Bra Conundrum

Bra Testing Materials

Making my own clothes has been a liberating and enlightening experience.  Colors, fabrics and styles I like are suddenly within reach.  Each garment takes time and each pattern requires a lot of fitting and refitting, particularly with the FBA and grading necessary for many patterns.  All of my TNT patterns will have to be refit after I lost weight earlier this year. It’s not that big a thing.  I know how to fit those items and can make the adjustments faster now.

My biggest obstacle hasn’t been fitting or sewing skills.  Yes, those require extra time and work, but my biggest obstacle is foundation.   In order for clothes, me-mades or RTW, to look good they need a solid foundation.  A well fitted bra is the cornerstone of a killer wardrobe.  Here I fall between the cracks.  Large enough cup size to be outside the standard range, small enough band size to not be in the (hard to find, but apparently available on at least one site in Europe for some serious pennies) larger size bras.  I size outside most patterns too, or at least I should, but let me come back to that.

Last year I finally found a bra that fit for the first time.  It was comfortable enough to sleep in (almost).  It didn’t dig in, or poke, or sag.  No muffin top at the edges of the cups.  The bridge rested against my ribcage, where it belonged.  Something I had thought of as a fiction. Wearing it made me look ten pounds lighter and a little taller.  It was even moderately pretty if still nude. Unfortunately despite it’s adequate back closure, thick straps and underwire.  It wasn’t structurally sound enough to provide the support I needed.  Three bras breaking in the same way (though I can’t quite remember what it was now) can attest to this.  The one online vendor that carried the bra didn’t for long and only theoretically carries other bras in the same size (none are ever available, whether they are sold out or just not stocked? Who knows.) Sister sizes it is.  Frumpily, uncomfortably worn bras that sort of fit,  which don’t quite suit any me-mades that were modeled on a well-fitted bra.

Clearly the thing to do is make a bra.  Sewing lace?  Check.  Sewing elastic?  Check. Slippery fabrics?  Check.  Knits? Check.  Making straps?  Check.  It looks like the basic skills are covered. Pattern?  Um no.  Here’s where we come back to pattern sizing.  There is a fair amount of conflicting advice about bra sizing and bra fitting. Usually it is geared toward the industry pattern standard B cup and smaller band sizes.  Do you add 4 or 5 inches to your under bust measurement to determine your band size.  Really only if you fall into a cup size C or smaller.  With the average size being D these days, just don’t bother.  Many bra patterns were many cup sizes too small for me.  Many also say to subtract the high bust from the full bust, which gives me a cup size roughly half that of my well fitted RTW (often extrapolated because I was off the sizing charts), which is backwards from the direction you usually get for bra size changes in sewing.  What about those underwires?  Sizing instructions starting with remove underwire from a well fitting bra, well you can see where that would generally lead.  Lets add the complicated fabrics and findings required for bra-making and the lovely ease of purchasing kits that don’t cover my size and the fact that most sources require international or cross country shipping.  It’s intimidating.

Recently Orange Lingerie released expanded sizes for the Marlborough bra.  I’m finally covered.  Of course the fitting instructions say I should choose the smaller sizes.  Really? The difference between my full bust and high bust is 5 inches; between my under bust and my high bust is 7 inches; but between my full bust and my  under bust is 11 inches.  Where are those other 6 inches supposed to hide?  My suspicion is that with a fuller bust the tissue may sit differently.

What to do?  At $17 buying the pattern twice isn’t appealing, particularly as fitting requires making the pattern more than once too.  Bra making should be within my grasp, so I’ll start at the end and work my way back.  A bra kit is on its way.  As are three sets of fitting wires that would work with the Marborough pattern.  Why three sets?  That gives me 9 chances to get the right size (they aren’t expensive).  Knowing the size of the best fitting wires should narrow down sizing on the pattern as certain wire sizes go with certain (sister) bra sizes.  Also, if I lose/gain weight I can refit with  the remaining wires so my bra making won’t come to a grinding halt.  Extra wires also allow me to practice trimming wires without trimming the actual wires I want to use.  Oh and while I was shopping I threw in a swimsuit kit so that I’ll be prepared when the time comes to start turning my small collection of swim fabrics into something wearable.

New skills are hard to acquire.  Where do you start when you don’t even know enough to know what questions to ask?  Maybe, it doesn’t matter.  Maybe, since drowning isn’t an option you just jump in and see what you learn.  Even if you fail you’ll gain experience. Maybe you’ll learn what questions to ask.

Step one toward a solid foundation consisting of pretty bras? check.

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4 Responses to Bra Conundrum

  1. It’s funny you should say that. I realized I hadn’t shopped at Victoria’s Secret for years (since they stopped carrying bras D and above at one point). At that point all of the bras were padded push up bras. I decided to check in again just to see what was what and now it’s all “natural”, aka unlined, bras and bralets. The sizing has gone up again too (though not nearly far enough). Why is there bra fashion in the first place? How about basic bras to fit everyone? Then we can work on pretty bras and a variety of styles-for everyone.

  2. Angela says:

    Please, don’t get me started with the bras, I mean the bras for sale. The bra people, as you call them, do not want to make bras for people who need them, they just want to dictate the bras we should wear. That’s it. (You can tell this is a sore spot, and I got started anyway).
    Some time ago, I saw something about bra construction on the magazine Threads.
    Go for it!

  3. I remember a period when Victoria’s Secret stopped selling non-padded, non-push up bras in sizes D and over. The thought that passed through my head was if you are the bra people why don’t you make bras for people who need them. I didn’t get why they’d cut out people they used to sell to. Of course looking back to my measurements then the size was completely wrong anyway. It may be a little while before bras are up on the queue, but I’m looking forward to trying it out.

  4. Exciting! I have found some RTW bras I like but I had a similar issue of a (apparently) big bust and a small band size. By ‘big’ I mean I’m a 36DDD which is apparently huge according to bra makers. Which is ridiculous in about one bazillion ways. Anyway, the point is, once I got my bra sitch sorted I was much happier with my clothes in general. Bra sewing seems so intriguing, I’m interested to hear how you go!

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