Making a Foamless Bra

Everyone has some kind of preconceived notion about bras before they get into sewing them. That you can only wear a certain type of bra, that they have to have ‘x’ to be suitable, etc. One of mine, and I have a few, involves foam cups.

When I started sewing my own bras, I was quick to abandon the molded cups when I found out another option existed, and all of my bras up to this point have included cut and sew foam. I was significantly less quick at working myself up to sewing a bra without any kind of foam at all. Why is that? Well, the obvious answer is nip coverage, but even the eternally cold has warm moments- seasons, even- and a very layer friendly wardrobe.

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Let’s talk about this hanging bras in the front windows thing. Alternatively known as ‘how much I like backlighting’or ‘how much I like weirding out the neighbors’

During a late night (I say late night, it was like 8:30…) bra making discussion with Lynda of Elle Joan’s about her new bra tulle, and she mentioned that she had similar reservations about abandoning the foam as well. That really started me thinking about what exactly I was so attached to. I really wanted to try sewing a bra without it, and worse of all I couldn’t pinpoint what was stopping me. I think, for me, that the answer lays more in those preconceived notions of what a bra should be – even though if there’s one thing bramaking has taught me, it’s to throw all those ideas right out the window.

With one of my subsequent orders of goodies from Lynda’s shop, she actually sent me a bit of bra tulle to try, so I knew I’d have to make something from it – and what better opportunity to go foamless!

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Trying to capture all the weird patterns that two layers of bra tulle makes was HARD. Also, colored shadows?

So. The bra tulle had been sitting prominently on my shelf for almost a month and a half, and every time I sat down to sew I’d look at it nervously. At the same time, decided that I was going to need to redraft my cup pattern – partially because I thought the bra tulle deserved special treatment, and partially because the top-cup part of my bustier bra pattern doesn’t actually get stitched into the wireline – a cool design feature, but not universally applicable. This involved quite a few experiments (five, I think? The fit is nice, but I was trying for extra lift, while making style decisions on how wide I wanted the upper cup vs. lower cup pieces to be…) but I’m going to let you in on the secret that got me through my muslins:

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there’s an awkward angle… but you can see the fabric!

I found this stuff in a shop in South Auckland for $6/M. It’s got about the same amount of give as duoplex, and it doesn’t unravel or anything unsavory like the plain woven muslin fabric I’ve been using. I think it’s meant for basketball shorts or football jerseys or something like that. It only comes in sports colors, but I’m not sure I care. I made a nearly complete frame, tested cups until I was fairly certain the fit was accurate, and then mocked up a nearly finished version including some elastic to test the final fit. Worked like a charm!

New pattern in hand, I decided to go for it with my black bra tulle. I cut the pieces, sewed the cups together, stitched in my binding to make sure the insides were pretty…. and promptly realized that the seam binding looked way better as the outside of the cup than the inside.

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Cakes have layers!

It occurred to me – since I’m still currently sewing identically sized cups for rightie and leftie, that there wouldn’t be anything wrong with flipping them inside out before sewing them to the bridge, so I did! The rest of the bra went together without a hitch, and the new pattern fits excellently, complete with an internal powerbar for improved lift! I did end up ripping out and re-stitching the seam binding on by hand after the bra was complete, because it was puckering just enough to be irritating…it was originally sheer nylon binding, but I replaced that with bias strips of silk dyed black to match. Hugs the curves much better, and not as bulky, although it was quite a hassle to hand stitch the wiggly silk to the unsupported bra tulle, and therefore still a few wrinkles.

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if you look closely you can see my hand stitching along the edges of the seam binding

So here’s the down and dirty: Self drafted version 2.0 (more like 8.0 but who’s counting) three part cup with full band and internal powerbar cut with horizontal DOGS. The cups are two layers of bra tulle (cut in opposing directions for ultimate stability) with sheer nylon lining for seam binding, and bridge is one layer of bra tulle plus one layer of sheer nylon lining. The elastics for this one came from the same odd little shop in south Auckland that doesn’t have a website, and I’m not entirely sure I trust the quality – but hey, worth a try for a pretty picot, and I know how to make more if it wears out 😉

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Why yes, I did buy pasties so that I could take these pictures. Don’t laugh, the alternative was going to be folded up bits of paper towel or something… Photoshopping them out would have been weird.

The bra fits well. there are a few wrinkles that I’m fairly certain are due to my hand stitching, and I could have done well to be neater with my strap attachments, but it fits. There’s just something… odd about it. It looks fine under a shirt so I don’t think it’s the shaping: I’m fairly certain it’s just all those lines going on, visually bisecting things in different directions that’s a bit jarring. It took me a while to figure out why I wasn’t totally satisfied with this bra (I thought I didn’t like it because it didn’t fit, except it does fit – comfy to the point that I have to do a subtle boob-grab to figure out if I’m even wearing a bra)… I’m using this same pattern for my next bra (nearly done!) – in theory we’ll find out if it still looks odd in an opaque fabric, and with the addition of foam again.

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Since I ended up hand stitching the seam binding on afterwords, the channeling seams are a bit more hidden than normal. Also, That’s me arching my back I think, rather than the back band hiking up. Promise.

I’ve worn this bra a few times out in ~the world~, and I can’t say I’ve discovered anything particularly scary about going foamless. I wouldn’t wear it with a very sheer shirt… but let’s be honest, I fully line almost all the tops and dresses I make, and everything I wear fundamentally serves my need to be as bundled up as is socially acceptable because I’m a perpetually cold human. Besides, not wearing it with a sheer shirt probably has as much to do with its color as it does the lack of foamy insulation.

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I’ve been making so many colorful projects lately, I forgot how boring it is to take photos of black things.

This bra has already worked its way into my rotation, and seems for the time being to be holding up pretty well. I’m not sure if I’ll be building an army of sheer bras, but it sure is nice to have a bit of variation in the ranks, especially for these hot summer days we seem to be getting a lot of lately. Another bonus: After washing, this thing dries in about 15 minutes, whereas foam has been known to stay damp for ages.

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I was a bit worried that this space was going to be suffering from the Christmas Sewing Cone of Silence by now, but as it turns out, my DIY Christmas list is nothing short of pitiful this year. As in, there’s one small project on it. The rest is..*gasp!*…storebought. (Christmas knitting is not applicable in the southern hemisphere either…) Good thing for the blog though: there’s no need for the cone of silence after all. This bra’s (much more colorful) pattern-twin is already finished, and after I take pictures we can do a little comparison of the different materials – just in time for my nearly two week long Christmas vacation!

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6 thoughts on “Making a Foamless Bra

  1. Emily Wrinkle says:

    So, I have a question that may end up being a little too complicated to answer. . . How did you start drafting your own bra patterns? I have taken a pattern drafting class, and I understand to concepts behind drafting clothes patterns, but I haven’t a clue where to start with bras. I tend to have a quite difficult bust to fit. I really need to work on making my own bras. That’s one of my goals for 2017. Basically, can I have all of your tips for starting to draft my own bra patterns?

    • Kat says:

      Ooh! Not a difficult question at all! A pretty easy answer, albeit a long one. Before I started bra-drafting, I was at exactly your experience level: One pattern drafting class. One of my books from said pattern drafting class was ‘Pattern Drafting and Grading’ by M. Rohr – it’s from the early ’60s and more than a bit dated, but it’s probably my single best sewing resource. It’s actually in the public domain now, there’s a free one online, but it’s a few years newer: https://archive.org/details/PatternDraftingAndGradingByMichaelRohr1961

      Unfortunately, this version doesn’t hold the golden pages: my version has two or three pages dedicated to bra drafting, which, after creating my dress block, I used to draft my bra block. I’m happy to scan and email the pages to you if you’d like but I don’t really have rights to post them publicly… The draft is for a typical 50’s bullet bra, but there are fundamentally only three differences:
      1) draft the pointy point out of the cup. easy, just curve the seam.
      2) the instructions tell you how to curve the underbust seam, but I used the curve of an underwire from an existing well-fitting bra, adding 3/8″ at each end for wire movement
      3) the back band of the vintage bra is non-stretch, with an elastic closure, but I shortened it by 20% and used powernet instead of a woven fabric for the back.
      My first attempt resulted in something that definitely didn’t fit, but actually the band was perfect and the cups just needed adjusting to fit my ‘modern’ shaping desires. That, I mostly did with a lot of trial and error and investigating the cup shapes of various RTW bras (Pinterest.) Then, after I got one version that fit, it was easy to fuss around with style lines while preserving the overall ‘volume’ of the bra!

      After I got the draft sorted, I used the Cloth Habit bramaking sewalong to put together what had basically become a bra pattern with no sewing instructions. Amy’s construction info is perfect, and applicable to nearly any bra you might wish to sew!

      Sorry, looks like you’ve got a whole bonus blog post’s worth of reading now, haha! If you’d like my pages of the book, send me an email and I’ll scan them for you! My email is katherine.klebenow(at)gmail(dot)com 🙂 Also, don’t worry – I have quite a difficult bust to fit as well, and I managed with no prior experience. I’m happy to help with the fitting questions and the rest of it, should you get stuck!

      • Emily Wrinkle says:

        That would be amazing! Thank you! I have had such a hard time finding some really good information on where to start with drafting my own bras. I would love to have those pages of drafts. I’ll definitely send you an email.

  2. reikidolls says:

    Hi. Great blog post, thank you. Did you use powernet on the back band? I bought a bunch of black bra tulle and thought I could make a muslin out of it. I’m tired of making muslins from expensive fabric. Terri

    • Kat says:

      Hi Terri!
      Yep, the back band is powernet. Bra tulle is a great choice for muslins, but you still need the stretch of the powernet for the back. If it helps, I make my muslins using the same cradle/back band pieces each time, so I’ve cut two pieces of powernet that I use over and over. (And I do mean over and over – the same band pieces are probably on their 15th muslin by now, as I keep changing my mind about cup seaming!) I hope that helps!

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