practice and because I needed some new ones. But then, I started looking around online and in stores, seeing fancy laces and pretty colors and couldn’t resist trying to up my game a bit. I wanted fancy lace and pretty colors!

These photos are a recent example of a stretch lace bra where I dyed the fabrics, elastics and findings all together before sewing. (A friend loaned me the crock pot she uses for dyeing projects, and I have to say it is the easiest, cleanest way to dye small bits of fabrics, elastics and the hardware bits all at once.) Since the entire bra (band, cups and straps) was made using stretch lace, lining was necessary for more structure and support. The back is lined with dyed-to-match power net. I would never make a bra band without using some type of power net, as the band is the main source of support in a bra. The cups and underwires create the secondary support structures. Using another type of stretch fabric for the band is fine, like stretch lace or stretch satin, but it doesn’t really give me the support I like to have in a bra. The upper and lower cups are lined with matching nylon tricot for support as well as a neat, soft finish inside, and I used a nylon sheer fabric to line the straps. You can make the entire bra unlined out of stretch lace, but just know that it won’t be nearly as supportive and you may need to size down both the band and the cups (but not the underwires) to give you more support. I applied the elastics so that the scalloped edges are visible along the bottom of the band, the top of the cups and the straps.

Bra-making does require you to use rather specific fabrics, findings and elastic which, thanks to the internet, are fairly easy to find. It’s addictive, really, and if the various sewing blogs around the internet are any indication, I’m far from alone in this quirky but gratifying endeavor. One of many sewing blogs that feature bra sewing, Sigrid’s Sewing Projects, has some very helpful bra-making tutorials. Her own handmade bras are stunning (in addition to her other inspiring sewing projects.) Lucky lady, she has in person access to some beautiful laces at Kantje Boord in Amsterdam. For those of us in the US, SewSassy.com and FabricDepotCo.com are both good online sources for all the basic fabrics and notions you will need for bra-making. Check out suppliers on Etsy.com for some fancier laces, both stretch and non-stretch, vintage and new, as well as other supplies and patterns, like the pattern that I used for the bra shown in these photos. It is BHS-10 from Merckwaerdigh, based in Holland, but with an Etsy.com storefront.
 

  

  

For more information on sewing your own bras, just google “bra sewing supplies” or something similar and you will find patterns, fabric and notions suppliers, tutorials, sew-a-longs, how-to videos and more!