So far this month, we’ve heard about bra pattern options from Michelle, and how to clone a RTW bra from Andie. Today I’m going to present a third possible option: having a custom pattern drafted just for you!
Why go this route? Well, bra patterns are great if you choose the right size from the start, and the shape of the pattern happens to work with your breasts. If not, you can spend a lot of time and money making muslins and trying to tweak it. I’m quite picky about my bra fit, but I don’t know enough yet to feel confident making the right changes to solve problems. Cloning a bra is easy – if you have a perfectly fitting RTW bra! I followed Andie’s tutorial and ended up with handmade bras that had the same fit issues as the original. At this point, I’d sewn 8 bras, and didn’t like wearing any of them. It was time for a new approach.
Lucky me, I happen to live within 3 hours of someone who could help. Erin, aka. Emerald Erin, learned about sewing lingerie while working at Bra Makers Supply, home of the Fairy Bra Mother. Erin now has her own storefront in Belleville, Ontario, runs an Etsy shop where she sells swim and bra-making supplies, and is working towards releasing her own patterns. I’ve been following her “Bra-A-Week Challenge” all year, so I felt confident that she could help me end up with the modern, stylish and supportive bras of my dreams!
The whole process was new to me, so I thought I’d take you through it step by step!
The first 45 minutes was spent in the change room. The first step is figuring out the right size and shape of underwire – this is done by fitting the wire right against the naked boob, so it’s not the time to be shy! I already knew more or less what size wire I wear, but it was really interesting to fine-tune how high I like the wire to come up under the arm, what angle it should sit at on my body, and what effect different shapes or wire would give. The whole bra is drafted around that one wire you choose, so it’s important to find the best one!
Next, Erin slid the wires into pre-made basic bras, and had me try them on until I found the best fit it. She then took all kinds of measurements while I wore that bra, and we started talking about strap placement, fit preferences, and what I look for in a bra. I found this part really useful, and it helped me identify why some of my fit problems had been happening. After that, I got to put my shirt back on and it was time for drafting.
Here’s the part that blew my mind: Remember how I said everything was drafted around the particular wire we chose? Well, as you can see above, she drafted the band to fit the wire when it is flexed out by the band! After all, the wire will always be under tension when I wear the bra (especially since I like a nice snug band) so it seems brilliant to draft with that in mind.
Next comes the cup, which starts as two semi-circles with the radius of my breast from root to apex… then the volume is adjusted with what are essentially darts, and the whole thing is slashed and spread to make sure it matched my measurements for fullness in the upper and lower cup. Like most women, I have a larger and a smaller side, so everything was drafted twice to that each side would fit exactly. I have to say, I’d looked up tutorials on how this was done in advance, but watching it all happen still seemed a bit miraculous. I love math, but this would definitely take a lot of practice to master!
Now for the fun part: design! Erin has examples of different styles all around the room, and I could have had literally any design in the world. I went with a very classic shape: power bar for forward thrust and lift, and a three-piece cup (even though it’s a 4 piece cup sketched above.) Then, the basic straight-line 2-piece cup that was drafted gets chopped up, rearranged, and has curves and seam allowances added, and ta da! It’s a bra pattern!
I think this final stage is when the pattern maker really influences the fit with their choices. Is the curve added or subtracted from the triangular pattern? Is the apex pointy or rounded? Does the bra compress, pull forward, push up, or just support? Basically, is it going to be like the bras I wore when I was 18, what I imagine I’ll wear when I’m 80, or a happy medium? Those little decisions make all the difference.
Even with a personalised pattern, getting it to fit was a process. The first draft came out big, the second small, and the third was just right! In between, we’d video chat or I’d send her pictures. I’d give Erin feedback on what I wanted, and she’d redrafted the bra, scan it and email it over. Fitting a bra is a lot like fitting jeans – you can tell there are issues, but it’s not always obvious which of the many adjustments you should make first! I appreciated having someone to make those decisions for me. In the end, I’ve got a really comfortable pattern that’s easy to sew up and works in a variety of fabrics!
Left: My muslin bra, with cups ripped out and resewn after each new draft. Centre and right: One of the bras I’ve made with the finished pattern! Super comfy and supportive. More detail on my blog!
When might a custom-drafted bra pattern be for you? Well, there are a few barriers. First of all, finding as expert local enough for you to visit! A bit of googling should tell you if anyone offers custom lingerie in your area – they should also be able to draft you a pattern. Alternately, maybe when you travel for work, on vacation, or to see family, you’ll be able to find someone to work with for an afternoon. I would definitely suggest working out beforehand if they will offer fitting support or redrafting if needed – that was a really crucial part of the process for me!
Cost is certainly another issue… my three hours with Erin cost the same as a high-end RTW bra, or the cost of sewing 4 me-made bras that would never get worn! For me, the luxury of a custom pattern was worth it, but I understand it won’t be affordable for everyone. We’ve got a review of a free bra pattern coming up next week if that’s more your speed.
What are the benefits? Well, if you are a nervous beginner, it’s lovely to be able to get help adjusting the fit if necessary. If you have a hard-to-fit chest that’s particularly shallow, deep, large, or asymmetrical, a custom pattern could be great. Likewise if you have health concerns and want specific features like a front closure, padded straps, mastectomy pads, etc. Or maybe you are just like me, and find bra-making so fascinating that you want to learn more!
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experience having a custom pattern made! We’re so lucky right now to have lots of different options for bra-making: taking a class in personal or online, buying a pdf pattern and following sewalongs, cloning one we own, or going custom. Which way suits your situation and learning style best?