I prefer making lingerie bows myself largely because pre-made bows always seem a bit “off”. Either they are tied strangely or are just not quite the right color. I also feel that making my own bow adds that extra special touch that elevates the finish of the garment. Of course, once I realized how much fun it is to shop for ribbon, well, that was it for me!
To make a bow you can use a ribbon, as shown in this tutorial, or you can follow my perfect spaghetti strap tutorial to create a thin tube of fabric to tie into a bow. So many choices when we make our own! Don’t you just love sewing?!
To help me tie perfect tiny little bows every time, I use this handy tool called “Bow Easy”. There are several different size bows you can make using this super simple tool. I generally use the 1 ¼” bow template with ¼” ribbon for most bra bows, but you might experiment with different sizes based on the width of your ribbon.
Here are the steps!
1. To determine how much ribbon to cut to make a bow, multiply the finished bow size by 8. For a 1¼” ” bow I cut 10” of ribbon (1.25 x 8 = 10).
2. Working from left to right, wrap the ribbon around the template leaving ¼” – ½” extra ribbon on top. Wrap the ribbon near the bottom of the template, as shown, to facilitate later steps. Hold the end down with your left thumb on the template.
3. Continue to wrap the ribbon around the template so that it wraps back around to the top. Hold that loop, along with the original ribbon end, with your left thumb.
4. Bring the tail of the ribbon through the top of the center channel without twisting the ribbon. This should form a loop on top of the template.
5. Wrap the tail of the ribbon around the center channel, and, still working from left to right, bring it up through the loop you just formed.
6. Pull to make a snug knot.
7. Push the tail end through the top of the center channel again to flatten the knot a bit and slide the completed bow off the template.
8. Trim the ends to your preferred length. I like them when the bow legs are about the same length as the loops, but sometimes it’s fun to play with the bow’s proportions!
Here is an animated summary of the steps to give you an idea of the overall movement.
8. Finally, seal the cut edges of the bow ends, lightly bring the raw ribbon edge to a flame from a lighter or candle to melt any frayed threads together. The flame should just kiss the ribbon edge. Please handle any flames carefully! I recommend doing this over a sink with some water in it for added safety. Fray check is another alternative to keep the ends of your new bow tidy through wash and wear.
Now you can attach the bow to your bra or other lingerie! Here we added the orange bow to our Boylston bra.
Fun tip: you can make two-colored bows, using the exact same method but with a double layer of ribbon!
If buying this tool isn’t in your budget but you’d still like to make your own bows, you can get away with using a large dinner fork instead! Just hold the fork with the tines pointing down and use the tines as the template. It won’t be quite as easy but with a little practice the results will be almost the same.
Just a word of warning: bow tying is addictive! ☺
One of the most common questions I am asked is “How often should I wash my bra?” and every time I answer, I am greeted with a shocked response.
So here it is: If you want your bras to perform at their best and last as long as possible, you need to wash your bra after wearing it once, or maximally twice. If you need to wear your bras twice before washing, you should give the bra a day off in between wearings. The elastic needs time to recover and to go back to a neutral position.
It is pretty easy to understand why this is the case. The bra is worn directly against your body, so it collects body oils and skin cells. Elastic, a key component of the bra band and straps, does not respond well to either substance. When these materials get into the elastic its ability to stretch and contract is decreased. It takes a proper wash to remove these substances so the elastic can go back to doing its job of keeping the bra snug against the body.
This begs the follow up question, “How do you wash a bra?”
Let’s start with what you do not do: do not put your bra in the washing machine. I know you want to because it is so easy. But on behalf of your bra, I beg you not to do it!
Bras are a delicate and carefully engineered garment. As part of its supportive structure, many bras have wires encased under each bra cup. Those wires do important support work in your bra. They need to keep their shape and stay put. In the washer (yes even in the delicate cycle), the water pressure and the pressure of clothing around the bra (even in a lingerie bag) could cause the wire to twist and lose its shape. Think about your other clothes too. Those bra hooks can catch on whatever else you have in the washer or the lingerie bag (yes, even if you fasten them before you put them in the wash).
What about the dryer, you ask? I’ll be blunt: the dryer will ruin the elastic. I don’t care what temperature you use. Elastic is key to the bra’s function, and, as outlined above, elastic needs to be cared for properly.
All of this means one thing: hand washing and air-drying are the way to clean the bra. To wash a bra, use lukewarm water and a gentle detergent. Gentle is the operative word. I like Soak wash since it is widely available in even comes in handy travel packets.
To clean your bras, separate by color then soak for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the soap and water to work their cleaning magic.
Then rinse the soap from the bras in lukewarm water. To gently extract the excess water from a bra without squeezing it, lay the bra inside a towel and gently press down on the towel.
Then lay the bra flat on a towel to dry. This soak-and-press technique is actually quite easy and does not require much active time at all. My strategy is to clean bras weekly, letting them soak while I take an extra-long and luxurious weekend shower.
The overall life of your bra, that is how long it will provide meaningful support and shaping, depends on the quality of the bra (materials and construction), cup size, frequency of wear and how the bra is cared for. The care of your bra is one of the factors that is completely within your control and we all want our beautiful handmade bras to last as long as possible!
You know the feeling; you are sitting in an important meeting and suddenly you feel a bra strap slide down your shoulder. There are a few reasons why this might be happening and depending on the cause, there are concrete steps you can take to prevent strap slip.
Let’s back up and just quickly refresh on the role of the straps in the bra. The most important thing to know is that they are not responsible for support! The role of bra straps is to keep the bra in the correct position on the body. If the straps are slipping off the shoulders, they won’t be able to do their job and the bra will start to sag. We don’t want that!
There are several things that can cause bra straps to fall. Let’s take a look at the main causes and how to fix each one.
The first and most common cause is that the bra is worn out and stretched out so the elastic no longer expands and contracts. One sign this is the cause is that you have the strap tightened as far it can go, and it still falls off your shoulder. The best solution here is to replace the bra. A bra with “dead” elastics can no longer do its job to support and shape your body. It is time to make a new bra!
Another reason straps slip is that they are not adjusted properly. I see this happen a lot with new bras fresh off the machine. In the excitement to try on the bra, the strap is not adjusted to the correct length. In this case, you just need to adjust the straps so they fit more snuggly to the body.
One cause of strap slippage is not very obvious. The straps may be slipping through the sliders and out of where you want them set. This means that the sliders may be too wide for the strap elastic. If you have different rings and sliders sizes in the right color for your bra and a desire to unpick some stitching, you can re-make the straps (it is fiddly but doable). A simpler solution is to be sure when you are making your next bra that the strap elastic is secure when threaded through the slider. The elastic should not move very easily through the slider.
Strap slippage can also be caused by the strap position on the bra. If straps are placed too far out on your shoulder they are predisposed to slipping. There are a couple of ways to fix this but both adjustments should be made to the pattern before you cut out the bra.
When adjusting the bra strap location, you can move the straps in toward the center of the body on the front, back or on both sides of the bra. Where you decide to make the change depends on the style and the look of the bra.
To move the straps on the front of the bra, start by marking the outer edge of the desired front strap location. Do this by placing the strap on the pattern and marking the outer edge where the strap meets the upper cup.
Then redraw the underarm curve on the upper cup to smoothly transition into the outer edge of the strap in its new location.
To make the change in the back of the bra, redraw the scoop on the back band with the topmost point of the band corresponding to the desired strap location. Moving the back straps is where I start to adjust strap placement if the bra looks beautiful and proportional on the front of the body.
In the above tutorial I used the Boylston bra to illustrate the pattern changes. To find out how to make these changes with the Marlborough bra, see this tutorial. For moving the straps on the Devonshire bra, you can read more here.
Happy bra making!
This month our Marlborough bra sewing pattern celebrates its five-year anniversary. It is hard to believe that five years have passed since we published our first sewing pattern! Since 2014 we have published over one dozen lingerie sewing patterns, including two underwear patterns (the Kingston thong and the Montgomery brief) that I created just so I could have a matching Marlborough bra and underwear set!
While the Marlborough pattern was our first pattern, based on pattern reviews and makes, it remains one of your favorites (mine too!). To celebrate its five-year anniversary, we decided to update the pattern instructions for all sizes to include even more information to help you make your own beautiful and professional looking lingerie. The sewing pattern itself, a time-tested classic, remains unchanged.
Let’s talk about what we updated. First of all, we invest a great deal of time and effort in our instructions to make it as easy as possible for you to make your own lingerie and our unique, detailed illustrations are a big part of that. For the updated instructions, we wanted to make the the illustrations larger, so it was even easier to see the all the construction detail for each step.
We also wanted to include elements that we have added to our other bra patterns over the years including more information on materials, cutting instructions and construction layout diagrams.
Finally, after teaching the Marlborough bra workshop for nearly as long as the pattern has been around, I wanted to streamline the instruction flow and add some extra helpful steps.
If you have already purchased this pattern, the update is available at no additional cost. If you purchased the Marlborough bra pattern through our website, you will receive an email with instructions on how to access the updated file.
If you purchased the pattern through Etsy, you will need to message us via Etsy referencing your order number and provide your email address so that we can get a fresh copy of the pattern to you. This process is necessary because Etsy does not have the ability to push out updated files.
If you have not purchased the Marlborough bra pattern yet, now is a great time to give it a try!
Over the summer I shared a lot of my favorite pro tips for bra making. As I was putting those posts together, I thought of even more tips to help you make your own beautiful and professional looking lingerie! Below I capture a few of my favorites.
Sewing Small Pieces
Sewing small pieces can be tricky. If you are having difficulty you can always sew from the middle outwards. No one ever said you have sew from end to end! This can make it easier to control those tiny and sometimes slippery bits of fabric in a bra making project.
Another way to sew small and/or slippery pieces is to start your seam with a small fabric leader or piece of paper at the beginning of a seam. A fabric leader also helps if your machine wants to eat the fabric at the start of the seam.
Chain sewing where you sew continuously from one seam to another is another great technique and saves construction time overall as well.
Working with Shifty Fabrics
When sewing power net (or power mesh) to another fabric on a conventional sewing machine, such as when you attach the frame to the band, sew with the power net on the bed of the machine and the other fabric on top. With this method the power mesh seamline does not get stretched and you get a nice flat straight seam. Of course, you could also overlock this seam on your serger!
Working with Bra Kits
Before you cut out your pattern, check trim and elastic sizes on your pattern and compare them to what you plan to use. On Orange Lingerie bra sewing patterns these lines are all clearly marked on each pattern piece for easy reference.
This tip is especially important if you are using a bra making kit where the trim and elastic widths vary and may be different from the pattern allowances. It is so much easier to make any necessary adjustments before you cut out your garment.
Add to the Band
I have students add 1 ¼” to the band, regardless of the size they are making, to account for the different properties of various Power Net fabrics and elastics. This adjustment (tutorial here) gives you some breathing room (literally) to account for different materials.
This is especially important for the A to DD size ranges for the Marlborough and Boylston bras since those bands were drafted to be firm using a fairly stretchy power mesh and a soft and stretchy band elastic.
Over the years bra kits have evolved to include firmer power net and firmer elastic. This is great for support but using the kit materials without first increasing the band could lead to a bra that is too tight! It is super easy to make a band smaller if it turns out to be too big, but it is difficult to make a band larger!
That is why for insurance, and to avoid a lot of extra work with stretch calculations, I just add 1 ¼” to the band. You can read the tutorial here.
Check the Closure Height
I teach this adjustment in all of my workshops and have been adding this to our bra patterns as well as a reminder to check the closure height of the bra and to adjust as necessary to precisely fit your hook and eye closure. You can read the tutorial here.
Track Your Changes
Take notes while you sew! Write down the settings on your machine like your sightline/guide you use on your presser foot, and your preferred presser foot for topstitching.
Also write down the date of any pattern changes along with what you changed and what you want to alter next time. I also recommend taking pictures of each version of the garment on the body and storing all the information your preferred note taking app. I cannot even begin to tell you how important my notes are to the design and pattern making process!
Add your bra making tips to the comments below!
If there was one technique I wish for every sewist to use, it is this one! It works like a charm when sewing any garment but I find it particularly valuable when it comes to bra making. This method has reduced student construction errors in my bra making workshops to almost zero.
What is this method you ask? Dots! Specifically using colored dots to indicate which pieces are to be sewn together. Using dots is especially useful for bra making where the orientation of all those tiny pieces is sometimes, well, a bit puzzling.
I think the best way to describe how to use dots for sewing is to show you! Below I have used a variety of dots and dot colors to indicate the areas that match up for sewing for our Boylston bra.
To follow this method, start by laying out the pattern pieces as they will be sewn together. Then apply color dots to the pattern pieces at the points where they connect. For example, all the red points on the left hand side of the picture above will come together. There are already notches at these points, but color coding makes it easier to be sure the pieces are correctly lined up properly for sewing.
Notice that those same points are marked with true blue dots on the right hand side of the picture above. That makes it really clear which lower cup piece will get joined to which upper cup so the right sides and wrong sides of the garment do not get mixed up when sewing.
The above diagram also uses dots also for where the upper cup will be positioned on the bridge (the green dots) as well as the correct band to frame orientation (yellow dots on the left and purple dots on the right). You can even use dots to indicate how the straps are attached as I did above with the sky blue (left) and orange dots (right).
Don’t want to use so many dots? No problem. Below are what I have found to be the most critical dot markers for bra making.
Once you have all the pattern pieces dotted up, you will want to copy that, dot for dot and color for color on your fabric pieces.
Not only does this method improve your accuracy but it also increases sewing speed because you no longer need to go back and forth between your fabric pieces and your pattern pieces to insure your construction is accurate.
Happy bra making!
The Devonshire love continues! This week I have a tutorial for converting the cup from using lace to using fabric. This conversion allows you to carry through your fabric print (or solid) through the entire front of the bra like the scuba fabric Devonshire pictured above. This alteration is also a great workaround for when you are using an allover lace that does not have a scallop edge.
Before we dive in, remember all pattern changes are from the seam or trim lines and then the cutting line is established by adding your seam or trim allowance. Also, be sure to label your pattern pieces. You need to know what those pieces are for, especially if you are interrupted and need to set your project aside.
Now the overall approach to convert the cup to use fabric, is to add a trim allowance to allow you to stabilize and neatly finish the cup in the absence of a lace scallop edge.
Begin by taping both cup pieces to some tracing or pattern paper. Now, measure up the width of the trim elastic you use for the underarm. That same trim can be used to finish the upper cup. I really like this approach since it does not require any additional materials.
For my bra patterns the trim allowance for the underarm area is ⅜” for A to C cups and ½” for cup sizes D and greater. These are always marked on all our bra patterns so you can clearly see the trim allowance allowed and understand where to alter the pattern.
Now if you want to get fancy, you can take this a step further and reshape the upper cup. Without lace, we no longer need that straight line at the top of the cup and that allows us to add some contouring.
To get the curvy inner upper cup below, I measured the total width of the inner lower cup pattern piece along the upper edge (the solid black line at the top of the cup in between the seam lines). I then measured 75% of the distance away from the center of the overall cup and marked a point ¼” above the top edge of the cup.
To get the new curved line, I drew a smooth arcing convex line from the non-notched side of the inner cup (where it attaches to the bridge) and transitioned the line to a concave line toward the notched side of the inner cup (where it attaches to the outer cup).
You could even curve the top of the outer cup down a tiny bit (I used ⅛” below) as you move to the center of that pattern piece, bringing the line back up the existing top edge of the upper cup as you get to the underarm.
If you do decide to get fancy and add this kind of contouring to your cup, check your upper cup curve to be sure it is continuous and smooth all the way across by putting the cup pieces together along the top edge as if they were sewn.
When you go to sew the bra, apply elastic to finish the upper cup as directed for the underarm area. This application is made to the top of the completed upper cup and lining combination.
Yet another great option for your next Devonshire bra!
Unique to our bra styles, our new Devonshire bra has a two-piece vertically seamed cup to provide beautiful uplift. With this new style I thought it would be helpful to post the most common pattern alterations that you can use to customize the fit of your Devonshire.
Like our Boylston bra, the Devonshire bra is a balconette style. For balconette styles, the straps are purposely positioned out fairly far on the shoulder. This strap placement is to allow for the display of the maximum décolletage.
Because all bodies are different, this strap placement does not work for every body. Luckily it is simple to move the straps in toward the center of the body. The easiest way to do this is move the strap in toward the center of the body, we will remove the excess material from the underarm area.
Start by measuring the amount that you want to move the straps in by pinching out unwanted length from the upper cup near the strap. Another method is to roll the strap over (right side of strap to right side of cup) and measure the amount of the material folded over the bra.
Next, lay out the outside cup, frame and band matching them at the seamlines and mark the amount that you are moving in the strap on the cup. Then draw a new trim line (the dotted line in the underarm area) that smoothly connects from your marked point to where the cup attaches to the frame. Finally, add back your cutting line (the solid line). The orange lines show the alteration.
I recommend laying out the pieces as shown above to be sure you have a nice smooth line all along the top of the bra.
Another possibility with a balconette bra is that the straps are in the right place, but the upper cup is too large, that is, the cup stands away from the body. To decrease the upper cup, we will remove excess fabric using the cup seam.
Start by determining how much you want to decrease the cup by pinching out the excess material along the top of the upper cup from your toile (a.k.a. muslin or mock up). I recommend pinching out a dart, not just a tuck at the top, so you can have greater accuracy on the decrease and how deep to extend the decrease down the cup.
Now, measure in ½ the amount of the decrease from the top of the cup at the center seam line on each cup piece and redraw that center cup seam on both cup pieces tapering the decrease to zero at the existing seam line. Finally, draw in your new seam allowances to get your new cutting line.
If you need to increase the upper cup, that is the upper cup is too tight on the body, you will add to the center seam of the upper cup.
Start by estimating the amount you want to increase to the upper cup. To estimate it is helpful to determine how far you would need to move the upper edge of the cup in from the underarm for the fit to be smooth along the upper cup.
To make the alteration, start by taping the cup pattern pieces to some tracing or pattern paper then measure out ½ the amount of the increase from the top of the upper cup at the center seam line on each cup piece and redraw those center cup seams, tapering the decrease to zero at the existing seam line. Finish by adding in your new seam allowances to get your new cutting line.
Want more upper cup adjustments and strap moving tutorials!? We have got you covered! Here is our tutorial for moving the Marlborough straps, our tutorial for moving the Boylston straps, and our tutorial on upper cup adjustments.
Happy bra making!!