Learning to be a mindful bra maker
Even as I finished stitching my first me-made effort at bra making, I was sewing bra number two in my head. I was convinced I’d be able to create an even better bra second time around. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out quite as I expected. But I learnt some lessons along the way that will hold me in good stead for future projects.
My inspiration and excitement kicked off as soon as I opened the package containing a sumptuous length of soft black and gold embroidered tulle – a one-off metre of deadstock from a luxury lingerie designer. I had also kept aside for this project a scrap of ochre silk crepe de chine (left over from a dress project) and could already envision the finished bra.
As my lace was extra wide (33cm/13 inches) there was ample fabric for a bra, plus a couple of pairs of knickers. Also, it was a double galloon, which has mirrored scalloping on both edges, giving me up to two metres of useable length.
I used the black and gold tulle, lined with sheer black marquisette mesh (a rigid nylon cup lining fabric), for both the upper and lower cups of my Orange Lingerie Marlborough bra. The ochre silk (with ivory cup lining) was deployed for the power bar, bridge, and frame.
To toile or not toile
It would have been a tight squeeze with the silk and lace that I had available to produce a full toile as well as the final bra, and my desired two pairs of matching briefs. And so I formulated a plan, in which laziness played no part, not to make a toile.
I had calculated that the cup lining fabric, previously used for bra number one, would determine the mechanical performance and therefore fit, of both the silk and lace. The black strap and plush elastics, as well as the black powernet for the band were also the same as before.
Obviously, I was not completely reckless so I checked the fit of the completed cups (albeit without the underwire casing and wires) before I stitched them to the bridge and frame. The result looked and felt good.
The rest of the construction progressed smoothly and I was feeling pretty smug as I tried on the completed bra. It was then that my decision not to make a toile came back to bite me.
Bra band dilemma
I could barely do up the hooks and eyes of the fastener and was nervous about ripping the luxury fabrics if I forced the issue.
My first thought was that I should have cut the silk elements on the bias rather than the straight grain, which would have given them a little more give. But this bra was way too tight for that to be the real problem.
The only solution was to unpick all my careful top stitching, take off the back band and draw up a new band pattern piece with a bit more ease. It meant scrapping the bra strap elastics as they looked pretty tatty once I removed the stitching where they joined the band, but I managed to salvage the fastener.
At this point I compared the discarded bra band pieces with my original pattern piece. It was, ahem, considerably smaller! In my hurry to get going I had stretched the powernet fabric as I was cutting out.
From now on, I’m taking my time cutting out. I will be super scrupulous about weighing down my fabrics and not pulling them when I pin or chalk around the pattern pieces. I will use weights to keep everything flat as I cut. Then I will double check each fabric piece against the original pattern before I start stitching. It will be so!
Deconstruction and reconstruction
First though, I had to join the new band to the main body of the bra, attach extra band and under arm plush elastics and restore the neatly lined interior without any lumps and bumps.
Unpicking all the zigzagging attaching the plush elastics to the band was painfully slow and made my eyes squint. I also needed to remove a short section of the zigzagging into each side of the frame to make it easier to attach the replacement band.
I initially cut the original plush elastics a couple of centimetres longer than the frame, to give myself options about where I attached or overlapped the new elastics. After some head scratching, I decided to trim them back to the frame edge and re-sew the first pass of zigzag stitches securing them to the frame. I also stitched the first pass of zigzagging to attach fresh plush elastics to the replacement powernet bands.
In the end, trimming the old plush in line with the frame, turning the elastics to the inside and then sewing the new back bands to the frame achieved the neatest, least lumpy, result.
After firmly pressing the seam flat towards the frame, I secured the plush on the back band seam allowance to the frame elastics with hand stitching. A second pass of 3-step zigzag stitched from the right side of the fabrics secured the plush and the overlap in place.
Interior and exterior finishes
The only fiddly bit was setting up my 3-step zigzag to ensure the new line of stitches picked up seamlessly from my original stitching.
I also needed a new method of finishing the seam between the frame and band. Now that the bra had the band elastic across the front and the wire casings secured, it was impossible to turn the garment inside out to invisibly attach the frame lining to the back band.
My solution was to hand appliqué a strip of cup liner fabric (1cm wide, plus another 1cm for seam allowances) over the join. Then I top-stitched both sides of the strip on the silk (right) side of the frame. That won’t come undone in a hurry!
Mindfulness is the answer
After fitting new straps and a hook and eye fastener, my sultry gold and black bra was as good as new and reassuringly comfortable to wear. None the less, I think a salutary lesson has been learned by us all. Right?
I usually find this kind of sewing problem very stressful and hate every minute of putting my mistake right. But this time around finding the best solution was a bit like solving a clue in a cryptic crossword puzzle – intriguing and almost satisfyingly fun.
This experience has made me realise that bra making is more than precise sewing. It is about giving myself permission to take the time to go slow. Thereby achieving that mindful focus each step of the way.