Bra-making: It’s so rewarding when it works, and so frustrating when it doesn’t!
I started bra-making last summer by taking a weekend class with the Fairy Bra Mother, and since then I’ve made around 15+ bras… most of which have now been tossed in the trash for size, fit or comfort issues. So you can imagine that I was excited when Orange Lingerie announced her very popular Marlborough Bra was being released in larger sizes! Could this be my dream bra pattern? Norma kindly sent over a few copies to the Curvy Sewing Collective for review, so I jumped at the chance to sew it up.
Choosing a size is the hardest part of using any new pattern. This pattern suggests adding 4 or 5″ to your underbust, and choosing a cup based on the difference between your full and over bust. My measurements (35″ underbust, 42″ full bust, 40″ high bust) put me in a 40B, according to the size chart. Friends, I usually wear a 36F/G! No way was a 40″ band or a B cup going to work. I emailed with Norma, and she suggested I start with my RTW size.
On her blog, Norma suggests two ways to muslin a bra: a single cup with wire, and full test bra. I did both: first a mock up of one 36DDD cup in sturdy duoplex, which compared to my favourite bras showed that I needed to reduce the upper cup. I made some tweaks, and then I made my big mistake: I sewed up my full muslin in a stretchier fabric. (In my defense, I’ve used that fabric successfully for several bras, and I thought it was more comparable than it turned out to be!) That muslin fit beautifully! I bought more supplies, and merrily sewed up a “good” bra, which you see below…
… and it was disastrously too small. Not even close to wearable. $35 of materials down the drain, not to mention a whole day of sewing!
Now, I know this is my fault. I used the wrong fabric in my muslin, and I paid for it. But here is what confuses me – my initial test cup was in the same super-sturdy duoplex as this final version! I guess it’s proof of how much a tight band can affect the size of your boobs. Remember this, friends!
Incidentally, I did mess with the pattern a bit by using a stable fabric for the upper cup instead of lace stabilised by sheer cup lining… again, I misinterpreted how stable duoplex is compared to sheer cup lining, which I think of as very stable but apparently allows more stretch than this!
Time to cut the straps and hooks off, chuck the rest, and start again!
This time I went up a band size and a cup size – so, two cup sizes bigger, in effect. Now I was sewing a 38G – a far cry from the 40B the size chart suggested! I basted everything together so I wouldn’t waste more materials. And, happily, with just a few tweaks in the upper cup for my larger and smaller side, it fits!
On me, it is still a shallow and minimizing shape. The cups fit my bust, but don’t offer much forward thrust. I wore it once or twice, but haven’t been reaching for it often. Based on my experience, I’d say this pattern fits best if you have balanced fullness in top and bottom, and somewhat wide-set boobs. If you are narrow and projected, you may have more fitting work to do. It’s worth noting that the drafting of this size range is differently shaped than the original size range, but I’m not exactly sure how!
Pattern name: Marlborough Bra by Orange Lingerie
Size range (with measurements): DDD to J cups, band size 30″ to 40″. The cup size range is good, but the band size range seems very limited to me, especially with the sizing suggesting that you sew a band 4-5″ larger than your actual measurements. I’m almost the largest band size, and that’s not going to cut it for larger women. On the other hand, you can use sister sizing and band adjustments to get some “hidden” sizes from the pattern – more info here!
What size did you make? 38G, which is one band size smaller and 4 cup sizes larger than the pattern recommended.
What are your measurements? 35″ underbust, 42″ full bust, 40″ high bust
What adjustments did you make and how long did they take? Let me see… I made a single-cup muslin, a full muslin, a bra that didn’t fit, and a bra that fits ok. Total time required was about 15 hours.
What was the construction process like? Did the instructions make sense to you? Good instructions that should be fairly clear for even a beginner.
How do you like the pattern’s fit? Do you think the design works well for your particular body shape? On me, it’s a flattening/minimizing shape, and that’s not what I look for in a bra. The only other person I know who has sewn it swears it’s not that way on her!
Will you make the pattern again? If so, what fit or design changes will you make? Honestly? No. I won’t make it again. I’ve already got my custom-drafted bra pattern (that I wrote about here in Lingerie Month) so I won’t keep working with this one. however, I’ve got high hopes that the Orange Lingerie Boylston Bra (released now in larger sizes) might be more my style!
Do you have any advice on this pattern for other curvy sewers? Go into bra-making with a realistic mindset. It’s not fast, it’s often frustrating, you’ll waste expensive supplies, and every little change in fabric will totally throw off your fit. Be prepared for the long haul, and then you’ll hopefully end up with some great bras! Although I find sewing bras frustrating at times, I wouldn’t go back to buying RTW ones!
Overall, I think it’s a well-drafted pattern with good instructions, and I’d recommend it. Be wary of the sizing though. I appreciated being able to email and chat on social media with the designer about fit and sizing – that’s the greatest benefit to sewing indie patterns!
p.s. I know it would be nice to see pictures of these bras on me, but I’m a public school teacher, so that isn’t going to happen. If you sew one yourself, you are welcome to share your pics in the CSC private Flickr group or Facebook group!