Bra Making Notions Explained

My last post reviewed bra making fabrics, but as you well know, you need more than fabric to make a bra. Like most bras, the Marlborough calls for about a half dozen different notions. That may sound like a lot, but each has a clear role to play in creating this bra. Let’s review them one by one.

Underarm and Band Elastic

 

The purpose of the elastic in a bra is to keep the garment correctly positioned against the body so it can support the breasts.

For bras you should use lingerie elastic that has a soft plush finish on one side since it will be in direct contact with the body in the finished bra. Usually this elastic has a decorative “picot” edge on one side and a flat finish on the opposite edge. You can choose which edge you want to be visible in the finished the bra.

The Marlborough uses two different widths of lingerie elastic with a wider elastic used for the band to add more stability and support.

Strap Elastic

The role of the straps is to keep the bra in a stable position on the body. Strap elastic is used to provide some flexibility to the straps for comfort. It is typically shiny on one side and plush on the body facing side. There should be some stretch to the strap elastic but it should be a firm stretch, 50% tops.

The width of the strap elastic used for the bra varies by cup size with the larger cup sizes using wider elastic for increased stability. A wider strap also creates more visual harmony with the rest of the garment in larger cup sizes.

While the Marlborough uses strap elastic for the entire strap, if you want or need more stability in the straps, you can make the front portion of the strap from low to no movement fabric and use strap elastic for just the back portion of the strap. There are several options when it comes to straps so I will be posting about different strap variations soon.

Hook and Eye Closure

The hook and eye closure is used to securely fasten the bra around the body. The backing of the eyes should be soft, since it will be up against the body.

Larger cup sizes use a taller closure than smaller cup sizes. The increased height allows for a wider band which helps to provide more support.

Underwire Channeling or Casing

Underwire channeling or casing is used as a sturdy enclosure for the underwires. It also stabilizes the cup to frame seam and should be used regardless of whether or not you are using underwires in your bra. I prefer a plush underwire casing since it is soft against the body, as well as strong and durable.

It is possible to make your own casing out of fabric, but I will save that tutorial for a future post!

Underwires

Underwires support the breasts. They do this by spreading out out the stress of breast support from the cups into the band and I recommend using them to get the best lift and support possible from your bra.

Underwires are most commonly made of metal and come in a variety of diameters and lengths. I don’t ever recommend plastic underwires since they splay too much across all cup sizes, negatively impacting their ability to provide support.

For the Marlborough, I used Bra-makers Supply regular size wires. If your wires are too short, they will not work. If your wires are too long, you can cut them the the correct length. When cutting wires for a bra, be sure to allow for a minimum of 3/8″ extra room in the underwire casing for “wire play” and to enable the casing to be stitched closed. I have a fun new way of sealing off the tips of cut wires that I plan to post soon.

Rings and Sliders

Rings and sliders provide a mechanism to make bra straps adjustable. (Note, only sliders are pictured above.)

The most durable rings and sliders are made of metal and coated in nylon. Color selection has been getting better as of late but the most widely available colors are white, beige and black. If you can’t find a color match for your project, you can do what I do: use gold or silver rings and sliders or just go with a sturdy clear plastic set.

The width of the rings and sliders you will use corresponds to your strap width. If you plan to create a two-piece strap (a fabric front and elastic back) you will need to get another two rings so you have a way to connect the front strap to the back strap. Out of rings? No problem. You can substitute sliders for rings and you have a different and fully functional look.

Center Front Embellishment (optional)

The center front embellishment is used for decoration and to camouflage the stitching that seals the wire casing.

You can attach a variety of embellishments to the center front of your bra so feel free to get creative. In addition to bows, I have seen bras with ribbon flowers, custom covered buttons and even mini pom poms. When selecting an embellishment, just be aware that any bold or multi dimensional decoration may show through clothing.

Where to Buy

Because few of us can find bra making supplies in our local area, I have list of bra making materials suppliers on my resources page.

Coming up in my next post, I will tell you how to manipulate your materials to get what you want from them!

 

 


 

Your Guide to Bra Making Materials

One of the potentially confusing parts of making a bra is choosing the fabric and in my book I provide general guidelines for selecting materials. With the release of my Marlborough bra pattern, I wanted to review the necessary materials and provide specific recommendations for my pattern.

Like many bras, the Marlborough requires four different fabrics; (1) cup, bridge and band fabric, (2) lace, (3) band fabric and (4) lining. I am going to tell you what you are looking for in each category and give you ideas on how to manipulate fabric to bring it into line with the desired characteristics for the Marlborough.

1) Cups, Bridge and Frame Fabric

When looking for bra making fabric you are most concerned the movement of the fabric. Movement refers to both stretch, which means the fabric contains Spandex fibers (also known as Lycra and elastane), and give, which means there is mechanical movement of the fabric based on its weave or knit.

The fabric for the bra cups should have little to no movement to contain and provide shape to the breasts. When you look for cup fabric think smooth, thin and strong because you want support and you want your clothing to move freely over the bra. You also want a fabric that is comfortable and washable.

Typical bra cup fabric fibers are nylon, polyester, cotton, Spandex and silk. Bra fabrics are usually a tricot, raschel or even jersey knit. Woven fabrics like stretch silk charmeuse (silk with Spandex) are used for luxury lingerie, as is 100% silk.

The bridge and frame also need to be made in a low to no movement fabric to keep the cups in the correct place on the body. Generally the same material that is used for the cups is used for these parts of the bra along with a stable lining for the bridge.

For creating the Marlborough, I used “Duoplex” fabric from Bra-makers Supply as my base fabric (swatches pictured above). It is a 100% polyester tricot knit fabric that has 10% movement lengthwise and no movement crosswise. I chose this fabric because it is supportive, easy to work with, wears well and comes in a lot of different colors.

Another great thing about using Duoplex as a base fabric is that it makes for easy substitutions. It is far easier to manipulate a fabric into low to no movement properties than it is to manipulate a fabric to into a specified movement factor like 30% lengthwise and 20% crosswise for example.

To manipulate a fabric to make it have low to no movement properties you can double it, line it, fuse it to a tricot interfacing or bond it to another fabric using fusible weft. If you are not sure how to go about manipulating your fabric, no worries! I will take you through the different fabric manipulation approaches in an upcoming post. Once you know how to adapt fabrics for bra making, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities!

If you want to steer clear of manipulating your fabric for now but want to use something other than Duoplex, I have had good results using bias cut silk, bias cut Liberty Tana Lawn and even a double layer of stretch charmeuse for the Marlborough. Remember to test any fabric changes in the muslin process before you sew up your final bra.

2) Upper Cup Lace

There are so many different types of laces that there are entire books on the subject. To keep the selection process simple, just refer back to the basic principles for bra cup fabric selection: thin, smooth and strong. Now clearly lace is going to deviate from the thin and smooth characteristics, but the point it to keep an eye on how much texture your lace has unless you do not mind it showing underneath your clothing. When it comes to strong, you are looking at the density of the lace. You want a lace that is not going to allow flesh to press through it, unless you plan to line it.

The Marlborough upper cup is drafted for a fairly dense and rigid (no movement) lace that uses a scalloped edge for the finished edge of the upper cup. You can substitute a stretch lace if you prefer. If your lace has stretch, is delicate or is not very dense, I recommend using a lining fabric underneath the lace for extra support and stability, especially in the D and DD cup size range.

Shopping for laces is easily one of my favorite parts of bra making. Laces are easy to find and are widely available on Etsy.

3) Band (aka Wings) Fabric

The fabric for the band must have stretch so you can comfortably breathe and move about while wearing the bra.

My pattern calls for a power mesh, also called power net. Power mesh comes in different densities, including double knit varieties (not pictured), and degrees of stretch in both the crosswise and lengthwise directions. In the picture above the upper swatches have greater density. For the Marlborough I used a power mesh with 50% lengthwise stretch and 30% crosswise stretch, the bottom swatches in the image above.

For more support, or a band that feels tighter, you can use a more dense and/or lower stretch power mesh or you can use a double layer of lighter weight power mesh. A quick note on doubling power mesh – you do get a bit of an optical effect as pictured below.

If you don’t like the look of power mesh, you can layer stretch lace or a stretch fabric over the top of it. Just be sure that the stretch of the upper layer of fabric is equal to or greater than the power mesh below it and that you test the combination of the two in the toile (a.k.a. muslin) process to be sure the band has enough stretch for your comfort. Depending on the fabrics involved, you may need to add to the band.

4) Lining Fabric

Lining fabric is used to stabilize the bridge of the bra. Lining can also be used in the fabric manipulation process to create a more stable fabric.

When you start shopping for bra making linings you will see the term “denier”. Simply put, denier is a measure of the density of the weave of the fabric. The lower the number, the more sheer and lightweight the fabric.

There is no need to line Duoplex but when I do line bra cups, the lining I like to use is a 15 denier nylon with 25% crosswise and 0% lengthwise movement (pictured at the bottom right in the image above). There are also nylon “sheer cup” linings with virtually no movement that I like to use for the bridge (the swatches pictured in the top row above).

Where to Buy

Because few of us can find bra making supplies in our local area, I have list of bra making materials suppliers on my resources page. If you are new to bra making or you just want to simplify the process of acquiring all the materials, you can always buy a bra making kit that has everything you need included all in one package.

 

In my next post I will review bra making notions including the elastics and other findings used in the bra making process. As always, if there is a bra making topic you want to learn more about, let me know!

 

Introducing the Marlborough Bra Sewing Pattern!

My first lingerie sewing pattern is now available! This bra, called the Marlborough, has been engineered for great shaping and support. This is one of my custom clients favorite bras since it is not only beautiful but it is also a style that can be worn everyday. One of the reasons I like it so much is that this style provides a great foundation for playing with different laces and fabric prints for fun and variety. You can see some samples of completed Marlborough bras in the style gallery starting here.

I worked very hard to make the best pattern possible, including some unique features:

  • A PDF pattern that does not require any taping. All pattern pieces fit entirely inside the printable space of US Letter or A4 size paper. For printing ease each size is grouped together.
  • All pattern pieces are separate, not nested, and clearly show the seam allowance and/or trim allowance as applicable. This allows for construction clarity and simplifies any pattern alterations.
  • The detailed illustrations in the instructions make the seemingly complex steps of bra construction very clear and easy to understand.
  • This pattern was reviewed and graded by professionals who typically send their output directly into production so you can be extra confident that you have a great starting point for your garment.

You can buy the pattern here!

If you subscribe to my newsletter, you actually found out about the new pattern last month. If you are not on the newsletter list, sign up here to keep up-to-date. There are more lingerie sewing patterns on the way!

 

New Notions

I am always on the look out for new tools to help me get my job done better, faster and easier. I previously detailed the notions used most in my workroom in my book and on my resources page. Since then I have added a few new tools to the mix!

“Pizza wheel”

I discovered this one on Claire’s blog and Melissa wrote about it as well. I had wanted to purchase one and when I spotted it at Odakaya in Tokyo last month, I snapped it right up. This tool allows me to easily measure around curves, a great time saver when I need to make pattern adjustments. I love that it measures in metric units – my preference for pattern work. Claire’s blog post has information on how to buy this one. For those who like to work in imperial measurements, the EZ Measuring Wheel is available here.

 

Clover Desk Needle Threader

I learned about this gem at the last Susan Khalje couture class. This needle threader works every time, even through the tiny eyes of the Japanese needles that I love to use. I have three of these in various locations between the studio and my home so I am never without one!

 

Pilot FriXion Point Erasable Gel Pen

Katy & Laney introduced me to this pen by in November while I was shopping at Grey’s Fabric. First of all, I love an erasable pen, but the best feature is that the markings disappear with the heat of an iron. I have successfully used this marker on all sorts of fabrics and the point is nice and fine for precise markings.

 

Pentel Tri Eraser and Tombow MONO Zero Eraser

I always start bra pattern drafting by hand and there are all sorts of little pieces and tiny lines. When I need to erase a mark, I need to be careful and that is where these tiny erasers come in handy.

 

Olfa 18mm Rotary Cutter

Even though cutting with shears is more precise, I still love rotary cutting. This size is perfect for cutting small pieces and tight curves. It handles like a pencil so I have more control when cutting.

 

Japanese Pin Cushion

I like this colorful pin cushion because it reminds me of my visit to the shop in Kyoto that sells handmade sewing needles. The shop was just magical and this reminds of their fine craftsmanship, something I like to keep in mind while working.

A gadget girl at heart, I am always on the lookout for new notions! What are your favorites?

Disclosure: I used affiliate links for the above notions so if you click through and decide to purchase, I will be compensated.

 

Now Available in Print!

When I launched my book last year, I heard from a lot of people who simply insisted they had to have a print edition. Well, guess what? I listened! As of today, my book is available in a lovely full color 8″ x 10″ paperback edition, all freshly edited and formatted. Enjoy!